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London 12/23-12/26/17

I've been to London before and done the typical touristy things, but not at Christmas.

I'm looking for suggestion of things to do during the time in the title. What do you suggest we do on Christmas day? Will everything be closed? I have never been to Bath or Cambridge. Should I go and what do you suggest doing for this short time period? Anything that you recommend?

We love to explore and get the feel of the culture, people and country. We are not into fancy big restaurants, but love to eat local food. We like museums, walking through neighborhoods, and since I am a professional photographer, I will always have my camera with me. I know we don't have a lot of time, but hope to maximize it while we are there.

Looking forward to getting your replies. Thanks ahead...

Posted by
1063 posts

Public transport starts to shut down on Christmas Eve, doesn't run on Christmas Day and is limited on Boxing Day.

Posted by
631 posts

Be aware that Christmas is the only public holiday in England that is properly observed (although London is slipping on even that).

23rd is generally business as usual but long distance trains and buses will be very busy.
24th is a Sunday so shops will be subject to Sunday trading restrictions, normally large stores tend to close at 4 or 5PM but in this case it may be earlier. Bars and restaurants in residential or tourist areas will be open and busy into the evening. Museums may be closed. Long distance train and buses may end earlier than usual.
There is limited public transport in London on 25th, a few restaurants and pubs will be open but you may need reservations for any meal and it may only be the traditional christmas meal (obviously anywhere open for breakfast will be more flexible!).
26th is traditionaly also holiday, some trains run in the greater London area but nowhere else. Buses in London will run some level of service. You may find some long distance buses by National Express or Megabus are running on 26th (on 25th probably only airport shuttles). Pubs etc open as normal, busy in the evening, museums doubtful. Oxford St sales - hysteria best avoided.
24th - 26th taxi fares may be higher than normal (uber will probably want a kidney off you....)

Also, this is traditionally the time when major work is done on the railways (because it disrupts the lowest number of daily commuters who pay the most to use it week after week through the year), so some routes will be closed from Friday evening to anytime in the following week. This will be confirmed by early October at http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/default.aspx , for transport in London see https://tfl.gov.uk/ closer to date

Posted by
3343 posts

About 10 years ago, DH and I spent a lovely 10 day holiday in London over the Chritmas/New Year period. One of our fondest memories was attending Christmas Eve services at Westminster Abbey. And the the looooong walk back to our hotel, which was on the other side of Green Park. The tube had already shut down. Lol. Luckily for us, it was a fine night, weather wise.

Public transit pretty much shuts down all day on Christmas day, and it seemed like everything was closed. We had reserved our Christmas dinner in advance, and our hotel provided an excellent breakfast. Since it was a nice day, we just strolled through the nearby parks. If you go to Bath or Cambridge that day, expect most everything to be closed as well.

Dec 26 is Boxing Day, a bank holiday ( and also a statutory holiday in many Commonwealth countries). It's also a HUGE sale day in the stores. ( not unlike the day after Thanksgiving in the States) I scored a couple pairs of of gorgeous shoes at Selfridges, and contemplated buying an Armani suit (50% off!), but needed a protracted lunch to recover from the crowds.

Posted by
6462 posts

I too make a living with my camera. As noted London shuts down Christmas Day.

If I were you I'd book in the Bayswater neighborhood. That way you'll have access to Hyde Park where local residents will head out to enjoy after they've spent their mornings opening presents.

New prams, winter coats and boots, maybe a puppy or two, remote control trucks, drones, etc and the energy of happy children will be found.

Families will head to the Round Pond to see the waterfowl as well as to Diana's playground near Kensington Palace. If you get up early enough you can watch the brief but traditional Peter Pan Cup race at the Serpentine. I've also seen very early riders out with their horses. Hopefully Mother Nature will be kind and curtail wet weather.

Get tickets to a Panto on the 23rd. If not a Panto then the Free Winter wonderland extravaganza in Hyde Park is a photographers dream with all the neon lights. Or take a bus that goes down Regents Street, sit up top and enjoy the Christmas decorations and lights.

Lastly, make reservation for Christmas dinner ( mid day meal) at a pub. Many more to chose from these days so when you arrive see what's close.

Christmas Eve masses are fabulous So check to see if there are churches in the Bayswater neighborhood offering them.

You'll also find It's A Wonderful Life playing somewhere on the Telly.

I find something endearing about a huge metropolitan city shutting down to be with their families.

In the afternoon on Christmas Day don't forget to watch The Queens broadcast message. She's been doing it for nearly 70 years.

Lastly, Dec 26 has great sales if you are a shopper.

Posted by
38 posts

Royal Albert Hall has Carols by Candlelight on December 24 at 2:30pm and 7:00 pm: https://www.royalalberthall.com/tickets/events/2017/dayplanner?DateRange=1512172799__1538262000
We attended a similar performance several years ago, and it was a lovely way to celebrate the season.

The stores along Oxford Street are all decked out for Christmas, similar to Fifth Ave. in NYC. Fun to walk along, especially at night. A friend who was in the Picadilly area last year said it was equally festive.

Have a wonderful trip!

Posted by
310 posts

Walking down Regent Street and Oxford Street at Christmas time with all the lights and shoppers is super cool. Lots of chances for great pictures, especially with the lights. If you've never seen a 'panto', and can get tickets for one, its a lot of fun. On the 23rd, trains will be packed.

