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.
Last year, the Oxford Street Christmas lights switch was on 6th November. Followed by Carnaby Street and Saville Row on 7th November. Covent Garden switched on their Christmas lights on the 12th and Regent Street was the grande finale on the 14th November. For 2020, the dates have not yet been announced, but I would expect them to be somewhere around the same time. If there is actually is an official switch on ceremony.
Visit the 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 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.
Unfortunately, it looks like for 2020, most of those Christmas markets won’t happen. Winter Wonderland has already been cancelled and I guess the others will follow suit.
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 would be the 3rd December, provided it will actually go ahead).
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.
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 £15 (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).
Quick update: For 2020, neither the Royal Opera House, nor the English National Opera will actually show the Nutcracker (or any other performance) this season. But the Royal Opera is trying to show the 2016 recording of the Nutcracker ballet in selected cinemas. Not quite the same thing, but I guess this year we have to take whatever we can get.
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.
And the good news is, for now it looks like this can actually go ahead for the 2020 season.
What brings you into the Christmas Spirit? What would you include on a pre Christmas trip to London?