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London how busy in December

My wife and I arrive December 03 for 5 nights in London, our first visit. I am wondering how busy the sites and restaurants will be. This obviously is not high tourist season but I assume London stays fairly busy all year long? I am trying to decide whether to make reservations/buy tickets now for restaurants and sites like the Tower of London, Westminister Abbey, etc. ??

Thanks!!

Doug

Posted by Suki
New York
2678 posts

As a major international city, London is busy year round. Yes, tourists come to London, but it does not exist on tourism. I would make reservations ahead, it can't hurt.

Posted by ryan_and_gill
174 posts

You might find some restaurants starting to cater for office Christmas parties, especially on the Friday evening to consider making reservations for dinner. Otherwise I don't think you'll encounter any problems.

Posted by Bob
Reading, PA, USA
768 posts

For places like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey it is always wise to have reservations if for no other reason than to avoid the long ticket lines. If you are interested in the Churchill War Rooms they have now gone to a timed entry.

Posted by emma
London
4091 posts

It depends how desperately you want to visit or eat somewhere.
London is always busy so if something is important to you, book!

For restaurants you will always be able to find somewhere to eat but everywhere will be busy. Reservations aren’t vital but for a lot of places they are probably a good idea. That said, the trend for non booking restaurants has taken off so that would always be an option, but expect to queue for a bit.

It’s prime Christmas party season, which isn’t just limited to Friday night (Why have a hangover at the weekend when you can have it in work time!?)

If you know which restaurants you are interested, let us know and we might be able to tell you if booking is “really” necessary

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
4078 posts

It will be busier than you think but not the massive hordes you find during the summer months.

No need to make dinner reservations now unless you intend to go to some high priced exclusive restaurant.

Was there about the same time last year and we were nearly the first people into Westminister Abbey. Got there at 9AM for the 9:30am opening of doors. First time in all my visits to the Abbey over a span of nearly 40 years that the amount of visitors were minimal. One could actually walk around, move and enjoy seeing things while listening to the auto guide. Spent nearly 2 hours inside and then enjoyed a lovely bowl of soup in the Abbey cafe.

The only site I might pre book is the Churchill War Rooms.

If interested in seeing a Panto ( pantomime) I’d research where and when and book tickets now.

I’d do the same for anything at the Royal Albert Hall.

If you are staying anywhere near Hyde Park the free Winter Wonderland is beautiful at night. There’s also a bar on a merry go round but that’s another story.

If you ice skate or enjoy watching humans attempt to ice skate there are rinks by the National History Museum and Somerset House.

The Christmas Pudding race https://xmaspuddingrace.org.uk Good cause and
simple fun. Free to watch and it’s nice to see Covent Garden start it’s day. By noon crammed with people.

Also be on the look out for the SANTA runs.
http://www.santadash.co.uk

You’ll have a great 5 night visit. Fun city. Lots to explore.

Enjoy the festive spirit!

Posted by jaimeelsabio
Maryland
1391 posts

As previously stated, it’s always busy. We’ve never had reservations since we don’t maintain a set itinerary. We look for places to eat when we get hungry in whatever part of town we’re in. A few times we’ve had to go to a number of restaurants to find one that had an open table. The only time we try to plan a meal is for Sunday roast. If you don’t get there early enough, it could sell out.

Posted by joe32F
Edmonds, WA
3503 posts

For a city of 8 million+, only a small percentage have to leave home to make a big number that will be out and about.

Posted by dooger54 OP
14 posts

Thanks all. We don’t plan on visiting the Churchill War Rooms so that one isn’t a concern. This is a list of sites we are considering-

Tower of London
Westminister Abbey
St. Paul’s
British Museum
Transport Museum
Cutty Sark
National Gallery
Royal Albert Hall

We don’t have any restaurants on our list. We like great food, but don’t have a need for what I would call “high-end” places. We are attending a John Rutter concert at Royal Albert Hall Tuesday afternoon at 15:30 so would be interested in advice on restaurants in that area after we leave the concert.

Posted by Harold
New York, NY, USA
9801 posts

Of you list of sights, the British Museum and the National Gallery are free, so no reservations or tickets are needed.

For many of the others, buying in advance online not only avoids ticket buying lines/queues, but also saves £1-5 per ticket. For any place you're thinking of, look at their website now, and see if you can create an account. This will save time and make it easier to buy a ticket "on the fly."

For instance, when I went to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory and Cutty Sark, on the morning I decided to go, I logged into my account and bought the ticket. I saved £5.25 on the ticket, and since I had already created the account, it was easy to buy the ticket on my phone. The website was not clear on whether I could scan the ticket from my phone or needed it printed. My hotel printed it for me, but it turns out the PDF could have been scanned off the phone.

