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London at Christmas Time

You asked for tips on what to do in London at Christmas time, so I did a bit of hunting around to see what I could find. I’ve spent 8 Christmases in London as a resident and when we lived in Wales I’d come to London most years to see the lights, do some shopping, maybe take in a show. I’m sure we can help you plan on a wonderful few days or weekend in London over Christmas.

London is always fun at any time of year but at Christmas she has extra magic. The darkness of the late afternoons helps make the lights and decorations all the more spectacular as you munch on your roasted chestnuts and sip a mulled wine. So if you’re thinking of visiting London this Christmas, 2019, we have some up-to date tips and recommendations for you. Some dates are not yet out for 2019, we’re adding confirmed dates as fast as we can.

A lot of London’s Christmas events, including the ice rinks, are hugely popular, pre-booking may be the best idea.

London at Christmas

London at Christmas Time

We update this post every year to give you dates, timings, train closures and special events. We’re adding 2020 information as soon as we can find it. But obviously, this year is very different and things in London are changing almost daily. If it’s not in the post yet it’s most likely that dates have not yet been released. We give links for you to check dates where we can.

Christmas Lights and Decorations

London Christmas Lights Covent Garden
The beautiful Christmas decorations at Covent Garden, there is usually a Christmas food fair here too.

London is all lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree early, you’ll see lights on almost every street in the city. The lights are normally switched on in the first week of November. See dates for Londons Christmas Light Switch On Events here. for 2019 switch on dates. Our favourite spots for amazing festive lights and decorations are:

  • Covent Garden ( pictured above)
  • Oxford St
  • Regent St
  • Bond St
  • Carnaby St
London at Christmas Time uk

London’s Christmas Shop Windows

Stores in London really pull out the big guns at Christmas, you’re in for a treat of window dressing art:

  • John Lewis on Oxford St.
  • Fortnum and Mason in Picadilly
  • Harrods in Knightsbridge
  • Harvey Nichols Knightsbridge
  • Selfridges on Oxford St.
  • Dolce and Gabbana on Bond St
  • Tiffany Old Bond St.
  • Hamleys on Regent St.
  • Liberty Regent St.

London Christmas Trees

 Christmas tree London

The most famous tree in the world, the Trafalgar Square tree will be lit on (unconfirmed as yet) December. The tree is an annual gift from Norway to the UK in gratitude for assistance in WW2.

Covent Garden usually boasts a large and impressive Christmas tree too ( pictured above)

London Outdoor Ice Rinks at Christmas

 Christmas ice rink London

London Christmas Markets and Fairs

 Christmas Market London
This chap at Covent Garden is new for Christmas 2014 and he’s spectacular.

There are one day Christmas Markets and events all over the city, but the biggest and longest-running attractions are below.

 Christmas food fair London
Hot salmon at the food fair outside the Tate Modern on the South Bank
  • Outside the Tate Modern there was a large market, lots of food, alcoholic winter drinks and crafts.
  • Leicester Square has had a small market, a carousel and a scary looking ride. 

Special Christmas Events in London

  • Christmas at Kew, an after-dark experience of magical lights at the famous Kew Botanical Gardens.  2019 dates here.
  • Winter Wonderland Hyde Park, 2019 dates above, has it all, ice rink, big wheel, food stalls and a circus.
Craft fair London
Christmas wreaths at a craft fair smell amazing!

Christmas Day in London

This is the quietest day of the year in London, take the opportunity to walk in the parks and see the Christmas windows and lights. There’s something special about being in London at Christmas time but Christmas day itself in the city is a unique experience.

Ripleys Believe it or Not is open. Very few other places will be. We went to Ripleys in New York, I was surprised by how good it is. We’re heading to the London Ripleys in the next few days, so I’ll let you know what it’s like. Ripley’s Believe it or Not, Piccadilly Circus, London review here. – Update the Piccadilly Ripley’s has now, we believe, closed down or relocated. Please check.

The annual Christmas day Serpentine swim in Hyde Park is worth a watch if you’re out and about at 9am.

London Public Transport at Christmas

Getting around London is tricky over Christmas, London’s public transport system is excellent, cheap and efficient, but Christmas is the worst time to experience it. The huge crowds of shoppers make life very difficult for most of the Christmas school holiday period and every weekend. On top of the crowds, there are also closures.

Remember there is usually no tube, overground or bus service on Christmas Day in central London and reduced service over the holiday period. Check with Transport for London for latest details.

How Do British People Celebrate Christmas?

Well, obviously, it varies between families, but if you’re visiting London from abroad you might be interested, so I’ll tell you. In my family it was traditional to open our Christmas presents from under the tree and Christmas stockings stuffed by Santa (Who we usually called Father Christmas) very early on Christmas morning.

