The Christmas lights have been switched on in Oxford Street to add some festive cheer to the dark nights. It’s starting to be Christmastime in London and there is rarely a more enchanting time to visit London as the shops make a special effort with imaginative window displays to entice you in and there are festive events taking place throughout the city.
Christmas lights were first introduced to London in 1954 after newspaper articles complained how drab London looked! Anyone worried about the environmental cost of this Christmas jollity will be reassured to hear that the Crown Estate is committed to balancing out the impact of the Regent Street Christmas lights by planting native woodland on the Crown’s Glenlivet Estate!
Although Oxford Street and Regent’s Street are the most famous, they tend to be rather commercial these days, promoting new films. This year it is Arthur Christmas with the stars of the film helping to switch the lights on. For a more authentic experience, try the side streets of the West End to see the best displays of lights.
Carnaby Street, famous in the 1960s as the epicentre of Swinging London, and now full of boutique shops, usually has fun Christmas lights to match the quirky nature of the district.
Bond Street is lined with designer shops and makes for entertaining window shopping. Nearby, Stella McCartney’s shop in Bruton Street is a riot of colour. The area around Sloane Square in fashionable Chelsea is another good spot to enjoy the twinkling lights.
The covered arcades around Piccadilly are a delight to stroll around and one of them contains one of my favourite chocolate shops!
Alternatively book a Christmas Lights Tour with me and I’ll show you the best places and tell you the history behind the areas and the stories behind the Christmas traditions. But please note, I don’t offer a shopping bag carrying service!
Over the last few years, ice rinks have proved very popular with children and adults alike. Many of them have impressive backdrops – my favorites are the ones outside the Natural History Museum and the one outside Somerset House.
There are plenty of Christmas shows to enjoy including traditional Pantomimes, ghost stories and The Nutcracker Ballet at The Royal Opera House.
A glass of mulled wine and a mince pie is just the thing to warm you up, although did you know it is actually illegal to eat a mince pie on Christmas Day? A law that goes back to the Puritans of Oliver Cromwell has never been repealed, but thankfully hardly anyone knows this!
For a truly memorable and unique Christmas experience, book a visit to the magical Dennis Severs’ House. This early 18th century former silk-weaver’s house is decked out in Christmas decorations and the smells of Christmas foods. You walk around in silence as your senses are awakened. The house motto is “you either see it or you don’t”. Everything is lit by candles and as your eyes and ears adjust, you enter the world of the imaginary families who have lived here over the centuries. You can combine a visit with my tour of the surrounding Spitalfields area. Merry Christmas!
Gavin Webb is an experienced Viator guide and offers tours all throughout London. Learn more about London Expert Gavin.