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What Not to Miss in London at Christmas

London is one of those fabulous cities I long to return to again and again, so I’m thrilled to have Anna from Four Kids One Mom Guide to London sharing the inside scoop on a traditional Christmas in London! This is part of our Holiday Celebrations Around the World series, exploring the holidays in different countries. I love learning about new cultures and traditions every week and can’t wait to find out how they celebrate Christmas in London!

What Not to Miss - London at Christmas

Christmas Traditions in London England

Since the Victorian era, Christmas has become Britain’s most popular annual holiday. We took a closer look at some of the UK’s best-loved Christmas traditions, and where visitors can enjoy them in the capital – London.

History of British Christmas Celebrations

It’s hard to imagine a Christmas celebration without a Christmas tree, and the world can thank Prince Albert, the beloved husband of Queen Victoria, for popularizing the tradition. 

In 1848, a magazine published a drawing of the Queen, Prince Albert, and their children celebrating around a decorated Christmas tree – similar to how German-born Albert would have remembered from his childhood.

The Prince’s homeland tradition quickly caught on with the British people, and soon most families had a tree decorated with candles, treats, fruit and small gifts. As the century wore on, the Christmas holidays became a time for gift-giving, and a special time for children. And as the gifts became bigger and store -bought, the small gifts and trinkets that adorned the Christmas tree in the mid-19th century were replaced by larger packages placed under the tree.

Today, the tradition of the Christmas tree is celebrated in grand style in London’s Trafalgar Square. Since 1947, a tree has been given to the people of London from the people of Norway in gratitude for Britain’s support for Norway during World War II. For visitors, the massive spruce – decorated in beautiful lights – is a sight to behold, and daily carol singing in Trafalgar Square provides a festive soundtrack.

Trafalgar Square in London at Christmas-Kids Are a Trip

Visiting London for Christmas? Don’t miss our favorite London hotels for families.

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Christmas Activities in London

Father Christmas was the traditional figure of the British Christmas holiday.  Father Christmas – a man dressed in green robes – represented the returning spring, and would travel from house to house feasting with families along the way. In Victorian times, Father Christmas’s robes changed from green to red, but today many Britons have replaced the traditional moniker of “Father Christmas” with the North American preference for “Santa Claus.”

If you are spending Christmas in London with kids, you will find that Santa greets visitors in his “grotto”, rather than a workshop. Harrods, London’s famous department store in Knightsbridge, hosts a fantastic Christmas Grotto every year (but cancelled for 2020). Other places to visit Santa in London include Hamley’s and Selfridge’s, as well as Kew Gardens and the London Zoo, but there are literally dozens of places to see Santa.

Harrod's Christmas in London-Kids Are A Trip
What’s not to love about Harrod’s?
Photo credit: Creative Commons

If you are looking for the best Christmas markets in London, don’t miss the ones in Leicester Square, Southbank Centre, Covent Garden, and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (canceled for 2020). These are some of the best European Christmas markets. And don’t miss the ice skating rinks at the Natural History Museum, Tower of London, and Somerset House.

For history buffs, or those who just want to learn more about British Christmas traditions throughout the ages, a small but hardworking museum called The Geffrye:  Museum of the Home, located just outside The City of London, is a must-see at Christmas time. 

The Geffrye Museum Christmas in London-Kids Are A Trip
The Geffrye Museum
Photo credit: Creative Commons

The museum recreates 400 years of seasonal traditions in English homes, and visitors can walk through the evolution of Christmas from the medieval ages to present day.  Authentic festive decorations transform the period rooms, bringing to life many rich and vibrant traditions of Christmas past, from feasting, dancing and kissing under the mistletoe to playing parlour games, hanging up stockings, sending cards and decorating the tree.

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Read this article if you need ideas of things to do in London with kids.

