During my years of living abroad, I had the pleasure of spending the Christmas season in London twice. Dressed to the nines, the city is a bustling, joyous place to be during the holiday season, and it really comes to no surprise to me, at all, that people want to experience it for themselves. During my two seasons there, I had visits from two different friends, my brother, and was living with my partner for one of them. I loved showing them around, sharing Christmas market treats, keeping warm with mulled wine, and creating some amazing memories. That being said, if you don’t happen to live in/around London, or know someone to show you around, it can be a bit overwhelming knowing where to go and what to see and do.
I’ve created this blog post as a rough guide to help you plan your holiday visit to the iconic city of London, with suggestions on how to make the most of it all! So, grab yourself a cuppa, sit back and relax, and let’s get on with it!
1. Marvel at the West End Christmas lights
Where: Oxford Street, Regent Street, & Carnaby Street
Closest London Underground: Oxford Circus, Picadilly Circus
To experience the best of the city’s Christmas light displays, it’s best to head to the West End of London. Located in the City of Westminster, this area runs through Picadilly Circus and Oxford Circus and is comprised of a few of the most iconic streets of the city. As mentioned above, the best streets to walk down and explore are Regent Street, Oxford Street, and Carnaby Street — each famous for fashion, lifestyle, and dining options. You will find Regent Street running between the London Underground stops Picadilly Circus and Oxford Circus. Oxford Circus is also the stop you will find Oxford Street, as this is the point at which the two streets intersect. You will find Carnaby Street, a small pedestrian street, located just behind Regent Street and Oxford Street, in SoHo, about a 2-minute walk from Oxford Circus and Picadilly Circus. In each spot, enjoy holiday shopping, famous light displays, colourful Christmas decorations, and more!
2. Cozy up in Covent Garden
Where: Covent Garden
Closest London Underground: Covent Garden
A 19th Century Piazza, surrounded by cobblestone lanes and impressive infrastructure, Covent Garden gives you the feeling of stepping back in time, while also feeling as though you might currently exist inside your very own Christmas ornament. Surrounded by giant mistletoe chandeliers, a 55-foot Christmas tree, more than 115,000 lights, mulled wine stalls, boutique shopping, and some great Insta-worthy places to perch and pose, this area is not to be missed. Keep an extra eye open too, because there are often miming and juggling performances found in the West end of the piazza.
3. Go ice skating in Historic London
Where: Natural History Museum, Tower of London
Closest London Underground: South Kensington, Tower Hill
You’ve probably seen the iconic images on both Pinterest and Instagram of outdoor skating rinks in London that give you all the warm, fuzzy holiday feels. The two most famous locations for this are probably that of the Natural History Museum and the Tower of London. The Natural History Museum Ice Rink is located in South Kensington and is open from October 25th – January 20th. Times can vary, but the rink is generally running from 10 am- 9 pm. Adults can skate at a cost of £12.65 and children £8.80.
Try and book your tickets in advance online to save 10%. Tower Skate, located at Tower Hill, runs from the 23rd of November to the 6th of January. Adults can skate for £14.50 and children can skate for £10.50 – £12.50. Book your tickets for Tower Skate here.
4. Christmas shop in Camden Market
Where: Camden Town
Closest London Underground: Camden Town
Camden Market, as one of my favourite spots in London, is a time and half at any point in the year, but — as you can imagine – at Christmas time, it’s just that much more bumpin’. Great food, delicious festive treats, and endless market stalls filled with unique gifts, artisan crafts, goodies, and a few quirky oddities here and there; I’m convinced you could find something for every type of individual on your shopping list!
5. Visit Hogwarts in the snow
Where: Warner Brothers Studio
Closest London Underground: This location is outside of central London, in Watford. Click here for instructions on how to get there.
A visit to the Harry Potter Studio is pretty darn epic – fact. But, what about witnessing its festive transformation at Christmas time? Gosh darn, magical. Wander through the Great Hall, elaborately decorated, reflective of the iconic Yule Ball — with dripping icicles and glittering snow — and take in the table setting, where you will see a seasonal feast comprised of (prop version) roast turkeys, Christmas puddings, and studded hams with all the fixings. Continuing through the studio, you’ll see for your very own eyes the Gryffindor Common Room and male dormitories festively made-over, housed with original Christmas props – some even made by the cast during production. Oh yeah, and the Hogwarts castle model will also be magically adorned in a layer of filmmaking snow. I’d share more, but you should really just go witness it for yourself…
Be sure to purchase your tickets in advance. You can do that here. Hogwarts in the Snow runs from mid-November to late January.
6. Eat your way through dreamy Christmas Markets
Where: Leister Square, Southbank, London Bridge
Closest London Underground: Leister Square, Waterloo Underground, London Bridge
It’s Christmas markets… do I really have to say anything more? Mulled wine, Nutella hot chocolate, baked goods, specialty food vendors, and more… you already know the drill. What you might not know is exactly where to find these guys. One such can be found in Leister Square (the same one where all the Gold Carpet London premiers take place). Another popular area is Southbank, often referred to as the “Southbank Centre Winter Market”. Here, multiple stalls and performance stages line the Thames River. If you’re having trouble finding this area, head toward the iconic London Eye! Another Christmas market can be found along the Thames River by London Bridge. Here, you will have beautiful views of the ever-so-famous Tower Bridge and Tower of London.
This leads me to my next suggestion…
7. Sip n’ socialize at Winter Wonderland
Where: Hyde Park
Closest London Underground: Marble Arch, Green Park, Hyde Park Corner, Victoria, Knightsbridge
Winter Wonderland is kind of what I picture to be a Christmas Oktoberfest… well at least in the evenings and weekends. This is THE place to be in London during the holiday season. Although it could be combined with the previous section, I truly believe this one deserves its own place of recognition. With free entrance, it’s an amazing place for families to spend the day with small kids, enjoying shows and performances, fair rides, games, and more. It’s also a perfect romantic place for couples to wander through, sharing (more) mulled wine – can you tell I like this stuff? – perusing a variety of gift vendors, or simply meeting up with friends to enjoy the Bavarian beer garden. It is here that you might even recognize a face or two, as celebrities (just as any other regular person) love to indulge in the festivities as well! My friend and I actually recognized Luke Evans, as he and a friend enjoyed the beer garden at a table nearby. As a heads-up though, Winter Wonderland is only open until 10 pm, with the last call for alcohol usually taking place around 9:30 pm. Therefore, it’s much better to arrive in the early evenings to make the most of your night, heading elsewhere after the gates have closed.
8. Enjoy a Christmas festive special from a local pub
Where: Basically, any local pub
Lastly, you’ve got to know that you can never go wrong with a good ‘ol traditional Christmas festive special. When it comes to these dinners, the Brits do it right! Enjoy a fresh plated warm meal, consisting of oven-roasted turkey and all the trimmings, including stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and some combination of vegetables (carrots, parsnip, turnip, etc.), in almost any cozy pub you can find. If you’re lucky, you might even land a super cute spot by the fire! It’s the perfect way to unthaw, unwind, relax, and fuel your body with the warmth of the holiday spirit, British style.
And there you have it – the 8 best ways to truly experience Christmas in London. I do hope that some of the specifics in this post have been helpful in planning your excursions and identifying your priorities so that you can make the very most of this incredibly magical time of year in one of the world’s most popular cities.
Have you ever experienced Christmas in London? What was your favourite part?
Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays,