From early November until New Year’s Eve, London is one of the most festive cities in the world, so you’re pretty lucky if you’re visiting at that time of year.
To help you experience allll of the Christmas-y things to do in London (or choose just a couple that are to your own taste) I compiled this list to help you get in on the action like a true Londoner (spoiler alert: it’s not all about Winter Wonderland).
BTW… when you see WA this means that it’s wheelchair accessible.
Prefer to watch instead of read? A few of the activities mentioned below are featured in our Christmas in London YouTube series, so we’ve embedded the videos from the series into this post.
European cities are quite famous for their lovely little Christmas markets, and London gets in on that as well with some world-famous ones as well as lesser-known local favourites.
Check out our video on Christmas Markets:
Leicester Square Market
The touristy Leicester Square has a very festive market each year. It’s got everything that a traditional European market has, with stalls selling festive food, mulled wine and lots of gifts (some that are better than others).
If you have little ones with you, pop into Santa’s grotto for a fun Santa spotting. There’s also a vintage Spiegeltent where you can see a Christmas-themed show. This year, they have the trailblazer La Clique, a global show that features the top talent from the worlds of circus, comedy and cabaret.
Leicester Square | Website | Book Tickets | Visit from 12th November 2021 and 9th January 2022
Southbank Center Winter Festival
Every year along the Southbank is the pop-up Winter Festival, run by the Southbank Centre, the UK’s largest arts centre. Naturally, the festival’s most popular feature is its winter market, with its stalls lined up along the River Thames, and it’s got the usual stalls and spots to eat, drink and shop.
But what makes the Winter Festival more special than the others is the arts and theatre programme. Along with plenty of free art and light installations all around the Southbank area, many winter nights will have at least one or two art exhibitions or musical performances you can get tickets for. Check the website to see what’s on when you visit.
Southbank | Website | Visit from 4th November 2021 and 2nd January 2022
Image Courtesy of Winter Wonderland
This needs very little introduction, it’s a superfamous fair that happens every year (except last year due to you-know-what). Located in Hyde Park, expect to browse over 200 Bavarian huts selling festive drinks, food and winter-themed gifts. There’s also plenty of fairground rides, an ice skating rink, karaoke area, and other activities, both free and ticketed.
It’s free to visit Winter Wonderland during off-peak periods, and tickets go up to £7.50 for adults at peak times. Heads up here– this is THE most famous Christmas-themed thing to do in London and therefore the crowds get absolutely insane. I recommend you keep reading for some, erm, better alternatives.
Hyde Park | Website | Book Tickets | Visit from 19th November 2021 to 3rd January 2022
Greenwich Christmas Market
Greenwich Market is already a fantastically curated market any time of year, but around Christmastime it gets even better. Pop down on a December Saturday and you’ll find over 150 stalls with a beautiful selection of items for sale, like stocking fillers, original artwork, eco-friendly candles, handmade jewellery and more, with everything being British-designed-and-made.
Of course, once you’ve finished your shopping you can visit one of the many food stalls selling street foods or grab some mulled wine to warm you up.
Greenwich | Website | Visit on Saturdays in December 2021
Image Courtesy of Kingston
Kingston Christmas Market
Head to Kingston, a leafy suburb in south London for a winter-themed market in its popular market square. Food lovers can choose from bits like artisan cheeses and handmade baklava, and can shop for gifts like ornaments, art prints, or wool hats and gloves, all sold out of cosy winter cabins. #ShopSmall!
Kingston | Website | Visit from 18th November until 24th December 2021
Christmas-themed afternoon teas in London
Afternoon tea is a fun experience if you’re visiting London (us Londoners tend to reserve it for special occasions) and some of London’s best afternoon tea spots go all out on their winter or Christmas-themed teas once November and December roll around. Here are just a few of the stand-out teas.
Winter Wonderland afternoon tea at The Rubens at The Palace
Have your afternoon tea overlooking Buckingham Palace and in an old-school English-style hotel. Executive Pastry Chef Sarah Houghton, who was a finalist in 2021 Bake Off: The Professionals turns their traditional afternoon tea into a festive experience with a Winter Wonderland twist. And it includes bottomless mulled wine!
Price: £59.50 per adult. WA.
Westminster | Website | Menu | Available from 15th November until 23rd December 2021
Image Courtesy of The Dorchester
Festive Afternoon Tea at the The Dorchester
Christmas at The Dorchester is a bit like an out-of-a-film experience, with the lineup of Christmas trees at the promenade, the sparkling lights, life-sized toys, and the tall piles of gold-wrapped presents.
