Shopping in December lets visitors enjoy the Christmas lights
Ian Packham

Your Complete Guide to London in December

If you thought London was a city solely for the summer months, think again. Because London in December sees the British capital at probably its most colorful of the year. Few can avoid getting in the Christmas spirit, before turning their attention to the south bank of the River Thames and the nation’s foremost fireworks display to bring in the New Year in style.

With all that in mind, here’s your complete guide to what’s going on in London in December, so you don’t miss a thing.

Shop till you drop

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Forget what you’ve seen in the movies, you’ll need to be lucky to encounter any snowfall in London at Christmas. With average December lows of 5°C, snowmen are more likely in February. But this takes nothing away from the Christmas atmosphere, which sweeps across the capital’s streets and storefronts from the end of November.

From Abbey Road to Lambeth Palace, Carnaby Street to St Katharine Docks, London’s sidewalks are bright with an array of lights, adding a further attraction to the window displays of shops big and small.

Not too far away, London’s largest Christmas tree – an annual gift from the Norwegian capital topping out at around 20 meters high – takes center stage in Trafalgar Square. Christmas markets occupy other well-known spaces, including Leicester Square and the riverbank in front of Tower Bridge and City Hall, where last minute gifts and traditional festive treats jostle for attention.

Never one to rest on its laurels, as soon as the big day is over, the focus moves to the Boxing Day sales of December 26, which has been a date to circle in the diary long before the advent of Black Friday. Aim to get there before sun up for the very best deals.

Enjoy the capital’s historic attractions in a new way

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Even if you’ve visited London before, December offers many new experiences at some of the city’s most famous sites. The UNESCO-enshrined Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew puts on a dazzling display of lights and colorful projected images every evening from dusk.

Hyde Park becomes the location of a huge combined fun fair and Christmas market, perhaps best taken in from its dedicated observation wheel. Alternatively, you might prefer to cheer on the brave souls who take part in the Peter Pan Cup. A swimming competition in Hyde Park’s Serpentine Lake, it has taken place on Christmas Day since 1864 in one of the capital’s stranger traditions.

If you prefer your water even colder, look no further than the temporary outdoor ice rinks that appear at many of London’s most-loved attractions during December. Kensington’s Natural History Museum, The Strand’s Somerset House and even Hampton Court Palace provide extraordinary backdrops to a quick spin on the ice followed by a warming mug of hot chocolate.

Experience the UK’s top Christmas events

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Christmas in London sees Christopher Wren’s masterwork, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the thousand-year-old Westminster Abbey both present a series of traditional carol services which fill their august spaces with stunning vocals. The Royal Albert Hall has an equally impressive program of concerts, ranging from Christmas classics played by big bands to performances of Handel’s Messiah.

Heading to a ballet performance is another popular London December tradition. Shows with winter themes such as The Nutcracker grace the stages of several major theaters, and are bound to bring back a sense of childhood glee. For an altogether less-serious evening out, it has to be a panto performance, filled with slap-stick comedy, audience participation and men dressed in drag.

But don’t be misled by the brash colors and fairy-tale plots, there’s serious acting going on here, with everyone from Sir Ian McKellen (The Lord of the Rings’ Gandalf) to Hollywood ‘giant’ Mickey Rooney having taken to the pantomime stage. Oh no they didn’t – oh yes they did!

But when it comes to events in London in December, few can compete with the capital’s annual New Year’s Eve fireworks display. Launched from barges on the Thames and the 32 pods of the London Eye, the display takes eight technicians a week to wire up the seven tons of explosives needed for the 10-minute show. Dazzling audiences since its inception in the year 2000, it can be enjoyed from various high points around the city, as well as the river bank and the comfort of sofas in well-heated bars just about everywhere.

Eat, drink and be merry

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With 60-plus Michelin star restaurants at your fingertips, London’s food scene takes some beating. Even if your budget doesn’t quite stretch to beef aged for 90 days in Himalayan salt chambers and desserts decorated with 24-carat gold leaf, you’ll still find plenty of choice.

Don’t get caught out though – many restaurants (and attractions) close their doors on Christmas Day to give their staff a well-earned rest. Even those that do open – and Chinatown is always a good bet – get booked up early and can be difficult to reach without London’s usual transportation options, which also cease for the day.

Roast turkey has been the Christmas Day meal of choice since at least the time of Henry VIII, and will be served with ‘all the trimmings’. These include Brussel sprouts, honey-roasted parsnips, sage and onion stuffing, pigs in blankets (that’s sausages wrapped in bacon) and roasted potatoes.

Traditionally made with suet, Christmas pudding is another must try, being loaded with dried fruits, spices and a liberal quantity of alcohol before being served with hot custard (crème anglais). You’ll find mince pies (which are nothing to do with ground beef) dusted in icing sugar and on display at pretty much every bakery, café and supermarket in the capital in December.

Many Brits, Londoners included, then head out for a post-meal walk, which may involve a stop off at a local pub. Whether they’re open or not will largely depend on where you’re located – central London takes on the air of a ghost town on December 25. Those on popular walking routes are more likely to be open than those on streets like The Strand, although probably for no more than a few hours in the afternoon. Hotel bars are likely to remain open for longer.

Save on London December attraction admission

Admission to many of London’s top attractions and activities can be enjoyed at a reduced rate with Go City. Our Explorer Pass includes admission to a range of London attractions, while giving you the flexibility to do what you want, when you want, without having to make any decisions beforehand. If London’s December weather lets you down, there’s no need to rearrange the plans for your entire stay. In fact, with Go City you don’t need a plan at all.

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