Culture + Style

Fa La La: The 5 Most Festive Ways to Find Holiday Cheer in London

London is at its jolliest when the nights draw in and a chill hits the air. From Christmas markets to theatrical lights and rooftop igloos, the city is chock full of festive cheer during the winter months. Here are five things to do in London that are certain to get you into the holiday spirit.

Find Festive Cheer at the Christmas Markets

For a bumper dose of festive cheer, head to Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This six-week-long event in the heart of London is much more than just a Christmas market; it’s a festive extravaganza that features ice skating, fairground rides, circus acts, and warming food and glühwein (mulled wine) vendors.

The Southbank Centre Winter Festival draws visitors down to the banks of the frosty River Thames with its Wintertime Market, home to 50 wooden chalets selling gifts and tasty dishes. After you’ve done a spot of shopping, you can warm up in the Finnish Rooftop Sauna, located in the Queen Elizabeth Hall’s rooftop garden for eight weeks over the holidays.

READ ALSO: Planning Holiday Travel? Celebrate Christmas at These Festive Destinations

Catch One of the Must-See Holiday Shows

things to do in london at christmas
One of the most time-honored traditions in London is seeing a “panto.” (Photo: Getty Images)

A riotous theatrical production featuring audience participation, singalongs and slapstick comedy, there are few traditions more effective at getting Brits into a festive mood than the annual family trip to see a pantomime.

There’s no better place to catch the “panto” than at the London Palladium, perhaps London’s most famous theater, which has produced a celebrity-packed pantomime almost every year of its 107-year history.

Don’t fancy a panto? The Palladium also plays host to the Magic of Christmas holiday concert, an afternoon of live music with a dash of Christmas songs.

The underground tunnels of The Vaults in Waterloo can usually be relied upon to offer a more grownup version of a pantomime, with its theatrical and immersive dinner shows often inspired by classic fairy tales.

Head to the Best Stores for Christmas Shopping — and Holiday Windows

things to do in London at Christmas
Make a list, check it twice, then head out to peek at London shops’ holiday windows. (Photo: Getty Images)

With 540,000 square feet of retail, gift shopping should be a breeze at the luxury Oxford Street department store Selfridges. Almost as renowned as the store’s retail offerings are its bold and intricate window displays, which are at their most alluring during the festive months when theatrical Christmas-themed displays light up the Beaux-Arts facade.

Nearby, on Regent Street, the Christmas Shop at the quintessentially British department store Liberty is stuffed full of decorations and stocking fillers — and the store’s ostentatious windows are sure to also impress.

Fortnum & Mason is another luxury store noted for its dazzling window displays, but a mile east of its flagship store, you can also combine shopping with a zip across Somerset House’s ice rink at Fortnum & Mason’s rink-side pop-up Christmas Arcade.

things to do in London at Christmas
Zip around the rink on ice skates – it’s a time-honored tradition! (Photo: Getty Images)

Those with excess cash to splash around can head straight for the designer stores of posh Bond Street, where you can hop between the likes of Chanel, Cartier and Tiffany under the street’s festive lights.

Stroll Streets with Holiday Spirit

Switched on by celebrities in early November, the glittering Christmas lights of Oxford and Regent streets attract the most fanfare in the city — Regent Street’s are usually the more elegantly curated of the two. Head just off Regent Street and onto famously groovy Carnaby Street and you’ll be able to soak up the festive bling, and cute and quirky decorations, in much quieter surroundings.

A 15-minute walk east brings you to Covent Garden, where the cobbled square will be decorated in irresistibly romantic mistletoe chandeliers, while market buildings offer mulled wine and even more gift-shopping potential.

Toast the Season with a Warming Tipple in a Cozy Igloo

After a day of shopping and soaking up the Christmas spirit, make time for a relaxing dinner and drinks in cozy surroundings. Keep an eye out for winter-themed pop-up bars across the city, like Woody Bear, on the roof of the London Marriott Park Lane. Grab a hot gin punch from a cocktail dispenser, then tuck into a surplus of melted cheese, like grilled cheese sandwiches and gooey raclette.

Back on the Southbank, down by the Thames, Jimmy’s Lodge offers the opportunity to dine and sip mulled wine and hot mojitos in a ski-resort-style chalet or in your party’s own private (heated) snow globe.

Over at Coppa Club restaurant in Tower Bridge, you can dine on a three-course Christmas menu in your private heated igloo while soaking up the views of the iconic 19th-century bridge over the Thames.