When it’s December in London, that means that it’s time for one thing and for one thing only: it’s time to celebrate Christmas. December is one of the most magical times of year to travel to the capital, and in spite of the cold, frosty weather and dark nights you will find that locals and travellers alike revel in the festivities.
Although Christmas is just one day, in London you will see that the Christmas spirit isn’t just contained to 25th December. From the start of the month and well into January, there are Christmas markets, ice rinks and light festivals across the city. Visit the famous Winter Wonderland, watch a Christmas-inspired performance in the West End, and battle through the endless crowds trying to find the best deals in department stores. And of course, on 31st December, don’t forget to hang around for the most impressive fireworks display in the country, as Londoners bring in the New Year in style.
There’s a lot to do in London in December. Here are our favourite ways to enjoy this exciting month.
1. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland is the biggest Christmas-themed event in London. Located in Hyde Park, this is the place to visit to see Christmas cheer at its best in the capital. Most of the events here are free, and you can find everything from Santa’s Grottos to delicious seasonal eating and drinking. There are fairground rides and, in December, Hyde Park becomes home to the largest ice rink in the UK.
2. Tower of London
Of course, the iconic Tower of London can be visited any time of year. Even in the cold of December, it’s worth braving the chill to explore the ghostly tales and history of one of the most iconic castles in the country. The Tower of London though also becomes the site of a huge ice rink throughout December, and you can skate to your heart’s content in the dramatic shadow of these ancient walls.
3. Natural History Museum
Escape the cold streets of London by jumping into the warm corridors of the Natural History Museum, a museum that’s always free to visit. See the dinosaur skeletons, the enormous blue whale that now occupies the grand entranceway, and learn more about the natural history of the world around us. Like many of London’s most popular institutions, the Natural History Museum also becomes home to an enormous ice rink for the duration of December. Strap on some skates, and when the chill gets too much just pop back into the museum.
4. A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol is one of Charles Dickens’ most loved works of literature. From the end of November right on through to the start of January, the Old Vic plays host to a stage performance of this festive tale of right and wrong. Over the last few years, it’s become somewhat of a staple theatre piece on the Christmas circuit. Performances are held almost every day, but make sure you book in advance still, because it is incredibly popular.
5. Charles Dickens Museum
If experiencing the tale of Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas on the stage gets you inspired to learn more about the author, Charles Dickens, then look no further than the museum that’s completely dedicated to his life and work. Located on 48 Doughty Street in London, the museum is in the home of the author himself. During December, you can pop in to find out more about not only A Christmas Carol but his other famous novels and stories too.
6. Hogwarts in the Snow
Another famous literary work that comes to life during December is Harry Potter. At the London Warner Bros Studio, you can experience the magic of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world when it is quite literally covered in snow. You can see many of the film props and sets first hand, from castles to broomsticks and all of it decked out in a Christmas theme. The Great Hall of Hogwarts is home to a huge Christmas tree and the corridors are full of lights and tinsel, making it even more magical than usual.
7. London Eye Frostival
The London Eye undergoes a dramatic transformation in time for the Christmas season. The distinctive Ferris wheel becomes the location of a unique Christmas festival, known simply as the London Eye Frostival. The London Eye is lit up with dazzling lights at night, while an ice skating rink is set up beneath the wheel. Enjoy the festive market stalls and sample a few glasses of warm mulled wine to keep away the chill.
8. Southbank Wintertime Market
Along the Southbank, where the London Eye Frostival is also found, you can enjoy the festive spirit at the Christmas market that is set up here through December. This is one of the best Christmas markets in London, and you can expect a huge variety of food and drink from across the world, anything from minced pies to German bratwurst.
9. Covent Garden Reindeer
Reindeer are a well-established element of the Christmas experience, and at Covent Garden you can see reindeer first hand. Throughout the Christmas season, Covent Garden is decorated in true festive fashion, with famous chandeliers, lights and of course a tree. There are also giant silver reindeer statues and, on weekends, you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the real reindeer that are brought to the market.
10. English National Ballet: The Nutcracker
The Nutcracker is one of the most well-known ballet performances in the world and has become a common fixture in cities during December. London is no exception, and the English National Ballet, the top ballet company in the country, put on a wonderful performance through the Christmas season.
11. Santa’s Grotto at Westfields
The enormous Westfields shopping centres in London are of course the perfect places to secure all those Christmas gifts you need for friends and family. For the kids though, the shopping centres become home to some of the best Santa’s Grottos in London, and while the adults shop, the children can meet Santa and all the elves.
Hamleys is London’s largest dedicated toy store, and one of the oldest and most well-known toy stores anywhere in the world. Of course, Hamleys go all out during December, setting up themed displays, decking their corridors and windows in festive themes, and inspiring you to buy as many toys as you can take away with you.
