The best things to do for Christmas in London with kids

The holidays are coming and what better place to spend Christmas than in London? Few cities can compare to the UK’s capital when it comes to Christmas cheer and, after, cancelled plans last year we are hoping to enjoy Christmas in London with kids with all the trimmings.

That means lots of Christmas trees, Christmas lights, a plate piled up with mince pies and maybe even a visit with Father Christmas himself.

Tickets for many of the major attractions for the festive season are on sale now so you would do well to start planning. Here are our top picks for family activities at Christmas time in London.

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Christmas in London with kids
Pavilion of Kew Gardens in Christmas time, London, UK

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Christmas Shows in London

I love a good Christmas show and fortunately London has a lot of them to offer. Here are just a selection of some of the family-friendly shows scheduled for this year.

Circus 1903

We’ve seen this show twice now and could happily go again. This turn-of-the-century circus features contortionists, acrobats, knife throwers and incredible puppetry form the team behind War Horse, all led by a comical and charismatic ringmaster. This is pure Christmas joy for the whole family.

Circus 1903 is in town at the Southbank Centre for three weeks only from December 16 to January 2. Tickets from £25.

Christmas Pantomimes

Nothing says Christmas quite like a traditional pantomime (“oh no it doesn’t!”) and there are always a handful to choose from. Some options this year include:

Pantoland at the London Palladium

Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire

Red Riding Hood at the Stratford East Theatre

Aladdin at the Lyric Hammersmith

Cinderella at Richmond Theatre

Dick Whittington at the New Wimbledon Theatre

A Christmas Carol

This classic Christmas tale is being performed at the Old Vic Theatre in Lambeth (near Waterloo station) from November 13 to January 8. Tickets for the Christmas Carol start at £20.

The Snowman

Another Christmas classic returns for 2021 at The Peacock Theatre at Sadler’s Wells. Performances of The Snowman run from November 20 to January 2. Tickets start at £18.

The Nutcracker

The story of a little girl who receives a magical nutcrackers is as Christmassy as stories come. Two versions of this story are being performed this year at the London Coliseum from December 16 to January 8 and at the Royal Albert Hall from December 28 to December 31.

Christmas in London with kids
Christmas lights in London

Meet Father Christmas in London

Get your Christmas list ready to take to Father Christmas at one of the following Santa’s grotto. Make sure to come back to this post as not all dates for venues have been announced yet including Father Christmas at the Royal Albert Hall and Santa at Hamley’s.

Santa’s Grotto at Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Santa Land sits in one corner of Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and is a great place to deliver your list to the big man. Santa’s Grotto is open daily from 10am to 6pm. Entry is free but you will need to purchase an entry ticket for Winter Wonderland.

As well as meeting Father Christmas, Santa Land has kids’ rides, food stands and Santa’s parade which starts at 5pm Monday to Wednesdays.

Father Christmas at ZSL London Zoo

Meet Santa in his magical grotto at ZSL London Zoo and you might even return home with a gift (you must book visits in advance). For something even more magical, book a VIP Meet Santa ticket and the elves will sneak you into the Zoo before it opens to the public for a VIP Breakfast with Mrs Claus and then a meeting with the man in red. 

The Zoo also has a fun festive family trail to follow as well as a new sweet shop. The Magic of Christmas runs from November 27 to January 3 and tickets are available to buy now. 

Santa’s Grotto at Alexandra Palace

The Big Man is spending some time at Alexandra Palace this festive season. Young kids can meet Santa, have their photo taken and go home with a small gift. Santa’s Grotto is open from December 3 – 23. You can book tickets now.

Father Christmas the London Wetland Centre

Make sure to book this visit with Santa at the London Wetland Centre. Visitors will have the chance to meet Father Christmas and Ken the Grand-Elf in his tranquil wetlands’ grotto. Visit with Santa on November 27 & 28 and December 4 & 5.

