5 Free Festive and Amazing Things to Do in December in London, 2021
How to spend the festive period in London during December in 2021
There are many free things to do in December in London. Christmas in London gets very colourful while maintaining its “less is more” motto. We have gone a long way since the first lockdown during COVID-19 in 2020. We have a roll-out of vaccines already. We have many test centres to get vaccinations. Things are looking brighter in 2021 and hopefully, by April, we’ll be back to normal and international travel will start to pick up again. This guide will give you an opportunity to plan your 2021 trip in December.
The colourful lights and decorations make the city festive while persuading people to sing along to Christmas songs everywhere you go. Enjoy the Christmas markets. Visit Winter Wonderland. Drink mulled wine and feel the cold breeze as you watch people enjoy ice skating. The ice skating isn’t free, but by being there, it’s enough to enjoy the festive season.
When planning to visit London, make sure you plan what you’re going to see, how to get there and how long each attraction takes. Although London is an island, there’s just not enough time to visit everything, especially in a short amount of time.
4 Days in London is enough time to visit London. No matter the weather, everywhere you go, can be just as beautiful and you can see all the major attractions and beautiful neighbourhoods. Visit the London Guide for First Time Visitors and Guide to London for more information on your trip to London. Read on to find out free things to do in December in London.
Does it snow in London in December?
Forget looking online for snowy photos of London, it’ll just disappoint you when you arrive. Snow doesn’t come that much, even if it does, it will rain in between. You’d only see sleet, black ice, frost, and wet pavements. Snow can be up to 2 inches thick and may come every 4 years if we’re lucky. However, London’s weather in December can be up to 9 degrees Celsius (High) and 5 degrees Celsius (Low). That can be quite cold for people living in hot countries.
What can you do in London with no money?
Below is a list of free things to do in London in December. Although you’d have to pay to buy merchandise and rides in Winter Wonderland, the admission is free, but just being in a festive environment is enough for you to enjoy the experience. Here are some ideas:
1. Window shopping in high-end department stores
Window shopping in London can be hectic, a pain, claustrophobic, and a nuisance, because everyone is shopping for Christmas. However, the Christmas songs heard, the colourful Christmas lights around the stores, and the buzz of people buying Christmas gifts make you feel excited about Christmas. You hear people laughing and singing. Although there’s no snow in December, the smell of the cold fresh air, scarves, gloves, and hats sold in every high street shop during winter makes it that extra special. You can’t have Christmas without the cold weather and winter warmers.
I went to Australia several years ago, and it felt different spending Christmas there because it was so hot. I felt they were missing the cold weather, but people have different experiences during Christmas.
If you want to go window shopping, check out Selfridges, Harvey Nichols, John Lewis, Harrods, Fortnum & Masons and Liberty’s. They all have different characters in the architecture, the products, and their Christmas decorations. You don’t have to buy anything but just being in there will make you feel a million dollars. Harrods, Selfridges, Fortnum & Masons and Harvey Nicholls have a luxurious and modern feel, but Liberty’s will have a medieval 16th Century Tudor feel. Liberty’s can be quirky, unique, and luxurious at the same time. Don’t forget to visit Hotel Cafe Royal where you can see a huge Christmas tree in the lobby and Christmas decorations scattered around the hotel, like the large teddy bears sitting by lifts.
Once you finish window shopping and hearing carollers singing songs asking for charity donations, you can go to Regent Street and see the sparkling angels light up reflecting on passing vehicles below.
Christmas decorations are always the same every year, so you won’t miss out on much if you plan to go the next year.
2. Southbank Winter Market
Southbank Winter Market is one of the best Christmas markets compared to the others in London. It’s free to visit (unless you want to buy food, drinks, and souvenirs – can be a little expensive). Situated by the River Thames, the Southbank Winter Market is the best one compared to Leicester Square and Trafalgar Square. You can visit Southbank Market during the day, it’s just as beautiful because you’ll enjoy the fresh air, but at night, darkness fills the environment. All you’ll see are different colours of Christmas lights and lights from fairground rides, and hear xylophone playing Christmas melodies. You’ll hear children screaming and shouting as they ride on the carousel and the swing ride “Starflyer” spinning you in circles up to 70 metres high. You’ll see a great view of the London Eye lights at night.