The rest of Christmas Day was either spent at home, cooking and eating a huge Christmas lunch, yes, we eat our turkey at lunchtime, not dinner time, or at a relative’s home. British people tend to call lunch dinner if it’s a large roast.

We never watched the Queen’s speech, some do, we didn’t, although I’m very fond of our monarch. Christmas lunch would be roast turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets (sausages wrapped in bacon) roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravy, bread sauce, lots of vegetables. The vegetables served should always include roast parsnips and sprouts.

A flaming Christmas pudding with cream (I hate brandy butter) would follow. In the evening we’d normally eat turkey sandwiches, cheese (stilton), trifle and snack foods. Wine, port, and sherry would flow freely. Relatives would come to our house for lunch or we would go to their homes. It was a family time and we didn’t venture out much other than for a crisp afternoon walk maybe.

So as the British population tucks into their lunch and enjoys their presents, expect the streets of London to be the quietest they will ever be on Christmas Day. But Christmas Eve is another story, we’ll normally be out in force drinking and merrymaking, expect huge numbers.

What Time is The Queen’s Speech?

The Queen’s Speech or Christmas Message is normally aired at 3pm on Christmas Day.

Booking a Transfer from Heathrow into London on Christmas Day or Over the Christmas Period.

Several people have asked me about this now. The best I can do is send you here (opens in new tab).There are cars to pre-book your airport transfer and also bookings available for the Heathrow Express, but check dates and availability ( see below).

Taxis can be very expensive in the UK so be cautious and look out for extra charges at Christmas time.

The Heathrow Express website here ( opens in new tab), states that there will be maintenance work this Christmas and closures, check this for your dates.

We’ll add more Christmas information for London 2019 just as soon as it becomes available. For more on visiting London head to our main London Travel home page. We hope you enjoy visiting London, our favourite city, this Christmas

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Stu

Wednesday 11th of March 2020

Thank you Allyson, Ive been to London many years ago, and not over Christmas. My siblings, our spouses and I are visiting London, and hopefully Scotland over Christmas break from California.

This has loads of interesting information, I look forward to you updating this list for 2022

Peter

Monday 20th of January 2020

Thanks for an inspiring blog post - we visited London December 2019 and used your post as an inspiration. Thanks!

We also blog about our small adventures in Denmark, and find inspiration from other bloggers.

M. Munoz

Tuesday 22nd of January 2019

Hello! We are thinking of visiting London for a 20 year anniversary family trip. I know the ground transportation is all but closed on Christmas Day, but what about Christmas Eve. It was be nice to get there around the 18th and fly back on the 24th before all of the closures. Thanks!

Alyson Long

Tuesday 22nd of January 2019

You'd have to check with transport for London, but their Christmas schedule for 2019 won't be announced yet. Last year there were closures on the rail line in from Heathrow over Christmas. Did you mean that or buses and underground actually inside London?

Sophie

Thursday 20th of December 2018

Great post, Alyson! London can be truly magical at Christmas time but it is also very busy so it's good to be prepared for everything and make a plan of action. There are some really great Christmas markets dotted around London - both for food and for general shopping. And it's a great idea to check out one of the outdoor ice rinks - perfect for students, families and everyone really.

Maria Messa

Wednesday 12th of December 2018

Will be arriving in London on Christmas Day. Do you know if I could arrange transportation from Heathrow to hotel ahead of time since public transportation is not available? Any suggestions on restaurants would be greatly appreciated. I will be traveling with 2 teenage boys and my husband.

Thanks

Alyson Long

Thursday 13th of December 2018

Can you check with your hotel to see if they offer that service Maria? Failing that, you'd probably need to pre-book a car service online and importantly...agree a price. You don't want to turn up and find the taxi drivers wanting to charge you triple time because it's Christmas. I've added a link towards the bottom of the post that gives you a selection of transportation options from Heathrow into Central London. These can be booked in advance and could save you a headache. But it looks to me as if the Heathrow Express is not running Christmas Day due to maintenance. I've included a link to the Heathrow Express website above too. You can double check.

nomadic family life

Alyson is the creator of World Travel Family travel blog and is a full-time traveller, blogger and travel writer. A lifetime of wanderlust and now over 7 years on the road, 50+ countries allowed the creation of this website, for you. She has a BSc and worked in pathology before entering the travel arena and creating this website. World Travel Family Travel Blog has been helping you travel more, better and further since 2012, when Alyson and James first had this life changing idea. On this site you can find endless travel information, tips and guides plus how to travel, how to fund travel and how to start your own travel blog.

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