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London Christmas

We are spending 4 1/2 days (22 - 27 Dec) in London over Christmas before heading up to Edinburgh for Hogmanay! We feel so lucky to get to do this and want to make the most of our time in both places. Starting to map our our time in London...
So far we have tickets for an exhibition at the British Library, reserved afternoon tea at the Wolseley, and reservations for Christmas Eve dinner at Maggie Jones's. We'll try to get tix for a Christmas Eve service at Westminster Abbey but will go to St. Pauls if we don't win the ticket lottery. We have a couple of unallocated days and evenings.
First question...I know that there are quite a few "Christmas markets" scattered around various parks and neighborhoods...which ones are the best and/or have the most variety? Especially beautiful?
Second question...many pubs offer a Christmas Day festive, midday meal. Any pubs that you know of that are especially good and/or atmospheric? I'm looking at Simpsons's Tavern and The Antelope in Tooting. (Yes, we know that there is no public transport on Christmas Day...we'll be cabbing/Ubering it and paying the 4 pound surcharge)
Third question...where are the best lights at night? I have heard that Oxford street does an amazing display - and of course the beautiful tree in Trafalgar Square...any other areas that are especially nice?
Any other recommendations for what to do / see during the Christmas season in London? We probably won't get back there for Christmas ever again so want to make the most of it when we have the chance.
Thanks in advance for your experienced holiday expertise!!
I love this forum.

Posted by
59 posts

Hi Anita, here would be my favorites:
Q1-Southbank has fantastic Christmas stalls from The Bridge theatre (across from Tower of London) to The National Theatre
Q3-Kew Gardens has an unforgettable event called Christmas at Kew which is a fabulous display of lights along a one mile walk through the gardens. Don’t miss it.

Posted by
6113 posts

Maybe because I am used to it, but I don’t think that London “does” Christmas as well as many other places.

There aren’t the number of Christmas markets that say Berlin has. The two obvious ones are the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park and along the South Bank. Most of the goods are imports, not U.K. crafted goods, but it’s a nice, if not very busy atmosphere. You can find similar goods in the regular shops with cheaper prices.

I would consider Christmas lunch close to where you are staying or can walk to.

The lights on Oxford Street are OK but not overly exciting. Take a bus ride along Oxford Street and Regent Street to see the lights after dark. The lights on Regent Street have recently been sponsored by Disney, which isn’t particularly British!

I prefer the decorations along Carnaby Street, which are usually more interesting and for traditional, you can’t beat Burlington Arcade. The window displays at Selfridges, Liberty and Fortnum and Mason are worth a visit. Try to catch a choir singing around the Trafalgar Square tree early evening.

Posted by
4074 posts

When we were there in 2014, Westminster Abbey also held a Christmas service on the 23rd. We went to that one since transportation is much easier on the 23rd than on Christmas Eve. I sat at my computer and waited for the clock to turn to the magic ticket hour. And Jennifer, we preferred Christmas in London over Christmas in New York. Of course, it helped that in 2014 we were able to have the quintessential English Christmas experience by watching the Downton Abbey Christmas episode on Christmas Day!

Posted by
5246 posts

The Trafalgar Square tree is usually lit on the first Thursday in December, although that hasn't as far as I can see been officially confirmed for this year. Usually the blessing of the crib follows on Sunday.

Posted by
4684 posts

Sorry if some of this seems Scrooge-like but just being honest:

Christmas markets are a German-culture phenomenon, not as more and more Americans who post here seem to think Europe wide. The "Christmas markets" in London are pseudo-German rip-offs offering overpriced tat and crappy sausages.

Check in advance if the specific pubs you are looking for are doing Christmas dinner. To be honest, pub food is much of a muchness and I would simply find one within walking distance of your accomodation that offers Christmas lunch, and save an inflated cab/uber fare. But again you need to check online and book your Christmas dinner in advance, as they are liable to book up.

The main Christmas lights are on Oxford Street and Regent Street and best seen from the top of a bus. In recent years they've started doing it on Carnaby Street as well which is pedestrianised. The window displays at Selfridges in Oxford Street are famous and worth getting off the bus for.

Posted by
8241 posts

The Blackfriar pub is Art Deco gorgeous.

I like the Spaniards Inn near the Hampstead Heath and The Prospect Of Whitby for atmosphere.

Try the market at the free Winter Wonderland in Hyde park. Well over a 100 booths. At night Winter Wonderful is a vision of color and light!

Personally I enjoy Xmas shopping for gifts at the British Library gift shop. Same with gift shops at the
V & A, London Transport museums, Tate Modern, The Museum of London and the Royal Academy Of Art.

To be honest I’m a patsy for tea tins which you can find virtually everywhere.

And for the heck of it see what St Brides church is doing. Midnight mass maybe?

Enjoy the quietness Of Christmas Day with your family.

Posted by
3387 posts

Thank you to all of you who made constructive and helpful suggestions!
Andrea - thank you for the Kew Gardens suggestion! I hadn't thought of that one but it's right up our alley.
Ryan and Gill - ice skating sounds lovely but I'm afraid I would break my arm - maybe we'll just go watch! :)
Jennifer - now that I've looked into it more I think your suggestion of a Christmas Day lunch in our neighborhood is a good one. I think we'll do that. Thank you also for the suggestions for lights and store windows. I know exactly where I would go for these in some cities but just had no idea for London - this really helps!
Ann - they haven't announced when the tree will be lit but the carol singing starts on Dec. 10 and lasts until the 21st.
Cala - that's actually a good idea to attend services on the 23rd. I guess I'll have to just get up at 2AM to log on if I want them!
Claudia my friend!! Spaniards Inn looks so perfect! That'll probably be our go-to lunch/dinner on Boxing Day since we plan to go to Hampstead Heath that day. Your other suggestions are great as well - trying to fit everything in!!
Emma - thank you (again!) for your suggestions. I never think of department stores as places to see for Christmas - here in California that really isn't done well - but we will definitely try Harrods and Liberty. Can't wait to see what they do! (BTW Skyler found some great trousers...not pants :)... thanks to your shopping guidance!)
Perhaps I should have explained but I didn't want the original post to be even longer than it was. We are visiting our son who lives in London and have spent a great deal of time there over the years...we know it's not the quintessential spot for Christmas but are still looking forward to being there. I also understand that typical European Christmas markets are typically on the continent in Germany and nearby countries - I've been to many of them over the last 30 years. I also know that there are quite a few "Christmasy" markets that have sprung up in London. Not a big shopper! Just wanted to see a few of the nicer ones for some fun, Christmas spirit. Has nothing to do with the fact that I'm apparently one of the hoards of Americans posting on this forum who are ignorant of European Christmas traditions.

Posted by
273 posts

My boyfriend who lives in Maidenhead always talks about seeing a Pantomime before xmas, an xmas theatre show, mainly because his son's a musician with many of them over the years. Seems the Panto is a BIG xmas thing there. You may be able to find one nearby.
Have a great time!

Posted by
970 posts

Late to this but... Christmas season is a favorite time to close rail lines for repairs. Stations, too. Be sure you can get where you want to go when you want to go there.

Posted by
3387 posts

Thanks JC...yes...we are aware that there are many closures around the holidays and have plans that should be a good work-around for what we know will affect us.