By Boutique Handbook writers
London is a magical city to visit all year round, but during the festive season shops, streets and landmarks are lit up from the inside out, turning the entire city into a winter wonderland.
From the enchanting light displays at Kew Gardens and Kenwood House to seeing the iconic Christmas tree at Claridge’s or the window displays at Fortnum & Mason, there is no shortage of things to do in the warm-up to the big day.
To help narrow it down, we’ve rounded up some of the best things to do in London at Christmas. Whether you’re all in for a festive afternoon tea or want a Christmas cocktail beside a bauble-filled tree at one of the capital’s most chic addresses, we’ve got you covered.
Best things to do in London at Christmas
Peek behind The Little Scarlet Door
If you can find The Little Scarlet Door – or get a booking (they accept some walk-ins) – step into a chic Christmas paradise. Styled to look like an apartment, this Soho bar has been given a festive glow-up from the kitchen to the mezzanine bedroom. Pop in for cocktails, Christmas lunch or book a ticket to their epic New Year’s Eve party which is paying homage to Studio 54 this year.
Dine at Dalloway Terrace
A year-round Instagram hit, you’ll likely recognise the flower-clad Dalloway Terrace. But at Christmas it gets a sprinkling of frost and a wintery upgrade that’s enough to make even the Grinch’s heart sing. This year its festive makeover is a Winter Wonderland in partnership with Perrier-Jouët Champagne. Cosy up amongst the deep red Virginia creeper, berries and twinkling fairy lights (blankets are also provided) for festive tipples, a new winter menu and limited-edition afternoon tea featuring homemade Guinness mince pies. Read our full review of Dalloway Terrace here
See the iconic Christmas tree at Claridge’s
One of the absolute best things to do in London at Christmas is pay a visit to Claridge’s hotel in Mayfair. Its iconic Christmas tree, styled by a different designer every year, merits a visit all of its own as it towers above guests in the grand lobby. This year it comes courtesy of Louis Vuitton and it’s no surprise it looks like a piece of their iconic luggage. The hotel also hosts a festive afternoon tea, as well as Christmassy lunch or dinner, held in both The Foyer & Reading Room and their elegantly-decorated French Salon and adjoining Drawing Room.
Carol and shop at Portman Marylebone
Get into the festive spirit – and some serious Christmas shopping – at Portman Marylebone. Enjoy complimentary mulled wine and carols while you shop or dine every Thursday up until December 22. Follow them on Instagram to find out where the roaming choir will be performing between 5 and 7pm. Home to some of the chicest independent shops, restaurants and hotels in the capital, it’s definitely worth making a special trip for and far better than battling the crowds on Oxford Street.
Visit Christmas at Kew
There are few things more magical than the enchanting Kew Gardens as it’s illuminated by thousands of multi-coloured lights after dark – and it’s always one of the best things to do in London at Christmas. Each year the installations, part-light show and part-artwork, get bigger and more impressive culminating in a dazzling show across the greenhouse and its foreground pond. This year it is sponsored by John Lewis, so expect to see nods to their recent Christmas ad featuring an alternative festive Venus flytrap tree. Be quick as tickets always sell out super fast for this one, but as we write there are still a few left. Open until January 7.
Mooch around Fortnum & Mason
Speaking of other best things to do in London at Christmas, a visit to the iconic Fortnum & Mason is not to be missed. London’s most iconic luxury store, and a favourite of the royal family, doesn’t take Christmas lightly. In fact, the entire shop (all six floors) and its windows get a thoroughly festive makeover. Whether you intend to buy something or not, meandering around the floors, taking in the decadent decorations, trying the various festive treats and listening to the sounds of wintery ditties in the background is a decidedly Christmassy experience. Look out for the dancing Christmas puddings this year. Don’t know what to get someone as a gift for Christmas? Treat them to a Fortnum & Mason hamper.
Go ice skating at Somerset House
What’s a London Christmas without a visit to an ice rink? And the iconic Somerset House is the best the capital has to offer. Skate around the grand neoclassical courtyard on this huge outdoor rink with a 40ft Christmas tree in the middle for maximum festive feels. Book a Skate Late session where tunes will be blasting from a live DJ. Whispering Angel will be providing the drinks and there is a pop up boutique stocking pre-loved vintage, designer and high street clothes with all proceeds going to homeless charity Shelter. The rink is open until January 14. Tickets start from £10.
Sip a Martini at Ham Yard Hotel
Ham Yard Hotel is one of our favourite central London hotels and back for the festive season is their rooftop pop up. This year it’s a Winter Martini Garden in partnership with gin brand Sipsmith. Head to the fourth floor to the snug alfresco living room dotted with candles, heaters and blankets to keep you warm. For £22pp you’ll get a Paloma-tini followed by a martini of your choice. Hot martinis are also on offer. On until December 31.
Dine in a pod at Willows On The Roof
For some festive refreshments while you brave the Christmas shopping crowds on Oxford Street, book a table at Willows On The Roof. Hidden above John Lewis, dine under the stars in one of their pods that seat up to six people. They even have bluetooth speakers so you can play your own music. As well as the main menu, extras like sharing cheese and meat Dome Platters are available, along with cocktails like Dark Chocolate Espresso Martinis.
