While London is a city for all seasons, it seriously turns on the charm in winter. As the temperature drops, the capital dazzles (literally) with twinkling Christmas markets, neon-lit outdoor ice-skating rinks and sparkling light displays crowning its most iconic streets.
You’ll start seeing mistletoe and mince pies creeping into shops and cafés towards the end of October, but London gets into the full festive swing of Christmas – or Chrimbo, as you might hear locals refer to it – from around mid-November, when Christmas lights are officially ‘switched on’, department stores such as Liberty and Selfridges unveil spectacular seasonal window displays, and Londoners develop a mild obsession with Christmas sandwiches.
Where to wrap up your gift shopping, or simply get into the festive spirit
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is the biggest Christmas fair in London. Every year, young and old flock to the park to spend a few hours totally immersed in seasonal spirit, with rides on the big wheel, ice sculptures, rollercoasters and, of course, Santa's grotto for the little ones.
Christmas magic really starts to kick in from November in London, when the lights are turned on in the streets of the capital and the big department stores unveil their much-awaited Christmas windows. Some of the main ones to look out for are Selfridges, Harrods, Liberty London and John Lewis.
London is a great destination for Christmas shopping. Head to the big department stores for shopping under one roof or, if it's not too cold, browse the smaller independent boutiques to pick up something really different and original to bring home.
Visit the Harry Potter Studio over the Christmas period and discover the magic of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry in the snow, not to be missed if you're a Potter fan. See the studio sets decorated with seasonal garlands, fairy lights and Christmas trees and the school covered in snow.
Every Londoner has some kind of festive food fixation, from mince pies to the ultimate ‘Christmas sarnie’ (that’s a sandwich) – the subject of many a heated lunchtime debate
Thankfully, these don’t involve beef mince. Instead, these traditional, sweet-pastry pies are stuffed with a sticky, spiced mix called ‘mincement’; dried fruit, nuts, finely-chopped apple, and sometimes a soupçon of brandy.
Nothing gets Londoners salivating at this time of year more than a turkey sandwich. Traditionally made from Christmas Day-dinner leftovers, they’re now on sale from mid-November. Various cafés and chains battle for supremacy, adding more and more festive fillings, from bacon and sage stuffing to cranberry sauce and Brussel sprouts.
Not to be taken literally, ‘pigs in blankets’ is the affectionate term for an ever-popular seasonal side-dish: small sausages wrapped in bacon, and baked until they’re extra crispy.
Forget your mother’s advice of never playing with your food. The traditional end to any British Christmas dinner, this dessert made from dried food and spices is aged for a month before being served at the table, doused in brandy and set on fire.