London at Christmas is a magical affair.
Wandering people wrapped up in coats and boots, puffing cold air along the River Thames.
The hustle and bustle of Oxford Street as people rush to buy presents and carolers singing on the corners.
The warm and glowing chatter of Christmas markets, filled with the smells of mulled wine and bratwurst.
The twinkly lights of Harrods and the magic of Liberty’s as they release gasps of passersby glimpsing festive window displays.
Wafting smells of freshly baked afternoon teas in Fortnum and Mason’s.
The squeals and laughter echoing around Somerset House as enthusiastic skaters glide across the ice.
Having studied, worked and lived in London in my early 20s, Christmas was one of my favourite times of year. As I walked to the nearest tube in the dark and cold of November, there was nothing like the thrill of seeing Harrod’s Christmas lights turn on for the first time, the crazy window displays and Christmas trees and baubles twinkling by street light. The air seemed to have a lilt of opportunity and new beginnings.
2020 Christmas was seemingly cancelled, with shops closed and families split by Covid-19. Things to do in London at Christmas must have felt sour and scary, with empty streets and houses full. We look optimistically to Christmas 2021 with cautious glances.
After almost 10 years of countryside postings and longings to be back near London, I then felt anxious trepidation moving back during the age of Covid. But move we did and move forward we went. With masks on and hand sanitizers in pockets, we ventured back to civilization.
Though the crowds on public transport still occasionally send flutters of panic in my chest, the tell tale signs of Christmas are beginning to emerge. Christmas trees are erected, waiting to be decorated; lights are hung; smatterings of festive music floats from shops. And as if London was calling softly to me, “Holidays are coming,” the magic of Christmas in London began to emerge all over again.
So with festive cheer and much excitement, I bring you some things to do in London at Christmas to bring some festive magic back.
Fortnum and Mason’s Afternoon Tea
Why not begin with a luxurious treat as you wander through one of the oldest department stores in England, Fortnum and Mason? Famous for their wicker hampers and tea, enjoy the pomp and ceremony as you make your way through the shop. Head upstairs to experience their Afternoon Tea with numerous tea options, little bites, cakes, and macarons. Why not top it up and get the champagne included one, too?
Hamley’s Santas Grotto
Take your littles to the famous Hamley’s toy shop on Regent Street, just round the corner from Oxford Circus. Straight from their website, “Santa and his loveable elves are preparing for your visit to the Hamley’s North Pole at The Finest Toy Shop in the world.” Book your slot and step into a world of SEVEN floors of toys…if you dare!
Oxford Circus Christmas Lights
Though there was no big switch on this year, these lights were turned on in November. They bring such festive cheer to the masses of shoppers that descend during this time. The huge angel lights spread their wings from one street to another!
Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree
Since 1947, Norway has gifted the people of London a giant Norwegian spruce in thanks for Britain’s support throughout World War II. At more than 20 metres tall, it is annually decorated in the Norwegian stye with vertical lights and hundreds of bulbs. The lighting of this tree generally happens at the beginning of December. Pair it with the activity below for a magical evening. The tree is removed on the night before the 12th day of Christmas, 5 January.
Blessing of the Crib Ceremony, St Martin-In-The-Fields Church
St-Martin-In-The-Fields is a church that looks on to Trafalgar Square, just a stones throw away. With lots of choral events around this time of year, one can book to join the Blessing of the Crib ceremony, which includes a torchlit procession with music from the church to Trafalgar Square.
Ice Skating, Somerset House
Next, head down to The Strand from Trafalgar Square to Somerset House, famous art school, art museum and artistic centre. This stunning Neoclassical complex over looks the Thames river and is located near Waterloo Bridge. During December, a large outdoor ice rink is set up and sees hundreds of skaters as they head to experience the lights and ice together.
Harrods Christmas Shop
Experience the world of Harrods as they bling out the exterior with Christmas lights and adorn their windows with out-of-this-world festive displays. Then head inside, keeping those children’s hands to themselves as you pass exorbitantly priced items and take yourself up to the top floor of Christmas magic. Baubles and decorations cover the floor, like stepping directly into Santa’s workshop. Once you have had your fill, wander up the road to Hyde Park for more jam packed fun!
South Bank Winter Christmas By The River at London Bridge
One can’t leave London without visiting one of the many Christmas markets. Take a stroll down South Bank’s Winter Market after dark. Absorb the cheerful atmosphere, buy some presents, have a German sausage, and guzzle some warm mulled wine or cider to top off your Christmas city experience.
Royal Albert Hall, Carols
For serious Christmas spirit-filled fun, buy tickets to the Royal Albert Hall’s Annual Christmas Carol concert. Dress up and step into an iconic building as you sing your heart out.
Pantoland At the Palladium
For a true English Christmas experience, one must take your children to the special tradition of the pantomime. These feel-good shows aimed at families will have you roaring with laughter, shouting with the children that, “He’s behind you!” while gobbling up ice cream in the intervals. No Christmas is the same without one of these shows.
Last but not least, book your tickets and head to Hyde Park during mid-November to early January to experience the yearly extravaganza of the Winter Wonderland. With rides, food, a visit from Santa, and more, it makes for a yearly tradition for any family or group of friends. Wait until nightfall, wrap up warm, and have a ball!