When it comes to the festive period, Londoners go all out to impress. The Christmas season is one of the most exciting times to visit the capital, when locals and tourists alike can be found revelling in the holiday spirit at the many events held across the city. The streets are lit up with bright and colourful lights, the shops and department stores are decked out in festive designs, and Christmas carols can be heard throughout the city. Most importantly though, the festive period is when the many Christmas markets are open for business.
London has a multitude of markets that open over Christmas, many starting as early as the end of November and carrying on right through to the New Year. Deciding which ones are actually worth visiting can be a challenge, especially when you might only have a few spare days to visit during the busy holidays leading up to 25th December. To help you out, we’ve put together this guide to the best London Christmas markets, from the classic stalls of Winter Wonderland and Leicester Square to a few unusual and lesser-known events happening across the city.
Here are the best London Christmas markets.
1. Winter Wonderland Christmas Market
Winter Wonderland takes place in Hyde Park and becomes London’s premier tourist attraction over the Christmas period. Hyde Park is quite literally transformed into a playground of Christmas-themed fairground rides, winter events and festive decorations that few other attractions in the capital can match. As well as all these exciting shows, demonstrations and of course the classic ice skating rink, Winter Wonderland is also home to one of London’s best Christmas markets.
Alongside wooden cabins and market stalls serving up warm mulled wine and mince pies, Winter Wonderland puts on an extensive German-themed market where you can try Bratwurst and sample a few beers from the continent. The markets at Winter Wonderland are free to enter, although certain attractions – such as ice skating for instance – will cost extra, and might even need to be booked in advance. Winter Wonderland opens in the last week of November and stays open all the way through to January.
‘Winter Wonderland 2011’ by Gary Knight – https://flic.kr/p/mjMHp
2. Christmas by the River at London Bridge
London Bridge is one of the capital’s most iconic locations, so what better place could there be to hold a Christmas market when the festive season rolls on by? The stalls here are numerous and are in the charming log cabin style that Londoners have come to expect from their festive markets. You can find all the usual seasonal delights, from mulled wine, warm apple cider and hearty English or German ales to handmade mince pies, hog roasts and turkey sandwiches. Alongside the food, there are always stalls selling some handcrafted or unique items that make great options for those much-needed stocking fillers or gifts for friends or work colleagues.
Alongside the varied food, drink and gifts for sale, the real attraction of Christmas by the River at London Bridge, is the very fact that the event is held by London Bridge. This is one of the most historic places in the city, the centre of life in London for many locals, and a must-visit location for tourists. From the market stalls, you can sip on a mulled wine in the cold evening air while you look out across the bright skyline of central London. Along the river, you can see the silhouettes of Tower Bridge’s famous archways and of course the illuminated shape of the Tower of London itself. Nearby, you can explore the City of London, visit the top of the Shard and much, much more.
Christmas by the River at London Bridge is free to enter and is open from the end of November until the start of January.
3. Southbank Centre Winter Market
Also found along the banks of the River Thames is the excellent Southbank Centre Winter Market. Located next to the London Eye, which is turned into a glittering, glitzy Ferris wheel of Christmas lights through December, the Southbank Centre Winter Market offers you market stalls galore alongside cuisine from across the world.
Along the river, you have chalet after chalet offering you the chance to find those much-needed gifts and to take part in a little bit of Christmas shopping in lively surroundings. Enjoy the smell of festive eats, with all the classics on offer here, but save room for some of the more unique offerings you always find here, as the food market tends to attract vendors from far afield, looking to show off international dishes to Londoners.
Throughout the Christmas period, the Southbank Centre also hosts many interesting performances, many of which are free to attend. Watch Rumpelstiltskin or enjoy the famous circus that has been performing here since 1903. The events are on at different times throughout December and into early January and are, for the most part, all free to attend.
4. Covent Garden Christmas
Covent Garden is one of London’s most popular shopping areas, and these days is full of luxury shops, boutique retailers and upmarket cafes. Covent Garden has more humble beginnings than you may realise, as this was one of London’s original marketplaces, where farmers and vendors would buy and sell fruit and vegetables on the cobbled stones. Although this is no longer a market in the traditional sense, at Christmas time the shops and retail outlets still go all out to ensure they are exuding a real sense of the Christmas spirit to everyone who walks along the redesigned cobbles of Covent Garden. You can shop in the boutique stores for quirky Christmas gifts, source out some unique presents or enjoy a festive-themed drink in a bar or cafe, while pondering how this old fruit and veg market grew into the designer marketplace you see today. Amongst the glittering Christmas lights, you will even find the famous reindeer statue, which keeps returning to Covent Garden year after year.
