Christmas Day in London: 15 Festive Things to Do
Are you planning on spending Christmas day in London this year? As a Londoner myself, I 100% agree with your decision! It’s such a magical time to visit London during the winter holidays when the city is full of lights, music, food, big Christmas markets, and an overall fairytale-like atmosphere.
If you’re still pondering and wondering what there is to do in London during the lead up to Christmas day, this article is here to help. I’ll tell you all about the 15 best festive things to do around Christmas day in the capital of England, as well as the best spots for a delicious Christmas lunch or dinner, plus some practical info about available transportation and more.
15 Christmassy things to do in London
London during Christmas is such a Winter Wonderland. The cobblestone streets are lit with twinkling lights and all the shop windows are incredibly decorated, giving a whole new reason to window shop (Christmas shopping in London is magical for sure!). But aside from the aesthetics of the city, London also has dozens of activities lined up and ready for your enjoyment. Below are my favourites, perfect for either Christmas day, Boxing day (26th of December) or any other day during the winter holidays:
IMPORTANT NOTE: Please keep in mind that almost ALL Christmas events and organised activities that require tickets tend to sell out fast, so make sure to book yours in advance!
1 - Christmas Markets
Christmas Markets are a hundred-year-old tradition all around the world – and London sure doesn’t like to stay out of the loop. In fact, London hosts several (huge) Christmas Markets all around the city starting from the end of November ‘til New Year’s Eve that will get you in the holiday mood faster than you can say jingle bells! This is where you’ll find lots of street food options (from all sorts of international cuisines too, which is something you’ll only find in London), handicrafts, mulled wine or cider, holiday music and an overall jolly atmosphere.
Here are the best Christmas markets in London to explore (in my opinion):
- Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – more details below!
- Leicester Square
- Southbank Centre
- Tate Modern Christmas Market
- Selfridges Christmas Market
- Greenwich Market
- Kingston Christmas Market
- Christmas By The River at London Bridge City
- Covent Garden at Christmas
NOTE: The entrance to all these Christmas markets is free, except for Winter Wonderland. More details about that below.
2 - Winter Wonderland
If there’s only one place you’ll visit in London this winter, make it the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park! This is a big, amazingly festive Christmas carnival scattered with various areas, attractions and events. This festive event pops up in Hyde Park (the biggest and best out of London’s eight Royal Parks!) every year over a period of six weeks.
Winter Wonderland hosts everything ‘Christmas’ that you can imagine – from ice sculpture exhibitions and folk music in German style beer taverns to ice skating, circus shows, parties, a Christmas market (d’uh), fairground rides, concerts, street food stalls and everything in-between. It’s an excellent spot for children and adults alike!
Although Winter Wonderland used to be a free entrance event, this year’s edition will require booking a ticket (in advance) if you’re visiting during peak hours. Winter Wonderland 2021 will take place from the 18th of November until the 3rd of January.
ENTRANCE FEE: £5 or £7.50 for peak hours. Free outside peak hours.
3 - Christmas at Kew Gardens
If you wish to experience a magical walk along an immersive light trail inside the gorgeous Kew Botanical Gardens, then this activity is for you!
Except for the cute winter greenery typical to a Botanical Garden, you’ll also get to witness numerous light shows, a candle wax installation, plus lots of other after-dark activities. And there are also street food stalls and hot drinks available as well!
In 2021, Christmas at Kew will take place between the 17th of November and the 9th of January.
OPENING TIMES: 4 PM to 10 PM.
PRICE: £21.50 (off-peak) and £26.50 (peak)
NOTE: If you want a complete experience, you can enjoy a Christmas meal at the Botanical Restaurant inside, before or after your Kew visit (your choice). You can add this activity to your ticket before you buy it.
4 - Christmas shows, pantomimes and carol concerts
What would a festive day in London be without a traditional Christmas show or concert?
Below are some of London’s best holiday shows, pantomimes and carol concerts in my opinion. Most of them take place every year without exception during the entire month of December, but make sure to book your tickets as much in advance as you can in order to secure your spots:
TIP: No tickets available for a proper show? Then I recommend you go to Trafalgar Square to listen to the Christmas carol groups sing for an hour to raise funds for charity. The singing takes place at the base of the huge Christmas tree in the middle of the square, which is donated by the city of Oslo every year ever since 1947. I told you, London is all about tradition!
5 - Meet Santa at Santa’s grotto
If you’re planning a vacation in London for Christmas with your little ones, you MUST take them to meet Father Christmas and his little helpers at Santa’s grotto! There are many places around the city to do this, but here are some notables ones below:
- Christmas Grotto at Harrods – okay, I admit, I’m totally biased and I believe that this one is the BEST in London. Maybe because I worked as an all singing, all dancing elf there when I was in highschool? ….Who knows, but I really recommend it! This one is open from mid-December ‘till Christmas Eve. But there’s one catch, though: sadly, this one’s only available to people who spent £2000+ at Harrods and have a Green Tier 2 or above on their Harrods Reward card. Hopefully they’ll change their mind this year!
