You may be tempted to stay in and escape the cold, but Christmas is one of the best times to be in London, with plenty to see and experience. Here are 15 ideas of things to do at Christmas to get you rocking around the Christmas tree!
Every year, on the corner of Hyde Park, the magical Winter Wonderland pops up – a collection of funfair rides, shows, an ice-skating rink and pretty wooden stalls selling fun gifts and delicious food and drink. Although you will need to pay for rides and performances, entrance is free and it’s a great way to soak up the festive atmosphere while browsing Christmassy trinkets and enjoying seasonal music. It is open in the Christmas months all day from 10am, so if you want to bring smaller children, come early to avoid the big crowds.
It’s a real treat for anyone wanting to get into the festive spirit – as long as you’re ready to hear all those songs as you potter around. Other highlights of Hyde Park’s annual Christmas treat include circuses and the biggest outdoor rink in the UK – it surrounds the Victorian bandstand and is illuminated with more than 100,000 lights. There’s also the Winter Wonderland Comedy Club, ice sculpting workshops and a German-style Bavarian Village full of frothing steins and live music.
Here are some top tips for you festive bunch! If you plan on sitting inside Bar Ice or The Magical Ice Kingdom, you could always wear a heating pad on the inside of your jacket to stay extra warm during your visit. Also, if you purchase any tickets to a Winter Wonderland event or ride online beforehand, you can choose the fast-track entry option so you don’t have to wait in a long queue outside. The last tip – to avoid the crowds, try to visit Winter Wonderland during the weekday or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.
Every year Leicester Square is transformed into a Christmas lover’s dream, with 8 weeks to enjoy a Christmas market, warming food stalls, hand-crafted gifts, festive decorations, Christmas shows and family activities. Of course, Santa will be there to find out if you’ve been naughty or nice, so don’t miss a trip to his grotto. They’ll hear a festive fairytale, meet Father Christmas and his helpers and receive a gift. dance at a baby disco, or catch the Brat Kids Carnival, which is filled with all kinds of magic and mischief. Watch incredible circus acts or get on stage for a boogie – it’s the perfect recipe for a silly afternoon.
Sessions are for groups of up to 20 children and are up to 25 minutes long. Entry to Christmas in Leicester Square is free, but tickets must be bought for selected events, including Santa’s Grotto and some performances.
In major areas of London, around Oxford Street, Regent Street and Covent Garden, Christmas lights will provide a huge part of the festive atmosphere. Drop by to gaze, or check for details on when the lights will be switched on, signalling the start of the Christmas period.
Alongside the lights, there are lots of little pop-up gigs inside Oxford Street shops and the street will also play host to their biggest ever shopping night, with plenty of surprises along the way, and drinks and treats available for those of you searching for Christmas presents for the kids, or just eyeing up something for yourself.
There are lots of great outdoor skating opportunities in London at Christmastime, in beautiful locations.
You could go to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderlands ice rink which is the largest outdoor ice rink in the UK! Stretch out and practice your skating moves during a crisp, early morning skate; enjoy the afternoon sun as it glistens on the ice; soak up the romantic atmosphere at twilight, or skate after dark under the stars. Ideal for all ages and abilities, it’s a great family activity which the kids will love, whether you’re a complete beginner or looking to improve your skills on the ice!
Another option is the ice rink at the Natural History Museum, set against the backdrop of the Waterhouse building. The Ice Rink at the Natural History Museum is one of the most magical places to be this winter. Experience the thrill of skating surrounded by fairy lights nestled in frost-covered trees, with the smell of mulled wine in the air.
Why not go to the Tower of London ice rink? Located in the dry moat, the Tower of London ice rink offers a grand historical setting for seasonal skating sessions, along with views of London’s ancient fortress and the river Thames. There will be food and drink on the sidelines for tired skaters as well as those who just prefer to watch the fun.
A great choice for ice skating is also at Hampton Court Palace. You can skate around Henry VIII’s sixteenth-century pad this festive season. Hampton Court Palace makes a mighty picturesque backdrop for this outdoor rink, especially when lit up after dark. The rink, which is right in front of the Tudor pile and by the side of the Thames, is an impressive 1,040 square metres. With sessions for beginners and experts, as well as food and drink pop-ups, this wintery attraction is ideal for skaters of all ages and skills. Wrap up warm and take a turn on the ice in this regal back yard.
