London at Christmas time lights up and sparkles like nowhere else. It really is the most wonderful time of the year in England’s capital city.
Towering Christmas trees twinkle with a million lights, streets are strung with glittering illuminations and Christmas markets pop up in London’s squares, parks and along the river Thames. Chrismas in London is unbeatable.
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Special events take place throughout the festive period with attractions that the whole family will enjoy. To get your fix of festive charm and cheer this year read on for the best things to do in London at Christmas in 2023.
At Christmas in London there’s a sprinkling of magic in the air
As winter days darken the glow up in London is real as the capital lights up for the festive season. There’s so much to do in London at Christmas; from touring the city’s Christmas lights, festive afternoon tea and carol concerts to Christmas markets and the city’s best Christmas trees.
All these reasons, and more, are why the Christmas season in London is my favourite time of year to visit. Here are some of the best Christmas things to do in London to get you feeling full-on festive.
1. Be dazzled by London’s Christmas Lights
If there’s one thing you must do it’s see the London Christmas lights. There’s a sparkling array in London and the city streets shimmer throughout the holiday season until early January. As dusk falls prepare to be dazzled by the gazillion lights which cast a magical glow over the capital (and proably bring it to within an inch of a major power outage). Dusk is around 16:00 hrs in December so head out from 15:30 hrs for the best blue hour shots.
These are some of my favourite London Christmas lights which are all within a short walk of each other in central London:
From 09 November
They first flicked the switch on Regent Street christmas lights in 1954 in the form of lit up angels and the tradition goes on to this day. The angels hovering above Oxford Street were first displayed in December 2016 and are a reimagining of the 1954 angels. Each angel has a 17m wingspan and a 15m train. The installation, named the Spirit of Christmas stretches from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus.
From 02 November
The Oxford Street Christmas lights bedazzle with a spectacle of over 5,000 stars festooned across Europe’s all 1.2 miles of longest shopping street. Don’t miss the dazzling window display in Selfridges department store. The idea of window displays was brought over from the US in1909 by Harry Selfridge himself. After browsing the windows head inside for Christmas shopping and step into Santa’s grotto to visit Father Christmas.
South Molton Street
From 16 November
From Oxford Street take a side-step into South Molton Street for some contemporary Christmas lights. This smaller street, lined with exclusive designer shops, pulls out all the stops with its Christmas light display of blue arches. The perfect place to pose for a London Christmas selfie. From South Molton Street head around the corner to
New Bond Street
From 16 November
The elite of all London Shopping streets, New Bond Street is home to some exclusive luxury stores and jewellers. Think Cartier, Bvlgari, Tiffany and Fendi with a Christmas light display budget to match.
This year it’s goodbye to the the peacock feathers and hello to a tribute to our late Queen Elizabeth II. In a nod to the crown jewels the street is adorned with tiaras and crowns. 93,000 more sustainable LED lights have been used to offer a more eco-friendly display.
New Bond Street has some of the most elaborate shop window displays in London with the Cartier store gift wrapped in a huge red bow and Chanel and Tiffany doing their best to keep up. Christian Dior and Ralph Lauren also have some lovely storefront displays too so make sure to keep an eye out for those.
From 08 November 2023
Carnaby Street always gets into the Christmas spirit with a full on in your face vibrant display. There’s always a theme with a good mix of technicolour and neon but they also a highlight a worthy cause.
This year it’s the Carnaby Universe with light waves creating a vortex on Carnaby Street and a theme of love, positivity, and joy. In the past we’ve seen Carnaby Kaleidoscope and Project Zero.
One of the best ways to see London’s Christmas lights is on a Routemaster open top bus. Pull on your beanie and mittens and tour all the best Christmas light spots with the perfect viewpoint from the top deck of a London Bus. Check rates and availability.
2. Check out Covent Garden
Covent Garden at Christmas always looks lovely and this London piazza is a Christmas must-see and one of my festive favourites.
As well as the 60ft glittering Christmas tree you’ll find food stalls, bars and pop ups selling festive food and drink as well as all the resident restaurants and cafes offering festive fare. There are special events, live music, Covent Garden Christmas market and heaps of festive cheer..
