Top 50 things to do in London in winter

With top-class museums, galleries, pubs, and restaurants, London is a city very much geared up for the colder weather, making it an ideal destination for a London weekend break. If you're planning a short getaway during winter, or perhaps over the Christmas period in the capital, here's a helpful guide to some of the best places to go. This guide is perfect for those looking to make the most out of their weekend break, offering a range of activities and sights to enjoy in the city's festive atmosphere.

For visitors looking for affordable accommodation options, there are numerous cheap London hotels, allowing you to enjoy the city's winter charms without stretching your budget. In no particular order, here are our top 50 things to do in London in the winter, all within easy reach from these budget-friendly hotels.

Winter festivals & attractions

Festive events & specials

Shopping & Christmas lights

Ice skating

           Winter festivals & attractions

1. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, the premier festive event in the capital, often topping winter activity hitlists, offers an enchanting experience. This must-visit destination features ice skating, vibrant Christmas markets, captivating circus performances, and the warming allure of mulled wine.

Due to its popularity, especially the ice rink at Winter Wonderland, it's advisable to book tickets in advance to ensure you don't miss out on these sought-after winter activities. This all-encompassing festive festival at Hyde Park is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the season's joy right in the heart of the city.

2. Southbank Centre Wintertime Festival

Discover the magic of the Southbank Centre Wintertime Festival in London, a top destination even on the coldest, greyest days. This enchanting, free festival is adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations and features riverside bars offering warming winter drinks. Ideal for festive outings, the Southbank Centre Wintertime Festival boasts charming chalets selling crafts and winter goodies, complemented by live entertainment throughout the festive season. Wrap up warm and make your way to the river for an unforgettable experience at one of London's most delightful winter attractions.

3. Head down to Winterville

This free pop-up park town has moved south of the river, relocating from its original home in Victoria Park, Hackney to Clapham Common. An entire Christmas Town, the Winterville festival's attractions include an ice rink, roller disco, fairground and cinema.

4. Spitalfields Music Festival

Musical performances in eye-catching venues in Spitalfields and the City of London are a must-do if you like your sounds a little less mainstream. Highlights of the festival in previous years have included bold new takes on classical favourites like Vivaldi's Four Seasons, pop-up performances inspired by East London's history and operatic experiences designed especially for children.

5Head to Winterland for plenty of festive fun 

Didn't make it to the Alps this year? No need to worry, you can now enjoy the delights of a winter wonderland at Fulham's Winterland. There's plenty of activities to choose from here, from fire pits to forest cabins to curling.

6. Kew in the dark

The Kew botanic gardens play host to a magical night time experience, showcasing the sculptures, buildings and trees in a totally different way. The fairytale walk also has roast chestnuts and other tempting treats along the route to tempt you off course. It is advisable to book in advance.

7. Take a spin on the London Eye

We all know the London Eye provides one of the best views in London, and during winter this is no exception! Make sure to take some time to enjoy the lights on the trees leading up to the big wheel, and see what Christmas lights and decorations you can spot across the city, from your view at the top. Keep an eye out for any special festive activities going on, too - in previous years the London Eye's played a part in plenty of Christmas pop-ups.

           Festive events & specials

8. Watch shivering swimmers compete in The Peter Pan Cup

This members-only race might only be 100 yards long, but it is on Christmas Day and entrants take the plunge at 9 am. Running since 1864, author J M Barrie used to present the cup, hence the name.

9. Christmas at St Paul's

Probably the most popular carols in London. If you visit St Paul's on 23rd December and Christmas Eve, you can catch the service relayed on a big screen at Paternoster Square next to the cathedral.

10. Take a husky sleigh ride

Visit the WWT London Wetland Centre’s Santa Weekend where they have there very own northern pine forest and reindeer. Santa will be there in a specially created outdoor grotto and the kids can also help his elves get the toys ready for the big day, or even take a husky sleigh ride. All proceeds go to preserving the natural beauty of the wetlands.

11. Enjoy an enchanted evening

The Enchanted Woodland, a show illuminating some of the 400 species of trees found in Syon Park's grounds, truly transforms the landscape. If you're looking for a romantic date, this could well be it. You should be able to buy tickets on the door, but to guarantee entry, book in advance on their website.

