It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, as festive light displays switch 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, drawing huge crowds each year, and were all switched on simultaneously in November.
Oxford Street Christmas lights 2021
After going through a couple of changes in recent years (LED screens in 2019, messages of thanks to key workers in 2020), the 2021 Oxford Street Christmas lights are some of our favourite to date. Rows upon rows of golden stars — more than 5,000 in total — dangle above shoppers' heads forming an astral curtain the length of the street.
Regent Street Christmas lights 2021
Regent Street's heavenly festive illuminations are aglow again for 2021; 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, though they're illuminated from 2pm-midnight daily.
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, check for traffic, please.
Covent Garden Christmas lights 2021
Take your time snapping away at Covent Garden's Christmas decorations, which take their usual form of oversized baubles, disco balls, and giant illuminated mistletoe, hung from the ceiling of the market building. To be precise, the display consists of 37 mistletoe chandeliers, eight mirror baubles and five silver baubles (no red this year), which take 10 people two full weeks to install. The Christmas tree is back too, planted in a comically oversized pot in the piazza at the western end of the market building and drenched in tiny red and white lights. If you can't make it to Covent Garden in person, the website has an interactive walk-through of the 2021 Christmas lights. If you can get there to see the lights, look out for Christmas village, Lego sculptures, and other festive entertainment.
Carnaby Christmas lights 2021
Nowhere commits to a Christmas theme quite like Carnaby, and this year, it's neon butterflies taking over the shopping thoroughfare.
Begin outside Liberty, and gaze south down Carnaby Street for the best view of this year's psychedelic Christmas installation, put together in collaboration with refugee charity Choose Love. Colourful butterflies frolic in the skies above, symbolising spiritual rebirth, transformation, change and hope. 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 treats.
Soho Christmas lights 2021
Noticed some new lights in Soho this year? The 21 luminescent installations were designed by the children of Soho Parish Primary School, and turned into a Christmas lights walking trail. See them spread all over Soho, including Dean Street, Berwick Street, Archer Street and Brewer Street.
Seven Dials Christmas lights 2021
The Seven Dials Christmas lights are switched on for the Winter Festival on 19-21 November 2021.
Bond Street Christmas lights 2021
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. The peacocks have been the area's Christmas lights for several years ago, but if it ain't broke, why fix it? Plenty of the shops in the area go hard for Christmas too, with some seriously impressive festive displays.
Trafalgar Square Christmas lights 2021
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 usually switched on from the first Thursday in December, though we're awaiting confirmation for 2021. Before you get too critical of the cucumber-esque illuminations, bear in mind they're strung that way in a nod to Norwegian tradition, the country from which the tree originates.
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. Many of the West End lights are fairly close together geographically, so you could probably fit several 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. Otherwise...
See London's Christmas lights by bus
To see the Christmas lights without wearing out your shoe leather, simply hop on a TfL bus and watch the illuminations glide past the window.
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 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.
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 2021 (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. We know that Regent Street's lights will be on until 2 January 2022. Others haven't confirmed an end date.
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 display usually stays on all night, so is ideal for a 3am festive wandering without the crowds. Oxford Street too is an all-night light display, whereas the Regent Street lights go off at midnight.
Are London's Christmas lights energy efficient?
With climate issues at the forefront of everyone's minds this Christmas, the West End has taken steps to make the Christmas light displays as energy efficient as possible.
All West End lights (that's Oxford Street, Regent Street, St James's, Bond Street, South Molton Street and more) use LED technology, which reduces energy consumption by 75% compared to regular lights.
The new Oxford Street star lights are 100% recyclable, made from recycled polymer and produced using 100% solar/photovoltaic energy, and will be reused in future Oxford Street Christmas displays.