Our last pick is the ice rink at Somerset House. From skating lessons with Skate School and Polar Bear Club to the ultimate nightlife sets from trailblazing DJs on rink-side decks at Skate Lates, there is something for everyone across the Skate season. Skate at Somerset House partners with Fortnum & Mason for the sixth year, bringing a range of the renowned grocer’s luxury food, drinks and gifts to the Fortnum’s Christmas Arcade.
Soak up the festive atmosphere as you make your way around the ice. Sessions can get busy, so book ahead and consider whether your children will be comfortable skating on a busy rink. However, at most sites even smaller kids can enjoy skating with skate aids.
Every year, the City of London is given a huge Christmas tree from the city of Oslo. The giant Norwegian spruce has been an annual gift to London from the people of Norway since 1947, in recognition of Britain’s support during the Second World War. Each year, the 25-metre (82-foot) tree is illuminated with hundreds of lightbulbs set in vertical strings of light.
Don’t miss the lighting of the famous Christmas tree in early December. There is also a blessing of the crib ceremony, which features a torchlit procession and music from St Martin-in-the-Fields church.
Drop by Trafalgar Square to take a look, and maybe get involved in some carol singing.
Okay, we may not all be able to afford to get our Christmas gifts from this luxurious department store, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a gander. Kids will love visiting the Toy Department, and it can be a great place to get ideas for presents.
This year, Harrods has partnered with Swarovski to bring you The Secret Forest Grotto. Discover a snow-covered woodland filled with sparkling surprises that will leave little ones mesmerised by the magic of Christmas. Then meet our very special visitor – Father Christmas, of course – for a family experience like no other. – SCRATCH THAT! This grotto is by “special invitation only”… so if you’d like to be invited next year, be prepared to whip out that wallet on the regular at Harrods all year round. I think we’ll stick to window shopping and Christmas gandering!
The Warner Brothers Studio Tour is a must for all Potterheads at any time of year but add to the nostalgia by visiting at Christmas for their Hogwarts In The Snow event. As well as seeing lots of props and sets and finding out production secrets from the eight famous films, from November through to January the model replica of Hogwarts castle will be covered in snow and sets will be decorated as they were for festive scenes. Butterbeer, anyone?
The festive transformation will begin in the Great Hall, which will be lined with Christmas trees decked with golden baubles and topped with witches on miniature broomsticks. The long dining tables will be dressed as they were for seasonal feasts at Hogwarts, complete with Christmas puddings surrounded by real flames. Discover the stage decorated as it was for the iconic Yule Ball scene, as seen in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and get a taster of this incredible set dress featuring snow-covered Christmas trees, icicles and an orchestra of magical instruments.
Discover how filmmakers created snow that never melts and flames without fire as you get hands-on with the different types of filmmaking ‘snow’, each selected for its ability to float like falling snow, crunch under foot or glisten in the light like ice. As you make your way around the Studio Tour, look out for the ‘lit’ fireplaces and discover how the fire was created on-screen by the Special Effects team using a combination of water vapour and lighting effects.
Be sure to book in advance as this festive event is very popular amongst all us Potterheads.
From November, the Southbank Centre puts on a series of festive shows and performances to get you in the Christmas spirit. There will also be fun pop-ups and activities, such as the annual Christmas Market and the Bump Roller Disco, with family-friendly skating. The market will be full of traders selling festive treats and gifts will be setting up shop outside the Southbank Centre, while a season of enchanting Christmas performances will take to a staging area too.
Cuddle up with a hot spiced cider at The Circus Bar outside the Royal Festival Hall or indulge in cheese-themed food at Bar Under the Bridge – try baked camembert, toasted sandwiches and charcuterie boards, accompanied by wintry cocktails! Visit the Winter Market for more seasonal treats, global street food and hot drinks next to the Thames. Book an igloo at Jimmy’s Lodge, an alpine retreat serving seasonal drinks and warming dishes.
The Geffrye Museum explores our use of homes from 1600 to the present day, so over the Christmas period, the museum has an annual free exhibition of Christmas Past, revealing the origins and meanings of over 400 years of seasonal traditions. The rooms are transformed with decorations, lighting, greenery and music, each representing a different era of English history, so you can walk through time and find out why we hang stockings or decorate the tree! Also lookout for the museums’ festive programme of events, including a Christmas fair and carols.