‘Covent Garden Deer’ by Gary Knight – https://flic.kr/p/mjMHp
5. Greenwich Christmas Market
Greenwich is one of the most historic parts of the city. This is where Greenwich Mean Time is defined, it’s the home of the iconic Cutty Sark ship and it’s where you can find the Greenwich markets. This traditional marketplace has been in business since 1737 and is open all year round. The market has a reputation for unique food and arts and crafts, with inspirations for the market stalls coming from across the world and helping to add to the unique multicultural vibe that’s found here.
At Christmas time, the Greenwich Market becomes one giant Christmas market, as the usual stalls and vendors bring out their festive-themed goods and start cooking up Christmas treats. The marketplace is decked out in an extravagant light display, while every Wednesday from the start of December right up until Christmas Day, the market stays open 8 pm every evening. You can enjoy Christmas carols, send the kids to Santa’s Grotto and try all sorts of wonderful food and drink.
6. Winterville on Clapham Common
Winterville has become one of London’s much-loved Christmas events in recent years. Located on Clapham Common on the south side of the River Thames, it’s a bit further away from the central areas more frequented by tourists, and not exactly as well known or as well advertised as bigger events like Winter Wonderland. This Christmas market is a more local affair, but every bit as exciting as anywhere else in London.
Winterville is more than just a market too. On Clapham common throughout December you can find an ice-skating rink, fairground attractions, a roller disco and even the Backyard Cinema. The event bills itself as London’s Alternative Festive Experience and it’s perfect for anyone who is looking for something a little bit different this Christmas. Delve into the huge array of street food, have a few drinks, and stay into the evening for live DJs and music too. Winterville has a small entrance charge and some of the events are ticketed, but it’s well worth the admission costs to experience one of London’s more unusual Christmas markets.
7. Christmas in Leicester Square
Leicester Square hosts a more traditional Christmas market over the festive season, and it’s the perfect place to find gifts and to try some great food in a central location in London. This is a free event to attend and Christmas in Leicester Square begins early too, with the market stalls opening for business right at the start of November and carrying on into the first week of January. You can find some great gifts and festive treats to purchase while the large tent in the centre of the square hosts some great events, from circus performances to Christmas shows.
You could even hang around to catch a few performances at the nearby theatres too. Through December, there are plenty of pantomimes and Christmas-themed shows on throughout the month, and they make the perfect complement to a day at the markets.
8. Crafty Fox Christmas Market
The Crafty Fox Market is one of the newest markets to be found in London, having only been established in 2010. This isn’t your traditional marketplace either and from the start, they’ve been shaking things up in the city. The Crafty Fox for starters moves around and they hold events across London rather than having established locations.
In December, they host specialist Christmas markets, and the emphasis, as it always is, is on independent traders selling handcrafted goods. Everything here is quality and unique, and the Crafty Fox Christmas Market makes for a fantastic place to find some personalised presents for friends and family that you will struggle to find elsewhere.
9. Christmas Wednesdays on Columbia Road
Columbia Road is one of East London’s most famous market streets, being the home of spectacular flower markets and being full of small, independent shops and cafes offering quirky goods and great products.
The popular flower market is only open on Sundays. However, during the festive holidays from the last week in November up until Christmas Day, Columbia Road plays host to one of the best Christmas markets of the week every Wednesday evening from 5 pm until 9 pm. The cold streets of the East End are lit up by Christmas lights while carol singers fill the air with music and singing. It’s a wonderful atmosphere and, year on year, Christmas Wednesdays on Columbia Road are becoming enduringly popular.
10. Tate Modern Christmas Market
A little-known fact about the iconic Tate Modern Art Gallery is that this famous London institution hosts a Christmas market throughout the festivities. Overlooking the Thames, along the front of the gallery you can find a huge array of wooden chalets that are selling all sorts of Christmassy themed gifts. There’s plenty of mulled wine, a few craft beers and of course, a lot of food being cooked up too.
Shop for a few Christmas gifts, have a drink or two and of course, enjoy the visual delights of the Tate Modern after you’ve finished pursing the market stalls. From here, you can easily carry on along the river towards Southbank and Central London, where you can find even more markets waiting for you too.
‘Tate Modern Christmas Fair’ by Chas B – https://flic.kr/p/mjMHp
11. Borough Market at Christmas
Borough Market is always one of the busiest and most bustling marketplaces in central London. Found right by London Bridge, this the perfect place for foodies, with endless stalls selling produce from around the United Kingdom and from the rest of the world. Although a visit to Borough Market is sure to leave your food cravings satisfied at the best of times, visiting in December becomes a more spectacular experience than usual.
The market gears up for Christmas in style and the brick archways and iconic alleyways become covered in bright lights and mistletoe for all of December. You can hear carol singers between the food stalls and all the traders will be sure to bring out their own festive specialities to try. Just for the Christmas period, Borough Market is open every single day of the week, including Christmas Eve.
While you’re in London browsing the very best Christmas markets the city has to offer, don’t forget to check our exciting range of London tours.
Featured image: ‘Leadenhall’ by Jack Torcello – https://flic.kr/p/mjMHp