London’s festive highlights – where locals take their visitors

We’ve got the insider’s guide to seven of the best places to visit in London over Christmas.

London during the festive season is truly magical, the streets glow with Christmas lights, seasonal markets spring up and the smell of mulled wine wafts out of cosy bars.

It’s a special time of year to enjoy the capital’s seasonal charms, but they aren’t always to be found in the big attractions. So if you are visiting London, where should you go and what should you see?

We’ve got the insider secrets from a local on where she takes her visitors over the holiday season to make it unforgetable.

London's Tower Bridge in the snow, with festive lights in front of itCredit: Shutterstock /Melinda Nagy

Hyde Park’s festive treat

1. Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland is a classic, but for a good reason. It’s a festive paradise with rides, Christmas markets, and shows. Yes, it’s popular, but the atmosphere is unbeatable.

It’s open from 10am until 10pm daily until January 1st.

Saga digital content editor Jayne Cherrington-Cook moved to London from her native Devon 32 years ago. She shares her take on the top festive spots.

“Even though you can skate at Winter Wonderland, I prefer the ice rink at Somerset House,” she says.

“It’s set in the neoclassical courtyard and is the epitome of Christmas. And if you want to combine your skating with a bit of a rave, they have weekend Skate Lates, which bring DJ sets from the best London night clubs.”

“As I live in South East London, another favourite of mine is the ice rink at The Queen’s House in Greenwich. Enjoy a skate and then go and enjoy a mulled wine overlooking the river at The Trafalgar Tavern.”

Step back in time at this Harry Potter location

2. Leadenhall Market

For a Harry Potter-esque Christmas vibe, visit the ornate Leadenhall Market. It’s beautifully decorated and less crowded than more famous spots, offering a unique blend of history and festivity.

The covered market, which dates back to the 14th century, has been used as a filming location for many films and TV programmes, including Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, where it served as the exterior of the Leaky Cauldron.

Thames-side festive food & drink

3. Southbank Centre Winter Market

Along the Thames, this festive market boasts twinkling lights and traditional alpine-style chalets. You can sample international cuisines, hot drinks, handmade gifts, and enjoy a great view of the river. It runs until December 26.

“The Southbank is one of my favourite places in London, whatever time of the year,” says Cherrington-Cook.

“It’s bustling, but never overwhelmingly packed, and it’s full of Christmas cheer, with lots of lights and pop-ups where you can enjoy a drink next to a fire pit.

“I really want to try one of the snow globes at Jimmy’s Pop-Up, Fire & Fromage. They’re little see-through igloos, which look super cosy.”

Visit the home of A Christmas Carol

4. The Charles Dickens Museum

Embrace the Christmas spirit by visiting the London home of the author of A Christmas Carol, which is credited for making Christmas the big celebration we enjoy today.

Christmas Eve is extra special where visitors can enjoy mince pies and mulled wine, while exploring the rooms where the famous author lived for two years.

Before making your journey don’t forget to check opening times and ticketing (if applicable) with the venue or destination.

Secret bars for cosy evenings

5. Hidden Bars for Mulled Wine

Explore London’s hidden bars for a cosy evening. Try The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town, in Spitalfields, twice-crowned London bar of the year, for a quirky experience.

Or else discover Gordon’s Wine Bar, close to Covent Garden and the theatre district, which purports to be London’s oldest wine bar. Escape the hustle and bustle with a glass of wine and a sharing platter.

“Established in 1890, Gordon’s is the oldest wine bar in town – allegedly,” says Cherrington-Cook.

“It’s also one of my favourite cosy winter spots. Inside, it’s as you might expect to find a drinking den of the 19th Century –  dark corners, old oak casks of port and sherry decorating the wall, ancient photos of previous owners and crusting walls.

“It really is a special place and even though it’s close to the tourist centre – just a hop away from Trafalgar Square and Charing Cross – it’s often overlooked by those visiting as to be honest, it doesn’t look that special from the outside. Go and order yourself one of their delicious cheese boards and a bottle of wine and you’ll feel festive in no time.”

A festive flower market

6. Columbia Road Flower Market

Every Sunday this street is transformed by the flower market into a floral wonderland. During the festive season, you’ll find Christmas trees, wreaths, and festive plants.

It’s not just great for flowers, but there are 60 independent businesses along the street. You can find art galleries, cupcake shops, vintage clothing stores, deli and antique shops.

Songs for Christmas

7. St James’ Church festive music

St James’ Church, in Picadilly, has joined forces with charity The Passage to raise funds for those experiencing homelessness this year.

The church is staging a series of musical performances, including carol services, classical performances and Gershwin piano evenings.

“Another great central church is St. Martin-in-the-Fields, which is located next to Trafalgar Square,” says Cherrington-Cook.

“They have a huge range of carol concerts, including services for the family and an awesome gospel concert. There’s also a lovely little cafe in the crypt, so you can grab a mince pie or even Christmas dinner while you’re there for a sing-song.”

Technology isn’t just for Christmas

How AI helped create our festive highlights

We used AI to help us narrow down the best of the festive sights in London, with the help of AI specialist David Maher Roberts. Then our locals checked them over before they were included here.
Maher Roberts said: “AI is proving to be incredibly useful in so many areas especially when you are dealing with vast amounts of information.
“This means that instead of having to trawl through the internet to search for what to do or see or visit, you can instead just have a chat with a travel buddy AI that can fine tune recommendations just for you.”

Phillipa Cherryson

Written by Phillipa Cherryson she/her

Updated:

Phillipa Cherryson is a senior digital editor for Saga Exceptional. Phillipa has been a journalist for 30 years, writing for local and national newspapers, UK magazines and reporting onscreen for ITV. In her spare time she loves the outdoors and is a trainee mountain leader and Ordnance Survey Champion.

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