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London events in December

Your guide to the best activities, events and fun stuff happening in London throughout December 2019

By Time Out London Things To Do and Angela Hui |
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Photograph: Andrea Pucci

Can you hear those sleigh bells jingling? Of course, you can. It’s December in London and that means winter has truly arrived and Christmas in London has begun. See the city skies sparkling with glimmering Christmas lights, fill your ears with Christmas songs, swap your lunchtime sushi for an indulgent Christmas sandwich, pig out on even more luxurious menus at London's best restaurants and watch the pubs in London get even buzzier than normal and head one of the festive parties popping up all around town. 

If Christmas is just one big old bore for you, don't worry! There's huge helpings of cosy winter pop-ups and brilliant events without the tinsel trappings to enjoy in London. Plus, there's the epic New Year celebrations to start planning. Read our guide for the lowdown on the events, parties, cultural happenings and things to do taking place in London in December 2019.

RECOMMENDED: The definitive London events calendar

Our December 2019 highlights

Photograph: Fanatic Creative
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park

It’s the big one. The official sign of Christmas season, the one and only Winter Wonderland. The annual favourite is back for its thirteenth year in 2019. Entry to Winter Wonderland is free, and you can head along for cheerily-lit fairground rides, a child-friendly Santa Land (including Santa's grotto) and quaint Christmas markets. 

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<p>Christmas at Kew</p>
Photograph: Christmas at Kew
Things to do, Walks and tours

Christmas at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens, Kew

Kew's incredible botanical gardens will be undergoing another magnificent seasonal makeover in 2019, as Christmas at Kew lights up the space’s iconic buildings and the weird and wonderful plants that call it home. This year, the mile-long, twinkling trail holds some new surprises. 

Enchanted
Photograph: Chrisopter Ison
Things to do, Walks and tours

Enchanted Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace, Eltham

South London«‘s fancy art deco mansion will be bathed in illuminations for Christmas. Walk down a mirrorball alley, get lost in a maze of light and see fountains in the ancient moat lit up in colourful hues.

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Photograph: The Winter Forest
Things to do, Event spaces

The Winter Forest

Broadgate Circle, Broadgate

Get ready to catch some festive feelings because The Winter Forest is coming back to Broadgate Circle – this time it’s bigger and better than before. For six weeks from November 6 - December 20, you’ll get the chance to chill out in wood cabins, twinkling lights and a thicket of 200 snow-covered trees. 

Photograph courtesy of Netflix
News, Film

‘Stranger Things’ Secret Cinema

Move over Hackney: you’re about to get some stiff competition on the whole ‘downs’ front. Yes, the Upside Down is coming to London, courtesy of those cinematic world-builders at Secret Cinema. They’ve just announced their next production, taking place this November: Netflix’s beloved ‘Stranger Things’, which kicks off on November 13 until the end of the year.

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Photograph courtesy of Southbank Centre
Things to do, Festivals

Southbank Centre Winter Festival

Southbank Centre, South Bank

The Southbank Centre Winter Festival returns is back for 2019 with another sparkling programme of festive shows and performances, family fun and music. The riverside venue will celebrate the coldest season with a fistful of fun pop-ups and activities. 

Miracle covent garden
Photograph: Addie Chinn
Things to do, Food and drink events

Miracle

The Henrietta Hotel, Covent Garden

Go back in time at Miracle, the hugely popular American pop-up bar, which has set up shop at Covent Garden’s Henrietta Hotel this year. The vibe is Christmas kitsch: think ’70s decorations, retro accessories and a menu of creative takes on old-school cocktails. 

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Shesus & The Sistas - Hackney Showroom
Giles Smith
Things to do, Quirky events

Shesus and the Sisters: The Gift of Presents

Bethnal Green Working Men's Club, Bethnal Green

Get your festive season off to a gender binary-smashing start at this telling of the birth of the ‘Missiah’, in which Jesus is a drag king, the nuns are twins and they‘re all here to heal the patriarchal world.

