Christmas Eve is a funny one. There aren't too many one-off events happening in London, but if you've got all your shopping done and find yourself with a few hours to spare, there are still plenty of festive things to do — just bear in mind, places may well close earlier than normal.
ICE SKATING: What better way to start your Christmas than at one of London's seasonal ice skating rinks? Take to the ice in festive surroundings — Somerset House, Hampton Court Palace, Battersea Power Station... the list goes on. Most rinks have a café or bar nearby, where less adventurous family members can tuck into a hot chocolate or mulled wine and watch the action.
CHRISTMAS AFTERNOON TEA: Nothing says 'special occasion' like a fancy afternoon tea, and London is packed with festive and Christmas versions of traditional afternoon tea right now. You'll need to book ahead for a Christmas Eve slot — choose from our pick of fantastically festive afternoon teas in London this year.
PANTOMIME: It's Christmas Eve... oh no it isn't... oh yes it is, etc etc. Panto season is in full swing by Christmas Eve, so whether you fancy taking the kids along to a classic version of Robin Hood or Snow White, seeing Cinderella with an Egyptian twist, or taking in a show that's strictly adults-only, brush up on where to see pantomime in London this year, and get booking for those coveted Christmas Eve tickets (note that most performances on 24 December are matinee, or even morning, rather than evening).
WINTER WONDERLAND: Hyde Park's Winter Wonderland is business as usual on Christmas Eve. The outdoor festival has a Christmas market where you can do your last bits of shopping, plus food and drink stalls, funfair rides, an ice skating rink and a circus. Just remember that you still need to prebook entry this year, and Christmas Eve tickets are likely to be snapped up fast. 10am-10pm (although may close earlier today).
DISNEY ON ICE: If, like us, Disney On Ice is an absolute staple of your festive season, book yourself into see it at The O2 on Christmas Eve. This year's theme is Dream Big — classic Disney — with old and new Disney characters from Mickey to Moana played by incredibly talented figure skaters. 10.30am/2.30pm
WINTER MARKET: Last chance to do your Christmas shopping at this year's Winter Market at Southbank Centre. Wander among traditional wooden chalets selling gifts, food and drink under a fairy-lit canopy. Treat yourself to a hot chocolate or mulled wine from the pop-up bar as you shop — it's Christmas, after all. 11am-11pm (though likely to wind down earlier today).
CAROLS: It's the final day of Carols at the Hall, a programme of traditional and modern festive carols performed at the Royal Albert Hall, with audience members invited to join in. 11am/3pm
CHRISTMAS FILMS: Leicester Square's legendary Prince Charles Cinema has a few festive offerings on the bill today. Choose between It's A Wonderful Life (12.30pm/5.45pm), The Muppet Christmas Carol sing along (12.15pm/3pm) or Home Alone (3.30pm).
DICKENSIAN LONDON: Join Footprints of London guide David Charnick for a guided walk through the London of Charles Dickens, explored through the author's own words. Visit sites Dickens would have been familiar with, and hear his urban insights as you go. 2.30pm-4.30pm
BACKYARD CINEMA: Tickets for Home Alone at Backyard Cinema on Christmas Eve have sold out, but at time of writing, you can still bag yourself a ticket to the subtitled screening of It's A Wonderful Life. Enjoy the whole Backyard Cinema winter experience, including boarding a 1920s-style train to the 'North Pole' and emerging into a world of twinkling stars and snow-topped pine trees — all without leaving Wandsworth. 4pm
SEE THE LIGHTS: Once it starts getting dark, why not take the opportunity to see London's many fantastic Christmas light displays? Wander through central London gazing up at angels, stars, mistletoe and more — twinkling in the urban heavens above you, or hop on a bus to get a closer look. If you're planning a hot chocolate or mulled wine pitstop, bear in mind that cafes and bars may close earlier than usual tonight.
LIGHT FESTIVALS: London's got many light festivals going on at this time of year — though some are sold out or don't open on Christmas Eve. These are your options for 24 December:
- ILLUMINATURE: A trail of nature themed sculptures aglow after dark, winding through the London Wetland Centre in Barnes. 4.30pm-7.30pm
- CHRISTMAS AT KENWOOD: A family-friendly trail across a corner of Hampstead Heath, which has colourful illuminations and installations, including light projections, and things to look out for in the trees and overhead. 4.30pm-9pm
- LIGHTOPIA: A trail of large-scale illuminated installations in Crystal Palace Park, including a light dragon who dramatically breathes 'fire'. New for this year is a 40m wide, 15m high illuminated water show over the lower lake, with giant festive images of Santa, Rudolf, Christmas tree and snowflakes projected onto it —sounds ideal for Christmas Eve. 5pm/6pm
It's worth checking venue opening hours before you travel, as lots of places will close early today — and don't miss your last train home!