Free Things to do in London in December

London Christmas Lights

10 Free Festive and Amazing Things to Do in December in London

Leicester Square Christmas stalls

December offers a plethora of free activities and experiences to enjoy without breaking the bank. Take a stroll through the enchanting Christmas markets that adorn various neighborhoods, such as Covent Garden, Southbank, and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, where you can immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere, explore unique crafts, and sample delicious treats. Marvel at the beautifully decorated streets and window displays, from Oxford Street to Regent Street, where dazzling lights and intricate decorations create a magical ambiance. Enjoy the joyous sounds of carol singers in Trafalgar Square and other iconic locations, spreading holiday cheer. Many museums and art galleries in London offer free admission, allowing you to indulge in world-class cultural experiences. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit renowned institutions such as the British Museum, Tate Modern, and the National Gallery. Additionally, you can take a scenic walk along the River Thames, admiring the iconic landmarks illuminated in their festive glory. Whether it’s witnessing the Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square or the breathtaking views from Tower Bridge, there are plenty of free delights to savor during the December festivities in London.

Does it snow in London in December?

Snowfall in London during December is not guaranteed, as the city’s climate tends to be milder compared to other parts of the UK. While occasional snowfall does occur, it is more likely to happen in January, February or March. However, it’s worth noting that weather patterns can vary from year to year, and there have been instances of snowfall in December in the past. If you’re hoping to see snow in London, it’s best to keep an eye on weather forecasts closer to your desired travel dates.

A side view the Edwardian Baroque style Harrods department store, London

1. Window shopping in high-end department stores

Window shopping in high-end department stores like Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Liberty’s offers a range of advantages. These stores are known for their luxurious ambiance, impeccable service, and an extensive selection of designer brands. As you stroll through their opulent displays, you can admire the meticulously decorated Christmas trees and stunning festive decorations, which create a captivating and enchanting atmosphere. The stores often play delightful Christmas music, further enhancing the joyful and celebratory mood.

Liberty’s Department Store, with its distinctive Tudor-style architecture, stands out for its unique and charming character. The combination of quirky, luxurious, and opulent offerings within Liberty’s creates an unforgettable shopping experience.

Harrods, known as a world-renowned shopping destination, presents an extravagant display of luxury goods, from fashion and accessories to gourmet delicacies. The store’s grandeur and exclusivity contribute to a sense of awe and fascination.

Harvey Nichols is another high-end department store that showcases an array of designer brands, ensuring a sophisticated and stylish shopping experience. From fashion to beauty products, the store offers a curated selection of luxury items.

Fortnum & Masons, with its signature green interior, exudes elegance and tradition. The store is famous for its quality food and beverages, including delectable hampers, teas, and chocolates. Exploring the store’s tastefully decorated spaces is a treat for the senses.

Hotel Cafe Royal adds a touch of glamour to the shopping experience. The magnificent Christmas tree in the lobby, along with the presence of large teddy bears scattered throughout the hotel, adds a festive charm and invites visitors to revel in the holiday spirit.

In summary, window shopping in high-end department stores offers a delightful blend of visual delights, luxurious offerings, and a festive atmosphere. Whether it’s admiring the colourful Christmas decorations, enjoying the holiday music, or experiencing the unique character of each store, these experiences make for an unforgettable shopping excursion during the Christmas season.

A side angle of Leicester Square Christmas market stall.

2. Southbank Winter Market

The Southbank Winter Market stands out as one of London’s finest Christmas markets. While it’s free to visit, indulging in the tempting food, drinks, and souvenirs can be a little expensive. Located along the picturesque River Thames, the Southbank Winter Market surpasses its counterparts in Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. Whether you visit during the day to bask in the beauty of the surrounding fresh air or in the evening when darkness blankets the atmosphere, you’ll be greeted by a mesmerizing display of Christmas lights in various hues and the captivating glow of fairground rides. The festive melodies played on xylophones add to the holiday spirit, while the laughter and shouts of children enjoying rides like the carousel and the exhilarating “Starflyer” swing ride resonate in the air. Don’t miss the splendid view of the illuminated London Eye, which adds to the enchantment after nightfall.

Finding a spot on one of the patios by the river with friends allows you to savor the delights of hot mulled wine and cider, hot dogs, and steak, all while relishing the serene movements of boats and the gentle sounds of waves along the River Thames. The market also offers handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts, albeit at a higher price point. You can unwind at the Circus Bar, where you can sit with friends around a central fire, immersing yourself in a whimsical circus tent ambiance. For a cozy experience, sink into a bean bag and enjoy Christmas movies on the other side of the tent, but remember to keep your jacket on as it can get chilly.

