Christmas In London 2023: A Guide To Festive Events, Food And Drink In The Capital This Winter

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Last Updated 22 December 2023

Christmas In London 2023: A Guide To Festive Events, Food And Drink In The Capital This Winter
Christmas 2023 in London: star Christmas lights over Oxford Street
The 2023 Oxford Street Christmas lights. Image: Doug Peters PA Wire

Looking for things to do in London at Christmas? Whether you live here or are visiting the capital over the holiday period, it's a great place to get festive, with plenty of different events taking place, from ice rinks to Christmas markets, Christmas lights and festive food and drink. And that's before we even think about New Year's Eve. Keep an eye on the latest festive news and events in London, here.

So, get stuck in and plan your Christmas in London:

Festive days out and things to do in London this Christmas

Christmas 2023 in London: a Christmas tree  on the ice skating rink outside Battersea Power Station
Go ice skating in London during the festive season. Photo: Joshua Atkins

Christmas film screenings in London

Plenty of places screen festive classics in the run-up to the big day. Find out where to get your dose of Elf, Love Actually and It's A Wonderful Life with our guide to Christmas movie screenings, in cinemas, hotels, and even a palace. If you're so inclined, you can eat-along to Home Alone at one of Taste Film's special screenings — dishes and drinks are served at key moments in the film.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2023

Winter Wonderland opens in Hyde Park featuring a huge fun fair, ice rink, games, Christmas market and seasonal food and drink. It's free to enter but gets very busy and everything you do inside will cost you, apart from walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. We spoke to some visitors to find out what they liked about it. Here are some places to eat and drink close to Winter Wonderland, if you can't face the prices/queues inside. 17 November 2023-1 January 2024.

Christmas ice skating in London

Winter ice skating is always hugely popular in London. Pretty ice rinks pop up at places like Somerset House, Canary Wharf and Hampton Court Palace from October right through until January — including one which opens on Christmas Day. New for Christmas 2023 is a rink in Mayfair. Here's our guide to where to get your skates on over Christmas.

Christmas 2023 in London: fairground rides at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is one of the most popular things to do in London at Christmas.

Winter carriage rides in Richmond Park

Those festive horse-drawn carriage rides through Richmond Park are back, offering a romantic way to see the Royal Park. Take a 75-minute ride on a brake, preceded by a behind the scenes tour of the working stables. 25 November 2023-1 January 2024.

When is the Coca-Cola truck in London?

If juggernauts are more your thing, the Coca-Cola truck usually comes to London as part of its UK tour. In the past it's parked up at The O2 in Greenwich, with further stops in Beckton and Leyton. We'll update you when we have the 2023 Coca-Cola truck tour dates.

The Gingerbread City exhibition at Westfield White City

A model city made entirely from gingerbread goes on display at Westfield shopping centre in West London. Several teams of architects, designers and engineers have worked on Gingerbread City, creating buildings, bridges and other structures as part of a competition. 2 December 2023-7 January 2024.

The Charles Dickens Museum at Christmas

For our money, one of the most traditionally festive days out in London can be had at the Charles Dickens Museum in Bloomsbury. Every year, the author's former home is beautifully decorated as it would have been when the Dickens family lived there, and holds a series of festive events.

Christmas lights in London

Christmas 2023 in London: star-shaped Christmas lights above Oxford Street
See the world-famous Oxford Street Christmas lights. Image: Doug Peters PA Wire

When are London's Christmas lights switched on?

Christmas illuminations tend to get switched on from early November — here's a full guide to the 2023 switch-on dates. We'll update the guide with more switch-on dates when they're announced. Most of them should be lit by early December, which brings us nicely on to...

When and where to see the West End Christmas lights

The best-known Christmas lights are the ones in Regent Street, Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Carnaby. Here's our guide to seeing London's Christmas lights, including the best times to see them, and routes to take — we've even included a map. 2023 details will be added once everything's confirmed.

