I was very lucky to spend a few Christmases in London hosting family and friends for the festive season, which now starts as early as mid-November! I still remember the first time I tried mince pies and mulled wine. To be honest, I did not understand the hype! But then I tried Bailey’s hot chocolate and yule log cake and found my chocolatey heaven. In this post, I wanted to share with you my favourite family-friendly activities for a memorable Christmas in London. With some proper planning, they can be easily squeezed into a 5-day itinerary and you will still have some time to do some sightseeing.
Ice Skating at Somerset House
Ice skating rinks seem to pop up everywhere you look in London during the Christmas season, whether in front of the London Eye on the South Bank, the Tower of London or the Natural History Museum. But my favourite ice skating rink has to be the one in Somerset House! Even if you are not good at this ice skating business, you can still enjoy a cup of Bailey’s hot chocolate and watch the skaters twirling around next to the magnificent 12-metre Christmas tree.
The West Wing of Somerset House transforms into a breath-taking Christmas Arcade brought to you by Fortnum & Mason where you can indulge in some Christmas shopping. Somerset House is a walking distance from the West End theatres and from Covent Garden. The whole area is full of restaurants, cafes and shops as well as hilarious street performers. It is also close to Leicester Square which has the famous M&M, Lego and Twining stores. These double as great options for last minute Christmas presents!
Christmas in London at Kew Gardens
This is definitely a Christmas activity I can do every year. It is a magical experience that can be enjoyed by every member of the family, young and old. The special Christmas trail includes thousands of twinkling lights, dreamy music and Christmas colours. In short, it is a sensory dream come true. Because it is ticketed, it does not get very busy so it is not very overwhelming for very young kids or people with additional needs. Plus the trail is very accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. You can always stop for a cup of mulled wine or some toasted marshmallows. Or if all the walking has made you really hungry, you can grab a bite from the food stalls next to the playground.
Tickets for Christmas at Kew need to be booked in advance. Mind you they do sell out quickly so make sure you hurry! Adult tickets cost £18 and children tickets cost £11. If you are free before the event, you can buy tickets to visit Kew Gardens. Have a tour of the gardens, conservatories and attractions on their land train so you don’t get tired quickly. You can also have lunch – or even better – afternoon tea at one of their cafes or restaurants.
Christmas Carols at the Royal Albert Hall
Their website says that they are the home of Christmas in London and I can truly vouch for them. The Royal Albert Hall has some of the most magnificent concerts, ballets and shows in the world. Christmas is certainly their most glamorous season! For something that the whole family will appreciate try and book one of the singalong Christmas carol concerts. Make sure you are dressed for the part in your ugliest Christmas jumpers. Maybe bring some Christmas lights and decorations to decorate your booth! Look forward to a spectacular night of clapping, singing and dancing with the whole family.
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
A Christmas market, funfair and attractions all rolled into one. If you are in London during Christmas, a day spent at Winter Wonderland is a must! It takes place from the third week of November to the first week of January. My advice is to aim for a weekday, dress for warmth and get there in the afternoon so you can catch some of the lights. You can get there by bus or Tube very easily. But if you are driving, you can park at the Q-Park right in front of the park. Entrance is free but bring your cash for the rides, drinks and snacks! You will need to book online if you want any of the attractions such as the ice skating, bar ice or the circus shows.
British families have a long tradition of going to a Christmas panto. Believe me it is very different to your typical musical or play. They became quite popular in the 19th and 20th centuries and are usually based on fairy-tales. Nowadays, famous TV actors and actresses star in them throughout the country. You can always see a West End musical but trust me this is something that only happens during Christmas. Wouldn’t it be great to experience the holidays like a local?
Christmas in London lights
Make sure you see the Christmas lights on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street, and the Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square. One way you can do this in style is by getting on a hop-on, hop-off bus such as the Original Tour. This way you will not get lost or tired and can take all those amazing selfies! Tickets are usually £34 for adults and £16 for children. You can purchase them online or from one of the tour bus stops.
A few more tips about spending Christmas in London
Everything – I repeat everything – closes on Christmas Day (25 December) including attractions, restaurants, cinemas, malls, pharmacies and public transport. If you happen to be in London that day make sure you are stocked up on snacks, water and medicines. If you are too bored to stay indoors, you can explore a park such as St James’s Park, Kensington Park or Battersea Park and take a picnic with you. Another idea would be for you and the family to relax and have an early night in and get ready for some crazy Boxing Day shopping! Have a Happy Christmas in London!
Have a few more days to spare?
If you are already in England, why not spend a day or two in a nearby city like Bath? You can also hop on a train to Birmingham and visit one of the largest German-style Christmas markets outside of Germany and Austria.