Although the temperatures dip lower and the days become shorter, London holds a special charm in winter. Every corner in London tells a story. It’s a city of iconic landmarks, fun, culture, lights, and color. London confirms and shatters numerous stereotypes—it is historic and modern, tumultuous and pleasant, multiethnic and still very British.
Christmas markets, strings of lights, ice rinks, crazy events, and the festive frenzy: London in winter has its own glamor. Winter brings with itself the aroma of mulled wine, streets glistening with lights, houses adorned with decorations, Christmas markets popping up, and festive mood infused into the people’s hearts. London is a lively, dynamic city even under the winter mist. Here are some of the best things to do in London in the winter.
Enjoy London Christmas markets and fairs
We couldn’t talk about the best things to do in London in winter without mentioning the famous Christmas markets. Start with Southbank Christmas Market, which is a part of the Wintertime fest at Southbank Centre. Here you can enjoy delicacies and buy traditional crafts, toys, and festive produce in more than 50 wooden stands. Head to the Winter Wonderland Festival in Hyde Park which is the largest Christmas fair in London. It has attractions for all ages including many food and beverage outlets, art, craft, and gift stalls. It also has an ice skating rink and circus. If you have spare time, you can visit Leicester Square, Greenwich Market, Winterville, and London Bridge Christmas markets.
Put on your skates
Between Christmas pudding, gingerbread, and mince pies, you are likely to gain some weight visiting London in winter. To compensate the excesses, put on your skates, dress warmly, and join one of the many ice rinks that open in London from mid-November to January.
At Eyeskate in Southbank, you can skate under the shadow of the London Eye overlooking the Thames. On the other side of the Thames, glide on ice among the brilliantly lit Victorian façades of Somerset House. In the evening, the skating rink transforms into a huge ice dance floor. The ice rink at the National History Museum is compact, but with a splendid Christmas tree in the middle surrounded by rows of fairy lights, this is probably the most charming skating spot in the capital.
Wind into British madness
While the rest of London is wrapped in warm clothes on Christmas Day, the tough chaps of Serpentine Swim Club meet in Hyde Park for a 100-yard race in the icy cold waters. Running since 1864, the Peter Pan Cup commences at 9 am and attracts a bunch of enthusiastic spectators.
If you are disappointed for not being part of London’s club-exclusive, coldest race, participate in one of the Pancake Day races (March 5, 2019) – which is open to all and is just as crazy. Just eating pancakes on the Pancake Day is so clichéd. Running on the streets of London in winter flipping pancakes on a pan fighting for the esteemed title of the best pancake flipper is something that should make you proud of yourself!
Soak up the winter magic on a stroll
Walk through the London streets as Christmas trees, Santa’s grottos, and Christmas markets emerge in every corner of the capital. The city glistens with shimmering lights and decorations, especially Bond Street, Oxford Street, Brompton Road, and Regent Street. January and February also bring out the best deals.
The most charming winter walks go through Hyde Park and through the narrow streets of Soho. Nimble through the Richmond Park to see over 600 wild deer, head to Greenwich Park for spectacular views of London, venture out to the Borough Market to savor plenty of seasonal and traditional treats, and amble around the See Kew Gardens, that is adorned with millions of Christmas lights. Stop by Trafalgar Square to look out for the giant Christmas tree that the people of Oslo gift to London every year to acknowledge the British aid during World War II. In December, you can attend free carol concerts held next to the tree.
For Harry Potter fans on a quest to stroll through the most iconic streets from the books, check out our Ultimate Guide to London for Potterheads.
Spend cozy evenings indoors
During winter, it can get dark as early as 4 pm, but for many, it’s when the fun starts. Defrost near a cracking fire at a comfy pub with a glass of mulled wine or watch the London skyline at dusk from a heated rooftop bar. Hop onto a Thames river cruise with a 5-course dinner to see the sparkling reflections of city-lights while floating on the river.
Explore history, culture, and science after dark at one of the late-night museums such as the Science Museum, British Museum, and National Gallery that remain open at night. Take a cab to the West End of London to catch a dramatic show like Mamma Mia!, The Phantom of the Opera, or Aladdin.