There are Christmas photo opportunities with a tradtionally decorated red sleigh by the florist hut and a magical wonder wood display of Christmas trees. Perfect for your Christmas family selfies. Look out for the Sezane knitwear red mini laden with foliage and gifts. It’s oh so gramable.
This year the Apple Market is adorned with a new installation of giant golden bells, bows and baubles along with the usual spinning mirror balls. Covent Garden is one of the best places to find all the ingredients for a festive day out in one place.
Travelbunny Tip: Head to the Royal Opera House rooftop bar and restaurant, Piazza. It’s a great place for food and drink with stunning views over the twinkling lights of Covent Garden Christmas market.
London Transport Museum is also on the Piazza. As well as checking out the exhibits and Christmas card-making workshops.
3. Wander London’s Christmas Markets
There are loads of London Christmas Markets to visit and more pop up every year. These are the best traditional markets in London for picking up baubles, trinkets, festive street food, quirky gifts and all those Christmassy things you don’t really need but can’t leave without.
You’ll find mulled wine, hot chocolate, crepes, mince pies, giant prezels and hot dogs along with other festive morsels. Grab a hot drink and browse the stalls.
These some of the best Christmas markets in London.
Leicester Square Christmas Market
Set in the heart of the West End you’ll find around 30 huts decked out in full-on festive foliage in Leicester Square Christmas market.
Delicious aromas of food from around the world mingle with spicy wafts of aromatic glühwein. Stalls sell everything from Christmas decorations and candles to tea light lamps and the ultimate in Christmas jumpers.
Trafalgar Square Christmas Market
This Christmas market with over 30 wooden chalets is located on the north terrace of Trafalgar Square. The towering Christmas tree and market has the dramatic backdrop of the National Gallery and is overlooked by Nelson and the four Landseer Lions.
A Christmas market setting doesn’t get any more iconic than this. With plenty of festive food and drinks, craft and gift stalls, this traditional German Christmas market is a must-see this December.
The tree in Trafalgar Square is one of the last to light up at 17:30 hrs on Thursday 07 December 2023.
Winter by the River
In a scenic setting between London Bridge and Tower Bridge you’ll find Winter by the River, one of London’s prettiest markets. Formerly called ‘Christmas by the River’ this packed parcel of Christmas goodies contains all the ingredients for a perfect Christmas market.
Cute cabins, crafts stalls, pop up bars with festive drinks and food stall outlets. You’ll also find Karaoke by the Pier. Hopefully all that mulled wine will loosen your vocal chords along with your inhibitions.
4. See London’s best Christmas trees
The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is given by the people of Norway in thanks for Britain’s support for Norway during World War II. This tradition has been going since 1947.
The tree is usually a Norwegian spruce carefully selected from the forests near Oslo. It’s over 20 metres high and between 50 and 60 years old. It’s known as ‘the queen of the forest’ by the Norwegian foresters.
It’s the tallest of London’s Christmas trees but not my favourite because the lights just kind of hang from the top rather than being festooned around the branches.
Note: the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is one of the last to light up at 17:30 hrs on Thursday 07 December 2023.
We’ve covered the Covent Garden Christmas tree already but other pretty trees worth checking out are the St Pancras station offering, this year it’s book themed.
See the Somerset House tree in the neoclassical courtyard, The Connaught and Leadenhall Market Christmas trees shouldn’t be missed. You’ll find many more as you explore London in the festive season.
5. See a Christmas Carol at The Old Vic
If there’s one play to get you into the festive mood it’s Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. And it would seem many agree because it’s back for the sixth year in a row at the Old Vic Theatre
This Christmas classic tells the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge a miserable miser who is visited by the three ghosts of Christmas; past, present and yet to come. The ghosts help Ebenezer see the error of his ways. Christmas morning sees a much kinder Ebenezer emerge from his house onto the streets of London.
This Jack Thorne adaption of the classic Christmas story is critically-acclaimed and stars Emmy Award-winner Christopher Eccleston. It’s one of the best Christmas shows to see in London.
When: 01 November 2023 – 6th January 2024
Where: 103 The Cut, London SE1 8NB
6. Pose in front of Annabel’s
It’s worth checking out Annabel’s in Berkeley Square.They dress to impress every Christmas with their festive façade.