Winter Wonderland in London

London’s home for festive fun, Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, is back again this year. With shows, rides, an ice rink, a magical ice kingdom, Santa Land and more, there really is no better way to celebrate the festive period. This year you’ll need to book your tickets in advance choosing what date and time you want to visit. Winter Wonderland does get very busy (although hopefully the ticketed entrance will keep numbers down) so you will want to take this into account when booking your tickets.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland opens on November 19 and runs until January 3.

Christmas in London with kids
Fortnum and Mason’s amazing Christmas lights

Christmas Markets in London

A number of Christmas markets take place in London at this time of year. The following are just a handful of ones that we particularly enjoy but do take a look at the markets in Greenwich, Eccleston Yard and at Westfield shopping centre.

Winter Wonderland Christmas Market

Winter Wonderland is home to over 100 traditional wooden chalets selling Christmas gifts, decorations and more.

Selfridges Christmas Market on the Mews

Dates for this Christmas market have yet to be announced but keep an eye out as this is a magical place to get into the Christmas spirit. Tucked away on a mews behind the department store are market stalls selling street food, gifts and even Christmas trees. There are also a handful of fairground rides to enjoy. Fingers crossed it takes place again this year.

Southbank Centre Christmas Market

The festive alpine chalets of the Southbank Centre’s winter market are the place to go for seasonal food including fondue, bratwurst and mulled wine. This year a series of light-based artworks will decorate the trees along The Queen’s Walk.

Leicester Square Christmas market

The market in Leicester Square opens on November 8 and runs until January 5. Although not large, this is a lovely market to wander around with a glass of mulled wine in hand. The wooden huts sell everything from festive ornaments, toys and yummy festive treats.

Christmas Carols in London

Get ready to belt out your favourite Christmas tunes at one of these Christmas Carol concerts.

Shakespeare’s Globe

Part song, part storytelling is a magical re-imagining and re-wilding of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Fir Tree. Grab a cup of hot chocolate or mulled wine and join in to listen to the story of Christmas told from the perspective of the tree.

The Fir Tree takes place from December 20 – 30. Standing tickets from £5, seated tickets for adults from £15. Half price seated tickets are available for Under 16s. 

St Paul’s Carols

Starting on December 12 are these popular carols at St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s free entry but you should get there early to queue!

Christmas Carols at the Royal Albert Hall

Perhaps the most elegant venue for Christmas carols is the Royal Albert Hall. The concerts start on December 18 and run until Christmas Eve with three performances a day at 11:00am, 3:00pm, 7:30pm.

Trafalgar Square Carols

Ever since 1947 the people of Norway have gifted the people of London a Christmas tree, which is put on proud display in the middle of Trafalgar Square. Over the holiday period different carol singing groups gather to sing in the square to raise money for their chosen charities. Although dates for 2021 have yet to be confirmed do keep checking their website as this is a lovely festive event. 

Christmas in London with kids
Christmas lights on Oxford Street

Christmas Light Trails in London

Some light trails have yet to confirm their dates (or, indeed, whether they’re taking place this year). Ones to keep an eye on include Winter Lights at Canary Wharf. Lightopia this year is taking place at Crystal Palace instead of Chiswick Gardens.

In addition to the events listed below there are lots of places where you can get into the Christmas spirit in town. Some of the best places to see Christmas lights in London include:

The Oxford Street Christmas lights: Last year’s display was made up of 27 curtains of light using more than 200,000 bulbs dedicated to the key workers who looked after the nation during the pandemic.

Regent Street Christmas lights: If it’s Christmas razzle dazzle you’re after then head to Regent Street that always has a magical light display.

Carnaby Christmas lights: Carnaby Street puts on a cool themed display every year.

Covent Garden Christmas lights: Covent Garden is pretty picture perfect most times of year but throw in mistletoe chandeliers, a majestic Christmas tree and over 100,000 Christmas lights and it becomes the perfect place to enjoy the magic of Christmas.

