Winter in London: 10 of the Best Things To Do in December
Winter in London, and December in particular, is a magical time to visit as England’s capital turns into a wonderland of lights and festivities. Of course, there’s a nip in the air as you wander the streets, shopping for handmade gifts in the markets and admiring the lights. But the sights and smells of London in December will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. So whether this is your first or 20th time visiting London, you will find winter an enchanting season to explore this vibrant city.
As there are plenty of things to do in London in winter, here are the top activities to include in your plans to make your visit a special one.
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Festive winter events in London
London’s top winter attractions usually include Christmas decorations and themed events. Regular favorites are:
Hogwarts in the Snow
Harry Potter fans will love celebrating the winter season when the wizarding world is at its most enchanting. Even if you have visited Warner Bros Studio Tour — The Making of Harry Potter at a different time of year, you’ll want to pay another visit in December.
The studio turns into a winter wonderland from mid-November to mid-January, with roaring fires, Christmas trees, and snowflakes galore. Christmas trees decorate the Great Hall, and Diagon Alley looks like it’s straight out of a winter fairytale. Hogwarts in the Snow is part of the regular entrance ticket, so visiting during this time is a bonus.
Christmas at Kew
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a popular year-round attraction in London that comes into its own in winter, when the trees are lit up with twinkling lights and it turns into an enchanted garden.
During the festive season, you can follow the lights around the garden and admire the installations. You can’t miss the tunnels of light, the “12 Days of Christmas” light display, and the water, light, and music show at the Palm House.
Look out for Father Christmas while you warm up with a hot chocolate and some tasty Christmas treats along the path. An admission ticket to Kew Gardens in winter is well worth the price.
December in London sees Hyde Park turn into Winter Wonderland, filled with fun, food, and activities like ice skating, ice sculpture workshops, and circus shows.
It’s the place to go for fairground rides — from carousels to roller coasters and a famous Christmas market. There are often carols and live music too.
London’s Madame Tussauds opened over 200 years ago and is now home to over 250 lifelike celebrity wax figures, from movie stars and sporting legends to political figures and royalty. It’s your chance to snap a selfie with Kim Kardashian or wave to the crowd beside the royal family. Winter is usually an enjoyable time here when Santa’s elves get busy spreading festive cheer and treats to visitors.
Of all the cities in the world to enjoy Christmas lights, London stands head and shoulders above the rest. In December, the city lights up, and all of its iconic sights — from Regent Street to Harrods to Covent Garden — are dressed in sparkles. There are several ways to enjoy this spectacle, including on foot, by bus, or in one of London’s iconic black cabs. Depending on how much energy and time you have, here are some options:
The top level of an open-top double-decker bus will give you the best seats in the house as it rolls past famous landmarks like St Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, and the London Eye. It’s also an inexpensive way to enjoy some seasonal sparkle as you cruise around the real life Monopoly board. It includes informative commentary from a live tour guide, or you can opt for the audio guide. If the weather isn’t good, there are covered-top options too.
If you know London well enough, wandering around the streets exploring Leicester Square’s Christmas market and Covent Garden’s shops on your own can be fun. Make sure you spend some time at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park too, where you can drink mulled wine and have fun on the amusement rides.
But London is a large city, and finding your way from one place to another after dark is much less stressful if you’re with a guide. If you’re visiting in a family group or with friends, a private walking tour of London’s Christmas sites is a fun way to explore the capital and see its iconic sights. A guide will also know all the scenic routes where you can enjoy city views, like the city lights reflected in the river from Waterloo Bridge. A private walking tour is usually more flexible than a group tour, allowing you to see more of what you like and less of what you don’t.
A unique way of seeing London’s winter lights is touring the city in a black cab, which allows you to stop wherever you want to take photographs of the city’s iconic buildings. London’s “cabbies” are known to be chatty and full of stories. They spend years learning the layout of the city before becoming a black cab driver, giving them plenty of stories and information to offer. And when you’re ready for dinner, they can drop you off at any of the markets, your hotel, or any of the restaurants on your wishlist.
Boarding a capsule on the London Eye will give you a fantastic view of the city and its many attractions from one of the tallest observation wheels in the world. Being above the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, the Tower of London, and St Paul’s Cathedral is a sight you won’t forget. On a clear day, you may even catch a glimpse of Windsor Castle, 25 miles away.
The only problem with the London Eye is that it’s one of the most popular attractions in London, and the line for tickets can be extremely long. So make sure you pre-book a fast-track admission ticket to avoid waiting around.
The 72nd floor of London’s most famous skyscraper, The Shard, is another top spot to get a 360-degree view of the city. It’s the highest viewing platform in Western Europe.
Make sure you book a flexible ticket with no time restrictions to enjoy the view for as long as possible. The Shard also offers multimedia displays about the history of London.
Pantomimes and West End shows
See a Show
Winter is the best month to visit London if you’re keen on experiencing a traditional pantomime or a West End show. The holiday season is when the roster of Christmas-themed pantomimes, ballets, and theatre productions ramps up.
The pantomime began in Italy in the 18th century and became popular in London during the 19th century when extravagant productions had huge casts and lasted up to 5 hours. Pantomimes are synonymous with Christmas entertainment, and the best shows are booked out weeks ahead.
Popular shows in London in December often include “Elf: The Musical,” “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe,” and “the Nutcracker” ballet, which is usually on at the Royal Albert Hall (you can also take a tour of this famous concert hall).