There is no shortage of cultural, cosy, and Christmassy things to do in London in winter.
November sees the city slip into the coldest part of the year with the arrival of yuletide markets, jovial pop-ups, and restaurants festooned with fairy lights and decorations.
Despite being somewhat nippy, London is one of the best places to visit in Europe in December.
The city wears the season well with winter in London promising a cheerful atmosphere suitable for all types of travellers. And here’s how you can expect to spend your days, come rain or shine (or even, snow).
Whether you’re travelling London with kids or you are exploring the city on a romantic weekend getaway, there are so many things to enjoy about London in winter.
11 Things to do in London in Winter
Let’s dive into this round-up of the top London winter events and activities. While these are geared up toward the chillier climate and indoorsy activities, you can read up on unusual things to do in London in tandem.
1. Browse the Christmas markets
London at Christmas is one of the most magical times of year to visit the country’s capital.
One of the principal winter activities in London is to submit yourself to a spot of Christmas market hopping. These replicate the classic European Christmas markets as started in Germany in the middle ages.
Located in the largest central park, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is the biggest Christmas market in London. Winter Wonderland is an extravaganza of food and gift stalls, amusement rides, shows, workshops, and games. Pre-booking is mandatory with only peak hours requiring an admission fee to be paid.
Winter Market at the Southbank Centre is another solid favourite among residents and tourists, this pop-up takes place near the London Eye with quaint wooden shacks lining the riverbank. There’s no better place to tuck into raclette and mulled wine than with a view of the city skyline.
Christmas By The River is somewhat smaller and tends to be a little less busy. Dates are yet to be confirmed for 2022 but assuming it runs as usual, this one is the perfect accompaniment to a twilight stroll around Tower Bridge. Meanwhile, Christmas under the Canopy near King’s Cross is ideal for a drizzly evening.
Elsewhere, you will find festive markets at Covent Garden, Leicester Square, and Selfridges. London’s Christmas markets tend to appear at the end of November and last until just after New Year’s Eve. Therefore, this is one of the top things to do in December in London in the run-up to Christmas.
2. Go ice skating
Ice skating is one of the quintessential London winter activities with several rinks popping up citywide.
In addition to funfair rides, Winter Wonderland has its own rink and is one of the most central places to skate in London. Beyond this one, Somerset House with Moët & Chandon takes over the entire courtyard of the Neoclassical structure. Sponsored by the champagne brand, expect the fizz to flow if you choose to skate at Somerset House. The experience
Slightly further afield, you will find rinks at Battersea Power Station, Alexandra Palace, Hampton Court Palace, and the Queen’s House. Although these require more travel time, each offers a beautiful setting and the rinks tend to be a little quieter and more family-friendly.
Typically, the London ice rinks are open from the middle of November through mid-November. However, if you’re visiting London later in the year, the Canary Wharf Ice Rink – with its swanky Off Piste Bar – stays put until late February.
Dining in igloos has become a staple of winter in London over the past few years. These are a luxurious affair where you’ll generally pay a deposit to book an igloo which is then put toward your food and drink on the night. As they’re priced per unit, the activity works best for groups or those not constrained by budget.
Coppa Club is the OG of the supper igloo. These days, the restaurant maintains a fleet of nine units year-round on the South Bank. A new rival, Fire and Fromage, is making its debut down the riverside with a menu consisting of raclette, charcuterie, and s’mores.
On the other hand, you can combine the Instagrammable luxury of an igloo with an aerial view, at Aviary. The restaurant tops the Montcalm Royal London House Hotel and specialises in British cuisine.
Ultra romantic restaurant, The Waterway, is a snug option for smaller groups up to six. The sole igloo overlooks the canal in the peaceful Little Venice neighbourhood.
4. Catch a festive flick
Going to the cinema in winter is a whole other affair in the colder months. Independent picture houses such as Electric Cinema and the Everyman franchise typically host screenings of seasonal favourites. Elsewhere, pop-up cinemas rank as one of the loveliest things to do in London in winter for couples and families.
Long-running Backyard Cinema returns for the season with its Arctic Express-inspired getup. Cosily appointed with bean bags and a bar dishing up popcorn and mulled wine, the programme this year includes hits including Elf, Die Hard, and The Holiday.
Ambiently lighted, the Rivoli Ballroom is a vintage dancehall reimagined as a cinema. Here, you can hunker down and catch Christmas flicks over winter while tucking into hot dogs and wine.
Last but not least, the Kitchen at Holmes is a Mediterranean-themed restaurant with a “secret” roof terrace. This year, the bistro is planning a film series with screenings including Love Actually and Home Alone. Tickets are available via Design My Night.
5. Experience Christmas at Kew
While you might consider a botanical garden as being more of a summer activity, Christmas at Kew sets out to challenge that!
Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, is transformed into a winter wonderland with illuminations lighting up the venue. A trail paves its way through the complex, taking you past trees drenched in fairy lights and past playful lake reflections.
As this is an open-air activity at night, you’ll need to bundle up in layers and wear sensible footwear. However, the provision of food stalls serving winter treats and hot spiced cider will help keep frostbite at bay.
Christmas at Kew is one of the coolest London winter events for families and couples alike. Advance booking is recommended but not mandatory.
