Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (2023)

From Christmas markets and ice skating to festive afternoon tea, London is the perfect place to spend your holiday vacation. Below, a few festive ideas to add to your itinerary.

Admire the Christmas Trees and Lights

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (1)

Trafalgar Square gets a festive makeover at Christmas time.

To say London embraces holiday decor is quite the understatement. In particular, the English capital knows how to decorate a Christmas tree. Head to Trafalgar Square to see a massive spruce all decked out in lights, an annual gift from Norway given every year since 1947.

Strings of twinkling Christmas lights can be found throughout the city during the holiday season, but they shine particularly bright at Kew. The Royal Botanic Gardens boast over a million bulbs, illuminating gardens, trees, and building on a one-mile trail. While there, younger visitors can meet with Santa and his elves and toast marshmallows, while adults enjoy mulled wine and shop for stocking stuffers.

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (2)

Other notable spots to see lights include Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Regent Street, and the South Bank.

Stay Somewhere Festive

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (3)

Christmas morning champagne overlooking London? Don’t mind if we do at Corinthia London’s Whitehall Penthouse.

(Video) CHRISTMAS IN LONDON | Things To Do In 3-4 Days (A Suggested Itinerary From Our Trip)

Just around the corner from Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, Corinthia London is the coziest Christmas spot for those who like to be in the center of everything on the outside of the hotel, but away from it all as soon as they step inside. The hotel’s restaurant and library area is decked out as a lush alpine winter garden and hosting festive high tea and celebratory Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners. Recover from all the revelry the next day at the ESPA Life spa, which offers Dr. Barbara Sturm facials, relaxation pools, and massages. For a truly memorable holiday, book one of the seven penthouses for a magical escape replete with a fireplace, Christmas tree, access to a private wine collection, and personal butler.

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (4)

onefinestay will decorate your vacation apartment into the winter wonderland of your dreams to max out your holiday spirit.

For those traveling with a large family or who are planning to stay for several weeks (take advantage of remote work!) onefinestay, which offers luxury rental apartments and homes, is getting extra cheery by setting up fully decorated Christmas trees, garlands, and tablescapes by London florists Hayford & Rhodes upon request as well as delivering another fun British tradition: Christmas hampers.

Go Ice Skating

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (5)

(Video) How to Have a British Christmas - Anglophenia Ep 20

There’s no more British a way to embrace the cold weather than by lacing up your skates, and hitting Somerset House’s open-air rink (above). Zoom around the courtyard (or scoot along the edge, holding onto the rail—hey! We don’t judge) all while enjoying the beautiful Christmas tree. Then, warm up with a cocktail and a view of the ice in the Skate Lounge or pop in the Fortnum's Christmas Arcade to sneak in a little holiday shopping. Consider yourself a night owl? New last year was a program called "Skate Lates," which brought special music guests to the rink in the evenings.

Skating is also available at Hampton Court Palace and at the Natural History Museum.

Or Try Curling at King's Cross

Kings Cross is a delightful newly renovated section of London that is home to loads of shops, restaurants, and activations for Christmas. This winter book a 45-minute curling session (which comes with its own Club Curling Bar for fuel), then stroll over to Coal Drops Yard for dinner at British designer Tom Dixon’s Coal Office, which offers up Mediterranean shared plates in a buzzy, yet relaxed setting created by Chef Assaf Granit—make sure to book in advance, it is a local favorite.

Shop for Gifts

Whether you prefer strolling through pop-up holiday bazaars or spending a full day at Harrod’s (complete with a trip to see Father Christmas), this shopping capital has something for everyone on your list. We recommend making a trip to Liberty London for beautiful accessories in the line’s signature prints, the latest beauty must-haves, and a gorgeous selection of stationery. Arket next door is a go-to for on-trend staples; their denim is perfect for gifting yourself. Then slide over to Savile Road and get the men in your life monogrammed handkerchiefs. If you’re searching for the perfect fashion-forward present, head to Dover Street Market, for wares from innovative brands like Comme des Garçons, Raf Simons, Erdem, and Thom Browne among many, many others.

