Things to do this month is sponsored by Kingston First.
Generally, December in London is taken up by Christmas, Christmas, Christmas — but not everyone's into that. With that in mind, here's a mixture of festive — and completely unfestive — things happening in the capital in December 2023.
SPARKLE IN THE PARK: Residents of the Royal Borough of Greenwich are invited to Sparkle in the Park, a free, family-friendly light festival through Avery Hill Park. Wander through after dark, illuminated by fairy lights. There's a quiet hour for visitors with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and sensory sensitivities on the final night. FREE, 30 November-3 December
QUEERIOSITIES: Queeriosities – a makers’ market led by LGBTQ+ creatives — returns to the Museum of the Home in Hoxton, with more than 40 vendors offering a selection of ceramics, paintings, sculpture, textiles, books, ephemera, homeware and gifts. 1-3 December
FESTIVE FAYRE: Head to the Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre for Christmas grub galore. Wander among the courtyards and grounds perusing artisan food stalls selling everything from Christmas pudding and brownies to chocolate, cheese, biltong, coffee, cakes — plus gallons of booze. 1-3 and 8-10 December
EEL PIE ISLAND: The secretive Eel Pie Island in west London has one of its open weekends, inviting the public to cross the footbridge and step foot inside the artist studios and meet the people who work there. Browse and buy ceramics, oil paintings, jewellery, ceramic sculptures and more. 2-3 December
LUMINAZE: A free to visit neon light maze, The Luminaze pitches up just off Olympic Way in Wembley Park for a month. It's a walkthrough installation, with a specially curated soundscape, all centring around the 4-foot tall centrepiece, The Hourglass. FREE, 2 December-2 January
GINGERBREAD CITY: London's tastiest exhibition returns, showcasing model buildings, transport hubs and other cityscapes, designed and created by teams of architects and engineers, and made from gingerbread and other sweet treats. This year's Gingerbread City has a watery theme. 2 December-7 January
THE MOONWALKERS: Actor Tom Hanks is the voice of The Moonwalkers, a new experience at Lightroom in King's Cross which tells the story of the Apollo moon missions. It uses projections, filmed interviews between Hanks and astronauts of the current Artemis programme, and an original score. 6 December-21 April
MIRACLE ON LEAKE STREET: Free festive party Miracle on Leake Street is back at Waterloo for an evening of live entertainment including cabaret performances and a screening of Home Alone 2: Lost In New York. Food and drink is available from stalls, bars and restaurants, and it takes place in the Leake Street graffiti tunnel, so no need to worry about the weather. FREE, 7 December
See Kingston transformed for the festive season
Located against the picturesque backdrop of the Ancient Market Place, Kingston Christmas Market offers a festive day out for the whole family. Wander among wooden stalls selling jewellery, art, ceramics, handmade toys and plenty more. Then refuel at the food stalls (think bratwurst, bao buns, vegan fried chicken...) and Pyramid Bar, while enjoying atmospheric live music in the form of open mic nights, acoustic covers, local songwriters, an Oompah brass band, singalong Christmas covers and local choirs.
There's more to Kingston's festive makeover than a Christmas market, though. Head to the ski-themed Alpine village for four curling lanes, available to book in advance for up to four people per lane. Paired with a firepit, gondola lift seating, and snow-capped fir trees, it's an ideal spot for a festive date night or evening out with friends. Oh, and don't forget to snap photos of the festive light installations in Kingston's charming streets, including a towering light-up reindeer, walk-through Christmas present installation, and glowing Christmas trees — kids'll love tracking them all down.
Kingston Christmas Market is open until 2 January 2024. Curling lanes available until 31 December 2023. Get there in under half an hour by train from Waterloo.
