London is at its best during Christmas – the festive season transforms the city into a sparkling, magnificent place that is full of great things to see, discover and experience. Prepare to make some magical memories in the city this winter, as you dive into all the best Christmas offerings in store.
Read on for the ultimate guide to Christmas in the capital – from the best places to get up to speed on all of your Christmas gift shopping, to where to escape to when it gets a bit too hectic.
Experience the magic of Christmas lights
Few things conjure up the magical feeling of Christmas time than the sight of festive displays, and luckily, London has plenty of impressive lights to take your pick from.
Just a short distance away from the Piccadilly London West End, the busy streets of Oxford Street and Regent Street are lit up with a stunning variety of light displays. Regent Street, and nearby Bond Street, have all opted for a more classical and elegant look, with beautiful traditional shapes and colours that look serene against the dark night sky.
Over in Oxford Street, meanwhile, you’ll get to enjoy vibrant and colourful LED lighting that comes to life in kaleidoscopic style. If you really want to see something thought-provoking and surprising, carry on over towards Carnaby Street, where the iconic style hub is lit up with festive lights with a sustainable twist. Instead of the usual Christmas trees and reindeers, you’ll instead get to see giant whales, coral reefs and other oceanic displays, as the street has combined forces with a sustainability charity this year, to raise more awareness about the impact of our consumption on the world’s oceans.
Find the perfect gift
No trip to London is complete without a shopping spree, and when the festive season comes around, many of us have a lengthy list of gifts to buy. With so many great places to shop, and brilliant bargains to take advantage of, a visit to the city is perfect for ticking off names on your gift list.
For kids, there are plenty of great stores to find wonderful toys and games, but few can beat the biggest toy store in the world, Hamleys on Regent Street. Established in the 18th century, Hamleys is a haven of toys, with over seven stores and 50,000 toys inside. Make sure you leave plenty of time to explore it, as it can quickly become a pretty awe-inspiring place.
Grown-ups have just as much to choose from, from luxurious designer clothing and accessories in boutiques around Bond Street and high street brands to the latest technology gadgets and more. If you’re on the hunt for something a little more one of a kind, head to some of London’s many antique stores, where you can find everything from beautiful vintage clothing and rare editions of second-hand books, as well as unique and quirky collectables, ornaments and other fascinating memorabilia.
Of course, gift shopping can be tough work, so don’t forget to treat yourself after a busy day. Indulge in some soothing Spa Rituals to give yourself some well-deserved rest and relaxation, where you can unwind in style.
Soak up some festive atmosphere in a market
While London might be a bustling modern city, at Christmas you can turn a corner and find yourself in a traditional European village, with the emergence of festive markets all across the capital. Near the Piccadilly London West End, you’ll find a busy and colourful festive market in Leicester Square, where you can pick up a variety of festive-inspired treats, including handmade Christmas decorations, accessories, jewellery and other gifts, as well as delicious street food.
There are a variety of other great markets to explore across the city, each with their own distinctive style. Over at the Southbank Centre, as part of their Winter Festival, the local festive market has a whimsical and traditional look, with sweet wooden chalets lit up by fairy lights. For more thought-provoking and unique gifts, head eastwards towards Hackney and Shoreditch, where you can find a variety of Christmas markets that specialise in handcrafted items from local artisanal sellers, or traders focusing on plastic-free or sustainably made gifts. You’ll also find some charming Christmas cards and art prints on offer, making it easy to send a little seasonal love to anyone outside of London.
You can also find plenty of delicious edible gifts on offer at the city’s festive markets too, from festive-flavoured liquors and spirits to decadent chocolates, sweets and cakes.
Dine on some tasty seasonal treats
Food and drink is always a major part of any festive celebration, and London has plenty of delicious treats to indulge in. Treat friends and family to wonderful Afternoon Tea London Offers in the city, where you can dine in elegance and style while enjoying a tasty selection of goodies. Or head to one of the many food markets around the city, where you can sample lots of seasonal delights, such as specially crafted festive chocolates and desserts, mulled wine and cider, and other mouth-watering goodies.
While you’re in London, don’t miss out on the chance to dine in some of the city’s best restaurants and sample their festive-themed menus. Many of the city’s top eateries will offer special Christmas items or festive meals for groups and parties, making them a great place to head to for a group Christmas meal.
Food-related gifts are also a great pick when you’re looking for something special, and make a perfect present for someone hard to shop for. Check out some of London’s best gourmet food stores, such as the famous Fortnum and Mason, where you’ll find themed seasonal hampers and gift selections, packed with irresistible treats.
Enjoy Christmas with the kids
If you’re visiting London with children at Christmas, it can be one of the best times of the year. With something magical and captivating around every corner, it’s hard to choose what to do.
