We round up the top things to do at Christmas in London, from singing carols to ice skating
Best things to do at Christmas in London
1 Carols at St Paul’s Cathedral
It’s not Christmas until you’ve drunk quantities of mulled wine before belting out a carol or two. There is no shortage of services and concerts in at Christmas in London – many ticketed with proceeds going to charity – but nowhere beats St Paul’s Cathedral for sheer grandeur. Advent carol services by candlelight at Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece kick off on 2nd and 3rd December, with several more throughout December, as well as Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Oh come, all ye faithful. Tube: St Paul’s.
2 The Nutcracker, English National Ballet
Few stories are so rich with the magic of Christmas as The Nutcracker. From 14 Nov – 7 Jan the English National Ballet stages a special production at the London Coliseum this season, as 100 dancers take to a frost-dusted stage to tell the story of Clara, who battles the Mouse King and escapes with her Nutcracker in a hot-air balloon over Edwardian London to the Land of Snow. Picture perfect. Tube: Leicester Square.
3 Trafalgar Square Christmas tree
No Christmas in London is complete without a visit to the biggest tree in the capital. The towering 20-metre Trafalgar Square beauty has been gifted to the city every year since 1947; our Norwegian benefactors in Oslo each year donate a 50- to 60-year-old spruce, which also acts as a focal point for carol singers. Early December until 6 January. Tube: Leicester Square.
4 Museum of the Home Winter Festival, Hoxton
This quirky museum in east London specialises in the history of the British home. Visitors can wander through the decades and centuries – and never is it more fascinating than during winter and Christmastime, at which you can trace customs, from parlour games to decorating the tree. 14 November until February 2024. Overground: Hoxton.
5 Luna Cinema at Kensington Palace
Is there anything more Christmassy than settling down to a heartwarming Christmas film with a mince pie and a hot chocolate, or a glass of mulled wine? How about at a historic royal palace? This Christmas, the Luna Cinema are bringing their festive film showings to the childhood home of Queen Victoria, Kensington Palace, in Hyde Park. Guests will be seated in a cinema transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with falling snow and Christmas treats, as these watch favourites like Love Actually, Elf or The Holiday, all whilst in an iconic historic setting.
5 Ice skating at Somerset House
One of the most picturesque wintry additions to the urban landscape is the spate of outdoor ice rinks that pop up around the city as a chill hits the air. Our favourite of all is at the central courtyard at Somerset House, just off The Strand, the neoclassical home of the Courtauld Gallery. As its appearance in the opening credits of Love Actually attests, gliding (or flailing) across the ice here feels like stepping onto a film set. Tube: Temple.
6 The Peter Pan cup at The Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park
Christmas amblers should ensure that the pre-lunch walk takes in Hyde Park, where the annual Serpentine Swimming Club’s Christmas Day swim in the Serpentine Lake takes place. A tradition since 1864, the plucky bathers take to the waters at 9am, and the winner takes home the Peter Pan Cup, in years gone by presented by JM Barrie himself. Bracing. Tube: High Street Kensington.
7 Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park
From late November until early January, Hyde Park ceases to serve simply as one of London’s best parks; it becomes a magnet for the truly crackers for Christmas. Expect German-style festive markets, circus performances, a Magical Ice Kingdom (think ice sculptures, a frozen lake and an ice queen), and a big wheel. Until 2 January. Tube: Hyde Park Corner.
9. Christmas at Kew Gardens, Kew
This year’s Kew Christmas lights are bigger and better than ever before. This after dark trail takes you through the stunning gardens, walking on a well lit path that leads you through the Botanical Gardens.
There are eight new displays including a spectacular fire display lighting up the Temperate House, 3m high illuminated flowers and, perhaps most spectacular of all, the amazing Hive. A stunning structure that connects to a real bee colony living at Kew.
Elsewhere there is a Christmas Cathedral of lights, archways of multicoloured lights, light shows amongst the tree canopies, and the iconic Palm House as the backdrop to a light and music show on the lake.
The evenings is compete with food stalls selling street food and drinks, including hot spiced cider. There is even a stop with fire pits so you can toast your marshmallows and enjoy a hot chocolate.
Amid so much natural beauty it’s the perfect start to Christmas.
15 November 2023 to Sunday 7 January 2024
10 Charles Dickens Museum, Holborn
No one is more synonymous with Christmas than Charles Dickens. The tale of Ebenezer Scrooge has provided a timely morality lesson since it was published in 1843; and there are few more fascinating places to visit at Yuletide than the author’s Georgian town house. The museum holds special events at which it serves up mulled cider by candlelight. Tube: Russell Square.
11 Go skating on London’s most scenic rink
Until 7 January you can skate within the grounds of a World Heritage Site at Queen’s House Greenwich with views of Maritime Greenwich, Canary Wharf, and the house itself, of course.
Originally built for Anne of Denmark, King James I’s wife, the story goes that this Inigo Jones designed classical masterpiece was by way of an apology after the king swore in front of his wife after she accidentally shot one of his dogs.
Today, ice skaters can marvel at the architectural majesty all around them, warm up afterwards with a hot drink and snack at the rink-side café, and pop into the Queen’s House to see up close the beautiful tulip staircase and original marble flooring of this splendid house and to see the famous Armada portrait of another queen: Queen Elizabeth I.