London Christmas Guide
With its vast collection of landmark buildings and green spaces, London is a beautiful place to visit at any time of year, but the city becomes almost magical around Christmas time. Come at the right time and you will even see the iconic fountain in Trafalgar Square completely frozen.
Over the festive period, London has so much more to offer than just visiting its many tourist attractions. From Christmas markets to special events, the city is the perfect place to head to celebrate the holidays, whether you're with your partner or family.
It's hard not to get into the festive spirit in London, especially once the Christmas lights are turned on. From around the middle of November, stores, public spaces and businesses all come alive with stunning Christmas decorations.
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One of the most famous Christmas light displays in London, Oxford Street will once again be brought to life with hundreds of sparkling, glowing orbs. There will also be more than 1,700 snowball-like decorations that visitors can dedicate to loved ones if they donate £5 to this year's charity partner: the NSPCC. This is one of the many displays in London that allow you to take in the beautiful lights while you enjoy the local restaurants and shops.
Nearest Tube stop: Oxford Circus Station
Family favourite - Kew Gardens
London's incredible Botanical Gardens at Kew take a festive turn each year and offer a fantastic day out for the whole family. Lighting up the cold winter evenings, Kew's botanical wonderland features a beautiful mile-long sparkling path that takes guests on a journey around the Gardens. Your little ones will love the trail through the Tunnel of Lights, scented Fire Garden and fairy-tale avenues of flora. You can also take them to visit Santa and his many elves at the North Pole village.
Nearest Tube stop: Richmond
Romantic retreat - Covent Garden
From fire-eaters to breathtaking light displays, Covent Garden is a bustling hotspot of festive celebration in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The beautiful cobbled streets will be accented with over 40 mistletoe chandeliers this year, making it the perfect place for a romantic stroll. A massive Christmas tree stands proudly on the west side of the square and once the lights are officially switched on, the Royal Opera chorus takes to the piazza to sing festive songs before the Royal Ballet perform the Nutcracker.
Nearest Tube stop: Covent Garden Station
With outdoor ice rinks, freshly made food and plenty of family entertainment, Christmas markets are a popular way to spend the festive season and London has some of the best.
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London Bridge City Christmas Market
The popular More London market may have had a bit of a rebrand, but it's still one of the most well-loved Christmas destinations. With views of Tower Bridge and Tower of London, it's harder to think of anywhere that can better showcase this incredible city over the festive period.
With more than 100 independent traders and artisan food stalls, you'll find yourself getting lost in the magic of the holidays as you walk around the London Bridge City Christmas market.
Nearest tube stop: London Bridge
Family favourite - Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park
No Christmas guide would be complete without featuring Winter Wonderland and it's the first stop for many families travelling to London at Christmas. Spreading over London's beautiful Hyde Park, step inside Winter Wonderland and you and your little ones will discover a truly magical festive world. A huge ice rink sits in pride of place and is perfect for a fun family day out. There are also two circuses, as well as plenty of fairground rides, and Santa Land, making it a hotspot if you are travelling with younger visitors.
Nearest tube stop: Hyde Park Corner, Marble Arch
Romantic retreat - Southbank Centre Winter Festival, South Bank
For a more urban take on the traditional Christmas market, it's hard to beat the Winter Festival held at London's thriving Southbank Centre. Bursting with festive treats - from unique, handmade gifts to freshly made goodies and hot drinks - the market is a fantastic place to warm up and get cosy with your partner this winter.
There will be a modern twist on traditional circus acts, with NoFit State performing throughout the Southbank Centre Winter Festival. Guests will also be able to get a more upbeat twist to their Christmas soundtrack, with the 'Million Dollar Quartet' musical. Showcasing some of the most iconic songs from Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, it's sure to get you in the mood for a party.
Nearest tube stop: Embankment, Waterloo
A day out of the city
Although there is a variety of things to see and do during your time in London, its position also makes it a fantastic home from which you can explore other parts of England. With some truly beautiful cities just a few hours' away from the centre of London, there are plenty of reasons to leave for a day and discover more of the country.
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For something a little bit different, Brighton is the place to go. Instead of having a Christmas market on the street, local artists invite you into their homes. A range of arts and crafts are on offer and you can find something truly unique to remember your trip.
This happens for just three weekends in November and December, but there are more than 60 different places that you can go to and sample paintings, prints, upcycled goods, knitwear, and sculpture. There's also the chance to improve your own skills, with several artists hosting workshops with drawing classes and craft activities.
Even if you miss the Christmas openings, Brighton has plenty to entice you from London. Its famed Pier and Royal Pavilion are definitely worth a visit, even in the winter, and the Booth Museum of Natural History offers the perfect family day out.
