It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… And from sparkly lights to markets, festive events and ice rinks, there are some magical things to do for Christmas in London with kids.
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After restrictions meant events were cancelled or scaled back last year, Christmas 2021 is pulling out the stops to celebrate, from guaranteed snowfalls to new light trails and Christmas attractions in London.
There’s a Christmas circus and traditional pantomimes, some free things to do in London at Christmas, and plenty of places to make unforgettable memories – if you’re wondering ho ho how to choose, check out my pick of the best this Christmas in London with kids.
With some events being announced later than usual this year, I’ll also be updating this post so keep an eye out for new Christmas events too
See the Christmas lights
London’s festive lights start appearing around the city during November, so you’re almost guaranteed to spot some twinkling decorations wherever you go.
Check the switch-on dates for some of the biggest and best here
From peacock feathers in Bond Street to butterflies over Carnaby Street, as well as angels in Regent Street, there are some gorgeous displays to see.
A lot of the department stores get in on the action too, with festive facelifts for shops like Fortnum & Mason, which transformed itself into a huge advent calendar for 2020, or this year’s Christmas of Dreams window display at Selfridges.
And if you don’t fancy wandering aimlessly to spot the best, there are some great Christmas tours too – one of the most festively fun has to be the Christmas Silent Disco walk.
The tour starts near Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park before taking you past some of the city’s Christmas lights, with a playlist of Christmas classics, fun commentary and other hits – dancing technically optional, but let’s face it, who can resist?
Follow a light trail
You’ll find more than just the lights over London’s shopping streets, with a whole string of festive light trails, some running into the New Year.
Check out my pick of the best illuminated trails in London with kids for more details
This year sees three new light trails coming to the capital, including Christmas at Kenwood House in Hampstead, Lightopia coming to Crystal Palace Park, and Palace of Stardust at Hampton Court Palace, inspired by Henry VIII’s famous Astronomical Clock.
Or in south-east London, the Enchanted Eltham Palace event lights up the gardens of the glorious Art Deco mansion.
Watch the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are coming to the City of London in December, with a special light installation, Borealis lighting up the skies over Guildhall Yard.
Designed to look like the Aurora Borealis, the multicoloured lights had a previous outing in Greenwich earlier this year, as part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival.
But if you missed them then, they’ll be shining in the London skies once again, accompanied by a soundtrack, from December 11-22, from 5.30 to 10pm (last entry 9.30pm).
It’s free but you need a ticket for entry (although some walk-up tickets may be available on the day), with timeslots every 30 minutes – you’re recommended to stay for around 30 minutes to make the most of the experience.
Visit a Christmas market
Whether you’re looking for traditional gifts, Santa’s grotto, workshops or rides, there’s a string of great Christmas markets in London with kids to choose from.
Some of my own favourites are on the banks of the Thames, including the lovely South Bank Christmas market and winter festival, with some fabulous pop-up food stalls, illuminations on the Queen’s Walk and a traditional carousel.
Further east, there’s Christmas by the River near London Bridge; quieter and smaller than some of the other markets, there are often workshops as well as stalls.
At the other end of the scale, Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a blaze of colour, fun and noise: there are rides for all ages, including an ice slide, Santa’s grotto, an ice rink, circus and plenty more chances to spent your money, including on food and gifts.
For the first year, it’s no longer free to enter, although if you book £20 worth of attractions, your entry fee is refunded.
Or in the heart of London, there’s one of the newest Christmas markets in London at Leicester Square, with over 30 stalls and food at the traditional Bavarian-style market, plus Santa’s Grotto and other events.
You’ll find more Christmas markets at Greenwich, Battersea Power Station and Kingston – check out my post on the best Christmas markets in London with kids for more details.
If you want to see Santa in London, you need to move early, especially for some of the big name events like Hamleys as many get booked up fast.
But that’s not the only place to find Santa’s Grotto in London: many of the Christmas markets have a chance to meet the man in red (scroll up for more suggestions) although bear in mind you may need a separate timed ticket for some.
Santa also makes an appearance at several of London’s museums and galleries too. We saw him at the London Transport Museum, which is a lovely relaxed event for kids who might get shy or overwhelmed.