You can sit in one of the patios by the river with your friends and enjoy hot mulled wine and cider, hot dogs, and steak, and hear the silent movements of the boats and the swooshing of the waves by the River Thames. You can also buy handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts for your loved ones, although quite expensive. Enjoy the Circus Bar where can sit with your friends and pretend you’re in a circus tent by the fire in the middle of the table. Why not sit on a bean bag and watch Christmas movies on the other side of the tent? It can be cold though, so keep your jacket on.
I went here with a group of friends, just to hang out. I only bought food from the stalls for £6. Food and drink here costs around £6 – £15 depending on what it is you’re eating. The smell of burger and mustard whiffed through my nose, it made be cough from the strong odour. You could hear it sizzle and crackle in the pan. Smoke fogs the chefs’ faces and it felt warm when you’re the first in line.
Go through the Udderbelly Festival, you will be taken into an enchanted forest, a sign “Christmas Market this way” guides you to more rows of food and drink stalls and several benches in the middle. The night at the Southbank Winter Market felt breezy yet cool. Enjoying the festivity with the community, hearing Christmas songs, smelling the different aromas of street food and window shopping for Christmas gifts are enough for you to enjoy the Southbank Winter Market for free.
If you enjoyed your time in the Southbank Market, read 14 Things to do in the Southbank for activities to do during the day.
3. Christmas Market Leicester Square
The free Christmas Market in Leicester Square is like the one in Southbank and it’s situated in the middle of the square. It’s much smaller with fewer stalls. The surrounding area always looks dark and feels as if nothing was going on when you get off at the tube station. The square is always boarded up and feels like it’s closed. The only thing that’s always visually appealing is the giant oak trees surrounding Leicester Square, it illuminates the Square more. As you reach the entrance, it always looks busier and brighter than the Southbank Winter Market, although the Southbank Winter Market always feels larger and more intimate.
The items and the food and beverage stalls are the same as the Southbank Winter Market. Christmas decorations. Winter warmers. Mulled wine. Fish and chips and many more. The products can be a little expensive, but feel free to go window shopping.
There were only a handful of people walking outside the market going towards Piccadilly Circus or the Shaftesbury Avenue, but once you reach the market entrance, you’re able to see the hustle and bustle of people window shopping, drinking mulled wine, listening to Christmas music and enjoying the Christmas festivity. Even if you wanted to go window shopping, you’ll still enjoy the environment.
The extras that you won’t get to find in the Southbank Winter Market are:
Santa’s Grotto – good for children as they’ll get presents each from Santa as they gather in the middle of the grotto.
La Clique circus show – enjoy cabarets, circus, and adult comedy. Trafalgar Square is next to Leicester Square. In the dark, you’ll see a tall Christmas tree illuminate at night. There aren’t a lot of Christmas stalls there compared to Leicester Square or Southbank Winter Market though. It’s okay to give this one a miss.
4. Winter Wonderland London 2021
In 2020, Winter Wonderland was cancelled due to COVID. I was disappointed that it got cancelled because I visit every year. Situated in Hyde Park, Winter Wonderland London gets better each year, so I expect it to be better to make up for the lost times in 2020. Although it can be muddy, in 2019, the line wasn’t that long, but in 2018, I had to wait 30 minutes squeezed between the crowds until we got in. Further details can be found on the website. When you think of Christmas in London, Winter Wonderland is the best thing about Christmas for all the family. You basically get a huge fun fair in the middle of Hyde Park, the largest in Europe. It’s excessively big and it’s as if you’re stepping inside a theme park.
The theme is always Bavarian. You’ll see different checked red and white curtains from various wooden food stalls. Chefs and waitresses all dress up in traditional Bavarian costumes and you’ll see statues of Bavarian children with their baskets, smiling. You can always see “Bavarian Sausages” written in front of the stalls, as well as Bavarian style food stalls in Bavarian Village. Some stalls are written in English and some in German. It’s as if you are in Bavaria. In some parts of the park, there’ll always be seating areas, in some parts, it can be difficult to find somewhere to sit. However, there’s always enough mulled wine, hot dogs, and chips to go round. You’ll hear the sizzling of the pan as they make them in front of you. Food prices here are between £8 – £10 for burger and chips. It can be expensive and won’t fill your stomach, but it’s tempting to buy them if you’re cold and want something hot.