It also highlights how the popularity of Christmas has waxed and waned through the centuries. The hedonistic festivities of the early 17th century were banned by the Puritans in the middle of the century. After the ban lifted in 1660, Christmas continued to be rather a subdued affair up until the early 19th century when it began to enjoy a revival.
Early traditions reappeared together with new parlour entertainments such as blind man’s buff, snapdragon and charade-like character games. However, it was during the reign of Queen Victoria that Christmas really came back with a bang with the introduction of many traditions we are familiar with today such as decorating a fir tree and putting children at the centre of the festivities.
If you visit Kew at Christmas time, you can enjoy a range of festive treats and activities. However, the real magic starts at twilight. A one-mile path through the gardens is festooned with lights, making the plants, trees and structures of Kew glow. Be transported by the Christmas trees, scented fire garden, glittering trees and tunnels of light. Santa will be with his elves, plus there will be vintage family rides, Christmas gifts and heartwarming festive food and drink on offer. The finale to the trail is one you shouldn’t miss. The renowned Palm House will await visitors with festive projections playing across a giant screen of water in the centre of the lake, and across the iconic glasshouse itself. A marvel of lights and music combined will end the night with a bang!
Along the trail, there are bubble stations for the kids to marvel at and you’ll also find many snacks along the way. Including roasting your own chestnuts, dipping churros in chocolate and, of course, candy floss. Be sure to check out their two gift shops along the trail for some extra Christmas shopping where you can buy, not only plants but also Christmas socks, chocolate and delicious festive chutneys and jams! The trail is very popular, so book yourself a timed slot in advance.
Christmas carolling is one of the oldest traditions of the holiday season, but it’s still a fun activity to take part in today. You can spread some good cheer around the neighbourhood while also admiring the beautiful decorations and lights adorning each house.
Belt out some seasonal favourites at one of the hundreds of carol concerts around the city – or find some friends and see if you can impress any passers-by! If you don’t live in an area with many neighbours or if you want to try something new this year, consider carolling at a nursing home, school, or anywhere else you can spread some Christmas cheer. Invite others to join you in singing—the more the merrier! Remember to bring a camera so you can take lots of pictures of your Christmas carolling party. It’s sure to be something that you’ll want to remember and share the memories for years to come.
With Christmas markets on every corner, there is sure to be one near you. However, if you’re looking for something special in the capital, try a traditional Christmas market with wooden cabins and chestnuts roasting on an open fire – some favourites are Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, the Christmas Market at the Tate Modern complete with Victorian carousel, or London Bridge City Christmas Market.
If you’re looking for something bigger, you’re sure to find the perfect gift at Olympia’s Spirit of Christmas Fair, which has hundreds of independent boutiques. Foodie? Try the Real Food Christmas Market at the Southbank Centre. Or for something completely different, visit Hyper Japan at Tobacco Dock, where you can buy Japanese handcrafted items, enjoy Japanese food, and take part in creative workshops such as mask and doll painting.
Charles Dickens’ Bloomsbury townhouse is decorated for a Victorian Christmas. A Very Dickensian Christmas is the perfect day out at Christmas with the family. Each year, the Museum provides a unique and enchanting glimpse into how the festive season was celebrated by the great Victorian author, with the historic interiors transformed into a true embodiment of Christmas Past.
Follow in Dickens’s footsteps as you savour the sights, sounds and smells of the rooms where he lived and worked – with holly and ivy decking the halls, beautiful Victorian decorations and a whole host of other festive surprises to discover.
Make sure to look up the programme of events, and stop by for some carol singing, storytelling or a candlelit tour.
Initiate the kids into a festive tradition of interactive theatre. Pantomimes are an integral part of the festive calendar – Oh no, they’re not! Oh yes, they are! There are plenty to choose from across London, from Chickenshed Theatre’s festive special Christmas Tales from the Shed for children aged up to 6, to the National Theatre’s version of Peter Pan.
A pantomime is the perfect thing for a family evening out. Grab dinner afterwards if you’re in the West End, as there are an abundance of great places to eat!
Check out KidRated’s guide to the Top 5 Pantomimes.
Wander the gardens of the picture gallery on a dark winter night and discover light installations and lanterns from the same creative crew that makes Christmas at Kew.
This annual event at Dulwich Picture Gallery is a lights trail with carolling, plus local artists and artisans sell their wares at the Christmas market. Pick up some original Christmas gifts, enjoy a slice of cake, and let your children settle in for some storytelling. Visit the market during the day for creative workshops.
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