Photograph: Secret London Runs
Things to do

Yule Jog: Christmas Lights Running Tour

Various London locations, London

Pound sparkling pavements on these 5k or 10k runs past the city’s best festive lights. Each runner gets a Santa hat and Christmas classics will be blasting all the way. 

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Nightlife

Buttmitzvah: Chrismukkah Special

Oval Space, Bethnal Green

London’s queer Jewish club night gets festive with an epic party that's billed as ‘Father Christmas meets Daddy Hanukkah’. They’re promising a mass chair dance-off, matchmaking drag kings and a performance ‘All I Want For Christmas Is Jews’.

Things to do

Christmas lights in London

Dazzle your eyes be taking a peek at London's twinkling Christmas lights. The illuminations give London an instant festive makeover. Plan a wintery outing with our guide to all the main lights in London. 

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Regent Street Christmas lights
Photograph: Jeff Moore
Things to do, Festivals

Regent Street Christmas Lights

Regent St, Regent Street

The grand shopping sweep gets its usual festive makeover with garlands of lights down the length of the road. See those glorious golden angels make their comeback soaring high above Regent Street. The big switch-on is on Thursday November 14 and, if previous years are anything to go by, it will involve loads of festive events and activities. 

Things to do, Walks and tours

Christmas at Kew Gardens

Kew Gardens, Kew

Christmas at Kew sees the whole place get seriously lit. Feast your eyes on more than a million sparkling pea-lights, thousands of laser5 beams in the iconic Temperate House and a brand-new waterfall of lights falling from tree canopies flooded with festive colour. 

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covent garden lights
Photograph: Jeff Moore
Things to do

Covent Garden Christmas

Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden

Covent Garden’s cobbled piazza and market buildings are even more irresistible at this time of year. Get ready for another huge hand-picked Christmas tree glowing with 30,000 festive lights, 115,000 lights sparkling across the Piazza and its adjoining streets and the usual big reindeer sculpture. Mark Tuesday November 12 in your calendar for the big switch-on which will be hosted by special VIP guests.

Things to do, Exhibitions

‘Wave’ at Eccleston Yards

Eccleston Yards, Victoria

Eccleston Yards is putting its own spin in Christmas lights with an installation of 500 individual orbs suspended in the space for you to get lost in. Designed by artist collective Squidsoup, you might recognise the installation from Four Tet’s recent live shows at Ally Pally.

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'Dick Whittington and his Cat' at Hackney Empire 2019
Photograph: 'Dick Whittington and his Cat' at Hackney Empire 2019
Theatre, Panto

Dick Whittington and his Cat

Hackney Empire, Hackney

Hackney Empire's panto is the typically the cream of the crop, with its gorgeous traditional sets, best-in-the-biz dame Clive Rowe, and East London spin on time-honoured gags. For 2019, it's 'Dick Whittington and His Cat', a rag-to-riches story with a magical moggy at its heart. 

Skate at Somerset House, ice rink
© Life After Print Ltd.
Things to do, Ice skating

Ice skating in London

Whether your ice skating skills are jaw-droppingly magnificent or utterly non-existent, you'll still find London's ice rinks as enchanting as ever. 

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Natural History Museum Ice Rink 2016
Photograph: Jenna Foxton
Things to do, Ice skating

Natural History Museum Ice Rink

Natural History Museum, South Kensington

Skate it all about on arguably London’s most enchanting ice rink, thanks to the beautiful backdrop of Alfred Waterhouse’s buildings.

Photograph: Andy Screnson
Things to do, Ice skating

Tower of London Ice Rink

Tower of London, Tower Hill

Whizz around one of London’s most famous landmarks in the dry moat of the Tower of London. The ice rink offers a grand historical setting for seasonal skating sessions, along with views of London's ancient fortress and the river Thames. 

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Skate at Somerset House, ice rink
Photograph: Life After Print Ltd.
Things to do, Ice skating

Skate at Somerset House

Somerset House, Aldwych

Now in its twentieth year, the arrival of the ice rink in Somerset House's grand eighteenth-century courtyard is something of a festive institution. The 900-square-metre outdoor rink returns to the spot from November 13 to January 12, and is a great way to spend the day no matter how impressive your skating skills are. 