You can hear screams of people going on fairground rides, you can se the colourful lights from the rides and you can sometimes smell the aroma of the food stalls. No need to get lost trying to find food here.
Walk through a scary maze. Find your way out of a glass maze. Go on a rollercoaster ride. Go on 70 feet drop ride. Try to win a teddy bear at the stalls. Sing Christmas carols and dance around in circles and link hands with your friends and strangers, switching partners. Drink hot mulled wine or hot dogs with mustard. Join hundreds of people singing along with a man on stage singing Christmas songs and classic English hits. Visit Santa’s Grotto in Santa Land. Go on the Big Wheel that represents Winter Wonderland. You’ll see the colourful lights on fairground rides and swarms of people down below. You’d think you’d see the city’s lights from the top, but it was dark beyond the Big Wheel.
Winter Wonderland is the complete, bigger and better version of the Christmas markets around London. Everyone seemed to be in festive spirits, even if they’re not buying anything. Whatever it is you want to do, it’s romantic for couples and you’ll have a great evening with your family and friends.
What can you do for free in Winter Wonderland?
The entrance is free, but you’d have to pay to go on the fair rides. How you see Winter Wonderland in pictures is what it looks like in real life, a larger version. Just by being there and experiencing the Bavarian themed park is enough for you to say it’s memorable. It’s the environment and the memories that make Winter Wonderland free.
Check out Winter Wonderland’s website here for more detail.
5. London Christmas Lights 2021
Your trip to London wouldn’t be complete if you haven’ seen the Christmas lights in Regent Street and Oxford Street. When you want to see Christmas lights in London, there’s so many places to visit during the evening that you just don’t know where to start. First, Carnaby Street and Covent Garden Christmas lights are the best spots to visit but start your journey from Oxford Circus.
Start in Oxford Circus, turn right until you see Oxford Circus Station, you will be in Regent Street. The photos of several angels you see above is in Regent Street, and lights reflect on vehicles and store windows. In one of the alleyways, you will see the Carnaby Street Christmas Lights. Carnaby Street works together with The Project Zero Charity, which aims to raise awareness to save the environment. They use eco-friendly materials to produce the animal and environmental themed Christmas lights. Carnaby Street is smaller than many photos you’d find on the internet. It’s so beautiful that you wouldn’t have guessed it’s eco-friendly. The internet makes the photos look bigger than it is.
Go back to Regent Street, walk further up, you will be in Piccadilly Circus. Spend some time here and head towards Piccadilly St. James’ Street. You’ll see the Lillywhites sports shop. As you walk further, you’ll see people gathering in front of a Christmas tree. Go back to Piccadilly Circus and head over to Tottenham Court Road tube and head over to Covent Garden. Covent Garden doesn’t really have that many Christmas lights but there’s a large Instagram worthy Christmas tree worth checking out.
Oxford Street Christmas lights are always simple, but for first time visitors, it can be very festive. You’ll see white lights balls scattered above your head and “Oxford Street” lights flash above the street. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas lights in one of the side roads. It’s just as beautiful and there’d be less people walking.
Other Christmas lights worth checking out are in Kew Gardens Christmas lights (many people have been proposed here), and The Enchanted Woodlands and Syon Park. You will walk through different coloured lights in different shapes and sizes in the dark. I haven’t had a chance to review these places because of COVID-19, but hopefully, in 2021, I’ll be able to write a review. These are my favourite picks for next year in 2021.
So, is London a good place to visit in December?
I’ve been living here for 30 years and I would say yes, London is a good place to visit in December. With so many things to do with so little time, you may have to spend at least 7 days to experience Christmas in London. It’s also cheaper to come in December.
I enjoy watching people go Christmas shopping. The colourful decorations. Green. Yellow. Blue. Red and everything in between. Twinkling lights at the top of major London streets. Window shopping in Christmas markets. Screaming your heads off at Winter Wonderland. Ice skating in front of London’s major tourist attractions. These are the activities that will tempt you to come back to London in December. Christmas in London will make your trip memorable.