Christmas is an expensive time of year, especially in London — so indulge in these free ways to get into the festive spirit in the capital. You won't have to spend a penny, though of course there are plenty of chances to get rid of your cash if you're so inclined.
1. Winterfest at Wembley Park
London's absolutely awash with light festivals in winter, but most of them will cost you a bob or two to visit. Not so with Winterfest at Wembley Park (23 November 2021-9 January 2022), which is completely free to visit.
Reunited in Light is the theme this year, and London's largest LED tree returns, 25ft tall with 100,000 lights, and big enough to walk through. There are several other illuminations in a light trail around the area, as well as a new outdoor photography exhibition on Olympic Way.
2. Ever After Garden in Grosvenor Square
25,000 glowing roses light up Grosvenor Square this December, as the Ever After Garden returns to Mayfair (1-23 December 2021). It provides somewhere for Londoners to remember absent loved ones in the run-up to Christmas, and there's the option to dedicate a rose, for a minimum donation of £10 to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
It's free to visit, but as it's for charity, do considering donating a couple of quid if you can.
3. Nine Elms Advent Calendar 2021
The Nine Elms area transforms into a giant advent calendar (1 December 2021-5 January 2022), with 24 venues each hosting a different art installation for the public to visit, from collages to peace walls to a living forest. Two routes have been drawn up so you can visit the installations on foot, at your leisure — and one will be showcased online each day, if you can't make it to Nine Elms in person.
4. Lego in Covent Garden
A rocket race car, a firefighting dragon and a cactus Christmas tree are among the Lego installations popping up in Covent Garden this Christmas (1 December 2021-3 January 2022) — apparently it makes more sense if you've seen the Lego Christmas ad. Either way, it's free to visit the exhibit of sculptures made from the famous plastic bricks. Of course, a Lego Christmas shop is located right next to the installation if you're looking to open your wallet — otherwise, distract the kids' attention as you quickly walk past that particular bit.
There's also daily 'snowfall' in Covent Garden from 9 November-3 January.
5. See the London Christmas lights
London's various Christmas light displays are switched on from early November (see the exact switch-on dates), and they're free to visit. Wander round Regent Street, Oxford Street, Covent Garden, Carnaby and other areas in the dark to see London at its twinkly, festive best — we've put together a guide to when, where and how to see them, including a handy map.
If you can spare a couple of quid, hop on a bus for an even better way to see the lights.
6. Wander round the Christmas markets
There are several Christmas markets and fairs to visit in London, and many of them are free admission — although you will of course have to part with your pennies if something tempts you, or if you fancy warming up with a mulled wine.
Top of the list is Southbank Centre's Winter Market (4 November-24 December 2021), a cute collection of wooden chalets decked in sparkling lights, right next to the river. Head further east along the Christmas by the River (16 November 2021-2 January 2022), a Christmas market next to City Hall, with a backdrop of Tower Bridge. Lovely.
Trafalgar Square also hosts a Christmas market (12 November 2021-4 January 2022), though we're still waiting for further details on that one.
7. Carol concerts in London
If you wanted to, you could go to a carol concert every evening in December, and still barely scratch the surface of London's carol services. They're not all free — but many are for charity, so that's understandable — but why not see what's on at your local church?