Discover all the best things to do in London this festive season including Christmas lights, markets, ice rinks, pantomimes, West End shows and more. Festive fun by the bucket load in our guide to visiting London in December.
If you are planning to visit London in December expect it to be even more spectacular than usual. The magical month of December is a delightful time to explore London as it transforms itself into a winter wonderland full of twinkling lights and Christmas cheer. The holiday season in London is also filled with a variety of festive activities and experiences that are sure to get you in the mood for Christmas.
In this article, you will discover all the best things to do in London in December so you can enjoy the myriad of festive things the city has to offer.
You will also find some practical tips plus answers to frequently asked questions about visiting London in December.
- 21 festive things to do, see and experience in London in December
- Enjoy London’s Christmas lights and decorations
- Peruse the Christmas markets
- Enjoy festive food and drink
- Take in a show at a London theatre
- Enjoy a traditional Christmas pantomime in London this December
- Enjoy festive music and carols at the Royal Albert Hall
- Meet Santa in London
- Go ice skating
- Buy some Christmas gifts (or shop the Boxing Day sales!)
- Soak up the festive atmosphere at Covent Garden
- Take a stroll through one of London’s royal parks or gardens
- Visit a museum or art gallery
- Cosy up in a London pub
- Enjoy Christmas at Kew Gardens
- Enjoy a festive Afternoon Tea
- Take a themed walking tour
- Visit some of London’s famous sights, landmarks and attractions
- Experience Hogwarts in the Snow
- Visit the beautiful churches of the City of London
- Enjoy the fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Cancelled for 2021)
- Visiting London in December – FAQs
- Where to stay in London in December
21 festive things to do, see and experience in London in December
Enjoy London’s Christmas lights and decorations
In the lead-up to Christmas London is decorated with festive Christmas trees, fairy lights and beautiful lights and decorations
The Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square is one of London’s most vibrant and popular attractions and is donated by Norway every year. This large spruce tree decorated with bright lights is the perfect place to join in the festivities.
This year the Oxford Street Christmas lights switch-on ceremony is on 10th December 2021. Watch the lights go on around Oxford Street, enjoy some festive music and see Santa arrive on a trolley bus.
There are a number of ways to enjoy the lights including:
- Christmas Lights Bus Tour – Admire the twinkling beauty of London’s Christmas lights from an iconic vintage bus. Be chauffeured around all the most festive locations in town and enjoy a unique perspective of London’s streets glowing in the dark.
- Christmas Lights Taxi Tour – Get into the Christmas spirit on this taxi tour that takes you to see the Christmas lights of London. Enjoy complimentary water, biscuits, and mince pies as you sightsee from the comfort of a warm and private London Taxi.
- London Christmas Lights Tour by Vintage Bus Open Top – Climb aboard a classic open-top Routemaster bus decked out with festive decorations for the holiday season, and see the sights and Christmas lights of London from a unique perspective. Read our review of the best London bus tours
- Christmas Walking Tour – Enjoy a 3.5-hour guided tour and enjoy the sights while learning about the most popular Christmas traditions.
Peruse the Christmas markets
There are many Christmas markets to visit in London. Buy handmade gifts, enjoy street food and get into the holiday spirit with the festive atmosphere.
Popular London Christmas markets include
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
This is one of the biggest Christmas markets in London. In addition to the stalls selling gifts there is an outdoor ice rink, Giant Observation Wheel and Christmas shows to enjoy at the market.
When – November 2022 to January 2023 (TBC)
Where – Hyde Park
- Southbank Centre Winter Market
Located on South Bank’s riverside enjoy stalls selling gifts, including arts and crafts, handbags, wooden goods and festive food.
When – November to December 2022 (TBC)
Where – South Bank Centre, Belvedere Road
- Christmas in Leicester Square
One of the biggest Christmas markets in the heart of the West End with stalls selling gifts and other festive activities to enjoy.
When – November 2022 to January 2023
Where – Leicester Square Gardens, Coventry Street, London W1D 7BR
- Covent Garden Christmas Market
This market has over 100 stalls selling gifts plus traditional fares like mulled wine and gingerbread. The market offers a wide range of festive activities including children’s workshops, live music, face painting and storytelling.
When – November 2022 to January 2023 (TBC)
Where – Covent Garden Piazza
Enjoy festive food and drink
There are lots of opportunities to enjoy delicious festive food and drink in December. Many restaurants and cafes in London offer Christmas menus with all the trimmings plus festive treats like mince pies and Christmas pudding.
If you are looking for something to eat on your travels around London, Covent Garden is well known for its street food stalls offering all sorts of cuisines including Turkish, Brazilian, Japanese, German and Mexican.
