London in December is a time when the British capital trades in its signature grey for twinkling lights, festive markets, and a palpable air of cheer that even Scrooge couldn’t resist. Forget the “Winter Wonderland” cliché; London in December is a holiday movie come to life, yet somehow better.
Expect the city to be a blend of classic British charm and holiday extravaganza, where traditions like the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace coexist with ice skating under the shadow of the Tower of London. Whether you’re into savoring a proper holiday feast (read: Christmas pudding and all) or simply want to stroll through streets bedecked with decorations that would put any Hallmark movie to shame, London in December has something for everyone. From the Christmas lights on Oxford Street to the riverside enchantment of the South Bank, London in December is less a destination and more an experience — one that you’ll be talking about long after you’ve packed away your ornaments. So grab your coziest scarf and a sense of adventure; we’re diving into a London that’s as merry as it is magnificent.
Festive Events and Activities
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
During December, Hyde Park transforms into a Winter Wonderland, offering you a festive experience like no other. At this annual event, you’ll find a Christmas market, food stalls, ice-skating, and even thrilling rides. Bundle up, grab a hot chocolate, and take in the sights and sounds of the holiday season with your friends and family.
Aside from Winter Wonderland, London offers plenty of Christmas markets scattered throughout the city, perfect for all your holiday shopping. From the popular Southbank Centre Winter Market to the charming markets at Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square, you’ll find a wide selection of unique gifts, tasty treats, and maybe even some live entertainment to get you into the holiday spirit.
Christmas at Kew
A must-see in December is the stunning light display at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. This magical event, known as Christmas at Kew, features illuminated trails, sparkling trees, and artistic light installations. Remember to book your tickets in advance and wrap up warm as you stroll through the enchanting winter gardens.
Covent Garden is a holiday hotspot, especially in December. Admire the giant Christmas tree and glittering decorations as you explore the plentiful shops, boutiques, and dining options. Don’t miss the festive afternoon teas at nearby cafes, and keep an eye open for special holiday events, like the Great Christmas Pudding Race.
Christmas Lights on Oxford and Regent Street
No trip to London in December would be complete without a visit to Oxford Street and Regent Street to see their mesmerizing Christmas light displays. These bustling shopping streets offer a memorable backdrop for your holiday adventures, and you can even hit the Boxing Day sales if you’re up for a bit of post-Christmas shopping!
London Attractions In December
When you visit London in December, don’t miss the chance to see Buckingham Palace. The royal residence is a popular attraction all year round, but it takes on a magical air during the holidays with festive decorations and events. Stroll around the palace grounds, and if you’re lucky, catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony.
Get a bird’s eye view of London’s festive lights from the top of The Shard. This iconic skyscraper is the tallest building in the UK, and the observation deck gives you panoramic views of the city. It’s a perfect spot to see London shine.
Harry Potter Studio Tour
For all you Potterheads out there, the Harry Potter Studio Tour is a must-visit spot in December. During this time, the tour features a special “Hogwarts in the Snow” event, transforming the sets from the films into a winter wonderland. Explore the Forbidden Forest, dine in the Great Hall, and immerse yourself in the magical world of Harry Potter. Grab your ticket early, because they tend to sell out quickly!
The London Underground
London’s iconic transportation system, the Underground, might seem like an odd attraction to include. However, it’s worth noting that in December, a festive atmosphere pervades the Tube with decorations along the platforms. Plus, using the Underground is a convenient way to stay warm and reach all your destinations, as London’s winters can get pretty chilly.
Food and Drink
Traditional Christmas Pudding
Ah, Christmas pudding – a classic British treat! When you’re in London in December, you can’t miss the opportunity to indulge in this rich, fruity dessert. Made with a mix of dried fruit, nuts, spices, and sometimes even a splash of booze, Christmas pudding is a centerpiece on many menus during the holiday season. Visit traditional British pubs and restaurants, where you’re likely to find the most authentic versions of this festive favorite.
When the weather turns cold, there’s nothing better than wrapping your fingers around a warm glass of mulled wine. A staple in London during the festive season, mulled wine is red wine heated with spices, sugar, and sometimes various fruits. You’ll find it at Christmas markets, pop-up igloos, and many bars and cafes across the city. The Southbank Centre Winter Market is one such spot where you can sip on this delicious, warming drink while browsing stalls selling gifts and festive food.
