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The weeks before Christmas are special, and I enjoy spending that time of the year in London. As soon as it’s getting dark the city starts glittering and sparkling. The shops show off with their heavily, but beautifully decorated windows and the big shopping streets impress with their huge and amazing Christmas lights.
In between you have the Christmas markets where you can buy your first presents and warm up with a mulled wine. Several ice rinks make all the ice skating fans happy, Winter Wonderland brings a mixture of Christmas market and amusement park into Hyde Park, Kew Gardens offers “Christmas at Kew” with a spectacular light -and laser show and Londons’s biggest Christmas tree can be found at Trafalgar Square.
Are you planning to visit London during Christmas time? Don’t have a clue yet what to do? Then continue reading and you will find my favourite spots to spend the Christmas time in London. Enjoy the update for 2018!
Christmas lights at the main shopping streets in London
The switching on of the Christmas lights is a big thing in London. Each street starts at a different date so that visitors and locals can make the most out of it. The biggest event takes place at Oxford Street. The street gets closed for cars and buses, there is a big party with drinks and food and each year a celebrity is invited to turn on the lights. In 2017, this was Rita Ora. Who will join in 2018 and when the happening will take place has not yet been confirmed (as in October 2018). I will update the post once the date is clear.
Carnaby Street combines the switching on with a shopping parade. There is live music and lots of discounts in the shops. The lights have a special theme each year. This year, the song text of “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen will light up the street. In November, more Christmas-themed elements will be added.
Covent Garden is one of the highlights during Christmas time. The former market halls get decorated with massive baubles and a huge Christmas tree will be standing on the Piazza. The date for switching on the lights is not yet known.
All the other streets – like Regent Street and Seven Dials – dress up for Christmas, too and want to impress with their lights and decorations. You can easily spend a whole day just walking around and admiring the lights. Also, keep your eyes open for The Shard who had a special Christmas Lightshow last year. St Katherine Docks was beautiful last year. They had a huge Santa hat.
Christmas markets in London
What would the Christmas time be without a Christmas market? Cabins selling art and crafts, mulled wine, sausages and all the sweet treats can be found all over London. Here is a selection of Christmas markets.
Christmas in Leicester Square from 09.11. – 05.01.19
Leicester Square had its first Christmas market in 2016. You will find classical stands selling food and presents, kids can meet Santa in his Grotto and the grown-ups might enjoy one of the theatre performances. Entry to the market is free but you need to get a ticket for both Santa’s Grotto and the theatre performances. The market is open from noon and until 10, during the weekends they start at 10. Santa’s Grotto closes at 8.
Christmas by the River at London Bridge City from 29.11. – 02.01.19
“Christmas by the River” is located between London Bridge, Hays Gallery, City Hall and Tower Bridge. There are over 60 cabins selling art, candles, snacks, mulled wine and much more. You could start your tour at Tate Modern and have a stroll along the Thames. To go directly to the market, leave the tube at either at „Tower Hill” or „London Bridge“. Open daily from 11 until 10.
This Christmas market is one of my favourites. Doesn’t having a mulled wine in your hand while walking up to Tower Bridge sound nearly perfect to you, too?
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park from 22.11. – 06.01.19
A mix between a Christmas market and an amusement park can be found in Hyde Park with the Winter Wonderland. It’s always busy and crowded as it’s London’s biggest Christmas market and very popular. Both visitors and locals come here to have a ride with the Ferris wheel or to skate on the biggest outdoor ice rink in the UK. There are also over 200 wooden cabins selling food, drinks, sweet treats and crafts. You can access the area for free but if you want to visit the circus, the ice rink or the „Magical Ice Kingdom“ you need to buy a ticket.
Winter Wonderland is open daily from 10 to 10. Take the Tube to any stations that is close to Hyde Park, e.g. Bond Street, Green Park, Knightsbridge, Marble Arch, Hyde Park Corner, Paddington and Victoria.
Greenwich Christmas Festival at Cutty Sark from 25.11. – 04.12.2018
Greenwich has a Christmas Festival this year which takes place around Cutty Sark.
