Christmas in London is an enchanting time of year. Seriously, who needs jam-packed German markets and far-flung Alpine resorts when London’s got all the festive feels (and Yuletide activities) you could wish for this winter.
Festive markets, cozy pubs, bustling restaurants lit by flickering fireplaces and shimmering Christmas decorations everywhere you look, London has it all.
The trick is know what to do in the city during the festive season. This is not the time to queue up 3 hours for a 30-minute ride on the London Eye, especially when you can get the same breathtaking views from a decadently dressed restaurant up the Shard. For a classic Christmas that checks all the right boxes- think mince pies, mulled wine, ice skating and festive afternoon teas- here’s how we would use 72 hours in bustling London.
December 24 – Christmas Eve
It’s 9:00 AM in London and things are about to get festive. First stop: The grocery store with more than 300 years of history, and home to some of the city’s best-dressed windows around Christmas.
9:00 AM London – Visit the Fortnum & Mason store on Piccadilly
Fortnum & Mason in Piccadilly is the official grocer of the Queen, and has held the royal patronage for more than 150 years. So, if you’re looking to stock up on traditional eats like Christmas puddings (the kind you can drench in booze and set alight tableside), mince pies and gooey French cheeses, it’s the grocery store to drop by. Fortnum & Mason is also the home of the Christmas hamper, which has supplied gastronomic fares to everyone, from Oscar Wilde to Frank Sinatra. The hampers are filled to the brim with yuletide staples- think toast-worthy tipples, delicious chocolates, flavoursome jars of marmalade and scrumptious savoury delights- and they are wickers fit for royalty.
10:30 AM – Cross the street to the Burlington Arcade
51 Burlington Arcade
You could easily lose a day in Fortnum & Mason, but may we suggest you tear yourself away after an hour or two. London has a lot more to offer. Like the Burlington Arcade right across the street… Strolling down this carpeted shopping runway that unites Piccadilly and Bond Street feels like taking a step back to 19th-century London, and you essentially are. Built in 1819, the arcade has remained largely unchanged over the years, and is one of London’s hidden treasures packed with uniquely British boutiques, from perfume house Penhaligon’s to homeware store Linley.
The Burlington Arcade is also a destination for Christmas decorations, which are always a highlight.
12:00 AM – Head to the Lecture Room & Library in Mayfair for lunch
9 Conduit Street
sketch London, dreamed up by French master chef Pierre Gagnaire and restaurateur Mourad Mazouz, is a place where a myriad of Michelin-starred eateries meet music and art, and the sophisticated (and majorly Instagrammable) Lecture Room & Library, open for lunch, might just be our favorite. It feels like a funhouse, awash with colour, energy and vim, but what you’ll remember of this place is the food. Unquestionably French, every dish is artfully presented and served with flair, and the dining experience is magical every time.
1:30 PM – Walk down Oxford Street to the Connaught Village
London’s fabulously festive Oxford Street, with its seasonal shop window displays and Christmas decorations, is an experience in its own right, but for something extra-special, walk down the road to Marble Arch and on to the independent boutiques and gourmet food stores of Hyde Park Estate’s Connaught Village. It’s a leafy haven and an oasis of calm, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of London’s West End.
3:30 PM – Meander over to Claridge’s for afternoon tea
You’ve earned a break by now, and this time of year, there is no better place to satisfy afternoon peckishness than the quintessentially British ritual of afternoon tea at the Claridge’s. Around Christmas, the menu faithfully follows the traditional combination of sweet and savoury with a selection of sandwiches, apple and raisin scones and French pastries. Add a glass of Champagne to the mix and some rich Oolong and you’ve got yourself a happy Christmas.
5:30 PM – Head over to Somerset House for some ice skating
The frozen 18th-century courtyard of Somerset House is London’s classiest ice rink, and whether you tear it up like Torvill or scramble around like Bambi, it’s the perfect place to glide in style around a 40ft tree, decked out in baubles and mini Fortnum & Mason hampers.
Off the ice,the alpine-inspired Fortnum’s Lodge restaurant offers a relaxed and intimate atmosphere for a drink to contemporary music and beautiful Christmas decorations.
8:00 PM – Head to the Southbank Centre Winter Festival
Around Christmas, London’s South Bank, backdropped by the London Eye, the National Theatre and the Houses of Parliament lining River Thames, throws one of the best- and biggest- Christmas celebrations in town. Mulled wine, seasonal Christmas shows and a festive market replete with little wooden chalets, it’s got it all.
9:30 PM – End the day with one last drink at the Dandelyan
20 Upper Ground
The Tom Dixon–designed Dandelyan bar, overseen by award-winning mixologist Ryan Chetiyawardana, is one of London’s best watering holes, but it won’t be around for much longer. It’s set to close next year (to rise again as something brighter no doubt), so if you want to grab one of its world-famous martinis or Negronis, this holiday season is the perfect time to do it.
December 25 – Christmas Day
As Londoners enjoy Christmas at home, the capital’s usually thronging hotspots, like Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Street and Covent Garden, become eerily empty, but there’s still lots happening around town.
8:00 AM – Catch a church service
20 Dean’s Yard
Visiting the Westminster Abbey or the St Paul’s Cathedral is a special way to start Christmas Day. For quiet moments of contemplation, we recommend the Holy Communion service at the Abbey, which lasts around 40 minutes and is open to all. For Christmas Carols and music from the Abbey Choir, stay for the 10:30 AM Sung Eucharist service.
12:00 AM – Head over to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew
After church, there is nothing like taking a stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew for a different kind of sensory experience. With its unique landscapes, beautiful glasshouses and the largest collection of plants in the world, it’s a place where fairytale meets fantasy, and tree canopies drenched in Christmas colour are among the most enchanting you’ll ever see.
