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) we compiled this list to help you get in on the action like a true Londoner (spoiler alert: it’s not all about Winter Wonderland).
*This post has been updated for the 2023 season.
(WA = Wheelchair Accessible)
Visit a Christmas market
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.
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. Get the tickets here.
Christmas at Leicester Square | Central London | WA | 8th November 2023 – 7th January 2024
Image Courtesy Southbank Centre
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.
Winter Festival at Southbank Centre | Southbank | WA | 28th October 2023 – 7th January 2024
Image Courtesy of Winter Wonderland
This needs very little introduction, it’s a super famous fair that happens every year. 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 per adult 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. We recommend you keep reading for some, erm, better alternatives.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland | Central London | WA | 17th November 2023 – 1st January 2024
Image Courtesy of Greenwich Market
Greenwich Christmas Market
Pop down to Greenwich 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. This year, witness a spectacular Greenwich lantern procession and the switching on of the twinkling Greenwich Market Christmas lights.
Christmas at Greenwich Market | Greenwich | WA | From 15th November 2023
Image Courtesy of Kingston Christmas Market
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 Christmas Market | Kingston | WA | 16th November – 31st December 2023
Indulge in a Christmas-themed afternoon tea
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.
Image Courtesy of Rubens at The Palace
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 the 2021 edition of ‘Bake Off: The Professionals’, turns their traditional afternoon tea into a festive experience with a Winter Wonderland twist. And it includes bottomless mulled wine!
Winter Wonderland Afternoon Tea | Westminster | WA | 14th November 2023 – 1st January 2024
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.
Festive Afternoon Tea at The Dorchester | Mayfair | WA
Image Courtesy of TING
Festive Skyline 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, take in the beauty of the city from 35 floors above whilst enjoying a selection of finger sandwiches and savouries, followed by plain and cranberry scones and delicious festive sweet treats.
Festive Skyline Afternoon Tea at Shangri-La The Shard | London Bridge | WA | 14th November 2023 – 9th January 2024
Treat yourself to a delicious festive drink
Love a drink? Yeah, us too. Especially when it’s a festive one, preferably surrounded by Christmasy fun. Here are some options for Christmas-themed drinks in London.
Image Courtesy Miracle at the Henrietta
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.
Miracle at the Henrietta Hotel | Covent Garden | WA | 13th November – 23rd December 2023
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, and a Secret Speakeasy, so you will definitely have plenty to do here.
Skylight at Tobacco Dock | Shadwell | WA
Enjoy a unique London Christmas experience
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…
Image Courtesy of Royal Museums Greenwich
Queen’s House Ice Rink
The Queen’s House ice rink, as the name says, is at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. This 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 £17 for adults and £10 for children.
Queen’s House Ice Rink | Greenwich | WA | 23rd November 2023 – 7th January 2024
Image Courtesy of Somerset House
Somerset House Ice Rink
Skate at Somerset House returns again this year with a collaboration with Switzerland Tourism, 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 are the new series of rink-side decks takeovers at Skate Lates with Rock Angel, the gourmet dining at their West Wing restaurant Chalet Suisse by Jimmy Garcia, or that you get an ultimate rink-side view at Skate Lounge by Whispering Angel, where you can enjoy a glass of Provence Rosé.
Tickets from £15.00.
Skate at Somerset House | Strand | WA | 15th November 2023 – 14th January 2024
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…
Christmas at Trafalgar Square | Westminster | WA | Throughout December
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.
Image Courtesy of London Coliseum
Nutcracker at the London Coliseum
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 £15.
Nutcracker at the London Coliseum | Covent Garden | WA | 14th December 2023 – 7th January 2024
Image Courtesy of Sadler’s Well Theatre
Snowman at the Sadler’s Wells Peacock 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.
Snowman at the Sadler’s Wells Peacock Theatre | Clerkenwell | WA | 18th November – 30th December 2023
Image Courtesy of Royal Parks
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 above.
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 early autumn, 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!
Advent and Christmas at Westminster Abbey | Westminster | Restricted WA | 24th – 25th December 2023
If you’re spending the Christmas Day in London, then check out this article dedicated to special activities available only on Christmas Day, plus some important things to know about the city on that day.
- 7 Amazing Festive Tours in London You Must Book
- What to Do in London on Christmas Day 2023
- Where to See Christmas Lights in London