Winter is fantastic season to spend some time in London.

If you’re flirting with the idea of whether to visit London over the Winter months, let me put it this way: You don’t visit London for the weather, it’s not a sun destination, as even in high Summer that’s just not guaranteed.

No, if you love London or are already a fully paid up Londoner, you’re there for the atmosphere and the energy of this dynamic city.

That’s why my personal crush is London during those wonderful weeks in the run up to Christmas.

I may be biased, but I think that London as a city does festive cheer incredibly well.

Londoners know a thing or two about Christmas jumpers! Photo credit by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Different cities get on board with the Christmassy / end of year feeling to different degrees. London goes all out. As the capital of shopping the city lights up with stunning shop window displays and twinkling white lights strung up in the trees and streets.

Christmas Lights

Certain parts of town are known for their beautiful lights.

As the evenings draw in, after a full day pacing the pavements, you may want to stay out just one hour longer to enjoy the show.

Photo credit by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

Where you go strolling with your loved ones and a hot chocolate in hand as the sky darkens at the end of the day depends on your style.

Sloane Square London SW1W 8EG

This pristine square in the heart of Chelsea favours understated elegance, like the surrounding parts of this chic royal borough.

Hence here they opt for twinkling white lights in the square, set off to perfection in front of the surrounding Prince Albert red brick mansion blocks and the iconic neon lights of one of my favourite theatres, the Royal Court: Great for new writing and exciting plays, equally great for bunkering down in their cosy underground bar.

The Royal Court Theatre on the east side of Sloane Square. Photo credit, Martin Addison from Wiki Commons Media.

Sturdy and reassuring, representing standing steadfast in a changing world and stuffed full of childhood memories, Peter Jones the flagship department store flanks up the other side of the square.

However, if you’re a little less traditional and more of a Soho gal or guy, then my top tip for getting that Winter wonderment going would be Carnaby Street.

Carnaby Street London, W1F 9PS

Carnaby street at Christmas in 2018. Photo credit @vdv.charmlessgirl sourced from Instagram.

Carnaby street comes with iconic heritage. It was here that Swinging London was born and subcultures from the Mods to Punks and New Romantics congregated.

This gem in the heart of the West End is where the cool kids are at. Fashion, Media, Music and Theatre all rub elbows for space on and around this famous stretch.

Hence it comes as no surprise that even the Christmas lights get a creative twist here. Last year Queen lyrics light up the street.

To see what has been dreamt up this year, or indeed coming years, you’ll want to in town from mid November onwards.

Nearby Regent Street often has majestic angles and whilst it’s not my favourite place on earth, Oxford street has electric energy (hold on to your handbags and be prepared to elbow your way through the crowd into Topshop), and a good Christmas lights display.

Regent street angels. Photo credit by Luke Stackpoole on Unsplash.

Lumiere festival London

Lumiere Festival is back. I first discovered this one about five years back, and feel like it may have been the first year, but then again perhaps it was simply new to me.

This street light festival is a really nice night out, making your way round various Soho pubs for mulled wine or similar refreshments and stopping to see live performances of illuminated dragons and light mapping on buildings set to music.

I’d thoroughly recommend it. The website is here. (Nb, At time of writing I could only find the details for the Durham festival in 2019).

Festive Fun

It’s no secret that London is a city that likes to party. Most Londoners adhere to their “work hard, play hard” manifesto.

Mulled wine, an adopted London Winter drink. Photo credit by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.

Nightlife gets especially merry over the festive season. Merry is the perfect word to describe London in this Christmas countdown.

Offices now routinely put on annual Christmas parties. Alongside these groups of friends, Uni mates and amateur sports teams will all get in on the action.

This means that if you’re part of several friendship groups, extra curricular activities and communities you might find your Thursdays-Saturdays in December filling up fairly fast.

Yes, your wallet and liver may both take a battering, but it’s undoubtedly something of a festive tradition in London and there will always be time to pay your penance when Dry January arrives in the new year.

My advice is to enjoy this atmosphere. Go to traditional pubs serving mulled wine and hot cider, they’ll have blackboards propped up outside on the pavement proudly advertising this.

The Prince Albert in Battersea is a great place to go after fireworks or a Winter walk in the park.

The Prince Albert, 85 Albert Bridge Rd, Battersea, London SW11 4PF

The Prince Albert in Battersea. Photo credit by @theapplemarket from Instagram.

Santa Claus

If you’re in London with little ones then then once the Christmas shopping is done and dusted there is nothing more important than meeting Santa.

Photo credit, by Mike Arney on Unsplash.

Londoners have a fine tradition of shopping centre Santas as well as more smaller more specialised outfits. In fact they’re probably second only to their fellow Anglo-Saxon friends across the pond in Santa success.

There are even London agencies which exist to cast Santa and his crew of little helpers.

So where in town should you head for a great Santa encounter?

  • Westfield London Santa’s Grotto.
  • Santa’s grotto at Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park.
  • Alice in Winterland Lantern Festival in Southwark Park.
  • Harrods Christmas Grotto. …
  • Meet Father Christmas at Hamleys. …
  • Father Christmas at Fulham Palace.