Need more shopping ideas? Here's our complete guide to the best Christmas markets in London.

Partake in Afternoon Tea

A full tea service is ideal any afternoon in London (We recommend making a reservation the first day you land, to help beat jetlag), but it’s a particularly nice way to warm up when it’s chilly outside. Kick off the holiday season at Sketch, whose pink interiors are Instagram-worthy any time of year, but at Christmas has been transformed into the Glade, a lovely wintry forest. For a classic experience, indulge at Fortnum & Mason. If hot chocolate is more your speed, stop by Knoops, a small chain of hot chocolate cafes where you order your drink with your desired percentage of cocoa, from 28 to 100 percent.

Visit Hogwarts in the Snow.

For fans of the Harry Potter series, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour really comes to life in the wintertime. In the weeks before the holidays, the attraction is transformed to include Christmas trees lining the Great Hall, and a festive-looking Gryffindor common room.

Attend Christmas Services

If going to church is part of your annual holiday tradition, St. Paul’s Cathedral is just one of many offering services.

Eat British Staples… and Then Try Omakase

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (7)

Sushi and other Japanese favorites at the Beaverbrook Townhouse Fuji Grill are the perfect break from British fare.

(Video) Rick Steves' European Christmas

Cold weather is the best time of year to enjoy a Sunday roast and sticky toffee pudding, not to mention a pint or two. Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia deliveries all of that and then some, you’ll never dismiss traditional British meals again. Then, move onto London’s other classic cuisine: Indian. Dishoom is an all-around favorite, with Bombay comfort food and live jazz music; they don’t take reservations so stop by in the late afternoon to put your name down (be prepared for a two-hour wait) while you have a cocktail or go shopping nearby. As a grand finale, treat yourself to omakase at the Beaverbrook Townhouse Fuji Grill. Omakase chef Goemon Ishikawa has curated a two-hour experience with a seasonal menu that is perfectly on point. And, unlike other Japanese dining experiences, it is topped off with dessert from Beaverbrook’s pastry chef. It is a memorable respite from fish and chips.

Check out the Peter Pan Cup

One of London’s most unique holiday rituals is the annual Peter Pan Cup, where members of the Serpentine Swimming Club jump into lake in Hyde Park for an icy Christmas Day race. Unfortunately (...or fortunately depending on your perspective), visitors can’t partake in the festivities, but it’s almost more fun to bundle up and watch the event.

Take a Weekend Trip

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The newly renovated North Lodge at Coworth Park for those staying with friends and family.

If your itinerary allows, Coworth Park is an excursion well-worth undertaking. Located about an hour’s drive outside London (just under two hours by train), the former 18th century manor home in Ascot is now a Dorchester hotel, nestled amidst world-class polo fields (Prince William and Harry are regulars). Book the newly renovated North Lodge on the property—the former gatekeeper’s cottage turned three-bedroom residence is ideal for large families or friends and absolutely perfect for those traveling with children (make sure to book them an equestrian lesson, Coworth has great ponies for littles, and horses for yourself). Don’t skip the toffee pudding on Sundays at the Michelin-starred restaurant or chips (fries) and a martini at their more casual restaurant, the Barn.

At this point you are probably bursting, but it is worth mentioning that all of Coworth Park's chocolate is handmade on the premises. Work it off with a swim at the spa, surrounded by amethyst crystals, a long stroll around the property (see if you can spy the home where John Lennon wrote and filmed the music video for Imagine), or that aforementioned horse ride. If you have trouble summoning up the motivation to return to London, we don’t blame you.

Meet Santa

Rumor has it, he'll be making appearances at both Royal Albert Hall and the Museum of London.

Celebrate the Holidays in True British Fashion with Our Guide to London at Christmas (10)

Olivia Hosken

Style and Interiors Writer

Olivia Hosken is the Style & Interiors writer for Town & Country, covering all things design, architecture, fashion, and jewelry.

