Free Christmassy things to do in London, guaranteed to put you in the festive mood
By Kelly Henderson (follow Kelly on Twitter @kellythekiwi)
There are so many Christmassy events popping up all over London that it can be hard to keep track of what is happening when and deciding whether you have the budget for it. Christmas parties and dinners make me feel like my wallet is never closed… and don’t get me started on the Christmas presents! To make things a bit easier this year I have compiled a list of 20 Free Christmassy events and things to do so you can feel festive without worrying about not having money to celebrate the New Year.
#1 Marvel at the Covent Garden Christmas decorations
Covent Garden is one of my favourite places to be at this time of year and I can’t wait to get down there and see what form the decorations will take. This year’s take on a mistletoe theme so as well as the 22 foot silver reindeer and pea lights, there is 50 mistletoe arrangements hanging above the cobbled streets. Who will you be kissing?
When: Until 6 January
Where: Covent Garden Piazza
#2 Feel sparkly on a tour of the Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Streets
The Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Streets are some of the most impressive that I’ve seen. Kylie Minogue was in charge of turning on the 750,000 LED lightbulbs used on Oxford Street this year and the display is very impressive! Around the corner on Regent Street, ACT Lighting Design (the designers of the Christmas lights in Paris) have created this year’s spectacle. This year’s theme is ‘Timeless Elegance’ and the decorations include cogs, shimmering sequins and coils.
When: Until 6 January
Where: Oxford Street and Regent Street
#3 Visit the Carnaby Street Christmas lights and prepare to feel all glittery
The lights of Carnaby Street are always a little bit different than what you would normally expect. This years theme is ‘party’ so keep an eye out for the pink glitter balls suspended above your head.
When: Until 8 January
Where: Carnaby Street
#4 Hear the choir sing Christmas carols at St Paul’s Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral is a beautiful place to attend a carol service and you get a few opportunities to go this year. My pick would be A Celebration of Christmas where celebrity readers join in the celebrations and carols will be sung by the Cathedral Choir and the City of London Sinfonia. Doors open one hour before the event starts but my advice is to get there early because it’s going to be a popular event!
When: 17 December; 6:30pm
Where: St Paul’s Cathedral, EC4M 8AD
#5 Get into the Christmas spirit by attending a carol service at Trafalgar Square
Over 50 choirs from all over London and the Home Counties perform your favourite Christmas carols in front of the massive Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. The choirs perform in one hour slots all through December and are raising money for different charities. This is the perfect event to get you looking forward to Christmas!
When: From 7 December to 23 December; 4-8pm weekdays and 2-6pm weekends
Where: Trafalgar Square
#6 Cheer on the teams taking part in the Great Christmas Pudding Race
Every year teams of 6 take part in the Great Christmas Pudding Race in Covent Garden. Participants in fancy dress must complete an obstacle course filled of balloons, inflatables and foam jets… all while balancing a Christmas pudding! The race is now in its 35th year and it raises money for Cancer Research UK.
When: 5 December; from 11am
Where: Covent Garden Piazza
#7 Wrap up warm as you watch the daring Serpentine swimming club battle for The Peter Pan Cup
Every year these brave swimmers face the 4C degrees water temperatures to take part in this traditional 100 yard race on the south bank of the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. The race has been held since 1864, with The Peter Pan cup being donated by J.M. Barrie in 1904.
When: 25 December; 9am start
Where: Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park
#8 Travel back in time and see how Christmas has been celebrated over the past 400 years at the Geffrye Museum
Each room in the Christmas Past exhibition has been transformed with authentic Christmas decorations to give visitors a glimpse of how Christmas has been celebrated in English homes throughout history. Learn all about how different Christmas traditions like feasting, kissing under the Mistletoe and hanging stockings came to be. There are lots of other events on as well including the Crafty Fox Night Market and the Geffrye Museum’s Farewell to Christmas.
When: Until 3 January; Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm
Where: The Geffrye Museum, 163 Kingsland Road, E2 8EA
#9 ‘Oh Christmas tree, Oh Christmas tree’… See the lighting of London’s favourite Christmas tree
Since 1947 the people of Norway have given the people of London a Christmas tree to give thanks for Britain’s support during World War II. The tree is a huge Norwegian Spruce measuring over 20m in height and is felled in a special ceremony in November each year before being shipped to London. The tree will be lit in Trafalgar Square by the Mayor of Westminster, Norwegian Ambassador and governing Mayor of Oslo to the sounds of the choirs from the Salvation Army and St Martin-in-the-Fields. For many Londoners, the lighting of the Christmas tree is the beginning of the festive season and an event not to be missed.
When: 3 December; from 6pm
Where: Trafalgar Square
#10 Get crafty at the Imperial War Museum and help create a Christmas Wreath
Hear the stories of how Christmas was celebrated on the Home Front and make your own Christmas charm for the wreath using materials inspired by the lucky charms and tokens that were given as Christmas presents during the First World War.