I visited the Southbank Winter Market with a group of friends simply to hang out, and I only spent £6 on food from the stalls. The prices for food and drinks typically range from £6 to £15, depending on your choice. The enticing aroma of burgers and mustard wafted through the air, causing a slight cough from the intensity of the scent. The sizzling and crackling sounds from the cooking pans added to the lively atmosphere, and the chefs’ faces were partially obscured by the wisps of smoke, creating a warm and inviting setting.

As you venture inside, you’ll find yourself transported into an enchanted forest. Follow the sign that reads “Christmas Market this way” and discover more rows of food and drink stalls, along with several benches in the center. The night at the Southbank Winter Market offers a pleasant blend of breeziness and coolness. Embracing the festive spirit alongside the community, listening to Christmas songs, inhaling the tantalizing aromas of street food, and indulging in window shopping for Christmas gifts are all free activities that will leave you thoroughly enjoying the Southbank Winter Market.

If you enjoyed your time in the Southbank Market, read 31 Things to do in the Southbank for activities to do during the day.

A photo of a well lit 19th century building during Christmas with a Christmas tree in London at night.

3. Christmas Market Leicester Square

Leicester Square’s free Christmas Market, situated in the heart of the square, shares similarities with the Southbank Winter Market, albeit on a smaller scale with fewer stalls. Upon arriving at the tube station, the surrounding area may initially appear dark and inactive, giving the impression that nothing is happening. The square itself may seem boarded up, almost closed off. However, the presence of giant oak trees surrounding Leicester Square brings a visually appealing element, illuminating the square and adding a touch of charm. As you approach the entrance, the market appears livelier and brighter than the Southbank Winter Market, although the latter offers a larger and more intimate experience overall.

The items and food and beverage stalls at Leicester Square Christmas Market mirror those found at the Southbank Winter Market, including Christmas decorations, winter warmers, mulled wine, fish and chips, and more. While the products can be a little pricey, feel free to indulge in the joy of window shopping.

Outside the market, you may encounter only a handful of people strolling toward Piccadilly Circus or Shaftesbury Avenue. However, upon reaching the market entrance, you’ll be greeted by a bustling scene of people engaged in window shopping, sipping mulled wine, listening to Christmas music, and fully immersed in the festive spirit. Even if you simply wish to peruse the shops without making a purchase, you’ll still enjoy the vibrant atmosphere.

Leicester Square offers some unique additions not found at the Southbank Winter Market. For instance, Santa’s Grotto is a delightful attraction for children, where they can gather in the center of the grotto and receive presents from Santa himself. Additionally, the La Clique circus show provides entertainment for adults with its captivating cabaret, circus acts, and adult comedy. It’s worth noting that Trafalgar Square is located next to Leicester Square, and while it may feature a tall Christmas tree illuminated at night, it offers fewer Christmas stalls compared to Leicester Square or the Southbank Winter Market. Hence, it may be alright to skip visiting Trafalgar Square if time is limited.

Winter Wonderland Amusement Park

4. Winter Wonderland London 

Located in Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland London has seen continuous enhancements year after year. Although the event may occasionally encounter muddy conditions, the waiting periods have displayed fluctuations in the previous years. When picturing Christmas in London, Winter Wonderland emerges as the paramount festive extravaganza catering to all members of the family. Positioned right at the core of Hyde Park, it embodies an enormous amusement park that holds the remarkable title of being Europe’s largest of its kind. Crossing the threshold transports visitors into an expansive and immersive theme park setting.

Winter Wonderland exudes a prevailing Bavarian theme that permeates the atmosphere. The unmistakable red and white checked curtains gracefully embellish the wooden food stalls, accentuating the Bavarian flair. Chefs and waitresses don traditional Bavarian attire, lending an authentic touch, while statues of Bavarian children carrying baskets create a delightful ambiance. Notably, the signage prominently showcases the delectable “Bavarian Sausages,” and the Bavarian Village houses an assortment of food stalls, some labeled with English names, while others bear German appellations. The experience genuinely transports visitors to the heart of Bavaria.

The park offers seating areas in certain sections, although securing an available seat may prove challenging in other areas. However, one can always find an abundance of mulled wine, hot dogs, and chips to satisfy their cravings. The sizzling sounds emanating from the food preparation stations tempt passersby, particularly those seeking warmth on chilly days. While the prices for food tend to range from £8 to £10 for a burger and chips, it is worth noting that it may be a tad expensive and might not entirely satiate one’s hunger. Nevertheless, the allure of indulging in warm delicacies amidst the wintry weather is difficult to resist.

