By Nina Derham in London—
While London has been known to disappoint during the summer months due to the lack of, well, summer, one thing this capital really knows how to do is winter. As autumn fades away and the temperature drops, London comes alive with sparkling lights, bustling shopping streets, cozy cafes and pubs that beckon you in out of the cold.
To make things even better, there are plenty of festive activities to suit even the most meager of budgets. So what are you waiting for? Pull on that hat and scarf and follow these simple tips to make the most of Christmas in London!
Regent Street Christmas lights
Most of London’s Christmas lights get turned on in the first and second weeks of November, a lot earlier than much of Europe. While all of the main shopping centers will be festooned with twinkling lights, most visitors head to the Regent Street lights which, in recent years, have been sponsored by the latest animated film release (this year it is “Arthur Christmas”).
Die hard festive fans may complain about them being sponsored at all, but I can tell you that it is a lot better than the year they were sponsored by Tango… that was, without a doubt, the least Christmas-y thing I have ever seen.
Lights in Oxford Street, Covent Garden and Central London
Oxford Street and Covent Garden are the other main places to wander around and admire the lights, as well as stopping by at Trafalgar Square’s Norwegian Christmas Tree, where carol services are held daily between December 5-22.
However, it is central London’s smaller streets that always outshine the rest. Pretty St Christopher’s Place, trendy Carnaby Street and well-heeled South Molton Street, all of which are tucked away behind Oxford Street, appear to partake in an annual battle to see who can come up with the most creative, atmospheric and visually stunning Christmas lights – undoubtedly the best in London, these streets should not be missed.
If you’ve had enough of London’s high streets, why not look for inspiration at a Christmas market? Depending on where you go, this can make bagging a bargain just a bit easier and is also a far more festive way to shop.
German Christmas Market at Southbank Centre
Through December 24, 2011
The German Christmas market at the Southbank Centre should be your first port of call, where traditional wooden market stalls light up the banks of the River Thames between November 18 – December 24, selling everything from glühwein and bratwurst to trinkets and gifts.
From December 16-23 the German market will be joined by the Real Food Market – the perfect place to find a present for the Foodie in your life, or stock up on some tasty surprises for Christmas lunch.
The Water Poet Christmas fair
December 10, 2011
Saturday December 10, 2011 is the day to head to east London as The Water Poet in Spitalfields holds its fun-filled Christmas fair between 12-7 p.m. There will be scrumptious food from around the world (including a hog roast), plenty of spiced mulled wine, quirky vintage gifts and even a brass band. Not to be missed.
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park
Through January 3, 2012
By far and away London’s biggest nod to the festive season is Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland (November 18, 2011- January 3, 2012). When this opened five years ago it did leave rather a lot to be desired, but every year it has got bigger and better and now really does make for a fun day out for all ages.
An ice rink, Ferris wheel, circus and “Santa Land” are among the attractions, as well as handicrafts, Christmas decorations and gift ideas at the Angels Christmas Market. There is also a huge choice of bars and restaurants so you can eat and drink to your heart’s content – the Bavarian Village and the Carousel Bar are highly recommended.
Also in our guide: Heading to London this holiday season and overwhelmed by the hotel prices? We’ve been there! Stop by EuroCheapo’s Guide to Affordable London. Our editors visit, inspect and photograph budget hotels in central London and pick the best.