a guide to christmastime in london

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there is noooo place like london at christmastime. i’ve spent the end of december in several different big cities, cozied up in snowy mountain towns, exploring german markets, and on hawaiian beaches … and i just really think nothing beats london. it’s just pure magic. 

here’s a roundup of some of my favourite spots around london to enjoy the magic. {all photos were taken by me except as noted}

covent garden

our old neighborhood! It’s a dream. huge mistletoe hanging in the piazza (and a disco ball that send sparkles all around at nighttime!), a giant live christmas tree, constant street performers, and new fun decorations every year (this year there are bulb lights lining the buildings on the streets leading to the piazza and these big red bows on the street corners!). grab a macaron at laduree and a crepe at creme de la crepe or a burger at shake shack and take it all in!

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while you’re in the neighborhood, don’t miss the northbank christmas lights hanging over the strand, the tall skinny tree brought in one piece from norway in trafalgar square (there are regular caroling events around the tree! and the lighting ceremony - which is so, so lovely -  is always the first thursday in december). the seven dials neighborhood always has fun christmas displays (and great shopping … and the best pizza at homeslice). and walk east a bit to somerset house to see the spectacular ice rink there (if you want to skate, make sure to book ahead!). 

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Trafalgar square
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a bit west of covent garden is leicester square, which is packed with a fun german christmas market during the holidays and is worth a visit. keep walking through the square and you’ll get to piccadilly circus, the gateway to the mecca of london-christmas: mayfair. 

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mayfair

the best of london christmas magic is in mayfair. there’s the lanterns hanging over red-bus-laden and awesome-store-windows-lined oxford street, the fabulous lights on regent street (they’ve done these sparkly angels two years in a row and i hope they never change because they are soooo good), and the always super-fun festivity on carnaby street. also take a stroll down the alleys off of oxford street to st. christopher’s place, which is an enchanting little pocket of christmas shimmer. 

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my all-time favourite bit of london at christmastime is old bond street. the feather lights that stretch across the road on new bond street narrow in on old bond street and the storefronts are lined with real pine garlands and filled with spectacular, classy displays. cartier with its big red bow and tiffany’s with its every-window wreaths are both to die for! don’t miss peeking into the royal arcade (just south of tiffany’s) - it is so so pretty especially in december. 

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there’s lots of hotels and shops in mayfair that are so awesomely pretty at christmastime. the ritz and clariges are the best. don’t be too shy to waltz right in and see the decorations inside. two stores in mayfair that should not be missed (all through the year really, but especially during the holidays) are fortnum & mason and liberty. the windows on the outside and the decoration, festive goodies, and decorations on the inside are ahhhhmazing. 

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a suggested route for a walk through christmas magic in mayfair: start at piccadilly circus and walk up regent street, detouring a little to see carnaby street and visit liberty (and if you have kids with you, pop in hamlet’s toy store!). then, once you’ve hit oxford street, turn left to enjoy the awesome department store windows and decorations, pop into st. christopher’s place, and then turn left down new bond street. walk straight through and down old bond street to piccadilly, then turn left and visit fortnum & mason (or jog right for a few minutes to see the ritz). if you keep going straight you’ll run back into piccadilly circus! along the way keep your eyes peeled for gorgeous arcades (the two pictured below are off of piccadilly) and decorated side streets (there’s all kinds of christmassy wonders tucked in all over mayfair!). 

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knightsbridge/south kensington

harrods
is the most iconic london department store. after discovering fortnum & mason and liberty, i think harrods isn’t the best (and i find it quite claustrophobic inside), but everyone should go there once … and at christmas it is awesome. the outside of the building (lined perfectly with lights and decked out with trees), and the window displays, are truly spectacular. the food halls in the basement of the building are really fun (but be prepared for crowds).

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a walk down cromwell road from harrods is the natural history museum, which is one of my favourite buildings in the whole world. it is made even more fantastic at christmastime with an ice rink out front and lots of twinkle lights in the trees. absolutely worth a stroll by, and i’m excited to skate there one year (if you want to do that, make sure you book ahead of time!). 

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just up exhibition road from the natural history museum is the mormon church building/visitors’ centre. there’s always really pretty decorations and a live nativity in a little stable out front. pop in and warm up and watch a little film about the true meaning of christmas for free. i love that place. 

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further east in london

borough market
is the awesomest all year round, but i especially love it dressed up for christmas. get a donut at the bread ahead stand. i repeat: get a donut at the bread ahead stand. 

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the southbank of the thames near tower bridge is lined with christmas market stalls every december. they call it christmas on the river and it’s really fun to take a stroll and check out what’s for sale. there’s also a great tree and fun atmosphere in hays galleria. 

