Mince pies, and paper crowns and mulled wine – oh my! It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas – in London! As the holiday season approaches, the city of London is abuzz with excitement. Christmas is a special time in London, and the city truly comes alive with festive cheer. This year was my first time in London during the holidays — and I thought Christmas was over-the-top in the States, but it’s another level in the UK! Christmas is taken pretty seriously in London. Nearly every retailer and pub has holiday garland adorning their storefront and a Christmas tree inside! London’s luxury department stores take it to a whole other level with their million-pound Christmas window displays and by kicking off their Christmas sections opening on August 1st (!). A few Christmas traditions we can thank the Brits for: sending Christmas cards, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, hanging Christmas stockings, and Father Christmas! Though placing a fir tree in your house is a German tradition, In the 1840s, Prince Albert – Queen Victoria’s husband – popularized the concept of a Christmas tree! While I was in town, it happened to snow for the first time in several years. It was just a light dusting, but make for a very magical next day in London!
If you’re in London for Christmas for the first time, there are a few things you cannot miss out on! One of the most popular things to do during Christmas in London is to visit their famous Christmas markets. These markets, which can be found throughout the city, offer a wide variety of seasonal goods, from hand-crafted gifts and decorations to tasty treats like mulled wine and roasted chestnuts. Be sure to check out Covent Garden Market, Borough Market, and Christmas by the River at London Bridge! Another must-see attraction during Christmas in London is the city’s world-famous Christmas lights. Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Bond Street are just a few of the many places where you can see beautifully decorated shop windows and sparkling lights. For some festive fun in the park, visit Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland for ice skating, rides and delicious street food! Enjoy a holiday high tea at Claridge’s or Sketch before grabbing a cocktail at Chiltern Firehouse and cozying-up by the fire or a martini at The Connaught Bar. If you’re looking for something a bit more traditional, you can’t miss the Christmas Carol Service at St. Paul’s Cathedral. This annual event, which dates back to the 19th century, features a stunning choir and scripture readings from the Bible.
It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but one of my favorite things Anastasios and I did was go to the town of Richmond (a 20-minute train ride west!) and visit the Petersham Nursery. It’s a rustic farmhouse oasis that has a café serving incredible farm-to-table fare, a seasonal Christmas store, and a cozy teahouse in a converted greenhouse. It’s incredibly charming and the town of Richmond is equally quaint – very worth the trip if you have time!
Of course, no trip to London at Christmastime would be complete without taking in a show. The city is home to some of the world’s best theaters, and there is no shortage of festive productions to choose from. From classic plays like A Christmas Carol to modern musicals like a West End production of The Nutcracker, Frozen, or Elf!
- Visit the big Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square – a gift from Norway since World War II!
- Waltz through Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
- Enjoy a pint at The Churchill Arms’ festive display
- Go Ice Skating at:
- Travel to Petersham Nurseries in Richmond and dine at their café!
- Grab a Christmas coffee at Ralph’s Coffee on Bond St. and window shop!
- Eat your way through Borough Market – and don’t forget the mulled wine!
- Window shop at the luxury department store’s Christmas displays:
- Liberty (on Regent St.)
- Old Bond Street + New Bond Street (Mayfair)
- Selfridges (on Oxford St.)
- Harrod’s (Knightsbridge)
- John Lewis (on Oxford St.)
- Fortnum and Mason (in Piccadilly Circus)
- Harvey Nichols (Knightsbridge)
- Catch a West End production of The Nutcracker, Frozen, or Elf!
- Shop through the Christmas Markets:
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland (runs for 6 weeks, November to January)
- Christmas by the River at London Bridge
- Covent Garden Market
- Southbank Centre Winter Festival (runs for 6 weeks, November to January)
- The Old Spitalfields Christmas Market (December 18-24th)
- Borough Market
- Connaught Village (Hyde Park)
- Soak in the festive street lights on:
- Oxford St.
- Regent St.
- Bond St.
- Carnaby St.
- Covent Garden
- Enjoy holiday high tea:
- Hunt for the city’s best hot chocolate:
Cosy & festive spots to eat:
- Daphne’s (Chelsea)
- Sketch (Soho)
- The Maine (Mayfair)
- The Bishop at The Berkeley (Knightsbridge)
- Maggie Jones’s (Kensington)
- Scott’s (Mayfair)
- Chiltern Firehouse (Marylebone)
- Brasserie of Lights (Mayfair)
- Miracle at 34 Mayfair (Mayfair)
- Sushisamba (Covent Garden)
- Balthazar (Covent Garden)
- Alto by San Carlo at Selfridges’s rooftop (Mayfair)
- The Alpine Chalet at Number One Park Lane (InterContinental Park Lane)
- Wagtail Rooftop (City of London)
- Harry’s Dolce Vita (Belgravia)
Cozy & festive spots to drink:
- Miracle at Henrietta at the Henrietta Hotel (Covent Garden)
- The Ivy (Kensington)
- Kerridge’s Bar & Grill at the Corinthia London (Embankment)
- Lily’s Cafe (Covent Garden)
- Common Decency at the NoMad (Covent Garden)
- Chiltern Firehouse (Marylebone)
- The Connaught Bar (Mayfair)
- The Berkley Bar (Knightsbridge)
- Bloomsbury Club (Soho)
- Grey Goose Igloos at Vinegar Yards (South London)
- Double Standard at The Standard (Kings Cross)
- Hush (Mayfair)
- The Little Scarlet Door (Soho)
- The Winter Garden Restaurant at The Landmark London (Marylebone)
- Isla at The Standard (Kings Cross)
- Maison Assouline (Picadilly Circus)
In short, London is a magical place to be during the holiday season. Whether you’re looking to shop, see some sights, or just take in the festive atmosphere, there’s no shortage of things to do and see. Have you been to London during the holiday season? It really is such a dreamy time to see the city. Let me know if you end up coming into town! And if you *have* been to London during Christmas, what’s your favorite thing to see in the city or tradition? Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!