A Pre-Christmas Trip to London

For me 1st November marks the turning point between ‘It’s far too early to think about Christmas’ to ‘Oh gosh, how can it be November already? Time’s ticking’… let’s officially kick off the season and start the Christmas cheer… NOW. Time to get all presents sorted and cookies baked. So let me tell you about London at Christmas time. In case you are planning a pre Christmas trip to London this year (although, if you do, please check the current travel restrictions).

Needless to say (but I will say it anyway) London is a travel destination all year round, but visiting London in the run up to Christmas feels extra special and an experience plenty of people seek every year.

To help you make the most of your pre Christmas trip to London, I’ve put together a little collection of things to do and see to get your Christmas spirits up.

See the Christmas lights

Go and see the Christmas lights in Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street, Piccadilly and Covent Garden.

Whilst the lights are going up as we speak (or are already up, Oxford Street this year managed to put them up early in October), the official switch on usually is around beginning / middle of November and most of them will stay until beginning of January.

Especially Carnaby Street is known for their unusual and different display each year.

For 2021, Carnaby Street have announced their Christmas light switch on for the 4th November. Followed by Covent Garden on the 9th November and then the big finale at Regent Street on the 12th November. Usually Oxford Street is one of the first to switch on their Christmas lights, however, I have not managed to find out their 2021 switch on date just yet. Although I would expect it to be somewhere early November.

To ensure you don’t miss any of the Christmas light displays London has to offer, I’ve put together a little Christmas light walking tour. Why not check it out, if you are having a Christmas trip to London?

Visit the London Christmas markets

Whilst Christmas markets are not traditionally English, us Brits love all things Christmas and shamelessly adopted the Christmas market tradition from Germany. So all over England you will find German Christmas markets, including two in London. In Hyde Park is the large Winter Wonderland, part fun fair, part traditional Christmas market.

Along Southbank is the Southbank Centre Winter market (formerly known as the Cologne Christmas market), which feels a little more like a traditional German Christmas market.

And around City Hall you’ll find ‘Christmas by the River’. Currently my favourite London Christmas market.

They all will offer Christmas market staples such as Mulled Wine and bratwurst. But be prepared to pay top dollar, the London Christmas markets don’t come cheap.

After all of these were cancelled in 2020, it looks like they are going ahead in 2021. Southbank Winter Market will open on the 4th November and run until Christmas. And Winter Wonderland follows on the 19th November, but therefore runs until the 3rd January 2022.

I have not seen any confirmation for ‘Christmas by the River’ yet, but I would expect that to also go ahead in 2021.

Visit the Christmas departments and see the Christmas windows

When planning your pre Christmas trip to London, this one needs to go on your bucket list. Go and see the stunning Christmas windows on display at Harrods, Selfridges, Liberty and Fortnum & Mason. Every year they compete against each other for the most stunning and memorable decorations.

In addition, they all offer their own Christmas department, where you can pick up Christmas presents and plenty of decorations for your own house and Christmas tree.

Pick up one of the Harrods Christmas baubles as a keepsake (a Christmas tradition for my god daughter and me for years now).

See the Christmas Tree on Trafalgar’s Square

Every year, Norway gifts a huge Christmas tree to London. As a thank you for the support received during the Second World War.

There is a big tree lighting ceremony on the first Thursday in December (so this year this should be the 2nd December 2021. But I have not seen confirmation of this date yet.

What to do when visiting London before Christmas - Travel for a Living

Go ice skating

Not just for Christmas, but certainly very wintery and always one to get you into the Christmas spirit. Visit one of the ice rinks popping up all over London. For the prettiest setting head to the ice rink in Somerset House or in front of the Natural History Museum. Sadly, 2021 will be the final season for the ice rink at the Natural History Museum, so make sure you don’t miss out.

See the Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House

Every year the Royal Opera House shows the Nutcracker, so if you are lucky enough to get tickets, go and make a night of it. Tickets start at as little as £7 (restricted view, first class seats obviously sell for a lot more), so no excuse not to go…. But be quick, the tickets do sell fast (and tickets are usually available from July onwards).

Pre Christmas Trip to London - Christmas Markets, Nutcracker, Ice Skating - Travel for a Living

Walk the festive trail of light in Kew Gardens

From mid November until early January Kew Gardens sets out a light trail, leading a 1.5 to 2 hour walk through the gardens in the dark. Experience the scenery in a rather unusual setting. But ensure you bring sensible shoes, as the walk can be a little slippery.