CHRISTMAS JUMPER DAY: Dig out your most festive knitwear for Save The Children's Christmas Jumper Day 2023 — it's on a Thursday this year, though you can do it on another day if that works better for you. The idea is that you get your whole workplace/school involved, with everyone donning a Christmas sweater, and making a donation to Save the Children. 7 December
TRAFALGAR SQUARE TREE: See London's most famous Christmas tree illuminated for the season in a special lighting ceremony in Trafalgar Square. As always, it takes place on the first Thursday in December, which this year happens to be 7 December (though you'll likely see the tree in situ a little while before that)
CANINE CAROL CONCERTS: As is tradition, Battersea Dogs Home holds its fundraising carol concerts at St Luke's in Chelsea — and brings the dogs into church to join in the fun. No confirmation yet on exactly which carols will be sung, but we'd hazard a guess at Bark! The Herald Angels Sing. 7 and 8 December
HANNUKAH: The Jewish festival of Hannukah or Chanukah takes place 7-15 December this year, and London has plenty of menorah lightings and other events to celebrate. 7-15 December
ALDGATE WINTER FESTIVAL: Watch a lantern parade move through the streets of east London at the Aldgate in Winter Festival. Live performances, stalls and creative workshops are also part of the festivities, and the lanterns are made by local artists, school children and community groups. FREE, 8 December
KINGDOM OF WINTER: ExCel Centre hosts Kingdom of Winter, a large-scale event that's new for 2023. An ice rink, circus performances, fairground rides, market stalls and an ice expedition trail can all be found under one roof (to be fair, it's a very large roof). 8 December-7 January
ACCIDENTALLY WES ANDERSON: Famous Instagram account Accidentally Wes Anderson opens an exhibition in west London, displaying images from the satisfyingly symmetrical and pastel-hued feed — and inspired by the aesthetic of film designer Wes Anderson's sets. You can also get the lowdown on where some of the locations featured are, in case you fancy recreating the shots yourself. From 8 December
SANTACON LONDON: Hundreds of Santas descend on London for Santacon, which sees members of the public "dress up in Santa suits, run around, give gifts, sing songs, have strangers sit on our laps and decide who is naughty or nice". Festive chaos in the best possible way — and a bit of a mad one if you stumble across it unexpectedly. 9 December
MINI RAILWAY EXHIBITION: The Model Railway Club holds a December mini exhibition at its HQ near King's Cross station. Wander round to see a number of different layouts by both club members and guest exhibitors, and purchase pre-owned models from the shop. 10 December
CHRISTMAS LECTURES: The Michael Faraday Christmas Lectures are a Royal Institution tradition, dating back to 1825, aiming to introduce young people to science topics in a fun and interesting way. This year, Mike Wooldridge reveals the truth about AI. Though tickets to the lectures are only available to Royal Institution members, they are shown on BBC Four at some point this month too. Filmed 12-16 December
LONDON HORSE SHOW: The London International Horse Show returns to ExCeL, with international equestrian sport, seriously impressive equestrian displays and over 200 luxury shops, as well as three FEI World Cup competitions – in Show Jumping, Dressage and Driving. 13-18 December
CAROLS AND ICES: London has plenty of carol concerts at this time of year, but London Canal Museum can probably claim the most unusual venue, with Camden Town Community Choir performing inside its historic ice well, which is specially illuminated for the occasion. There's also the chance to take a short boat trip on the canal at night, plus free mince pies, ice cream-making demos and other entertainment. 14 December
FLEETWOOD MAC: Go Your Own Way, a tribute show to beloved band Fleetwood Mac, makes its London debut at the Adelphi Theatre. An ensemble of musicians performs some of the group's hits, including Dreams, Don’t Stop, Everywhere, Rhiannon, Songbird, Little Lies, and Big Love. 18 December
DISNEY ON ICE: Don't know about you, but Disney On Ice was a staple of our childhood, and it's back at The O2 this year, celebrating 100 years of Disney. Mickey Mouse sets out on a journey to discover his favourite memory of all time, joined by his friends. Look out for Disney princesses, plus characters from Fantasia, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Frozen. 21-31 December
REVEL PUCK CIRCUS: East London-based performance company Revel Puck Circus bring their current production, The Wing Scuffle Spectacular, to a big top in Victoria Park, Finchley. Acrobatics combines with physical comedy for a show that also encompasses a giant wheel and a swinging chainsaw. 21 December-7 January
PETER PAN CUP: If you do one thing on Christmas Day in London, head to Hyde Park to watch the Peter Pan Cup. A group of hardy swimmers from Serpentine Swimming Club take to the chilly waters; you can't take part unless you're a member, but you can watch them from the comfort of dry land. FREE, 25 December
LA LA LAND CONCERT: 2016 award-winning film La La Land is shown in HD on a large screen at the Royal Albert Hall, with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra (conducted by the film’s original composer Justin Hurwitz) performing the live score. 27 December
NEW YEAR'S EVE: The biggest party night of the year is approaching. Whether you want to go full-on drinking and dancing on the last night of 2023, or see in 2024 in a more sedate manner, take a look at our curated list of things to do in London on New Year's Eve. Oh, and here's the lowdown on seeing London's New Year's fireworks. 31 December
Ongoing Christmas events in London in December
By the time December rolls around, it feels like Christmas has already been in full swing in London for several months. Here's a reminder of some of the festivities taking place around town (though do check opening times around Christmas Day itself, as they may vary):
EVER AFTER GARDEN: Mayfair's Grosvenor Square is aglow with 25,000 illuminated roses, forming the Ever After Garden. The installation is a fundraiser for the Royal Marsden Hospital Cancer Charity, and though it's free to visit, you're invited to dedicate a rose to a loved one (suggested minimum donation £10). 16 November-19 December, 3pm-9pm
WINTER WONDERLAND: Once again, the huge festive funfair has taken over Hyde Park, with rollercoasters and fairground rides, theatre and circus shows, an ice kingdom, food and drink stalls, a Christmas market, ice rink and plenty more. Be aware that you still need to book your entry in advance this year. 17 November-1 January
CHRISTMAS LIGHTS: The Oxford Street and Regent Street Christmas lights are world-famous — and with good reason. Glowing stars dangle elegantly over the former this festive season, with those twinkling angels back over the latter, and with Christmas light displays in Covent Garden, Carnaby, Bond Street and elsewhere in the capital to see as well, you'll be needing our guide to London's Christmas light displays 2023. You can also see them by bus, if that's more your speed.
