14 Fabulous Ideas for Christmas in London

For festive treats with a London flavour, our team recommends these unique, tempting treats.

Graceful Ballet

If you’d like to see a traditional ballet, don’t miss the return of "Nutcracker" at the London Coliseum (to 5 Jan). Set on Christmas Eve, it features English National Ballet and an orchestra playing Tchaikovsky’s original score. For another festive favourite, head to the Royal Opera House for the classic ballet "Coppélia", a tale of love, mischief and mechanical dolls.

Sing Along to Carols

If Christmas isn’t Christmas without carols, then join a singalong at the Barbican (22 Dec) or Royal Albert Hall with the National Youth Choir of Great Britain (21-24 Dec). If you’d rather just listen, hear the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge perform at the Barbican (16 Dec). While Londoners hurry home early on Christmas Eve, head to Westminster Abbey for a carol service – it’s free, but you must book.

Santa's Grotto, London, UK

Meet Santa

If your children want to meet Santa in a grotto, find him in Santa’s Snowflake Grotto at Westfield London’s first outdoor Christmas Market (to 24 Dec). Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City have live music and carol singers. The Museum of London’s Santa’s Victorian Grotto (to 23 Dec) is a more traditional affair. Kids stroll through the museum’s decorated Victorian Walk, before discovering the grotto and telling Santa what they’d like him to add to his shopping list.

Giggle at the Panto

The English tradition of pantomimes, or ‘pantos’, dates from the 1500s. These family-friendly musicals are performed over the festive season and combine slapstick comedy and dance with fairytales, gender-crossing and audience participation. This year, watch "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" at the London Palladium (to 12 Jan), which stars Paul O’Grady, Julian Clary, Nigel Havers and Gary Wilmot. At Hackney Empire, famed for its panto, watch the famous London story "Dick Whittington and his Cat" (to 5 Jan).

Christmas at Kew, London, UK

Visit Illuminated Gardens

Baby, it’s cold outside. But wrap up to explore the acres of illuminated gardens out there such as Christmas at Kew (to 5 Jan; pictured), in which lights and lasers are projected on to the world’s largest Victorian glasshouse to music and fire. Don’t miss Enchanted Eltham Palace (to 22 Dec) in the grounds of the Tudor royal residence. Its festive mile-long trail includes interactive lights and open fires for toasting marshmallows (and chilly fingers).

Sip Warm Festive Drinks

Most Christmas markets serve warm cider and hot toddies – a moreish blend of whisky, honey, lemon and spices such as cloves and cinnamon. Treat yourself to a hot chocolate in Fortnum & Mason’s Christmas Arcade at Somerset House or from the stove at Paul A Young.

Ice rink at Natural History Museum, London, UK

Take to the Ice

London has several outdoor rinks over the festive period, all with sparkling Christmas trees. The ice rink at Somerset House is spacious and has a festive arcade and indoor bar, while the Tower of London projects snowflakes on to the moat’s walls. The Natural History Museum is also a classic, with a tree in the middle of the rink plus a carousel. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, meanwhile, has a singer and guitarist performing on a bandstand in the middle of the rink, which is strung with fairylights.

St Paul's Cathedral, London, UK

Celebrate Christmas Day

On the big day itself, head to St Paul’s Cathedral for a church service under the iconic dome, or attend a morning service at St James’s Piccadilly (11am). You can also watch a nativity scene in Trafalgar Square.

Leicester Square Market, London, UK

Browse the Markets

London’s festive markets are a treat. Christmas in Leicester Square has 30 chalets, a Santa’s Grotto and a mirrored Spiegeltent. Along the River Thames, visit Southbank Centre Winter Market for raclette, fondue and bratwurst cooked on an open fire, or head to Christmas by the River at Tower Bridge with its magnificent views. Greenwich Christmas Market is also worth a visit for its food, drinks, souvenirs and entertainment.

London New Year's Day Parade, London, UK

Join the Parade

If you’re looking forward to a quiet New Year’s Eve – or you’re not planning on going to bed at all – then arrive in the West End bright and early to secure a roadside view of London’s New Year’s Day Parade. Starting at noon on Piccadilly, this joyful procession including marching bands, classic cars, skaters and Pearly Kings and Queens weaves southeast through Trafalgar Square and then up to the Houses of Parliament. The festivities continue until about 3.30pm.

Carnaby Christmas lights, London, UK

Gaze at the Lights

Stroll beneath Christmas lights hung above the city’s main shopping hubs on Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent Street. Carnaby Street themes its display each year – recent years have seen parrots, the Sixties and lyrics to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody on display. ZSL London Zoo will also be illuminated (to 24 Dec) and visitors can meet Father Christmas in his grotto as well as watch festive film screenings.

Get Your Fill of Christmas Shopping

Don’t go to Fortnum & Mason on an empty stomach, as you won’t be able to resist its wine, tea and Christmas hampers. Liberty has beautifully crafted baubles, while John Lewis & Partners is great for family gifts, from board games to novelty jumpers. Harrods’ iconic bear is winter-ready – it features inside a snow globe, on tree decorations and as a cuddly toy. Selfridges department store is famed for its festive window displays.

Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square, London, UK

Admire the Famous Tree

Norway has given a 25m-high spruce tree to London every year since 1947 to thank Britain for its support during World War II. Lights are hung vertically, just like they are in Norway. It's the focal point of Trafalgar Square's Christmas celebrations.

Sledging on Primrose Hill, London, UK

Whiz Down the Slopes

If you’re lucky enough for it to snow on Christmas Day, buy a sledge and whizz down Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill in Hampstead Heath, or make a snowman in one of the Royal Parks. Alternatively, watch "White Christmas the Musical" at the Dominion Theatre, a new production based on the 1954 romantic comedy, or listen to the classic festive tune "Walking in the Air" in "The Snowman" at The Peacock.