Adults will perhaps appreciate the delights of Harrods at Christmas time more than Hamleys, as the historic department store gets ready to meet the seasonal rush, with great deals and great decorations to match.
14. Oxford Street
London’s most popular shopping street goes all out for Christmas too, with shops setting up their festive displays and the lights being switched on early. It’s a colourful, vibrant place to visit, and in the run-up to 25th December you might find a few bargains too.
15. Boxing Day Sales
Of course, once Christmas Day is gone, London’s most popular shopping streets and department stalls will inevitably be swarmed come Boxing Day, as the shops put on exceptional sales to draw in the crowds. If you don’t mind a busy, hectic day out in London, you can find some low prices from 26th December onwards.
16. Christmas at Kew
Christmas at Kew is one of the most popular festive events in the city, and it’s held at one of London’s most popular attractions. Kew Gardens become a winter wonderland in the evenings, and to brighten up the dark nights of December, elaborate light displays become the norm throughout the Christmas season.
17. Hampton Court Palace
Hampton Court Palace was one of Henry VIII’s residencies and it’s one of the most historic estates to visit in the London area. As well as exploring stately rooms and delving into the royal legacy of the palace, during December, Hampton Court is home to a wonderful ice rink in beautiful surroundings.
18. Chiswick Gardens Magical Lantern Festival
The Magical Lantern Festival is a unique display that’s been held in Chiswick Gardens for the last few years. Spectacular, themed lanterns that take the shape of anything from zebras to traditional Chinese lights are found across the grounds of Chiswick, making for an illuminating and unusual place to visit during December.
19. Christmas in Leicester Square
Iconic Leicester Square is host to one of the best Christmas markets in London throughout December. The square becomes full of market stalls selling charming Christmas gifts and serving up some warming food and drink. There is a Santa’s Grotto and you will likely be able to catch a few festive performances and shows here too.
20. Somerset House
Somerset House is one of the most historic and impressive buildings in central London. The house can trace its origins back to the 16th century, in some form or another, and these days you can find many different galleries and exhibitions displayed within the grand halls and stately rooms. During the Christmas period, the huge rectangular courtyard at the front of Somerset House becomes the location for one of the city’s most popular ice skating rinks and Christmas light displays.
21. Christmas Carols in Trafalgar Square
Trafalgar Square becomes the location for one of the largest Christmas trees in the country. Every year since the end of World War II, the people of Norway have gifted a Christmas tree to London and it’s set up in the beautiful surroundings of Trafalgar Square. Over the Christmas period, you can catch a free performance of Christmas carols, usually from the 10th December up until Christmas.
22. Christmas at Kensington Palace
Located on the edge of Hyde Park, Kensington Palace is one of the iconic royal residences in London. While you can enjoy all the usual attractions and galleries in the palace throughout December, there’s also the added bonus of festive events being held in the palace and the grounds. From light shows and Christmas trees to the traditional Victorian-themed events that are held each year.
23. Santa Run London
The Santa Run has fast become an important regular feature of the December events line up in London. Thousands of competitors suit up in Santa outfits and take to the streets of the city to run either 5-kilometre or 10-kilometre races. Even if you don’t fancy the run, it’s a wonderful event to see and it’s all for a good cause too, with money being raised through the run for different charities. Brave the cold to support the Santas in their bright red outfits.
24. Santa Claus Pub Crawl
If running isn’t your thing and you prefer to spend the day in the pub, then why not take part in the Santa Claus Pub Crawl instead? You will get your exercise travelling from pub to pub in London, but you have to be dressed up of course, as Santa Claus. The event has been going for well over 25 years now, and can claim to be the oldest continually run event of this kind in the country. Like the Santa Run, the event is used to raise money for charity too, so for once, you can drink all day at pubs across London and claim that it’s for a worthy cause!
25. Peter Pan Cup
The Peter Pan Cup is a unique sporting event that is held on Christmas Day, in Hyde Park. More specifically, the event is held in the freezing cold, icy waters of the Serpentine, as the local swimming club dive in and spend the morning racing for glory. It’s a great event to watch, although perhaps not one you would like to take part in.
26. New Years Eve Fireworks
At the end of the month, London hosts one of the biggest and most extravagant fireworks displays in the country to ring in the New Year. Of course, there are events all over the city, but the biggest and best happens right in the centre, with Big Ben and the London Eye as the backdrop.
27. New Years Eve Parties
And what better way to end the year than by experiencing a classic New Years Eve Party in the capital? London is one of the most exciting locations to spend 31st December, and there are countless opportunities to enjoy the New Year. Most events are ticket only, so be sure to book in advance to avoid missing out.
To find out more about the exciting things to do in London during December or to book one of our exciting London tours, contact Premium Tours today.