Other places to enjoy Christmas lights in London include Marylebone Village, King’s Cross and Coal Drops Yard, Bond Street and along the South Bank.

Don’t miss the festive display outside Fortnum and Mason, just near Piccadilly Circus. Every year this iconic London department store puts on an ambitious and impressive Christmas display. Another store that goes to town for the holiday period is Harrods in Kensington.

Christmas at Kew

The Christmas lights at Kew Gardens are really the gold standard for light trails in London. The annual after-dark trail includes sparkling tunnels of light, dancing waterside reflections and trees drenched in cascading colourful lights. The Palm House light display is always spectacular.

Drinks, including hot drinks such as hot chocolate, are for sale at various points along the trail along with hot food and sweet treats. Last year Santa made an appearance as well. Remember to wrap up warm!

Christmas at Kew opens on November 17 and runs until January 9. Tickets are on sale now.

Palace of Stardust at Hampton Court Palace

New for this year is the Palace of Stardust, a light trail at Hampton Court Palace. Wander through the historic cobbled courtyards and the palace gardens that are filled with magical illuminations inspired by the palace’s famous astronomical clock; the ticking Tudor heart of Hampton Court installed by command of King Henry VIII.

The light trail opens on December 8 and runs to January 3 (closed on December 11, 24, 25 and 26). Tickets are for sale now.

Winterfest in Wembley Park

Wembley Park’s free winter lights trail, Winterfest, is back for 2021 and will be turning on its fairy lights from November 24 to January 9. This year’s theme is ‘Reunited in Light’ and features some old favourites, such as London’s largest LED tree, as well as new installations.

Christmas at Kenwood

London is going to town with its Christmas lights this year after Xmas 2020. This year, Kenwood House has a new Christmas light trail at Hampstead Heath. The trail opens on November 26 and runs until January 9, 2020. Organisers say to expect a “multi-sensory mix of light, fire and sound”. There will be craft stalls, street food and a bar at the end.

Enchanted Woodland at Syon Park

The 600-year-old Gardens at Syon Park are being transformed for Christmas into an Enchanted Woodland. Now in its 15th year the trail winds through the arboretum, passing the sixteenth century Syon House, and ends at the spectacular Great Conservatory.

Ice Skating at the Natural History Museum in London
Ice skating at the Natural History Museum in London

Christmas Ice skating rinks in London

It’s time to lace up your skates and hit the ice rink this Christmas. London always delivers when it comes to ice rinks in stunning locations but if you’re wondering where to try, here are some of the best places to ice skate in London. **Unfortunately the Tower of London ice rink will not be open this year.

Natural History Museum Ice Rink

Sadly this is the last year where you’ll be able to whiz around the ice at the Natural History Museum as they have announced that after 16 years their ice rink won’t be coming back this year. Make sure you get a chance to skate here while you can and book your tickets. The rink will be open from October 22 to January 16.

If your kids feel a little wobbly on ice then sign them up for the Penguin Skate Club which runs lessons for children aged four to eight on Saturday mornings from 6-20 November. They also run an Adult and Toddler deal on weekdays up until 2pm. See the website for details.

Somerset House Ice Rink

The ice rink at Somerset House is one of the longest-running Christmas ice rinks in London. This annual event sees the courtyard transformed into a magical winter wonderland with an ice rink and a glorious 40ft Christmas tree. This is an ice rink with someone for everyone from skating lessons with Skate School to late night Skate Lates.

The Somerset House Ice Rink will open from November 17 to January 16. Tickets are available to book now.

Winter Wonderland Ice Rink

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is making a welcome return this year and so is its ice rink. Set in the heart of the park around the iconic Victorian bandstand, the ice rink will be open from 10am to 10pm daily offering 50 minute skate sessions. Skate aids are available (for an additional £5) but can’t be booked in advance.

The ice rink will be open from November 19 to January 3 and tickets are available to book now.