British Christmas dinner

And what’s a British Christmas celebration without an indulgent family dinner? The Christmas feast enjoyed in homes across the UK has roots in the middle ages, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that turkey became a popular centrepiece for the meal, being the perfect size for a British middle class family. 

Roast potatoes, gravy, vegetables such as Brussel sprouts, and dressing (stuffing) are must-have accompaniments on any traditional Christmas dinner table, with a plum pudding (a heavy cake with fruit, nuts, and a little brandy), to finish off the meal.

Christmas Afternoon Tea in London

Rather than sit down in a restaurant for a heavy roast dinner, try a Christmas-themed afternoon tea in London, complete with festive cakes, cookies, seasonal sandwiches, and, of course, scones with clotted cream and jam, served with a selection of teas or champagne. 

Most of London’s high end hotels and shops offer Christmas teas, including The Ritz London, The Langham, The Waldorf Hilton, Marriott County Hall, The Landmark London, Scoff & Banter (multiple locations and well-priced for visitors on a budget), The Savoy, and Claridges.

Afternoon tea London Christmas-Kids Are A Trip
What’s not to love about afternoon tea?

London looks like a magical place to visit at Christmas. Have you been? Would you like to go?

About the author: Anna Huk blogs about travel tips, special events and family-friendly attractions in London, England at Four Kids One Mom Travel. A freelance writer and mother of four, Anna’s work has been published in the Ottawa Citizen and Today’s Parent magazine.  

If you missed our other Holiday Celebrations Around the World posts, you can click on them to find out more about Diwali, Day of the Dead, and Christmas in Japan.

London at Christmas with kids-Kids Are A Trip

35 Comments

  1. I’m sure Christmas in London is magical! I spent Christmas in Prague several years ago and it was one of the most amazing weeks of my life.

  2. Esther, Prague is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I bet it is amazing at Christmas!

  3. I have family in London and I love their holiday celebrations. I used to love to get their candy poppers around the holidays.

  4. we love London and have traveled there often – but never during the holiday s- what an amazing time it would be though

  5. The last time I was in london was in College so I never saw a holiday as we arrived in Jan. Looks beautiful

  6. So beautiful. I would love to head to London for the holidays, I bet it would just be magical!

  7. I’ve never been to London, but if I go, I would love to go during Christmas. Your photos are amazing.

  8. Beautiful! I want to travel to London one day! I have been to amsterdam. London is on the list for sure! I can imagine it is perfect at Christmas! LifeAsLex

  9. London in Christmas looks stunning. I would absolutely love to be there for the holidays.

  10. Wait a minute! Not one mention of apple sauce, mint sauce or yorkshire puddings??? Pigs in blankets? Christmas crackers?
    Also worth noting that in England usually you feast at lunchtime, then have a buffet style dinner.

  11. Beautiful pictures – since London is not in my travel plans this year I’ll have to bookmark this post and live vicariously through you 🙂

  12. I always enjoy reading posts like this I live near London and always had fun decorating the Xmas tree and waiting in anticipation for presents under the tree

  13. Thanks Trish!

  14. Thanks Ana! Do you do Boxing Day as well?

  15. Ha! I’m already living vicariously through Anna, so we can both be jealous together!

  16. I’m with you Di! I want to hear about the food too. Really, pigs in blankets? We have that for dinner once a month in the US!

  17. I’m with you Jenn. It looks gorgeous!

  18. London is one of the many places I would like to visit. Christmas in London looks gorgeous can’t wait to go there.

  19. CourtneyLynne says:

    Omg Christmas in London would be pretty amazing!!!!!! Maybe sometime it will happen for me. Fingers crossed!

  20. I hope you get there soon!

  21. What a beautiful place to be! I would love to see how other places celebrate.

  22. Thanks Ashleigh!

  23. I have yet to make it to London, but would love to spend a Christmas there!

  24. Me too!

  25. This is just fabulous, what a great post! I loved seeing updates from great places like London, what a great experience for you. Well done!

  26. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

Comments are closed.