London for Christmas is a dream. If you get the chance to visit during Christmastime, I highly recommend it. The town is covered in beautiful lights and there’s so much to explore – not only do you have the traditional sites to visit, but all sorts of new festive locations open up as well. Here, I’m going to document the places I visited during my week in London, and hopefully it can help you plan your own trip there as well.
Day 1: December 21
First up, we visited St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Millennium Bridge, Tate Modern, and Shakespeare’s Globe. As a warning, it’s around 16-18 pounds to visit both St. Paul’s and Shakespeare’s Globe. As a result, we really only saw the outside of St. Paul’s, but the building is beautiful and I’m sure the inside is equally as stunning. All of these places are within walking distance of each other, so we were able to travel everywhere on foot.
Millennium Bridge is a footbridge across the Thames that has some really stunning architecture, and dumps you straight into Tate Modern. Tate Modern is a wonderful art museum that features… shocker, modern art. There’s also a few Picasso pieces and other well-known artists – and the best part is that the entire museum is free. I’ve also heard that there’s a café on the top floor that has an amazing view – I didn’t go, but if you have time, definitely check it out. Finally, Shakespeare’s Globe. There’s a full tour that also goes into the history of Shakespeare’s life, so if you’re going to pay for a tour, this one is certainly worth it.
My parents and I stayed in a hotel in Canary Wharf, and I think this ended up being a great decision. Canary Wharf is far enough from the center of the city that you don’t experience the full-blown craziness, but it’s also only a short tube ride away, which makes it easy to visit all of the attractions.
Day 2: December 22
On this day, we found ourselves in Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Trafalgar Square is an incredibly famous part of London, and naturally it’s usually filled with a number of tourists. I’d recommend getting there somewhat early if you’d like to get some cool pictures, because otherwise your shots will be filled with people milling around in the background. The National Gallery is yet another free museum, and it’s overflowing with beautiful paintings. Not to mention, the architecture of the building itself is beautiful.
In the evening, we wandered up to Oxford Street, which is a major commercial street with a lot of shopping opportunities. Also, since it’s the Christmas season, there are lights strung up that make the whole street glow. (Side note: if you’re at all a fan of LUSH, their prices are so much cheaper in the UK than in the US since they don’t have a manufacturing center in the US, so I stocked up on goodies while I was there.)
Finally, we ended the night by seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. As a lifetime Harry Potter fan, this was nothing short of a dream come true. While the written script is a pretty good read, it is 100x better to see it come to life. The casting is fantastic, and I had a perfect view from the third row. However, if Harry Potter isn’t your cup of tea or if you can’t get tickets (they’re hard to come by at the moment), any show in the West End is bound to be a great time.
Day 3: December 23
This day involved a miniature tour of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey. Since I’ll be touring the Houses of Parliament as a part of my study abroad program, I didn’t go see it then, but it would be an interesting tour if you haven’t already seen it (I’m super excited to see it this weekend). Also, I was able to go into Westminster Abbey for a Christmas Eve service, so it didn’t make much sense to also pay to tour it since you get a pretty good view of it just from attending a service.
Dinner took place at Mildred’s Soho. There are a couple of locations of this particular restaurant in London, but it is a great choice if you’re vegetarian or vegan, since the entire menu is vegetarian and at least 50 percent is vegan. The night concluded with the second part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – once again, I highly recommend it.
Day 4: December 24
Today was where we delved into the more festive parts of London. Every year, Hyde Park transforms into a “Winter Wonderland,” which features carnival-like attractions and plenty of food. The Wonderland itself is free to enter, but you do have to pay for any of the rides as well as any food or drink you may want. It’s a bit cheesy overall, but you really need to visit one of those places at least once during the holiday season, right?
We also went to a Christmas Eve service at Westminster Abbey. It’s a ticketed event so you need to request tickets about a month in advance during the designated purchase window, but the service itself is free. The chapel is itself is beautiful and the service has a heavy emphasis on carols, so the acoustics of the building make the experience magical. I’d highly recommend.
Day 5: December 25
One thing I didn’t anticipate properly about spending Christmas in London is that nearly everything is closed. In fact, many places are closed all the way through December 27. As a result, we actually ended up walking through London for about five hours – even the Underground was shut down for the day! I also believe there are some tour buses still operating on Christmas Day. While I’m normally not really one for bus tours (I much prefer walking everywhere), this would’ve been a really awesome option if I would have known about it.
Another important note for Christmas Day is the importance of making dinner reservations. Particularly if you want a traditional Christmas meal or want to eat somewhere in the center of the city, many of those restaurants book up quickly.
Day 6: December 26
Based on my experiences in the US, I completely expected that Boxing Day would involve stores opening at 6 a.m. and there being mad rushes to make the most of the after-Christmas sales. However, Boxing Day shopping was actually relatively calm where I was, and none of the stores actually opened until 11 a.m. I’m sure Harrods in the center of the city was a completely different situation, but the Canary Wharf shopping traffic was significantly lower.
We also did a bit of ice skating at the Canary Wharf ice rink. There’s another rink in Winter Wonderland and a few in other places, but this one won out due to its location. However, ice skating didn’t exactly go as planned – my mother ended up breaking her wrist! On that note, UK hospitals are actually pretty nice and even the emergency room was pretty efficient (US, take note).
I missed a few sites that I still would like to see – namely, the Tower of London and the London Eye, but since I’ll likely be in London on a couple more occasions before I go home in March, I’m planning to see them then. Until then, cheers!