Visiting London at Christmas is one of the most extraordinary experiences you can have. The city transforms into a magical atmosphere of fairy lights, festive spirit, and pop-up bars with boozy hot chocolate and street food. London celebrates the Christmas season better than most other cities in Europe.
The amount of festive things to do in London for Christmas is large enough to tear you off your sofa and away from all those back-to-back Christmas films. Whether you head to Tower Bridge to check out its Christmas market or to one of the ice skating rinks dotted around the city, you’ll have so much fun. London lights up at this time of year with so much eating, drinking, fun, and shopping.
Festive Things To Do in London at Christmas
In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the best attractions and activities to tick off when visiting London at Christmas. From Christmas lights to boozy hot chocolate and shopping for handmade gifts, these are the best things to do in London this December.
1. Covent Garden
There’s no better place to celebrate a London Christmas than Covent Garden. Covent Garden is one of the most famed places in the city. It is an ornate shopping and entertainment center in London’s theatrical West End neighborhood. At Christmas, though, this magical place transforms again, hosting a small Christmas market, thousands of festive lights and decorations, and even fake snow flurries between 12 pm and 9 pm each day. The fake snow is on the hour in West Piazza – you won’t miss it.
Covent Garden is one of the best places for undercover Christmas shopping and a reliable white Christmas.
2. Try Mulled Wine
Another thing you can’t have a London Christmas without is mulled wine. Luckily, there’s no shortage of this tasty festive drink in the city. You can find delicious mulled wine all over London. The drink is just piping hot red wine with spices like cinnamon. You can find it at pop-up bars and established drinking holes like The Hawk’s Nest in Shepherd’s Bush. Mr Fogg’s Tavern is also a great spot for delicious mulled wine. Wander through the Christmas markets and see if you can spot some to takeaway, or head for a cozy seat inside one of the London pubs.
3. Hogwarts in the Snow
Everyone knows about London’s Harry Potter studio experience. But did you know it hosts a Christmas special? Hogwarts in the Snow is a way for fans to celebrate Christmas in the wizarding world and runs generously between mid-November and mid-January. There’s everything from Christmas trees in the Great Hall and Yule Ball dance lessons. Of course, you’ll see fake snow everywhere – a definite plus with London’s hit-and-miss white Christmases.
You must book tickets in advance, which costs around $60 per person. And it might be best to book a guided tour that includes transport, because the studio is located north of the city center, and is difficult to reach without a car.
Guided Tour: Warner Bros Studio from London
4. Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is a Christmas destination in its own right. Seriously, this place is enormous. If you want to embrace the Christmas spirit in central London, this is one of the most sought-after and famous festive events to do so at. It transforms Hyde Park into a Bavarian-esque winter wonderland, with huge tents selling Christmas cocktails and German beer, a fairground, food stalls, and rustic pop-up stalls selling handmade gifts and sweet treats. And that’s not to mention its massive ice bar and ice skating rink. Everyone goes to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, but you can see why.
For a bit of festive cheer, you can’t go wrong. Remember to book in advance (directly on the official website to avoid scams), as it sells out quickly.
5. Go Ice Skating
Speaking of festive cheer, what about going ice skating as a standalone activity? Ice rinks are easily one of the most classic festive activities. When in London, you’ll have dozens at your fingertips. There’s the obvious choice of the ice rink in Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. But there’s also the Canary Wharf Ice Rink, JW3 Ice Rink, and even one at the foot of Battersea Power Station. When we say London has lots of ice rinks, we really mean it. Pick one (or two) and get your skates ready.
Enjoying the rinks is one of the best things to do in London this Christmas. Here is a list of all of the rinks in London this season.
6. Watch a Christmas Concert
You can’t be in London at Christmas and not check out one of the Christmas concerts. Carol singing and Christmas songs are the best ways to get in a festive mood. Many of London’s events are hosted in beautiful venues, like the Royal Albert Hall, which hosts traditional concerts and Christmas carol performances. St. Paul’s Cathedral is another good spot for Christmas carols in festive, atmospheric performances. Our recommendation? Plan to attend at least one concert when celebrating Christmas in London. The stunning venues and traditional experience of carol singing make it the ideal addition to your festive itinerary.
7. Leicester Square
Leicester Square is where to be this Christmas in London. Every year, the square is decked with an all-action Christmas market that runs for two months, selling everything from food to mulled wine and offering free entrance. However, we’ll cover Christmas markets in more detail later.