Take a Christmas walking tour
Do you know why turkeys wore boots on their way to market? Or who invented the Christmas card? There are some great Christmas walking tours of London to answer the questions – this two-hour Christmas walk is led by a professional guide.
This two-hour family-friendly Christmas tour also takes in some of the city’s Christmas lights as well as promising to take you down streets less travelled.
Or join a Dickensian Christmas walk – this private tour is themed around a Christmas Carol. Running for three to four hours, it’s better with older kids, although tailored to your group, and will show you the city that Ebeneezer Scrooge might have recognised.
Go ice skating
The appearance of London’s pop-up ice skating rink always signals the start of Christmas for me – set in some of the city’s most iconic locations, it’s always tempting to pull on some skates before warming up with hot chocolate and mulled wine.
While the rink in the Tower of London moat isn’t making an appearance in 2021, you can still skate in the shadow of the Natural History Museum – this year will be the final time.
You’ll also find an ice rink at Winter Wonderland, if you’re visiting the Christmas market there.
For more details and ideas of where to ice skate in London with kids, including year-round options, check out my top picks
See a pantomime
It’s not Christmas without a pantomime (oh no, it’s not!) plus you can also find some wonderful traditional Christmas shows on in London’s theatres too.
It’s worth checking what ages are allowed before you book: despite being aimed at families, some theatres won’t accept children under five (take a passport or some form of ID if your kids are five plus but look younger than their age).
If you’re not sure where to start, Seatplan has this great round-up of Christmas shows in London including Pantoland at the London Palladium and Aladdin at the Lyric Hammersmith, plus the chance to check seat view photos from fellow theatregoers.
And the youngest theatre-goers will love seeing Stick Man, on at the Leicester Square Theatre
For a Christmas show with a difference, head to the Royal Festival Hall for Circus 1903, celebrating the Golden Age of Circus, with puppetry as well as the usual circus thrills – a great one to combine with a visit to the South Bank Christmas market.
Hear some carols
One of my favourites parts of Christmas in London with kids is hearing carols sung while you’re out and about – but to guarantee a rendition of a few favourites, there are some organised events to check out too.
Trafalgar Square has carol groups fundraising for different charities in the weeks running up to Christmas, singing by the huge Christmas tree – a gift from Norway every year since 1947.
Or there are carol performances among the sell-out events for Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall.
You can also hear carols at St Paul’s Cathedral which has a series of free events during December – unsurprisingly popular, be prepared to get there early and queue to get a seat.
Visit the Tower of London
One of my favourite places to visit in London with kids, the Tower of London gets dressed up for Christmas as well – the usual ice rink isn’t taking place this year, but there’s something new in its place.
The historic fortress has displays of decorations on its ancient stone walls, while the animal statues dotted around the Tower grounds are also being transformed to create winter wonderland scenes – the polar bear should feel right at home.
Telling the story of the Tower through the animals which once lived within its walls, it’s a festive way to experience it with kids. The only question is whether it will outsparkle the Crown Jewels…
Runs from December 1-January 3, included in admission (free for members) – you can sometimes find discounts if you buy through the tiqets website too.
Discover Christmas past at the Museum of the Home
If you’re looking to find out how Christmas has been celebrated over the centuries – not to mention winter festivals from other cultures and religions, head to the Museum of the Home.
The Winter Festival celebrations run to February 2022, and the museum has given its rooms through time a makeover as part of this.
Free to enter, you can also discover how Boxing Day got its name, plus there’s a light installation and workshops.
See the first Christmas card at the Postal Museum
See the world’s first Christmas card on display at the Postal Museum this winter, as well as a display of magical letters exchanged between children and Santa since 1964 (and some of his replies).
The Mail Rail – the underground train once used for transporting post – is also getting a festive makeover, with new audio as part of the ride, including the very first King’s Speech.
There’s also a series of Festive Family Fun Days on Saturdays in December, with arts and crafts sessions, plus a Christmas Family Trail – spot Tibs the postal cat hidden through the museum’s exhibitions, as well as learning what jobs animals have performed to help the postal service.
Runs to January 2, included in your ticket.
Add some magic at Hogwarts in the snow
A visit to the Warner Bros Studio Tour is enchanting at any time of year for Harry Potter fans, but head there in the winter and you get the added magic of Hogwarts in the snow.
