The Festive 50: The best things to do in London this Christmas
From skating rinks to Christmas-movie marathons, mince-pie ice-creams to magical light trails, London’s got it all this winter. We've cherrypicked the best things to do across 50 days of the festive season
Feast on mince pies
It’s never too soon to start the quest for London’s best mince pie. For buttery, vanilla-spiked pastry, head to Melrose & Morgan, or join the queue for Bread Ahead’s sublimely spiced pies (you can also learn to make your own at its special seasonal workshops).
See a new take on The Nutcracker
Welcome to The Nutcracker as you’ve never seen it before, staged in a pop-up jazz club at the Southbank Centre. Dreamed up by choreographer Drew McOnie, Nutcracker promises an on-stage jazz ensemble, boldly reworked score and zero frothy tutus.
28 October 2023–6 January 2024
Catch the lantern parade in Greenwich
With Christmas on the horizon, Greenwich starts to get festive. A procession of children with handmade lanterns wend their way to the market for the countdown to the switching-on of the lights. Feeling chilly? Swing by Dark Sugars for a decadent hot chocolate.
4–6pm, 15 November
See roses bloom in Mayfair
Every winter, the Ever After Garden comes to Mayfair, filling Grosvenor Square with more than 25,000 illuminated white roses. It’s a place to remember lost loved ones and dedicate a rose to their memory, with proceeds going to The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.
3-9pm daily, 16 November–19 December
Have a wizard time at Hogwarts
Potter acolytes will love Hogwarts in the Snow, which adds a seasonal twist to the Harry Potter sets. Wander the holly-wreathed Great Hall, peek in Diagon Alley’s snowy shopfronts and look out for the flying witches that top the Christmas trees.
11 November 2023–14 January 2024
Be dazzled at Kew
After dark, see Kew Gardens transformed by its winter light trail, with a series of epic installations. Think dancing lanterns, 3m blooms and a Christmas cathedral of light – coming soon to an Instagram account near you and even more magical in real life.
15 November 2023–7 January 2024
Cosy up by the fire in Hampstead
While away a winter’s afternoon by a pub’s crackling wood fire. The Holly Bush is a welcoming retreat after stomps on Hampstead Heath, as is the historic Spaniard’s Inn, famed for its cosy nooks, resident spooks and excellent Scotch eggs.
Come the winter, ice-skating spots pop up across the city. Few are more iconic than the rink at Somerset House, though you’ll need to book ahead. Too late? Hotfoot it to Glide at Battersea Power Station, with its trio of interconnecting rinks and scenic riverside setting.
Skate at Somerset House: 15 November–14 January 2024; Glide at Battersea Power Station: 10 November–7 January 2024
See the light
By late November, there are Christmas lights twinkling across town. Beyond the cascading stars of Oxford Street and Regent Street’s swooping angels, check out Mayfair’s sparkling blue bows, or Marylebone Village’s glittering display, magicked up from recycled bottles.
Dine at Velvet Pines
Expects twists all the way at this immersive dining experience from the team that staged the darkly dystopian Saint Jude. This time, the setting is a snowed-in mountain hotel in the 1970s, with a cabaret show and three-course feast by Omar Foster of MasterChef fame.
9 November–23 December
Write to Santa
Get ahead of the Christmas rush and pen your letter to Santa. Luckily, the Royal Mail has his address (Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, XM4 5HQ), and he’ll be sending replies to letters posted by 8 December. Note that a stamp is essential, as are your name and address.
20 November–8 December
Meet London’s makers and creatives
Now’s the time to lean into Christmas shopping, and Cockpit’s annual Open Studios are the ideal place to start. Its Bloomsbury posse of makers will be selling their creations, from handmade leather satchels and sapphire-set rings to boldly sculptural ceramics.
Enjoy story time with an elf
Having borrowed a giant chair from the big man’s study, Santa’s head elf is moonlighting at St-Martin-in-the-Fields. He’ll be telling the tale of how Rudolph acquired his red nose, with plenty of audience participation and a bar with mulled wine for grown-ups.
25–26 November, 2, 3, 9, 10 & 16–23 December
Join the festivities at the Museum of the Home
Winter’s full of colour and light at this East End museum, with its holly-wreathed rooms and culture-hopping annual festival. Don’t miss its feelgood Winter Yard Sale (26 November), with samples and one-offs from well-known designers – and all proceeds going to charity.
15 November–29 February 2024
See a tree or two
Trafalgar Square’s soaring spruce has its own Twitter account, while Covent Garden’s 60ft sparkles with thousands of lights. For a high-fashion moment, nowhere matches Claridge’s tree – once covered in gingerbread stilettos by Christian Louboutin.
Explore Dennis Severs’ House by candlelight
Commune with the ghosts of Christmas past at this Spitalfields townhouse – more a time machine than a museum, with stage-worthy set-ups in each room. Its Christmas installations are eerily atmospheric: climb the creaking stairs for a candlelit Silent Night tour.