The air is filled with screams of excitement from people enjoying the fairground rides, and the colorful lights adorning the rides create a captivating sight. On occasion, you can catch whiffs of mouthwatering aromas wafting from the food stalls. Navigating the park in search of food is unnecessary.

Winter Wonderland offers a multitude of attractions and activities. Walk through a thrilling scary maze, test your skills in a glass maze, experience the adrenaline rush of a roller coaster, take a daring 70-foot drop ride, try your luck at winning a teddy bear from the stalls, join in singing Christmas carols and merrily dance in circles, linking hands with friends and even strangers, and savor hot mulled wine or mustard-laden hot dogs. Engage in the festive spirit by singing along with a performer on stage, delivering Christmas tunes and classic English hits. Santa’s Grotto in Santa Land awaits your visit, and don’t miss the opportunity to take a ride on the iconic Big Wheel, which serves as a symbol of Winter Wonderland. From its heights, you can behold the radiant lights of the fairground and the bustling crowd below. Although the city’s lights are not visible from the top due to the darkness, the experience remains unforgettable.

Winter Wonderland represents the epitome of Christmas markets in London, providing a complete, grander, and enhanced version. The atmosphere is infused with a contagious festive energy, even for those who may not be making purchases. Regardless of your preferences, Winter Wonderland offers a romantic setting for couples and a memorable evening for families and friends alike.

A tall Christmas decoration arch lighting during Christmas in London with people standing below.

5. London Christmas Lights

No trip to London would be complete without experiencing the dazzling Christmas lights in Regent Street and Oxford Street. When it comes to witnessing the festive illumination across the city, there are numerous enchanting locations to explore during the evening, making it difficult to decide where to begin. However, the top spots not to be missed are Carnaby Street and Covent Garden Christmas lights, and it’s best to start your journey from Oxford Circus.

Commence your excursion at Oxford Circus and take a right turn until you reach Oxford Circus Station, leading you to Regent Street. The captivating photos featuring several angels are taken in Regent Street, where lights gracefully dance upon vehicles and store windows. As you venture through the alleyways, you will discover the mesmerizing Carnaby Street Christmas Lights. In collaboration with The Project Zero Charity, Carnaby Street endeavors to raise awareness about environmental conservation. They utilize eco-friendly materials to create their animal and nature-themed Christmas lights. While Carnaby Street may appear smaller than what is portrayed in online images, its beauty is simply astonishing, and you may not have guessed its eco-friendly nature, as the internet tends to amplify its size.

Return to Regent Street and continue your stroll upwards until you reach Piccadilly Circus. Take some time to absorb the ambiance of this bustling area before proceeding towards Piccadilly St. James’ Street. Along your path, you’ll encounter the renowned Lillywhites sports shop. As you continue your walk, you will witness a crowd gathered around a magnificent Christmas tree. Once you’ve explored Piccadilly Circus, make your way to Tottenham Court Road tube station and embark on a journey to Covent Garden. While Covent Garden may not boast an abundance of Christmas lights, it features a splendid and Instagram-worthy Christmas tree that is definitely worth admiring.

The Oxford Street Christmas lights, though simplistic, exude a festive charm, particularly for first-time visitors. As you traverse the street, white light balls adorn the skies above, while the words “Oxford Street” gleam brightly overhead. Don’t forget to explore the side roads as well, where you’ll encounter equally captivating displays with fewer pedestrians passing by.

Other noteworthy Christmas light displays to consider include the Kew Gardens Christmas lights, where many have been proposed to, as well as The Enchanted Woodlands and Syon Park. In these captivating settings, you’ll find yourself strolling through a mesmerizing array of colorful lights, each in unique shapes and sizes, illuminating the darkness around you.

Now, the question arises: Is London a good place to visit in December? Having resided here for 30 years, I can confidently say yes. London offers an abundance of activities during the Christmas season, leaving you yearning for more time to explore. To truly experience Christmas in London, I recommend planning a visit of at least seven days. Additionally, traveling in December tends to be more budget-friendly.

Immersing oneself in the festive atmosphere of London during December is a joy. Observing people engage in Christmas shopping, marveling at the vibrant decorations in various hues of green, yellow, blue, and red, and admiring the twinkling lights adorning the city’s prominent streets. Engaging in window shopping at Christmas markets, letting out joyful screams at Winter Wonderland, and ice skating in front of London’s iconic tourist attractions—these are the activities that will entice you to return to London year after year. Christmas in London guarantees to create cherished memories that will undoubtedly make your trip truly unforgettable.