Borough Market is another good place to find festive food and drink with many stalls selling Christmas items, including gingerbread, fruit cake slices, mince pies, hot chocolate and mulled wine.
Take in a show at a London theatre
This December in London, you’re spoiled for choice with a plethora of West End theatre performances to select from. Hot tickets at the moment include
- The Book of Mormon – a satirical musical that follows two young Mormon missionaries sent to a remote village in northern Uganda.
- Where – Prince of Wales Theatre
- Mary Poppins – a stage adaptation of the Disney film following the story of a magical nanny who looks after 2 children in Edwardian London.
- Where – Prince Edward Theatre
- Wicked – this popular musical tells the story of two unlikely friends, Elphaba and Glinda who live in the land of Oz.
- Where – Apollo Victoria Theatre
- Mama Mia! – much loved by theatre-goers worldwide, this is a feel-good show following Sophie ahead of her wedding day. She wants to find her father before she marries, so invites three likely candidates without telling her mother.
- Where – Novello Theatre
- Back to the Future – based on the 1980s film following Marty McFly who travels back to 1955 in Doc Brown’s invention, a time machine based on a DeLorean car.
- Where – Adelphi Theatre
Enjoy a traditional Christmas pantomime in London this December
A pantomime is a family-oriented play based on a well-known story and features classic characters such as the dame, the hero and the panto villain. It is one of the fun events for all the family to enjoy over the Christmas season.
This December there are some great pantomimes to choose from in London including Pantoland, Aladdin, and Dick Whittington.
- Pantoland is on at the London Palladium and runs from 10 December – 15 January 2023.
- Jack and the Beanstalk is on at the Lyric Hammersmith and runs from 19 November – 7 January 2023.
- Mother Goose is on at the Hackney Empire Theatre and runs from 19 November – 31 December 2022.
Enjoy festive music and carols at the Royal Albert Hall
There is a full programme of events to enjoy at the Royal Albert Hall this December including ballet (The Nutcracker), Carols at the Royal Albert Hall and Home Alone in concert.
Meet Santa in London
Santa Claus, Father Christmas or Saint Nicholas (depending on your culture) is known for putting children at the top of his list when he comes to town.
There are many opportunities throughout December to visit Santa in London.
Some popular options include:
Go ice skating
Strap on your skates (or rent some) and go all winter Olympics on your friends at one of the city’s many ice skating rinks! Some of the most magical places to go ice skating outdoors are the Natural History Museum, Hampton Court Palace, and Somerset House.
If you’re not Tonya Harding, don’t think that means you have to miss ice skating, as these places are also beginner-friendly!
If you haven’t tried ice skating before and fancy a go there are several ice skating rinks to choose from in London including the following:
- Tower of London Ice Rink
- Ice rink at Somerset House
- Hampton Court Ice Rink
- Greenwich Queen’s House Ice Rink
Buy some Christmas gifts (or shop the Boxing Day sales!)
In addition to the Christmas markets, London has a variety of Christmas shopping locations to choose from.
Don’t forget to check out the shop windows for their Christmas displays and decorations!
- Hamleys – One of the world’s largest toy shops, bring out your inner child and enjoy playing with toys from throughout the decades.
- Harrods – Harrods has a large selection of luxury brands on offer but even if it is out of your budget it is worth a visit (at any time of year) Don’t miss the Food Hall with its delicious array of foods from around the world.
- Selfridges – Selfridges is located on Oxford Street. It is one of the most luxurious department stores in London.
- Harvey Nichols – Harvey Nichols flagship store is located in Knightsbridge and is synonymous with the world of fashion and beauty.
For those wanting to acquire some great deals, the Boxing Day sales which begin on December 26th are very popular.
Soak up the festive atmosphere at Covent Garden
Covent Garden is a very popular location to visit in December. From entertainment to shopping, Covent Garden is buzzing with festive activities.
Enjoy the decorations before ordering lunch and watching the performances, which may range from carol singers to classical musicians.
Take a stroll through one of London’s royal parks or gardens
Central London has a variety of beautiful parks and gardens, perfect for a stroll on a sunny December day.
Popular options include Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, St James’s Park and Regent’s Park. Remember to wrap up and stay warm! Not sure what to wear in London in winter? Check out my UK packing list which covers every season.
Visit a museum or art gallery
If the weather doesn’t cooperate or you’re looking for some cultural inspiration, why not pay a visit to one of London’s many museums and art galleries?
Options include the British Museum which houses one of the biggest collections of artefacts in the world; the Natural History Museum which is home to a staggering 70 million specimens from all species of plant and animal and the V&A Museum which features everything from ancient sculptures to contemporary fashion.