Festive Afternoon Tea
Fancy a spot of tea with a twist? Several venues in London offer a unique festive afternoon tea experience during December. Besides the traditional cucumber sandwiches and scones, you’ll enjoy seasonal treats like mince pies and other delightful holiday pastries. Some of the top locations for a festive afternoon tea include:
- The Ritz London: Known for its opulence, they serve up a mouthwatering festive afternoon tea with a selection of teas, finger sandwiches, and a range of Christmas-inspired sweet treats.
- Sketch: Quirky and artistic, Sketch puts a modern spin on afternoon tea. Expect delicate holiday pastries and delightful eggnog-flavored scones.
In London, even the ice skating comes with history. Two of the city’s most popular seasonal rinks are in the shadows of legendary buildings.
One of the best spots for ice skating in London during December is Somerset House. This iconic location offers a beautiful setting for a festive skate. The ice rink gets even more magical when the stunning 18th-century courtyard is illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights.
Tower of London
Another great option for ice skating with a historical twist is the Tower of London ice rink. Skating in the shadow of this medieval fortress adds an extra layer of wow-factor to your experience. Wrap up warm, grab your skates, and glide across the ice while admiring the views of this famed historical landmark.
More London Ice Rinks
Outdoor skating is a great way to experience the city’s festive atmosphere (and some of its history). Most of London’s outdoor ice rinks start opening in November and offer a unique experience in different locations across the city. Here are some other popular options:
- Winter Wonderland Ice Rink (Hyde Park): Europe’s largest ice rink, surrounded by Christmas markets and amusement rides.
- Brent Cross Ice Rink: Another of London’s largest ice rinks.
December Shopping In London
Oxford Street is a true shopping utopia. It’s where you’ll find more than 300 shops, ranging from flagship stores to designer boutiques, all lined up side by side. Be aware, it gets super busy during December, especially during the Boxing Day sales. Even so, you don’t want to miss visiting iconic stores like John Lewis and Selfridges.
Regent Street bursts with elegant architecture and iconic British brands, making it a must-visit during your London trip. In December, Regent Street gets lit up by splendid Christmas lights, making the atmosphere truly magical. Here, you’ll encounter stores like Hamleys (the world’s oldest toy retailer) as well as Liberty London with its stunning Tudor-revival facade.
Covent Garden offers a delightful mix of quirky shops, upscale brands, and unique finds. This area has a festive charm during December, complete with street performances and twinkling lights. Stroll through the beautiful Market Building where you can find one-of-a-kind gifts, or explore the many nearby streets filled with boutique stores and cool eateries.
For a luxurious shopping experience, head to Harrods in Knightsbridge. This legendary department store offers the finest merchandise, covering everything from high-end fashion to premium food. During December, Harrods becomes even more enchanting with its extravagant Christmas window displays and festive decorations throughout the store. It truly is a shopper’s paradise, but even more so in December.
John Lewis is a British institution located on Oxford Street and is known for providing excellent customer service, a vast product range, and reliable quality. With its boxing day sales and festive atmosphere, December is a fantastic time to visit. Be sure to check out their well-known Christmas department packed with stylish decorations and gifts for the entire family.
Weather and Clothing
In December, London tends to have limited daylight with only around 8 hours of daylight and approximately 3 hours of actual sunlight per day. It’s important to plan your activities accordingly to make the most of the daylight.
Sunrise and Sunset
During December in London, the sun rises quite late around 8 am, and sets early, often before 4 pm. Make sure to adjust your plans and utilize the daylight hours for sightseeing and outdoor activities.
Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, typically falls around December 21st. On this day, London experiences just over 7 hours of daylight.
Now let’s talk about clothing. With the December weather in London, you can expect average high temperatures around 48°F (9°C) and average low temperatures near 41°F (5°C). You’ll want to dress for the winter chill, with layers being your best friend.
When packing for your trip, consider the following items:
- Layers: Light sweaters, long-sleeve shirts, and cardigans for layering
- Outerwear: A warm coat or raincoat, depending on the weather forecast
- Bottoms: Jeans and thicker leggings or trousers to keep you warm
- Footwear: Comfortable and waterproof boots are essential as streets can be wet from rain or frost
- Accessories: Gloves, scarves, and hats are perfect for keeping warm outdoors, and don’t forget your umbrella!
By being prepared with the right clothing and accessories, you’ll be able to fully enjoy your December trip to London, no matter the weather!