Already picturesque, London, is made even more so during the festive season when fanciful holiday decorations adorn the entire city. Winter activities take on an even more magical feel when they take place in such a historic and iconic destination.
London was a marvelous place for our family to celebrate the season and we made it our mission to see as many of the city’s decorative displays as we could.
There were so many highlights on this trip including ice skating at the Tower of London, visiting Father Christmas in his Hever Castle grotto, Hogwarts in the snow, and Windsor Castle’s evening production of A Christmas Carol.
Here are some ideas and tips for holiday fun in and around London Town.
With almost no street left undressed you won’t have to go far to find gorgeous holiday lights and Christmas displays in fact you’re guaranteed to come upon them no matter where you choose to explore.
Oxford Street will be lit from November 6, 2018. I rather liked this blurry photo of Oxford Street, which I snapped from a moving taxi cab.
Carnaby’s 2018 holiday display is already lit and has a Bohemian Rhapsody theme. Last year’s theme was a tropical Christmas.
Covent Garden will be turning their lights on November 13, 2018. Though this photo doesn’t do it justice trust me when I tell you Covent Garden’s decor is well worth a visit.
Regent Street’s lights will be lit on November 15, 2018. The median running down the center of Regent Street makes for a handy spot to snap a photo or two!
The Seven Dials
The Seven Dials will be lit on November 15, 2018.
The Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange was opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1571, and is the heart of The City of London. I was interested to learn it’s one of the locations where a herald proclaims a new monarch’s reign.
The Royal Exchange will be lit on November 21, 2018.
Trafalgar Square is home to The National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, and other iconic London landmarks. Since 1947 the people of Norway have donated a giant Christmas tree to the people of Britain in recognition of their support during WWII.
Trafalgar Square’s tree will be lit in early December.
The National Gallery
I finally checked The National Gallery off my list. After taking my time to wander the halls of this lovely museum I spent quite a bit of time admiring the beautiful Christmas tree in the main hall.
Entrance to the National Gallery is free of charge.
The Leadenhall Market
The Leadenhall Market, located in the heart of the City of London, is a popular destination and has been since it was established in 1321. You might recognize it as the entrance to Diagon Alley in the movie Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.
Try going after-hours or on a holiday to avoid the crowds.
Ice Skating at The Tower of London
For me no visit to London would be complete without a trip to the Tower of London. We didn’t make it inside the Tower this time, but we did go ice skating in the moat, which we all agreed was a magical experience.
The Tower Of London ice skating is open from November 23 through January 6. This is a very popular activity, and I highly suggest booking as early as possible. The Tower offers many special events throughout the year, so check the website to see what’s on.
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Christmas Street Art
A guided walking tour was a great way to see and learn about the street art scene in London, and I was delighted to see that even the street art embraced the spirit of the holiday season.
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A festive holiday market, delicious treats, lovely views of the London Eye and St. Paul’s, art installations, and even a skate park are all waiting for you along the South Bank.
The Southbank Winter Festival is open November 9 through December 27, 2018.
Christmas Afternoon Tea
If, like us, you’re coming from a place where afternoon tea isn’t the norm, then you’ll want to partake in this lovely tradition at least once. We enjoyed a festive afternoon tea on Christmas Day at the Corinthia, one of our favorite hotels, where we indulged in tea, delicious sandwiches, and desserts almost too pretty to eat.
Peggy Porschen Cake Shop
Touted by multiple sources as having the “best cupcakes in the world” a visit to Peggy Porschen Cakes was high on my list. We sampled holiday themed cupcakes and cocoa, and both were delicious.
Holiday shopping opportunities in London are plentiful and way too numerous to list in this post, but I managed to find treasures along Regent Street, at the iconic Liberty of London, and Selfridges. The later of which also has an amazing Food Hall where you can pick up delicious treats and artisan foods to take home, or if you prefer there are various dine in options as well.
Victoria & Albert Museum
There are many things to see and do at the world’s leading museum of art and design making the Victoria and Albert a place worth coming back to time and again. We were delighted to discover this amazing singing Christmas tree by artist Ed Devlin during our most recent visit.
Visitors to the museum were invited to write words on a slip of paper, which was then entered into the tree’s software so they could be sung aloud by the tree.
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Festive Day Trips
With two full weeks to explore we took advantage of the gift of time with multiple day trips outside the city.
WB Studios The Making of Harry Potter – Hogwarts in the Snow
Our entire family loves the Harry Potter movies and we loved our visit to the Warner Brothers Studios The Making of Harry Potter. During the festive season the Studio is transformed into a magical winter wonderland.
Hogwarts in the Snow runs from Saturday, November 17 – Sunday, January 27. Tickets must be purchased in advance online.
WB Studios London: The Making of Harry Potter
Hever Castle (childhood home of Anne Boleyn), in nearby Edenbridge, was a magical place to visit during the winter season. The Castle is decorated both inside and out with a different theme each year.
Last year’s theme was Christmas carols and activities included a magical 12 Days of Christmas Trail and a vintage fairground, which was complete with carousel, fun house, and Coconut Shy. Our visit to Father Christmas in his Christmas grotto on the castle grounds was really quite enchanting, and very different from what we’ve experienced here in the United States.
