December can be an expensive time of year, especially in London. So if you're looking for ways to save cash and do Christmas on a budget in the capital, indulge in these free and festive things to do in London at Christmas. 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) 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.
2) Wander around London's 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 (3 November-26 December 2022), a cute collection of wooden chalets decked in sparkling lights, right next to the river. It's free to stroll along, soaking up the festive atmosphere — though it can get very busy at weekends.
3) Admire the Ever After Garden
Over 20,000 glowing roses light up Grosvenor Square again this winter, as the Ever After Garden returns to Mayfair. 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.
Open 3pm-9pm from 23 November 2022.
4) Sing your heart out at a carol concert
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?
5) Sparkle in the Park
London's full of light festivals at this time of year, but some of them can make quite a dent in your wallet. Not so at Sparkle in the Park, a free light trail for residents of the Royal Borough Of Greenwich, taking place at Well Hall Pleasaunce Park in Eltham across four evenings.
Though the event is free, it is ticketed — they're available from 1 November. Note that the event is only open to Royal Borough of Greenwich residents.
4pm-8pm, 1-4 December 2022.
6) Enjoy the Aldgate in Winter Festival
Watch lanterns parade through east London at the Aldgate in Winter Festival 2022. This year's theme is Local Heroes, with market stalls, live performances and other events taking place along with the lantern festival on Friday 2 December. After that, an exhibition of the lanterns used in the parade — which are made by local artists, schoolchildren and community groups — opens on Monday 5 December.
7) See the snow fall in Covent Garden
A white Christmas is a rare occurrence in London these days — except in Covent Garden, where snow showers are a daily event in the run-up to the big day. It's part of the Christmas in Covent Garden festivities, which also sees the lights and Christmas tree switched on from 8 November (though those giant bauble and mistletoe decorations have already been in situ since mid-October). Exact timings of the snowfall are TBC but it will be free to experience.
8) Visit Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Since the introduction of entry fees to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland last year, the huge festive funfair isn't as easy to do for free as it used to be. That said, if you can go off-peak (an early weekday morning in November or early December), entry is free, though you still need to book in advance.
Once you get inside Winter Wonderland, there are many, many ways to part with your money (especially if you've got kids in tow), from funfair rides and theatre shows to food and drink, and Christmas market stalls. Wandering around and soaking up the atmosphere, though? That's free, off-peak.
Open from 18 November 2022. Free, off-peak entry tickets are available selected times 18 November-8 December, and 31 December-2 January.
9) Watch the Peter Pan Cup
What'll you be doing at 9am on Christmas Day? One hardy group of swimmers takes to the waters of The Serpentine in Hyde Park for the Peter Pan Cup, a traditional race dating back to 1903. The race itself isn't open to the general public — so you're off the hook for a chilly festive dip — but it is free to watch, with spectators welcome around the lake's edge. Just remember there's no public transport in London on Christmas Day to get you there.