Here is your guide with top activities if you are in and around London, UK!
Woolly jumpers, hot chocolate, rainy days, pumpkin everything and fireworks – it could mean only one thing: Autumn is here and Christmas is just around the corner! My favourite time of the year! Yes, I know that summer is a big contender, but in my book, nothing beats the coziness of the holiday season with all of its quality family time, baking, Christmas movie marathons, twinkling lights, Christmas markets and all sorts of magical activities.
Every year I am the designated person in my family to organise all sorts of activities to do around the holidays. Over the years I have accumulated quite the experience and I can now share the best festive activities that are actually worth it to book in and around London.
One of the most popular activities and for a reason. I haven’t been to a light trail that I didn’t like so I feel like you could never go wrong if you opt for this. I like to book it for the period between Christmas and New Years as it is a good way to walk off that Christmas feast and avoid the sadness that inevitably comes on the 27th of December when Christmas is officially over. But bear in mind that the dates in the last two weeks of December are always in high demand so you have to book as early as possible – no later than the end of November.
The top light trails I have visited so far are:
- Christmas at Blenheim Palace – it is a bit far out so you will have to make a day out of it, but it is so worth it!
They always transform the castle’s rooms into one legendary fairy tale – this year it is the Snow Queen and expect to really live out the fairy tale in a way you haven’t imagined possible. When we visited, I booked the indoor activity for around 2:30/3 pm as this gave us enough time to explore the fairy land, then grab some delicious bratwursts and mulled wine at the Christmas Market and head out to the Light trail at around 6:30 pm. They have some great discounts if you are an Annual Pass holder, but even if you are not, it is totally worth every penny.
P.S – Don’t forget to add parking to your reservation if you are driving there.
- Christmas at Kew – Kew Gardens really needs no introduction – it is magical all year round, but it transforms onto something else during the holidays! Expect a long trail with lots of different light installations, festive music and some yummy food and drink to keep you going. It is easy access from anywhere in London and I totally recommend it, but remember to book asap!
- Christmas at Bedgebury – This definitely is a shorter trail compared to Blenheim Palace and Kew Gardens, but it is a completely different experience, because the forest gives a depth to the illuminations that you cannot see at the previous two. You need a car to get to Bedgebury, but if you can make the trip, it will be totally worth it. Remember to dress up warm and wear wellies as it will be cold and muddy, but this will not make it any less enjoyable!
- SteamLights at Bluebell Railway – Now this is not a light trail in the traditional sense, but it is one of my favourite Christmas experiences ever!
Do you love trains, do you love history, do you love Christmas? – If the answer is yes, then SteamLights is the experience for you. You get to ride a steam train for a magical illuminated journey through the Sussex countryside. Once you get to the other side, it’s like you are transported back in time to the 1900s and you get to experience this golden era as well as poke around the steam engine locomotive. Then you make your journey back through the enchanted forest and it is like you are briefly transported into a parallel universe.
It is a bit far out so you need to plan your journey ahead, but it is also great for people with accessibility issues who cannot walk long distances and would like to experience a light trail. It might seem a bit expensive, but trust me if you can afford it, it is worth it!
I have visited quite a few cultural events around the holidays in London, but the Nutcracker by the English National Ballet has impressed me the most. I would happily visit over and over again. I have heard that the Nutcracker in the Royal Albert Hall is equally impressive, but haven’t had the chance to get tickets for that one yet. This year I have booked to attend Carols at the Royal Albert Hall, which is promising to be one of the most iconic Christmas events to attend, but I am yet to confirm!
When it comes to Christmas lights and decorations, London really has no match. You don’t even have to pay for any Christmassy events, just walking around the streets of London is enough to put you in an incredible Christmas mood. This year almost all streets get a Christmas lights revamp, so if you were getting a bit used to the usual decorations, you are in for a treat. If you don’t know London that well, here is a list of the places to visit:
- Oxford Street – Bond Street – Regent Street – while you are at the most iconic shopping streets, don’t forget to do some window shopping as well. Most well-known brands do amazing Christmas displays especially on Bond Street!
