It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas as festive light displays go on all over town. If you want to bask in the glow of the holiday season in London, here's the lowdown on when, where and how to see the best Christmas lights this year.
Where are London's Christmas lights and what do they look like?
There are Christmas lights all over London, both central and further afield, with each area, district or high street taking responsibility for their own illuminations. The West End Christmas lights are the most famous ones, drawing huge crowds each year.
Oxford Street Christmas lights 2019
Oxford Street has brand new Christmas lights for 2019, in the form of 27 LED screens, running the length of the street from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. Various messages are shown on the screens throughout the festive period.
Regent Street Christmas lights 2019
Regent Street's heavenly festive illuminations are aglow again for 2019, and they're looking fantastic. The 44 'Spirit of Christmas' angels are spreading their wings over the busy shopping street once more, running the length of the street, from Langham Place in the north down beyond Piccadilly, into St James's.
They're made from 300,000 LED lights, with 64 canopies forming a twinkling 'net' over the West End. We've got a soft spot for the Regent Street lights as some of the only London Christmas lights that don't look completely terrible when viewed in broad daylight.
If it's a photo for the 'Gram you're after... well, far be it from us to suggest any mad, bad, or dangerous behaviour, but if you did find yourself in a safe spot (traffic island or central reservation) in the centre of the street, look up and shoot away. But also, look for traffic, please.
Covent Garden Christmas lights 2019
Take your time wandering and snapping away at Covent Garden's Christmas decorations. Begin at the Christmas tree, planted in comically oversized pot, in the Piazza at the western end of the market building. It's lit up at night, as are plenty of other trees, and the wreaths which hang from the market building. Step inside and wander among the stalls and shops to see the glittering disco ball and mistletoe decorations, and the gingerbread model of the market building. From 29 November, an ice rink pops up in Covent Garden for the first time too.
Carnaby Christmas lights 2019
Begin outside Liberty, and look south down Carnaby Street for the best view of this year's ocean-themed Christmas installation. Glittering whales, turtles and other sea life creatures frolic in the skies above you, all with an important conservation message. The lights and decorations run the length of Carnaby Street, all the way down to the junction with Beak Street. Swivel your eyes left and right down the side streets for further seafaring treats.
Seven Dials Christmas lights 2019
The central Seven Dials pillar is the main focus of the Seven Dials Christmas lights, although they're also sprinkled among the surrounding streets. There's a star theme this year.
Bond Street Christmas lights 2019
We've been through this — Bond Street doesn't exist. But if it's those pretty peacock Christmas lights you're after, head to the fancy shops of Old Bond Street, towards the Piccadilly end of the high-end thoroughfare. Plenty of the shops in the area go hard for Christmas too, with some seriously impressive festive displays.
Trafalgar Square Christmas lights 2019
In Trafalgar Square, it's more of a Christmas tree situation than a Christmas lights one. The Trafalgar Square tree has its own much-maligned lights though — they're switched on from 5 December 2019. Before you get too critical of the cucumber-esque illuminations, bear in mind that their hung that way in a nod to Norwegian tradition, the country from where the tree originates.
Harrods Christmas lights 2019
Knightsbridge behemoth Harrods looks gorgeous at Christmas, its huge exterior covered in classy golden lights. Well worth snapping a photo or two if you're in the area at night.
How to see London's Christmas lights
Visit London's Christmas lights on foot
The best and cheapest way to see London's Christmas lights is by walking among them. Thankfully, many of the West End lights are fairly close together geographically, so you could probably fit several of them into one epic evening of sightseeing (comfy shoes, guys).
Map of London's Christmas lights
We've pinpointed some of London's best Christmas light displays on this map, to help you plan a festive route (you can find more Christmas light locations in our guide to switch-on events):
Some of them — such as Covent Garden and Carnaby — are only visible on foot, as they're located in pedestrianised areas with no bus route in sight.
See London's Christmas lights by bus
You've got two main options for visiting the West End Christmas lights by bus — take an organised bus tour, or simply hop on a TfL bus and watch the illuminations whizz past the window.
The TfL bus is of course the cheaper option, and we've put together a guide to seeing the Oxford Street, Regent Street, and other major lights by bus, making full use of the hopper fare. TfL's Oxford Circus bus map is also helpful, and the key to success is to beg, borrow or steal yourself a seat at the front on the top deck to watch the angels flying past above you.
Note: A bus ride isn't an option for seeing the Covent Garden Christmas or Carnaby lights and decorations, as they're tucked away in pedestrianised areas. You won't get too close to the Trafalgar Square tree either.
If it's a bus tour you're after, might we suggest London Transport Museum's vintage bus tours through the Christmas lights? The tour lasts about an hour, cruising past London's landmarks in all their Christmas finery, while a soundtrack of classic festive songs plays on board. Otherwise, Golden Tours offers Christmas lights by night tours past all of the major landmarks, and other tour companies offer similar.
Take a London Christmas lights bike tour
Several tour companies offer cycling tours of London's bike routes, including The London Bicycle Tour Company. Begin in Kennington, where you're supplied with bike, lights, helmet (optional, but be sensible here) and Santa hat. Then, in a group, wend your way up towards the West End at a leisurely pace, using quieter roads and cycle lanes. The tour leader's bike is equipped with a boombox which plays festive songs along the route.
Of course, there's nothing to stop you riding your own bike, or hiring one, and seeing the Christmas lights that way. Just bear in mind that the West End streets get very busy and may not be suitable for inexperienced cyclists.
When to see London's Christmas lights
When are London's Christmas lights switched on?
The majority of London's biggest Christmas light displays are now illuminated and running for 2019 (here's our guide to when the remainder get switched on). They'll be on nightly until early January.
When's the best time to see the West End Christmas lights?
In terms of times of day, the lights go on late afternoon when it gets dark, so anytime in the evening is an option — although of course, in the run-up to Christmas, there's rarely a 'quiet' time to visit Oxford Street, Regent Street or Covent Garden.
In terms of day, weekdays are likely to be slightly less busy than weekends. Also, the further away from Christmas (ie. earlier) you can go, the less busy it's likely to be.
When do London's Christmas lights end?
The other option for crowd-swerving is to wait until early January, as most displays tend to stay lit for the first few nights of the New Year. Many people's thoughts have moved way beyond anything festive by then, so things should be less busy.
Do London's Christmas lights get switched off at night?
If you're not keen on crowds, but don't mind a late night, you may be thinking that the early hours of the morning are the best time to see the Christmas lights — and you may be right. We've had confirmation that the Carnaby sea life display stays on all night, so is ideal for a 3am festive wandering without the crowds. Oxford Street too is an all-night light display, although they're keen to point out that the lights are energy efficient with energy savings of up to 90% against conventional lighting.