What we really love about Leicester Square are its street performers, which take on extra festive inspiration throughout December and into January. Leicester Square is action-packed and dramatic, and the public space pulls out all the stops during the festive season. If you want free things to do in London this Christmas, visiting Leicester Square should be one of your top choices.
8. Westminster Abbey
Everyone knows Westminster Abbey – the home of British politics and religion, for better or worse. You can take guided tours through the Abbey throughout the year, admiring its grand architecture. However, what’s really exciting is Westminster Abbey at Christmas.
You can attend numerous free events at Westminster Abbey in December, including the First Eucharist of Christmas Night and even the Christmas Day Holy Communion. There’s even a Royal Carol Service, where HRH hosts the festivities. When it comes to Westminster Abbey, you’ve just got to keep your eye on its calendar. The Abbey really goes to town with Christmas events in December.
Guided Tour: Walking Tour with Westminster Abbey
9. London Bridge
London Bridge is an iconic part of the London skyline and embraces an annual Christmas theme. Not only does the famous landmark run a Christmas market, but the London Bridge Rooftop transforms into a magical festive experience for adults. The covered venue whacks out DJ sets, mulled wine, baubles, and Christmas lights – plus a packed menu of festive cocktails and meals. The whole area around London Bridge becomes a hive of activity, so definitely add London Bridge and its surrounding neighborhood to your list of things to do in London this December.
The 1970s bridge is a classic bit of architecture and a real hub for Christmas cheer. You can walk across and admire the festive lights along the banks of the River Thames. Or you can head to the nearby London Bridge Rooftop and Christmas market.
10. Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square is one of the most famous landmarks in London and attracts millions of tourists each year. At Christmas, though, there’s even more reason to stop by. The square has transformed into a festive masterpiece and currently boasts a 70-foot tree transported from Norway. It is part of a tradition that has been going on since 1947, with Norway gifting London a Christmas tree each year in exchange for Britain’s assistance in World War II. Because of the Norwegian link, it is also typically decorated in Norwegian style with vertical Christmas lights.
You can head to Trafalgar Square, admire the tree, listen to the carol singers, and watch any street performers. The story behind Trafalgar Square’s Christmas tree is wholesome and a poignant reminder of the tragedies of World War II – making visiting one of the most popular things to do in London at Christmas. Besides, what’s a London Christmas without a tree or two?
11. Somerset House
Somerset House is a leading attraction in London, and the neoclassical building in central London houses plenty of artistic and cultural exhibits. The most famous of these is the Courtauld Gallery, an art gallery featuring the esteemed piece Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear by the beloved Vincent Van Gogh. It is a brilliant place to visit all year round. Still, there’s something about art galleries at Christmas that is just extra special. Escape from the cold and wet, and enjoy looking at some of the most valuable art in England.
What really makes Somerset House so festive, though, is its vast ice skating rink outside. You can spend a few hours admiring the art, then head out to ice skate and let your hair down.
Guided Tour: Courtauld Gallery Entrance at Somerset House
12. Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens is a place of extreme beauty on the outskirts of London. The botanical garden comes to life every winter with extra special features, including a festive light trail that wows visitors with elaborate light installations. You walk through the gardens admiring art features like a water fountain exploding with illuminated colors or golden light tunnels. Kew Gardens is a beautiful place to celebrate Christmas, and walking through such creative displays at night is fantastic. There are even vendors selling hot chocolate and piping hot festive foods along the way.
You must book in advance for Kew Gardens as it is – understandably – very popular. However, it runs from November until January, so you can squeeze in there at some point.
13. Watch a Musical or West End Show
West End plays run all year round, but nothing feels more festive than getting dressed up for a West End production in December. The cozy and indulgent vibe is unrivaled. And you can indulge in a champagne and settle into a warm seat while you relax with an evening of entertainment. West End productions run on loops, with regular shows like The Lion King.
However, you can also catch festive film adaptations in other theaters across London, finding play adaptations of classics like Charles Dickens. If you want a play alternative to a Christmas film, this is the best idea for your itinerary. Check out theater performances that coincide with the dates you visit London.
14. Kensington Palace
If you are visiting London at Christmas, you have to stop by a royal residence or two. Kensington Palace is home to Will and Kate and their children, but part of the palace is open to the public almost daily. Take advantage of this classic tourist attraction and peek at some of the grandest Christmas decorations in the city.
Kensington Palace also opened the Luna Winter Cinema, which shows open-air Christmas films. The whole place comes alive with Christmas cheer. And for a homely – if extremely grand – aesthetic, Kensington Palace is one of the best Christmas versions of classic London attractions.
