Christmas in London is a magical and unforgettable experience we would recommend to anyone to do at least once in their lifetime. The city transforms into a sea of Christmas lights, decorations, ice-skating rinks, Christmas markets, and special festive events.
During Christmas, you will breathe the festive spirit on every street in London, and you will be able to feel the magic of this season by simply walking around or doing some Christmas shopping in some of the best world-known shops.
The Christmas Lights are switched on in London during November, so this is really when we start getting into the Christmas Spirit. Most Christmas events last until early January.
Christmas lights in London
One of the highlights of visiting London during Christmas is to admire the fantastic displays of Christmas lights and decorations. Central London is filled with the most beautiful Christmas lights every year, and you can either explore the impressive Christmas lights of London by walking the streets at your own pace or hopping on one of the sightseeing buses.
The switching on of the Christmas lights is one of the most highly anticipated events in November, as they mark the beginning of Christmas in London. Some of London’s most famous shopping streets, such as Oxford Street, Carnaby Street and Regent Street, celebrate the switching on of the Christmas lights with a huge event often accompanied by musical performances, a celebrity to switch them on, and sometimes, even fireworks.
Christmas lights in London that you can´t miss include those on Oxford Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street. You won´t just see the incredible streets lit up; all the shops are beautifully decorated, too. Highlights include Selfridges, Liberty and Fortnum and Mason department stores.
Covent Garden, the popular piazza in London, is just spectacular – an absolute must on your itinerary if you plan to visit London at Christmas. You will be greeted by the sight of a giant Christmas tree, impressive decorations within the market square, and live music, getting everyone in the festive cheer.
In Trafalgar Square, you will see the city’s biggest Christmas tree – one of the most popular sights in London at Christmas. In the evening, carol singers stand at the foot of this enormous Christmas Tree.
Winter Wonderland, the famous Christmas Fair in Hyde Park
Winter Wonderland is one of the most anticipated Christmas events in London. It is a giant Christmas fair and Market with restaurants and bars in the heart of Hyde Park, the most famous park in London.
This magical winter land is packed with fun fair rides for all ages, including a huge Ferris wheel, where you will get 360-degree views of Hyde Park over London. We love going on this Ferris Wheel in Winter Wonderland when it is dark and seeing all the London lights from above. There are huge roller coasters, haunted houses, carousels…
SantaLand is a big draw for families visiting Winter Wonderland. This is where we can find smaller fairground rides perfect for smaller children but also where they can meet Father Christmas and let him know what they really really want for Christmas!
Winter Wonderland is also packed full of amazing little Christmas stalls, where you’ll find unique souvenirs such as crafts, clothing, jewellery, and decorations from London – so there are plenty of opportunities if you´re trying to find that little something to take back home with you.
And it’s also great for food stalls! You’re spoilt for choice regarding sweet treats – with so much cotton candy and churros with chocolate. However, you will also find restaurants and pubs in gorgeous wooden cabins between the market stalls and the fairground rides.
There are also circus performances, an ice-skating rink, the famous Ice Kingdom, where you can walk through amazing Ice Sculptures, and so much more to do!
To book tickets, go to Winter Wonderland.
Ice skating in London at Christmas
The ice skating rinks that pop up all over London during Christmas are one of the things I look forward to the most when Christmas is approaching. The outdoor ice rinks at Christmas are beautiful and usually located in some of London’s most scenic and popular spots.
Numerous skating rinks are scattered around the city in iconic places such as Somerset House and Hyde Park. These usually open in mid-November and stay open until mid-January. And even if you’re not planning on skating, it is a picture-perfect spot to get into the holiday spirit.
We love the ice-skating rink at Somerset House. It’s not one of the most popular places for tourists, but I´d highly recommend it as it is simply spectacular. Here, you will also find a small pop-up Christmas Shop with festive souvenirs, gifts, and traditional British knick-knacks.
Christmas Markets in London
In addition to the famous markets and street markets available throughout the year, there are even more Christmas markets in London to get locals and tourists into the festive spirit. At the Christmas markets in London, you will find all kinds of souvenirs to take home. These are brilliant if you love to collect tree decorations from your travels, for example, or love beautiful candles or handmade crafts, to name a few.
The food stalls in the Christmas Markets are always extremely popular, with hot dogs, hamburgers and roasted chestnuts. And if you have never had a mulled wine or a traditional mince pie – a Christmas market is one of the best places to try some of these!