The festive afternoon tea promises the same magical feelings with a live school choir performing traditional carols while you dine on freshly baked pastries, delicious scones and homemade jam.
Price: from £85 per adult. WA.
Mayfair | Website | Menu | Available every weekend in December 2021
Alpine Escape Afternoon Tea at Shangri-La in the Shard
Shangri-La hotel’s TING restaurant, being on the 35th floor of The Shard, western Europe’s tallest building, has some of the best restaurant views in the city (obviously). TING know how to do amazing themed afternoon teas in the sky and of course they pull out all of the stops for every festive season.
This year, the Alpine Escape festive tea brings an Austrian inspired Christmas to London, with freshly made savoury delights and baked scones, served with Austrian inspired pastries such as Black Forest Gâteux and Sachertorte.
Price: £62 per adult, or £72 with a glass of champagne or a cocktail. WA.
London Bridge | Website | Available from 8th November 2021 until 27th February 2022
I’ve actually done an in-depth review of the Shangri-La afternoon tea which you can read about here or you can watch the video linked below:
Love a drink? Yeah, me too. Especially when it’s a festive one, preferably surrounded by Christmasy fun. Here are some options for Christmas-themed drinks in London.
Queen of Hoxton
The Queen of Hoxton has created Alice in Winterland on their rooftop. Travel through the rabbit hole and into a world where anything can happen, and to help with that, try some of their signature cocktails, moreish food delights and even shisha.
Shoreditch | Website | Visit from 5th November
Miracle at Henrietta Hotel
Miracle at Henrietta features a 70’s inspired Christmas home with retro decorations and coloured light. You’ll be transported back in time for a nostalgic festive season, which you can pair with one of Miracle’s signature cocktails.
Covent Garden | Website | Visit from 15th November until 23rd December 2021
Image Courtesy of Skylight
Skylight at Tobacco Dock
Skylight at Tobacco Dock is bringing back their famous Canalside igloos and rooftop ice skating rink. They’ve also got an Après Ski Lodge, a Secret Speakeasy and a Cocktail Cinema experience, so you will definitely have plenty to do here. The cinema one is showing a fun selection of Christmas films for which their team of mixologists has designed a selection of cocktails to fit each movie theme.
Tobacco Dock | Website | Visit from 5th November
Unique Christmas experiences in London
See London’s Christmas Light Displays
From November to early January, the city is beautifully decorated with thousands of Christmas light displays. For a fun and absolutely free thing to do in London, get walking about central London to take it all in and get in the festive mood without having to spend a penny.
To see all of the places you can spot Christmas lights around London, check out this article.
Image Courtesy of Liberty
Take a peek at the Christmas shop window and storefront displays
Besides the city lights, many of London’s most famous shops, department stores and restaurants also decorate their front windows, creating the most stunning Christmas windows displays that always end up being featured in articles for Grazia or CN Traveller. Why not take a stroll around London and see them in the flesh?
Some of our favourites are: Liberty London, Selfridges, Harrods, Pollock’s Toy Store, Hamleys, Harvey Nichols, Fortnum and Mason, The Ivy Chelsea Garden, Annabel’s, and all the shops along Bond Street.
Go Ice Skating
We’ve got some incredible ice skating rinks here in London during the winter season, so book a ticket, pop on some skates and get gliding.
Here’s where you can do so…
Queen’s House Ice Rink
The Queen’s House ice rink, as the name says, is at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Obviously, the Queen doesn’t actually live here, but the building is a 16th-century royal mansion used to display items from the National Maritime Museum’s collection.
From the ice rink, you can admire the Unesco World Heritage site, along with views of Greenwich Park to the south and Canary Wharf to the north, all surrounded by some of the best views in London.
Tickets from £15 for adults and £8.50 for children. WA.
Greenwich | Website | Book Tickets | Visit from 18th November 2021 until Sunday 9th January 2022 (except Christmas Day)
Image Courtesy of Natural History Museum
Natural History Museum Ice Rink
Set against the museum’s impressive Victorian building, the ice rink at the Natural History Museum is one of the most beautiful rinks in London. We even featured it in our London Colouring Book!
Unfortunately, after 16 years, 2021 will be the last season for the rink, as the museum will transform the space into a hub for urban wildlife as part of their national campaign to encourage people to nurture nature right on their doorsteps.