When: 20-23 December; 11am-12:30pm and 2pm-4pm
Where: Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Road, SE1 6HZ
#11 Take a ride on the LEGO Santa Express in Covent Garden
This year’s LEGO offering is a three carriage train made from 500,000 bricks. At the front is the driver’s cabin (complete with Christmas elf driver) followed by a carriage full of presents and the final one is delivering the Christmas tree. The LEGO Santa Express is designed by Duncan Titmarsh who as the UK’s only LEGO Certified Professional, probably has the best job in the country!
When: Until 29 December
Where: North East Piazza, Covent Garden
#12 Get your presents sorted at the Seven Dials Christmas Shopping Party
The annual Seven Dials Christmas Shopping Party is back again with a whole host of discounts, freebies and entertainment on hand to take the hard work out of Christmas shopping. Participating stores will be offering different freebies like refreshments, make up demonstrations and gift wrapping. There’s over 100 stores offering 20% discount on purchases made on the night as well as loads of prizes to be won!
When: 3 December; 5pm-9pm
Where: Seven Dials, WC2H 9HD
#13 Help provide for those in need by joining in the Southbank Centre’s 12 days of Giving
If you look in your cupboards you are bound to find some non-perishable cans of vegetables and soup, or some instant rice. Instead of stockpiling it, why not give it to those in need this Christmas? The 12 days of Giving has been organised by the Waterloo Food Bank and the the Southbank Centre and each day a different item of food has been requested.
When: 1 December-12 December; 11am-7pm
Where: Royal Festival Hall ticket office, SE1 8XX
#14 Keep fit whilst helping out in the local community by joining in the GoodGym run
Christmas is the season of goodwill so help somebody out (and prepare yourself for all the turkey) by taking part in the GoodGym run. Starting from the Southbank centre, runners will do good deeds for a community organisation. Each session will be 90 minutes long and comprise of a 5km run and 45 minute task. For more information and registration details, check out the website.
When: 5, 12, 19 December; 10:30am-12noon
Where: Cloakroom at Royal Festival Hall, SE1 8XX
#15 Meet Santa and celebrate all things festive at Selfridges
If you’ve got kids (or you’re a big kid at heart) then why not meet Santa while he’s on his tour of London. He’ll be making appearances in Selfridges accompanied by his favourite elf. You can pose for a complimentary photo with the man himself, hear carols performed by live choirs and be entertained by jugglers, musicians and balloon artists.
When: Until 24 December; 12pm-6pm
Where: Selfridges, W1A 1AB
#16 Go walking in a Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
Winter Wonderland has been my favourite Christmas event ever since I arrived in London. It is free to enter, soak up the atmosphere and browse the markets but you will need to pay for any extra activities that you decide to do. Highlights include a Magical Ice Kingdom, the Ski Zillertal Ice Rink and 100+ fairground rides.
When: Until 3 January (except Christmas Day); 10am-10pm
Where: Hyde Park, W2
#17 Celebrate Christmas in an alternative style at Winterville
Winterville is a little bit different than the other Christmas events in London but once again entry to the pop-up town is free! You can browse the Bizarre Bazaar, Pop Shop and traditional Christmas market to really get into the festive spirit. You will need to buy tickets for other attractions like Plonk Crazy Golf, the pantomime and the Ice Rink but a visit to Winterville is a must this year.
When: Until 23 December; Mon-Thurs:3pm-10pm, Fri: 3pm-10:30pm, Sat: 11am-10:30pm, Sun: 11am-10pm
Where: Victoria Park, E9
#18 Find the perfect stocking fillers at the Winter Market on the Southbank
The Winter Market on the Southbank is getting bigger and better each year, making it the perfect place to take in the sights and sounds of the festive season. Ramble along the river whilst enjoying a mulled wine or a minced pie; or look for handmade gifts in the wooden chalets.
When: Until 24 December; Sun-Thurs: 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat: 11am-10pm (6pm on Christmas Eve)
Where: Southbank Centre
#19 Watch the Christmas lights being turned on in the Borough Market
The festive season kicks off in the Borough Market with the annual Christingle Service at Southwark Cathedral. The candle-lit carol service is supported by Better Bankside and visitors will be given the chance to donate to the Children’s Society. After the service, Melissa and Jasmine Hemsley (home cooks and food lovers) will join the market traders to switch on the 3000m of sparkling lights. There’ll be live music and complimentary mince pies and mulled wine.
When: 2 December; 5:30pm
Where: Borough Market, SE1 1TL
#20 Wrap your presents at The Great Big Social Present Wrap
If you don’t like hiding away alone for hours wrapping presents then head to The Great Big Social Present Wrap. Classic Christmas film It’s a Wonderful Life will be screened in the background as people of all shapes and sizes come together to wrap there presents. Whilst scissors and sellotape will be provided, you need to bring your own wrapping paper.
When: 19 December; 4pm-7pm
Where: The Clore Ballroom at Royal Festival Hall, SE1 8XX
If you have made your way through this list and you still finding yourself wanting to do more Christmassy things, then have a look at this awesome list of 101 Things to do in London this Christmas. It has been compiled by Visit London and includes everything you can imagine… the best places to go ice skating, which pantomimes will make you double over with laughter and the events that will really get you feeling jolly. They’ve also chosen their Top 10 London attractions for those of you who are visiting London and can take time out of your busy Christmas shopping schedule!