It’s the most wonderful time of the year and the British go all out to celebrate Christmas. There are celebrations across the country but London goes all out for it with large light displays across the streets, towering Christmas trees, performances, and one of my favourite the lively Christmas markets selling handicrafts and treats.
So if you want to taste a bit of the Christmas come to London and celebrate it in Royal style. Whether you live in the capital or visiting in the holiday period, it is a great place to soak in that festive spirit.
London starts gearing up for Christmas well in advance and you can almost feel it in the air early November. The stores start decorating their windows and the lights start turning on in Central London. This is when you can really feel the pulse of the city and it is at its festive best.
There is a lot to see and do up to the run up to Christmas, from ice rinks to Christmas markets, lights, food festivals and the very British tradition of watching a Pantomime.
Watch a Pantomime
This is a musical comedy stage production enjoyed by the entire family and was developed in England and is still performed throughout the country during the Christmas season. It revolves around well-known fairy tales and fables and involves gender-crossing actors. Men perform women roles and vice versa and combines topical humour and the audience is expected to sing along with certain parts of the music and shout out phrases to the performers.
Pantomime has a long theatrical history in Western culture dating back to the 16th century. So if you are in the country make sure to visit one but make sure you book well in advance.
Go Ice Skating
Christmas is not complete without a bit of Ice skating and like most cities around the world London gets its fair share of Ice skating rinks. Every winter ice skating rinks start to appear all over London and the country. Some of these go back in time and one of my favourite one is set to the back drop of the Hampton Court Palace a short train ride from Central London.
A number of rinks host special events throughout the holiday season and is a great way to enjoy with the family. Some of the most iconic ice rinks around London are The History Museum, Somerset House, Tower of London and many more. Here are a list of the most famous rinks in and around London. Ice Skating Rinks in London
One of the most iconic and visited tourist spots of London and one which is a must visit if you are in town. Every year Norway gifts London a huge Christmas tree and this is put up in the centre of Trafalgar Square. This is a thank you for the support Britain provided the country during World War II. This is a great tradition and the tree reaches more than 20 meters in height and averages between 50 and 60 years of age. It is lit up every year on the first Thursday in December and is up until the twelfth night of Christmas on January 6.
The Shimmering Lights.
One of the most famous roads in the world and a shopping paradise both Oxford Street and Regent Street in London’s West End put on a great show. The Oxford Street lights are switched on in early November with great festivity and a street performance by some of the most famous musicians. Apart from the street lights most of the stores have festive windows and Selfridges in particular has a great show when the lights come on every night.
Regent Street home to the world’s oldest and largest toy store Hamleys has a themed Christmas and an annual parade which is organised by the store and is a great day out. Most of the high streets have lights and London shines in its festive best.
Visit Winter Wonderland.
There are several Christmas markets that pop up around the country but the biggest show in Britain is undoubtedly the annual Winter Wonderland pop-up in Hyde Park. This is a large annual Christmas event and runs typically from mid-November to early January each year. It is one of the biggest, and most well-attended featuring several festive markets, over 100 rides and attractions from across Europe.
It also houses UK’s largest open-air skating rink next to the Victorian bandstand. It is a carnival like atmosphere and includes fairground rides, a traditional German village, a circus, food stalls, grottos, and 200+ Bavarian-style wooden chalets selling gifts. There is a large a Ferris wheel in the centre and you can catch some breath-taking views of London from the top of this wheel. There are numerous live shows, including a circus, ice show, and live music. There are no entry charges into the park but you have to pay on rides as you go along. I make sure to visit this with the kids every year, so if you are in London make sure to visit the Winter Wonderland.
Visiting a Christmas market is another good way to enjoy the spirit of Christmas and one which has a long history. Also known as Christkindlmarkt which literally means Baby Jesus Market, is a street market associated with the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. These markets originated in Germany, but are now held across the globe. The history of Christmas markets goes back to the Late Middle Ages and parts of the former Holy Roman Empire. In Austria, Vienna’s “December market” can be considered a forerunner of Christmas markets and dates back to 1298.
Traditionally held in the town square, the market has food, drink and seasonal items that are sold from open-air stalls accompanied by traditional singing and dancing. This is a great place to try Mulled Wine.
Mulled wine is a warm beverage usually made with red wine along with various spices and sometimes raisins. It is served hot or warm and is a traditional drink during Christmas.