Of the sights on your list, the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s, the Transport Museum, and the Cutty Sark all have discounts for advance booking. Again, for many of them, the morning of is far enough in "advance," but do check each website to be sure of the latest policies.

Posted by emma
London
4091 posts

Buying in advance won't help you avoid queues for security checks which are increasingly common, so factor a little time into any plans.

For restaurant suggestions have a look at the Timeout London website. It is up to date, reliable and searchable by area.

Posted by dooger54 OP
14 posts

What about going to theatre? I don't see that on your list.

Yes, that is on the list. Trying to decide between Les Mis and Wicked. Believe it or not, never been to a theater show.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
4078 posts

Never been to a theatre show! Wow are you in for a treat. Either of the two you are considering will be eye openers for you. Bravo! You can purchase your tickets at the box office of each theatre.

Okay so no Churchill War Rooms.

To visit the Tower of London go early to get your tickets. Once through the gate head right to the Crown Jewels, then see the rest of the Tower.

If you have any questions be sure to engage a Yeoman guard. Informative and helpful.

Do make note that most of the sites you have on your list open at 10am. St Paul’s at 8:30am. Tower of London 9am. Plan accordingly as there will be commuting tube riders. Also remember if you go later in the day that sun will be down by 4pm. Check and double check open hours of each of the places you wish to visit. Helps plans your day.

From the Tower of London walk up to the glass covered LeadenHall market. I love the architectural dichotomy of the Lloyd’s of London and the Gherkin
( trust me you’ll know which Bldg is called the Gherkin) buildings to Leadenhall Market. From there it’s an easy 15-25 stroll to St Paul’s.

It’s a very walkable city if you like walking. Otherwise use their stellar public transport.

Have fun!

Posted by Alison
New Hampshire, USA
218 posts

One of my friends from London said that the shopping areas in London in December are super-crowded (I believe his exact word was "insane") so it's likely that would effect how busy those area's restaurants are too. I would probably still venture there, though, I've been there several times and still haven't seen Harrod's... I've Got to do it SOMEtime. :)
Have fun!
-Alison

Posted by Southam
Windsor, Ontario, Canada
2698 posts

Royal Albert Hall is always busy and the holiday season is an excuse for theme performances. Advance reservations are vital for the better seats. Its website sales pages will let you see what you are purchasing. The hall itself is a startling experience. Should you want to dine before or after a performance, you can use Google Maps to see nearby establishments. Reserve if you can since even the pubs can be packed.

Posted by acraven
Washington DC
10674 posts

Parts of the British Museum are open until 8:30 PM on Friday--but not all the galleries. Here's the list of the rooms open late. The museum is huge and not so easy to move around in. It is very much worth your time to check out the floor plan on the web site before your trip and figure out which rooms are your top priorities. There is no hope of seeing the entire museum unless that's all you want to do while you're in London.

The National Gallery is open until 9 PM on Friday. I think all galleries remain open, but check at the information desk as you enter so you'll know if there are areas you need to hit before the regular closing time. This is another large museum, so you'll need to be selective. Check out the floor plan here to plan your visit.

I find it helpful to buy a floor plan (usually £1-£2), but that's because I make multiple visits and need a way to keep track of where I've been. A more typical visitor could get by with what can be printed out from the museum websites. I do think having a floor plan in hand is useful in a large museum. They often have multiple wings, with stairs not necessarily where you expect them to be. You can waste quite a bit of time trying to find your way from Point A to Point B. Even with a floorplan, I often have to ask for help.

Edited to add: Theatremonkey.com is a very useful website. It has very detailed information about the seating in each theatre, including comments specific to the current production. It can be very helpful in balancing seat quality and cost. A lot of London theatres have some odd sightlines. The first row may have you looking at the performers' ankles (or looking up at their ankles), and the seat rake in the orchestra ("stalls") is sometimes very, very shallow--tough on short people. On the other hand, the theatres are often smaller than big-city theatres in the US, so the cheapest seats may not be terribly far from the stage. Do read TheatreMonkey's comments.

Posted by dooger54 OP
14 posts

*> Royal Albert Hall is always busy and the holiday season is an excuse

for theme performances. Advance reservations are vital for the better
seats. Its website sales pages will let you see what you are
purchasing. The hall itself is a startling experience. Should you want
to dine before or after a performance, you can use Google Maps to see
nearby establishments. Reserve if you can since even the pubs can be
packed.*

Yes, we already have tickets for the Hall performance by John Rutter and the RPO. My wife loves him and is so excited!

