Ten Christmassy things to do in London

Christmas lights on Regent Street, London 2012, (photo by Alexander Knights)
Christmas lights on Regent Street, London 2012

It's only a couple of weeks until Christmas day, and the shopping streets of London's West End are packed. Last weekend saw a surge of visitors from Spain, Portugal and Italy, as visitors from these Catholic countries made the most of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception holiday to stock up on presents in the UK's capital. For many, it's an annual rite to descend upon Oxford Street in December in search of gifts, but when you weary of fending off the crowds and want to feel truly Christmassy, what does London have to offer to get you in the festive mood? Here's our selection of things to do in London at Christmas:


1.Twilight visit to Dennis Severs House

London is full of house museums – the Dickens (just reopened after a major restoration), the Handel, the Sir John Soane – which do a marvellous job of recreating a moment in time. But perhaps none is as atmospheric as the Dennis Severs House, which was inhabited by Hugunot silk weavers from 1724 to 1919. There are still a few "Silent Night" evening visits available, but a visit at any time this winter (check the website as the visiting times are eccentric) is a magical experience.


2. Christmas Carols at St Pauls

Be prepared to queue, but lusty singing of well-loved carols under Christopher Wren's magnificent dome is an unmissable way to remind yourself of the Christmas story. Check times here...


3. The Christmas Tree in Trafalgar Square

St Martins-in-the-Fields is another more centrally located option for carols, and while you're at Trafalgar Square, take a look at the Christmas Tree which been a gift from the city of Oslo since 1947...


4. The window displays at Selfridges

If you do find yourself battling for bargains on Oxford Street, be sure to take a moment to admire the window displays of Selfridges, which are usually very creative, as you can see in this time-lapse video.


5. SouthBank Centre Christmas Market

A bracing evening stroll amid the lights of the South Bank is always filled with atmosphere at this time of year, but during December you can warm yourself with Glühwein and other German-style treats at the SouthBank Centre Christmas Market, which follows in the tradition of frost fairs that were held on the Thames itself when the river used to freeze over regularly (the last time was in 1814!).


6. Ice-skating at Somerset House

Don your blades at this fine 18th-century building on the Strand for skating in the courtyard. Somerset House is one of the most popular venues for this winter pasttime; other places include by the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. Book ice-skating at Someset House here... And look out for more on ice-skating in London in the blog tomorrow.


7. Marylebone High Street

Only a short walk, but a world away, from Oxford Street is this upmarket shopping street, which has a perfect mix of fashion and homeware shops (from the Conran Shop to Skandium), plus the elegant Daunt Books, as well as some great cafés for a restorative hot chocolate...


8. Film screenings in the Old Vic Tunnels

Under Waterloo Station are a maze of tunnels, including five that have been converted in a venue space run by the Old Vic Theatre, where you can currently invoke the spirit of Christmas with screenings of Frank Capra's classic film "It's a Wondeful Life".


9. Advent calendar at Kensington Palace

You can count down to Christmas at Kensington Palace (the London palace before it was usurped by Buckingham Palace), where special Advent baubles are being opened at 2pm every day.


10. What do you recommend?

There's also reindeer petting in Covent Garden on Saturdays, a winter ale in a classic London pub (the George on Borough High Street, the Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street and so on), but what do you do to feel Christmassy in London or in other cities around the world? We'd love to know. Leave a comment below or tweet us  @InsightGuides


Find out more in Select Guide London

Insight Select Guide London

For lots more alternative and off-beat things to do in London, take a look at our Select Guide London. Linen-bound and beautifully designed it makes a perfect stocking filler.

Or you can see our year-round top attractions in London  here...

This December we're taking a themed approach to our destination of the month and looking at the world's best winter wonderlands. For more updates keep following the Insight blog, or check us out on Twitter @InsightGuides or on our Insight Facebook page, or why not look at some lovely travel photography on Pinterest