If you're more organised, you can get a closer look, by viewing London's Christmas lights from a bus. Hop on a TfL service, and let the sights roll past your window.

Oh, and look out for the giant snowman on top of the Shard this year.

Light festivals in London

Once again, London's awash with light festivals this winter. From Kew Gardens to Kenwood House and Eltham Palace — and plenty of places in between — lights, lasers, lanterns and illuminations are back, whether you're looking for a family outing or a romantic night out. Plus, you can ride a steam train covered in Christmas lights, which sounds like the best night out ever! If you're willing to venture outside of London there are plenty of light trails near the capital too.

Things to do with children in London at Christmas

Christmas 2023 in London: Santa and two elves on a station platform next to a steam train
Meet Father Christmas in London this winter. Image: Steam Dreams

Santa's Grottos in London

The kids can share their Christmas wishes (and perhaps find out if they're on the Naughty or Nice list) at these Santa's Grottos and Father Christmas appearances around the capital. Most book out well in advance, so plan ahead. Do spare a thought for those elves though: here's what it's like working at the Harrods grotto, and another elf who worked at an anonymous London tourist attraction spilt the beans too.

Alternatively, take your family to meet Santa on a vintage steam train, running from Victoria station on a few select dates in December 2023.

Ice skating and Hyde Park Winter Wonderland are both also very popular holiday activities with families.

Free festive things to do in London

Christmas in London can be expensive... but there are ways to have a festive day out for free. We've put together a complete guide to free things to do in London at Christmas.

Walking With The Snowman is a free art trail featuring 12 decorated sculptures of the Raymond Briggs character. Visit them for free around the Fleet Street area, 20 November 2023-January 2024.

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Immerse yourself in the magic of Dickens at this dazzling (and delicious) festive extravaganza

A man in festive robes outspreading his arms

The Great Christmas Feast has returned! Masters of immersive entertainment The Lost Estate are once again taking it all the way back to Christmas Eve 1843, for a festive experience like no other. The location? Charles Dickens' gaff (AKA, The Lost Estate's sprawling west London home, transformed into a Victorian winter wonderland). Your host? The esteemed author himself (played by actor Alex Phelps). The plan? To eat, drink and be merry — all while taking in a timeless yuletide tale.

Traverse the starlit, frost-tipped streets of 19th century London, before arriving at Dickens' warm and inviting home. Explore 5000sq ft of spell-binding new sets — created by acclaimed designers Darling & Edge. Then, watch Dickens introduce a critically-acclaimed production of A Christmas Carol, directed by Simon Pittman (whose credits include the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theatre), with a live score by Steffan Rees.

Of course, it wouldn’t be The Great Christmas Feast without some pretty incredible food. And executive chef Ashley Clarke (Gordon Ramsay Group, SmokeStak, Temper Soho) has certainly delivered on that front. Choose a dining ticket to devour such delights as Gressingham duck leg braised in juniper and Michaelmas spices, and black treacle and ginger tart served with Chantilly cream and a mulled berry coulis. Naturally, Dickens' drinks cabinet is as well-stocked as his pantry, with a menu of Victorian-inspired cocktails that'll fill even the Scroogiest of souls with festive spirit(s).

The Great Christmas Feast runs on selected dates between 7 November 2023 and 14 January 2024. All previous editions have sold out - so get yours now to avoid disappointment!

Festive food and drink in London at Christmas

Christmas 2023 in London: a dining igloo lit by candlelight in London at winter
London restaurants go all out for Christmas, with dining igloos popping up everywhere. Image: Coppa Club

'Tis the season for eating and drinking, so here's a guide to London's Christmas menus at bars and restaurants across the capital.

Dine in an igloo

Eat and drink in one of London's pop-up winter igloos. They're appearing on rooftops and riversides all over town, and need to be booked in advance. One to suggest to your boss for the office Christmas party.