12. Christmas at St Martin-in-the-Fields Church

This central London church, just off Trafalgar Square, is rightly famous for its comprehensive Christmas musical programme. Particularly popular are their annual celebration The Spirit of Christmas and their Carols by Candlelight services.

13. The Great Christmas Pudding Race

Covent Garden is the location for the well-established charity run Great Christmas Pudding Race, which sees entrants don fancy dress and raise money for Cancer Research.

14. Santa's stories at Fortnum and Mason

Fortnum and Mason might be famous for their iconic Christmas hamper; but Father Christmas's festive tales are also proving a hit. Santa will take time out of his hectic schedule to visit the fifth floor of the Piccadilly store, each weekend in the run up to Christmas, and regale children with his stories. Makes a change from a grotto.

15. New Year's Eve fireworks

Bookings are already being taken for the main fireworks display of the year in London. After the bombshell announcement that they would no longer be free, it's now been revealed that the tickets will cost £10 per person and you can book up to four per person.

16. Have a "Merrie" Christmas

Hampton Court Palace is a beautiful destination to visit all year round, and Christmas is no exception. The Palace often hosts special festive events, such as an Elizabethan Christmas. In the past there's been fire eating fools and traditional dancing, and you can also see the magnificent fireplace in action as the cooks toil to create a feast fit for a Queen. Plus don't miss ice-skating and carol singing, with the palace as a wonderful backdrop.

17. Check out what's on at Tobacco Dock 

Each year this east London venue plays host to a variety of festive events. From a festive Taste of London festival, to Craft Beer to Christmas igloos, find out what's on and go check it out.

           Shopping & christmas lights

18. Browse crafts and gifts at Greenwich Market

Royal Greenwich has beautiful buildings, romantic riverside pubs and a fantastic market selling unique arts and crafts. Visit the Greenwich market at the weekend in December and you can even find Father Christmas putting in a shift.

19. Do your Christmas shopping under festive lights

Christmas shopping always feels a little bit more authentic in the dark and under lovely lights. Here's our guide to the best Christmas shopping areas in London.

20. Christmas in Covent Garden

Covent Garden is possibly the ultimate spot to visit in London during the festive season, with a 22-foot silver reindeer and giant Christmas tree illuminated by 30,000 lights taking pride of place in the famous square. The market is good for crafts and gifts, plus you've got all the top stores in the vicinity. 

21. Regent Street's Christmas Lights

The Christmas lights in the iconic John Nash curve are themed every year, celebrating the glitz and glamour of Christmas. Known as the "Mile of Style", Regent Street is the place to go for those expensive lifestyle gifts.

22. Liberty

The luxury shop Liberty is famous for the sheer number of Christmas decorations and incredible in-store displays. It might be at the expensive end of the market, but browsing doesn't get much better than this.

23. The London Sales

Some shops go to town on Boxing Day, other stores wait until New Year's Day to throw open their doors. If battling for a bargain isn't your thing, it might be best to check the dates for January sales before you hit the shops.

24. See the City of London's Christmas Markets

It doesn't matter what the weather's like at the Barbican and Leadenhall Christmas Markets; they're undercover, so you can browse for bargains without getting wet. Vintage and designer clothing and other quality gifts can be bought at the Barbican, and festive food at Leadenhall.

25. Look up at Trafalgar Square's Christmas tree

This tree-rific tourist attraction has been wowing the crowds since 1947, when the first fir came over from Oslo as a gift from Norway. It's so tall (20 metres high) that a hydraulic crane is used to decorate it.

           Ice skating

26. Go ice skating at Somerset House

London's festive season only really gets going when Somerset House's iconic ice rink opens for another year. Put on in partnership with Fortnum and Mason, the rink offers skating in beautiful surroundings, and weekend clubnights, with big names taking to the decks as you try and stay upright.  

27. Natural History Museum's ice skating rink

The ice rink with the wonderful Victorian museum backdrop is open from the end of October to the start of January. There are more than 80,000 twinkling fairy lights illuminating the rink, the Christmas tree stands at a whopping 40 ft and you have 1,000 square meters of rink to impress (or fall over) on.

28. Canary Wharf at Christmas

If you fancy a more futuristic skating experience, head East and enjoy the rink at Canary Wharf in the middle of all the skyscrapers. They also have a Christmas Market alongside the rink to browse for handmade gifts.

