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. This year is going to be different, so I’ve tried to find out what’s open, what’s closed in London for Christmas 2021. 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, a special outing, 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, we have some up-to-date tips and recommendations for you. Some dates are not yet out and many events are cancelled this year, 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, particularly in 2021.
London at Christmas
We update this post every year to give you dates, timings, train closures, and special events. We’re adding 2021 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.
London Attractions You Can Book This Christmas
The attractions below could be perfect for your Christmas outing or special treat. London Zoo is normally open over Christmas but booking are required, see here for detals. Some museums, for instance, the Natural History Museum, was accepting bookings for its special exhibition, however, availability is very limited.
Christmas Lights and Decorations
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 2021 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
Probably the best way to see the lights this year, and avoid the crowds, would be to book this open-top Christmas lights bus tour. If I were there that would be top of my wish list for 2020.
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
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
Sadly, most of London’s ice rinks were not open for Christmas 2020. Hampton Court Palace and The Queen’s House ice rink in Greenwich were reportedly open. Please check, things are changing constantly.
London Christmas Markets and Fairs
There are usually one day Christmas Markets and events all over the city, but the biggest and longest-running attractions are below. For 2020 these are mostly cancelled. Borough Market will be open, along with Selfridges Christmas Market, Pexmas in Peckham, and Festive Flea at Vinegar Yard. Regulations are in flux, please double-check.
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland cancelled for 2020.
- Southbank Centre Winter Festival
- Covent Garden Market runs all year round, but it’s extra special at Christmas.
- Christmas by The River at London Bridge has been cancelled for 2020.
- 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. There is something happening at Kew this Christmas but you’ll need to check their website for details.
- Winter Wonderland Hyde Park, has it all, ice rink, big wheel, food stalls and a circus. Cancelled for 2020, see link above.
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.
Very few other places will be open. 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 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