Welcome to today’s blog which is all about visiting London in December. London is one of the most visited cities in the world and it’s easy to see why. The English Capital is brimming with history, architecture and exciting events. London really knows how to put on an amazing Christmas which makes December a fantastic time to visit.
Introduction to the city of London
It’s little surprise that London is one of the world’s highest visited tourist destinations, attracting upward of around 15 million visitors per year. Britain’s capital is a vibrant arts and entertainment centre (the theatres are always busy), and over 50 years after the Beatles, the country’s music scene still mainstays. London also provides one of the planet’s greatest amounts of cultural attractions. From the people’s parliament to royal palaces, from churches and museums to riding a giant Ferris wheel for magnificent views, you could spend many days exploring London’s sites without ever running out of exclusive things to see and do. An additional bonus is that a lot of the most popular places to visit are free. However, do expect food and accommodation to be pricey.
When to Visit London
The best time of year generally is in the summer months between May and September due to the weather.
However, due to the amazing Christmas decorations and festivals many people choose to visit London in December. In December, you will get to see the Christmas lights, amazing decorations of Harrods and some of the exciting events including grottos and pop up ice skating rinks.
How to get to London in December
It’s important to know that visiting London in December is an extremely busy time due to the Christmas period. Many people including students and those who work away are travelling to or through London to get home for Christmas. You will see the prices shoot up in the school and university Christmas holidays which are usually between 20th December and 3rd January. Remember to avoid travel on the busiest travel days including Christmas Eve (24th Dec), Boxing Day (26th Dec), New Years Eve (31st Dec) and New Years Day (1st Jan). Check the UK bank holidays here.
London in December — Image by Loco Steve on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/locosteve/30563107053 (Cropped)
Getting to London by Plane
London is served by a total of six airports (Heathrow, Gatwick, City, Stansted, Luton, Southend). Moving between the city and the airports is made fairly easy by the massive number of public transport links that’ve been put in place over the recent years. In addition to London’s 5 official airports (of which only two are situated within Greater London), there are a large number of other regional UK airports suitably accessible from London. Since they provide a growing number of budget flights, choosing those airports may be a lot cheaper (or potentially even faster, depending on your destination in London).
Although Christmas Day itself will see a reduced train and bus timetable, I have been known to fly on Christmas Day from Heathrow and it was surprisingly quiet and pleasant! As most people want to be with their families on Christmas Day itself you may find Christmas Day affordable and relaxing.
Getting to London by Train
London is the core of the British rail network and every big city in mainland Britain has a regular train service to the capital. Also, a lot of the smaller, provincial cities and big towns also provide a direct rail connection to London of some sort. However, the quality and frequency of service can vary significantly from place to place. Rail fares to London also vary massively from very cheap to excessively expensive. There are several main stations in London that you can travel into including Kings Cross, Euston and Waterloo. All of these are accessible for onward travel by tube (The London Underground).
The best rules are to book Advance tickets for a certain train time, don’t travel into London on Friday afternoons and Sundays and be sure to avoid buying tickets on the exact day of travel. There are three basic types of ticket (Anytime, off-peak and advance). Book in advance on www.thetrainline.comand download the app for digital tickets (just make sure that your phone is always charged!)
Buses and Coaches to London
Most international and domestic long-distance bus/coach services arrive at and depart from a complex of coach stations off Buckingham Palace Road in Westminster, close to London Victoria rail station. All the services operated by Eurolines or National Express serve Victoria Coach Station, which has separate departure and arrival buildings. Services by other operators may also use this station, or the Green Line Coach Station which is across Buckingham Palace Road. Coaches will be on a restricted service (or even not running altogether) on the December Bank Holidays.
The London tube (underground) is a great way to get around London, but expect it to be VERY busy in December (I’m talking packed like sardines!) due to all the Christmas shoppers. This is especially the case on Saturdays in December. The most cost effective way to use the Tube is to get an Oyster cardwhich you top up and then scan as you go in and out.
The London Underground links the main train stations and tourist attractions in Zone 1. It also goes right out to London Heathrow, so if you are flying into Heathrow you can get the Tube to the city centre.
What to pack for London in December?
Like most of Europe in the winter, pack warm sweaters, long-sleeved T-shirts, pants, and a coat for London in December. On warmer days, or for formal outings, a dress with tights can be warm enough for women and a shirt with a blazer or coat for men. While it snows rarely in London in December, temperatures are definitely cold enough to warrant packing a scarf, gloves and some sturdy boots or other waterproof shoes. Of course, it is London, and that means an umbrella should be in your suitcase all year-round. If possible, a few waterproof clothes may also be handy.
