15 Fun Things to do in London in the Winter

Winterland Fulham

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The days may be short and the weather may be cold, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying winter in London. In fact, London is one of the most exciting cities in the world to spend winter in – in my opinion at least. From elaborate festive celebrations to cosy restaurants and a world-class entertainment scene, there are so many great things to do in London in winter. You just need to know where to look…

Things to do in London in December

December is definitely the best time to be in London in the winter. If you enjoy festive celebrations, that is. The entire city is lit up with amazing light displays and there’s a Christmas market or wintery pop-up on every corner. The mulled wine is flowing and everyone is in a great mood!

Browse London’s Many Christmas Markets

London Christmas Markets and Pop-Ups 2018

Wandering through a magical Christmas market with a warming mulled wine in hand is one of my personal favourite things to do in London in winter. The glistening lights. Little stalls filled with handmade Christmas decorations. The indulgent Bavarian-inspired dishes. There’s really nothing quite like it.

Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly day out enjoying the fairground rides and visiting Santa’s grotto with the kids, or a place to enjoy some Baileys-spiked hot chocolates and live entertainment with friends, there’s a Christmas market in London for you.

London’s biggest and best Christmas markets:

  • Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park – biggest in London, most family friendly, Bavarian-village for nightlife
  • Winterville, Clapham Common (cancelled for 2021) – venue is 18+ on Friday and Saturday evenings
  • Christmas in Leicster Square
  • Southbank Centre Christmas Market
  • Selfridges Christmas Market

Thinking about travelling elsewhere in the UK? Check out the top Christmas markets in cities across the UK.

Cosy Up At A Christmas Pop-Up

As well as the Christmas markets, you’ll also find many festive pop-ups across the capital each winter. You can catch up with friends over dinner in a luxury riverside igloo or grab a drink in a cosy alpine lodge. Or how about enjoying your favourite Christmas movies in a magical pop-up cinema experience.

The Best London Christmas Pop-Ups:

Admire The Amazing Christmas Light Displays

Regent Street London Christmas Lights

London certainly isn’t a city that holds back on its Christmas decorations. And the capital’s amazing Christmas Light Displays are one of the biggest draws of visiting London during the festive season. From Oxford Street to Covent Garden, each London neighbourhood does its best to outshine each other with its elaborate light display.

London’s Christmas Lights are easy enough to discover on your own as you explore the city. You really can’t miss them. But a great way to make sure you don’t miss any of the best displays is to take a guided tour.

London Christmas Light Tours:

Having done all three of these myself before, I would highly recommend any of the above. I did the Christmas Lights Bike Tour on my own and it was a really fun and unique way to experience London at Christmas. The Black Cab Tour was a Christmas gift for my mum, aunts, and grandma and everybody had a fantastic time. The private cab is a great way to see London’s magical Christmas lights for those who are less physically able or not as comfortable walking around the city at night.

Go Ice Skating At London’s Coolest Ice Rinks

Winterville Clapham Common London

Winter in London is also a great time to grab your skates (or hire a pair) and hit the ice. During the festive season, numerous ice rinks pop up all across the capital, with spectacular backdrops including the Natural History Museum, Tower of London, and Somerset House.

Places to go ice skating in London at Christmas:

  • Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park
  • Natural History Museum, South Kensington (2021 will be it’s last year – don’t miss it!)
  • Tower of London, Tower Hill
  • Somerset House, Strand
  • Queens House, Greenwich
  • Skylight Rooftop, Tobacco Dock
  • Canary Wharf
  • Alexandra Palace
  • Hampton Court Palace

Watch a Christmas Pantomime

If you grew up in England, there’s a good chance you also spent your childhood Christmas’s going to watch local panto productions.

But what if I told you that pantomimes aren’t just for kids?

I recently re-discovered the joy of attending pantos again as an adult and now it’s one of my favourite things to do in London in the lead up to Christmas. A few glasses of wine deep screaming “he’s behind you” at a once-famous TV personality playing Cinderella’s evil stepmother – what’s not to enjoy!

And if you’ve never attended a panto before, trust me, it’s a unique British Christmas tradition you need to experience at least once in your life.

Check out the Big Panto Guide to see what shows are on in London this year.

Experience London’s New Years Eve Celebrations

Like many big cities across the world, London goes BIG for its New Year’s Eve celebrations. There are parties, special events, and amazing fireworks displays all over the capital, so you’re guaranteed to find something fun to do.

London’s most famous NYE celebrations take place in Westminster, where you’ll find live entertainment throughout the evening, followed by a live countdown, Big Ben’s famous ‘dongs’, and a spectacular firework display above the city.

While the NYE celebrations in central London used to be free to attend, the event has become so popular that you now have to pre-purchase tickets to watch from Westminster Bridge and the surrounding riverfront areas.

Staying overnight? Check out the best hotels for New Year’s Eve in London.

Things to do in London in January & February

London in January and February isn’t quite as packed with events and pop-ups as in December. But there are still some great things to do to help you beat the winter blues. Plus, everything is cheaper and there are fewer crowds.

