From Christmas markets and ice skating to festive afternoon tea, London is the perfect place to spend your holiday vacation. Below, a few festive ideas to add to your itinerary.
Admire the Christmas Trees and Lights
Trafalgar Square gets a festive makeover at Christmas time.
To say London embraces holiday decor is quite the understatement. In particular, the English capital knows how to decorate a Christmas tree. Head to Trafalgar Square to see a massive spruce all decked out in lights, an annual gift from Norway given every year since 1947.
Strings of twinkling Christmas lights can be found throughout the city during the holiday season, but they shine particularly bright at Kew. The Royal Botanic Gardens boast over a million bulbs, illuminating gardens, trees, and building on a one-mile trail. While there, younger visitors can meet with Santa and his elves and toast marshmallows, while adults enjoy mulled wine and shop for stocking stuffers.
Other notable spots to see lights include Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, Covent Garden, Regent Street, and the South Bank.
Stay Somewhere Festive
Christmas morning champagne overlooking London? Don’t mind if we do at Corinthia London’s Whitehall Penthouse.
Just around the corner from Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, Corinthia London is the coziest Christmas spot for those who like to be in the center of everything on the outside of the hotel, but away from it all as soon as they step inside. The hotel’s restaurant and library area is decked out as a lush alpine winter garden and hosting festive high tea and celebratory Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners. Recover from all the revelry the next day at the ESPA Life spa, which offers Dr. Barbara Sturm facials, relaxation pools, and massages. For a truly memorable holiday, book one of the seven penthouses for a magical escape replete with a fireplace, Christmas tree, access to a private wine collection, and personal butler.
onefinestay will decorate your vacation apartment into the winter wonderland of your dreams to max out your holiday spirit.
For those traveling with a large family or who are planning to stay for several weeks (take advantage of remote work!) onefinestay, which offers luxury rental apartments and homes, is getting extra cheery by setting up fully decorated Christmas trees, garlands, and tablescapes by London florists Hayford & Rhodes upon request as well as delivering another fun British tradition: Christmas hampers.
Go Ice Skating
There’s no more British a way to embrace the cold weather than by lacing up your skates, and hitting Somerset House’s open-air rink (above). Zoom around the courtyard (or scoot along the edge, holding onto the rail—hey! We don’t judge) all while enjoying the beautiful Christmas tree. Then, warm up with a cocktail and a view of the ice in the Skate Lounge or pop in the Fortnum's Christmas Arcade to sneak in a little holiday shopping. Consider yourself a night owl? New last year was a program called "Skate Lates," which brought special music guests to the rink in the evenings.
Or Try Curling at King's Cross
Kings Cross is a delightful newly renovated section of London that is home to loads of shops, restaurants, and activations for Christmas. This winter book a 45-minute curling session (which comes with its own Club Curling Bar for fuel), then stroll over to Coal Drops Yard for dinner at British designer Tom Dixon’s Coal Office, which offers up Mediterranean shared plates in a buzzy, yet relaxed setting created by Chef Assaf Granit—make sure to book in advance, it is a local favorite.
Shop for Gifts
Whether you prefer strolling through pop-up holiday bazaars or spending a full day at Harrod’s (complete with a trip to see Father Christmas), this shopping capital has something for everyone on your list. We recommend making a trip to Liberty London for beautiful accessories in the line’s signature prints, the latest beauty must-haves, and a gorgeous selection of stationery. Arket next door is a go-to for on-trend staples; their denim is perfect for gifting yourself. Then slide over to Savile Road and get the men in your life monogrammed handkerchiefs. If you’re searching for the perfect fashion-forward present, head to Dover Street Market, for wares from innovative brands like Comme des Garçons, Raf Simons, Erdem, and Thom Browne among many, many others.
Need more shopping ideas? Here's our complete guide to the best Christmas markets in London.
Partake in Afternoon Tea
A full tea service is ideal any afternoon in London (We recommend making a reservation the first day you land, to help beat jetlag), but it’s a particularly nice way to warm up when it’s chilly outside. Kick off the holiday season at Sketch, whose pink interiors are Instagram-worthy any time of year, but at Christmas has been transformed into the Glade, a lovely wintry forest. For a classic experience, indulge at Fortnum & Mason. If hot chocolate is more your speed, stop by Knoops, a small chain of hot chocolate cafes where you order your drink with your desired percentage of cocoa, from 28 to 100 percent.
Visit Hogwarts in the Snow.
For fans of the Harry Potter series, the Warner Brothers Studio Tour really comes to life in the wintertime. In the weeks before the holidays, the attraction is transformed to include Christmas trees lining the Great Hall, and a festive-looking Gryffindor common room.
Attend Christmas Services
Choristers at St. Paul’s rehearse for their Christmas carol service.
If going to church is part of your annual holiday tradition, St. Paul’s Cathedral is just one of many offering services.
Eat British Staples… and Then Try Omakase
Sushi and other Japanese favorites at the Beaverbrook Townhouse Fuji Grill are the perfect break from British fare.
Cold weather is the best time of year to enjoy a Sunday roast and sticky toffee pudding, not to mention a pint or two. Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia deliveries all of that and then some, you’ll never dismiss traditional British meals again. Then, move onto London’s other classic cuisine: Indian. Dishoom is an all-around favorite, with Bombay comfort food and live jazz music; they don’t take reservations so stop by in the late afternoon to put your name down (be prepared for a two-hour wait) while you have a cocktail or go shopping nearby. As a grand finale, treat yourself to omakase at the Beaverbrook Townhouse Fuji Grill. Omakase chef Goemon Ishikawa has curated a two-hour experience with a seasonal menu that is perfectly on point. And, unlike other Japanese dining experiences, it is topped off with dessert from Beaverbrook’s pastry chef. It is a memorable respite from fish and chips.
Check out the Peter Pan Cup
One of London’s most unique holiday rituals is the annual Peter Pan Cup, where members of the Serpentine Swimming Club jump into lake in Hyde Park for an icy Christmas Day race. Unfortunately (...or fortunately depending on your perspective), visitors can’t partake in the festivities, but it’s almost more fun to bundle up and watch the event.
Take a Weekend Trip
The newly renovated North Lodge at Coworth Park for those staying with friends and family.
If your itinerary allows, Coworth Park is an excursion well-worth undertaking. Located about an hour’s drive outside London (just under two hours by train), the former 18th century manor home in Ascot is now a Dorchester hotel, nestled amidst world-class polo fields (Prince William and Harry are regulars). Book the newly renovated North Lodge on the property—the former gatekeeper’s cottage turned three-bedroom residence is ideal for large families or friends and absolutely perfect for those traveling with children (make sure to book them an equestrian lesson, Coworth has great ponies for littles, and horses for yourself). Don’t skip the toffee pudding on Sundays at the Michelin-starred restaurant or chips (fries) and a martini at their more casual restaurant, the Barn.
Afternoon tea in the drawing room, fully decorated for the holidays.
At this point you are probably bursting, but it is worth mentioning that all of Coworth Park's chocolate is handmade on the premises. Work it off with a swim at the spa, surrounded by amethyst crystals, a long stroll around the property (see if you can spy the home where John Lennon wrote and filmed the music video for Imagine), or that aforementioned horse ride. If you have trouble summoning up the motivation to return to London, we don’t blame you.
Rumor has it, he'll be making appearances at both Royal Albert Hall and the Museum of London.
Style and Interiors Writer
Olivia Hosken is the Style & Interiors writer for Town & Country, covering all things design, architecture, fashion, and jewelry.
Caroline HallemannDigital Director
As the digital director for Town & Country, Caroline Hallemann covers culture, entertainment, and a range of other subjects