24 November–7 January 2024
Sip a sublime hot chocolate
For a masterclass in how hot chocolate should be done, make your way to Ruby Violet’s King’s Cross ice-cream parlour. Order up a long and frothy, then go nuts with the toppings, which run from almond brittle to adorable mini meringues.
Go local for your Christmas shopping
Time to get some presents bagged. For a North London neighbourhood vibe, try Stoke Newington Church Street, dotted with cafés and boutiques. Down south, Brixton Village has everything from homeware to hand-embroidered jackets, plus standout spots for lunch.
Eat Christmas in a bun at Blacklock
Mark the start of December with Blacklock’s festive burger, released today. Think a yielding brioche bun, piled with Middle White bacon, grilled turkey and a sausage patty. The finishing touches? A crunch of coleslaw, oozy Camembert layer, and soupçon of cranberry ketchup.
Binge on festive flicks at the Prince Charles
Why watch one Christmas movie when you could catch five back-to-back? The Prince Charles is running two festive all-night film marathons with The Muppet Christmas Carol, Elf, Home Alone, Gremlins and Die Hard. Bring a pillow to go with your popcorn.
2 & 23 December
Meet an old-fashioned Father Christmas
For a traditional meet and greet with Santa, head for the Museum of London, Docklands. You’ll find his grotto in the Sailortown galleries, which recreate the soot-stained alleyways of Victorian London, complete with festive decorations and the sound of distant carol singers.
Various dates in December
Discover London Zoo’s animal advent calendar
The Zoo is terrific for small ones at this time of year, whether you’re following the sleigh trail or dropping by the elf-staffed Polar Post Room. The elves are also on hand to open a giant advent calendar, which celebrates a different resident animal every day.
Festoon your front door
Nothing says Christmas like a wreath on your door, so create your own with Petersham Nurseries or Hackney’s rebel florist Grace & Thorn. Alternatively, get back to nature with a workshop in Hyde Park, using foliage from the Royal Parks.
Various dates in December
Browse a Christmas market
Stroll through the sprawling market at Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, or keep it small-scale at Kingston’s Christmas market, with its bratwurst stands, old-fashioned carousel and wooden chalets selling woolly hats, crumbly homemade fudge and other seasonal essentials.
Winter Wonderland: 17 November–1 January 2024; Kingston: 16 November–31 December
Bag tickets for Christmas, Actually
The hottest ticket in town? This limited-run ‘festive variety show’ at Southbank Centre, curated by director Richard Curtis. The man who launched Hugh Grant’s floppy fringe on the world has a famously well-filled contacts book, so expect some starry special guests.
Fall under Liberty’s spell
The grande dame of department stores does Christmas in style, from its decadent window displays to the glittering, fourth-floor Christmas Shop. Gifts from here (beautifully wrapped on request) are always the best, from hand-embossed leather diaries to emerald-set rings.
Catch a cult Christmas movie in concert
The greatest feelgood Christmas film? Elf must be a contender, as Buddy (Will Ferrell) hits New York in search of his father. The elvish swearing! The showdown with department-store Santa! All even better in the Royal Albert Hall, live scored by the Philharmonia Orchestra.
Have a happy Chanukah
Head to Islington Green to celebrate the Jewish festival of light. Make a shadow puppet with the Little Angel Theatre, watch as the Menorah is lit and tap your feet to a catchy klezmer tune. There’s free food, too: sugar-dusted doughnuts, potato latkes and warming mugs of cocoa.
Bring on the gelato
Ice cream’s not just for summer. Festive specials at Udderlicious include mince pies and brandy, while Chin Chin’s Soho outpost will be serving Christmas Tree baked Alaska: chocolate cake with sour cherries and hazelnut ice cream, piped with meringue and almost too pretty to eat.
See The Nutcracker on the big screen
The bad news? The Nutcracker at Sadler’s Wells is pretty much sold out for December. Pining for its feisty mice, Land of Sweets and magnificent Tchaikovsky score? Then head to this evening’s live screening at cinemas across the city.
Explore an old-school toyshop
However old you are, there’s something magical about Benjamin Pollock’s Covent Garden toy emporium, which traces its origins back to 1880. It’s famed for its exquisite, Victorian-inspired paper theatres, from gilded recreations of The Nutcracker to a teeny Frozen stage set.
Stock up at Borough Market
Brave the Borough Market crowds to stock up on feasting essentials. Think Stichelton from Neal’s Yard, hand-carved jamón at Brindisa and a proper Christmas pudding laced with French brandy at McLarens. And a doughnut to go at Bread Ahead? It would be rude not to.
Take afternoon tea at the Savoy
Amid the flurry of Christmas preparations, The Savoy remains a beacon of calm and good cheer. Past the snow-topped Christmas tree and show-stealing vintage steam train, head to the Thames Foyer for a festive afternoon tea full of seasonal ingredients.
Until 7 January 2024
Visit Santa’s grotto
Even in the depths of winter, Chelsea Physic Garden is enchanting: a walled, centuries-old secret garden by the Thames. On the weekends leading up to Christmas, Santa will be holding court, with a science-themed grotto and sack of gifts for wide-eyed kids.