London’s home to showbiz and entertainment since 1670 and it certainly lives up to that during Christmas. Christmas in Leicester Square transforms it into a true winter wonderland. Complete with a traditional Christmas market selling hand-crafted goods, delicious food and drinks and a Santa’s Grotto. There is a sparkling program of high energy entertainment and events and the central gardens transformed with more than 25 stalls and a one-off Christmas show by cabaret comedy.
My top picks for London Christmas markets are:
- Winter Wonderland Hyde Park.
- Christmas Market at Tate Modern.
- Southbank Centre Christmas Market.
- Leicester Square Christmas Market.
- Greenwich Christmas Market.
- London Bridge City Christmas Market.
Christmas and London go hand in hand and so does meeting Santa Claus. There are few Grottos that pop up around London and some of the most popular ones get booked up within minutes. You can meet Santa in London’s department stores as well and some of the most popular ones include the Harrods, Selfridges, and John Lewis. A great way to treat the kids as they sit on Santa’s knee and tell him what they want him to bring them for Christmas. Santa welcomes everyone from early November through Christmas Eve and this is the magic of Christmas.
Christmas Day in London
This is the one day of the year when London practically shuts down including the major sights and shops closing their doors, and the Tube and buses coming to a standstill.
A National Holiday and one which is best spent with the family at home watching the Queens speech and feasting on turkey and opening your Christmas presents. Many of the churches hold services on Christmas Day, with those at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey among the most spectacular.
Christmas Day can be a great time to explore the city when it is quiet, less crowded and you can get some great photos. There are a few pubs and restaurants that may be open post 11 am however there are No tubes or buses running.
A typical Christmas Day in London.
Christmas Day is an early start in most households and the average British family will have their first alcoholic drink on Christmas Day by 9 am followed by breakfast.
A large percentage of adults will attend Midnight Mass but majority will attend a church service on Christmas Day.
Another tradition is to watch Her Majesty address the nation with her annual Christmas Day speech.
Most families sit down for their turkey dinner late afternoon but eating late doesn’t stop the booze flowing all through the day and nibbling on finger food.
This is followed by watching Christmas movies and playing board games with the entire family and having a good time.
Whilst most are either sleeping or helping clearing the leftover the serious shopaholics are out getting the best bargains. All major sales start on Boxing Day in London and the key areas to target is Oxford Street with its major department stores. The serious shopaholics can be seen queuing up outside Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in the wee hours of the morning ready to grab their bargains as the doors open. Oxford Street is the shopping heart of London and is home to all the major high-street labels and a shopper’s paradise.
Apart from shopping another tradition is to enjoy sports with the traditional Premier League fixtures and the horse race meeting at Kempton Park. Another time-honoured tradition since the world’s first artificial ice rink was unveiled in Chelsea, there’s nothing more festive than London’s Christmas ice rinks and a favourite way to pass time on Boxing Day.
So if you are planning a visit to the capital during Christmas these should help you get the best out of Christmas in London.
But if that’s not enough then it’s never too early to make your New Year’s Eve plans and London does it in style like all major cities around the World. The biggest party is the annual New Year’s Eve Fireworks display, launched from the foot of the London Eye and from rafts on the Thames, is visible from most of central London.
- Admire the London skyline from a rooftop bar and sip on mulled wine.
- Soak up the festive atmosphere at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland.
- Enjoy the festivities around Trafalgar Squares world-famous Christmas tree.
- Sip on mulled wine and buy gifts at the Southbank Winter Market.
- Treat yourself to a gourmet Christmas hamper from Fortnum & Mason.
- Watch the shimmering angels on Regents Street lights
- Get dazzled by the baubles at the Christmas department @ Harrods and Liberty.
- Cheer the fancy dress run through Covent Garden in The Great Christmas Pudding Race.
- Browse the glitzy market stalls at Christmas in Leicester Square.
- Treat yourself to a jolly Christmas themed afternoon tea.
- Watch The Nutcracker, an enchanting Christmas classic performed by the English National Ballet.
- Visit one of the many street stalls selling roasted chestnuts.
- Walk along London’s famous West End and indulge in a Christmas production.
- Go window shopping on Oxford Street, Bond Street and Regent Street.
- Admire the gorgeous chandeliers at Covent Garden, and explore the magical Christmas lights of Seven Dials.
- Sing along of traditional Christmas carols at the historic St Paul’s Cathedral.
- Twirl on the ice with the backdrop of dramatic towers of Canary Wharf.
- Bedazzled by the shop windows on Bond Street with magnificent Christmas lights.
- Travel back in time at the Museum of London and meet Santa Claus in Victorian London.
- Find bargains galore in the Boxing Day sale.
- Bring in the New Year watching the fireworks from the London Eye.
Above all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.