Winter pop-up bars in London

Take the party up a notch with London's best winter drinking pop-ups and cosy bars — plenty of heaters and blankets will keep you toasty while you drink your way through mulled wine, spiced cider, sloe gin, and festive cocktails including a Toblerone martini. We're particular fans of Miracle at Henrietta, a kitsch, boozy pop-up in Covent Garden which couldn't get any more Christmassy if Santa's own elves threw up in there (which they likely would after more than a couple of the drinks here — they just slide down far too easily).

Christmas 2023 in London: a bartender dressed as an elf making a cocktail against a backdrop of tinsel and Christmas decorations at Miracle bar
Most festive place in London this Christmas? Probably Miracle

Christmas afternoon tea

Plenty of hotels, restaurants and cafes give their afternoon tea a festive twist in December. We'll bring you details of the best Christmas afternoon teas for 2023 very soon.

Christmas pub crawl

If you're planning a pub crawl, might we suggest this 12 Days of Christmas pub crawl. It's geographically questionable (in fact we don't suggest doing it all in one go) but does have a pub for every line of the song — and it features in our lovely boozy book, Londonist Drinks.

Winter food festivals

There's a festive edition of Eat & Drink Festival (22-26 November 2023), and Hampton Court Palace offers a traditional take on a food festival with its Festive Fayre, both ideal for foodies looking for inspiration for yuletide feasting. Plus, many of London's Christmas markets and fairs have foodie sections, whether you're looking for culinary gifts, or ways to elevate your own cooking.

Festive theatre shows and panto in London: Christmas 2023

Christmas 2023 in London: The Snowman and the boy riding a motorbike on stage
Catch a festive theatre show in London. Image: Tristram Kenton

The festive season is a great time for theatre in London (oh no it isn't... etc). It's hard to know where to start when organising a Christmas theatre trip, so we've picked out some of our favourite shows.

Browse through the capital's best pantomimes this year, spanning Aladdin, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and other familiar favourites... with some very well-known faces. If you're booking for the whole family, just be aware that some of the pantos on that list are definitely NOT for kids.

Speaking of which, if you're getting the whole clan together, you'll be needing our guide to family-friendly theatre shows in London this Christmas. The Snowman, Disney On Ice and Peppa Pig all feature, with performances for a range of ages. We've included a few non-festive shows which are on over the holiday period too, for when the children need a break from Christmas for a couple of hours.

For more general festive theatre and dance shows, London offers everything from The Nutcracker (three, actually) to circus, to Edward Scissorhands. And if Christmas for you is all about the music, may we introduce you to these Christmas music shows, covering everything from old-fashioned crooners to huge karaoke parties. If it's carols you're after, we've got you covered in the Christmas Traditions section, below.

If you think three Nutcrackers in once city is excessive, wait until you hear about A Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens' seasonal novel gets multiple airings on the London stage each winter — but then again, the man did practically invent Christmas. Here are the performances we know about this year. After the show, why not wander around the real-life London locations which appear in the novella.

Christmas shopping in London

Christmas 2023 in London: festive wooden chalets at a London Christmas market
Get your Christmas shopping done at London's winter markets. © Pete Woodhead

As Christmas Day approaches, Christmas markets and fairs spring up all over London, selling festive gifts, Christmas decorations, food and drink and plenty more — many offering a chance to shop small and support local businesses. Some of them are sprawling markets, with wooden cabins in situ for weeks at a time, while others are smaller, local craft fairs that just appear for a day or two.

London's department stores are another popular Christmas shopping spot. Their Christmas departments often open as early as the summer, with whole floors given oven to baubles, fairy lights, advent calendars, Christmas cards and wrapping paper, as well as the all-important presents — and their festive window displays are very popular too. Harrods releases a new Christmas teddy bear each year, while Fortnum and Mason is, in our opinion, exquisitely decorated every festive season. Selfridges is a popular Christmas shopping spot on Oxford Street, and you could spend hours perusing the many and varied baubles up in the rafters of Liberty.