Christmas Eve is on a Sunday, so I would expect transport and shops to be guided by Sunday operating hours and restrictions. Public transport will start to shut down Christmas Eve.

As others have mentioned, London will shut down (mostly) Christmas Day. An exception seems to be for Christmas dinner (err...lunch, the midday meal) at a pub. Get reservations if you can. There will be SOME transport, but it will be limited.

Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is a huge day of sales, much like Black Friday in the States. Stores will almost certainly be bonkers.

If you havent been out to Cambridge, it is a delight. By train, its roughly 45 minutes from Kings Cross. I will tell you, from the train station to the main part of town near the colleges, its about a mile walk. There is a series of bus stops just out the front of the station, where you can take a bus the mile to the center. Plenty of places for pictures in Cambridge, but again, on Christmas Day, expect much to be shut.

Posted by
10116 posts

We were there for a week over Christmas two years ago. The 24th we found few museums/sites open. The Courtauld was, though. We watched the skaters there at Somerset House for awhile. It was a lovely, sunny day. London Walks was running some programs, although we missed our planned walk so we wandered ourselves, Had a reservation for dinner in Covent Garden and we walked to-and-from, about 25 minutes each way. Restaurants were very busy for Christmas Eve.

On the 25th, we walked through St. James' Park and encountered many Londoners out for a Christmas stroll. Found Cafe Concerto at Traflagar open so enjoyed a pastry and espresso there. Wanted to take the London Walks tour, but about 100 people showed up, so we passed on it. We had an apartment so we relaxed and watched a Christmas movie, then went out for late lunch again in Covent Garden, a 40 minute walk away.

After dinner, we walked down Oxford Street to Marble Arch and of all things, went to a movie, which is something we often did at home in the night of the 25th when our son was little. Another long walk home.

The 26th with things still pretty quiet in London, we were treated to a day tour of the Cotswolds by some British friends. Unforgettable!

Embrace the closures, do not plan on seeing all of the iconic sights, at least not by going in. Make plans for your meals!

Posted by
26 posts

If you have time on the 23rd, I recommend visiting the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch. It is a house museum showing the progression of interior decoration in London from Tudor/Stuart times to the near present and they do special decorations at Christmas time. The museum is closed Christmas Eve day through Boxing Day, however. Shoreditch is an interesting community that seems to have become hip over the last few years.

Posted by
4156 posts

I was there just before Christmas in 2015. As another person stated, Regent and Oxford streets for their lights. Picadilly street also had some nice lights. There was also a winter festival in Hyde park by the Wellington Arch. Fortnum and Mason had some nice Christmas displays as did Liberty London.

Posted by
332 posts

We were there for Christmas Week last year. I cannot overestimate the caution about things closing down--- Christmas eve is not the night to do last minute shopping. We went to a 2pm matinee in the theater district on Christmas eve and by the time it let out at four, things were definitely slowing down. I knew it would be slowing down, but this was significantly more curtailed activity than I expected in a major city.

Aside from a play on Christmas Eve, the walking tour group "London Walks" gives 1-2 walks on Christmas Eve and possibly Christmas day. Because there are so very few things to do on Christmas day, these tend to be very crowded and remember you need to be able to walk to the meeting place and back because there will be no transportation at all on Christmas Day. It becomes critical to think about transportation on Christmas Eve and Christmas day because if you are doing something out and about on Christmas eve or Christmas day, you need to make sure it is within walking distance of your lodgings.

Even restaurants starts shutting down about 3 o'clock. On Christmas Eve. We found a pub for dinner about 5and by 7 pm even the busiest London streets were nearly deserted. A few buses and tubes and a few taxis were still working, but it was slim pickings. I was very surprised that by 8 o'clock at night, nearly EVERYTHING had shut down.

My experience was that on Christmas day everything was closed with the exception of a few, tiny family-owned mini markets. Because traffic is so limited on Christmas Day, it is fun to rent one of the many bicycles on the sides of the roads and take a bike ride. This is popular and in fact we had difficulty finding two bikes on Christmas Day. We persisted and it was lots of fun to sight see in all the tourist areas with no traffic out and about.

There are hotels and pubs that have special meals on Christmas, as well as some ( but not all ) Indian and Chinese restaurants. You must reserve ahead of time---be aware it can be very expensive. We were a family of four and were unwilling to spend a total of $300 --especially because we have two very picky children! Happily, we stayed in a wonderful apartment and cooked a simple holiday meal for a fraction of the price.

Again, if you are going to be there at Christmas time, this might influence what area of London you lodge in--stay so that you are within walking distance of things to do on Christmas Eve and Christmas day.

PS Re Christmas weather: We live in San Diego. I brought 4 mini umbrellas 6000 miles to London, and 6000 miles back and in the 10 days we were there, it never rained. It was between 35 and 40° most of the time. No snow, no ice. We were likely exceptionally lucky but it was certainly lovely touring weather. Enjoy!

Posted by
3245 posts

We had a great Christmas visit to London in 2014. We went to Warner Brothers Harry Potter on the morning of the 24th, when there was still public transportation. We went to service at Westminster Abbey on 23rd, while there was still public transport. We reserved both of these months in advance-5 months for HP and I was on the WA website the minute it opened for tickets. We stayed at Trafalgar Hilton and ate dinner there. We watched the Queen's address and the Downton Abbey Christmas special. Shopped on Boxing Day. We will definitely do this again sometime in the future-we went to NY in Dec 2016 and our daughter said she much preferred London.