SANTA'S GROTTOS: The man in red makes multiple appearances in London at this time of year, at grottos and meet-and-greets all over town. You'll need to book way in advance for most of them — here's the lowdown on Santa's grottos in London this year.
LIGHT FESTIVALS: London gets LIT at this time of year, and not just with Christmas lights (above). Illumination festivals take over botanical gardens, parks and palace grounds, with light tunnels, illuminated animal sculptures, fire gardens and other installations to ogle — get booking for London's best light festivals this year.
CHRISTMAS MARKETS: Stock up on Christmas gifts (or treat yourself) at London's best Christmas markets, which feature independent makers, wooden chalets, twinkling lights, and plenty of food and drink to enjoy as you shop.
ICE SKATING: A festive staple, skating rinks pop up all over town for the Christmas season, so you can take to the ice outside palaces, skyscrapers, and all manner of other backdrops. These are London's best ice rinks for Christmas 2023.
CAROL CONCERTS: You can barely move in London in December without stumbling across a carol concert or two. The best-known ones such as St Paul's and Westminster Abbey are notoriously difficult to get into, but why not see what's on at your local church?
FESTIVE DRINKING: 'Tis the season for warming your cockles at cosy pop-up bars — and London is absolutely covered in them. These are our picks for winter drinking pop-ups to sink a drink or two. Miracle at Henrietta is a particularly favourite, just because it's SO DAMN CHRISTMASSY.
IGLOO DINING: You can barely move at this time of year for igloos and snow globes popping up all over town, inviting you inside to drink, dine and be merry. It's not a cheap way to eat out, and for some, you'll need to book way in advance, but it does make for a cosy and photogenic night out.
FESTIVE FILMS: From posh hotels to independent and pop-up cinemas, plenty of places offer screenings of Christmas films (think Elf, Home Alone, Love Actually, The Holiday, It's A Wonderful Life, and plenty more), with varying levels of festive bonhomie thrown in. Take a look at this year's festive film screenings.
PANTO AND CHRISTMAS THEATRE: As if there's not enough drama in an average December, the London theatre scene really comes into its own with ample pantomimes (some which are family-friendly, and others which are strictly for adults), as well as festive theatre, dance and comedy shows, and family-friendly Christmas productions. There's even a whole programme of renditions of A Christmas Carol, if that's what you're after.
Current exhibitions in London: December 2023
TITANOSAUR: Time's running out to see Natural History Museum's Titanosaur exhibition, centring around the cast of the skeleton of a dinosaur which was eight metres tall and 37 metres long. Within the same gallery, you can follow the life of a titanosaur, from grapefruit-sized egg, to towering sauropod. Until 14 January
DAVID HOCKNEY: Three and a half years since the exhibition closed due to Covid, David Hockney: Drawing From Life is back at the newly-reopened National Portrait Gallery. It's a chance to see the artist’s work over the last six decades through his portraits of five sitters: his mother, Celia Birtwell, Gregory Evans, Maurice Payne and Hockney himself. Here's our review of the exhibition from when it opened in 2020, before closing just 20 days later. Until 21 January
FRANS HALS: The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Frans Hals brings together 50 of the Dutch painter's works at the National Gallery, including The Laughing Cavalier, on loan from the Wallace Collection. Until 21 January
BURMA TO MYANMAR: The country of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is the subject of the British Museum's current exhibition. It looks back at 1,500 years of the isolated country's history, from civil war to military dictatorship, and the extraordinary artistic output which came about as a result. Until 11 February
PHOTO PORTRAIT PRIZE: While you're at the National Portrait Gallery for David Hockney (above), make time to see the Taylor Wessing Photo Portrait Prize. See photos by both amateur and professional photographers, many with a story behind them, and most of them on show for the first time. Until 25 February
DIVA: There's not much chance of tickets for the V&A's sold-out Chanel exhibition, but you can still get tickets for DIVA at the same venue, which explores how the role and portrayal of a 'diva' has changed through the years. Photos of Tina Turner, Whitney Houston and Marilyn Monroe, among many others, feature. Until 7 April
FASHION CITY: The Museum of London Docklands looks at how Jewish Londoners shaped global style in Fashion City. From the tailors' workshops of the East End to the fashion shops of Carnaby, take a deep dive into the stories of Jewish fashion makers, some of whom founded retail chains still on the high street today. Until 14 April