Want to see as much festive stuff in London as you can? We've put together this self-guided walking route around the best of central London's Christmas lights, trees decorations and displays. It's not a complete list, but it packs a heck of a lot of festivities into a route of around two hours (depending on your walking speed, number of pitstops, and how long you pause at each stop for photos and the like). You don't need to do it all — you can start and stop where you like, cover just one section, skip stops, or split it into multiple sections to cover over several evenings. This map shows you where each stop is, to help you plan your time:
Don't forget to factor in food, drink and toilet breaks along the way — we always find that Christmas lights look their best when you've got a hot chocolate in hand. This route is best done when it's dark, as many of its components consist of lights and illuminations. Have a read up on the operating hours of the West End Christmas lights this year before you go.
1. Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
Start your tour close to the official centre of London, in Trafalgar Square. The Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree which graces the square every year is its most famous festive landmark (lights switched on from 7 December 2023), but the square also hosts a Christmas market, spilling over from Leicester Square (more on which later) with wooden cabins lining the top terrace outside the National Gallery, and an overwhelming whiff of mulled wine pervading the area at all hours.
From Trafalgar Square, walk four minutes east along to Pall Mall to the bottom of Waterloo Place, where you'll find the...
2. St James's Christmas tree
... on Waterloo Place. For our money, it's one of the prettiest and best dressed trees in the capital every year, and sits in the open air, free for anyone to visit. Just mind yourself getting there, as it's on something on an island in the middle of busy lanes of traffic. From here, look up and you'll see the...
3. Regent Street Christmas lights
The 'Spirit of Christmas' angels reach all the way down Lower Regent Street — which is significantly less busy that Regent Street itself. Walk five minutes up to Piccadilly Circus if you want to catch the iconic view of the angels against Regent Street's curves. From here it's another five-minute walk to Fortnum & Mason.
Alternatively, if you aren't bothered about seeing Regent Street proper, or you want a quieter route, turn left off Lower Regent Street by Tesco and wander four minutes along Jermyn Street, one street back from Piccadilly, where many of the businesses often have their own impressive festive displays. Turn right along Duke Street and where it meets Piccadilly, you'll find...
4. Fortnum & Mason advent windows
Department store Fortnum & Mason turns its facade into a huge advent calendar, with numbers on each of the upstairs windows. Take the time to look at the street-level windows too — this year, it has mini, animated recreations of areas of the department store: champagne bottles dance down the red carpeted staircase, and elegantly-wrapped gifts cram themselves into the lift.
Cross Piccadilly outside Fortnum & Mason (the best views of the advent windows can be had from across the road outside the Royal Academy anyway). Wander a couple of minutes west along Piccadilly, remembering to peep into the Burlington and Piccadilly Arcades, before turning right onto Old Bond Street for the...
5. Bond Street Christmas lights and windows
Crowns and jewels adorn the skies over Bond Street this year. But as well as looking up, remember to look left and right, as several of the high-end stores in the area go all out with their Christmas displays. Stella McCartney, Ralph Lauren, Cartier, both Chanel shops, Van Cleef and Arpels, and Christian Dior are particularly worth a look this year.
Stick with Old Bond Street and New Bond Street as far as Bruton Street, then turn left and walk five minutes to....
6. Annabel's in Berkeley Square
The private members' club has been upping the ante slightly each year with its external festive facade, and it's reached something of a crescendo for 2023. A huge red and white hot air balloon takes up the entirety of the building's frontage, illuminated by glowing ropes, hovering over a rather bemused doorman.
From here, it's an eight-minute meander (eyes left for the Connaught Christmas tree along the route) to...
7. The Ever After Garden in Grosvenor Square
A glowing field of 25,000 white roses has taken up residence in Grosvenor Square again. It's the Ever After Garden, and raises money for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, as those roses can be sponsored in memory of a loved one. That said, it's free to visit, and worth wandering through, though do be aware that it can get muddy on the paths, due to the amount of people. In situ until 19 December 2023.
[If you're planning to weave a visit to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland into your festive explorations, this is the time to do so. It's about a 15-minute walk from Grosvenor Square, depending which entrance you're heading for, though do bear in mind that you need to book in advance. It's not really the sort of place where you can make a quick stop either — it's a huge site, and gets very busy.]
Otherwise, wander four minutes up North Audley Street or Duke Street to Oxford Street for the...