7. Sing carols at Westminster Abbey
Could anything be any more Christmassy than the echo of carols filling the aisles of Westminster Abbey? My Christmas bucket lists includes hearing my favourite Christmas carol, Silent Night, sung by the Abbey Choristors in the beautiful surroundings of Westminster Abbey. Til now I’ve only heard it on on the TV whilst making the last of the mince pies but I can dream.
Every year a series of concerts, recitals and Christmas services take place in the abbey right through December including Christmas day. Some are free and others are payable but all tickets must be booked well in advance.
Where: Dean’s Yard, London SW1P 3PA
When: 03 to 25 December
8. Find the best festive shop window displays
London’s big department stores really go for it at Christmas with some stunning shop window displays. Of course, after you’ve window shopped it’d be rude not to head inside to browse the festive fare. These are some of the biggest and best.
Harry Gordon Selfridge started the Christmas window tradition back in 1909 to draw in the shoppers. If it looks that good on the outside then how could you not enter the store? Selfridges does Christmas like no other department store and it’s a year-round event with planning starting months before the festive unveiling. Check out all fifteen windows from the Orchard Street end right round to corner onto Dukes Street.
Where: 400 Oxford Street, London
Fortnum and Mason
Fortnum and Mason, purveyors of ‘Christmas in a basket’ aka the luxury hamper, is a must visit. The Christmas window display is always enchanting and inside the Christmas décor is delectable. The store is the Kings official grocer and if it’s good enough for his Majesty…
The chocolate and confectionery section is my favourite with plenty of stocking filler treats to choose from. I’m partial to the Marc de Champagne truffles in case you were wondering…
Where: 181 Picadilly, London
Other festive windows worth a peek are Harrods in Mayfair, Liberty London (Regent Street, Carnaby) and, of course, Hamleys toy shop in Regent Street.
Don’t forget the smaller shopping streets
If you’re in Victoria check out the small independent shopfronts. Peggy Porschen Cakes’ pretty pastel pink shop is always beautifully adorned with festive foliage and flowers. Other shops nearby have joined in this festive trend so check them out too.
9. Explore the historic shopping arcades
Not only do London’s shopping arcades dress beautifully for Christmas, they’re also good shelters if the weather turns. Which it invariably will. Check out these splendid London shopping arcades for luxury gifts paired with beautiful decor.
Start at Royal Arcade on Old Bond Street which already looks festive with its red pillars. Add some Christmas trees and garlands and it positively shines.
A minute’s walk towards Picadilly finds you at Burlington Arcade, probably the best known of the London arcades with some high end shops. This famous arcade opened over 200 years ago in 1819 ‘for the sale of jewellery and fancy articles of fashionable demand’. The same applies to the 46 boutiques that reside there today.
Cross the road and Picadilly Arcade is just steps away. This Edwardian arcade opened in 1909 and links Piccadilly with Jermyn Street.
10. Christmas at Kew Gardens
Christmas at Kew is a magical illuminated trail around Kew Gardens. Think colourful lighting, music and visual displays that will light up your evening leaving a warm glow inside.
Wander through the lights, listening to carols, grab a cup of mulled wine, a mince pie and soak up the magical atmosphere. There are vintage rides and a mistletoe canopy too.
Now in its eleventh year, Christmas at Kew is a joyful experience and a great way to kick off the Christmas holidays.
For ticket prices and more information check the Kew Gardens official website. Booking early is recommended.
When: Wednesday 15 November 2023 to Sunday 07 January 2024
Where: Kew Gardens, Richmond, TW9 3AF
11. Skate at Somerset House ice rink
Beautiful Somerset House makes a stunning backdrop for this iconic festive activiy. There’s nothing like feeling your skates cut through the ice before gliding into a figure of eight and ending on a double axel as you come to a neat halt under a beautifully lit Christmas tree.
In my dreams. It’s as much as I can do to unclamp my hands from the rink railings for the first five minutes. I generally gain a bit of confidence and can often manage more than a mere totter around the ice and sometimes it even becomes fun – usually about a minute before the session finishes.