In addition to the many museums you have to choose from, there are a number of art galleries worth adding to your itinerary.
The Tate Modern and National Gallery are two of the leading galleries in Europe.
Most museums and galleries offer free admission but do check costs for any special exhibitions.
Cosy up in a London pub
If you are in London in December, you have to check out its many lovely pubs.
Enjoy a delicious pub lunch with festive decorations and cosy fireplaces as you sample traditional English beers or wines.
Popular pubs in London in December include:
- The Holly Bush – Hampstead, London NW3 2JR
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU
- The Black Friar Pub – 174 Queen Victoria St, EC4V 4EG
- White Horse Parson’s Green – 1-3 Parson’s Green, SW6 4UL
Why not join a walking tour which visits some of London’s most famous and historic pubs?
Enjoy Christmas at Kew Gardens
December is a great time to visit Kew Gardens. With a special show garden and festive illuminations enjoy the wonderful atmosphere at one of London’s best gardens.
When – Wednesday 6 November 2022 – Sunday 8 January 2023
Enjoy a festive Afternoon Tea
Why not celebrate Christmas early and experience an afternoon tea in London in December?
There are lots of great afternoon teas to choose from including themed and more traditional offerings.
- Treat yourself to one of the most iconic afternoon teas in London at The Ritz.
- Afternoon Tea Bus with Panoramic Tour of London – Have a unique afternoon tea experience and soak in London’s best sights on a classic double-decker bus tour. Enjoy amazing views on the bus as you indulge in sweet and savoury treats, including a glass of Prosecco.
- Festive afternoon tea at Sketch – if you want Instagram shots this is the place to go!
- Festive afternoon tea with a view at Ting at the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard
Take a themed walking tour
If you are looking for a more activity-driven afternoon while in London at Christmas time, why not consider one of the many walking tours?
Popular options include:
- London’s Festive Sights and Christmas Lights – Discover London at its most magical time of year as the Christmas lights glitter and the whole city gets into the festive spirit. Your customised experience will be built around you, and your interests- you’ll be in the Christmas spirit in no time!
- Ghastly Ghosts 2-Hour Walking Tour – Sneak through the dark streets of London on a 2-hour ghastly ghosts tour, and hear spooky stories of the ghouls, ghosts and specters that creep through the city’s back alleys after dusk. Enjoy a spine-tingling walk from the Tower of London to St Paul’s.
- Christmas Walking Tour – Discover the most glorious Christmas locations in London and enjoy the festive atmosphere.
Visit some of London’s famous sights, landmarks and attractions
Whilst the Queen may not be in residence at Buckingham Palace over the Christmas period you can still enjoy the pomp and ceremony of the changing of the guards.
Popular London attractions can be busy in December but this is still a good time to visit.
- The London Eye presents a great way to see the city from above and offers unbeatable views of London over Christmas.
- Book tickets for the Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch Street where you can enjoy panoramic views of the capital over mulled wine.
- The Tower of London is also worth visiting, especially with its festive illuminations and special events including the traditional Ceremony of the Keys.
Other popular attractions during December include:
- Madame Tussauds London – Join the celebrations as you experience a special visit from Santa.
- The Sherlock Holmes Museum – Catch a glimpse of 221B Baker Street and get your photo taken with Sherlock himself.
- London Dungeon – Enjoy a spooky tour where you will learn all about London’s most famous ghosts, ghouls and villains.
POPULAR LONDON ATTRACTIONS – ADVANCE PURCHASE AND/OR FAST TRACK TICKETS
🎡 London Eye – Ride with fantastic views over London. (Skip-the-line tickets available)
🏙 The Shard – Tallest building in the UK with commanding views over London.
⛪️ Westminster Abbey – Gothic abbey where coronations and royal weddings are held.
💎 Tower of London – Infamous prison and mighty fortress. The Crown Jewels are on display too.
⚔ Madame Tussauds – Get up close and personal with over 250 waxworks of famous people.
⛓ London Dungeon – Enjoy a recreation of some of London’s goriest and macabre historical events.
🐧 London Zoo – World’s oldest scientific zoo and a popular attraction for families.
👑 Hampton Court Palace – King Henry VIII’s favourite palace.
Experience Hogwarts in the Snow
If you are a fan of the Harry Potter movies we recommend visiting Warner Bros. Studios. It is an easy day trip from London which can be done independently by train or with a tour.
From November to January a festive makeover transforms the studios into the wintery theme of Hogwarts in the Snow.
This is very popular so we recommend booking tickets as much in advance as possible.
Visit the beautiful churches of the City of London
In central London, there are beautiful churches offering fascinating architecture and free carol singing. A popular Christmas church concert is at St Paul’s Cathedral where you can soak in the festive atmosphere.