- Carnaby Street – always quirky and trendy with its Christmas light displays.
- Covent Garden – it is usually a home to my favourite Christmas decorations. I love spending time in Covent Garden around the holidays, it makes you feel so festive. Also, home to one of the best Christmas trees you can see in Central London.
- Trafalgar Square – home to the Christmas tree we receive as a gift from the good people of Norway every year since WWII.
- South Bank – great place to enjoy the Christmas mood, while taking in the beauty of London’s skyline and River Thames.
- London Bridge / Hay’s Galleria – this is not a very popular place, but I love the cozy atmosphere of the area especially around the holidays plus there are great places where you could grab a bite if you are feeling a bit peckish.
- Chelsea – this area of London is always nice to walk around, but around the holidays it gets transformed into a real Christmas Village with Santa’s grotto, carriage rides, fine food markets and all the trimmings. Not to miss!
Now if I have to be completely honest here the Christmas markets in London have not been my favourite. They are too concentrated and overcrowded most of the times to be able to properly enjoy them. I much prefer the Manchester Christmas markets which are scattered around the city centre and you can casually grab a mulled wine or a bratwurst while you are out shopping or on your way out of work. You just take a walk and stumble across beautiful chalets spreading holiday cheer. So, if you can get yourself up to Manchester, I thoroughly recommend it.
However, London still has lots of Christmas markets on offer and you can really enjoy them if you plan ahead.
- Winter Wonderland – I feel like Winter Wonderland has been a hit and a miss – you either love it or hate it. I personally have had a very complicated relationship with it. I used to enjoy it tremendously when I first moved here – it wasn’t very crowded and you could really submerge yourself in the atmosphere. My last visit, however, in 2019 was a total disaster. It was so overcrowded, dirty and noisy that you couldn’t wait to find the nearest exit and get out. Since the pandemic, they have made it a paid ticketed event to allow for some social distancing and to keep it more organised. I was thrilled to learn that this continues to be the case for this year’s event so I took the plunge and decided to give it another chance this year to see if it’s back to its original charm. I don’t know yet if this is something I would recommend for this holiday season or not, but if you do decide to visit, the Bavarian Village is not to miss! It has the best bratwurst out of all Christmas markets in London.
- Christmas By the River at London Bridge – I really enjoy this one as you can just scroll past it on your way along the river Thames. It isn’t usually very crowded and they have amazing mulled wine and some live music in the evenings. I recommend if you are in the area!
- Trafalgar Square Christmas Market – I loved those before the pandemic! As they are a new addition to the Christmas scene in London, they are not overcrowded and they offer great food and atmosphere.
- Southbank Winter Market – The Christmas markets on the Southbank have always been popular and with good reason. You can enjoy the Christmas cheer while walking on the most popular route along the river. They offer a variety of activities, food and souvenirs and this year they promise to be better than ever!
- Winter Village at Westfield London – Haven’t had the chance to visit yet, but heard some great things so maybe it is a good place to consider if you are in the area! I will be visiting this holiday season.
I feel like I have seen ice skating as integral part of Christmas ever since I started obsessing over Christmas movies. There is always some sort of a winter sport in every festive flick and considering that we don’t have any snow or ski in and around London, I have always seen ice skating as a must during the holidays. London has many great rinks to offer, but my favourite is Skate at Somerset House. It is very picturesque and not too crowded (even if you book during the peak sessions). They take great care of the rink so there is less risk of breaking something and you have the space to learn and explore even if you are not very good at it (trust me I’d know)! Plus, you can warm up with some hot beverages while you watch the others skate, which means that you can even visit with your not so adventurous friends & family, who will be happy to sip on some tea while taking photos and videos of your skills on the rink. It’s a win-win in my book.
That’s it, my friends. This is my guide with top activities to do around the holidays if you are in the South East of England. Hope each and every one of you have found something to make the gloomy days a bit more cheerful.
Lots of love xx