As the digital director for Town & Country, Caroline Hallemann covers culture, entertainment, and a range of other subjects

(Video) EVERY Christmas Episode From Friends


How do British people celebrate Christmas? ›

In the UK (or Great Britain), families often celebrate Christmas together, so they can watch each other open their presents! Most families have a Christmas Tree (or maybe even two!) in their house for Christmas. The decorating of the tree is usually a family occasion, with everyone helping.

How do people celebrate Christmas in London? ›

Things to Do in London for Christmas
  1. Christmas Lights & Decorations.
  2. Christmas Themed Tours.
  3. Christmas and Holiday Shows.
  4. Christmas Markets.
  5. Ice Skating.
  6. Christmas at Kew Gardens.
  7. London Eye Festive Flight.
  8. Charles Dickens Museum.

What date do the Christmas lights go on in London 2022? ›

The Regent Street Christmas light switch on will take place on 9 November, 2022. This year, the lights will be on between 3pm and 11pm only for a more environmentally friendly display.

How do British decorate for Christmas? ›

They decorate their homes with holly, ivy, and other evergreens and hang a mistletoe "kissing bough." Throughout the holidays, carolers go from house to house at twilight ringing handbells and singing Christmas songs. "The Holly and the Ivy" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" are English favorites.

Why do British people celebrate Christmas? ›

Christmas Day is celebrated in the United Kingdom on December 25. It traditionally celebrates Jesus Christ's birth but many aspects of this holiday have pagan origins. Christmas is a time for many people to give and receive gifts and prepare special festive meals.

Why do the British say Happy Christmas? ›

This is believed to be because "happy" took on a higher class connotation than "merry," which was associated with the rowdiness of the lower classes. The royal family adopted "Happy Christmas" as their preferred greeting, and others took note.

Is London Good for Christmas? ›

Christmas Lights and Decorations

The beautiful Christmas decorations at Covent Garden, there is usually a Christmas food fair here too. London is all lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree early, you'll see lights on almost every street in the city. The lights are normally switched on in the first week of November.

How can I spend Christmas Eve in London? ›

Slide into Christmas by spinning around on one of London's best ice rinks, all of which are open on Christmas Eve. Winter Wonderland's is the biggest; Canary Wharf's is open for the longest period (18 sweet weeks!); Somerset House's is the most fabulous; and Glide at Battersea Power Station is the newbie.

Is London a good place for Christmas? ›

From Christmas markets and ice skating to festive afternoon tea, London is the perfect place to spend your holiday vacation.

How long is Christmas in London? ›

The essential Christmas holiday in England can be up to four days off in a row. Not only is Christmas Day, December 25th, a public holiday, but so is the day after Christmas, December 26th, known as Boxing Day.

Where is the best place to see the Christmas lights in London? ›

Regent Street Christmas Lights

The massive (in every sense of the word) shopping street gets its annual festive glow-up with garlands of lights down the length of the road.

What is British style decor? ›

British style is loved because its austere elegance, classic luxury, high quality materials, the presence of many decorative elements and the absence of too catcy accents. In its best form, it is an example of elegance and good taste.

How long is London decorated for Christmas? ›

For ease, here is a brief overview of when London's Christmas lights light up for the 2022 season. Most lights will stay lit until New Years Day, although some will remain shining until the 6th of January.

What do British people call Christmas? ›

The word Christmas is no exception; some Brits will informally call it Chrimbo. In Britain (and several Commonwealth countries), Boxing Day is the day following Christmas which serves nowadays as a bank/public holiday.

How do people celebrate Christmas? ›

Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. December 25—Christmas Day—has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.

When did British people start celebrating Christmas? ›

These celebrations commemorated Christ's birth and the name Christmas (Christ's Mass) is first recorded in England in 1038. Medieval celebrations also combined the servants-as-masters antics and gift-giving of Roman Saturnalia with customs belonging to the midwinter feast of Yule.

What Christmas means? ›

Christmas, Christian festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. The English term Christmas (“mass on Christ's day”) is of fairly recent origin. The earlier term Yule may have derived from the Germanic jōl or the Anglo-Saxon geōl, which referred to the feast of the winter solstice.