6. Museums and Galleries

In December, London transforms into a festive wonderland, offering a multitude of free activities that are sure to enchant visitors. While admiring the colorful Christmas lights and gracefully gliding on the ice at iconic skating rinks, there’s no harm in delving into the city’s cultural treasures. Make the most of London during the Christmas season by exploring renowned museums and galleries that open their doors for free. Immerse yourself in history at the British Museum, marvel at the awe-inspiring exhibits of the Natural History Museum, or discover the wonders of science at the Science Museum. Don’t miss the opportunity to wander through the captivating collections of the V&A’s, admire masterpieces at the National Gallery, or delve into maritime history at the Maritime Museum. With these enriching experiences, London truly becomes a magical destination for all to enjoy.

Crowds of people hanging around at night at the outdoor beer garden in South Bank Winter Market, London

7. Greenwich Market

Greenwich Market in December is a captivating sight to behold. As you stroll through the bustling market, you’ll be greeted by the enchanting ambiance created by the festive decorations. The market is adorned with beautiful green Christmas wreaths, adorned with ribbons and ornaments, that add a touch of seasonal charm. The golden lighting casts a warm glow, illuminating the vibrant stalls and creating a cozy atmosphere. White Christmas lights twinkle overhead, creating a magical canopy that transports visitors into a winter wonderland. Sometimes, on a breezy rainy day, the market takes on a romantic allure, with raindrops adding a glistening sheen to the decorations. Despite the weather, the joyful spirit of the market remains undeterred, making it an irresistible destination to immerse yourself in the holiday cheer.

8. Attending Christmas Carols

Attending a Christmas concert or carol service in London is a cherished tradition that truly embodies the spirit of the season. The city’s iconic venues come alive with joyful melodies and heartwarming performances. The grandeur of the Royal Albert Hall sets the stage for spectacular orchestral concerts and choral performances that fill the air with enchanting harmonies. St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, with their awe-inspiring architecture and rich history, offer divine settings for captivating carol services that uplift the soul. St Martins in the Fields Church, nestled in the heart of Trafalgar Square, presents a cozy, cool, and intimate atmosphere outdoors, inviting visitors to revel in the beauty of classical music and traditional carols. Speaking of Trafalgar Square, the annual Christmas Carols at Trafalgar Square event brings people together in a communal celebration, uniting voices in song and spreading festive cheer. Whether you choose a renowned venue or a more intimate gathering, attending a Christmas concert or carol service in London is an experience that fills the heart with joy and leaves lasting memories.

9. Watching Christmas West End theatre shows

Attending a theatre performance in London’s West End during the Christmas season is an absolute treat for both locals and visitors alike. As you walk along the illustrious Shaftesbury Avenue, the bustling heart of London’s theatre district, you’ll be captivated by the enchanting atmosphere that surrounds you. While you’re here to celebrate Christmas, there’s no harm in immersing yourself in the magic of Christmas-themed theatre productions. For instance, experience the timeless tale of “A Christmas Carol” at Alexandra Palace, where Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformative journey is brought to life on stage with dazzling sets and memorable performances. Alternatively, indulge in the festive spirit with “Elf the Musical” at the Dominion Theatre, a heartwarming and hilarious adaptation of the beloved holiday film. If you’re a fan of ballet, don’t miss the mesmerizing “Nutcracker” performance by the English National Ballet at the London Coliseum, a traditional masterpiece that transports audiences to a world of enchantment. These are just a few examples, as the West End offers a plethora of Christmas-themed shows, ensuring there’s something for everyone’s taste. So, embrace the holiday cheer and allow yourself to be swept away by the magical performances that make Christmas in London’s West End truly unforgettable.

Ice Skating Rink with 5 people inside beside the Tower of London.

10. Go Ice Skating

Ice skating in London is a cherished winter activity that embodies the festive spirit of the city. From iconic landmarks to enchanting rinks, there are plenty of opportunities to glide across the ice and create unforgettable memories. The Somerset House ice rink, nestled in the grand courtyard of a neoclassical building, offers a stunning backdrop for skaters to twirl and glide beneath the sparkling lights. The Natural History Museum ice rink provides a magical experience, surrounded by the magnificent architecture of the museum and its exquisite ice sculptures. For a taste of history, the Tower of London ice rink allows visitors to skate in the shadow of the historic fortress, adding a touch of grandeur to the experience. Whether you’re a seasoned skater or a beginner, London’s ice rinks cater to all skill levels, providing a joyful and exhilarating activity for families, friends, and couples alike. So, lace up your skates, embrace the chilly air, and revel in the delight of ice skating in London, a truly enchanting winter pastime.

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