Shopping, Markets and fairs

Christmas markets and fairs in London

Swap stressful Christmas shopping in busy department stores for something a little more laid back. We've got you covered with our guide to London’s loveliest Christmas markets and festive fairs. 

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Photograph: Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays
Things to do, Late openings

Columbia Road Christmas Wednesdays

Columbia Rd, Bethnal Green

The road famous for its flower market is swapping blooms for fir trees as its independent shops stay open until 9pm from these annual late-night Christmas evenings. Every Wednesday night in the lead up to Christmas you can beat the usual Sunday crowds, pick up unique stocking-fillers and grab a Christmas tree and fragrant festive greenery while you're at it. In true Dickensian style, there’ll also be carols singers accompanied by a piano that gets wheeled down the street by the local vicar, dancing Pearly Kings and steaming mugs of mulled wine on offer. 

Maltby Street Market
Photograph: Pete Navey
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Maltby Street Christmas Night Market

Maltby Street Market, Bermondsey

Guzzle Christmas dishes from around the globe as the iconic food market’s finest traders set up their stalls after dark beneath Bermondsey’s fairy-light-festooned Victorian railway arches. There'll be carolling, hot mulled wine, mince pies, live wreath demonstration and responsibly source Christmas trees to buy. Get ready to feel like you've wandered into Dickens' ‘A Christmas Carol’.         

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Photograph: Museum of Architecture Gingerbread City
Things to do, Exhibitions

Museum of Architecture Gingerbread City

Somerset House, Aldwych

Marvel at the beauty of Museum of Architecture Gingerbread City, a model metropolis made of spiced dough that’s popping up at Somerset House for the first time. This year‘s theme is ‘transport’. All aboard!

Things to do, Quirky events

London Pantomime Horse Race

Various London locations, London

London has some odd festive traditions but Greenwich’s Pantomime Horse race could be oddest. Watch thousands of people dress up in two-man horse costumes in a bid to raise money for charity. 

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'Sh!t Actually' at Camden People's Theatre
Photograph: Lizzie Coombes
Theatre, Comedy

‘Sh!t Actually’

Camden People's Theatre, Euston

Maverick theatre duo Sh!t Theatre’s new show explores why we love (or love to hate) Richard Curtis’s festive movie. Expect plenty of belly-busting laughs.

Choose Love
Photograph: Help Refugees
Things to do, pop-ups

‘Choose Love’

47-49 Neal Street, Seven Dials

The world‘s only shopping selling gifts for refugees. Go beat Black Friday by buying a meaningful present for someone in need. 

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Theatre, Interactive

‘Cinderella’

The Vaults, Waterloo

See a woke panto (that’s also sweet and funny). This quality panto is a cut above the average ‘he’s behind you’ lol fest, it’s a heart-warmingly sweet piece of theatre. 

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Paul Gauguin 'Self-Portrait Dedicated to Carrière' (1888 or 1889). Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (1985.64.20) Image courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Art

‘Gauguin Portraits’

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
4 out of 5 stars

Intimate paintings by an art historical giant. Gauguin was basically a bastard, but his work is so good it makes your skin crawl, but boy could he paint. 

Unknown photographer ‘Slide on the Razor’, performance as part of the Haller Revue ‘Under and Over’, Berlin, (1923) Courtesy Feral House
Art

Into the Night: ‘Cabarets and Clubs in Modern Art’

Barbican Centre, Barbican

This show looks at the classic combination of art and drinking by showcasing the cabarets and clubs frequented by artists in Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Ibadan and more.

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Photograph: Hart's of Smithfield Christmas Auction
Things to do, Food and drink events

Hart's of Smithfield Christmas Auction

Smithfield Market, Farringdon and Smithfield

See one of London’s most boisterous festive traditions. Hart’s of Smithfield runs an auction just before Christmas each year, flogging great hunks of every kind of flesh at bargain prices.

