15 Festive Things To Do in London in December
The countdown to Christmas Day is on so make the most of it with these Christmas things to do in London in December.
Christmas lights are twinkling all across the capital and it looks magnificent. With so much going on in the build up to Christmas, it’s a truly magical time to visit the city. Here’s my pick of festive things to do in London in December if you’re a foodie. Some of these events continue into the New Year so you can sneak in an extra visit in early January and still enjoy all the fun.
Go Ice Skating at Somerset House
As a festive destination in London, Somerset House often gets overlooked. Considering it’s just a stone’s throw from the bright lights and bustling crowds in Covent Garden, it really is worth seeking out for some twinkly outdoor fun. This year, Skate at Somerset House is once again sponsored by royal grocer, Fortnum & Mason. The grand eighteenth-century courtyard has come alive with a beautiful outdoor ice rink and a magnificent Christmas tree (adorned with Fortnum & Mason hampers).
You can shop in the spacious Fortnum & Mason Christmas shopping arcade and relax with rich hot chocolate or a glass of fizz in the Fortnum & Mason alpine ski lodge.
When: Skate at Somerset House runs until 12 January.
Go Cheese Shopping at Borough Market in Southwark
London’s iconic Borough Market is a magnet for food lovers year-round. At Christmas time, it has a really special atmosphere. You can feel the excitement and festive build up to the big day as shoppers come to buy their Christmas food and source gifts for friends and family.
Look out for Borough Market’s programme of special Christmas events including the annual ‘Evening of Cheese’. This year, it’s on Wednesday 11 December. It’s an opportunity to meet expert cheese mongers, taste cheese and watch cooking demos. Don’t worry if you miss it. Borough Market extends its opening hours in the run up to Christmas so you can shop ‘til you drop. Neal’s Yard Dairy is definitely worth a visit. A testament to this is the long queue that always forms outside the shop entrance.
Eat & Drink: Have a festive cocktail in Hotel Chocolat’s bar and restaurant at Rabot 1745 and then pop upstairs for dinner.
Buy: The Borough Market Cookbook. If you’re looking for a Christmas gift for a foodie friend, it’s bound to please. Looking for a Christmas gift for a cheese Lover? Buy a monthly cheese subscription from Pong.
Visit Wintertime at The Southbank Centre
Walk along the River Thames by the London Eye and you’ll encounter Wintertime at The Southbank Centre. It’s a mini Christmas market decked with strings of fairy lights and a giant Christmas tree. Little wooden huts line the walkway selling mouth-watering festive food and drink: mulled wine, waffles, German sausages, mince pies and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream. If there’s a chill in the air, warm up next to the fire pit at the pop-up cider lodge and enjoy a mug of hot-spiced cider.
Can’t make it? Buy delicious mince pies and Christmas cake online from Bettys craft bakery.
Have a Drink in a Circus Tent
On the river terrace at the Southbank Centre, you’ll find a giant circus tent. It’s actually a bar where you can have a pre-circus drink before going to a see Circus 1903. It’s a show aimed at both adults and children, featuring acrobats, contortionists, jugglers, trapeze and high-wire performers. The show includes sensational life-sized elephants stunningly created by puppeteers from War Horse offering dazzling Christmas entertainment for all the family.
When: Circus 1903 runs from 19 December to 5 January. Buy: Tickets for Circus 1903
Eat & Drink: Go for dinner at Skylon in the Southbank Centre. The restaurant has a fabulous riverside view.
Dine in an Igloo Next to the River Thames
Igloos are now a regular Yuletide feature in London. They’ve proved really popular with the millennial crowd who gather their friends together, don their favourite Christmas jumpers and dip their fondue forks in to gloopy melted cheese while drinking mulled wine and festive fizz. This year, they’ve appeared in even more places across the city. You’ll see them outside the Southbank Centre at Jimmy’s Lodge but also near Tower Bridge at Thameside restaurant, Coppa Club. Many are booked up for the rest of the year with new dates due for release in mid January.
