Christmas festivals have become big business in London in recent years. Often, they don't have much to do with Christmas itself, save a few token paper snowflakes and a Santa's grotto tucked away in the corner. Instead, we've come to expect funfairs, ice rinks, street food, pop-up bars, theatre and circuses and more appearing in London's parks as winter sets in. For some it's heaven, for others, it's hell. If it's your thing, here's a guide to the Christmas 2018 festivals in London, including two which are new for this year.
If it's just the shopping you're after, take a look at our guide to the best Christmas markets and fairs in London this year.
Christmas in Leicester Square 2018
The pedestrianised area in the centre of Leicester Square is flooded with wooden chalets, food stalls and twinkling lights. It's completely free to enter the market area and browse the stalls, in the shadow of that Shakespeare statue.
The festival is organised by Underbelly, the team who bring the theatre festival to South Bank every year, so it's no surprise that focus here is on the theatricals. A 1920s-style spiegeltent houses performances ranging from burlesque carol concerts to family discos to kids' comedy. Oh, and Santa resides in a grotto for the duration of the festival. Here's what it looked like in 2017:
Christmas in Leicester Square, free entry (charge for performances), 9 November 2018-6 January 2019
Winterville 2018, Clapham Common
Having roamed east London for a couple of years in an attempt to position itself as a trendier Winter Wonderland, Winterville headed south to Clapham Common last year and returns there for 2018.
Many of the attractions are similar to those at Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland; ice rink, fairground rides, circus show, food stalls. But there are a few nods towards its younger, trendier audience, rather than the families that flock to Hyde Park. Think roller disco, crazy golf, and an 18+ puppet show. Many of the attractions are only open Thursday-Sunday (reflected in the varying entry prices) so pick your day carefully.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2018
The big daddy of Christmas festivals in London, Winter Wonderland has been going in Hyde Park for more years than we care to think about (and was in the O2 — then known as the Millennium Dome — before that). The formula's much the same every year (if it ain't broke, don't fix it) with free entry and a myriad of attractions to pay for once you're in the gates; funfair rides, an ice rink, circus shows, a magic ice kingdom, cinema screenings...
It's also home to one of London's largest Christmas markets, and plenty of food and drink stalls. You could easily spend a day here (not necessarily a cheap day...) especially with kids, and if you go to just one Christmas festival in London, it should probably be this one. That said, avoid evenings, weekends, and the days immediately before Christmas — it gets rammed.
Parents may be interested to know that it has the only (that we know of) free Santa's Grotto in London. For the few quid you save, you'll pay with your time — queues can sometime be hours long. You've been warned.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, free entry, 23 November 2018-6 January 2019
Alice in Winterland, Southwark Park
Part lantern festival, part Christmas festival, Alice in Winterland is a new addition for 2018. Head to Burgess Park to wander through scenes from Alice in Wonderland, recreated in lantern form, including a chess board. Then eat alongside characters at the Mad Hatter's tea party (a street food festival), before visiting Santa in his grotto.
Alice in Winterland, Southwark Park. Tickets from £15 adults/£9 children, booking required. 28 November 2018-5 January 2019
Walthamstow Winter Wonderland 2018
In advance of Waltham Forest becoming London Borough of Culture 2019, it's getting its own Winter Wonderland in Walthamstow. We're not sure how they're getting away with the name, as it's not affiliated with the other Winter Wonderland, but it is what it is.
It pops up in Walthamstow Town Square Gardens, and offers a strong checklist of the Christmas festival basics. Ice rink? Tick. Santa's Grotto? Tick. Amusements? Tick. Street food? Tick. Market stalls? Tick. Organisers claim they're expecting 40,000 visitors a day... we'll see.
Walthamstow Winter Wonderland, free entry, 1-28 December 2018