Travel time: 1 hour approx.
Family favourite - Winchester
The beautiful medieval city of Winchester is home to a thriving Christmas market is the perfect place to have a family day out of London. Around 100 retailers offer their produce from wooden chalets in Cathedral Close. From hats to jewellery to artwork and wooden toys, you'll be able to find something to take home or simply enjoy walking around this beautiful city. There's also an open-air skating ring so you and your little ones can burn off some energy.
Outside of the Christmas markets, there's a chance to show your children some of Winchester's rich heritage. The City Mill gives visitors the opportunity to see an 18-century mill in action, while the Castle and Farley Mount will help you learn more about this city's enticing history.
Travel time: 1 hour approx.
Romantic retreat - Bath
Famed for its wonderful Roman Baths, Bath is a fantastic place to escape the hustle and bustle of London. From the end of November until the middle of December, the town celebrates the season and brings festive cheer with its Christmas market. Some 170 stalls line the beautiful streets of Bath, winding around the Roman Baths and the famed Abbey themselves, it's a perfect way to discover this part of England while also getting some local produce.
A range of local suppliers will tempt you with their produce. With glassware, toys, homeware, ceramics and more on offer, you may find it difficult to leave. There are also a wide variety of restaurants perfect for a romantic meal for two, while the Theatre Royal has a programme bursting with shows to round off the day.
Travel time: 1 hour 40 mins approx.
Although there is plenty more to Christmas than shopping, if you are looking to pick up some gifts for your loved ones, there's nowhere better than London.
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Selfridges, Oxford Street
For more than a century, Selfridges has been welcoming guests through its iconic doors. With boutiques, store-wide themed events and collections from the world's biggest designers, it's a hotspot if you want to find everything under one roof. On the ground floor you'll discover the Wonder Room, which boasts some 19,000sq ft of luxury brands and a manicure station. Walk down to the basement and you'll find shelves overflowing with home accessories, but most Selfridges lovers head straight for the fashion floors, where you'll find everything from high street labels to exclusive designer pieces. There's also a selection of eateries run by award-winning chefs, cocktail bars and even a spa to rest your feet.
Nearest Tube stop: Bond Street Station
Family favourite - Hamleys
Founded in 1760 as a small toy shop, Hamleys has grown into a London institution that attracts visitors from all over the world. There are seven floors overflowing with each and every type of toy imaginable, making it a paradise for your little ones.
Nearest Tube stop: Oxford Circus
Romantic retreat - Fortnum & Mason, Mayfair
If you and your other half are foodies, then make a beeline for Fortnum & Mason in the heart of London's thriving Mayfair. When you walk through the doors, you'll be met by an interior that celebrates the store's Georgian history but still meets the needs of today's shoppers. Walk together up the impressive spiral staircase and you'll find four floors adorned with the iconic eau de nil blue and gold colour scheme. Pick out bits for a personalised luxury hamper or select some delicately crafted china wares to take home with you.
Nearest Tube stop: Green Park, Piccadilly Circus
Romantic Days out
London is a fantastic place to spend time with your loved ones, whether you are planning a romantic weekend away or just want to have some quality time with friends.
The West End is home to some of the world's best theatres - from the spectacular to the modestly decorated - and there's a rich history in this bustling part of London. If you are looking to have a date night to remember, there are few better ways to enjoy some time with your partner. Walk hand-in-hand through the famous streets of the West End, with many illuminated by Christmas lights, before heading into one of the many theatres and seeing a world-class production.
There is plenty to choose from in the historic West End, but other parts of London also offer spectacular performances to suit every taste. Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank hosts a number of productions each month. This year, visitors can see a collection of Hans Christian Anderson's best stories with The Little Match Girl (and Other Happier Tales), while at Leicester Square there's the burlesque-circus hybrid La Soiree.
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London is lucky enough to have a wide variety of world-class restaurants championing cuisines from all over the globe. From high-end establishments run by award-winning chefs - such as Michel Roux Jr.'s two Michelin-star Le Gavroche in Mayfair - to eateries that bring more unchartered dishes to your dinner table, there's something to suit every taste in London's thriving foodie heart.
If you want grandeur, then it's hard to beat Gauthier Soho or the prestigious Ivy, but there are plenty of options if you want something a little more casual. Hoppers in Soho offers some of the best Indian dishes in the capital, while nearby Ceviche will treat you to the very best of Peruvian seafood. Whatever it is you fancy, London's evolving restaurant scene will be able to satisfy your appetite.
