Although there’s rarely any snow, it’s impossible not to be overcome by holiday spirit when it comes to Christmas in London. From the twinkling lights to the festive cheer on every corner (I’ve come across five separate spontaneous carol singing groups so far…) the city buzzes with a palpable anticipation and we all start to count the sleeps until the big day.
There are eleven left, in case you’re wondering!
In my four years in the UK I’ve sampled nearly everything Christmassy London has to offer and so below I’m rounding up my 10 favourite things to do in the UK capital during December.
It’s a long one so make sure you grab a mince pie now!
1: See the Christmas windows
Every year we wrap up warm and take our time seeing what new and delightful dreams have been brought to life in the windows of Selfridges, Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, Peter Jones and Harrods.
Put together by magical Christmas elves (I assume), they’re always incredible though my favourites are usually the more classical ones on display at Liberty and Fortnum’s.
They’re gorgeous during the day but I’d always recommend going at night when they’re literally glowing.
2: Drink mulled cider at the Southbank Christmas market
Spilling along the banks of the Thames, a barrage of ski chalets and market stalls spring up almost overnight in early November, filling the area of Southbank between the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge with the smell of cinnamon and cider, the sound of children’s laughter and – if you’re lucky – a sighting of the big man himself!
Though small compared to its European counterparts the Southbank market is hardy and just the place for a last minute present, the perfect tree ornament or a feast of all the best things – chocolate, cheese, meats and treats. Though I prefer apple cider to its alcoholic counterpart I hear the mulled cider is not to be missed.
More details can be found here.
3: Take Christmas afternoon tea
Afternoon tea is a staple in the UK and at Christmas it seems every hotel, teashop and tourist attraction has a special festive menu on offer. Really, you can’t go wrong with any of them! Find the one that suits your budget and taste and enjoy yourself.
4: Explore a Winter Wonderland
Taking up a good portion of Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland pops up year after year to deliver six weeks of Christmas cheer in the form of games, rides, beer gardens, market stalls and savoury delicacies that delight.
Celebrating its 10th anniversary, Winter Wonderland is fantastic fun and brings out the kid in everyone. Understandably, weekends are crazy so I’d recommend going after work when the crowds are calm and the whole thing lights up like a, well, like a Christmas tree!
All the details can be found here.
5: Go ice-skating at the Natural History or Somerset House
Full disclosure: I have never done this because of an aversion to ice-skating which stems from that time I broke my arm while ice-skating when I was nine. Go forth at your own peril!
Every year a handful of ice rinks pop up around London offering Londoners the opportunity to strap blades to their feet and glide across a surface designed to bring you painfully down (good thing I’m not letting my personal feelings affect this, right?!) Though there are quite a few, you’ll find the best ones at the Natural History Museum and at Somerset House. With gorgeous architectural backdrops, highly elaborate Christmas trees, carols ringing out and hot chocolate on tap it’s a fantastic atmosphere.
More info on skating at Somerset House here.
More info on skating at the Natural History Museum here.
6: Go crazy at SantaCon
Without fail, one Saturday in December every year you’ll find yourself faced with an abundance of Santas. They’re gathered at tube stations, they’re walking down Regent’s Street, they’re singing carols along the Thames…you get the picture.
The annual event is called ‘SantaCon’ and is descried as a ‘nonsensical Christmas parade’, which brings together people from across the UK. The only caveats? You must be dressed as Santa and, if you bring Rudolph, ‘it’s your responsibility to obtain the necessary flight permissions from the UK Civil Aviation Authority’.
I haven’t actually participated in SantaCon myself but one of my closest friends is a regular and she raves about what fun it is and about the very, uh, interesting people you meet!
7: Sing carols at St. Paul’s
Every year the churches and cathedrals around London put on carol services but none are quite as spectacular as the Christmas Eve carols at St. Paul’s. Free to the public, seats are available on a first come first serve basis so arrive early to avoid disappointment (we got there an hour early and were about 150th in line…) and don’t be afraid to move decisively once inside. The people ahead of us filled up the pews along the main aisle but we bypassed them to sit at the side in the cross of the Cathedral and we were close enough that when they opened up the seats right at the front (which were reserved for people who didn’t end up attending) we were able to scoot forward, directly underneath the cupola and only a few rows from the front.
All of the details of this year’s carol service can be found here.
8: Go to the Christmas Eve service at Westminster Abbey
You don’t have to be religious to be able to appreciate the beauty of Westminster Abbey lit purely by candlelight on a cold winter’s night. After you’ve gorged yourself on a delicious Christmas Eve feast, find your way to Westminster Abbey (arrive early as seats are first come, first served!) and, when the time comes, make your way down the aisle that has seen the passing of British Kings and Queens for centuries to witness an unforgettable midnight service.
Considering a normal visit to the Abbey will set you back about £20 it’s an opportunity to marvel at the beauty of one of the world’s most beautiful and famous churches for free and after hours.
It looks as though this year’s Christmas Eve service is sold out (it’s free but you do need to obtain a ticket in advance as they don’t want to have to turn people away – Mary and Joseph style – on Christmas Eve) you can find information about it here and make plans for next year.
9: Have London to yourself on Christmas morning
As I shared in this post, there are major benefits to rolling out of bed in the early hours of Christmas morning. The streets are empty and it’s a bit like being a kid let loose in a toy store overnight. Grab a Santander Cycle from your nearest docking station and head out in whatever direction you fancy!
10: Walk in Charles Dickens’ footsteps on Christmas Day
Every year on Christmas Day London Walks hosts a free Charles Dickens walking tour that departs from Trafalgar Square at 2pm. It’s a celebration of the man who reinvented Christmas and who turned this relatively modest celebration in the Christian calendar into a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a fantastic opportunity to stretch your legs ahead of ingesting all that turkey and with the London streets virtually empty you’ll see a side of London that is only revealed once a year.
All the details can be found here.