Hampton Court Palace Ice Rink

The ice skating rink at Hampton Court Palace is back again this year. The location, in the grounds of Henry VIII’s historic home is hard to beat. Combine it with a visit to their new light trail (see below for details).

Hampton Court Palace Ice Rink is open daily from 13 November 2021 – 9 January 2022 (excluding Christmas day) and booking is open now. Make sure you pre-book a skate aid for children in advance if you need one.

The Queen’s House Greenwich Ice Rink

Set in the grounds of the Royal Museums Greenwich, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this ice rink is simply stunning. Enjoy views of Greenwich Park to the south and the lights of Canary Wharf to the north. This is the only outdoor ice rink in South London.

The ice rink is open daily (except for Christmas Day) from November 18 to January 9. Tickets are available to book now.

Ice Rink Canary Wharf

The Ice Rink at Canary Wharf will be open for 18 weeks of skating this winter opening on October 23 (just in time for half-term) and running until February 26th. Located at Canada Square Park, within Canary Wharf shopping Centre, this is a covered ice rink so the perfect option if if happens to be a rainy day in London!

Tickets are available to book here.

The Gingerbread City at the Museum of Architecture

Forget your traditional gingerbread house and opt for a gingerbread city instead. The Gingerbread City is an annual exhibition where architects, designers and engineers create an entire city made of gingerbread. The fun – and hugely intricate display – aims to connect the public with architecture through a creative display created for the Christmas holidays. The exhibition raises money to support the Museum of Architecture as a charity and helps to create programming, exhibitions and events.

The exhibition will run from 4 December to 9 January. Tickets go on sale October 11.

Hogwarts in the Snow

Wands at the ready, it’s time to visit Hogwarts at Christmas. The annual Hogwarts in the Snow opens its doors on Sunday November 13 and welcomes guests until Sunday January 16. The Great Hall will once again be dressed with festive decorations including trees topped with witches on miniature broomsticks.

New for this year is the Forbidden Forest, which will be draped in layers of snow, as well as the cobbled stones and magical shop fronts of Diagon Alley, Hagrid’s Hut and the Hogwarts castle model.

Book tickets here.

For more Harry Potter magic, take a look at this walking tour through central London.

’12 Days of Headstone’ Family Trail

Help find all the decorations hidden around the Headstone Manor & Museum so that they can decorate their Christmas Tree! Fill in your sheet as you explore the museum and win a festive prize at the end. December 4 – 24, Free.

The Luna Winter Cinema at Kensington Palace

Enjoy festive films from Elf and Home Alone to Love Actually and The Holiday on the big screen at Kensington Palace this Christmas season accompanied by delicious mulled wine, mince pies and hot chocolate.

Christmas at the Tower of London

Enjoy a very Royal Christmas with a trip to the Tower of London where visitors can learn the history of the tower through the animals that once lived here. From majestic elephants and a winter wonderland scene were polar bears roam to a playful ravens nest. December 1 – January 3, 2022. Included in palace admission.

Let it snow in Covent Garden

Let is snow, let it snow! Starting from this week it is guaranteed to snow in Covent Garden every day. Flurries of snow will fall by the famous Christmas tree every hour from midday to 7pm starting from November 9.

Christmas at the Postal Museum

The Mail Rail is getting a festive makeover. The subterranean ride which takes visitors back in time to the heyday of the postal railway will be decorated for the holidays.

Also on display are letters to Santa, which inlaces official cards from Father Christmas sent to children between 1963 and 2010. The first commercial Christmas card will also be on display in the museum’s permanent exhibitions space.

Festive Family Fun Days will take place on December 4, 11 and 18 from 10am – 5pm. These sections include a Christmas Family Trail and arts and crafts sessions. For more information see the Postal Museum website.

The Homes of Christmas Past

The Museum of Home is dressing its period rooms for Christmas to show how the holiday period looked in times gone by. Find out where Boxing Day got its name from and why the Christmas tree first appeared in our homes. From November 9. Free.

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