Why it is called Merry Christmas? ›

The greeting dates back to at least 1534 in London, when it was written in a letter sent to Henry VIII's chief minister Thomas Cromwell from bishop John Fisher. Scholars also note the phrase was used in the 16th century English carol "We Wish You a Merry Christmas."

What is the real meaning of Merry Christmas? ›

It generally is used to express good cheer and being in a state of content. When people use “Merry Christmas” they are expressing their desire for the other person to be joyful and have a wonderful holiday season.

How can I feel Christmassy in London? ›

Well, look no further!
  1. Go ice skating at the Natural History Museum. ...
  2. Get festive at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. ...
  3. Go for coffee at Elan Café ...
  4. Wander around Kew Gardens. ...
  5. Eat at 34 Mayfair. ...
  6. Explore the Winter Market at the Southbank Centre. ...
  7. Watch a Christmas film at the Luna Drive-in Winter Cinema.

Where do people celebrate Christmas in London? ›

London Christmas lights are often turned on by a local celebrity, the Christmas lights on Oxford Street, Bond Street, Carnaby Street or Covent Garden are by far the best in London (in our opinion). Oxford Street lights were first lit in 1959 following the footsteps of nearby Regent Street.

Where can I spend Christmas Day in London? ›

Many churches and cathedrals around London host Christmas Day services, even the big ones like St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. There's also a Christmas Day service at St Martins in the Field in Trafalgar Square.

How can I spend Christmas alone in London? ›

Here are the best ways to spend Christmas alone – or in the company of others – in London.
  1. Cheer people on at a Christmas swim. Don't fancy taking a dip yourself? ...
  2. Join a walking tour group. ...
  3. Volunteer. ...
  4. Take a Christmas lights tour. ...
  5. Go for an alfresco swim. ...
  6. Enjoy a feast in Chinatown. ...
  7. Tuck into a pub lunch. ...
  8. Get your skates on.
20 Dec 2019

Is London busy on Christmas Day? ›

December 25 is really the only day of the year when London well and truly grinds to a halt (in the best possible way). But if you baulk at the idea of imposed downtime, or you don't celebrate the big day, you can get out into the city and do stuff.

Does it snow in London at Christmas? ›

We can accurately forecast if snow is likely on any given Christmas Day up to five days beforehand. Since 1960, around half of the years have seen at least 5% of the network record snow falling on Christmas Day. This means we can probably expect more than half of all Christmas Days to be a 'white Christmas'.

Where is the biggest Christmas market in London? ›

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is the biggest and most famous of all the Christmas markets in London. Originally opening in 2006, Winter Wonderland has grown to feature the UK's largest outdoor ice-skating rink, a giant Ferris Wheel, a magical ice kingdom, several foods, and merchandise stalls, and more.

Where is the main Christmas tree in London? ›

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is a Christmas tree gifted to the people of Britain by Norway each year since 1947. The tree is prominently displayed in Trafalgar Square from the beginning of December until 6 January.

What time do the Christmas lights go on in London? ›

Leadenhall Market Christmas lights - 17 November

As is tradition, the Lord Mayor does the honours, lighting up the large central Christmas tree, colour changing LED lights, and fir tree garlands throughout the Market. The switch-on, at 6pm, is accompanied by firework fountains.

How do you dress British style? ›

The trick (at least for classic British fashion) is to stick with neutral, dark colors and only wear one patterned piece at a time. Layering different textures is also good – combine cotton with suede, leather, soft plaid, and of course knit fabrics for an aspect of British style.

What is the traditional dress of British? ›

Perhaps the most famous national dress in Britain is the Scottish kilt with its distinctive tartan pattern. The kilt is a length of woolen cloth, pleated except for sections at each end. The kilt is worn around the waist, with the pleats at the back and the ends crossed over at the front and secured with a pin.

