Winter in London: Christmas Markets & More!

Now that winter is really around, it’s time to plan ahead! Of course I am enormously biased, but I think winter in London is just magical. 

The beautiful lights, cozy Christmas markets, and the excuse to hide in warm pubs with a steaming mug of hot chocolate while the snowflakes (or raindrops …) fall down. Many of my favorite things to do in London just so happen to coincide with the magical, wintry atmosphere.

Between enjoying Christmas in London and getting into the season, here are all my best tips!

What to Expect with Christmas in London

Christmas is mainly celebrated on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in England. Locals celebrate it at their family homes, with presents under the tree, a delicious feast, all Christmas films on the TV all while lounging around in their pajamas.

Almost all sights, museums, and shops are closed during Christmas Day. There is also little public transport. As for eating at the many London restaurants, you have to make reservations well in advance. 

Boxing Day in England is primarily a day off for shopping. Because Christmas is over, the sale starts on that day, and historically it is a good time to score a bargain.

10 Fun Things to Do in London at Christmas

1. Admire the most beautiful Christmas windows

Of course all the Christmas decorations are one of the best parts of experiencing winter in London. My favorite tip is to walk through the shopping streets and dream away looking at all the beautiful shop windows. Retailers really go all out in their holiday decorations. I have three favorite windows to share with you:

  • Harrods: the most classic, which will come back more often in this article. I avoid the store during other times of the year, but I really enjoy it all at Christmas.
  • Liberty of London: the most striking store in London, anyway. But even more charming to see at Christmas.
  • Hamleys: Although I am no longer at an acceptable age to play with toys, I find the Hamleys store always super nice to view. A whole spectacle has always been built, and it looks more like a show than a shop window.

2. Walk under the most beautiful Christmas lights

Even if I only have a little time, I like to take a some time to admire the Christmas lights. Below I am going to give you some specific addresses, but actually my tip is to just take a double-decker bus, sit at the very top, and enjoy all the lights you come across. You can find the most beautiful Christmas lights here:

  • Oxford Street: The most famous Christmas lights in London can be found on the Oxford Street. Compared to the adjacent Regent Street it is still quite subtle, but I think it is beautiful; gold and silver colored orbs.
  • Regent Street: Always bright with the Christmas lights. Last year there were beautiful light angels.
  • Carnaby Street: Subtle is not the word that comes up immediately when you think of the decoration of Carnaby Street. Just like the shopping street itself, the lighting is playful and colorful. It is as if there is a real celebration here.

It is certainly worthwhile to go to my favorite shopping spots in London: Seven Dials and Covent Garden. Although the decoration is less extravagant than on the streets above, these places really exude Christmas atmosphere.

For a guided tour of London’s Christmas lights, try this festive tour. If you want something a little more special, book this experience which includes afternoon tea at Westminster Abbey followed by a lights tour.

3. Pull out your credit card and go shopping!

Well, you have to be able to handle a bit of crowds, because everyone is going to go shopping for Christmas. 

But I always like to go to the Christmas department of for example Harrods or Selfridges, and in my mind pretend that I am a very rich American mother on a business trip who has to buy presents for her mansion, which looks just like the one from Home Alone. You know, a woman who wears expensive face creams and silk scarves. (Is … is this very embarrassing to admit?)

The Christmas department of Harrods is perhaps the most famous place for Christmas shopping in the world. It is no less than 8,000 square meters! And the good news is: shopping can be a big part of the winter, because the department is already set up in August. (We arrive with our complaints about pepernoten in the stores!)

The Fortnum & Mason department store is also completely decorated in a Christmas atmosphere. This is one of the chicest department stores in London, so here you will find the really special gifts. I love to wander through this building, they have really beautiful things here.

If you have a smaller budget but want the same Christmas atmosphere, then you should go to the Christmas department of Selfridges. It also opens in August, so you can get started early. And it is also slightly cheaper.

If after all three of these stores you have not found any presents yet, then you will not succeed anywhere, I think ;-).

4. Visit all Christmas trees in London

Is there anything (literally) beyond admiring the largest Christmas tree in London? I didn’t think so. You can find the 20m high Christmas tree on Trafalgar Square every year. The Christmas tree is donated by Norway as a thank you for the support in the Second World War.

You will of course find more Christmas trees in London, for example at the cozy Covent Garden and the stately Somerset House .

Dive into some chic hotels to admire their Christmas trees: Claridge’s, the Ritz and the Connaught Hotel all have impressive specimens.

Source photo

5. Enter a Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park

The most important attraction around Christmas time is Winter Wonderland, a kind of fairground market. You can go on the roller coaster, drink mulled wine, and skate. In short: all your winter dreams come true. 

