Christmas already? Well, all the big London department stores have opened their Christmas shops, so clearly I’m not the only one. Plus, starting June 25, my husband usually begins counting down the days making for plenty of Christmas discussion in our household. Finally, no other major city in the world does Christmas better than London, so it’s easy to get excited about the holidays early.
The festive season begins November 1, which for my American friends presents a bit of a quandry because we all know Christmas doesn’t really begin until after Thanksgiving. But given the lack of my favorite holiday in my new homeland, I’ll happily roll with it. London makes it easy, as the city becomes so festive with lights twinkling everywhere – a huge bonus when it’s dark by 4:00pm in December.
If you are planning a trip to London over the holiday season, what should you do? Here are a few of my favorite things:
The displays change from year to year, but without a doubt they will be bright and sparkly and you won’t be able to help but get into the Christmas spirit. The entire city lights up, but here is my suggested route for maximizing light viewing over a leisurely evening stroll.
- From Green Park Tube Station walk down Berkley Street towards Berkley Square. On the western side of the square there is an exclusive member’s only club called Annabel‘s that decks out the front of their building in a massive light display. In 2018, it was an enormous Christmas Tree that took up the entire front of the building and then some.
- From there you can cut across to Bruton Street that takes you to New (and Old) Bond Street. The luxury stores spare no expense in decorating for the holidays and it’s a really fun way to window shop.
- Take a left onto Burlington Gardens and you can make your way past the Burlington Arcade. Lots of lovely boutiques, but more importantly the Christmas lights make the centuries old shopping street sparkle like snow shimmering on the tree branches.
- Keeping walking straight ahead to Regent Street. This and Oxford Street are at the heart of London’s Christmas light displays. They go up and down the entire street and the glow of the lights shimmers across the shoppers bringing home their shopping for the night.
- From Regent Street, take a right onto Beak Street and you start to come across the funky, festive nature of SoHo. Bars and restaurants line the streets throughout this entire part of town, but there is one final stop to make along this walk. On your left you’ll come to Carnaby Street which is always glowing with a fun and unique take on the Christmas theme. In 2018, it honoured the Bohemian Rhapsody movie with a full-on Queen and Freddie Mercury splash.
If you haven’t had enough of Christmas lights on the streets of London, then be sure to check out Kew Gardens. Tickets for this sell out EARLY, like it’s hard to find tickets by October 1. There are light and music displays all around the gardens, along with food trucks to get a bite to eat and a bit of hot cider or mulled wine to warm your hands in the cold air. It’s a great family activity and there is enough to keep young kids, teenagers, adults and grandparents entertained all at the same time.
Each year there are performances of The Nutcracker put on by the English National Ballet. It’s a Christmas classic performed by one of the world’s pre-eminant ballet companies. Get tickets if you can.
Also, be sure to check out A Christmas Carol – after all, you are in the birthplace of Charles Dickens! There are different performances every year, so you’ll need to do a search to see who is putting on the show. Even if you have seen it many times before, you never know what you might experience. We caught the Old Vic’s performance a few years ago and it was by far the most uplifting version I had ever seen.
Finally, another not-to-be missed English Christmas tradition is a Pantomime performance. I’ll be honest, we haven’t tried one yet, but they are a tried and true family tradition for most of the British population. These are family-friendly, interactive, slapstick, over-the-top theatrical performances that have been happening for hundreds of years. Many are based on children’s folk tales, so the stories are familiar to everyone in the crowd. A good time will definitely be had by all.
Carols at The Royal Albert Hall
In the final run up to Christmas, Royal Albert Hall puts on a Christmas extravaganza like no other. It’s one giant sing-along Christmas carol experience that would put even Ebenezer Scrooge into the Christmas spirit. Join the National Youth Choir of Great Britain and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra for two hours of pure holiday magic. We did this last year on Christmas Eve and then went to lunch afterwards. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the holiday.
Boxing Day Football Matches
If you have a football/soccer fan in your life, make sure they get to participate in the biggest day of the Premier League season. All 20 teams play on December 26 – Boxing Day – in matches up and down the country. The Premier League season goes into overdrive over the holidays, but the game to be at is a Boxing Day match. Tickets are hard to come by, but check out Viagogo (the UK’s version of StubHub) to see what is available for individual matches. The other alternative is to look at each club’s hospitality packages. You pay a bit more money, but are guaranteed a ticket along with a meal and a few other perks.