Which place is famous for Christmas? ›

Bethlehem, West Bank

With the hectic schedule of your life, you have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas. To go for Christmas family vacation, visit Bethlehem as the celebration of this festival can't be more striking than the birthplace of Jesus. It is one of the best places to spend Christmas holidays.

Which city is best during Christmas? ›

Reykjavík, Iceland - snowy christmas and Northern Lights

The weather's snowy and there's a good chance of Northern Lights. Reykjavík is breathtakingly beautiful at any time of year, but on Christmas Eve the city is transformed with dozens of Christmas trees and decorations.

Where is the best place in the world to spend Christmas? ›

Rovaniemi - Lapland, Finland

Rovaniemi in Lapland, Finland, may be the best place on earth to celebrate Christmas. Located just north of the Arctic Circle, Finns argue that it makes a much likelier home for Santa than even the North Pole.

What do England do on Christmas Day? ›

Many Christians will go to church to sing carols and to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day. More people attend the church on this day than any other day of the year. People put on their best clothes to go to church. The whole family sit down for Christmas dinner at mid-day.

What do the British eat on Christmas? ›

Beyond turkey, traditional British Christmas food usually consists of stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, roast potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots, and parsnips. What is this? Redcurrant jelly, Yorkshire pudding, pigs in blankets, and other sides and condiments figure in as well.

Why do Brits celebrate Christmas on 25th December? ›

The precise date of Christ's birth was decided as 25th December by Pope Julius I in the fourth century, long before the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England. The original Germanic invaders – Angles, Saxons, and Jutes – were not Christian, but were still engaged in celebrations on the 25th December.

What do Brits do on Christmas Eve? ›

People may attend a church service, often called midnight mass, on Christmas Eve, even if they do not regularly attend church services. Traditionally, midnight masses started at midnight, as Christmas Eve becomes Christmas Day, but now often begin earlier in the evening.

Is London nice during Christmas? ›

Christmas is a magical time of year to be visiting London. There are spectacular decorations everywhere and people are generally in a festive mood. Here are some of our favourite seasonal experiences which are all great reasons to visit London during the Christmas holidays.

Is Christmas a big deal in London? ›

Christmas in London is always one of the most exceptional ways to experience the city, with a huge variety of festive treats on offer to enjoy.

Is London fun during Christmas? ›

From Christmas markets and ice skating to festive afternoon tea, London is the perfect place to spend your holiday vacation.

What is a traditional Christmas dinner in London? ›

1. Turkey. This one is probably one of the most popular dishes at Christmas because it is usually the main course! Other popular dishes include ham or roast beef, but in the UK, turkey is definitely the main course of choice.

What foods are eaten on Christmas? ›

Traditional Christmas dinner features turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. Other types of poultry, roast beef, or ham, are also used. Pumpkin or apple pie, raisin pudding, Christmas pudding, or fruitcake are staples for dessert.

What are the benefits of celebrating Christmas? ›

Celebrations can increase our appreciation for the positive elements in our lives, and will draw upon stores of positive emotion that we've built through memory. So go ahead and put up that Christmas tree. Even if there won't be as many people gathering around it this year, it should still make you feel better.

What is the importance of the Christmas? ›

Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The name Christmas comes from the mass of Christ. A mass service is where Christians remember that Jesus died for us and then comes back to life.

How do you celebrate Christmas essay? ›

It is a yearly celebration marking Jesus Christ's birth; it is observed on the 25th of December as a cultural and religious celebration among a lot of people all over the world. Christmas is celebrated in all Christian countries but there are differences in the way each nation celebrates this date.

What is Santa called in England? ›

Father Christmas is the traditional English name for the personification of Christmas. Although now known as a Christmas gift-bringer, and typically considered to be synonymous with Santa Claus, he was originally part of a much older and unrelated English folkloric tradition.

Why do British say Father Christmas? ›

The English Origins of Father Christmas. From his earliest days until the 19th century, Father Christmas was a strictly allegorical figure. He was a symbol of the Christmas season, rather than a mythical being. He was often depicted as a merry old man who presided over festive parties, not a gentle giver of gifts.


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