For something relaxed and laidback, head towards Bethnal Green, where the V&A Museum of Childhood has a special festive-themed schedule of events taking place through the season. Younger children can enjoy some easy-going colouring in time, while adults enjoy a glass of wine and some gentle music. You’ll also find a special Christmas display, taking you on a special visual and audio journey through various festive items.
For a real taste of festive magic, it’s hard to beat the Warner Brothers Studio Tour, where you can step into the world of Harry Potter at Christmas. With much of the set transformed by a dusting of snow, it’s a wonderful place to explore and gasp at. Grab a cup of delicious butterbeer and head into the awe-inspiring Great Hall, to marvel at the magical decorations, before heading back home.
Of course, if it all gets a bit too much, make sure you allow some me-time with a special session with Spa Rituals, to help you recover after all that festive playtime.
Get your skates on
When you need a break from all of the hectic festive activities on in London at Christmas, get your skates on and glide away instead. London has some beautiful ice rinks to enjoy through the winter season, and they’re the perfect place to spin and skate your worries away, or simply catch the perfect photo opportunity.
There are several ice rinks across the capital to choose from, all in fantastically scenic locations. The Natural History Museum in South Kensington has one of the most popular skate rinks, set amongst the incredible backdrop of the museum itself.
If you want to skate after dark, head to Somerset House, which has the city’s first 24-hour ice rink. While you might need a few extra layers to stay warm, there’s nothing more special than skating beneath the stars. For a truly memorable experience, however, head to the highest ice rink in the city, at Skylight at Tobacco Dock, near St Katherine’s and Wapping. With Europe’s only rooftop skate rink, you can enjoy stunning views of the city skyline, delicious fondues and cocktails, as well as perfecting your pirouette.
After a lovely day of skating, warm yourself up with a delicious treat and try some of the best Afternoon Tea London Offers. With heaps of cake, tasty sandwiches and copious amounts of tea, it’s an ideal way to relax.
Catch a festive movie
For a more laidback approach to the festive season, grab your favourite snacks and head for the silver screen instead. London has some fantastic Christmas-themed movie screenings and cinema popups this season, showcasing many of your favourite seasonal films. It’s the ideal alternative to some of the more full-on activities on at Christmas, and still gives you plenty of festive cheer.
For a family-friendly screening, make your way down to the Southbank Centre, for their season of film screenings as part of their Winter Festival. Located inside their Circus Bar, you can get comfy on the bean-bag sofas, grab some gourmet popcorn, and enjoy some favourites such as The Jungle Book and other animated classics. For a more grown-up experience, swap soft drinks for cocktails, and enjoy cult hits such as Dirty Dancing and Bridget Jones’ Diary.
For a more unique setting, make your way to the ZSL London Zoo, which is easy to get to via public transport from the Piccadilly London West End. As well as getting the chance to see some of the lovely creatures around the zoo, you can also check into their special free film screenings, which include family favourites like Elf.
Enjoy the festive theatre experience
Pantomimes are a truly British Christmas tradition, and you’ll find plenty of them on offer in London this festive period. Combining slapstick humour, classic fairy tale stories, famous names and a dose of silliness, they’re a fun-filled romp that never run the risk of taking themselves too seriously.
You can find some perfect pantomimes that are suitable for the whole family on the West End, including Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the famous London Palladium Theatre, or a magical rendition of Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith. For a hilarious afternoon out that will have the whole family in stitches, check out Nativity! The Musical, at the Eventim Apollo, which transforms the popular film into a stage production, complete with all of its popular songs.
If the chaotic madness of a classic pantomime doesn’t appeal, enjoy a more serene experience, with some stunning seasonal ballets instead. The Nutcracker ballet is a Christmas favourite, with its enchanting storyline of Christmas presents and treats brought to life. Head to the London Coliseum for a spellbinding performance, or experience the magic at the stunning Royal Albert Hall.
Sing your favourite carols
Finally, music is an essential part of Christmas anywhere, and in London, you can soak up the spirit of the season by listening and joining in with some of the finest choirs in the world.
For a truly captivating Christmas experience, get to the historic Westminster Abbey for their annual Christmas carol service. You’ll get to admire the beautiful choir as they perform, and immerse yourself in the centuries of history that are embedded in the walls of the famous church.
If you’d like to sing along with others, the Royal Albert Hall has a great season of carol singing events on through the winter, where you can sing accompanied by fantastic choirs and musicians, and enjoy the marvellous acoustics of the hall itself. Or for something enchanting and moving, experience carols by candlelight at one of the many services taking place across the city’s various churches. They’ll often include a chance to enjoy festive nibbles and drinks, making them a great chance to socialise after the music.
If carols don’t appeal, but you still want to enjoy some music, get down to the SSE Arena in Wembley to experience Disney’s festive classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas, performed live.