As the year draws to a close and the weather turns crisp, London’s landscape is transformed with cosy pub fires, decorations and an infectious festive spirit. Far from closing down the city, winter is one of city's liveliest seasons. From sipping glühwein at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and ice skating at Somerset House to discovering London’s best markets and shows, here are some of our favourite things to do in London when the winter season descends.
This hugely popular family-friendly event is hosted in one of London’s best-known Royal Parks. Best known for its Bavarian Village, where visitors can try traditional glühwein and snack on authentic German delicacies, there's also an array of rides and attractions, from market stalls selling festive trinkets to an ice skating rink and exciting schedule of spectacular shows.
Open from November to January, the grandeur of Somerset House's neoclassical architecture provides a stunning backdrop for skaters of all ages to gracefully twirl and glide on the ice. Whether you're a beginner lacing up your skates for the first time or a skilled skater eager to showcase your moves, the rink provides a friendly and festive atmosphere with live music and twinkling lights. Warm up after your session with a cup of hot chocolate or seasonal treat from the onsite cafe or array of eateries in the area.
Festive shopping in London is about far more than just the purchases. Upscale department stores such as Harrods, Liberty and Selfridges deck their halls with beautiful displays while iconic shopping streets like Oxford Street and Bond Street become glittering catwalks for Christmas light installations. Nestled just south of the River Thames, Borough Market becomes a festive foodie haven during winter, with stalls overflowing with seasonal delights like mulled cider, roasted chestnuts and melt-in-the-mouth mince pies. It's the perfect spot to refuel between shopping sprees and soak up the festive atmosphere.
Winter is fireworks season in London and there are numerous opportunities to enjoy these colourful displays. 5 November marks Bonfire Night, which commemorates Guy Fawkes’ gunpowder plot of 1605. Each year, a large fireworks show takes place over the parliament building and thousands of people gather along the riverbank to watch. As you might expect, New Year’s Eve is also a great time to see fireworks in London, with displays hosted all over the city.
While Germany may be the king of Christmas markets, London is increasingly vying for attention with an excellent spread of markets across the capital. The Southbank Centre Winter Festival brings together local traders in wooden chalets on the riverside Queen’s Walk. Here, visitors can shop for gifts, festive foods and warming beverages such as mead and mulled wine. The German-style London Bridge City Christmas Market presents pop-up stalls selling handmade crafts by independent traders, alongside festive cocktails, craft beers and hot food. The Leicester Square Christmas Market features traditional stores as well as a busy programme of festive entertainment. Or for something a little different, head to the Christmas Markets of art centres like Tate Modern and the Barbican to pick up stylish stocking fillers, handmade trinkets, jewellery and prints.
London’s West End is renowned for its world-class theatre and in winter, the programme shifts up a gear with extra performances and festive shows. Catch one of London’s famous productions or look out for seasonal offerings such as The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House. Pantomimes also bring a welcome dose of comedy to the season and many, such as Cinderella at the London Palladium, are planned throughout winter. A show is one of the best things to do in London this winter, make sure to book tickets while you can!