There are always things to do in London at Christmas. No matter what your interests, there’s something to get you into the festive spirit at this time of year. Here are our top festive events.
1. Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park
Winter Wonderland is a pop-up theme park/Christmas market set up on the right side of Hyde Park. There are endless things to do in Winter Wonderland, and you could spend an entire day here. Entry is free into the park, which gives access to a vast Christmas market selling gifts, knick-knacks, mulled wine, and other holiday foods – perfect for Christmas shopping. The Bavarian Village sells traditional German foods and offers live entertainment by night, providing a brilliantly festive atmosphere. Buy a ticket in advance for Bar Ice, a bar made entirely of ice that offers a variety of cocktails (don’t worry, you get a cloak upon entry to stay warm). There are various other ticketed events, including circus shows, the Peter Pan on Ice show, and hundreds of festival rides and game booths. If you fancy a laugh with your friends, check out the Winter Wonderland Comedy Club which has tickets starting from £10. Winter Wonderland is open every day from 10 am to 10 pm and can be accessed through various entrances and footpaths in the park. It runs until 6th January 2018.
2. Ice Skating
There are many places to go ice skating in London, though most (if not all) require a ticket in advance. Aside from the ice skating rink inside Winter Wonderland, favourite spots include Somerset House, the Natural History Museum, Canary Wharf, and Tower of London. Most cost £10-£20 for advance tickets, which includes skate rental. Each spot has its own perks, so choose wisely: the Tower Bridge rink has a pop-up ice bar; Somerset House offers club nights for skating with a good soundtrack; the Natural History Museum offers a student ticket for £9.90, which includes a free drink from the cafe; and Canary Wharf has 8km of LED lights laid beneath the ice.
3. Winter Festival At Southbank Centre
Southbank Centre has its own pop-up market filled with mulled wine, holiday foods, and gifts. The centre is also lit up for the festivities and offers great views of the London Eye and Thames. There is also a Festive Film Festival at House of Vans which is a free event – perfect for a Christmassy night out with your course pals! Make a night of it and visit the American style diner in this unique cinema.
4. Experience Christmas at Kew Gardens
Each year, Kew Gardens is transformed with holiday lighting and decorations. The gardens have a trail decorated for the holidays to stroll through, the fire garden, and treats at the cafe. Buy tickets in advance for £16.50-£21.50 (depending on peak or off-peak times) and check online for entry times. Enter at Victoria Gate.
5. Stroll Down Oxford Street
You’ll notice that many streets throughout London are lit up for the holidays, but none are so popular to walk down as Oxford and Regent Street. The two streets intersect in one of the biggest shopping districts of London, perfect for shopping when it’s too cold to browse Christmas market stalls. Department stores like John Lewis and Selfridges are great bets for finding something for everyone on your list. Step into Selfridges’ Food Hall for some holiday treats. If you feel like a longer walk, stroll down Oxford Street and stop by the Disney Store, Uniqlo, Primark, and many more. Even if you don’t want to buy anything, Oxford Street is one of the best places to window shop in the city. To get there, take the tube to Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus.
6. Try a Festive Menu
You may already know that Starbucks adds to its menu with some holiday specials each year, but in London, many restaurants and eateries also offer their own festive menus. No matter your price range, you can find a holiday-themed meal. For lunch, try the festive menu at Pret, EAT, or Costa. Many sit-down restaurants begin offering set menus near the holidays, which gives you the chance to treat yourself. For a special night, try Aqua Shard (in the Shard) for a three-course meal with a view.
7. Visit Hogwarts for the Holidays
If you’re looking for a festive day outside of the city, book your tickets for Hogwarts in the Snow. The Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour is transformed into the Christmas scenes of the franchise. Book your tickets as soon as possible to get a spot. Luckily, Hogwarts in the Snow runs to the end of January 2019, so check for later dates if tickets are sold out for December. To get there, a cheap shuttle bus leaves from Watford Junction train station.
8. Go Carolling (or Just Watch)
Trafalgar Square is a hotspot for carol groups, where dozens come together to sing and raise money for various charities between 10-21st December. St. Paul’s Cathedral has a number of carol services and concerts open to the public. Most are free, but its best to arrive early to avoid disappointment. Royal Albert Hall has a huge line-up of holiday concerts and carol services. Book tickets in advance, prices vary.
9. See a Pantomime
Pantomimes are a Christmas tradition in the U.K. Originally developed in England, these musical comedy stage plays are usually performed around the holidays. Hoxton Hall is showing Rapunzel and Hackney Empire is showing Aladdin. Most shows cost about £10-£20, and it’s best to book tickets in advance if possible.
10. Enjoy a Walk
The usual markets in London are also transformed during the holiday times. Don’t forget to just walk around London and appreciate it. Leadenhall Market and Covent Garden are popular spots to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat (or a mulled wine), and enjoy the view. Oxford Street isn’t the only place to enjoy Christmas lights either; do some exploring to find a variety of lighting and decorations around the city. The Royal Exchange has its own massive tree, perfect for a photo op. If you’re near urbanest Tower Bridge, take a stroll around St. Katherine’s Docks to see London’s biggest floating Christmas tree, which is docked on the water there.
No matter what your interest, there are so many things to do in London at Christmas. Whether you have family coming, want something to do with friends, or need a day to yourself, the possibilities are endless. The season will come and go before you know it, so take advantage for the Christmas spirit while it lasts!
This is a guest post by Emily Carlson, resident of urbanest Tower Bridge from New York, where she studied English at New York University before moving to London to study a Masters in Management at LSE. See our full student accommodation in London here.
When not studying, she enjoys reading, eating Nutella and exploring London.