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Things to Do in December 2021
Photograph: Steve Beech / Shutterstock

London events in December

Your guide to the best activities, events and fun stuff happening in London throughout December 2021

Rosie Hewitson
Written by
Rosie Hewitson
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Can you hear those sleigh bells jingling? Yes, it’s December, and Christmas in London has begun in earnest. See the city skies sparkling with glimmering Christmas lights, fill your ears with Christmas songs, scoff down an indulgent Christmas sandwich, get luxurious festive treats delivered from London restaurants putting together DIY meal kits and liven up a winter walk with a trip to a heated pub garden.

Read our guide for the lowdown on the events, parties, cultural happenings, and things to do taking place in London in December 2021.

RECOMMENDED: The definitive London events calendar

Our December 2021 highlights

  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • South Bank

Everyone’s favourite riverside culture hotspot Southbank Centre is once again aglow with festive illuminations. Winter Light is a free, open-air exhibition featuring no fewer than ten lightworks (which is what we’re calling these now) from properly famous and talented artists from around the world. All of them make mind-bending use of light, colour and even boundary-pushing film to deal with issues and topics surrounding nature, technology, urban life and spirituality.

Find out all about London’s other massive festive light shows

  • Art
  • Mayfair

David Shrigley’s gone full Ronseal. ‘Mayfair Tennis Ball Exchange’, his latest show, is exactly what it says it is: a gallery filled with fresh new tennis balls that you can come and swap an old ball of yours for. That’s it. And somehow, it’s great. The gallery has that new ball pong wafting through it, it’s eye-tinglingly bright with the lights bouncing off the fluorescent fluffy material, a proper assault on the senses. And over the course of the exhibition, that smell will dissipate and the neon will fade as these new balls get replaced with manky old ones. It’s decay happening in real-time on the gallery walls, a proper conceptual art piece that’s clever, funny, and probably the best thing David Shrigley has ever done.

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating
  • South Kensington

A staple of London’s winter activities scene returns to us from October – but it’ll be your last time to enjoy its icy charms. The ice rink at the Natural History Museum will take up residence at the South Kensington venue for a final season this year before it gets transformed into a new urban garden. Next year, the area usually occupied by the rink will become a fully accessible green space that the museum hopes will help visitors learn about the diversity of our planet, while also offering scientists a chance to develop best practices to protect our urban nature. Get your skates on for one last glide around the twinkling Christmas tree before our icy friend departs us forever. 

Find more places to go ice skating in London.

  • Restaurants

It is cold, so cold. Head to the nearest cosy outdoor space in London immediately. Luckily, some of our favourite bars and restaurants have been thinking on their frozen feet. So wrap up warm and check out these new outdoor terraces for drinking and dining decked out in wintry decor and adorned with roaring fire pits, patio heaters and enough faux fur to make you think you got stuck in the wardrobe on your way into Narnia. 

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  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Waterloo

James Graham last three London plays – that’s ‘Quiz’, ‘Labour of Love’ and ‘Ink’ – all hit the West End, so it’s something of a coup for the Young Vic to bag his latest. ‘Best of Enemies’, then, is inspired by Morgan Neville and Robert Gordon’s 2015 documentary about the nightly 1969 US TV debates between right and left-leaning intellectuals William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal. If it sounds a spot obscure: well yes, it probably is to Brits, but the duo’s snarky clashes were not only magnificently entertaining but also set a template for the combative nature of the US television news of the future.

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  • Film
  • Comedy
  • Leicester Square

The Prince Charles Christmas all-nighter is back this December, with five festive flicks: ‘The Muppet Christmas Carol’, ‘Elf’, ‘Home Alone’, ‘Gremlins’ and ‘Die Hard’. Don your best PJ's (Christmas-themed for bonus points), bring a cosy blanket and settle in. The bar is open until midnight, and the kiosk will be open all night for snacks, coffee, water, and other goodies. 

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  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • King’s Cross

This winter the sport of curling - the one you watch on telly during the Olympics and find curiously engaging - is coming to London, all over London actually, but Coal Drops has a rinks all over its quarteres, more than you could sweep a stick at. It's open every day of the week from noon until 8pm, but booking is encouraged or you might find yourself waiting for a lane to open up. Everyone who has played 'chess on ice' as it's known, leaves with an extra bit of love for it.

  • Things to do
  • Concerts
  • St Paul’s

Get yourself feeling ridiculously festive with an evening of carols inside Sir Christopher Wren’s architectural masterpiece, aka The Big Lad aka St Paul’s Cathedral. The legendary London landmark hosts a series of free, unticketed carol concerts each year. Visit for family-friendly services, a night of organ-led carols curated by French composer Olivier Messiaen and a traditional carol service on Christmas Eve. 

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Borough

Borough Market is one of  London’s favourite foodie destinations, so naturally the Southwark destination comes into its own during the feasting and boozing of the festive season, and this year is no different, with a host of special events leading up to the big day.

 

  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Wapping

Want to spend your festive season gazing on London’s sparkling skyscrapers but don’t want to deal with the city’s chilly winter weather? This Christmas at Skylight Tobacco Dock you’ll be able to experience the best of both worlds. The venue boasts skyline views while its rooftop space will be transformed into seasonally appropriate seating with igloo-shaped pods and heated, covered tables keeping that wintry nip at bay. Want to get active while getting into the festive spirit? An ice rink will be returning to the rooftop for the first time since 2019, so you can glide around as London twinkles in the background. Don’t forget to check out the cocktail Christmas cinema, secret speakeasy and après ski lodge too. 

