With twinkling lights and seasonal decorations, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year to be in London.
What To Do
London Walking Tours will take you back in time to explore the Victorian London of Ebenezer Scrooge on their Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol walk. You take in secret alleyways, hidden courtyards and a 17th-century hostelry, all accompanied by a host in Victorian costume.
Combine skating with sight-seeing at one of the capital’s pop-up ice rinks. See the Natural History Museum’s incredible Whales: Beneath The Surface exhibition or explore Henry VIII’s historic home at Hampton Court Palace. Then get your skates on.
If you’ve missed out on tickets to see Tchaikovsky’s fabulously festive ballet The Nutcracker at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House, don’t worry, you can catch the show at a movie theatre. It will be broadcast live to cinemas all over London on 5 December.
SING, SING, SING!
Carol singing will take place all over the city in the run-up to Christmas, with plenty of places where you can join in. Anyone can sing along with the choirs at Trafalgar Square from 4 pm to 8 pm on weekdays, or get tickets to one of the many carol concerts at the Royal Albert Hall or St Paul’s Cathedral.
LONDON EYE DO
Christmas Eve is the most popular day of the year to propose, and the London Eye is among the top places worldwide for it. The views are particularly stunning at Christmastime when the city sparkles below. Just make sure you book a private capsule, unless you want 20 other tourists witnessing your proposal!
PICK A PANTO
The theatrical wonder of the pantomime is a great British tradition and so it is a must-do for visitors at Christmas. This year, the iconic London Palladium is showing Dick Whittington from 9 December, while Wembley Arena plays host to BMX riders, stuntmen and trapeze artists in its production of Peter Pan on 29-30 December.
Fancy plunging into a lake of near-freezing water for a 100-yard Christmas Day swim? No? That’s good, because only members of Hyde Park’s Serpentine Swimming Club are allowed to take part in this madcap event. It’s fun to watch, though.
FEELING HOT HOT HOT
Warm up and wind down at a specially designed Finnish sauna on the Queen Elizabeth Roof Terrace, just one of many pop-ups at the Southbank Centre’s fabulous Wintertime Festival. And if you can’t take the heat, cool off in the open air with exclusive views of the River Thames.
HOGWARTS IN THE SNOW
Harry Potter World is just 30 kilometres outside London and easily accessible by train or bus. Hogwarts will have Christmas trees lining the Great Hall, and the Gryffindor common room is well-decorated for the season.
The quintessentially British afternoon tea gets a festive makeover at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge with individual panettone, pear and chestnut yule log, and orange and winter spiced macarons. And, just to be clear, it’s perfectly acceptable to drink Champagne with your afternoon tea.
BABY, IT’S COOL OUTSIDE
Plenty of London’s rooftop bars and terrace restaurants stay open all winter – with outdoor heaters and sheepskin rugs at hand. Our favourite, Coppa Club, has a view of Tower Bridge, a scrumptious Christmas menu, and best of all, giant igloos to cosy up inside.
Selfridges’ rooftop restaurant Il Tetto is serving up a slice of Italy this winter with wood-fired pizzas and hot cocktails like the Etna, a warming blend of white wine, Ratafia, brandy, roasted cardamom and honey. Now that’s Christmas spirit.
Winterville on Clapham Common is more than just a Christmas market. It’s a whole festive playground with comedy, film screenings and live music as well as treats from London’s street food pioneers Street Feast.
Christmas gift shopping is all wrapped up at Bicester Village, just 46 minutes by train out of London. This purpose-built village is like Disneyland for shopaholics with up to 60 percent discounts on all the big brands. New boutiques for 2017 include Joseph, Acne, Rapha and Villeroy & Boch.
Going crazy for year-end sales is good and all, but you don’t need to spend a penny to enjoy London’s greatest stores at Christmas – the window displays are masterpieces in themselves. Iconic department stores Harrods and Selfridges are guaranteed to impress, but you should also seek out Liberty, Fortnum & Mason and the world-famous Hamleys toy store.
What To See
LIGHT IT UP
Decorating the streets with Christmas lights is a big deal in London. The main shopping areas of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street have big displays, but don’t miss the (slightly) smaller ones on Carnaby Street, Seven Dials and St Christopher’s Place.
The huge Norwegian spruce that stands in Trafalgar Square every year is always breathtaking, but you can see beautiful Christmas trees twinkling away at other places. Try Covent Garden’s Piazza, St Pancras’ station concourse and the luxury Mayfair hotel Claridge’s.
SANTA’S SNOWFLAKE GROTTO
The fabulous shopping centres at Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City are taking their Santa’s Grotto to the next level. The spellbinding Snowflake Factory has scented snow, crystal caves, mirrored icy corridors and interactive snow games. Don’t forget your Christmas wish list – it gets fired out of the Wish Cannon!
There is something immensely entertaining about watching thousands of people dressed up as Father Christmas run through the centre of London. Even better – it’s for a good cause. These charity fun runs take place at Clapham Common, Victoria Park, the City and Battersea Park from 3 until 10 December.
NEW YEAR’S DAY PARADE
Save some energy for London’s New Year’s Day parade on 1 January when more than 10,000 musicians, cheerleaders and performers take to the streets to celebrate. The parade goes from Piccadilly to Parliament Square. Print out a cool illustrated map from londonparade.co.uk.
PEACE ON EARTH
If you’re lucky enough to be in central London on 25 December, you’re in for a treat. With no crowds and no traffic, it’s a haven of peace and serenity. Just remember there’s also no public transport, so wear comfy shoes.
BLACK CAB TOUR
London’s cabbies are well-known for their entertaining anecdotes and insider knowledge, so what better way to explore the capital than on a Black Taxi Tour? Through December, most of them also offer Christmas-themed tours, but make sure you book ahead. There are several websites with info on this service, including londonblacktaxitours.com.
WALK THE TUBE
In central London, it’s often just as quick (if not quicker) to walk from A to B as it is to get the tube. Look at Transport For London’s awesome ‘walking tube’ map that gives travel times on foot between stations (tfl.gov.uk). Just remember to wrap up warm!