Shopping

London and shopping go hand in hand. It is a brilliant destination for the two important types of Winter shopping: Namely, present shopping and sale shopping.

Shopping is a well known Winter activity in London. Photo credit by freestocks.org on Unsplash.

The first of which is probably going to happen from mid-November, or further into December, (even up to the 23rd or Christmas Eve!) All depends on your age and personal organisation.

I would definitely advise you to avoid the rush of mid-late Saturday afternoons, once into the swing of December.

Smart Christmas shopping is trying to get into town at times when others are not. For example, if you can make it to either Westfield or Oxford street on a Tuesday mid morning, I can guarantee you a considerably calmer experience than were you to go at the weekend.

Shopping areas

Much like the Christmas lights, this varies a great deal depending on personal taste.

I have always liked shopping in and around High street Kensington. There’s certainly a lot less choice, but I find something relaxing about being outside on a real high street with one’s options limited to what’s available.

You’ve got Boots for all your bubble bath Christmas box needs, Marks and Spencer for simply everything for parents’ generation, TK Maxx is a great spot for colleague and girlfriends shopping, when you want to look generous and get something nice for a good price.

Finally the teens and young adults in your extended family will be content with Urban Outfitter’s fare and Whole foods is great for lotions, potions, teas and treats for your health conscious yoga obsessed loved ones.

High street Kensington from a side street at night. Photo credit by Bruno Martins on Unsplash.

Perhaps West London calm isn’t your prerequisite for swift, successful shopping.

If you’d rather travel further out and have everything under one roof, then these days Westfield is where it’s at.

Okay, so you’ll hop on the central line then ride it far out east to Stratford or west to Shepherd’s Bush.

This is where I go if I have a lot of very different presents to buy. You’ve got amazing variety in terms of shops, you can do everything you’d need to all under one roof.

There are a tonne of lunch options, children’s play areas, spaces to get a massage or your nails done as a quick pamper break if it all gets too much. Things feel clean, well organised and you’ll get it all done in one go.

Westfield White City shopping centre. Photo credit Wiki Commons Media.

Downside of this shopping mall efficiency is that you could be anywhere. If you’re visiting London, once out in one of these megapoles you really could be anywhere, this is not the scenic, tourist friendly type of shopping that you’ll get elsewhere.

So if you do go in for all of that, and would like to have beautiful surroundings while you shop, may I suggest the following:

Richmond or Greenwich

Both these “villages within London” are going to give you the loveliest Winter shopping experience for Christmas and the Sales.

Richmond. Photo credit by @asica81 from Instagram.

Sure, you’ll have less choice. But you’ll have space to breathe and a beautiful, traditional high street to enjoy.

The lovely thing about shopping in these parts of town is you get to see something of London and how it was a couple of decades back before things got quite so manic.

Both boroughs are distinctly middle class. Quite a few celebrities live around Richmond. The areas pride themselves on having their own markets, stunning parks, architecture and riverside pubs and supporting independent shops better than central.

What’s not to love.

Ice Skating

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a soft spot for an outdoor ice rink in winter.

Sure you’ll need to head out well wrapped up ready to confront the cold, but you’ll get so much back in exhilaration after an hour or so sliding about on the ice.

Ice skating in London. Photo credit by Fas Khan on Unsplash.

 If a fairytale backdrop could add to your experience of this Winter activity then I would thoroughly recommend either the ice rink in front of the National History Museum or that of Somerset House:

NH Museum Ice Rink, Cromwell Rd, South Kensington,  SW7 5BD

Opening Hours 10:00–22:00

Somerset House Ice Rink, London WC2R 1LA

Opening Hours 09:00–21:00

Prices may change year to year but as a rule of thumb I’d expect to pay between 10-15 per person.

In 2019 at the time of going to press, Somerset House were offering Adult tickets from £11 and Child tickets (under 12) at £8.50. 

Skate at Somerset House. Photo credit by @realrobbentely on Instagram.

Make sure you keep an eye on smaller less stable people, sometimes there are rather attractive polar bear and penguin stabiliser supports for them to lean on and keep their balance, leaving you free to ahem, deal with keeping yourself upright.

Busy times will vary, but if you go during working hours, or outside weekends or school holidays, you might be lucky and spoilt with a little more space.

Winter Wonderland

This pop up Festive Fair takes place annually in Hyde Park.

Photo credit by Devon Rogers on Unsplash

You should definitely go if you’re in town while it’s on. This is one of London’s great Winter nights out.

Winter Wonderland is best enjoyed with friends and spending money. If you arrive early out of work, or perhaps city touring around 6pm, then you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy everything on offer.

There are plenty of cosy seated areas for when your tired legs need a rest and you a little liquid refuel.

wine glasses outdoors

Photo credit, Discover Walks.

The food and drinks on offer are Winter themed. In past years there’s been a strong Germanic influence too, as they do rather hold the crown for Christmas markets.

So, if a bratwurst in a bun washed down with spiced cider after tossing tokens to win soft toys and amiably rigged games, then a loop the loop on a fairground ride (preferably this part before eating), take your fancy then you’re bound to enjoy Winter Wonderland.

Bracing crisp air, bright lights and excitement – you’ll leave starry eyed and energised from this London Winter activity.

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