6. Indulge in afternoon tea
One of the best foodie things to do in London in winter is to take your time over a long afternoon tea. In general, the meal consists of little crustless sandwiches, scones served with clotted cream and jam, cakes, and tea. However, you will find that menus receive a yuletide twist in the lead-up to Christmas.
The meal is served in the afternoon at hotels, restaurants, and cafes. Hotels such as the Ritz and the Savoy come with a higher price tag although the interiors and style just about justify it.
For a more affordable option, consider the Covent Garden Hotel. The classic afternoon tea is perfectly prepared and comes with a long list of teas and infusions. Plus, the staff are generally happy to bring extra sandwiches and scones.
Although originally intended as a light snack between lunch and dinner, tea has evolved into a meal in its own right. Avoid scheduling this for the same day you plan to go out to a restaurant but it’s ideal if you’re headed out ice skating or to Kew Gardens.
AfternoonTea.co.uk is a great starting place to weigh up your options.
7. Christmas window displays
Whatever time of year you visit London, it’s always worth tilting your head to check out the creative window displays. But, when visiting London in winter – this is a full-blown activity. While Fifth Avenue has the monopoly on epic holiday windows, London’s shop fronts are equally spectacular.
Major department stores such as Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges, and Liberty London unveil their seasonal window installations around mid-November. Typically, they are anchored on a theme or tell a story. In addition to the big players, you can enjoy cheerful exhibits throughout the city. Naturally, the windows are at their best after dusk but you’ll need to brace yourself for more crowds.
Checking out the festive window installations is one of the kookiest free things to do in December in London. Unless you end up swept inside the shop!
8. Warm up in a museum
With the cooler temperatures, museums and galleries are unbeatable destinations to while away an afternoon when spending winter in London. Many of the institutions in London are free to visit, though the temporary exhibitions are always worth a glance.
As an example, the Natural History Museum hosts the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition from October onwards. Meanwhile, the Victoria & Albert Museum explores the work of one of the UK’s most cherished conservationists, writers, and illustrators at the Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature exhibition this year.
However, you might want to turn your attention to those museums somewhat off the grid. The Postal Museum is fairly new to the culture scene and contains a ride through the subterranean tunnels on the Mail Rail. Hoxton’s Museum of the Home explores domestic spaces but also goes deeper and urges you to consider your own relationship with home.
9. Visit Hogwarts in the Snow
Explore the wizarding world of Harry, Hermione, and Ron at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter. The venue features the sets, props, and costumes from the film franchise including the flying blue car, Diagon Alley, and the potions classroom.
The studio tour is one of the best things to do in December in London with kids – or fans of the series. Every year, the attraction prepares for Christmas with a wintery makeover. Hogwarts in the Snow will run this year from mid-November until early January. Fake snow is added to the
In addition to the exhibition, you can sip a tankard of butterbeer and browse the gift shop. Incidentally, if you need to shop for any fans – the items on sale are extremely high-quality.
However, you can also buy Harry Potter merchandise at the gift shop on the King’s Cross concourse, if the studio tour doesn’t fit in with your London travel itinerary.
10. Settle in for a pub lunch
England’s hearty food is made for winter in London and the best place to experience British grub is in a pub.
Visit a London pub on a Sunday and you can sample a roast dinner – roasted meat served with roast vegetables and doused in gravy. Other typical dishes include sausage rolls, fish and chips, “bangers” (sausages) and mash, and savoury pies.
London’s pub scene is pretty varied with options ranging from “old man pubs” to gourmet gastropubs. Southwark and London Bridge are great places to start your quest for the ultimate Sunday lunch.
Head to the Woolpack on Bermondsey Street where you’ll find the classic meat-based roasts as well as a vegetarian equivalent.
Adam and Eve is a handy one to know about if you end up hungry in Soho. The menu fuses British and European recipes. Elsewhere, Shepherd Market has a couple of historic pubs with high-quality cooking; check out Ye Grapes if you’d prefer Thai to English!
If you tackle a walk in Hampstead Heath (one of the things to do in London in winter on a clear day!), you have the perfect excuse to treat yourself to a meal at the Spaniards Inn. The Sunday lunch offering is one of the best in London but they also excel at fish dishes, salads, burgers, and scotch eggs.
11. Celebrate New Year’s Eve
New Year’s Eve is the pinnacle of London winter events with tons of activities to choose from based on your personal preferences.
A grand firework display takes place near the Southbank Centre. Access to the viewing zones requires a ticket: the first release has already sold out but a second release will be available in early December. Sign up for updates from the Mayor of London if you want to purchase a ticket.
Heading to a swanky bar or nightclub is always an unforgettable experience (well, unless you have one two many G&Ts). For those with deeper pockets, Madison at St Paul’s hosts an extravagant rooftop party every year with live music and killer views. Alternatively, the Latin-inspired Barrio always puts on an epic spread of NYE parties across its five laid-back Central London bars.
Taking a cruise is another cool way to ring in the New Year. Thames Cruises host party cruises while Thames Luxury Charters specialise in gourmet dinner cruises.
If you do head out to a club – or restaurant – on NYE in London, advance booking is mandatory.