When: The Coppa Club igloos are in residence until April 2020. You’ll find them at 3 Three Quays Walk, Lower Thames Street. Nearest tube: Tower Hill.
Have a Christmas Drink at The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill
One pub in London has really gone to town with its Christmas decorations. Every inch of the exterior of the Churchill Arms on Kensington Church Street is covered with 90 Christmas trees and thousands of shimmering lights. You’ve missed the annual switch on party, but you can still enjoy a glass of wine (perhaps after a visit to nearby Kensington Palace). The childhood home of Queen Victoria, now William and Kate’s London abode, has a giant 30-foot Christmas tree standing outside the palace.
Shop For Quirky Christmas Gifts at Columbia Road Market
Columbia Road is one of my personal Christmas shopping favourites. If you shun the High Street and love supporting small independent local shops, Columbia Road Market is a must-visit destination at Christmas time. This colourful East End street has its own unique London personality. Shop for quirky Christmas gifts and vintage finds, pick up festive greenery and have a bite to eat and a drink along the way.
When: The market is traditionally held every Sunday morning. On December 11 and 18, they are holding Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays from 5-9pm.
Buy Your Christmas Turkey at Smithfield Market
Forget ordering your Christmas turkey early and dare to pick up a last minute bargain at Smithfield Meat Market. It’s a time-honoured London tradition going back 500 years. Every Christmas Eve, they hold a meat auction. Over 1,500 Londoners gather at the market to bag a cut-price turkey or a bargain joint of meat. It’s loud, busy and cash only. Don’t miss the coin toss where, if you guess heads or tails correctly, you will go home with a freebie.
Eat & Drink: Pop in for festive pint and a mixed grill at The Fox & Anchor, a traditional Victorian London pub. It’s been serving the porters at Smithfield Market for years. It’s also a great place to stay if you’re looking for a gastro pub with rooms in the City of London.
See The Gingerbread City at Somerset House
If you’ve always secretly loved model villages, this is for you. The Gingerbread City is an exhibition created by the Museum of Architecture. Now in its fourth year, a team of architects, designers and engineers work together to imagine ‘the future city’ and build it using baked gingerbread. Transport is this year’s theme. The Gingerbread city is on display at Somerset House until 5 January. If you feel inspired, book your kids onto a ‘Make Your Own Gingerbread Workshop’. There are dates in both December and early January.
Eat & Drink: For a Christmas treat book traditional afternoon tea at The Delaunay.
Buy: Make your own gingerbread house at home with this kit from John Lewis & Partners.
Go to Lickable: London’s Tastiest Christmas Cabaret at Leicester Square
For one night only, you can take a seat at London’s tastiest Christmas cabaret. Lickable features New York city’s tap dancing ice cream and sword swallower, Gin Minsky. Before the show take a stroll through the mini Christmas market complete with Santa’s Grotto. When: 15 December.
Eat & Drink: Walk to China Town to see the Chinese lanterns lit up followed by dumplings and crispy duck pancakes in one of its many restaurants.
Have a G&T at the Tangeray Townhouse in Holburn
The team at Tangeray has transformed elegant Bloomsbury House into an immersive gin pop-up with live entertainment and five gin-themed rooms. Soak up the Tangeray story and then lounge in the bar with a gin cocktail. Tick off your present lift in The Gifting Room where you’ll find limited edition gins and gifts for gin lovers.
When: 6-15 December
Wonder at London’s Famous Christmas Window Displays and Christmas Lights
Liberty of London
Go Christmas shopping at Liberty and in the heart of the store, you’ll see a giant blue and fushia bonsai tree reaching up to the roof. Known as the ‘Tree of Liberty’, its branches are covered in pink reindeer moss and a menagerie of exotic animals, baubles and gifts.
Buy: Chocolate truffles from Charbonnel & Walker in the British Food Hall, decorative Emma Bridgewater mugs (her Cities of Dreams mugs make lovely gifts) and caviar tin Christmas baubles.