London in December Weather
Early in December, temperatures tend to fluctuate between 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) and 49 degrees Fahrenheit (9 degrees Celsius). Later on, in the month, the temperature drops a little, and some mornings may see freezing temperatures. London skies in December are normally overcast and be sure not to expect much daylight. Usually, this time of the years sees just eight hours of daylight per day, but even less sunlight; you’ll only see on average three hours of sun during this wintry month. There are around nine rainy days, but snow is very rare. Most of the rainfall is light to moderate, so you don’t have to worry about a downpour spoiling your trip.
Where to Stay in London
If you have a bit of cash to splash then the best hotels in London for Christmas are Claridges, The Ritz and Charlotte Street Hotel. If you are visiting London in December the London hotels will have stunningly decorated Christmas trees in the foyer which make for great photo opportunities.
The elegant and glamorous Claridge’s presents sophisticated 5-star luxury in the centre of Mayfair. Luxurious, spacious and extravagantly furnished, each room at Claridge’s has a luxury marble bathroom and serene views of the courtyard. All the guests have access to free Wi-Fi from the infrared keyboard on the TV. The Reading Room offers a contemporary menu in luxury Art Deco settings. The cool, 1930’s themed Fumoir has unique spirits and old-school inspired cocktails. Claridge’s well known afternoon teas are provided in the elegant and grand foyer, with at least 50 varieties of delicious, classic pastries and tea. With its juice bar and glass columns, Claridge’s modern gym is on the 6th floor, and the lavish treatment rooms offer beauty therapies and a relaxing spa.
The Ritz London
Designed for both business and leisure travel, The Ritz London Hotel is ideally situated in Mayfair; one of the city’s most popular locales. Only about 25 km away, this 5-star hotel can be accessed easily from the airport. For those of you who want to venture out, Sharps Pixley, Davidoff of London, Turnbull & Asser are just some of the attractions available to visitors. Offering hotel guests superior services and a broad range of amenities, The Ritz London Hotel is committed to ensuring that your stay is as comfortable as possible. A selection of high-class facilities such as free Wi-Fi in all rooms, 24-hour security and 24-hour room service, daily housekeeping and postal service can be enjoyed at the hotel. All guest accommodations have considerate amenities to make sure that you have an unmatched sense of comfort. Whether you’re looking for a way to unwind after a hard day or you’re a fitness enthusiast, you will be provided with top-class recreational facilities such as fitness centre, massage, spa and garden.
Charlotte Street Hotel
Charlotte Street Hotel, Firmdale Hotels is situated in the media neighbourhood just north of Soho. It is about a minute’s walk from the theatre district and leafy Soho Square, in easy reach of the financial centre, and is encircled by some of London’s best restaurants, bars and cafes. The designer Kit Kemp did a ‘Bloomsbury Group’ theme in the hotel that has original art from the period and also a painting in the brasserie mirroring scenes of contemporary London life. World-class attractions, galleries, and museums can be reached from the hotel’s central London locations — including the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the London Eye, Madame Tussauds, London Zoo and the Aquarium.
Generator Hostel (Cheaper Option)
If you are on a more restricted budget and don’t mind Hostelling it then I recommend the Generator Hostel which is right by Kings Cross Station. It has great facilities including internet access, a cafe and bar.
What to do in London in December
As well as the usual sites of London including the Tower of London, Parliament and Buckingham Palace, you will also be spoilt for choice regarding festivities. When you visit London in December consider planning around the dates for the London Christmas lights switch on and the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree lighting. They really are magical.
London Christmas Lights
From around early November to early January, the annual Christmas light switch on is one of London’s biggest festive events. The Oxford Street lights bring in the biggest crowds as a celebrity normally flicks the switch. There are multiple separate events for Covent Garden, Regent Street, Harrods and more. If you want to sit back and relax whilst taking in the sites of all of London’s Christmas lights then I recommend this London Christmas Lights Experiencewhere you get taken around the lights of London on a vintage open top bus!
Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree Lighting
This event is usually held on the first Thursday in December. London is given a massive Christmas tree from Norway every year as a thank you due to the country’s services during WWII. The ceremony is usually accompanied by carol singing from the choir at the St-Martins-in-the-Fields church.
Christmas Shopping in London
Early December is a great time to visit London for a spot of Christmas Shopping. Go with a healthy wallet as shopping in London it can be expensive, although there are some bargains to be found if you are visiting London on a Budget.