Be wowed by the magical Christmas tree at St Pancras
St Pancras station has unveiled its Christmas tree for 2023 and it’s truly magical. Inspired by the ability of books and train travel to transport people to exciting places, this year’s tree is in partnership with Hatchards, the UK’s oldest bookshop. It features a winding staircase with 270 shelves of books hand-painted with titles like Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and ‘The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe’ by C.S Lewis. Take a moment to sit at the bottom of the tree, perhaps with a book. A few minutes’ walk away, you’ll find Christmas markets and kids can visit Santa. The shops at St Pancras/Kings Cross are also well worth a visit for Christmas shopping.
Festive afternoon tea with a twist at Nobu
As well as a Japanese-style festive afternoon tea, Nobu Hotel London Portman Square is hosting traditional Japanese ‘Furoshiki’ wrapping workshops this year. Square-shaped cloth or silk is used instead of paper to create beautiful presents for loved ones, all while helping the planet. There are still slots on Saturday December 2 and Saturday December 9. Tickets are £55pp and indulge in the Festive Ikebana Afternoon Tea afterwards, priced at £68pp.
Christmas In Soho at 100 Wardour Street
This hangout in the heart of London’s Soho is transforming into an immersive glittery pop up called Christmas in Soho. 100 Wardour Street has partnered with premium vodka brand Cîroc to transform into a warming winter wonderland. Expect festive bites, cocktails and a dedicated Espresso Martini Menu. Try their Toasted Marshmallow Martini while the DJ spins your favourite Christmas bangers.
Soak up the views from the Sky Garden
Seeing the city up high is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas and the capital’s highest public garden, Sky Garden, has undergone a festive makeover. Expect a Winter Wonderland bar boasting panoramic views over London’s mass of Christmas lights and a schedule of Festive Music nights, along with a New Year’s Eve celebration in the clouds. If you’re wanting to see the London NYE fireworks, this is a great place to head.
Enjoy a dose of nostalgia at Miracle
Miracle bar returns to Covent Garden’s uber-chic Henrietta Hotel this winter and is definitely one of the best things to do in London at Christmas to get you in the festive mood. Styled as a nostalgic, retro family living room complete with as many decorations as they can possibly fit in, sip on festive-themed, novelty cocktails (try a Christmapolitan) and cosy up from the cold outside. If you’re feeling a bit bah humbug, this place will instantly get you in the Christmas spirit.
Have Christmas Day dinner at The Dorchester
One of London’s most iconic hotels, there’s nothing quite like walking into The Dorchester – and it’s even more magical at Christmas time. Pop in to see the sparkling lights and magical Christmas trees. There are festive menus, including a five-course Christmas Day Lunch starting from £280pp. Festive Champagne and Christmas Carol Afternoon Teas start from £125pp. A three-course Boxing Day meal with champagne and festive music starts from £145pp. A Twixmas Tasting menu at the Three Michelin Star Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester restaurant is £285pp between December 27 and December 30.
Cosy up on The Mandrake’s Winter Terrace
Visit the secret Jurema Winter Terrace at five-star The Mandrake hotel in Fitzrovia, just a few minutes walk from Oxford Street. Pop in for a winter cocktail or festive-inspired bite from their YOPO restaurant. This unique open-air bar, surrounded by a hanging garden of jasmine and passionflower, has been transformed into an alfresco wonderland complete with fairy lights and fur blankets. There are even outdoor heated cabins to snuggle up in.
See one of London’s tallest Christmas trees
The magical Winter Garden at The Landmark hotel is home to one of London’s largest Christmas trees. Pop in for a drink to see it in all its glory soaring eight storeys high in the glass atrium. There is also a cosy Garden Terrace and intimate Mirror Bar and their Festive High Tea, served in the Winter Garden, starts from £88pp served from November 30 to January 3.
Have cocktails with a view on the South Bank
This winter 12th Knot rooftop bar at the Sea Containers hotel on South Bank has teamed up with Icelandic vodka brand Reyka to launch a Fire & Ice Winter Terrace. The space, which enjoys stunning views over St Paul’s and the River Thames, has been transformed to echo the icy blue frozen landscapes of Iceland against the fiery tones of its volcanic explosions. Soak up those views with vodka cocktails in hand as you snuggle up in a sheepskin blanket.
Pop into London’s most festive pub
Given how many pubs there are in the capital, earning the accolade of its ‘most festive’ is no small feat. The Churchill Arms in Kensington is the perfect place for a pick-me-up after a day’s shopping, with a mix of Thai classics and festive favourites, all washed down with a big glass of mulled wine. But contrary to popular belief, when it comes to this particular pub, it’s what’s on the outside that counts – as the building is completely covered in floating Christmas trees, lights and foliage. Definitely one for the ‘gram.
Marvel at Christmas at Kenwood
Christmas light trails have become somewhat of a trend over the last few years, and it’s easy to see why. They’re uplifting, festive and allow you a rare insight into some of the capital’s most gorgeous gardens after dark. Which is why we’d suggest booking Christmas at Kenwood ASAP. Perched on the edge of Hampstead Heath, the tranquil landscaped gardens will become home to an illuminated trail that invites you to see the historical landscape in a new light, as you step into a dazzling winter wonderland. Hot chocolates optional, but highly recommended. Tickets are £30 for adults and £22.75 for children. Under 3s go free. Family tickets are available from £24. Runs until Jan 1.
Read next: How to make mulled wine