Food & drink

Museums, arts & theatre

Winter walks

            Food & drink

29. Enjoy a rooftop drink in an igloo

Rooftop bars are a great spot to take in London's dramatic winterscape. Head to Mercer Roof Terrace and stay cosy in one of the bar's rooftop igloos, where you can enjoy food and drink whilst staying cosy too.

30. Christmas Eve Meat Auction

If you're brave enough to leave buying the meat for your Christmas dinner until the last minute, then grab your cash, head to Smithfield Market and bid for a turkey under the supervision of Harts the Butchers.

31. Head to the Queen of Hoxton for a themed winter rooftop

The Queen of Hoxton's rooftop is given a new festive look every year. Previous themes included a Moroccan pop-up inspired by the famous Jardin Majorelle, aka the Yves Saint Laurent garden, and a Wizard of Oz inspired Emerald City. Head down to discover what weird and wonderful theme has been adopted this year.

32. Festive food at Borough Market

As London's number one food market Borough Market really comes into its own at Christmas, where generally you can try before you buy. Get gifts like homemade chutneys and jams from Rubies in the Rubble, or upgrade your pate and starters at Bianca e Mora. And you have to try the gingerbread at the Cinnamon Tree Bakery, before finishing with a mulled wine at Bedales of Borough.

33. Experience the Miracle on Kingdom Street

Visit rooftop favourite Pergola Paddington during the winter to witness its seasonal transformation. Aesthetically pleasing as ever, during winter the bar transforms into a magical winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights and snow-dusted pine trees. Make sure you try out their festive food and drink menu too.

34. Pair ports and choose the Christmas cheese

If you haven't decided on your menus for entertaining this winter, than head down to Laithwaites flagship The Arch store (formerly known as Vinopolis) for tastings and all the trimmings for a bit of inspiration.

35. Go on a tour of haunted pubs

Lots of walking tours will take you around London, but winter's a good time for one that involves three haunted pub stops along the way. If you want some further guidance on the best walks around the city, look at our list of the best walking tours in London. Wrap up, and walk on.

36. Curl up in a cosy pub

Nothing beats a pub with an open fire on a cold, winter night. We can recommend a couple of pubs steeped in history: The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell and the Spaniards Inn in Hampstead should get you started. 

Here are some more cosy pubs >

           Museum, arts & theatre

37. See public art transformed

The Royal Parks have a host of public art in their grounds that make good backdrops for some arty shots (particularly good if you've got a new camera at Christmas). Capture some moody black and white shots of Henry Moore's The Arch or get instagramming at The Joy of Life fountain in Hyde Park.

38. Head on a festive theatre trip

Whether you decide to visit the Royal Festival Hall or West End, there's plenty of shows on for a festive family day out.

Discover now >

39. Panto season

If you're asking whether it's worth seeing a traditional pantomime this winter, we all know the answer ("oh yes it is"). Take a look and find out which pantos are touring in London this year.

40. See the latest winter art exhibitions

Like museums, art galleries thrive in the colder months. Check out galleries such as the National Gallery, the Tate Modern and the Victoria & Albert Museum to see what festive exhibitions are on offer this winter.

41. Drop into the Geffrye Museum

The free Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch is a great place to discover how Christmas was celebrated in the past. Go and take a peek into authentically decorated living rooms, stretching back 400 years.

42. Be inspired by retro gifts at the V&A Museum of Childhood

The V&A Museum of Childhood is a great place to visit at Christmas to remember the gifts you were given back when you were a child (and also make you wish you'd kept some of the original boxes). They also have themed decorations each year.

43. Visit Dennis Severs' House

Christmas is all about dreams and stories, and nothing showcases the spirit of imagination better than a trip to this part home / part time capsule. Book online in advance.

           Taking a walk & things easy

44. Walk around London's parks

Wrap up warm and visit one of London's parks this winter. You might not be able to picnic, but you'll definitely be able to pick up a hot chocolate on the walk round.

43. Celebrate Christmas on the canals

Take a Christmas canal ride from Kings Cross. Hidden Depths Canal Cruises are decking their boats out in full festive finery for the season. Get your mates together and cruise along the waterways, singing carols and enjoying some festive cheer. See website for details and dates.

44. Beat the winter blues at a Spa

Get a relaxing massage to take away the aches and pains, or prep for the Christmas party with a manicure and ensure you're looking your best for the big night. The same applies for the inevitable January detox.

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