Christmas musicals, ice-skating, theatre, and ballet shows in London
As well as the famous West-End London musicals available throughout the year, for a few weeks over the festive holidays, London is home to numerous Christmas-themed plays, musicals, pantomimes and ice-skating shows. Going to one of these shows is an excellent choice if you plan to visit London with children at Christmas.
If you are visiting London with kids, we recommend taking them to see The Snowman or Elf, although other less Christmassy options are available, such as Peppa Pig’s Fun Day Out or The Smartest Giant in Town.
Christmas in London with Children
Spending Christmas in London with children is an excellent idea as there are many things to do. It is a magical city for little ones during the festive period. The Christmas markets and fairs are something they will remember forever. The ice-skating rinks often have specific areas for the littlest of skaters, and they can use colourful guards to help stop them from falling.
There are also fantastic Santa´s Grottos dotted around London for children to meet Father Christmas and tell him in person what they want for Christmas. Some of the most famous Santa´s Grottos are Winter Wonderland, Hamleys, Harrods… Make sure to book to avoid disappointment!
Events in London at Christmas
In addition to the ice-skating rinks in London, Winter Wonderland and the many Christmas markets all over the capital – there are many other events during this time of the year.
Christmas at London Zoo
Experience the Magic of Christmas at London Zoo this year. Children will enjoy cookie decorating with Mrs Claus, Christmas festivities, animal crafts and much more. Plus, there is also the option to meet Santa’s Chief Elf in the Polar Post Room and book your tickets to meet the man himself!
> When: 3-4 and 10-24 December 2023
> Tickets: Christmas at London Zoo
Christmas at Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens celebrates Christmas with an amazing light show that is spell-binding. Make your way through the twinkling and impressive lights and take in all the Christmas spirit.
In the cafe, you can treat yourself and the family to a lovely hot chocolate, and along your walk, you’ll be able to toast marshmallows on the bonfires placed all around. And, of course, Santa himself will be there to greet the little ones.
You will have to buy a special ticket for this event, as a standard ticket does not include the festive activities at Christmas at Kew Garden.
This quirky event sees hundreds of people dressed in Father Christmas outfits running through Victoria Park, and we have to say it is one of the funniest events in London at Christmas. And even better, it is a charity event where everyone can participate.
> When: dates 2023 TBC
> Price: Free.
> Website: Santa Run.
Great Christmas Pudding Race
Every year in London, a race is held in the beautiful square of the popular Covent Garden at Christmas. Contestants must carry a spoon in their mouths with a Christmas Pudding (a sweet British traditional cake) and race with it. Expect to see lots of people dressed up and having fun.
> When: dates 2023 TBC
> Price: Free.
> Website: Great Christmas Pudding Race.
Peter Pan Cup Race
On Christmas Day, locals and tourists head to Hyde Park for a swimming race in the icy cold waters of the Serpentine Lake! So, if you will be in London on Christmas Day, why not head down there to give them your support? – they’re going to need it.
> When: 25 December 2023
> Price: Free.
> Website: Peter Pan Cup Race.
Hogwarts in the snow
London at Christmas is already magical, but imagine seeing Hogwarts at Christmas! For all you Potterheads – this is an absolute must! Those who are planning on visiting the Harry Potter Studios during the festive months are in luck as not only will you get to see Harry’s muggle home, Privet Drive, and wander through the Forbidden Forrest, but you’ll also see a massive reconstruction model of Hogwarts covered in snow – which is a beautiful and breath-taking sight.
The highlight has to be The Great Hall, decorated for Christmas with beautiful trees and festive ornaments, as is the Gryffindor Common Room. During the Harry Potter Studios tour, you’ll learn about all the different secrets of the making of the Harry Potter films. You can see Hogwarts in the snow with your standard entry ticket during Christmas.
> When: 11 November 2023 – 14 January 2024.
> More information: Warner Bros. studios
Discover this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of Disney at Excel London. Even though this isn´t a Christmassy Event, we felt we needed to mention this here, as it is not every day that you can sign up to see Disney historical and special treasures, original artworks, artefacts, costumes, props and memorabilia. This once-in-a-lifetime event celebrates the magic of Disney, which has captured the hearts of audiences around the globe.
> When: dates 2023 TBC 13 October 2023 – 21 February 2024.
> Price: £28 adults, under 5s free.
> Tickets: Disney100.
Greenwich Wintertime Festival
From the 1st to the 31st of December, the Greenwich Market celebrates Christmas with its Greenwich Wintertime Festival. The festival is next to the famous Cutty Sark and the Old Royal Naval College. In addition to the Christmas market, you can enjoy some ice skating.
> When: December 2023.