I made reservations at Ffiona’s for after the concert.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
4078 posts

As a silly aside and if time permits see if you can find and watch the Hitchcock thriller The Man Who Knew Too Much with Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day.

The final scenes are in the Royal Albert Hall. Amazing to realize the Hall with the exception of the sound spheres hanging from the ceiling remains exactly as it appeared in the film.

Have a lovely sojourn.

Posted by S J
Western Canada
602 posts

I'm just back from the UK, with two days in London last week.
I found it insanely crowded in the touristy areas, and Oxford Street and that area was a madhouse.
It's the run up to Christmas, and everyone is going mad shopping, it seems.
I was at the theatre one night, and when I got to the Tube Station at Piccadilly to get back on to go to my hotel, it was scarily crowded, on the street, in the station, and on the Tube.
Lovely to visit, and I do mean that; I have visited London countless times; but I couldn't live there!

Posted by Kim
Paris
3632 posts

Indeed, it will be busy, run-up to Christmas and all that. I find it fun, but a few things (Oxford Street) can be way too packed/insane.

Posted by emma
London
4091 posts

Theatre throwing out time is a mini rush hour in London. Shows finish at very similar times and each theatre is releasing 100s of people who all want to go to the same tube station.
The situation isn't helped by many of the people not being regular public transport users. The best idea is to take you time and hang around for 10 minute to wait for the rush to subside. That said, Piccadilly Circus seems to have changed the flow on the escalators, (not sure why?)and it can get really horribly crowded at the moment.

Oxford Street is always going to be busy at Christmas, not much you can do about that other than avoid the area. Just one street over from the main drag is usually surprisingly quiet.

Posted by Ted
Sydney
212 posts

Claudia, I was really interested by what you had to say about Albert Hall and the The Man Who Knew Too Much. There is another Hitchcock film worth seeing because it shows a part of London which has changed a lot. That is the movie Frenzy which is set largely in Covent Garden at a time when it was still a market for produce. When I have seen the movie I admit I have often been fascinated by the activity in the background.

Back on topic, London is a big city so it is always busy. I remember when I lived there for a year, the biggest crowds I saw on the Tube were on the weekends leading up to Christmas, because of all the crowds for shopping. I would add that I worked just outside London, so I do not know how that compared to peak hour crowds on work days. So I expect Harrods, Oxford Street and all the shopping areas will be pretty frantic.

Posted by Claudia
Land of La
4078 posts

Do hope the OP Doug is enjoying his London December sojourn.

Ted saw Frenzy when it first came out. Then, per chance, was in London a few months after. Proud to say saw Covent Garden when it was strictly veg and not the madhouse it can be now a days. Have witnessed many changes overs years of London travel.

That city continues to entice so returning in January.
A friend is producing an HBO series there so free room and board. Who can pass that up? I’ll dress in layers and enjoy.

Posted by cala
Birmingham, AL
1130 posts

Try to avoid the British Museum on rainy weekend days.

Posted by BG
SF Bay Area, CA
1874 posts

As for plays - a friend of mine who is a regular play-goer, and opera-goer, saw Les Miz in London a couple of months ago and raved about it. My bet is that it's a good choice.

Posted by Robin Z
Troy, Oh, USA
2339 posts

Claudia, can’t pass up free room and board, lucky you. Have a great trip.

Posted by Suz
Denver, USA
441 posts

Claudia - I've been lax about visiting this forum lately. I just now saw the news about your trip next month. Great news! I hope you have a great time, and I also hope you'll share the highlights of the trip with us after you get home.

Posted by JS
Bay Area
3180 posts

Wallace Collection Museum nr Portsmouth Square. A wonderful museum (free) and they have a fantastic restaurant under a glass dome for lunch, brunch, dinner. Ck it out I visit at least once every trip to London. Reasonable cost also for beverages and entrees. Beautiful ambiance it is on a quiet court in centrL london, amazing.
I know u are there now i hope u can visit.

Posted by jsreed
1 posts

We are great fans of London Walks (http://www.walks.com). We visited London Tower and Westminster Abbey with their guides for an excellent 2 hour tour. They arranged discounted entrance, even better if you are over 65. After the tour you are free to spend as much time as you want in the venue. They have many available walks depending on the day of the week. You just show up at the scheduled time, pay a very reasonable fee, and they take care of the details.

Posted by Accidental Southerner
Atlanta, GA
264 posts

jsreed- agree, love London Walks! I’ve been to London 6 times and it just doesn’t feel like a proper visit without at least one London Walks. Haven’t had a dud yet. I have 3 in mind for my visit next month though, with no need to book ahead, I’ll decide on the day given weather, etc.