Enjoy the fireworks on New Year’s Eve (Cancelled for 2021)
The Victoria Embankment is where you can see the fantastic London Eye-based firework display.
The perfect way to celebrate New Year’s Eve is with a dinner cruise on the Thames. This is a great way to make the most of your evening and enjoy an early dinner (before midnight) whilst watching the fireworks.
Hopefully, we can enjoy this in 2022!
Visiting London in December – FAQs
What is the weather like in London in December?
December in London can be cold and wet with temperatures ranging between 4 °C and 9 °C. BUT it can also be sunny and bright (though still cold!)
What to wear in London in December
We recommend wearing layers so you can put on or take off clothes if you need to. It can be incredibly hot on the London Underground and in some shops.
Wear a warm coat, comfortable boots or shoes, hat, scarf, gloves and if it looks like rain pop a small umbrella or packable raincoat in your bag.
How to get around London in December
The best way to get around London in December is by public transport. TfL Rail operates the majority of services in the city with the usual red double-decker buses and overground trains running across London.
What is there to do in London on Christmas Eve?
On Christmas Eve there are a number of activities taking place. In the evening, there is carol singing at churches across the capital such as in St Paul’s Cathedral.
What happens in London on 25 and 26 December?
Christmas Day and Boxing Day are public holidays (called Bank holidays in the UK) which means that many places are closed or have reduced opening hours.
Boxing Day sales start on 26 December with big discounts in shops across the city.
Where to stay in London in December
We always recommend staying in central London – this is truly not the time of year you want to spend hours travelling back and forwards to your accommodation though hotel prices may feel prohibitive. It may be tempting to book cheaper accommodation if you are on a budget but spending that little extra in London is worth it.
Below I have recommended my pick of 3 luxury, mid-range, family-friendly and apartments options for your perfect stay in London.
London luxury hotels ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Centrally located in Covent Garden, One Aldwych offers 5-star luxury accommodations, superb restaurants and a health club.
This English Heritage Edwardian property is a 5-minute walk from Covent Garden Underground Station.
Located at the top of Regent Street, the prestigious Langham offers an award-winning glamorous bar, Artesian, and a stylish restaurant, Roux at the Landau.
Free WiFi is available and Oxford Circus tube station is just a 5-minute walk away. Numerous shops, theatres and restaurants are located in the local area.
Occupying levels 34-52, the Shangri-La Hotel at The Shard, London offers 5-star luxury and breathtaking views of the capital and beyond. It features an exquisite restaurant and serves cocktails until late at the highest bar in London.
London mid-range hotels
The Fielding Hotel is located opposite the Royal Opera House in the heart of Central London. With free WiFi, this 19th-century hotel is 5-minute walk from the famous Covent Garden Market.
The Trafalgar St. James, London Curio Collection by Hilton is 400 m from Charing Cross Tube and Rail Station. Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus are just a 10-minute walk away, while the West End theatres are less than a kilometre from the hotel.
The Bloomsbury Hotel is located in the heart of the theater district, within walking distance of most London shows. Tottenham Court Road tube station and The British Museum are just 200 m from the hotel.
More options – Best mid-range hotels in London
London budget and family friendly hotels
With fantastic views of Big Ben and the River Thames, this historic 5-star Marriott hotel features a swimming pool and relaxing sauna. Its spacious rooms include luxurious bathrobes and Egyptian cotton sheets. Guests get free Wi-Fi in public areas.
Z Covent Garden offers a 113 bedroom hotel in the heart of London’s West End. Complimentary Wi-Fi is available throughout the hotel including within the reception and cafe areas which are located on the ground floor.
Between the River Thames and Trafalgar Square, this beautiful 5-star hotel has a luxurious mix of history and modern style. It has a restaurant, a gym and river views.
More options – Best London hotels for families
Best apartments for your London stay
Wilde Aparthotels by Staycity Covent Garden is located on the Strand in the heart of the West End theatre district and is just a few minutes stroll from Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square.
Ideally located in the heart of Kensington, Cheval Thorney Court offers self-catered accommodations with free Wi-Fi, a fitness centre and a 24-hour front desk. The property is set within a 1-minute walk from famous Hyde Park.
Located next to the Tower of London, and overlooking the Thames River, Cheval Three Quays features modern apartments with free Wi-Fi and an on-site fitness centre.
Plan your trip to London
- Transport – Guide to London’s main train stations
- Stay – London accommodation guide
- London Eye – Complete guide, tips and ticket options compared
- What to see? 7 castles near London
- Visiting in Spring? 2 things to do in London in spring
- Love shopping? Head to one of 9 London markets
- When to visit? Visiting the UK in winter