It’s winter in London. The days have shortened, the nights have closed in, and the sun has gotten too lazy to rise very high. But the darkness brings a certain magic with it, not to mention a lot of events that thrive in this environment. If you’re in London over the next few months, here’s A Lady in London’s guide to things to do in London in winter.
Things to Do in London in Winter
Winter is a great time to visit London, not least because the crowds are thin and the city goes all-out for the festive season.
There are a lot of great things to do in London in winter, from Christmas markets to ice skating and theater. Whether you like outdoor activities or snuggling up inside, there’s something for you to get excited about in London this season.
Christmas in London
Every year London brightens up for winter, and this year is no exception. The annual Christmas lights have been switched on in the city center, and they’re a treat to see. From Oxford Street to Regent Street and Bond Street, there’s no shortage of places to watch them twinkle.
I particularly like the Christmas lights on Carnaby Street, which change every year according to a theme. They stay up and on well into January, so it’s nice to see them in the new year as well.
There are also a lot of ice skating rinks popping up throughout the city. My favorites are the ones at Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, but there are a lot of others to choose from. Ice skating is a great way to get into the seasonal spirit and keep warm at the same time.
Speaking of keeping warm, London has plenty of indoor fun to enjoy this time of year. The shops are full of Christmas decorations and there are gifts ideas galore. I love popping into Fortnum & Mason, Selfridges, and Peter Jones for my fix of lights and baubles.
And that’s to say nothing of London’s theater and performing arts scene. I get excited for The Nutcracker every year, and there are always plenty of plays and musicals offering seasonal entertainment. The panto is a classic British Christmas musical comedy stage production, and seeing one during the season is truly living like a local.
Back outside, one of the best things to do in London in winter is visit the Christmas markets. They get bigger and brighter every year, and they’re fun places to browse the stalls and drink mulled wine.
From Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to the Winter Market on the South Bank and the chalets in Leicester Square, London has no shortage of Christmas markets to indulge in.
Some have fun-fair rides, others musical performances, and still more Santa’s grottoes. They all have stalls selling every kind of Christmas gift imaginable, so there are a lot of places to get ideas for presents.
Beyond the chalets, London’s shopping arcades are great places to pick up gifts and soak up the seasonal spirit. They’re decorated with lights and tinsel every winter, making them cheerful places to Christmas shop. My favorites are the Royal Arcade in Mayfair and Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly, both of which look their best this time of year.
And speaking of decorations, London’s Christmas trees are a treat to see. Dotted throughout the city, they range from traditional firs to designer fashion statements. I always love the one in St Pancras International station, not least because it offers a creative take on a classic tree.
New Year’s in London
After Christmas comes New Year’s Eve, and London knows how to do it well. The annual fireworks display on the Thames is stunning, and seeing the London Eye sparkle in the dark is magical.
New Year’s Day brings with it a huge parade, and it’s a great time to get out and celebrate a fresh start. London’s New Year’s Day Parade kicks off on Piccadilly at noon on January 1st and goes throughout the West End. Floats, musicians, and performers fill the streets, and over 10,000 participants from the UK, US, Europe, and beyond take part.
Trips from London in Winter
But London doesn’t have a monopoly on winter in the UK, and there are some great places to get into the seasonal spirit outside the capital. Edinburgh’s Christmas markets and lights are spectacular, not to mention its multi-day New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Birmingham‘s streets fill with chalets all season, and the whole city center comes alive with Christmas markets, music, and culinary treats.
I’ve also written about 5 winter day trips from London where you can get more into the seasonal spirit. From markets to cozy firesides, there are a lot of places in the UK that shine in winter.
Regardless of how you spend your time, I hope you’re able to take advantage of as many of the things to do in London in winter as you can. It’s an unexpectedly enjoyable season for being in the city, and now that it’s upon us I hardly notice the early sunsets and chillier days.
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