London is a city aglow with Christmas spirit at this time of the year. Whether you want romance, culture or just to admire some dazzling lights displays, here are our top tips for adding a touch of festive magic to your trip!
There are fewer Christmas images more romantic than gathering loved ones, wrapping up warm and swapping your winter boots for skates at a fabulous outdoor ice rink. London has a whole host of sites to choose from. Elevate the romance even further by choosing one in the shadow of a magnificent historic building like Hampton Court Palace (25th Nov – 8th Jan), the Natural History Museum (27th Oct to 8th Jan) or Somerset House (17th Nov – 15th Jan).
Admire the Christmas lights
London is beautiful all year round, but it’s utterly magical when garlanded with strings of lights. Regent Street will shine brightest with the largest display in London twinkling above shoppers’ heads, while Carnaby is the place to be for an eclectic, retro display. The street most famous as the home of ‘swinging’ London in the sixties is collaborating with the V&A museum this year and the lights are inspired by the exhibition ‘You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966-1970.’
If your visit is in November, see if you can catch one of the switch-on ceremonies at Oxford Street (6th Nov), the Strand (10th Nov), Carnaby Street (15th Nov) or Regent Street (17th Nov). Also check out Trafalgar Square (1st Dec) for the lighting of the immense and beautiful Norwegian Christmas tree.
Christmas shopping, markets and fairs
The decline in the value of the pound against foreign currencies means this is the perfect time for visitors to enjoy a London shopping spree! Seek out Christmas-themed trinkets galore at a Christmas fair or market – the Southbank Centre Winter Market, the London Bridge City Market and the brand new for 2016 Christmas in Leicester Square run for the majority of December. For a full day of winter-inspired fun, surrounded by arcade games, drinks and Christmas food, head to Hyde Park for the biggest Christmas event of the year: Winter Wonderland. Alternatively, experience London’s greatest department stores in festive mode – Selfridges, Harrods and Liberty all boast their own designated ‘Christmas shops’ in store, as well as offering an assortment of tempting, non-seasonal items from designer clothes and cosmetics to stationery and homeware.
For dance, take in an elegant and enchanting version of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker (English National Ballet, London Coliseum, 14th Dec – 7th Jan) or catch the family-friendly The Little Match Girl (Sadlers Wells, Lilian Baylis Studio, 10th – 30th Dec). Or do as the British do and revel in the raucous fun of a pantomime, a comedic theatrical take on classic fairy stories that involve plenty of audience interaction with the characters. Some great productions this year include Cinderella (Palladium) and Sleeping Beauty (Hackney Empire).
Last but by no means least, enjoying some carol singing is a quintessential Christmas activity. Trafalgar Square hosts a variety of carol groups raising money for charity throughout the advent period. There are many dedicated carol services and concerts too, including a programme of events at iconic locations such as the Royal Albert Hall, St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.