- Santa Land at Winter Wonderland – yep, I told you that Winter Wonderland is amazing! They don’t have a simple grotto here, but an entire corner where kids can meet Santa and his reindeer!
- Hamleys Santa’s Grotto Workshop – this grotto is pretty cute, as the kids can enter Santa’s workshop and see how toys are made. They can also join workshops for an entrance fee of £39.99.
- Christmas at Magic Alley in Stratford – enter the Ice Kingdom for a more modern experience compared to the classic grottos! This event takes place from mid-November ‘till Christmas Eve and it’s divided into two secondary sections: for children under 4 or above.
6 - Ice skating
Ice skating is a super popular activity during winter all around the globe. Surprisingly-not, there are lots of big, gorgeous ice skating rinks in London where you can enjoy some fun. Here are the best ones in my opinion:
- the one at the Natural History Museum – they always have a gorgeous Christmas tree in the middle of the rink here!
- the one at Somerset House – they have super cool music-themed ice rink nights there, as well as food and drink opportunities! Make sure you don’t miss The Savo for cocktails after your ice skating session, it’s a famous 19th century bar at Somerset.
- the one at Tower of London
- the one at Winter Wonderland – of course!
- the one at The Jewish Community Centre – the only one that is open on Christmas Day! But make sure to book your tickets ahead of time.
PRICE: Different prices for each location, but it’s usually from £10 to £15 per person for 1 hour.
7 - Admire the Christmas lights
Okay, seriously, this one’s a no-brainer! Christmas lights are a quintessential element of any winter holiday, not just in London. So it would be a crime not to check them out!
I’m sure you’ll see them everywhere you look on the streets of London, but if you want to go on a quest to admire the most beautiful ones, here are some safe spots to check out:
- Carnaby Street – by the way, Carnaby runs a pop-up charity show every year that raises funds for refugees and people who may have been displaced around the world. Christmas lights and helping the needy?! How much more ‘Christmas Spirit’ could it get!
- Oxford Street – famous for their “curtain lights”
- Bond Street
- Covent Garden
- Regent Street
NOTE: If you’re really serious about it, you can join the Christmas Lights London by Night Tour organised by Golden Tours (£24). This will take you on a car ride to see the most beautiful Christmas light displays in the city!
8 - Try an igloo dining experience
Igloos have become THE ultimate thing to do in London in winter, so if you’re looking for a special dining experience, I recommend you try it too!
The first igloos (more like transparent domes) in London were started by Coppa Club, which is still an excellent place to try them with a view of Tower Bridge, but you’ll now find them at many other bars and eateries around the city.
NOTE: These igloos are open on any day of the year, not just during the cold season. The cool thing is that most of them change themes according to season!
9 - Christmas at Hogwarts
Harry Potter fan? This one’s for you! Hogwarts in the Snow is one of the most special events during which you’ll basically get to visit the movie set and see how it gets transformed and decorated for the festive holidays. You can visit the Great Hall and see it lined with Christmas trees, window shop at the famous Diagon Alley and learn all kinds of details about how the movies were made. Plus, everything is covered in artificial snow – the same one they used for filming the movie!
PRICE: £47 for adults and £38 for children. Book your tickets ahead of time here.
10 - Christmas (window) shopping
Nothing can compare to some good ol’ Christmas shopping in London. And when you see just how wonderfully all the window shops are decorated, you’ll be completely mesmerised!
If you’re looking for luxury, head over to Burlington Arcade, a famous department store dating from 1819. No need to shop, I assure you that a session of window shopping at Gucci or Chanel will be enough! And, of course, let’s not forget about the window display at Harrods, considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the city. Other department stores that rival Harrods for the crown of Christmas window decoration glory are Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason and Liberty. Make sure to see them all to decide your favourite!
11 - Attend a church service
If you’re looking for some more calming, spiritual ideas, then joining a church service on Christmas Day at one of the cathedrals in London might be for you. Trust me, you don’t have to be a religious person in order to enjoy it, as the entire atmosphere is really beautiful and the carols are more than delightful.
Some great choices include Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Southwark Cathedral and All Hallows-by-the-Tower.
NOTE: All churches in London hold Christmas Day services, but make sure to check the timings beforehand, as some services might start earlier than others. And make sure to arrive early, as you won’t be the only one that wants to join!
12 - Santa Pub Crawl
In case you’re a fan of pubs and pub crawls (SO popular in London), then you’ll surely love this themed one. The London Santa Pub Crawl (more like a SantaCon… you’ll get why in a second) has become a real tradition.
This pub crawl is basically an event during which people dress as Santa Claus and they go on a pub crawl with a predefined route. Which means that… Yes, you’ll see hundreds of people dressed as Father Christmas around London, dancing, singing and looking for the next spot to drink a beer. I think it’s pretty fun, as long as they don’t leave a trail of empty cans and bottles behind!