What brings you into the Christmas Spirit? What would you include on a pre Christmas trip to London?

Visit London in the run up to Christmas - What to do, what to see - Travel for a Living Pre Christmas Trip to London

Leave a Reply


  1. Laura

    As someone from the U.K, I love reading what people suggest to do in London. There’s always something in there I haven’t thought to do. I didn’t know they had a Christmas trail at Kew! Adding to on things to do when we head back home at Christmas time. Thanks.

  2. outsidethissmalltown

    I love the fact that you’re geared up for Christmas already! I’m the same way. And I would loveeee to see the nutcracker in that beautiful opera house. One day maybe!

  3. [email protected]

    I am originally from London but now live in China. We head back home for Christmas every year and there really is something beautiful and magical about the city at Christmas! In recent years, Leicester Square have a christmas market and it is really nice because it’s not too big! Winter Wonderland can be a bit overwhelming! Anyway, thank you for getitng me exctied for Christmas!

  4. thatanxioustraveller

    I love Christmas in London; it’s just one of those cities that lends itself well to it! Though Winter Wonderland gets so busy!! It’s definitely a good idea to get there early.

  5. Chelsea

    This year will be my first Christmas in London, and I can’t wait to do all of these holiday activities! I’ve already told my husband to keep his December weekends free so we can spend them under the lights and at the London Christmas markets 🙂

    • Travel for a living

      Good plan. Go and make the most of it. London is quite special in the run up to Christmas. Unfortunately it also gets a little crowded, particularly on the weekends.

  6. Anisa

    I do love the lights in London, looking forward to seeing what is on Carnaby street this year and hopefully I can make it to winter wonderland!

    • Travel for a living

      Carnaby Street lighting is always very stunning and unusual. I have yet to go and see the illuminated ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ lyrics that form part of this year’s Christmas lights.

  7. kemkem

    London is probably my favourite place and l never get tired of visiting. Oxford street at Christmas time rocks, and l love seeing the Harrods displays. Wish l could hop on the plane right now :-).

  8. Pauline

    I love London during Christmas time. I was actually surprised by how early they’ve put the lights up this year in some streets! I’ve never done the trail of lights in Kew Gardens, it must be amazing.

    • Travel for a living

      Yes, the Trail of Lights is just great. A very different way to experience Kew Gardens.
      Somehow it seems to get earlier and earlier each year with the Christmas lights (or at least it feels that way).

  9. whitneymoonwandering

    Great post! I’ll be in London mid-December and I can’t wait to check out the Christmas markets.

    • Travel for a living

      Enjoy. My favourite is the one down by the river. But apparently this year there is also one on Trafalgar’s Square. But haven’t actually checked that one out myself yet.

  10. Nicole Claesen

    So fun!! I love London and I would like to experience it during the Holidays. Thank you so much for the suggestions and tips! Now I know exactly what to do when we get there during this time of year!!

  11. Emma

    Christmas in London is the best. The lights, the shopping, the fun things to do. I can’t wait to go back as I always discover something new to do in the city. You gave me a couple of ideas

    • Travel for a living

      Glad I could give you some ideas. Yes, there is always something new, even for a local. And this year there’s a whole new set of Christmas lights on Oxford Street (after the snowballs had been there for a couple of years). So can’t wait to go and see them for myself, TBH.

  12. hannahthemaddog

    I just came back from London a few weeks ago and I saw a bunch of Christmas items in the Harrods gift shop!

    • Travel for a living

      I must say, compared to years past, this year the Christmas department at Harrods looks rather underwhelming. A lot smaller (and as you so rightly mention, split into two bits, with some of it in the gift shop instead). But it is still worth a visit. And I love buying a Harrods bauble every year, part of my Christmas ritual.

  13. Catherine

    It’s my dream to visit London over Christmas. All those markets and festive lights look amazing. Going to the Royal Opera House would be the cherry on top!

    • Travel for a living

      Yes, London is pretty special in the run up to Christmas. In everyday life it unfortunately is very easy to forget. But even as a local, I do love it… when I get a chance to halt and absorb. So definitely go for it if you get the chance.

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