Leave it to London, England, to have a very festive atmosphere for Christmas, warming the hearts of visitors and locals facing cold and damp weather. The British city goes all out with large light displays, towering Christmas trees, pudding races, ballet and musical performances, and cheerful holiday markets selling local handicrafts and treats (including many mulled wines). Be sure to plan your trip in advance to make the most of Christmas with the Queen.
London lights up at Christmas. It's definitely worth visiting the big stores on Oxford Street and Regent Street in the city's West End, where window shopping under the lights won't cost you a penny. The displays comes on nightly beginning around mid-November in 2019.
The Brunswick Centre near Russell Square also hosts its own Christmas extravaganza each November with live music performances, a laser light show, carols, and other entertainment.
Every winter, outdoor ice skating rinks appear all over London. Most rinks operate from mid-November to mid-January, and many stay open late into the evening. A number of rinks host special events throughout the holiday season, and you can rent skates at many of them.
The annual Winter Wonderland pop-up in Hyde Park from November 21, 2019, through January 5, 2020, has the UK's largest open-air skating rink, located next to the Victorian bandstand. This event's carnival-like atmosphere includes fairground rides, traditional German beer halls, a daytime circus, food stalls, a Santa Claus grotto, and over 100 Bavarian-style wooden chalets selling gifts and trinkets at the Christmas markets.
You'll also find ice skating rinks outside some famous historic sites, such as Somerset House, the Tower of London, and Hampton Court Palace.
Norway has gifted London with a huge Christmas tree for Trafalgar Square each year since 1947 as a thank you for the country's help during World War II. Typically reaching around 30 meters (98 feet) high, the tree averages between 50 and 60 years old.
On the first Thursday in December, the lights come on in the evening. The tree usually stays put until the Twelfth Night of Christmas on January 6, when it gets dismantled and carted off to be chipped and composted.
Kids of all ages hoping to sit on Santa's knee and ask for their desired Christmas gifts can do so easily in some of London's department stores.
At Harrods through December 24, 2019, you'll find the cheery character at The Secret Forest Grotto, a magical snow-covered woodland.
In 2019, Selfridges has a fun Breakfast with Santa at The Corner Restaurant on December 7, 8, 14, 15, and between December 17-22. You can also take photos with Father Christmas throughout the store at select times between November 30 and December 24.
John Lewis & Partners offers 2019 visits with Santa Claus at his grotto at Westgate on December 7, 14, 21, 22, and 23, and include a gift, a story, and a treat.
In November of each year, visitors and locals enjoy the Spirit of Christmas Fair and the Country Living Magazine Christmas Fair. Once December hits, shopping becomes a national sport, and Christmas markets and fairs pop up throughout the city during the holiday season.
Some crowd favorites include:
- Southbank Centre Wintertime Market by the London Eye: This annual arts celebration from November 8, 2019, through January 26, 2020, features spirited theater performances from comedy to cabaret, family-friendly activities, and riverfront market stalls decorated as wooden winter chalets.
- Christmas in Leicester Square: Held from November 8, 2019, through January 5, 2020, the festivities include taking photos with Santa Claus and a traditional Spiegeltent (a big traveling tent used for entertainment) with cabaret and comedy shows. The market stalls sell handmade toys, candy, and festive ornaments.
The English National Ballet Christmas season has included "The Nutcracker" since 1950. Set in a world of frosty Edwardian elegance designed by Peter Farmer, this captivating production takes audiences of all ages on an enchanting journey with Clara, her Nutcracker doll, and the magician Drosselmeyer. From December 11, 2019, to January 5, 2020, the English National Ballet's dancers will bring to life Tchaikovsky's eternally popular score at the London Coliseum.
A long English tradition, pantomime (or panto) is a noisy and silly type of theater—not to be confused with the silent painted clowns known as mimes. Panto typically features women starring as the young male lead and an older woman portrayed by a man dressed in drag. With great audience participation and shouts of "He's behind you!" when the protagonists can't see the antagonists, it promises to be a fun time for the whole family.
The Hackney Empire will present "Dick Whittington and His Cat" for Christmas season performances from November 23, 2019, through January 5, 2020.
On a Saturday morning each December, race contestants ages 14 and above wear fancy dress (an amusing or unique costume) and run around Covent Garden while trying to balance a Christmas pudding on a plate. Obstacles such as balloons full of flour make it even more fun to watch. Logging its 39th year, this charity event raising money for Cancer Research UK will be held on Saturday, December 7, 2019.
From November 16, 2019, through January 26, 2020, visitors can enjoy a festive studio tour in the Wizarding World at Hogwarts in the Snow, learning about the visual and special effects that make the Harry Potter movies so exciting. You'll have a chance to stroll around iconic movie sets such as the Great Hall and Diagon Alley and check out the costumes and props. After your tour, stop by the Chocolate Frog Café for some hot chocolate, cakes, and ice cream, or grab a sandwich from one of the other onsite cafés.
The fun takes place about 20 miles (32 kilometers) northwest of London at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. Reserve your spot in advance to secure your date and time of choice.
Christmas carolers from around the country come to Trafalgar Square for about two weeks between December 9-24, 2019, to raise money for charities. Over 40 carol groups sing for an hour beneath the Christmas tree. Expect to hear classic Christmas songs and have some family fun.
If you are in London and want to get into the holiday spirit, see the late composer Irving Berlin's musical "White Christmas" at the Dominion Theatre from November 16, 2019, through January 4, 2020. The show—running two hours and 40 minutes—is based on the popular 1954 musical film "White Christmas" starring Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, about two World War II veterans passionate about music and dance. Some of the famous songs you'll hear include "White Christmas" and "Sister."