The sets from the movies get a festive transformation – expect snow in the Forbidden Forest for the first time this year, as well as on the cobbled stones of Diagon Alley, over Hagrid’s Hut and on the Hogwarts Castle Model.
Inside there are plenty of winter touches too, including wreaths and garlands in the Great Hall – and a tree topped with witches on miniature broomsticks – while the table is ready for the Christmas feast, including flaming Christmas puddings and prop food.
December dates go very quickly so it’s one to snap up early. You can also book tickets including transport from central London. Hogwarts in the Snow runs to January 16.
For more Harry Potter locations in London, check out my top picks for fans
Drink hot chocolate
When there’s a nip in the air, especially if you’re out on ice rinks or wandering around Christmas markets, you’ve got the perfect excuse for hot chocolate (though I’m first in the queue as soon as autumn rolls around).
And forget the ordinary everyday hot chocolate, because London specialises in some indulgently extravagant drinks to try.
For more of the best hot chocolate in London with kids, check out my picks
Rococo has a string of unusual flavours to add to its high quality chocolate – think white chocolate and cardamom, for example, as well as ultra-dark chocolate and child-friendly milk chocolate.
Chin Chin Labs is better known for its ice cream, but when temperatures drop, they switch to hot chocolate with charred marshmallow fluff on top.
Ruby Violet in Kings Cross, another favourite stop for ice cream, also has some fabulously rich hot chocolate: served in a small gold cup, it’s all the indulgent sugar hit you need.
Copperhouse Chocolate in Islington’s Chapel Market lets you choose different origin cocoa if you’re serious about your hot chocolate tasting experience, plus it’s vegan too.
And if you’re in east London – or happy to travel for the ultimate hot chocolate – head to Dark Sugars on Brick Lane, which also has some fantastic flavours and chocolate shavings galore to top your drink.
Explore the Gingerbread City at the Museum of Architecture
If you’ve ever made a gingerbread house for Christmas with your kids, it pales by comparison to the astonishing Gingerbread City at the Museum of Architecture.
Rather than a few bits of biscuit glued together with icing and splodged with Smarties, this annual exhibition sees architects, designers and engineers create an intricate and creative display, with a whole city of gingerbread.
If you’re feeling inspired, there are gingerbread-making workshops for families at the Museum in Belgravia too – not included with tickets to the exhibition, you have to book these separately.
Watch the snow
You’re unlikely to find a white Christmas in London so Covent Garden has stepped in to the breach this year, with some guaranteed snow as part of its festive celebrations.
Watch out for flurries every hour between noon and 7pm around the Christmas tree, until December 27.
Otherwise, the closest you’ll come is if you visit Hogwarts in the Snow (scroll up for more) or on one of the London ice rinks!
Follow the National Trust’s winter wander trail
If all the crowds and over-indulgence are catching up with you, the National Trust has the perfect way to tempt everyone outdoors this winter – perfect for younger kids.
Percy the Park Keeper’s Winter Wander trails run at various National Trust properties during December, including Osterley House in west London and Ham House, which has its own wonderful traditional Christmas tree.
The trail is also running at Morden Hall Park, where it’s on until early January as well, with animal themed clues to spot and activities to burn off those hot chocolates.
Secret Christmas Wonderland at Kidzania
There’s a festive makeover at KidZania London this winter, with six new activities taking place as part of Secret Christmas Wonderland.
Aimed at kids aged four to 14, there’s also a rare opportunity for adults to join in, with a pre-recorded panto performance of Cinderella, the chance to design a toy at elf school, decorating cards and baubles, as well as dancing and music.
There’s also a trail through the city with Christmassy clues which let you get a special password from London’s naughtiest elf, plus the rest of the immersive city’s experiences are running as normal, with a few extra festive touches.
Takes place most days from December 1 to January 9, included in entrance. Plus, if your child is aged eight or above, you’re allowed to drop them off once you’ve booked them in, and head off to get on with the rest of your Christmas list in Westfield Shopping Centre.
PIN FOR LATER: THE BEST THINGS TO DO AT CHRISTMAS IN LONDON WITH KIDS
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Kew at Christmas: Jeff Eden/RBG Kew; Trafalgar Square/hot chocolate images courtesy of Depositphotos, all others copyright MummyTravels