Guided Tour: Kensington Palace Entrance
15. Hampton Court
Hampton Court Palace is always a good idea to visit in London. The palace was actually home to Henry the 8th – an extremely notorious figure in UK history. However, it comes even more to life each Christmas, with a giant ice skating rink, stunning decorations, and a Christmas market with over 100 artisan producers. Hampton Court Palace at Christmas is beautiful. There are even carriage rides with shire horses around the palace grounds. And if you catch it on a snow day, just thank your lucky stars. The red brick building looks gorgeous in the snow.
You can buy tickets to Hampton Court Palace online. It is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and is open from Wednesday until Sunday from 10 am until 4:00 pm.
Guided Tours: Hampton Court Palace Entrance
16. Neverland’s Winterland
This bar is the best in London if you are an adult but a big kid deep down. Neverland London is where to embrace your inner Peter Pan, with an artificial beach club through summer and a winter wonderland through the festive season. At Christmas, Neverland transforms into an alpine village with igloos, lodges, and even a ski lift that you can dine and drink in.
Neverland is so much fun, especially if you want to enjoy cocktails in style. It also serves food – a bar-restaurant with a difference and one of the best things to do in London at Christmas.
17. Rooftop Views Queen of Hoxton
When in London at Christmas, the Queen of Hoxton is a must-visit venue. It is situated in trendy Shoreditch – who doesn’t love this cool London neighborhood – and runs a different Christmas theme each year. In 2023, this is gothic Venice, and its winter rooftop beer and cocktail garden will be suitably decked out.
There’s everything from gondola seating to Italian chandeliers. If you want somewhere to admire the London scenery and have a fancy drink, the Queen of Hoxton is the ideal place to visit. The pub has three levels, plus its stunning rooftop area.
18. Watch or Participate in the Santa Run London
The Santa Run London is one of the most hilarious things you’ll see. Thousands of contestants dressed in Santa costumes sprint their way through the city center on 5k or 10k routes. The whole event is designed to raise money for charity, and the fit amongst you can take part, while those that prefer to watch can enjoy the spectacle of thousands of Santas running around London.
Participating in or watching the Santa Run London is one of the most unique and funny things to do in the city at Christmas. You won’t see it on the standard tourist list, but that’s half the allure. Embrace the British sense of humor and get involved.
There are a handful of Santa running events in December, but the main one is around Victoria Park.
19. Hyde Park’s Serpentine
If you are brave, you can participate in the Peter Pan Cup – a.k .a. a mad swim around a 100-meter course in Serpentine Lake on Christmas Day- where the winner is awarded a trophy. The quirky attraction draws in the bravest possible contestants. The first race was held in 1864 when the author of Peter Pan awarded the winning trophy to the triumphant contestant. This is what gives the race its name.
You can compete or, if you aren’t feeling like freezing water on Christmas Day, watch from the banks of Serpentine Lake.
20. Thames Dinner Cruise
A Thames dinner cruise is another London classic. Don’t get us wrong, these run all year round. But you can book exceptional dinner cruise experiences specifically dedicated to celebrating Christmas. These cruises have festive music blaring, party hats, decorations, and traditional Christmas food and drink. This Thames dinner cruise is exactly what you need on a festive London itinerary. And you still get all the joys of sightseeing, with the London landmarks passing by your window.
You can give it a Google or just check the link below to see a great example of Christmas dinner cruises in London.
Guided Tour: Christmas Party Dinner Cruise
21. Walk Down Regent Street
Walking down Regent Street is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas. The street is famed for high-end shops like Burberry, and in December, you can admire all the decorations in Christmas windows. Regent Street is also where you’ll find some of the most dramatic Christmas lights in the city. As a busy, safe area of London, it is ideal for solo travelers to explore and embrace a festive evening in the city.
Walking down Regent Street is aesthetic and ideal for last-minute shopping. It is a safe and easy activity to squeeze into even the busiest London itineraries. Most shops close at 8 or 9 pm, so we suggest heading there around 5-7 pm.22. Natural History Museum
The Natural History Museum is famous. You’ve definitely heard of it before. It might not have struck you as a Christmas attraction, but don’t be fooled; this museum has much on its sleeve regarding festive cheer. The Natural History Museum has Christmas and winter-themed workshops and pop-up activities. Just check its website to see what’s on when you are in London.
There’s also a Christmas at the Museum event on the 22nd of December and Storytelling with Santa sessions from the 11th to the 23rd of December in 2023. The Santa experience includes a gift and a private photo opportunity. If you are traveling with young children, this is an absolute must.
