In all of its hectic, iconic landmark-sprinkled glory, London is an enchanting kind of place all year round, but there’s something truly special about it in the winter. The streets glitter with lights, the shop windows are filled with shiny decorations, and every person wraps themselves in huge wooly scarves to wander down streets that even smell festive – thanks to the mulled wine spices drifting from the pub on each corner. If you’re in London around Christmas (plus/minus a few weeks), it’s time to get bundled up and let this be your ultimate winter tour guide.
1. Enjoy Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Every winter, the southeast corner of Hyde Park is transformed from a simple, gorgeous park into a true celebration of all things festive. Don those knitted jumpers and prepare yourself for blinding lights, live bands and speakers blaring classic Christmas songs, beer villages serving mulled wine around wood fires, and every kind of fairground ride you could possibly cram into one day.
2. Skate at Somerset House
Somerset House is your typical English stately home – tall, grand, and if it wasn’t smack in the center of London, straight out of Downton Abbey. The perfectly manicured, pillared wings of Somerset House overlook a massive 18th century courtyard that becomes a huge outdoor ice skating rink in winter – complete with twinkling lights and afternoon tea by Fortnum & Mason. Winter in London doesn’t get much more British than this.
3. Skate more at the Natural History Museum
If a picture-perfectly festive Instagram feed is on your Christmas list this year, the ice skating rink at the Natural History Museum (Londoners can’t get enough of ice skating, apparently!) is a must. Smaller and more intimate than Somerset House, the ice rink is framed by spindly trees draped in golden fairy lights, topped off with a backdrop of ornate architecture and a huge Christmas tree – hello there, modern-day fairy tale.
4. Admire the Oxford Street Christmas Lights
Let’s be honest, whichever time of year you visit London, you’re going to want to visit Oxford Street to melt the plastic of a few of your bank cards. But in December, London’s iconic shopping district is transformed – thanks to a few hundred thousand light bulbs hanging overhead and illuminating the road as giant glistening snowballs. Delicate, larger than life silver peacock feathers brighten Bond Street this year and just around the corner, the skies above Regent Street are filled with shimmering golden sequins, cogs and coils. #swoon
5. Indulge in the Southbank Winter Festival
If you’re looking for something cool to do in London, the Southbank Centre is always guaranteed to have something going on, so it comes as no surprise that its Winter Festival is nothing but full-on festive. Pop-up bars and restaurants appear along the banks of the Thames, filling the air with irresistible smells that will leave you filling your stomach with sizzling hot dogs, tasty mince pies, and steaming mugs of mulled wine. Don’t forget to pick up a few last minute Christmas gifts from the market’s craft stalls, cozy up by the fire pit of a Scandinavian-style wooden lodges or listen to the Philharmonic Orchestra take on Christmas classics.
6. Visit Trafalgar Square’s Christmas Tree
Check out London’s largest Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square – at over 20 meters high, a hydraulic crane has to be used to decorate it. This gigantic Norwegian spruce comes every year, since 1947, as a gift from Oslo: a ‘thank you’ from Norway for Britain’s support during the Second World War. The ceremonial tree now wows the crowds in celebration of friendship, and it’s definitely the biggest festive fir you’ll see this season.
7. Go Riverside for NYE
Of course, winter isn’t all about Christmas: New Year is also creeping around the corner, and London doesn’t do celebrating by halves. Drag yourselves away from whatever party is going on to watch the fireworks along the Thames at midnight. Even the London Eye gets involved, with fireworks of every color spraying from each bubble.
8. Head on Inside
If you want a break from all the wintery weather and outdoor activities, remember that London is full of year-round indoor attractions: Step inside the natural history museum to shed a few layers and meet the famous dinosaurs, check out the weird and wonderful exhibits at the Tate Modern Art Gallery or hop into a bubble on the London Eye for a spectacular view of the city sprawling out beneath you.