Winter Wonderland takes place every year from mid-November in Hyde Park, and when I was there in December 2016, I was really surprised by how BIG it was. I don’t really like both fairs and Christmas markets, so I mainly enjoyed watching the Christmas lights everywhere.

6. Christmas Afternoon Tea Bus

I’m a fan of a nice afternoon tea in London anyway, but how fun is it to do one around Christmas time? Nice with a few girlfriends tea leaves while it is cold outside.

One of my favorite places is aboard the B Bakery Afternoon Tea Bus. Around Christmas time they also have a specific holiday menu, and you also drive past all the beautiful decorations. Can’t be better right?

7. Go skating on the ice rink!

It seems that people like to skate in the winter months. I have no idea what is nice about balancing on a thin piece of iron over a slippery surface while worrying about falling, getting wet and maybe breaking bones. However, I’m really bad at it, haha! ;-)

You can skate around London in different places around Christmas. My favorite to see is at the Natural History Museum. That ice rink always has a beautiful Christmas tree in the middle, and of course you have that beautiful monumental building in the background.

Another famous ice rink can be found in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House. You will also find the Fortnum & Mason store here, so you can immediately do some Christmas shopping afterwards.

Other ice rinks in London:

  • Tower of London
  • Hampton Court Palace
  • Winter Wonderland

8. Hide from the rain in London’s museums

London has really free world class museums. I have visited almost all the “well-known museums” in the city, and am slowly working through the lesser-known museums.

But what I really wanted to say is that there really is no better time to visit the museums of London than when it rains during the winter! 

Admire the skeleton of a dinosaur in the Natural History Museum, look at great art in the adjacent Victoria & Albert Museum or in the National Portrait Gallery, or of course go to the famous British Museum .

My own favorite? Museum of London. It is about the origin of the city. Very interactive and super interesting!

9. Warm up in a traditional pub

If it is cold outside, there is no better excuse to have a drink in a warm pub. Whether you go for a beer or just a nice hot chocolate: it’s just nice and cozy.

To complete the atmosphere, you naturally choose a really cozy pub. See below some nice suggestions for cozy and cozy pubs in different neighborhoods. With a bit of luck, a fire will even crackle.

Nice pubs in London:

  • The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill
  • The George Inn in London Bridge
  • Ye Olde Miter in Holborn
  • The Holly Bush in Hampstead
  • Old Bank of England in Holborn
  • Mr. Fogg’s Tavern at Covent Garden
  • The Blackfriar in Blackfriars

10. Visit the many Christmas Markets in London

Although London may not be the first destination for Christmas markets, the city has plenty to choose from! Stroll along the stalls, warm up with a mulled wine, and enjoy the winter atmosphere. Most Christmas markets open at the end of November and close at the beginning of January.

Here’s a list of them so you can see which ones to visit:

Southbank Center Winter Market

Although I am not a big Christmas market fan at all, I never skip a visit to the Southbank Center Winter Market . It is located on the banks of the Thames, and you will find a series of wooden houses where they sell gadgets and winter snacks. Cozy!

  • Open: Nov. 9 2019 – Jan. 6 2020

Christmas by the River

I also love Christmas by the River . A similar concept, but somewhat smaller. This is close to Tower Bridge and you have a view of the Tower of London across the river.

  • Open: November 2019 – January 2020

Leicester Square

The Christmas market on Leicester Square is one of the most famous markets in London. You will find more than 25 stalls selling everything from traditional decorations to handmade gifts and of course delicious snacks. Don’t miss the 1920s mirror tent, where entertainment takes place, or meet Santa in Santa’s Grotto.

  • Open: November 2019 – January 2020

Greenwich Christmas Market

The Greenwich Christmas Market is one of the oldest markets in London. The normal market has been taking place since 1737, but during Christmas it is transformed into one of the largest in London. 

You will find more than 150 stalls selling everything from presents to art, fashion and hot food. Greenwich is one of my favorite neighborhoods in London, so I would definitely recommend that you take the opportunity to explore this fun neighborhood.

  • Open: November 2019 – January 2020

Winter Wonderland

And of course you have the aforementioned Christmas market of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. The ultimate place to go for the true Christmas lover.

  • Open: November 21, 2019 – January 20, 2020

And there you have my best tips for winter in London. I think Christmas in London is really one of the most romantic periods, and I make sure that almost every year I am in town to enjoy the beautiful lights, nice atmosphere, and fun shopping.

For even more tips on visiting the English capital, check my tips on things to do in Notting Hill as well as where to go in Shoreditch along with my other favorite neighborhoods in London to stay.

How would you spend winter in London?

General Travel Tips

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