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
Come Christmas, even locals who usually avoid the throngs of Covent Garden can’t resist the Apple Market’s pull. This year’s decorative display will see the return of the 40 super-sized mistletoe chandeliers that became an Instagram hit in 2016.
Christmas lights and markets from 14 November 2017
Christmas at Kew
If you thought your Christmas party outfit was a showstopper, wait until you check out Kew Gardens’ seasonal makeover. A mile-long twinkling trail leads visitors past 27 botanic-themed illuminated installations, including kaleidoscopic projections and a chorus of ‘singing trees’.
From 22 November 2017 to 1 January 2018
Southbank Centre Winter Festival
The Thames’ cultural hub throws a neon-lit Noël celebration with a Nordic twist this year, with pop-ups, shows and performances by the river. Looking to heat things up? Don’t miss the rooftop Finnish sauna in the Queen Elizabeth Roof Gardens.
From 10 November 2017 to 4 January 2018
The biggest retail players along this Central London stretch embrace the Yuletide spirit, as the street goes traffic-tree for its grand Christmas lights launch. You might even spot a minor British celebrity or two...
The lights are switched on on 16 November 2017.
Yes, it’s slightly cheesy, but there’s a reason why this Hyde Park stalwart is London’s largest festive fiesta. Now in its eleventh year, it’s been helping even the grumpiest of Grinches get into the Christmas groove with a winning formula of alpine-themed bars, ice-skating rinks, and raucous rides.
From 17 November 2017 to 1 January 2018
Tate Modern Christmas Market
This Thameside powerhouse knows how to put on a buzzed-about art show, but it’s also a secret mecca for festive gift-gatherers. Join them in the gallery’s forecourt each December to browse its cutesy stalls and pick up quirky stocking-fillers.
From 17 November to 23 December 2017
London’s alternative Christmas market swaps Victoria Park for Clapham Common this year, but retains its hipster credentials – think club nights, crazy golf, cabaret and eclectic food stands, curated by Street Feast.
From 23 November 2017 to 5 January 2018
Festive foods to try
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.
Pigs in blankets
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.