Weekends, 2–17 December
Have yourself a very merry Wishmas
In the vaults below Waterloo Station, adventure awaits in the shape of Wishmas – a new, all-ages immersive experience. Follow robins carrying wishes into a fantastical world, dreamed up by a team who honed their craft at Punchdrunk and Secret Cinema.
14 November– 7 January 2024
Take in a Christmas classic
The Old Vic’s triumphant take on A Christmas Carol is back, complete with carol singers handing out mince pies. Its lantern-lit, in-the-round staging adds to the atmosphere, while Christopher Eccleston (the ninth Doctor Who) will be donning his top hat to play Scrooge.
11 November–6 January 2024
Sip a pint at The Churchill Arms
One Christmas tree isn’t enough for this 18th-century Kensington pub. Instead, the whole place is covered with a forest of spruces – up to 100 on a good year – festooned with fairy lights. Head inside for a break from Christmas shopping and a pint of London Pride.
See Hansel and Gretel at The Globe
Wrap up warm and head into the woods at The Globe, which is staging Poet Laureate Simon Armitage’s take on Hansel and Gretel. Aimed at five-and-overs, it promises music, magic and songs – and a salutary lesson on why houses made of sweets should be approached with caution.
8 December–7 January 2024
Take a seat in Santa’s sleigh
Covent Garden does Christmas in style, with its glittering tree, oversized wreaths and copious mulled wine. In the West Piazza’s South Hall, Santa’s sleigh is the ultimate festive photo op: take your seat in his present-stacked carriage, hand-painted in red and gold.
Embrace panto season
You’re never too old for a pantomime: think singalongs, slapstick comedy and no end of innuendo. Book the all-star Peter Pan at London Palladium or Aladdin at the Hackney Empire, where Clive Rowe – panto’s greatest dame – steals every scene he’s in.
Peter Pan: 9 December–14 January 2024; Aladdin: 18 November–31 December
Sing a carol at St Paul’s
Hear the traditional lessons and carols in the soaring surrounds of St Paul’s, below its gilded mosaics and magnificent dome. It’s one of a series of events that are free to attend but ticketed, whose highlights run from family-friendly carols to Christmas Day’s choral Evensong.
Stroll Columbia Road
East London’s famous flower market will be up and running on Christmas Eve, from 8am in the morning until around 2pm. Buy a last-minute bunch of mistletoe or bouquet of white amaryllis, plus presents from the quirky independent shops clustered around the market.
Cheer on the Serpentine swimmers
A fixture on Christmas morning since 1864, the Peter Pan Cup sees a band of stoic swimmers take to the Serpentine’s waters for a 100-yard race. Arrive by 9am to cheer them on (only members of the Serpentine Swimming Club are allowed to take the plunge).
Go for a Boxing Day stroll
After the excesses of Christmas Day, a wintery walk is required – and Richmond Park’s meadows and ancient woodland make for an epic backdrop. Bring a flask of tea and stash of leftover mince pies and look out for its resident deer or join the guided walk at 10am.
Warm up in a spa
Escape the cold and bask in the warmth of Aire Ancient Baths, hidden below a historic townhouse a few streets back from the Strand. Its handsomely vaulted, candlelit baths are the perfect winter hideout, from the steamy Vaporium to the saltwater Flotarium.
Blast off to the moon
Time for a complete change of scene. Your destination? The moon, courtesy of Lightroom’s immersive experience. Narrated by space-geek Tom Hanks, The Moonwalkers tells the story of the Apollo missions, and interviews astronauts from the upcoming Artemis mission.
6 December 2023–21 April 2024
Wander Winter Wonderland
Banish Twixtmas blues with a visit to Hyde Park, where Winter Wonderland’s fairy-light-strung rides are still in full seasonal swing. Loop-the-loop on a rollercoaster, speed down the ice slide, or book ahead to watch Cirque Berserk’s death-defying stunts.
17 November–1 January 2024
Hit the West End
Now’s the perfect time to head for Theatreland, whether you’re braving Stranger Things: The First Shadow at the Phoenix or catching a musical (try the RSC’s take on Matilda, at the Cambridge Theatre). Afterwards, stroll into Soho for a late supper.
New Year’s Eve
Go local for New Year’s Eve
No ticket for the fireworks on the Thames? Then head beyond Zone 1 for epic skyline views. The vistas from Primrose Hill are hard to beat, while its pubs are packed with locals: join the throng at The Engineer or The Queen’s for a pre-midnight pint or two.
New Year’s Day
Kick-start the new year at the Proms
There’s no more inspiring way to start the year than at The Barbican’s New Year’s Day Proms, with the London Concert Orchestra. The programme runs from Elgar to Verdi, wrapping up just after 5pm – perfect if you’re in need of an early night.
Take off with British
British Airways Holidays is here to help you find your perfect break. From carefully selected hotels to straightforward car hire, all costs are included in the final price, meaning there are no surprise extras.