Nothing beats a Christmas shop. With the excitement, the music, the crowds, and the Christmas lights, it is the most lively time of the year to go shopping. Armed with a long list of present ideas, it is no wonder that people like to splurge so much when shopping in London, which has some of the best shops in Europe. At Christmas, Oxford Street is one of the best places to head. In 2023, it is decorated with 300,000 floating stars strung over the street in scenic zigzags. And you can head down to window shop or grab last-minute presents under the stars.
Oxford Street has extra attractions, like a life-sized snow globe you can go inside, Santa’s Grotto inside John Lewis, and an immersive art experience showcasing the northern lights.
24. Southbank Centre Winter Festival
Southbank Centre Winter Festival is a beautiful place to celebrate Christmas with lots of fun. There is – of course – a festive market. However, there are also choir performances and theatrical productions like The Nutcracker and Christmas Actually. There are dance classes, a free Winter Light art exhibition, and free concerts. Southbank Centre really puts the culture into celebrating Christmas. So, if you love anything art-related, just check it out. It is full of incredible activities, and you can get really stuck in.
Most events at Southbank are free, and there is no need to book. But you can check out the entry requirements for specific events and an event calendar with a quick Google.
25. Head to London Christmas Markets
We have already touched on Christmas markets while discussing the other best things to do in London at Christmas. However, markets are such a big part of the holiday season that we just had to dedicate an entire section to them. These markets typically run for December, but you get the odd early birds running from November and stragglers continuing into January. The best markets in London are:
- Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
- Fleet Street
- Covent Garden
- Leicester Square.
You can grab drinks and food from festive takeaway stalls. Or you can shop for artisan and handmade presents or decorations like hand-painted baubles.
26. London Christmas Lights Bus Tour
When visiting London, you have to admire the Christmas lights. Dazzling lights and displays dangling across the streets are one of the most famous types of Christmas decorations and something for the whole family to enjoy. London really goes to town on Christmas lights. The city practically lights up with twinkling, extravagant, festive-themed lighting decorations.
The best way to see as many of London’s Christmas lights as possible is with an open-top bus tour. These buses take you through the center of London, passing the most beautiful lights and giving you the best seat in the house – watching the lights pass from a rooftop perch. The Christmas lights are so close you can almost touch them, and you’ll get to see everything without the chaos of crowds on the street level below. If you are going to do just one thing in London this Christmas, this would be our top recommendation.
Guided Tour: Open Top Bus Tour
FAQs: Festive Things to Do in London
Spending the Christmas holidays in London means you have thousands of festive things to do. There are Christmas markets, ice rinks, concerts, and millions of shopping experiences you can fit into an itinerary. But before you rush off and enjoy that, though, check out these common FAQs.
Is London a good place to spend Christmas?
London is an incredible place to spend Christmas. There are many Christmas lights, scenic ice rinks, and festive decorations; it has the ultimate festive aesthetic, and nothing beats wandering its Christmas windows on Regent Street and the little Christmas markets.
Is Christmas a good time to go to London?
Christmas is an amazing time to visit London. The festive events and gorgeous Christmas aesthetic make it one of the best places to stay at this time of year. Yes, it gets busy. But that’s the whole point of Christmas; it creates a festive and sociable atmosphere. We’d say that Christmas is a perfect time to experience London – just be organized and book everything in advance to counteract the crowds.
What should I do for Christmas in London?
You should visit some of the Christmas markets in London and take a bus tour around the city’s Christmas lights. London’s main attractions are all beautiful at this time of year, with giant Christmas trees and decorations, especially Hampton Court and Kensington Gardens. There are also things like ice skating and the much-adored Winter Wonderland spectacle in Hyde Park.
What is on in London for Christmas 2023?
There are loads on at Christmas in London in 2023. Check out the annual events like Neverland and Winter Wonderland. But also check out upcoming West End performances, Christmas films, and carol-singing events. There’s no better place to celebrate the festive season than in London, and 2023 is set to be no different.
There’s no better place than London to spread that Yuletide joy. There are so many pop-up events and activities between the ice rinks and Christmas markets. Ideally, you’d have at least 3 days to celebrate Christmas in London. This is long enough to venture out on a day trip to Hampton Court or Richmond Park and spend 2 days enjoying markets, concerts, Christmas lights, and museums.
Are you looking for more London inspiration? Check these articles out on the best things to do year-round, day trips, and best London landmarks. It is worth noting that London is just one of the best places to visit in the UK. Some northern cities like York and Manchester are also stunning at Christmas, so make good use of the trains and stay longer.