The Royal Botanic Gardens is also just a 20-minute ride from Westminster Abbey, so you’ll have plenty of time to make it back in town for a traditional Christmas lunch.
2:00 PM – Sit down for a traditional Christmas lunch
Most hotels in London will serve a special festive meal on Christmas Day, complete with roast turkey, Christmas pudding and all the yuletide staples you could wish for. At the Rosewood London, a five-course lunch is served to live jazz music and a visit from Santa. At the Dorchester, celebrity chef Alain Ducasse serves a seven-course festive meal with wine pairings.
For something extra-special, we suggest you make your way to the Connaught’s two Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze restaurant. Foie gras, hand-harvested scallops, seabass and guineafowl…the six-course Christmas lunch menu has it all, and the surroundings are iconic Mayfair.
4:00 PM – Meander over to the Edward Sahakian Cigar Lounge of the Bulgari Hotel London
The cigar shop and sampling lounge by Edward Sahakian at the Bulgari Hotel London is the perfect place to spend a few blissful hours with vintage cigars on Christmas Day. The lounge is small, accommodating and supremely comfortable with its leather armchairs and sofas.
5:30 PM – Make it to Christmas Afternoon Tea at The Ritz
A scenic, seven-minute ride along Green Park will take you to the The Ritz London where afternoon tea is served with traditional flair. On Christmas Day, the ritual unfolds to glorious sounds of the Ritz choir singing popular carols while the Palm Court, where afternoon tea is served, is transformed into an Edwardian winter wonderland.
7:00 PM – Get out and explore Piccadilly the only day of the year when London is not buzzing
Piccadilly Circus is one of London’s most popular tourist destinations, but on Christmas Day, it’s a ghost town. The usually thronging square has almost a post-apocalyptic feel to it, and you can enjoy the atmosphere and take photos of its iconic advertising screens in complete peace and quiet.
8:00 PM – Indulge in a sumptuous dinner by chef Heston Blumenthal
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
The perfect way to end Christmas Day (or any day) in London is to treat yourself to a memorable meal at the two Michelin-starred restaurant of British chef Heston Blumenthal. The six-course tasting menu, with dishes like sherried scallop and chicken liver parfait, is a revelation. Tables are- of course- always decorated with lots of tinsel and Christmas magic reverberates all around.
December 26 – Boxing Day
Father Christmas may have come and gone, but London still has a lot more festive fun to offer.
9:00 AM – Christmas shopping in London’s festive West End
London’s West End is home to some of the world’s best shopping streets, from the vibrant Oxford Street (we’ve seen that already) to the upmarket Bond Street. Head out early to beat the crowds, or you can forgo the streets completely for a more exclusive shopping experience at the Westfield London shopping village. It’s the place to find the best in fashion, luxury retail, leisure and entertainment, all under one roof.
12:00 AM – Make your way to The Shard for lunch
32 London Bridge Street
Forget the London Eye… This time of year, The Shard is where you want to be to soak in enchanting views of London whilst sipping on a glass of bubbly. The best excuse to go up the iconic tower is lunch at one of its restaurants, which are all pretty exceptional. There is the Aqua Shard on level 31, serving up innovative British cuisine to breathtaking views of the capital. There is also the Oblix at The Shard where the dining experience is thoroughly urban, and the cocktails are world-class.
2:00 PM – Head to Trafalgar Square for a dose of storied tradition
Every year, Trafalgar Square, with its fountains, statues and monuments, is a special place to be around Christmas. The open space is also where London showcases the Christmas tree it gets from the city of Oslo every year. The annual gift is a sign of lasting gratitude for the support Britain provided Norway during World War II.
For more culture, you can also make your way to the National Gallery, which has more than 2,000 works of art. It’s right there, and it’s the perfect place to escape the cold and warm up if the roasted chestnuts alone are not doing it for you.
4:00 PM – Get in touch with your inner child at the Winter Wonderland
Just 20 minutes from Trafalgar Square, the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is a sparkly addition to London’s skyline around the holiday season. Thrilling rides, ice skating, charming Christmas markets and plenty of bars with crackling fires and live music make this a must-visit for children and grown-ups alike.
Did we mention the Bavarian Village where German sausages and glühweins are as authentic as they get?
6:00 PM – Enjoy an early dinner at the Colony Grill Room of The Beaumont
8 Balderton Street
After feasting on some good German sausages, there is no better place to continue this theme of meaty goodness than at the Colony Grill Room of the Beaumont hotel. The restaurant, sighing with Art Deco elegance, draws inspiration from the traditional Grill Rooms of New York, and there is nothing quite like it. Put quite simply, the Colony serves food you want to eat- think lobster à la Russe, chicken pot pie and the juiciest rib eye steaks – in a setting in which you’ll want to linger.
7:30 PM – Catch a captivating performance at the Royal Opera House
You can’t be in London and not get lost in the romance of a captivating ballet performance at the iconic Royal Opera House. On December 26, Wayne McGregor’s The Unknown Soldier to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War I is sure to be a moving experience. Book early; theatres in London get packed this time of year.
10:00 PM – Grab a last drink at Gordon’s, London’s oldest wine bar
47 Villiers Street
London’s not short of bars, but the city’s oldest one- established in 1890- is something special. The subterranean watering hole, with candlelit tables and walls covered in memorabilia, has barely changed in the last 200-plus years…and thank goodness for that. Settle down to a good bottle of wine and a scrumptious cheese plate, and experience heaven.
It’s 9:00 AM in London and we just spent the most magical 72 hours in the capital. Like promised, this itinerary had it all: Christmas markets, festive lunches, lots of shopping and classic Christmas traditions that even the most jaded Londoners never get tired of. Christmas only comes once a year, so live it as fully as possible…