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
See ‘the most festive pub in London’ turn all of their 22,500 Christmas lights on at this switch-on party. Now it‘s gone even bigger with seasonal foliage and nearly a hundred pine trees fixed to the outside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Skate it all about on arguably London’s most enchanting ice rink, thanks to the beautiful backdrop of Alfred Waterhouse’s buildings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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!
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.
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.
The world‘s only shopping selling gifts for refugees. Go beat Black Friday by buying a meaningful present for someone in need.
Where's the best place to catch a London pantomime for Christmas 2019? Is it behind you? Nope: it's in the panto list right here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A new stage adaptation of CS Lewis’s seminal fantasy novel. This Narnia is a wilderness of pure imagination, unshackled, static and pagan.
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.
A history of one of the world’s religions. Learn about the Buddha’s journeys and teachings, about life and rebirth, compassion and suffering.
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.
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.
The stunning ancient treasure of the boy king. Tut at the price sure, but this is your last chance to see these objects before they go home forever.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Expect flying dragons, bawling cherubs, free-floating monkeys and iridescent fabric in this show that depicts beautiful tales in this forgotten history.
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.
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.
New Year's Eve parties are ten to the dozen in London, from quirky fancy dress events to heads-core raving. Our definitive list of events rounds up the many nights taking place.
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.
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.
England goes to pot in Shakespeare’s darkest history plays. This is an epic, hilarious violent journey of Sophie Russell’s Richard.
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.
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.
An epic two-part stage adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Go see Catherine McCormack’s ferociously brilliant turn as Lisa.
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.
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.
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.