All Articles Christmas in London: Christmas markets, festive lights & more

Christmas in London: Christmas markets, festive lights & more

Your guide to spending the holiday season in London.

Diego Ortiz
By Diego Ortiz14 Nov 2023 5 minutes read
A couple shopping at a Christmas Market in London
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Image: Ben Pipe Photography/Getty Images

If you’ve never been to London during Christmas, here’s your chance to discover what a magical time the holiday season is in the British capital. First of all, the Christmas lights and decorations are epic. From the twinkly lights on Oxford Street and the elaborate decorations in Carnaby to the winter wonderland at Covent Garden and the dressed-up storefronts, the city sparkles at every turn. And then you have the Christmas markets and seasonal events popping up all across town, adding to the holiday cheer.

London packs in the crowds this time of year when locals and visitors alike drop in to shop, see the lights, and catch a holiday-themed show. Experience all the city has to offer amid the crisp winter air.

The best Christmas markets in London

Christmas markets in London typically start in early November, with some lasting through New Year’s. Finding a Christmas market in London isn’t hard at all—the actual challenge is in deciding which you should visit when the city is teeming with so many tempting choices.

Carnival rides at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Image: Ethan Hu/Unsplash

Southbank Centre Winter Market

When: November 3, 2023–December 26, 2023

The Southbank Centre facing the Thames is home to a year-long food market that turns into a Christmas carnival of sorts every holiday season. There’s a lot more to the market than the pop-up stands, though. With the beautiful lights strung above and a free exhibit of 10 lightworks, you get the unmistakable feeling that it’s really that time of year again.

Borough Market at Christmas

When: November 28, 2023–January 9, 2024

London’s famous Borough Market gets a Christmas makeover every year, when it’s decked out in twinkly lights, tinsel, and wreaths. The stalls add seasonal goodies to their regular items, offering everything from mulled wine, mince pies, and Christmas cakes to all sorts of gifts. Be sure to stop by earlier in the day, as lines for food stalls can start to wind as the day goes on, according to reviewers.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

When: November 17, 2023–January 1, 2023

Hyde Park turns into a huge fun fair and festival site where the Christmas markets are among many of the attractions. You’ll probably need more than a day to cover it all. There are countless rides, an ice skating rink (said to be the biggest in the U.K.), theatre shows, an ice kingdom, and plenty of food and drinks. Just note that you'll have to book tickets to Winter Wonderland in advance.

The best Christmas lights and decorations in London

Wandering around London’s famous shopping districts like Carnaby Street, Oxford Street, or Regent Street during the holidays can put even the gloomiest of souls in a festive mood. If you can’t get enough of twinkly lights and elaborate decorations, here are more places you can check out:

Christmas tree at Covent Garden at night
Covent Garden
Image: Karl Hendon/Getty Images

Covent Garden

When: November 7, 2023–January 7, 2024

Visit Covent Garden for some (or a lot of) Christmas shopping, but honestly, the visuals are the real attractions here. Locals and tourists alike flock to the Covent Garden Christmas Village to see the 60-foot Christmas tree and over 30,000 colorful lights.

Christmas lights tours

Hop onto a London black cab to tour neighborhoods like Chelsea, Belgravia, and Oxford Street decked in Christmas lights. Or go on a three-hour Christmas lights bike tour with a local guide. There’s also the Christmas Party Silent Disco Walking tour where you can dance to a specially curated playlist as you hit the top spots. Fun and laughter guaranteed.

London’s best Christmas lunch and dinner

The traditional English Christmas feast is similar to a Thanksgiving dinner. You can expect roast turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, gravy, Brussels sprouts, and Yorkshire pudding... Then, cue in dessert and you’ll be introduced to at least two surprises: mince pies (dried fruit-filled tartlets, no meat involved) and Christmas pudding, a kind of boiled or steamed fruit cake, doused in brandy and flambéed tableside.

You can sample these Christmas treats at London’s top restaurants, which are bustling this time of year. The one thing to remember: except for Chinatown, very few London restaurants take walk-ins on Christmas Day—many aren’t even open. So, book well in advance if you’re planning to eat out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

We’ve rounded up some of London’s top-rated restaurants for that special Christmas meal.

Aviary Rooftop Restaurant & Terrace Bar

The Aviary’s three-course Christmas menu highlights seasonal and sustainable British produce prepared using classic recipes with a sophisticated twist (vegetarian and plant-based options are available). Its rooftop location, at The Montcalm Royal London House, means you get splendid views of the city as you tuck into your holiday meal in a luxury heated igloo.

Cinnamon Club

Smoked Herdwick lamb escalope and galouti kebab mille feuille at Cinnamon Club
Library Bar at Cinnamon Club
Smoked Herdwick lamb escalope and galouti kebab mille feuille at Cinnamon Club
Image: Management/Tripadvisor

This former library-turned-restaurant in Westminster welcomes diners with a contemporary Indian menu. At Cinnamon Club, you’ll find hints of Indian spices in Britain’s most-cherished holiday dishes—there’s a garam masala–spiced Christmas pudding on the menu.

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

If you’re looking for a truly grand affair on Christmas Day, book a table at this world-famous spot that boasts two Michelin stars. Enjoy a five-course festive menu by chef Heston Blumenthal which features gastronomic delights like plum meat fruit, sherried scallops, and a "Tipsy Cake".

Nicholson’s Pubs

Many branches of this all-British chain of pubs are open on December 25, and some even serve a five-course dinner. Treat yourself to roast turkey (vegetarian options also available) and top it off with a classic Christmas pudding at Nicholson's Pubs. Reservations and a deposit are required to secure your spot.

Things to do in London on Christmas Day

Busy street at Christmas with lights and decorations looking towards Piccadilly Circus
Christmas decorations in Piccadilly Circus
Image: Gary Yeowell/Getty Images

Getting around London on Christmas Day might be a little challenging as public transportation completely shuts down. You’ll have to rely on cabs, rental bikes, or cars.

Most Londoners tend to stay at home with their families on Christmas Day. December 26, on the other hand, is a whole other story. Many people hit the shops to take advantage of Boxing Day sales all across London.

Still, in case you won’t settle for just a good ole meal on Christmas Day, there are a couple of other things you can do around town.

London’s Royal Parks

Each of the eight parks belonging to Her Majesty is open on Christmas Day, which is perfect if you’re down for a stroll through the paths of Regent’s Park or Hyde Park. If you’re not staying near the city center, you can head to either Richmond Park in southwestern London or the historic Greenwich Park, in southeast London.

Christmas tours in London

Many of London’s attractions are closed on Christmas Day but that shouldn’t stop you from exploring the city. In fact, it’s the best time to see the quiet side of the city. Hop on a luxury coach to join the Sights and Sounds of London on Christmas Day guided tour and discover the city’s iconic landmarks such as Big Ben, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Tower of London.

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Diego Ortiz
Diego Ortiz majored in International Relations, but his love of travel and languages has led him to write mostly about that. Whenever he’s off work, you’ll find him cycling around town, catching up on political news (and gossip), or counting the days until the next Rio Carnival.