Watch London’s New Year’s Day Parade

If your NYE hangover isn’t too rough, head out to the streets of the West End for London’s annual New Year’s Day parade. The huge parade is the biggest street event of its kind and features a variety of floats and performances, from giant balloons and marching bands to Hip-Hop dance troops and Latin American carnival groups.

The parade starts on the edge of Green Park close to the Ritz Hotel, and makes its way along Picadilly and past Picadilly Circus, down Pall Mall and Whitehall, before finishing in Westminster.

You can either find a place to stand along the route or pay for seating in one of the grandstands. Most of the proceeds go to charities in London.

Shop The January Sales

Liberty London Shop in Soho

Being home to Oxford Street, one of the most famous shopping streets in the world, and Westfield, the largest shopping centre in Europe, London is a great destination for hitting up the January sales.

Bag some amazing designer bargains at Harvey Nicholls or stock up on beautiful discounted homeware at Liberty. Many shops and department stores across the capital offer between 50-80% off in their January sales. Just be aware that it won’t be a relaxing shopping experience. The sales can get very busy!

Celebrate Chinese New Year

Dragon at Chinese New Year in London

Winter also sees London play host to the largest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of Asia.

The free annual event takes place across Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and London’s Chinatown and is open for anyone and everyone to attend. There’s a colourful dragon parade around the West End, lots of live music and traditional dancing, delicious Chinese street food and many other cultural activities.

Things to do in London in Winter

Moving away from winter events and pop-ups, there are loads of other great things to do in London all winter long…

Make The Most Of The Free Museums

Free Museums in London - Central Hall with Whale skeleton in Natural History Museum London

Escape the cold by exploring some of London’s world-class museums.

There are plenty of options to choose from all across the city, so whether you’re interested in art, history, science or even more niche and obscure topics, there’s a museum in London that is guaranteed to tickle your fancy.

To fill an entire day with minimal time spent outside, head to South Kensington’s Museum Mile where you can visit three of London’s top museums all in one area; the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the V&A gallery.

Plus, the majority of London’s best museums are completely free, making a day at the museums one of the most budget-friendly things to do in London in the winter.

Catch A Show In The West End

London West End Theatre, signs for MouseTrap and Harry Potter

A night at the theatre is definitely one of the best things to do on a winters evening in London.

For last-minute tickets, head to the TXTs booth in the middle of Leicester Square where you’ll find discounted theatre tickets for many shows taking place that same evening. Just pick a show, grab your bargain tickets and enjoy a night out at one of the West End’s world-class plays or musicals.

Check out some of the other coolest things to do in London at night.

See Hogwarts in the Snow

A visit to the Warner Brother’s Studio is a must-do in London for Harry Potter fans all year round. But winter is a particularly magical time to explore the world-famous movie studios.

At the Warner Brother’s Studios Hogwarts in the Snow event, the sets from the movie franchise receive a special festive makeover.

Diagon Alley and the Forbidden Forest are draped in layers of realistic filmmaking snow, while Hogwarts Great Hall gets dressed for the occasion with wreaths, garlands and trees topped with witches on miniature broomsticks. The long dining tables are also laid out as they were for the seasonal feast in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. A unique winter experience in London for fans of the wizarding world.

Next dates: 12th November 2021 – 16th January 2022.

Treat Yourself To A Spa Day

Treat yourself this winter to a spa day at one of London’s amazing hotel spas. Nothing warms you up quite like soaking in a jacuzzi or a relaxing sauna session.

For ultimate luxury, check out Espa Life at the Corinthia, voted England’s best hotel spa in the 2021 world spa awards, or the Four Seasons Park Lane, which boasts spectacular views over the capital.

Or for more affordable options, have a look on sites such as Virgin Experience Days for special spa deals and discounts.

Enjoy A Warming Sunday Roast

Best roast dinner in London

Any Brit knows that the chilly winter months are the absolute BEST time to devour a delicious roast dinner. Accompany your roast with a bold red wine and warming apple pie and custard for dessert and you have yourself the ultimate winter comfort food dinner.

Check out where to find London’s best roast dinners here.

Discover London’s Best Hot Chocolates

Chin Chin Labs Hot Chocolate, London
Chin Chin Labs Hot Chocolate, London. By @notsobasiclondon

When it’s freezing cold outside, sitting in a cute cafe with a warming cup of chocolate is definitely one of the best things to do in the city.

London has some amazing hot chocolates to drink. And I’m not talking brown, watery liquid vaguely tasting of chocolate. I mean thick luxurious, quirky hot chocolates that are like a dessert in a cup.

SAID Dal 1923 in Soho is probably the most indulgent. They cover the cup in molten white, milk and dark chocolate first before pouring in the drinking chocolate.

If that’s a bit too messy and you’re a fan of marshmallows, Chin Chin Labs in Camden Market top it with toasted marshmallows. A LOT of toasted marshmallows.

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London City Calling

Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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