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Christmas in London 2018

From traditional Christmas markets to ice skating and live shows, the UK capital has plenty to enchant visitors and locals over the festive period.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 10:57am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 December, 2018, 10:57am

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If you're visiting London for the first time, or you live locally, there's no better time to experience the UK capital than Christmas.

Whether you need to buy last-minute gifts or you're looking for activities and entertainment for all the family, here are the best things to see and do in London over Christmas 2018.

Christmas lights

London's festive season begins with the switching on of the Oxford Street Christmas lights in November. Wander down any of the city's shopping streets this December and the twinkling displays and chill in the air are sure to get you feeling festive, but the Royal Botanic Gardens outshines them all with over one million bulbs along the one-mile trail to Santa's Grotto.

Head to Trafalgar Square to see another London icon – the huge Christmas tree donated by the people of Norway each year to thank Britain for its support during the Second World War. The 25-meter tree was lit up on Thursday 6 December, beginning the Christmas countdown.

Christmas shopping

London is one of the world's favorite shopping destinations at any time of the year, but Christmas kicks things up a gear.

Window shopping along Oxford Street, Regent Street and Carnaby Street can be a memorable experience in itself, with decorations and carolers out in force, while the cobbled streets and mistletoe chandeliers of Covent Garden can feel like stepping back in time to Victorian London.

If you need to buy gifts, London's big department stores take Christmas seriously. Selfridges opened its Christmas department as early as August this year, and along with Harrods and Harvey Nichols, you'll be spoiled for choice whether you're shopping for luxury gifts or souvenirs of your London trip.

Christmas markets

Prefer something more traditional? Visit one of London's Christmas markets to beat the winter chill with mulled wine and spicy street food, shop for handmade gifts and enjoy the carol singers.

Some of the largest Christmas markets can be found at the Southbank Centre (9 November – 27 December), London Bridge (29 November – 2 January) and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (22 November – 6 January).

If you're only in London for a day, Winter Wonderland is the free Christmas event you won't want to miss. Along with the huge market featuring more than 200 chalet stalls, you can also go ice skating, take a spin on the fairground rides and enjoy family-friendly shows.

Family entertainment

Catching a West End show is a must on any trip to London, and December has a packed schedule of live shows suitable for all the family.

Catch comedian Dawn French in Snow White at the London Palladium (8 December – 13 January), kids' favorite Disney characters taking to the ice at The O2 (26 December – 6 January), or for something different, the European premiere of Circus 1903 at the Royal Festival Hall (19 December – 5 January).

Some of London's top attractions have been treated to festive makeovers too. Harry Potter fanatics shouldn't miss the chance to take a self-guided tour of Hogwarts in the Snow at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London.

Christmas Day in London

London's streets may be quiet on Christmas Day, but there's still plenty to see and do if you're spending your Christmas in the capital.

Book ahead to enjoy a traditional Christmas Day lunch or afternoon tea at one of London's fancy hotels, or head to Chinatown where it's business as usual at the multi-ethnic restaurants. London's Royal Parks are open on December 25, including Hyde Park where you can cheer on the swimmers taking part in the annual Peter Pan Cup on the Serpentine lake.

If your Christmas isn't complete without a church service, London's magnificent cathedrals and churches including St Paul's Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields welcome visitors, but they always attract large crowds so be sure to get there early.

New Year celebrations

If you're spending the New Year in London too, you won't want to miss the fireworks. Tickets for this year's event sold out long in advance, but you can still admire the view by taking a cruise on the River Thames or heading up to the London Sky Bar and other rooftop bars and nightclubs where the party carries on long into 2019.

London is an exciting place to live and visit any time of the year, but Christmas is the chance to catch the British capital at its most magical.

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