2007.12.25 Christmas Day 09.JPG
Photograph: Serpentine Swimming Club
Things to do, Quirky events

Peter Pan Cup

Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park

Strictly a spectator event - unless you happen to be a regular, not to mention hardy, member of the Serpentine Swimming Club - the Peter Pan Cup race takes place each year on Christmas morning. The organisers point out that unless you're accustomed to swimming in extremely cold water (temperatures of below 40F are the norm), an impromptu dip could be the last swim you ever take – so you can't join the club on the day and take part. 

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Things to do

Christmas in London

London at Christmas time is pretty darn magical. Discover ideas for fun family outings throughout the Christmas period, plus fun things to do on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day in the capital. 

© Thomas Alexander
Restaurants

London restaurants open on Christmas Day

Looking for a traditional Christmas meal without all the faff? Or perhaps turkey isn’t your thing, but you’d still like to dine out on 25 December? Time Out's Food Editors round up the best places to eat on Christmas Day.

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United Visual Artists Installation view of Vanishing Point at Towner Art Gallery, 2013-14
Art, Contemporary art

United Visual Artists: ‘Other Spaces’

180 The Strand, Strand
4 out of 5 stars

A laser lightshow to mess with your perception. It’s trippy, heady, and seriously immersive. It all makes you hyper-aware of your own skin, of the space around you, and the world we live in. 

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Folding book containing a sermon on the Abhidhamma in Shan language, Mueang Lakorn, Thailand, dated 1917
Photograph: British Library Board
Museums

‘Buddhism’

British Library, Euston
4 out of 5 stars

A history of one of the world’s religions. Learn about the Buddha’s journeys and teachings, about life and rebirth, compassion and suffering. 

Photograph: Caroline Coon all rights reserved. images courtesy the artist and TRAMPS New York and London. photography Richard Ivey
Art, Contemporary art

‘Caroline Coon’

Tramps, Islington
4 out of 5 stars

Rebellious, precise, erotic paintings by an old-school punk. It’s really rude, and seriously in your face. That’s why it’s so good. 

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Tony Cokes 'Evil.16 (Torture.Musik)' (2009-2011) Image courtesy of Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles, and Electronic Arts Intermix, New York
Art

Tony Cokes: ‘If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol I’

Goldsmiths CCA, New Cross

This solo show at Goldsmiths’ gallery is made up of works dating from the 1990s onwards, plus two brand new films. This is bold, colourful, antagonistic stuff about seriously tough issues.

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Photograph: Dora Maar 'Untitled (Main Shell)' Centre Pompidou, MNAM-, Dist. RMN - Grand Palais/Jacques Faujour
Art

‘Dora Maar’

Tate Modern, Bankside

Tate Modern continues its commitment to giving female artists the recognition they deserve with the biggest retrospective of Dora Maar ever held in Britain. Maar's surrealist works centre on an extensive archive of photographs and photomontages, but her career has been somewhat overshadowed by her relationship with Picasso. 

Nam June Paik 'TV Garden' 1974-7 (2002). Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen (Düsseldorf, Germany) © Estate of Nam June Paik
Art

Nam June Paik: ‘The Future is Now’

Tate Modern, Bankside

Artist Nam June Park was predicting how technology would soon be influencing out lives. This Tate show brings together works made across five decades by the artist credited with inventing video art.

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& Juliet, 2019
Photograph: Michael Wharley
Theatre, Musicals

‘& Juliet’

Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

A brand new West End musical is coming to town and it’s bringing the biggest bangers with it. This sublimely OTT West End musical sees Shakespeare’s Juliet return from the dead and head off on a girls’ trip to Paris.

Mark Bradford 'Gatekeeper' (2019) © Mark Bradford. Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua White
Art

Mark Bradford: ‘Cerberus’

Hauser & Wirth, Mayfair

Cerberus is the name of the multi-headed dog guarding the door to Hades, so it’s no surprise that this exhibition by Mark Bradford looks at gateways, meeting points and boundaries.

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Evelyn De Morgan 'Night and Day'. Image courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
Art

‘Pre-Raphaelite Sisters’

National Portrait Gallery, Charing Cross Road
4 out of 5 stars

Expect flying dragons, bawling cherubs, free-floating monkeys and iridescent fabric in this show that depicts beautiful tales in this forgotten history.

