London Christmas markets and other holiday outings

London Christmas markets and other holiday outings

by Karen Bradbury
Stripes Europe

In London and seeking out a Christmas market? Whether for shopping, sipping mulled wine, or catching a show on stage, one of the city’s several large markets will surely deliver the spirit you seek. Many markets attempt to recreate a continental feel to their festivities, whereas at other outings, you’ll find British Christmas traditions are still going strong.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland: each year in mid-November, this park in the heart of London becomes Christmas central with its range of activities and attractions.  In addition to the free-entry Winter Wonderland, attractions with entry fees or for which tickets are a must include taking a turn on the UK’s largest open-air ice rink, circus shows, riding the giant Ferris wheel, or the Magical Ice Kingdom ice and snow experience. Other things to do here include taking part in an ice sculpting workshop or sipping cool cocktails at the Bar Ice. Thrill seekers can enjoy the rides, including several roller coasters, while smaller children will want to explore Santa Land, where they can see the workshop, meet the elves, or ride on the Santa Express. A Christmas market bathed in sparkling lights, Bavarian Village, and countless food and drink stalls round out the offerings.

Southbank Centre Winter Festival: this venue for arts and culture alongside the Thames bustles during the holiday season, offering market stalls for gift shopping and savoring seasonal treats, workshops and quirky stage shows. Tickets for some of the shows are a must, although there’s plenty here that’s free to take in as well.

Christmas in Leicester Square: from Bavarian-style wooden huts, vendors offer handicrafts, wooden toys, ornaments, sweet and savory snacks and mulled wine. In Santa’s grotto, children can meet the man himself, and entertainment is staged in a 1920s style “Spiegeltent.”  For visiting hours and what’s on, see

Winterville: an alternative festive experience awaits those who venture here. Live DJs, comedy shows, roaming magicians, Mexican wrestling, raves just for kids and a family Christmas show on a double- decker bus were some of the experiences offered at past editions. Visitors to this venue at Clapham Common can also enjoy an outdoor skating rink, street foods, a Christmas maze, club nights at the Roller Disco and much more. Entry is free Mon.-Wed. and costs 2 pounds for adults on other days, kids under 16 enter free, as do those holding tickets for shows scheduled on the day.

It’s not just Christmas markets that make London a fabulous holiday destination. Here are some other experiences that will make your visit to the UK’s capital at this time of year unforgettable.

London’s Christmas lights: London is famed for the fabulous decorations that decorate the bustling shopping areas. Each year in mid-November, the annual switch-on of the lights in the various districts is an event in and of itself, with VIPs and celebs often present. Some of the best areas to take in London all decked out in its festive swag include Oxford Street, Carnaby Street, Bond Street, Covent Garden, Marylebone and Regent Street.  

Christmas at Kew: The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in southwest London attracts masses of visitors with a trail winding through its scenic grounds illuminated by a million colorful glimmering lights. Once twilight sets, visitors stroll past light and sound installations, a fire garden, a fancifully decorated lake, a tunnel of light and the decked-out Palm House. International artists take part in creating the fantastic works of art that make each year’s visit a new and exciting experience. Visits are booked at specific time slots, and entry fees apply – expect to pay around 17 pounds adults and 10 pounds for ages 4-16.

Ice skating: temporary rinks pop up across town, offering the chance to skate against historical or contemporary backdrops, from the facades of regal palaces to stunning skyline views. Look for rinks with such visual appeal to spring up next to the Tower of London, Natural History Museum, Somerset House and Hampton Court Palace.

Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square: since 1947, in recognition of Britain’s support during WWII, Norway has gifted Britain with a giant spruce tree. Done up in traditional Norwegian style, the 82-foot tree is illuminated with hundreds of vertical strings of light. Special events enhanced by its majestic presence include the lighting ceremony, the blessing of the crib ceremony with torchlight procession, and concerts at which carols are sung.

Hogwarts in the Snow: the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter offers the chance to get up close to the props, costumes and models used in the making of the films. Here, the arrival of the festive season is celebrated with roaring fireplaces, glittering trees, flaming puddings, and a hall transformed into the venue for a Yule Ball with snow, icicles and an orchestra of magical instruments. Dinner in the Great Hall is a two-course meal served in these surreal surroundings, topped off with an after-hours tour of the studio.

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