Christmas in London

By Karen James

At a loss for what to do with the family in the run up to Christmas? Can’t even think about it because it’s too far away? Well, when the kids are involved, it’s best to be organized, so here are 12 amazing things to do in and around London to keep the whole family entertained in the run up to Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me…

A trip to London Zoo!  Not very Christmassy you might think think again! Visit Santa himself with his reindeers, and for Meet Santa ticket holders exclusively there’s the opportunity to see the Zoo’s festive animals. Children will be invited to be Little Helpers, helping the zoo keepers to prepare the treats and Christmas presents for all the animals. There will also be craft activities including gingerbread decorating, coloring competition, and adding a wish to the Wishing Tree, all finished off with a relaxing story told by Mother Christmas.

Tickets are £25.50 for adults and children, or £8 for under 3’s, including fast track Zoo entry, schedule of the day’s events, an event planner and mince pie on arrival. Dates include: 16 – 17 Nov, 23 – 24 Nov, 30 Nov – 1 Dec, 7 – 8 Dec, 14 – 15 Dec and 20 – 24 Dec.

Switching on of the lights

Carnaby Street is infamously decorated and lit up each year, with previous years featuring a wide variety of themes, from giant snowmen to Rolling Stones decorations.  This year’s theme is going to be “Year of the Robin”, hundreds of oversized 3D robins lighting up the surroundings, with the main focus on 5 huge robins suspended mid flight across the various 13 Carnaby streets, and the world famous Carnaby arches furnished with sparkling lights and glittering snow.

The switching on will take place at 6pm on 14th November, and will be supported by local shops having 20% discount for the day, and different bands performing alongside the lights being switched on. More than 100 fashion brands, restaurants and bars in Carnaby will be taking part in the party, and there’ll be various free drinks and goodie bags for all visitors. Don’t forget to send in your festive photo of the decorations on the day to twitter or instagram, using #CarnabyPlus, for your chance to win £1000 shopping spree!

Third day of Winter Wonder

A staple in the London Christmas Calendar is Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland event, open 10am till 10pm every day until 5th January (excluding Christmas Day).  The grand opening of the Winter Wonderland will take place on Friday 22nd November at 5pm, entrance to the park is free and the atmosphere in the evenings is pure Christmas magic with Santa Land for the kids and the Bavarian style Christmas Market for the adults, with open fires, mulled wine and cider, and festive food on sale.

This year promises even more Christmassy atmosphere, thrills, and entertainment with more rides and attractions than ever, including two impressive circuses and an enormous “viewing wheel”. The highlight of the Winter Wonderland every year is the outdoors ice rink, illuminated with thousands of lights and surrounding an elegant bandstand, it’s vital to book tickets to skate in advance to avoid disappointment! Alongside the ice rink is the Magical Ice Kingdom of snow and ice sculptures – which will double in size this year ice village and ice swan rides, and the extremely popular ice slide with an ice bar to occupy accompanying adults.

To skate, you can use your own skates or hire, with under 12’s needing to be accompanied by an adult and max skate size available to hire is adult 13.

Magical Ice Kingdom prices are: peak £9, £7 children, £28 family; off-peak £7, £5, £20.

Skating: peak £14.50, concessions £13.50, children (12 and under) £9.50, family £38; off-peak £10.50, £9.50, £8.50, £34.

Kew Gardens

For the first time this Christmas, Kew Gardens are opening “after dark” and offering an illuminated tour through the enchanted winter landscape.

The Christmas Village at Victoria Gate offers festive fun for everyone from Santa’s Woodland Grotto and carousel rides, to Christmas carols and shopping for We Make London‘s hand-picked designer/maker crafts, surrounded by traditional wooden chalets, to mulled wine and cinnamon stars to warm you up before your Illuminated Tour begins.

Dates: 28 Nov to 4 Jan NOT daily, check their website for details

Times: 4.30pm – 10pm

Christmas Village entrance: Free

Illuminated Tour: Adult £12.50, Children (5yrs -16yrs) £8.00, Under 5’s Free,Family (2 adults and 2 children) £38.00.


It’s not Christmas without taking the children to see a Christmas pantomime!  This year’s New Wimbledon Theatre Panto production will be the magical carpet ride of Aladdin!

With Jo Brand debuting as “Genie of the Ring”, alongside Matthew Kelly and telly dancers Flawless, also joined by two renowned West End musical theatre stars, Oliver Thornton as Aladdin, David Bedella as Abanazer this glittery spectacular is one not to miss!

Rub the magic lamp, and make your wish to watch this wonderful show, or better yet book in advance! Running from 6th December, with prices starting from £11.90.