London Christmas traditions

Christmas 2023 in London: The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
You know it's Christmas in London once the Trafalgar Square tree is lit up. Image: Shutterstock

Trafalgar Square Christmas tree 2023

The huge Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is donated to the people of Britain by the city of Oslo each year. The decorations themselves usually cause some debate, but on weekday evenings and weekend afternoons lots of different groups get involved in carol singing beneath the tree, making it a very festive place to be. It's lit on the first Thursday in December each year — that's 7 December 2023.

Christmas carol concerts in London

Get your fill of fa-la-las and jingle bells at the many London Christmas carol concerts. From St Paul's Cathedral to Westminster Abbey, carol services take place all over the capital, many raising money for charity. We know we shouldn't have favourites, but we do enjoy seeing the dogs come into church for Battersea's concert (7 and 8 December 2023).

Spending Christmas in London

Christmas 2023 in London: Christmas lights over a street, behind an iconic London phone box
Image: Shutterstock

Visiting London over the Christmas period? It's a lovely time of year to see the capital, but be aware that not everything functions as normal. Here's what you need to know.

Christmas Eve in London

Looking for things to do on Christmas Eve? Here's a guide to what's on in London on 24 December. Bear in mind that many shops, restaurants, cafes, bars, museums and galleries may close earlier than usual.

Christmas Day in London

Christmas Day can be a magical time to explore the capital if you get up early enough. After about 11am there's a surprising amount of people about, though most shops, museums, cafes, restaurants and bars in London close completely for the day. Here's a guide to what will be open in central London on 25 December and some ideas for things to do in London on Christmas Day.

Transport in London on Christmas Day

It's still a special day in the city however. No tubes, buses or trams will be running but you can get into town by walking, cycle hire, taxi or your own transport.

Christmas Dinner on Christmas Day in London

If it's Christmas lunch you're after, you'll need to book in advance, and it'll be pricier than your average meal out. Here's our pick of the best places to eat Christmas dinner on Christmas Day in London.

Christmas and New Year in London

Once the big day is out of the way, we've still got you covered. Here's what's on on Boxing Day, and we've also handpicked some events to keep you out of mischief right through to New Year. For New Year's Eve plans and beyond, see below.

Volunteering in London at Christmas

Plenty of charities and organisations look for volunteers to help both in the run-up to Christmas and on Christmas Day itself. Have a look at what's going on and where you can volunteer in London over Christmas.

Will it snow in London at Christmas?

Snow at Christmas in London is getting rarer, so you're very unlikely to be treading through inches of the white stuff on Christmas Day. However, you may see the odd flake some years — and that's enough for the Met Office to declare it a white Christmas. You'll have to wait until a few days before 25 December to see the odds of it being a white Christmas 2023.

Spending New Year's Eve in London

Christmas 2023 in London: New Year's fireworks over the London skyline
The London New Year's Eve fireworks are very popular. Image: Shutterstock

So you've navigated the festive season in the capital, and now you're spending the last night of 2023 and seeing in 2024 in here too? Here's the info you need.

It's never too early to make your New Year's Eve plans — plenty of parties and events sell out months in advance. Here's our guide to this year's New Year's Eve events. It contains daytime events on 31 December and parties that go on well into the night/next morning to see in 2024 with a bang.

As the clock strikes midnight on 31 December, there will be New Year's Eve fireworks over the Thames once again. Seeing them in person is ticketed, with tickets on sale via the Mayor of London's website, though they usually tend to sell out fast.

Ease yourself back into everyday life with our guide to things to do on New Year's Day. We've put together a special guide to the New Year's Day Parade, which takes place in central London every year.

Christmas in London: the best of the rest

Christmas 2023 in London: a Photoshopped image of a giant Christmas pudding on the St Paul's Cathedral dome.
Christmas in London? Yeah, we know a thing or two. Image: Londonist

Over the years, we've amassed a fair amount of knowledge about the festive season here in the capital. Pour yourself a glass of mulled wine, unpack the mince pies, and settle yourself down for a read of some of our features: