Christmas In London: A Guide To Festive Events, Ice Rinks, Christmas Food, Films And More

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 20 months ago

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Christmas In London: A Guide To Festive Events, Ice Rinks, Christmas Food, Films And More

We're updating this page with details for Christmas 2021 as they're announced, so keep checking back for more festive goodness.

Christmas in Covent Garden: guide to Christmas in London, events, things to do, lights, markets, food, drink

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.

Christmas lights in London

Photo: Shutterstock

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 2021 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. 2021 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, or keep an eye for London Transport Museum's vintage bus lights tours this year.

Light festivals in London

Once again, London's awash with light festivals this winter.

Christmas at Kew is as fantastic as ever. Photo: Londonist

From Kew Gardens to Syon Park to Hampton Court Palace to Wembley Park 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.

Trafalgar Square Christmas tree 2021

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 usually switched on on the first Thursday in December.

Christmas shopping in London

Fortnum looks fantastic at Christmas — but which is London's best Christmas department? Photo: Londonist

Lots of Christmas markets, festive fairs and yuletide festivals proliferate throughout the capital in December to help make Christmas shopping jolly. Here's our guide to London's Christmas markets and fairs.

London's got a wealth of department stores to choose from — find out which is our favourite.  We perused the Christmas 2019 departments and pitted them against each other to find the best Christmas department in London.

Many of them have Santa's grottos inside them come December, though you have to book way in advance if you want an appointment with Father Christmas. Harrods famously has very particular criteria as to which children are invited into its Swarovski-encrusted grotto.

Photo: Shutterstock

It's also worth checking out the Christmas windows at Harrods, Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges.

For more local Christmas shopping which supports independent shops, head to Columbia Road's Shopping Wednesdays. The gift shops and boutiques of the east London street stay open late on selected Wednesdays, with carol singing, mulled wine and other festive entertainment in the street.

Christmassy things to do in London

Book tickets for a cosy Christmas film screening

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 or It's A Wonderful Life with our guide to Christmas movie screenings. Particularly festive is Backyard Cinema's Secret Snow Kingdom is a particularly festive option for Christmas 2019.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland 2019

Winter Wonderland is open 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. 21 November 2019- 5 January 2020.

Christmas ice skating in London

Winter ice skating is always hugely popular in London. Pretty ice rinks pop up at places like the Natural History Museum, Somerset House, Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace from October right through until January. New for Christmas 2019 are rinks in Greenwich, Covent Garden (top tip: this one's free), and on a rooftop in Waterloo. Here's our guide to where to get your skates on over Christmas.

Somerset House is home to one of London's Christmas ice rinks. Photo: Shutterstock

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.

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.

Christmas in Leicester Square 2019

A traditional Christmas market, Santa's grotto, and food and drink stalls all form part of festival Christmas in Leicester Square. It's organised by the people behind Udderbelly Festival, so there are plenty of shows in a 1920s speigeltent too. 8 November 2019-5 January 2020.

See Hogwarts in its festive finery

Hogwarts in the Snow at Warner Bros Studios

The Great Hall at Hogwarts — or at least, the film set of it at Leavesden — is transformed into a winter wonderland for Christmas, decked out for the wizarding school's Yule Ball. Tickets to dine in the Great Hall are sold out, but Harry Potter fans book on a tour anytime until 26 January to see Hogwarts in its festive finery. 16 November 2019-26 January 2020.

Dickensian Christmas at Charles Dickens Museum

The Charles Dickens Museum always looks fantastic decorated for Christmas, but it's going even more festive this year, with a Christmas themed exhibition. Beautiful Books: Dickens and the Business of Christmas explores the author's impact on the commercialisation of the holiday season — and how an oversaturated market ironically turned him into a bit of a Scrooge. 20 November 2019-April 2020.

Christmas Mail Rail rides at the Postal Museum

There's no corner of this city that escapes the festivities — even Mail Rail, buried deep underground in Clerkenwell has a Christmas makeover. Yuletide projections are shown on the tunnel walls, depicting Christmasses past including the broadcast of the first King's Speech on the BBC. 23 November-21 December 2019.

Anyone for Christmas at Central Perk? Photo: Londonist

Friends Festive London: Christmas 2019

The Christmas and Thanksgiving episodes of beloved TV show Friends are celebrated at Friends Festive. Tour the sets of the Friends' apartments and Central Perk, all decked out for Yule, pose for festive photos, and tuck into food and drink. 28 November-21 December 2019.

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. 29 November 2019-5 January 2020.

When is the Coca-Cola truck in London?

If juggernauts are more your thing, the Coca-Cola truck comes to London as part of its UK tour. The most central London location where you can see the Coca-Cola truck at Christmas 2019 is at The O2 in Greenwich, with further stops in Beckton and Leyton. 3-15 December 2019.

Gingerbread City comes to Somerset House. © Luke Hayes

Covent Garden's Great Pudding Race

On one December Saturday every year, chaos takes over Covent Garden in the form of the Great Christmas Pudding Race. Teams in fancy dress go head-to-head in a festive obstacle course around Covent Garden, all while balancing a Christmas pudding on a tray — and best of all, it raises money for charity. 7 December

Gingerbread City at Museum of London

A model city made entirely from gingerbread goes on display at Somerset House. Several teams of architects, designers and engineers have worked on Gingerbread City, creating buildings, bridges and other structures as part of a competition. 7 December 2019-5 January 2020. Separately, a gingerbread replica of Covent Garden is on display in Covent Garden, until 24 December 2019.

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 — highlights include The Snowman sculpture trail at London Bridge City, Covent Garden's new ice rink, and admiring the capital's Christmas lights.

Spending Christmas in London

Annabel's in Grosvenor Square goes all out for Christmas. Photo: 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.

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.

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

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.

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 2019.

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.

Festive food and drink in London at Christmas

Drink and dine in igloos this winter

'Tis the season for eating and drinking, so here's a guide to London's Christmas food and drink.

Christmas afternoon tea

Plenty of hotels, restaurants and cafes give their afternoon tea a festive twist in December — here are the most Christmassy menus in London this year, featuring traditional Christmas cake, star biscuits and special wintery jams.

Christmas sandwiches

London's not short of a Christmas sandwich, nor of a review of the best Chrsitmas sandwiches. We did things a bit differently this year, and sampled all the meat-free sarnies we could get our hands on. Veggies and vegans, your Yuletide lunch await.

Christmas pub crawl

Far be it from us to suggest you drink to excess, but if you are planning a pub crawl, might we suggest this 12 Days of Christmas pub crawl. It's geographically questionable but does have a pub for every line of the song — and it features in our lovely new book, Londonist Drinks.

Biscuiteers is one of the places offering a Christmas afternoon tea

Mince pies

What's Christmas without a mince pie? Find London's best mince pies, from the classic to the vegan to the mince pie-croissant hybrid.

Winter food festivals

Both Taste of London and Eat & Drink Festival host festive editions of their foodie get togethers. Hampton Court Palace offers a traditional take on a food festival with its Festive Fayre. Peruse all of the best food and drink festivals in London this autumn and winter.

Dine in an igloo

Eat and drink in one of London's pop-up winter igloos. They're appearing on rooftops and by the river all over town, and need to be booked in advance for private hire.

Dine at a train carriage inside Claridge's

Warming winter food

From steaming hot chocolate to oozy raclettes and stonking roast dinners, we've compiled a guide to the best winter warming food in London to keep you cosy throughout the colder months.

Winter pop-up bars in London

Take the party outside with London's best winter drinking pop-ups and cosy bars — plenty of heaters, blankets and warm cocktails will keep you toasty. If you want to stay inside, how about drinking or dining in a twinkly red train carriage inside Claridge's.

Christmas theatre shows and pantomimes

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 comedy, pantomime, dance, family-friendly shows and general festive offerings. Classics such as The Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty play alongside drag shows, new takes on Cinderella, and even Paddington on Ice.

Spending New Year's Eve in London

New Year's Eve in London. Photo: Shutterstock

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 and parties that go on well into the night to see in 2020 with a bang. Alas, if it was tickets to the New Year's Eve fireworks you were after, the last batch went on sale (and sold out) on 28 November 2019.

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.

London Christmas gifts

The 12 Days of Christmas pub crawl features in our new book, Londonist Drinks. Illustration by Freya Harrison

Looking for a Christmas present for the London lover in your life? If you'll allow us to tootle our own trumpet for a minute, we now have two Londonist books which make ideal Christmas gifts.

Londonist Mapped (published 2017) covers all aspects of London life, from secret gardens to lost Victorian buildings, little-known musical history, and subterranean London. It's accompanied by a series of beautiful maps, created by talented artists.

Our more recent tome, Londonist Drinks (published 2019), focuses on the capital's liquid side. We've covered historic pubs, rooftop bars and London-made cocktails — but it's not all about the booze. There's plenty for the teetotal Londoner, including the history of coffee in the capital. Again, it's full of beautiful illustrations.

Did you know we have our own range of Londonist t-shirts too? From personalised borough and postcode combos to doodles of the Kennington Loop, the range caters for the casual London lover and the serious London geek. Mugs, posters and hoodies are also available — browse the full range.

Read all about it

Yep, someone went and made a Christmas tube map

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:

Swot up on your London Christmas trivia

Oh, and one more thing. Keep an eye out for Santa's early arrival in the capital, documented in this charming Instagram account. Follow it to bring some festive sparkle into your life.

Last Updated 12 October 2021