London is seriously one of my favorite places! I know I say that about almost every place I write, but London is definitely my favorite “big city”. It is the perfect mix of historic and modern, with a splash of all things royal. I mean, who doesn’t love guards in black fur hats? There is so much to do in London – museums, palaces, the West End for musicals, shopping, markets, good food, etc! And as with many big cities, London comes alive at Christmas with twinkling lights, decorations, and the adorable chalet stalls of Christmas Markets. You can walk around admiring the lights while sipping on mulled wine and window shopping. Simply put, it is magical at Christmas.
It’s also a giant freaking nightmare. Don’t get me wrong, I adore London. And I adore Christmas. But my number one tip for enjoying London at Christmas is to stay home. Kidding. Sort of. It’s seriously super crowded and if you’re a Grinch like me, that can be frustrating. Side note: the Grinch didn’t really hate Christmas, he hated people. Which is totally fair. All these “people” decide to come to London at Christmas and bump into you, get in your way, and stand there forever taking pictures and blocking the view. Just like I did. Only I’m not realllllly a tourist since I live 80 miles from London and have been at least 10 times. I know my way around the underground; I’m not like all *those* people I was referring to.
So yes, London is crowded at Christmas, even if you go weeks in advance. It was frustrating, but also beautiful. We didn’t get to see everything we wanted (we only went down for the day since we’ve been to London so many times) but we did enjoy it. Where you go depends on what you are in the mood for. Some places are loud and overrun with people, while others are quieter. You’ll also want to wait until it’s dark to go to some places so you can enjoy the lights in the dark.
Five Great Places to Go in London at Christmas
# 5 Leicester Square
Leicester Square is always a popular area in London, and Christmas is no exception! Located in the West End Theatre District, Leicester Square boasts good shopping and food. It’s right on the edge of Chinatown, which is a spectacle in itself with the beautiful lanterns and decorations (and not to mention delicious restaurants). Leicester Square has a Christmas Market this time of year, complete with chalets and vendors. You can shop for gifts, eat some fudge or chocolate, enjoy a beer, and wander around and enjoy the scenery. They also have free toilets which is a huge plus when walking around a big city. The Leicester Square Christmas Market is right next to the Lego Store. The displays in Lego Stores are always incredible and worthy of a visit. This one is no exception, with the tube station made of legos and Big Ben. I’m glad I visited the Lego Store because I finally got to see Big Ben without all the scaffolding. Ha!
#4 Regent Street
Many places in London line the streets with spectacular Christmas Lights. However, Regent Street and Old Bond Street are incredible and worth a view. Of course, you have to wait until it’s dark (which in England, happens by 4:00) to get the best experience. By the time it was dark, I was tired. And we had to walk 1.5 miles because the tube stations were either closed or ridiculously crowded. It was worth it though; Regent Street is stunning lit up. It was hard to get good pictures with all the people, but you get the idea. It definitely puts you in the Christmas spirit, even if you do have the urge to push some of the crowds into ongoing traffic!
In case you’ve not heard of Harrods, it is an upscale department store in London located in the Knightsbridge area. It is truly amazing to see the products (things I could never afford in a million years) and marvel at how the upper class live. Not only is it known for it’s fashion, but also the food halls and luxury gifts. Harrod’s is a must see in London any time of year, but it is impressive to see it decorated for Christmas. It was hard to get photos as it was so crowded. They have a special Santa’s Grotto, but you need to make a booking ahead of time! So apparently this Santa requires a reservation. Near Santa’s Grotto is a section of the store dedicated to just Christmas ornaments and decorations. Most of them were super expensive, as I’m not in the habit of spending 75 quid on an ornament. I was able to score a 10 pound Union Jack ornament which is hanging on my tree as we speak. Harrod’s is quite the scene, but it is worth a visit to see the decor and the opulence. You might even have the budget to buy some things from the store!
#2 Covent Garden
Covent Garden is always a great place to go, regardless of season. The decor is always classy and chic, and you can’t beat the market stalls and upscale stores! I was super excited to check out Covent Garden at Christmas, mostly because there is a Links of London store and they are having 50% off everything due to going out of business. Sadly, they didn’t have the bracelet I wanted. I love walking around Covent Garden, and with Christmas decor it is even more perfect! A beautiful large tree sets the stage for people to gather around and listen to street performers. If you’re a huge Tiffany & Co fan like I am, you will LOVE their sponsored ice rink and impressive decorations. I took so many pictures at this spot, where they are promoting their new perfume. It’s a picture place to snag a good photo, so don’t miss it. You can’t go wrong with “little blue boxes” that spell out LOVE.
#1 Christmas by the River
I’m a sucker for Christmas Markets. Even if I don’t buy much other than some mulled wine or a sweet treat, it is so much fun to browse the little wooden chalets, looking for gifts. I also love a good view, and walking along the river with the Tower Bridge in the background, is always a good view. The river is lined with Christmas Market stalls, and it even turns into an indoor market, all along the Thames. It is definitely worth visiting, and there are some unique stalls as well. There is a lot of “space” in this area, so it never felt overly crowded like other parts of London.
The place to avoid at all costs….
Winter Wonderland! I want to stay positive, because it truly is gorgeous all lit up, and we had the BEST red honey wine. BUT, Winter Wonderland is such a racket! I think I was so disappointed because I was expecting it to be a large Christmas Market. It really isn’t; instead, it’s an expensive carnival. You wait in a long line to get in, only to have to pay for expensive rides and over priced food. There are not really any non food or drink items for sale. It’s all rides and games. I did enjoy the live music and the Octoberfest sort of feel, but it was way too crowded! I guess to each their own. If you enjoy spending a ton of money on rides and games and getting separated from your family because it’s so crowded, this place is for you. Another annoying thing, when we arrived at Winter Wonderland we took the Knightsbridge tube station (because we were going to Harrod’s first and it was a quick and easy ride). BUT, because of crowds, when you leave in the evening you can’t take the Knightsbridge or Hyde Park tube stations; they are closed to get on because of the large volume of people. So you are stuck walking with all the crowds of people that wanted to get on the tube. It makes for slow movement when you leave. Would I go again? No. Am I glad I went? I think so; I did enjoy the hot wine and pretzel.
London at Christmas, what can I say?! It’s beautiful, magical, and like something out of a dream. If only there weren’t so many people, I’d stay longer or go again. Honestly, go for it! It’s an experience and it puts you in the Christmas Spirit. May the odds be ever in your favor….