Christmas at Hever Castle runs November 24 – December 9 (Wed-Sun) and December 10 – 24 daily.
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Windsor makes for a perfect day trip from London, especially during the holidays when the entire town and castle are decorated for the season. We attended a special evening presentation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol performed in the Waterloo Room of Windsor Castle, during our visit and it was a night we’ll never forget.
The play was performed by just 8 actors who along with limited props, mood lighting and music managed to transport us all to 1840s London. The play concluded around the base of the most magnificent Christmas tree I’ve ever seen.
Christmas festivities at the castle will take place from Saturday, December, 1 2018 – Sunday, January 6, 2019. This year’s special performance will be The Princess and the Pantomime. Check the website for performance dates and to purchase tickets.
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New Years Eve Fireworks
Our last hurrah on this trip, and one I highly recommend, was the spectacular London New Year’s Eve Fireworks show. The fireworks are set off from the London eye, so our assigned viewing area, the Waterloo Bridge, wasn’t too shabby.
Advance purchase tickets, at £10 per person, are required. The event sells out, so plan ahead. Dress extra warm and bring cash for the food vendors on the bridge.
Even More Holiday Decor…
As you can see we found a multitude of ways to celebrate the season during our two weeks in London. Do you travel for Christmas, or do you prefer to stay home for the holidays?
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I miss London Christmas! There’s something about the Mount Street lights turning on that kicks the season off!
Yes! It was such a magical time of year to be there. I’ll miss all those gorgeous lights this year.
wonderful tips and beautiful photos. Thank you!
Thank you so much!
I used to live and work in London and I especially loved it at Christmas, but I haven’t been back there during the festive season for years now. These pictures are amazing, I would so love to head there this year and see the Christmas lights. Regent Street in particular looks absolutely stunning! #farawayflies
I feel that London is a magical city any time of the year, but there was something so special about the holiday season!
Wow, that’s a lot of lovely photos, you covered so many places! I’m starting to feel quite festive now despite having tried to resist it on a trip to London yesterday. #farawayfiles
I think I might be the minority, never mind when the decorations are hung early!
This really is a wonderful post celebrating London at Christmas! You’ve highlighted all the must sees. We love going into London to see all the Christmas lights and the fantastic window displays. We especially love the ones at Fortnum & Mason’s. I think a Christmas afternoon tea is a lovely idea too and we’re already excited about our trip to Christmas at Hever Castle. #FarawayFiles
Thank you! I regret having missed the window displays at Fortnum & Mason’s but thankfully thanks to a certain someone we now know about them for next time and we did get to enjoy some of the delicious biscuits and tea anyway.
I loved reading this post Hilary. I’m so glad you enjoyed London as Christmas. i may be biased but I think it is especially magical at Christmas time. You really did a great tour. Covent Garden always looks stunning. #FarawayFiles
London truly is so magical! We have a lot of lights here too, but it’s just not the same when it’s hot outside.
Corey | Fifi + Hop
All your photos are so amazing, Hilary, and capture the magic of London during the holidays so well! So many wonderful things to do..I’d love to try the best cupcakes in the world and see how they compare top NYC’s Magnolia! #farawayfiles
Thank you! I’ve tried both and although they are both delicious Peggy’s wins in my book!
The decorations all over London during holiday season are a feast for the eyes. I love the “floating” globes and bulbs.
Me too! I have a thing for twinkling lights. Doesn’t everyone? Being there at Christmas was so magical!
Christmas lights and London, are so magical. It is like a page out of a Christmassy Fairy tale and walking down the streets makes you feel you feel part of the magical tale. Beautiful post and photos and thank you for sharing this post and spreading the cheer #farawayfiles
You’ve said it perfectly! London at Christmas is a fairytale wonderland!
London is a fantastic place to visit any time of year, but an evening strolling through London’s illuminated streets, mixing with the Christmas revellers is magical. I love all the different themes, like you said Covent Garden is a must and around Seven Dials.
Looks like all the family loved it, we are all big kids at heart. #farawayfiles
It sure it! A yearly visit is a must in my book. This was my second Christmas visit and I’m betting there will be a third!
Oooh I’m getting all excited now, I love the London lights. I was in Oxford Street and Regent Street today and all the lights are in place. Now I just have to return after dark! #FarawayFiles
I’m jealous! I’ve been seeing photos and the lights look amazing this year! People here get very upset when the decorations are put up prior to Thanksgiving, but I love it and wish they would hurry up!
So many great things to do in and around London! You certainly made the most of your two weeks here over the festive season. London is a great place to be at Christmas! Just love all the lights and activities. #farawayfiles
We sure did! I didn’t want to waste a moment! One of the more beautiful cities I’ve ever visited at Christmas tho Rome was pretty spectacular!
These photos are incredible, I’d love to visit London around Christmas time! 😍
Thank you! It was a dream come true and definitely lived up to expectations!!
I’ll have to try visit if I can!