Oxford street is the main shopping area in London. It will be beautifully decorated but really busy, so I would advise you to do this on a weekday if you can (while everyone else is at work). Certainly avoid Saturdays. Oxford Street is also very lively — expect it to be lined with musicians and buskers (watch out for some scammers haha).
If you are looking for some alternative and eccentric markets then head to Camden Market which has a large selection of alternative fashion including Goth, Hippie, Cyber-Goth and more!
For small hand crafted gifts, head to Covent Garden and also Spitalfields market where you will find unique independent crafters and makers selling their creations.
Visiting Buckingham Palace at Christmas time
You may not realise this, but it is possible to book a tour of Buckingham Palace in December. On selected dates in December, visitors can enjoy a Private Evening Tour of the official royal residence. The Christmas trees and decorations go up in the first week of December. This includes three trees in the Marble Hall that are grown in Windsor, bought to the palace and put up by a specialist team and decorated with festive baubles. A garland is fixed along the Grand Staircase of the palace.
Please note that ticket sales for Buckingham Palace in 2022 may currently be on hold following the death of Queen Elizabeth II. RIP Her Majesty.
A Winter Walk in Hyde Park and Green Park
Hyde Park and Green Park are my two favourite parks in London and so both deserve a mention here. I particularly love to walk around Green park when I visit London in December because it’s not unusual to site a beautiful Robin Red Breast. If you are lucky enough to get snow you will get some spectacular photographs. Wrap up warm with a hat, scarf and gloves though — as you know, London can be very cold in the winter time!
The Pantomime is a Christmas tradition of ours — it’s a humorous and entertaining theatre production of a children’s story that encourages audience participation. Some popular themes are Jack in the Beanstalk, Aladdin and Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There is usually a comedy Dame (a man dressed up as a woman), some flinging of sweets into the audience and a sing-along! The concept of the pantomime started in the UK and has now started to spread to other English speaking countries, but London is one of the best places to see one. Head to the London Palladium, the The Lyric Hammersmith or the Hackney Empire to see what’s on. Remember to book your tickets in advance for the pantomime as they can sell out quickly especially ones with popular comedians and actors/actresses in them. The Panto is a great family night out and shows usually run from mid-November through to January.
Other Theatres and Shows
There are many other theatre productions and shows on in London that you should check out. It is possible to get tickets cheaper by visiting the TKTS booths which are red booths around the city (there is one on Leicester Square). Some popular theatres to visit include the London Coliseum, The Royal Opera House, Shakespear’s Globe and The Barbican. Perhaps you fancy something high brow like a production of Macbeth or Twelfth Night? Or maybe a Disney’s Nightmare Before Christmas production with Jack Skellington is more up your street?!
Winter Wonderland opens in Hyde Park featuring a huge fun fair, ice rink, games, Christmas market and seasonal food and drink. It’s free to enter but gets very busy and everything you do inside will cost you apart from walking around and soaking up the atmosphere.
The Christmas Pudding Race
Held during early December, this charity event has contestants finish a crazy obstacle course while also balancing a Christmas pudding on a plate. All while dressed as Santa’s, reindeer or elves, of course.
Spitalfields Winter Festival
Held in mid-December, this music festival brings opera, classical, folk and contemporary performances to original venues in and around Spitalfields in east London.
St Paul’s Cathedral
Step into St Paul’s and enjoy the cathedral’s awe-inspiring interior. You can join a guided tour to see this iconic building or use the touch-screen multimedia guide, which are both now included with the sightseeing admission charge. Head down to the crypt and explore the tombs and memorials of some of the greatest heroes of the nation such as the Duke of Wellington and Admiral Lord Nelson. Also see Oculus, an amazing 270° immersive film experience. Visitors may try out the acoustic twists of the Whispering Gallery and enjoy their climb to the Golden Gallery to see spectacular panoramic views across London. There is always a beautiful Christmas tree at St. Paul’s both inside and out.
Christmas Dinner in one of London’s Restaurants
If you are visiting London in December then you simply can’t miss a traditional English Christmas dinner with Turkey and Trimmings. It’s usually followed by a Christmas Pudding soaked in brandy a lit with a flame. It is important that you book your festive meal in advance in London in December to avoid disappointment — the best venues get booked up way in advance. Some of the best places to go for a decent Christmas dinner in London include Temper in Soho and Wilton’s in Westminster.
Further Reading on London
Travelling to London alone? Check out my blog on Solo Female travel in London.
If you are looking for more Christmas inspiration then check out some of the other fabulous Christmas Markets to visit in the UK:
Originally published at https://www.templeseeker.com on September 10, 2022.