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13 quintessential London Christmas activities

From bagging a bargain turkey at Smithfield Market to skating on a rooftop, how many of these festive London activities have you done?

By Isabelle Aron and Claire Wong

Christmas in London is a unique experience. For a month every year, the city turns into the twinkling set of a romcom. But it's more than that. There are loads of extra-special things to do in the capital at this time of year. From quirky (a dog grotto!) to traditional (skating at Somerset House!) – here the quintessential London festive activities.

Best buildings in London: Smithfield Market
© Cedric Weber

1. Pick up a meaty bargain

Shopping Markets and fairs Smithfield

Vegetarians and super-organised people, look away now. Forget pre-ordering your turkey a month in advance; instead, head down to Hart’s of Smithfield’s Christmas Eve meat auction, a London tradition going back 500 years. Around 1,500 Londoners gather for the carnivore-fest every year in the hopes of bagging a bargain joint – from cut-price turkeys to entire suckling pigs. Don’t miss the coin toss, where you can nab a freebie if you guess heads or tails correctly. Bring cash and expect lots of shouting and slabs of meat flying over your head. It’s like shopping in the supermarket reduced aisle, except good. 

2. Have a cool night out in a hot igloo

Restaurants Contemporary European Tower Hill

Two years ago, Thamesside restaurant Coppa Club came up with a nifty way to bring a bit of the North Pole to London with the arrival of pop-up igloos. Okay, there’s no actual ice involved, so they’re more of a PVC dome, but either way, Londoners went mad for them. They started popping up all over town and now they’re as much a part of the city at Christmas as last-minute shopping on Oxford Street. As well as returning to Coppa Club, the party pods are coming to Skylight, Winterland, Jimmy’s Lodge and Savage Garden this year. What could be more festive than sweating away in a plastic tent, eh?

Crisis xmas shoot 2018
Sam Roberts

3. Spread good cheer and volunteer

Being homeless in London is tough at any time of year, but it’s particularly difficult at Christmas. Do your bit for those less fortunate than you by volunteering with Crisis at Christmas. The charity now works all over the UK but it all started in London with an ‘open Christmas’ in 1971 which was run by 20 volunteers in a derelict church. Whether you want to roll your sleeves up in the kitchen, you’re a healthcare professional who can provide check-ups or you fancy running a workshop, there are loads of ways to help. The charity particularly needs night shift volunteers. Sign up to make someone else’s Christmas special.

4. Go to a festive grotto for dogs

Bars and pubs Gastropubs Hampstead

Most Christmas grottos involve a man in a questionable white beard masquerading as Mr Claus, but not at All Dogs Matter’s Santa Paws Christmas Fair. If your furry pal has been a good boy or girl this year, pop in to The Garden Gate pub for the ultimate festive photo op and meet Santa Paws – a dog dressed up as Santa. Once you’re done cooing over the cute pups, get your Christmas shopping done at stalls selling speciality toys, treats and gifts for dogs (and humans). You’d have to be barking mad to miss it.

Chris Dorney/Shutterstock

5. Get merry at London’s most festive pub

3 out of 5 stars
Bars and pubs Pubs Kensington

Thought you’d gone a bit OTT with your Christmas decorations this year? Your jazzy tinsel collection is nothing compared to The Churchill Arms’ festive display, where they deck the halls (okay, the pub’s exterior) with around 90 Christmas trees and thousands of twinkling fairy lights. Every year they have an official switch-on party so you can sip a glass of mulled wine and
watch the pub light up. Just be glad you’re not paying the electricity bill.

6. Gawp at amazing shop windows

Shopping Home decor Soho

Get ready to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at Liberty’s annual Christmas window display. This year’s theme features a herd of intricately carved animals adorning the iconic store. You’ll find the little critters inside too – look out for them in the main atrium where they’ll be hanging out in a floating hot air balloon covered in twinkling lights. Done with window shopping? Treat yourself to a porcelain Liberty bauble (the store creates a new, limited-edition decoration every year) to hang from your festive fir.

After more festive fun?

Christmas in London

Feeling festive? With our guide to Christmas events, activities, winter markets and cosy pop-ups in London, you’ll have a holiday so jolly that it’ll make Santa jealous


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