Carnaby Street Christmas Lights
Step out of the British Food Hall at Liberty directly on to Carnaby Street. The Christmas lights this year are a real triumph. Highlighting sustainability and with the theme ‘One Ocean, One Planet’, the decorations have been made out of recycled materials and decorated using water-based and vegan-friendly paint. Spot 11 sea creatures including dolphins, whales, clams, crabs, turtles and jellyfish.
Eat & Drink: Stop for pastries and coffee at Bread Ahead or tapas and sherry as Dehesa.
Covent Garden Christmas Lights
In the famous Apple Market, giant silver baubles and bunches of mistletoe light up the arched ceiling like stars glimmering on a clear night’s sky. Tiffany’s has also taken up residence in Covent Garden with its winter wonderland complete with giant snow globe and ice rink.
Buy: Covent Garden is home to several specialist boutiques including Laduree, Rococo Chocolates, Hotel Chocolat, Carluccio’s and Whittard of Chelsea.
Eat & Drink: Go to Petersham Nurseries Deli on Floral Street for a relaxed lunch at the counter. My top tip – make sure you take the detour through Floral Court. It’s lit up with hundreds of twinkling fairy lights and looks absolutely magical. If you’re buying Christmas gifts for travel lovers head to Stanfords – a specialist travel bookstore packed with wonderful titles such as Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2020 that will inspire adventure.
Fortnum & Mason Christmas Display
The windows of Fortnum & Mason are always worth a visit at Christmas time. This year, the exterior of the store is lit up like a magnificent giant advent calendar. Once inside, take the lift to the top of the store to peer down the spiral staircase and get a glittery and festive view through to the basement.
Buy: The Fortnum & Mason Christmas Cookbook written by Tom Parker-Bowles.
Eat & Drink: Have traditional afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason or treat yourself to a glass of champagne in the bar.
Sloane Square Christmas Lights
These are my personal favourite because they are so simple yet beautiful. Balls of white mistletoe twinkle and hang from the trees in the the square with the backdrop of Peter Jones shimmering with thousands of lights.
Drink: A cheeky Christmas G&T at the pop-up Sipsmith gin bar in Peter Jones. It’s guaranteed to give you some extra va va voom to help you finish your Christmas shopping.
Buy: Browse the excellent range of Le Creuset cookware in the kitchen department.
Experience Christmas at Kew Gardens
Christmas at Kew is one of the most festive things to do in London in December. Families love following the mesmerising trail illuminated with over 1 million lights. It’s extremely popular and tickets quickly get booked up. Highlights in 2019 will include Kew’s treetop walkway adorned with silver shards and old favourites from previous years including singing holly bushes and a scented fire garden.
Eat & Drink: Mulled wine and melted marshmallows. Go earlier and treat the family to a traditional afternoon tea at The Botanist in Kew Gardens.
When: Christmas at Kew runs until Sunday 5 January 5pm-10pm (timed entry every 30 minutes). Buy Christmas at Kew Tickets here.
Have a Christmas Afternoon Tea on a Glittering London Bus
You’ll see the red routemaster bus merrily meandering through the London streets and illuminated with white lights. The afternoon tea bus tour is one of the most popular afternoon tea experiences for visitors to London. Until 5 January, they’ll be serving their special Christmas afternoon tea. The Christmas menu includes festive delights such as smoked salmon blinis and snow cupcakes.
Volunteer For Crisis at Christmas
Living in London, it’s impossible not to notice the number of homeless people on the streets of the capital. One of the kindest things to do in December is to volunteer to help out in the Crisis kitchen over the Christmas period. Last year over 11,000 people volunteered at different centres across the country.
You can also spread some love and Christmas cheer by making a donation. A gift of £28.87 will give a homeless person three nutritious hot meals daily, including Christmas dinner. They will also get a bed for the night, a hot shower and access to services and workshops designed to help them out of homelessness.
The Foodie Travel Guide
Sally is the founder and editor of The Foodie Travel Guide. She travels around the UK and beyond in search of the best foodie days out, tasting experiences and delicious places to stay. She loves a glass of English sparkling wine, afternoon tea with friends and escaping London for gastronomic adventures.