From sumptuous spas to elegant cocktail bars, London is full of places that you can go to relax and unwind over the festive period. There is nothing better than having a day exploring what this fantastic city has to offer and then heading to enjoy a spot of luxury. Whether you fancy unwinding with a massage at one of the many spas across London - such as the Berkley or Chuan - or want to relax by talking to friends while cocktails are brought to you, there are plenty of ways to treat yourself.
If you want to spend more time enjoying the capital at a slower pace, you can extend your stay at the spa or enjoy a special afternoon tea at one of the many hotels in London that offer it year-round, such as the Ritz or the Shard. Of course, you can always join us at the hotel and let us treat you to our delicate selection of cakes and sandwiches while you enjoy views of beautiful Kensington.
Spending time with your family
Whether you are enjoying time with your young children or are having a few days away with your older relatives, London is a fantastic city in which to plan days together.
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With the temperature dropping, ice skating is perhaps an obvious choice when it comes to spending some quality time with your family. Planning a stay in London over Christmas gives you the chance to have a very festive experience, with many of the city's main attractions featuring an ice rink.
The Natural History Museum in the heart of Kensington hosts an impressive ice rink each year. The outdoor space gives visitors the chance to skate - and slide - with family and friends with the beautiful surroundings of Kensington and the impressive museum itself. There's also an Alpine Cafe bar that will serve you a range of festive treats from mulled wine to hot chocolate so you can warm up after some time on the ice.
The Tower of London also plays host to an ice rink over Christmas, which is placed in the famous dry moat of the 1,000-year-old building. In the evening, you can also see snowflake lights bring the walls of the Tower to life.
You may not immediately think of the theatre as a place to take your family, especially if you have very little ones, but over the Christmas period there are plenty of choices for all ages. Of course, there's the classic festive staple of Pantomime, which is a long-standing British tradition for many families. If you want to experience one while you are in London, there's a fair few to choose from. From Cinderella at the Palladium in Soho to the Hackney Empire's production of Sleeping Beauty, you and your family will be able to see some of your favourite fairy tale characters in action.
If calls of 'he's behind you' aren't what you are after, the Southwark Playhouse is turning the Studio Ghibli favourite Kiki's Delivery Service into a theatre production. For younger children, the Unicorn Theatre at London Bridge is hosting Baddies: The Musical, which follows the funny and charming life of some of the most popular baddies from fairytales.
Exploring the rest of Europe
London is a magical place to be over the festive period, but the city is also well placed to connect you to other leading cities in Europe.
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The high-speed railway departs from London St Pancras and can transport you to France or Belgium within a few hours. If you are spending the festive period with your loved one, there is a beautiful Champagne bar at the station, which is perfect for couples looking to celebrate the start or end of a fantastic break.
Although the beautiful city of Paris is the most popular destination in France, the Eurostar can also take you to Avignon, Lille, Lyon, and Marseille. Paris offers plenty of reasons to visit, especially at Christmas time. The city of lights is a shopper's paradise, so there's nowhere better to visit if you need to pick up a few extra gifts for loved ones.
Christmas markets as just as popular in France as they are in the UK, so expect to find them all over Paris. Walk down the beautiful Champs-Elysees and you'll find a magical Christmas Village, transporting you to a winter wonderland where you can find everything from delicious food to handmade trinkets.
Brussels is the only Eurostar stop in Belgium, but you can easily transfer to Bruges, Antwerp or Ghent with a short train journey. Brussels itself is home to the country's biggest Christmas market. Winter Wonders takes place each year and takes over the Bourse and Marché aux Poissons areas of the city throughout the festive period.
With three major airports - Heathrow, Gatwick, and Stansted - London is an ideal hub from which to explore more of Europe from. Many European cities are alive with festive cheer at this time of year, making fantastic places to visit to get in the Christmas spirit.
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Flight time: Direct 1 hour 20 mins
The Scottish capital may be quite the journey on a train or by car from London, but it's just a short flight from any of the main airports. As soon as you land, you will discover that this beautiful city is even more magical at Christmas time. Decorations and lights line the cobbled streets, while the famous Edinburgh castle gives you a fantastic view of the city, making it a great place to visit at this time of year.
Flight time: Direct 1 hour 50 mins
Of course, the best place to go to see Christmas markets is Germany itself. In under two hours, you can touch down in one of the most beautiful and cultural European cities. Cologne is home to seven different markets each year, which attract millions of visitors each year.
Flight time: Direct 1 hour 10 mins
Called locally Vanocni trh, Christmas markets are popular across the Czech Republic but the most impressive are in the capital of Prague. The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square are perhaps the best, but there are also smaller markets at Havel's Market and at the castle. From the end of November, visitors can see the lines of traditional huts filled with people making crafts, trinkets and food for you to sample.