Southbank Centre’s Winter Market from 09.11. – 27.12.2018
At Southbank Centre 50 stands offer everything which is needed for a proper Christmas market. Nice views onto London Eye included.
Winterville in Clamphan Common from 15.11. – 23.12.2018
A unique experience with Roller-Disco, live DJ’s, a cinema (The Backyard Cinema) and a fairground can be found at WInterville in Clapham Common in South London. Open from Wednesday to Sunday from 15 – 22. Entrace is £2, even £5 during certain times on the weekend.
Christmas in London’s shops and museums
Each shop, each fashion label and each museum offers a Christmas area from November onwards. Get inspiration for your presents, buy your Christmas cards or decoration. The big shops even have a separate Christmas department, the one at Harrods opens each summer.
After stuffing yourself with gingerbread and mulled wine you might need some physical exercise. How about ice skating? Ice rinks can be found all over London. Some offer a historical building in the back (e.g. Somerset House or the Tower of London) to add some atmosphere to your skating.
Natural History Museum from 25.10. – 09.01.19
Enjoy your time on the ice with an illuminated museum in the background at the Natural History Museum. The ice rink is open daily (apart from 25.12.) from 11 to 9. A ticket costs approx. £13 for an adult.
Somerset House from 14.11. – 13.1.2019
The courtyard at Somerset House offers ice skating and catering by „Fortnum & Mason“. Your ticket is valid for an hour and prices are £11. There are „late skates“ with a DJ.
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland from 22.11. – 06.01.2019
Winter Wonderland offers the biggest outdoor ice rink in the UK. It’s open from 10 to 10. Each session lasts 50 minutes and prices start from £ 15.50.
Hampton Court Palace from 23.11. until 06.01.2019
Enjoy your ice skating in front of Hampton Court Palace. Your ticket will get you 45 minutes on the ice and will costs you from £12. The ice rink is open daily from 11am. The Palace is always worth a visit so you could combine your ice skating with some history.
Tower of London from 23.11. until 06.01. 2019
This ice rink would be my choice, if I knew how to ice-skate…In front of the Tower of London. You can enjoy the ice daily from 11am – 9pm, your ticket will be valid for 45 minutes and prices start from £12. There is also a café to warm up after your session.
Canary Wharf Outdoor Ice Skating from 02.11. – 16.02.2019
There is an ice rink in Canary Wharf as well. And this one will be open way into the new year. They offer different prices depending on whether you book as an early bird or can visit during off-peak times.
Ice Skating at rooftop bar “Skylight London” from November – January 2019
Skylight Rooftop Bar switches from autumn-themed decorations to an ice rink and you can enjoy your rounds with a view over London. They say that they are the only rooftop ice rink in Europe. The exact opening times and prices are not known yet.
Only in London – Unique experiences in London during Christmas time
- Go to Trafalgar Square to admire the tallest Christmas tree in London. Since 1947 the citizens of Oslo present the tree to London as a gift to show gratitude for help during WWII. The tree will be erected at the end of November and will be decorated at the beginning of December. Many groups and choirs gather around the tree to sing Christmas carols. So why not join them?
- Many museums decorate their show rooms for Christmas. The show rooms look so different that it might be worth visiting them even again even if you have been to the museum before.
- The most beautiful Christmas event I experienced in 2017 was Christmas at Kew. The botanical garden offeres a Christmas trail with lights and music which was simply stunning! In between there are stalls offering hot drinks and snacks. My personal highlight was the laser show at the Palm House.
- London Zoo offers a “magical light trail” this year. On selected dates between 22.11. and 01.01.2019 you can follow the lights through the Zoo.
- Harry Potter fans listen up! Warner Bros. Studio Tour London invites for “Hogwarts in the Snow” from 17.11. – 27.01.2019. Discover the original Harry Potter sets in a Christmas setting
- The “Enchanted Woodland” offers a light trail from 09.-25.11.2018 in the garden of Syon House.
Anything interesting for you in this list? Which attraction would you prefer to visit?
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