Where: Somerset House, WC2R 1LA
When: 15 Nov 23 – 14 Jan 24
Price: £10-£25 adults / £8-£13 children
Ice skating is a great activity if you’re spending Christmas in London with kids and there are a number of other other ice-skating rinks around the city to visit including:
- Queens House, Greenwich (23 Nov – 07 Jan)
- Glide at Battersea Power Station with vintage style rides (10 Nov – 07 Jan)
- Canary Wharf (21 Oct – 24 Feb)
- Broadgate Ice Rink, London’s longest running outdoor ice rink (4 Nov – 7 Feb)
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (17 Nov- 01 Jan)
- Hampton Court Palace (17 Nov – 07 Jan) although not strictly London
- Note: The ice rink at the Natural History Museum is no longer open.
Somerset House Ice Skating is on from mid November to mid January – make sure you book before you go.
12. See Southbank Centre Winter Festival
The South Bank winter market starts near the London Eye and runs along Queens Walk to the Southbank Centre. As well as a scenic stroll along the Thames try some festive street food, delicious drinks and browse the gift stalls.
You’ll find seasonal pop-ups including alpine-themed curling at The Curling Club or try toasted marshmallows at Fire & Fromage (if it’s chilly dive into one of the igloos) or tasty treats at Beltane & Pop, Choco Fruit and The Thirsty Farrier.
The Winter Light exhibition is a display of luminous art with more art on display at the Hayward Gallery.
13. Christmas carols at the Royal Albert Hall
One of the best Christmas events in London is a carol concert at The Royal Albert Hall. This festive favourite is popular so book tickets as early as you can (summer if possible) to get best seats and prices. Ticket costs rise according to demand.
Concerts range from carols, Christmas with the Royal Choral Society and John Rutter’s Christmas celebration to Gospel Messiah and Jamie Cullum: The Pianoman at Christmas.
Carols are on 16th,17th and 21st-24th December. Check The Royal Albert Hall website for more details.
14. Tuck into a festive afternoon tea
What better way to get into the Christmas mood than with a decadent afternoon tea in a London hotel. I’m working my way around one a year and for 2023 the venue for our festive afternoon tea was The Londoner on Leicester Square.
Start with dainty sandwiches and a glass of bubbles before moving on the scones with jam and clotted cream and a pot of Earl Grey. Finish off with the finest of festive pastries. A wonderful way to spend an hour or two before heading out to see London’s Christmas lights. Which is exactly what we did!
For a quirky afternoon tea tuck in on a tour bus and check out the sights as you travel around London. If you’re ready to splash the cash then try The Ritz, Claridges and Shangri-La the Shard.
15. Find the best festive hotel lobby displays
London’s top hotels dress to impress over the Christmas period. Stepping into some of the hotel’s is like walking into a Christmas fairyland.
Take a cheeky peek at some of the hotel lobbies and while you’re there pop into the bar for a Christmas cocktail. It’d be rude not to. The Savoy, The Ritz, Claridges and One Aldwych go all out at Christmas.
>>> Read about our Christmas stay at One Aldwych.
16. Head to Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
Some people love Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and for others it’s a nightmare but either way it’s a Christmas must-do. At least once. Especially if you have kids.
It’s busy, buzzy and pretty expensive but it has something every member of the family will love. From fairground rides, shows, ice rink and Christmas market to the Bavarian village, Bar Ice ( it’s an ice bar) and ice sculptures at Magical Ice Kingdom. Grab some food, hot chocolate or mulled wine from the food stalls and
The best part is that Santa Clause makes daily appearances at Santaland.
You’ll need to book tickets ahead, although there are free slots available. If you want to visit at the weekend it’ll set you back £5. Go early-mid afternoon to beat the crowds.
More info on the Winter Wonderland official website.
17. Find a festive pub for a Christmas tipple
London’s pubs go the extra mile at Christmas with full on festive decor and foliage which give them an atmospheric Dickension feel. The perfect place to warm your cockles and rest your feet after checking out all the London Christmas lights.
The Churchill Arms is the most well known and I’m hankering to get there for a Christmas cocktail. When I do I’ll add an image.
In the meantime check out these cosy London taverns. Cheers!
If you were looking for the best things to do in London at Christmas I hope you’ve found this guide useful. I love the festive season and it can get pricey but many of these Christmas activities are free to visit which should help your pocket.
Do you have any favourite London attractions at Christmas. Let me know in the comments, I’d love to add them to my list.