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in november and december, there’s an ice rink in the moat at the tower of london. It’s just really cool, and worth checking out! (again, if you want to skate, book ahead :) )

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other spectacular spots

every year there’s a differently decorated (but always sensational) tree in st. pancras station (also, the exterior of the building that the station is inside of is gorgeous). // peggy porschen is a darling little cake shop in belgravia that does the most amazing storefront displays (for all different seasons - christmas is always the best). i’ve never had any of their treats before because just down the street is dominique ansel bakery, which is to die for. they have really fun festive pastries especially for the holiday season (and something called blooming hot chocolate, which i haven’t tried but hear is very yummy and cool - the marshmallow they put in it opens up like a flower!). 
 
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marlyebone is one of London’s most enchanting neighborhoods and does christmas right. stroll up and down marlyebone high street to have your socked charmed right off. 

the churchill arms is a pub in notting hill that has insane flower boxes in the summer, and dozens of lit christmas trees all over the outside of the building at christmastime. it’s randomly a thai restaurant (the food is pretty good, not the best ever) and it’s definitely worth checking out, especially if you are in notting hill (always highly recommended on any trip to london). 

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the ivy restaurants always have the most awesome christmas displays. the ivy chelsea garden is probably the most lauded for decorations (and it’s on king’s road in chelsea which is really fun to peruse at christmastime anyway). i can also vouch for the magical setups at the ivy soho, the ivy kensington and the ivy near seven dials.  

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christmas at kew is fabulous - i’ve been twice and it’s a blast to walk through the expansive gardens all decked out with crazy displays of lights (they are different every year, but the there’s always a laser show over the greenhouse and it’s really cool). there’s also the magical lantern festival at chiswick house and gardens, which we are going to for the first time this year!

winter wonderland in hyde park is a christmas in london staple. i think it’s kind of funny because most christmassy things in london are so classy and winter wonderland is basically the opposite of that. it’s a huge fun fair with rides and stalls and all kinds of wild stuff. 

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the charles dickens museum is fun to visit at christmastime, especially if you are a christmas carol fan (i am a huge one). they decorate the house beautifully. there’s also some awesome doors and wreaths around bloomsbury (the neighborhood that the museum is in). 

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i’m sure i’ve missed some real good stuff, but there’s a quick overview on the best place on earth for christmastime :) 

14 comments:

  1. Thank you for this magical post. I’ve been to London a few times but never at Christmas time. It is now on my bucket list!

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  2. I have a question that I would love to hear your perspective on. As an American living in London, do you find the time leading up to Christmas as commercially driven as in the USA? I am an American and I haven't ever been to London in December. My kids are just getting to the point where they are figuring out the whole presents/santa thing. We are Episcopalians and we observe Advent and don't start celebrating until Christmas (when we begin the 12 days). (just a little background on me). The consumerism in America really bothers me and I was just wondering what its like in England?

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    1. Great question! I'd love to know as well.

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    2. hi there! sorry it took me a while to respond to this question!

      to be honest, christmas has never felt that commercialized to me. maybe it's because of the big emphasis my parents placed on jesus at christmastime, or because i just am relatively not that into "stuff," but i just haven't been that involved in/bothered by the consumerism thing.

      that said, it's hard for me to tell if there's a difference in this between the usa and the uk. there's definitely a lot less concern around being politically correct (like saying "happy holidays" instead of "merry christmas," etc.) and there's more unapologetic depictions of the nativity around the city (and around europe in general, i've noticed). i've been impressed with the prime minsters/queen's christmas messages over the past few years - they usually include language that is shamelessly and distinctively christian.

      so, i guess it's a bit different! but i think consumerism vs focus on the true meaning of christmas obviously starts and ends most in the home, no matter what country that home is in :)

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  3. I would have to probably agree with you. I am living in Germany right now and was totally disappointed as there just isn't much display. Yes, a wreath or two but nothing that screams Christmas. Ok, well some of the markets are pretty cool, but even those depend on which one you go too.

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  4. Love, love, love this post!
    Have you ever thought of putting this and your other travelling guides into a written form? I adore travelling and I always buy a guide, both for help and info and as a memory\souvenir, but they don't have the spark like yours do. I know you have a lot on your plate now( congrats for the new boy ), but maybe contacting a publisher or two wouldn't hurt;-)
    Love, Anamaria
    P.S. If you do, I want a copy:-)

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  5. I really like the red ribbon with bow making the buildings look like a present. Sometimes less makes a bigger statement than lots of stuff.

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  6. Everything is gorgeous! I can't imagine all the work that goes into setting up and tearing down all the displays. I would LOVE the Dickens Museum! Merry Christmas!

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  7. My friend and her husband/two young children are moving from Texas to London in the spring. I will definitely be sharing your blog with her to help fuel more of the excitement!

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  8. When is the earliest all these decorations are up? I never thought about London around the Christmas season. Now I want to put it on my bucket list~~

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    1. oh it's just the best!! decorations start going up in late october!

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  9. I love this post! Do you have any suggestions on hotels? I would love to know what you think.

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