To New Traditions

St James Theatre last year hosted Olivier Award nominated Cinderella over the Christmas season.  This year, something that will suit children of all ages, a more modern production is being prepared.

From the creator of the gruffalo comes “The Snail and the Whale” a tiny snail who wants to see the world hitches a ride on the back of a whale, but when the whale becomes beached it’s up to the tiny snail to save them both.  Suitable for 4+ years, this really is something the whole family can enjoy.

Running from 10th December to 5th January, don’t delay in booking your tickets and creating that new family Christmas favourite.

Seven Wooden Bavarian Huts

For a traditional German style Christmas market, nothing (in the UK) compares to the Southbank Centre riverside Christmas Market. Between the Southbank Centre and the London Eye, in prime position, this has got to be top spot to get you in the Christmas mood, being in the outdoors in December and warming up with Glühwein, Bratwurst and gingerbread, there is nothing better.

Also suitable for children with Christmas card making stalls and “pocket money” stalls, you can take the whole family for a day together.

Open from 6th to 22nd December, 11am to 8pm, don’t miss out!

Christmas Shopping

The distinctive terracotta façade with its dark-green awnings stirs up some of the most divided feelings, some of us have never been, some think the shop is only for tourists, some go too often, nonetheless Harrods is an icon of London shopping, and what better time of year to visit than in the run up to Christmas when everything is more magical. Harrod’s Christmas World is open on the 3rd floor, and filled with spectacular Christmas cards, stocking fillers and decorations, including a 6ft Santa Claus that you can purchase for £3999! Even if you have no intention of buying, it’s a must see for Christmas.

Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland

For the 8th year Syon Park are hosting their Enchanted Woodland, a magical event which sees an illuminated trail laid out through the Gardens and Arboretum of Syon.  The route will lead you around an 18th Century lake, where you will see a range of lighting effects bring the landscape to life in an exciting new way.  The night sky contrasts with the shapes and textures of Syon’s historical trees, which are reflected in the sheen of the lake. The highlight of the tour is as it culminates at the magnificent Great Conservatory.  Open to old, for a less commercial family experience don’t forget to head to Syon Park for a more traditional feel of Christmas magic.

The Old School Club

From 16th December Battersea Business Centre is hosting “The Old School Club”, where children can participate for £20 on any of the days Monday 16th to Friday 20th in a series of Christmassy classes.  Making stockings, Santa’s sack, Christmas bunting and tree decorations, a whole day geared towards entertaining the kids ready for Christmas.  If you’d like to attend with your children, opt for the Friday family fun day when all are welcome to attend.

The sessions last 2.5 hours each day, all materials are provided, and the cost is £20 per child.

Winter Hogwarts

Not quite in London, (so for those not used to leaving the city a London Chauffeur service may be required!), the Harry Potter studio tour will be having a winter wonder makeover for the festive season! There will be snowfall as the Hogwarts castle is covered in a magical snow scene. For all the intricacies of the original studio tour with the added festive glitz, see some of the detailed sets decorated using the actual decorations and food props seen in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  The Great Hall will host 8 Christmas trees with mistletoe, golden wreaths and holly, and the 2 long dining tables will be dressed as per the festive film feast scenes, with turkey, ham, fruit, vegetables, plum puddings and snow cakes. See the Christmas jumpers Molly Weasley knitted for Ron and Harry in the Philosopher’s Stone film, along with plenty of other costume delights like Harry’s invisibility cloak!

“Hogwarts in the Snow” will take place from 15th November to 6th January pre-booking is essential.

On the 12th day of Christmas, in Trafalgar Square

Since 1947 the people of Norway have given the people of London a Christmas tree (over 20 metres high and between 50 and 50 years old!), in gratitude for Britain’s support during World War II. For many Londoners the lighting ceremony for the Trafalgar Square Christmas tree with carol singing signals the countdown to Christmas. This year the tree will be lit on 5th December, and carol singing will take place every day from 9th to 22nd December beneath the tree, from 4pm mid week and from 2pm at weekends.

The tree is taken down just before the Twelfth Night of Christmas, when it is recycled chipped and composted, to make mulch.

About he Author

Karen is a prolific writer who loves Christmas. With 3 children and 4 grandchildren she is well prepared for the festivities each year and loves taking the grandchildren for fun days out in London to get into the swing of things.  Her top tip for making the most of the magic would be to avoid using the jam-packed trains at the end of a long day out, and splash out on a personal car service to get home warm and without delay!



Karen James

Karen James, PhD is an educator, child development and parenting specialist a the IMPI, International Maternity and Parenting Institute.

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