London is the UK’s capital for a reason, with a wide array of things to do no matter the weather, season or mood. So, it’s no surprise that it’s an even more magical place when it comes to Christmas. But since it's largely a tourist trap known for its bustling streets on a normal day, you’ll need to be prepared for the manic Christmas shoppers, non-stop festive spirit and of course, the people who get their cameras out at every street corner (no doubt you’ll fall under one of these categories at least once during your trip!). Luckily, we’re on hand with the inside knowledge, tried and tested so that you won’t miss out on what London has to offer.
When to Go:
Christmas hits London in full from the beginning of November up until the January sales, with the majority of Christmas markets and themed events starting around mid-November. In order to get caught up in the spirit but not so much that you spend half your time queuing to do your Christmas shopping, visit sometime between November 20th and December 15th.
It’s nearly impossible to beat the crowds entirely, especially at this time of year. However, there are a few tips to make life a little easier. Your best bet is to avoid weekends if you can, as well as trying to hit the shops early, between 9 am and 12 pm. This especially applies to the most popular areas for shopping — Oxford Street and Regent Street. You’ll find that places like Covent Garden and Leicester Square won't be anywhere near as packed if you visit on a weekday, which allows for more perusing and time to enjoy all of the festive décor.
In the evenings from 5 pm onwards, you’re going to want to avoid rush hour at all costs. This means steering clear of the tube until around 6 pm, which is less of a challenge than it might seem. Although the tube is a godsend when it comes to getting you to and from each place quickly and being very convenient, lots of the places that you’ll want to get ticked off like Winter Wonderland, The Strand, Oxford Street and Covent Garden are all within walking distance if you start in the Covent Garden area and finish up in Hyde Park. This is the perfect route for this time of day as you can take full advantage of short winter days which tend to get dark around 3 pm.
What to Eat:
Food is something of a must when it comes to the festive season, and like everything in London, the demand will be met. When it comes to obvious choices that it wouldn’t be Christmas without, we’ve got you covered.
By very definition, these are what Christmas is all about. Popular bakery chain, Paul, can be found on just about every street corner and does mince pies like no other. The crisp and flaky pastry, the sweet mincemeat and aroma of joy and festivities have our mouths watering just thinking about it. They also have a range of flavors to choose from, including apple crumble mince pies, pecan mince pies, chocolate mince pies and mince pie croissants. Trust us when we say none of these will disappoint.
These are a type of German sausage which is traditional to Christmas markets. The success of such a tradition speaks for itself, but just in case you’re still on the fence, make sure you complete your trip to Winter Wonderland by purchasing one from the Bratwurst stall. Choose from an original Bratwurst or a cheese sausage with onions and lashings of ketchup and mustard placed in a soft bun. And if that doesn't sell it to you, there is also a heated seating area for you to keep warm with a mulled wine too.
For all the trimmings in a gourmet three-course meal, visit the Holborn Dining Room which, even without the great food, will be an experience to remember. Listen to live entertainment while you wait for an appearance from the big man himself — Father Christmas! Could you really ask for a more festive dining experience?
If you want something a little different then head over to Sticks ‘n’ Sushi in Covent Garden which will have your taste buds tingling and eyes widening at the presentation of the Japanese style dishes. Mouth-wateringly good, anything you order from the menu is guaranteed to impress and fill you up. Alternatively, the Coppa Club Igloos over at Tower Bridge sport a menu of rainbow chard, tender dug leg with chorizo coupled with butter beans, or a complete traditional dinner — all whilst sitting at a rooftop bar enjoying the magical views across London.
Where to Shop
This one’s a tough one because there’s so much choice and naturally, gift buying (and sometimes the odd gift for yourself) is at the center of Christmas. Here are some of the best-loved stores.
Selfridges and Harrods
No trip to London would be complete without coming to either Selfridges or Harrods — even if just for the Instagram-worthy snaps of their extravagant window displays. Go inside and you'll find something for everyone. From makeup counters to shoes, home furnishings to chocolate shops, you'll be spoilt for choice.
This shop embodies everything that Christmas is and looks like a house out of a Victorian Christmas village. This is definitely one not to miss, and even if you don’t want to buy anything, it’s worth a look inside just for a chance to feel super festive.
Find just about every high street shop on either this street or Regent Street — including Topshop, Bershka, and bargain-hunters' favorite, Primark. You'll also find a ton of high-end shops here too just in case you’re in the mood for truly spoiling loved ones.
The apple market here is perfect to search and find trinkets and original gifts that will be greatly appreciated. All the big names are also here, ranging from dinky chocolate shops (which if you mill around you’ll be sure to get a sample or two) to beauty and fragrance stores. Covent Garden isn’t just secluded to the main square — and extends down various other streets where you’ll find stationary shops, candle stores and lots of the usual suspects as well.
What to Do
A famous Christmas attraction, complete with market stalls full of unique gifts, rides and tons of food stalls, it’s not only children that can enjoy all that Christmas brings. The Ice Bar is also a really cool (pun intended) place to experience during your visit.
Ice Skating at Somerset House
Ice skating is a must during the build-up to Christmas and there’s no better place to get your skates on than Somerset House. Situated along The Strand, its beauty can be seen amongst the theatres that teem the streets. Of course, Somerset House itself is also a truly marvelous piece of architecture which as well as being stunning to look at, also makes the perfect backdrop for pictures.
A tourist hotspot in itself regardless of the Christmas period, but particularly worthy as the Christmas tree centered in the square cannot be missed.
Visit a Christmas Pop-Up
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of Christmas pop-ups across London that keep in with the theme, usually in a rooftop bar fashion, giving views across the city as well as an abundant supply of warmth and alcohol. Some of the best are igloo shaped pods which you can dine in with fire pits and a Finnish Sauna to warm the cockles.