Find more info about this event and the list of pubs here.
NOTE: In recent years, more Christmas-themed pub crawls have appeared in different spots in the city, so you have plenty of choices nowadays. This “Christmas Challenge” sounds interesting, for example.
13 - Pop-up screenings of Christmas movies
When winter comes, pop-up movie screenings start appearing everywhere around the city! So, if you’re bored of watching Netflix alone at home, you can join a drive-in winter cinema to watch a Christmas movie with a bunch of strangers. I recommend Luna Drive-in Winter Cinema, The Drive-In or Pop-Up Screens.
14 - Take some pictures at Elan Café
Pink lovers, unite! Instagram spot lovers, unite as well! This cotton-candy-inspired cafe in London will blow the minds of both categories, as they really take Christmas decorations to the next level, while still keeping their pink theme. This means a pink Christmas tree, pink wreaths, pink decorations and everything in-between.
Go there to sip a coffee or to enjoy a breakfast bowl, as the food is quite delicious. They have 5 different locations around London, but the one at St. Pancras Station might be the prettiest one to check out.
15 - Watch the Peter Pan Cup
The Peter Pan Cup is an annual event organised in Hyde Park by The Serpentine Swimming Club (one of the oldest swimming clubs in England) ever since 1864. In short, a bunch of people gather at 9 AM on Christmas Day to join a 91-metre race. It sounds crazy but it’s a really nice tradition. Also very cool to watch!
NOTE #1: The Peter Pan Cup is only open to the members of The Serpentine Swimming Club.
NOTE #2: Do you want to go swimming yourself? Hampton Pool is the only pool open on Christmas Day (8 AM to 12 PM) and, luckily for us, it’s also heated. Do I still need to add to reserve your tickets ahead of time? I hope not!
BONUS: Festive London tours
In case you’re all hyped up about Christmas already, I have prepared another list of cool things to do – this time I’m talking about various tour ideas, organised by local guides. So get ready for some unique, festive activities:
Best places to go in London for Christmas lunch and dinner
In case you’re planning on serving an unforgettable lunch or dinner on Christmas day during your vacation in order to discover how Londoners celebrate, you’ll be happy to know that I have prepared an excellent list for you, so you don’t need to search anymore!
NOTE: If you want to eat out on Christmas day, regardless if we’re talking about lunch or dinner, it’s absolutely necessary to book in advance. No restaurants that organise festive meals on Xmas day accept walk-ins!
TIP: In case you can’t find anything open, you can always head to Chinatown, where some eateries are usually open on Christmas Day. Another great idea is to try the restaurants or bars at the hotels, but make sure to call beforehand.
AFTERNOON TEA ON CHRISTMAS DAY:
- The Savoy
- Strand Palace
- The Sanderson Hotel
- Adam Handling Chelsea
- The Dorchester
Transportation in London on Christmas day
Let me tell you right from the start: no tube (metro), no buses and no trains work on Christmas day in London. That being said, let’s see what other useful ideas I have for you:
WALKING. Walking is good for our eyes, souls and bodies, especially after a hearty Christmas dinner! The biggest advantage here is that you’ll get to witness a quiet, laid-back London with very few people, which only happens once a year. Trust me, a Christmas morning walk along the River Thames can be pretty magical. It might get cold, so make sure to bring proper attire!
BIKING. In case you want to get from point A to point B quicker than with your own two feet, one of the best ideas would be to rent a bike. Santander Cycles are a very good choice, as are the electric Lime bikes!
BUS TOUR. A Hop On Hop Off bus tour is always a superb idea if you ask me, especially in London on Christmas Day! Hop On Hop Off buses have predefined routes; all you need to do is pick a route, board the bus, get off whenever and wherever you want and then get back up when you’re ready to continue your journey. Find more info and book your online ticket here.
UBER AND TAXI. Last transport resort, if you ask me. There might be fewer drivers than usual, which means a bigger waiting time. Plus higher prices! If you still decide to take a cab, call or order a bit earlier than you would usually do!
After all this talking, I think it’s safe to say that London is one of the most magical places on Earth, especially during the holidays when it’s all lit up and glowing. So if you’re looking for an escape or want to experience what it’s like to live inside a snow globe, this is the place for you!
In this post I have told you EVERYTHING you need to know about what to do on Christmas Day in London, where to eat your Christmas dinner, where to drink your tea and how to get around the city when the entire transport system is shut down. I’ve mentioned enough attractions and events here to last you from the beginning of December ’till Boxing Day, if you ask me. In short, between admiring the impressive lights and window displays everywhere to eating in an igloo, going on the set of Harry Potter or swimming at Hampton Pool, you can never get bored on Christmas Day in London! 🙂
In case you’re eager to read more posts about my hometown, I recommend clicking here to find all my articles and stories about London.