Tickets start at £12.65. WA.
South Kensington | Website | Book Tickets | Visit from 22nd October 2021 – 16th January 2022
Somerset House Ice Rink
Skate at Somerset House returns again this year with a collaboration with the French fine winery Moët & Chandon, who curate the decorations for the famous 12-meter-tall Christmas tree, transforming the courtyard into a Christmas wonderland.
But what makes this one of London’s favourite winter experiences is the contemporary music playing during your skate session, the gourmet dining at the pop-up alpine restaurant Chalet Barragiste, or that you can indulge in some champagne and cocktails at the Skate Lounge by Moët & Chandon. High class, baby.
Tickets from £11.00. WA.
Somerset House | Website | Book Tickets | Visit from 17th November 2021 until 16th January 2022
Image Courtesy of Trafalgar Square
Listen to Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square
Throughout December, head to Trafalgar Square to listen to some Christmas Carols performed live. Each group usually sings for around an hour and they collect donations to be given to charitable causes.
While there, you can also see the 25-meter tall Christmas tree gifted by the Norwegians, an old tradition in recognition for Britain’s support during World War II. The tree is decorated with hundreds of lights, but it’s usually a point of contention for Londoners because, well… it’s sometimes a bit sad-looking! Go and see for yourself…
Trafalgar Square | Website | Visit throughout December 2021
See a Christmas theatre show in London
Why not do something a bit more culturally enriching? The famous West End theatre district puts on tons of incredible shows, including winter and Christmas-themed ones.
Nutcracker at the London Coliseum or Royal Albert Hall
Tchaikovsky’s famous score is played live with over 100 dancers and musicians. The story follows Clara who received an enchanted nutcracker as a present on Christmas Eve. They then embark on a journey together where they find a magical world.
Ticket from £10. WA.
London Coliseum | Website | Visit from 16th December 2021 until 8th January 2022
Royal Albert Hall | Website | Visit from 28th until 31st December 2021
Image Courtesy of Sadler’s Well Theatre
Snowman at the Sadler’s Well Theatre
Snowman is an adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ book that explores the winter wonderland of a boy and a snowman that comes alive. A two-hour piece by Birmingham Repertory Theatre with an engaging mix of dance, live music, storytelling, and magic.
Tickets from £18. WA.
Clerkenwell | Website | Visit from 20th of November 2021 until 2nd January 2022
Circus 1903 at Royal Festival Hall
One for the whole family, the Circus 1903 includes acrobats, contortionists, trapeze artists, a death-defying high-wire act and sensational life-sized elephants, created by the puppeteers behind War Horse. Take time to explore the Southbank Centre Winter Festival (mentioned earlier) before and after the show.
Tickets from £25. WA.
Southbank | Website | Visit from 16th December 2021 until 2nd January 2022
Visit one of London’s Parks
Almost every single public park in London is open during the festive season, so be very British and go for a brisk winter walk. Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens are a great combo for Central London, or head to East London and explore Victoria Park, frequently voted London’s best park by Londoners. Find out more about Victoria Park in the video below.
Religious things to do in London
Some things to do if you’d like to participate in religious ceremonies for Christmas.
Image Courtesy of Westminster Abbey
Attend a Christmas Mass at Westminster Abbey
Christmas Mass attendance is on a ticketed basis and this year they’ll be released on the 15th of November, with services and carols happening on the 23rd and 24th of December. This is a great way to participate in a special religious event and to see the interior of Westminster Abbey without having to pay for a ticket!
Westminster | Website | Visit on the 23rd and 24th of December 2021
Attend the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
The festival tells the story of the birth of Jesus in this traditional service of carols, readings and music, complete with the Choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields, led by the Vicar Revd Dr Sam Wells.
Trafalgar Square | Website | Visit on 12th December 2021
If you’re spending the Christmas Day in London, then check out this blog post dedicated to special activities available only on Christmas Day, plus some important things to know about the city on that day.
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Me and my Fiancee are planning on coming to London for our honeymoon. We both want to experience London during christmas, but would still like to spend the holiday with our family back home.
What’s the earliest we can come and get the Christmas experience? Do they seem to decorate as early there as they doe here?
Hi Todd! I’d shoot for the two weeks before Christmas to make sure you see it all. The unofficial date for most Christmas-y things to start is 1st December-ish, or the first weekend of December.