> Price: Free
Coca-Cola Christmas Truck
Christmas would not be complete without the famous Coca-Cola Christmas Truck! You can bring the whole family to one of the truck locations for some festive fun. The truck is more than 4 metres long, and you can get a Coke bottle with your name on it –or someone else’s- a fantastic gift to give to someone you love at Christmas. Get a souvenir picture with this Christmas icon at Wembley or the O2.
> When: dates 2023 TBC
> Price: Free
Southbank Winter Festival
From mid-November to early January, people flock to the south bank of the River Thames, next to the London Eye, for the Southbank Winter Festival. There is a Christmas market here, with stalls with many things to buy: decorations, souvenirs, and mulled wine and food. Carols and the beautiful backdrop of the London Eye and Big Ben in the background set the mood.
> When: dates 2023 TBC
> Price: Free.
December 24th, 25th and 26th in London
If you plan to be in London on Christmas eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day it is important to check public transport as well as knowing what shops, attractions and museums will be open during this time.
December 24th: Christmas Eve in 2023 falls on a Sunday. London is usually busy with people preparing for Christmas Day, so shops will still be open, but they will mostly close around 4 pm. Some attractions normally close, such as The Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, so I would double check opening times for these attractions. Other attractions, such as the sightseeing buses, The London Eye and the Harry Potter Studios, are normally open on Christmas Eve. You will find a lot of cafes, pubs, restaurants and bars open in Central London until late on Christmas Eve. You can also spend the night before Christmas at the magical Winter Wonderland or enjoy one of London’s musicals.
> Find out more: What to do on Christmas Eve in London.
December 25th: On Christmas Day, everything closes in London. There is no public transport, so you will find the tube stations and most of the streets practically empty – except for people taking a Christmas Day walk. All the attractions will be closed – including the Christmas markets and Winter Wonderland. But don’t worry because you can do so many other things on Christmas Day in London. Plenty of restaurants open their doors on Christmas Day in London so that you can enjoy a traditional British Christmas Meal. Or you could even book a trip to another UK city for the day.
> Find out more: Christmas Day in London.
December 26th: Boxing Day is when the amazing Christmas sales start. All the shops are normally open on this day with plenty of bargains. Most tourist attractions are open, too.
> Find out more: Boxing Day in London.
Transport in London on Christmas and New Year’s Eve
As we’ve said before, during Christmas in London, the public transport in the city has a slightly different than normal schedule. During the key dates over Christmas and New Year’s Eve, public transport will continue to run; however, there will be no public transport on Christmas Day.
December 25th is the only day of the year without public transport in London. All tube stations will be closed, there will be no trains or buses.
If necessary, you can always book a taxi or a minibus from a private company or use your Uber app to get around London – however, fares will be more expensive.
New Year’s Eve in London
New Year’s Eve in London is celebrated in style, and the main attraction is the fireworks over the London Eye. One of the best options to spend New Year’s Eve in the English capital is to go and see the fireworks display. You and your family or friends can set up space from the banks of the Thames and see the New Year underneath the spectacle. Tickets need to be purchased in advance. You can also watch them from a New Year’s Eve cruise on the Thames or even from one of London’s parks, restaurants, or parties that offer great views.
We recommend numerous places to book dinner on New Year’s Eve in London – places we like and do not usually feature in other guidebooks and a few more infamous restaurants.
And if you want to party the night away, look into all the best places to dance in the New Year in one of the hottest spots in the city.
New Year’s Day
January 1st in London is a holiday, but if you are going to be here celebrating New Year’s Eve, and you think you can get away with staying in bed all day recovering from the night before – think again, because there is the New Year’s Day Parade!
The New Year’s Day Parade takes place in London and is worth making the trip to go and see. It starts at noon (so don’t worry, not an early start!). It is located on Piccadilly Street and goes over 2.5 km.
The weather in London at Christmas
We often get asked if visiting London at Christmas is worth it, as everybody knows it can get quite chilly and it does get dark very early. It can be pretty cold during Christmas in London, but you’ll be fine as long as you wrap up warm. On average, the temperature tends to be around 10 degrees Celsius during the day but can drop to zero degrees at night – without warning. And, of course, there is always the possibility of snow. All you need is a good coat, gloves, hat and warm boots.
In the winter months of December and January, it gets dark around 4 p.m. in London. And whilst that doesn’t sound great, the truth is far from it, as you can enjoy the Christmas lights in London and soak up the festive atmosphere.
Something else you should probably consider during your visit to London at Christmas is the famous Christmas sales! They usually start unofficially a few days before Christmas Day and last until February, but the big day is always Boxing Day, the 26th of December!