Ah, December: winter has come to London, with frost in the air and a little (or a truly great deal of) snow a-fallin.’ All across town, the city is putting on its holiday spirit, with twinkling lights, ice skating rinks and bustling Christmas markets.
With a celebration of the season happening almost every day, December is a festive, exciting time to be in London.
For December temperatures and suggestions about what to pack, see London Weather.
****2010 DECEMBER – 2011 JANUARY****
Christmas school holiday: (generally) 20 December to 6 January
Christmas Day: 25 December
Boxing Day: 26 December
Christmas Tree Lighting in Trafalgar Square
Thursday, 2 December
Every year since 1947, a Norwegian spruce Christmas tree has been erected in London’s Trafalgar Square, presented by Norway to the people of Britain for its support of Norway during World War II. The tree lights will be offically turned on by the Mayor of Oslo and the Lord Mayor of Westminster in a ceremony that always draws a big crowd.
Christmas at St Pancras
Thursday, 2 December – Friday, 17 December
The train station concourse is transformed into a traditional Christmas scene, and in addition to late shopping nights, there will be ongoing musical performances by orchestras, choirs, pop artists and more.
Clerkenwell Christmas Market at Smithfield
Friday, 3 December
At Smithfield Market, enjoy a cup of mulled wine, Christmas-themed food, the sound of carol singers, and stalls selling great handmade gifts for your friends and family. All Christmas market profits go to St. John Ambulance. Entry is free.
VIP Shopping Day
Saturday, 4 December
Starting at 11am
Oxford Street and Regent Street, the two biggest shopping streets in London, will be closed to all but foot traffic. Many of the area’s shops will be offering treats like free champagne, mulled wine, eggnog, mince pies and more. In addition, there will be dozens of musical and theatrical Christmas shows.
Great Christmas Pudding Race
Saturday, 4 December
Covent Garden Market hosts the 30th annual GCPR, organized to raise funds for Cancer Research UK. Competitors for the Christmas Pudding Trophy pay (as individuals or teams) to dress up in fun/nutty costumes and tackle an obstacle course …all while carrying a Christmas pudding on a tray.
Reindeer Petting at Covent Garden
Saturday, 4 December – Saturday, 11 December – Wednesday, 29 December: East Piazza
Saturday, 18 December: West Piazza
In addition to the Great Christmas Pudding Race, choir performances and children’s pantomime, London’s famous Covent Garden features one of the city’s most unique/delightful winter experiences: the petting of real, live reindeer.
Eco Design Christmas Fair
Saturday-Sunday, 4-5 December
10am-5pm (Sat) & 10am-4pm (Sun)
If you’re looking for ‘ethically’ produced or green gifts for Christmas, try this show at Islington Town Hall; entry costs £2.
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Through Sunday, 5 December
5-8 pm Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays
Syon House (an estate on the banks of the River Thames near Brentford in west London) includes 40 acres of landscaped gardens best known for their collection of over 200 rare species of trees; for this event, over a thousand fairy lights are used to illuminate the woodland and lake area at night.
Through Wednesday, 5 January
10am-5pm Tues-Sat, Sun-Bank Holiday Mondays 12-5pm (closed on regular Mondays)
The Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch hosts an exhibition of “400 Years of Seasonal Traditions in English Homes,” which illuminates why and how the rituals of a traditional Christmas evolved. The museum is free to enter.
Trafalgar Square Christmas Carols
Tuesday, 7 December – Wednesday, 22 December
Every evening of this ongoing event, four or five different groups of carol singers will take turns singing in Trafalgar Square next to the Norwegian Christmas Tree. Free to attend.
Christmas Through the Ages
Thursday, 9 December (Kensington Gardens)
Friday, 10 December (Hyde Park)
Free, guided walks in Royal Parks that provide entertaining stories behind seasonal folklore.
Christmas at Kew Gardens
Saturday, 11 December – Monday, 3 January (closed 24 & 25 December)
Bring the whole family for festive horse and carriage rides, Christmas pantomimes, a Victorian Christmas carousel, Christmas storytellers and a visit to Santa’s Grotto. Kew Gardens are located alongside the south bank of the River Thames close to Richmond in west London; the nearest Tube is Kew Gardens on the District Line. Map
Spitalfields Winter Festival
Monday-Friday, 13-18 December
The 30th year of this music festival features a programme of classical, jazz and gospel seasonal music taking place at various venues around Spitalfields, including Christ Church Spitalfields, Shoreditch Church and Spitalfields Market. Ticket prices vary, depending on performances.