Dear Evan Hansen, West End 2019
Photograph: Matthew Murphy
Theatre, Musicals

‘Dear Evan Hansen’

Noël Coward Theatre, Covent Garden
4 out of 5 stars

The Broadway smash about a sensitive teen whose white lie spirals out of control. Go for a teen musical that puts ‘Heathers’ in the shade.

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New Year's Eve Fireworks in London, with Big Ben
© Stewart Marsden
Things to do

New Year's Eve and New Year in London

London is one of the best places in the world to be for New Year celebrations. Fact. The capital is fully prepared with loads of New Year's Eve parties and events up its sparkly sleeve, as well as the mighty NYE firework display over the Thames. 

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Photograph: Hugo Glenndinning
Art

Patrick Staff: ‘On Venus’

Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Hyde Park
4 out of 5 stars

A new exhibition by Patrick Staff. His art is about transformation and gender, but it’s not a celebration. Revealing the brutality of day-to-day queer existence in a crushing society. It’s art that’ll turn your stomach and change your mind, but it’s damn powerful stuff.

Dora Maar 'Untitled (Main Shell)' Centre Pompidou, MNAM-, Dist. RMN - Grand Palais/Jacques Faujour
Art

‘Dora Maar’

Tate Modern, Bankside
4 out of 5 stars

Tate Modern hosts the UK's first-ever retrospective of this often forgotten female artist. Prolific and varied, yet historically by her sometime lover Pablo Picasso, this exhibition gives her the kudos she deserves.

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Henry VI, Shakespeare's Globe, 2019
Photograph: Marc Brenner
Theatre, Shakespeare

‘Henry VI/Richard III’

Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank
4 out of 5 stars

England goes to pot in Shakespeare’s darkest history plays. This is an epic, hilarious violent journey of Sophie Russell’s Richard. 

Filippo Albacini (1777-1858), The Wounded Achilles, 1825, marble, Chatsworth House Photograph © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees
Museums, History

‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

British Museum, Bloomsbury
5 out of 5 stars

With its violence, jealousy, aggression and prideful idiocy, the myth of Troy has remained perpetually relevant and this beautiful exhibition shows us why. It's a huge, ambitious show, but take a deep breath and set an afternoon aside, because it's more than worth your time.

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David Bomberg 'In the Hold' (about 1913-14) Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery, 1967 © Tate
Art

‘Young Bomberg and the Old Masters’

National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
4 out of 5 stars

A small exhibition of big energy, big vision and big paintings. British artist David Bomberg deserves more love than he currently gets and this miniature exhibition makes a massive case for the importance of free access to great art.

My Brilliant Friend, National Theatre, 2019
Photograoh: Marc Brenner
Theatre, Drama

‘My Brilliant Friend’

National Theatre, South Bank
4 out of 5 stars

An epic two-part stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Go see Catherine McCormack’s ferociously brilliant turn as Lisa.

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© Duffy Archive
Museums

‘Cars: Accelerating the Modern World’

V&A, South Kensington
4 out of 5 stars

A supercharged journey through the history (and future) of automobiles. Go see all types of special cars. From the Latino low-riders of LA to Hitler’s pet project, an olive VW Beetle. It’s going to be a great ride.

 

Theatre, Drama

‘Death of a Salesman’

Piccadilly Theatre, Soho
4 out of 5 stars

The Young Vic’s Wendell Pierce-led take on the Arthur Miller classic, in the West End. It’s a stunning rework that’s a must-see (and hopefully they’ve fixed the roof, too). Listen out for the jazz melodies that draft from voice to voice.

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Alfredo Jaar 'Six Seconds' (2000) © the artist. Image courtesy of Goodman Gallery
Art

Alfredo Jaar: ‘25 Years Later’

Goodman Gallery, Mayfair
4 out of 5 stars

An exhibition marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. Jaar kept looking when everyone else kept looking away. It’s horrifying, painful and an unbelievably powerful show. 

See what's on in January

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