8. Oxford Street Christmas lights
A festive staple in the capital, the Oxford Street Christmas lights once again take the shape of 'A Sky Full Of Stars'. Thousands of stars curtain the street from above, and can be seen the length of the street. Fancy getting a closer look? See them from a double decker bus. Otherwise, move on to the...
9. Selfridges Christmas windows
You'll have emerged onto Oxford Street opposite one corner of the Selfridges department store building. Follow the building's facade along Oxford Street for a look at this year's Christmas windows. The theme is 'Showtime', but it's more of a peep show vibe, with curtains teasingly opening and closing to hide the garments behind.
Head east about four minutes along Oxford Street — consider taking a 30-second diversion at the purple clock to see the St Christopher's Place lights — before crossing over outside Bond Street station and heading over to the...
10. South Molton Street Christmas lights
Those beautiful glowing arches which we so adored are no more: The 2023 South Molton Street Christmas lights consist of a large glowing white Christmas tree at each end of the pedestrianised street, and strings of bulbs with waves of light running through them overhead.
From the south end of South Molton Street, it's a two minute walk to...
11. Skate West End ice rink in Hanover Square
A new ice rink for Christmas 2023, it has the added bonus of a bar right in the centre, reached by footbridges over the ice, and open to everyone. Good place to stop for a hot chocolate or mulled wine refuel before walking three minutes back up to Oxford Street for...
12. John Lewis
See that massive frog plastered on the front of the building? It's actually a plant — a nod to this year's John Lewis Christmas ad — but you're not the first to make that mistake, and you won't be the last. Wander on a couple more minutes to...
13. Oxford Circus for the Regent Street lights
Oxford Circus is a prime spot for seeing both the Regent Street and Oxford Street Christmas lights intersecting, though it's also very busy, so snap a photo quickly and head east along Oxford Street then immediately right down Argyll Street for a three-minute walk to...
14. Liberty London at Christmas
The beautiful building — made from the timber of two ships, don'tcha know — is ogle-worthy at any time of year, but comes into its own during the festive season, when light-bedecked Christmas trees classily line its exterior.
Pop just behind the building for the...
15. Carnaby Christmas lights
Running the length of the pedestrianised street, you'll see colourful, eye-catching glittering neon Christmas decorations overhead. The 2023 Carnaby lights look like someone let the kids loose in the glitter section of the craft box... and we mean that in a loving way. Not particularly Christmassy, but its bright colours certainly spark joy of some sort as you walk underneath them.
From here, the longest section of the walk takes you to Leicester Square in about 12 minutes (multiple routes are possible but we recommend down through Golden Square towards Piccadilly Circus where you can get another eyeful of the Regent Street lights, and take a short diversion to see the Hamley's Christmas windows or the new Savile Row Christmas lights if you wish).
16. Christmas in Leicester Square
Throughout the festive period, Leicester Square is home to a Speigeltent, where performances of La Cirque take place. But even without a ticket you can visit the Christmas in Leicester Square market, an intimate gathering of wooden cabins, lit in that twee manner of Christmas markets, selling tree decorations and the like. Note, there's usually a couple of minutes wait to get in as bag searches at the entrance cause a bit of a backlog.
From Leicester Square, head seven minutes east to...
17. Covent Garden Christmas tree and decorations
It's all change in Covent Garden Market this year, as the oversized mistletoe decorations which have hung from the ceiling the last few years have been replaced with oversized golden bells. The towering Christmas tree can still be found in the Piazza, and there's a Santa's sleigh photo opportunity at the western end of the market building.
Wander east out of the Piazza, down Russell Street then Wellington Street for the 10 minute walk to...
18. Somerset House ice rink
The final stop on our route is Skate at Somerset House, an ice rink set alongside a towering Christmas tree in the rather lovely Somerset House courtyard. Not a skater? No problem — the Skate Lounge alongside the rink serves up refreshments, or you can book in for dinner at the alpine-inspired restaurant Chalet Suisse by Jimmy Garcia.
From here, you can head along Strand — with the 'North Bank' Christmas lights overhead — and back to the starting point of Trafalgar Square. Alternatively, if you've got any energy left, you can cross Waterloo Bridge to South Bank, where the Southbank Centre Winter Market is in full swing, with wooden cabins selling food, drink and gifts lining the river side. The free Winter Light festival is also on, with illuminated sculptures dotted around the outside of the building.
Another option is to walk around 15 minutes east of Somerset House and hunt out the Walking With The Snowman free art trail, with a dozen sculptures spread about the area.
All photos by the author.