Christmas at Hampton Court Palace
Carol Singing: Friday, 17 December – Monday, 20 December
Jacobean Christmas: 21 December – 23 December
Tudor Christmas: Monday, 27 December – Sunday, 2 January
The famous palace at Richmond features roving choirs, a play about the history of the King James Bible, and a hands-on exploration of how Henry VIII lived high on the hog at Christmastime.
Friday, 18 December
Santa suit distribution: 2pm-4pm
Race departs at 5pm
Join hundreds of other rollerbladers dressed as Santa Claus for a two hour skate around central London. Santa suits will be distributed at the Victoria Public House (Strathearn Place, W2 2NH) from 2-4pm. Skating Santas will then assemble by the Wellington Arch, Hyde Park Corner ready to depart at 5pm.
Tower Bridge European Christmas Market
Through Wednesday, 22 December
Features market traders from a variety of European countries selling arts and crafts, food, drink and a range of Christmas gifts and decorations. Entertainment at the market will include Santa Claus in his grotto, a wooden carousel, acoustic musicians, Christmas choirs, plus brass and classical ensembles. Held in Potters Field, on the south bank of the Thames; nearest Tubes are London Bridge or Tower Hill. Map
Through Wednesday, 22 December
Mon-Wed & Sat 11am-7pm/Thurs 12pm-8pm/Sun 12pm-5pm
Putting a modern spin on the holidays, Santa’s Ghetto, an annual pop-up art show sponsored by London art superstar Banksy, features controversial pieces by British artists. This year’s show, titled Marks & Stencils, is being held at the Pictures on Walls Gallery in Soho near Oxford Circus.
Greenwich Christmas Market
Through Friday, 24 December
Wednesday-Sunday and Bank Holidays, 10am to 5:30pm
In addition to the market’s usual array of handmade arts & crafts, food, antiques and produce stalls, there will be a Christmas tree and Santa’s grotto. To reach Greenwich Market, take the Tube’s Jubilee Line to Canary Wharf, and change to the DLR; take the DLR direct to Cutty Sark.
Peter Pan Christmas Day Race
Saturday, 25 December
This freezing cold race, held annually since 1864 by the Serpentine Swimming Club at Hyde Park’s Serpentine, is only open to club members; consider it a spectator sport…for which you should dress warmly.
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
Through Tuesday, January 4
Entry is free to what is arguably London’s biggest Christmas event for the whole family. Food markets? London’s largest ice rink and a giant observation wheel? Spectacular shows and rides? Yeah, they’ve got that.
Bankside Frost Fair
Note: This event will not be held in 2010.
(Usually) held in Southwark, in front of the Tate Modern and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, this is a free event featuring parades, music events, shopping, food stalls and various workshops, the Frost Fair tries to capture the spirit of the original fairs held when the River Thames used to freeze over in winter.
ICE SKATING RINKS
Alexandra Palace: being refurbished
Broadgate: through Sunday, 23 January
Canary Wharf: through Sunday, 20 February
London Eye: through Wednesday, 5 January
Hampton Court Palace: through Sunday, 9 January
Natural History Museum: through Sunday, 9 January
Somerset House: through Sunday, 23 January
Tower of London: through Sunday, 9 January
Westfield London: through Monday, 3 January
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park: through Tuesday, 4 January
AEGON Masters Tennis Tournament
Through Saturday, 5 December
Held at Royal Albert Hall since 1998, the ATP Champions tour’s longest-running tournament features a field of 12 players, including the top seven on the tour rankings plus five wild cards. Tickets range from £8.75-£95. The Royal Albert Hall is located on the south side of Hyde Park; nearest Tubes are Knightsbridge and High Street Kensington.
The Olympia London International Horse Show
Tuesday, 14 December – Monday, 20 December
Performance times change during the week
Held at Olympia in west London (near Hammersmith), this annual show features showjumping, dressage, dog agility and Shetland Pony shows, plus displays from the King’s Troop, the Metropolitan Police Horse Activity Ride and the Christmas Circus. Tickets cost between £27.50-£52.50.
Kempton Park’s William Hill Winter Festival
Sunday, December 26 – Monday, December 27
About 12:30 pm – about 4pm
The William Hill King George VI Steeple Chase at Kempton Park Racecourse is a Boxing Day tradition in London. Tickets range from £8-60. Kempton is located in semi-nearby Middlesex, so use the Transport Direct site (Kempton Park Racecourse, Staines Road East, Sunbury on Thames, Middlesex, TW16 5AQ) to plan your journey by Tube.