The answer is a resounding yes! We think it’s the best city in Europe at any time of the year, but it looks quite remarkable over winter.
Winter days don’t need to mean hibernation. It’s the most wonderful time of the year in fact. In many respects, London during winter is at its most special. Think twinkling lights, Christmas markets and cosy pubs for starters. Wrap up warm and enjoy London this winter with our list of things to do.
Here, we list 15 of our favourite things to do in London this winter – from fancy dinners to free festive fun things to do.
1. Top of our ‘free things to do indoors’ list has to be the many London museums and art galleries. Take time to absorb the amazing collections at the British Museum, Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Natural History Museum. Over in Shoreditch, the Geffrye Museum Winter Festival unveils 400 years of Christmas traditions. Discover why we celebrate Christmas the way we do.
2. We may be biassed, but winter walks in London are something special. It’s another free thing to do too. Enjoy the vast green spaces at Greenwich, Hampstead or even central London parks like Hyde Park or Victoria Park. A stroll along the Southbank is a beautiful thing and it won’t be heaving with crowds as it can be in summer.
3. Pantomime is a peculiarly British tradition. Way before RuPaul’s Drag Race, men dressed as dames and girls played principal boys. It’s silly, family fun. Pantos happen around the country, giving celebrities fruitful employment in winter months. The one at the London Palladium is particularly naughty with Julian Clary and Jennifer Saunders providing the smut!
4. The ice skating rink at Somerset House is wonderfully picturesque. The ice rink makes the place look even more like St Petersburg. Go ice skating at this must-visit winter wonderland and you can’t fail to feel festive. Don’t forget to stop and take in the surroundings with hot chocolate in hand.
5. Enjoy the view from up high. On a crisp, clear winter morning, London can look spectacular. Head up The Shard, take the London Eye, climb Tower Bridge or enjoy the viewpoints from natural high spots like Primrose Hill or Greenwich.
6. London’s Christmas markets provide the opportunity to pick up presents from independent makers rather than mainstream shops. They’re super festive and usually resplendent with warm mulled wine, hand-crafted decorations and mince pies. Now that’s the way to do Christmas shopping. Favourites include Covent Garden, Camden, Portobello Road and the Southbank.
7. Festive food markets are tempting places. Borough Market is ever popular, but it does get super busy so you’ll need to sharpen your elbows and be prepared to be jostled. Head east and try the street food at Spitalfields Market and the delectable offerings in Leadenhall Market. Both of these markets are covered which is a bonus in winter. Also, Box Park in Shoreditch is a good spot for foodies.
8. London’s Christmas lights get going very early. They transform the city on a grey winter’s night. Coupled with the impressive window displays in major stores like Hamleys, Selfridges and Liberty, the Christmas lights signal that the festivities have commenced. Extra special, Kew Gardens puts on a fabulous light display in winter which makes it even more enchanting.
9. Igloos have become quite a thing in London over Christmas. Gather your mates and book a rooftop igloo in Tobacco Dock or Canary Wharf. Down on the Southbank, you can indulge in a cheese fondue in an igloo beside the River Thames which is a pretty magical experience.
10. The Christmas Day dip in the Serpentine is legendary. It dates back to 1864. Hordes of brave (or daft) swimmers take the plunge in the freezing waters in Hyde Park. It’s quite the sight.
11. Given that Christmas is actually about the birth of Christ (rather than Santa, sleighs and overindulgence), experiencing a service with a choir in St Paul’s Cathedral or Westminster Abbey is pretty memorable. St Paul’s Christmas Carol services take place at 4pm on 23rd and 24th December and they’re really something special. And don’t miss live music performances at St Martin-in-the-Fields in the lead up to Christmas too.
12. The Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square is a gift from Norway. It’s been presented to the UK since 1947 as a mark of gratitude for Britain’s efforts in World War II. The tree lighting ceremony takes place on the first Thursday in December and it’s rather charming. From there, take a walk around nearby Leicester Square, Soho and Oxford Street to absorb the festive decor and Christmas lights.
13. London’s not LA or Luxor. It gets nippy here. That’s why London (and England generally) does cosy so well. That means warm fires (smokeless fuel of course), holly and tremendously tasty, filling meals. Choose an inviting restaurant, cafe or pub and settle in for the duration. You could push the boat out at London’s oldest restaurant, Rules (go for the game, it’s to die for). There are great local pubs in which to enjoy amazing roasts. Try The Horseshoe in Hampstead or Maggie Jones’ (temporarily closed for repair) in Kensington. If afternoon tea’s your thing, The Wolseley is amazing or Tea and Tattle cafe near the British Museum.
14. A ride on the upper deck of the number 15 bus from Trafalgar Square in the West End to Tower Hill is a London must-do experience. It’s a heritage bus ride on the classic red Routemaster, complete with bus conductor. It’s perfect for sightseeing, people-watching and absorbing the wintertime hustle and bustle from a relatively comfy seat. You’ll take in sights like St Paul’s Cathedral, Covent Garden and the Tower of London. You can’t do that from the Tube!
15. Welcome in 2024 with the New Year’s parade on 1st January. It’s loud, colourful and it takes over Piccadilly, Regent Street, Trafalgar Square, Pall Mall and Whitehall. Think American marching bands and cheerleaders, Chinese dragon displays and participants in remarkable fancy dress. The live music is on the loud side so it’s not advised if you’re suffering from the excesses of New Year’s Eve.
Of course, the best way to explore festive London is with one of our Christmas walking tours. It’s a must-do activity if you’re visiting London. Get the inside scoop on everything from Buckingham Palace to Borough Market, London Bridge to Leicester Square.