Other cosy pop-ups in London this Christmas.

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  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Oxford Street

Selfridges is always a go-to when it comes to Christmas shopping, whether you want to pick up your presents from the iconic department store or just get some festive feeling in while you browse. This year, head to the mews behind the historic shop and you’ll find even more Xmas cheer with the return of its Christmas market. You’ll find food trucks curated by Street Feast founder Dominic Cools-Lartigue and mulled wine, warm apple cider, hot buttered rum, craft beer, cocktails and more to keep you fuelled up before hitting the shelves. 

Check out all the other brilliant London Christmas markets

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • South Bank

The National Theatre’s first big musical of the pandemic era is ‘Hex’, an all-singing adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty myth that has raised a few eyebrows for being written by NT artistic director Rufus Norris (on lyrics) and his wife Tanya Ronder (book) alongside Jim Fortune (music), with Norris directing.  There’s a terrific cast, headed by Rosalie Craig, Tamsin Carroll, Kat Ronney and Michael Elcock.

  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Paddington

Pergola Paddington, as is now tradition, is set to be decked out as an urban winter forest. Parties, festive singalongs, street food banquets and gospel choirs will all be occurring in the popular west London rooftop space. You can choose to spend your time in the heated Alpine Hall or ‘wrap up and chill out’ in the rooftop winter forest itself. Groups of up to nine people can also book Christmas Chalets for a bit of festive privacy.

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  • Theatre
  • Drama
  • Seven Dials

Provocative Welsh playwright Tim Price adapts Swedish filmmaker Ruben Östlund acclaimed 2014 black comedy ‘Force Majeure’ (‘Turist’ in the original Swedish) about a husband who – on holiday in the Alps – runs away from an apparent avalanche, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves. It’s a false alarm – but his actions have repercussions. Donmar boss Michael Longhurst directs a cast headed by the marvellous Rory Kinnear as the hapless Tomas, in a production rescheduled from 2020 thanks to the pandemic.  

  • Things to do
  • Essex

The Epping Ongar Railway is the nearest heritage line to London and operates on tracks that used to be part of the tube network. For Christmas, its steam and diesel trains will be decorated with thousands of coloured lights for a series of special journeys through an illuminated woodland. Passengers can get comfy in vintage train carriages and listen to festive music while looking out the window at light installations at the stations and rural areas along the way from North Weald (the trip starts from North Weald station, not Ongar) into the Essex countryside and back again. The whole experience will last for about an hour and, if you think you might get peckish along the way, you can order a snack pack for two for an extra £12. 

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  • Kids

Christmastime is exciting at any age, but it really is the most wonderful time of the year when you’re smaller than one of Santa’s elves. All year long, (hopefully) your little ones have been on their best behaviour in order to be put on Saint Nick’s nice list, so why not make their festive period even more special by taking them to some of London’s amazing Yuletide events for kids?

  • Things to do
  • Talks and lectures
  • Greenwich

If you’ve ever wondered what goes on beyond our solar system, head to the Royal Observatory for its annual Christmas lecture. University of Bristol astrophysicist Dr Hannah Wakeford will be revealing the latest research in the study of exoplanets: planets that orbit stars other than the sun. You’ll find out what the atmosphere of these planets is like and whether they support any life forms. The lecture will be held in the observatory’s planetarium, so you’ll be able to gaze upwards and imagine you’re out of this world.

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  • Things to do

New Year’s Eve in London means you’re faced with some choices. Sometimes there’s so much choice, in fact, that you end up spending the night indoors with a few loved ones and plenty of booze. We’ve all been there, but London boasts loads of great New Year’s Eve events that should coax even the most reluctant NYE fan out of the house this year. 

 

  • Things to do
  • Markets and fairs
  • Hyde Park

The Grinch would have a real job stealing all the Christmas from Hyde Park’s huge tribute to festive fun. The annual favourite is back for its fifteenth year in 2021. Entry to Winter Wonderland is free during off-peak hours and either £5 or £7.50 during peak times, and you can head along for cheerily lit fairground rides, a child-friendly Santa Land (including Santa’s grotto) and quaint Christmas markets. It’s a real treat for anyone wanting to get into the festive spirit – as long as you’re ready to hear all those songs as you potter around. 

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  • Theatre
  • Musicals
  • Charing Cross

Kander & Ebb’s first great musical masterpiece ‘Cabaret’ has been a familiar-ish sight around London in recent years thanks to Rufus Norris’s hugely successful 2006 revival, which begat numerous UK tours and a second big West End stint in 2012. This brand-spanking new production promises to be a truly distinctive version.

  • Music
  • Classical and opera

An evening of proper Christmas carols is an absolute must if you’re interested in getting entirely wrapped up in unalloyed festive cheer. Check out our comprehensive round-up of the jolliest and most moving services in the capital. Indoors and outdoors, cathedrals, churches and secular spaces, we’ll be adding to it constantly, as more events are announced. 

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  • Art
  • Mayfair

Rachel Jones's huge, sprawling, semi-abstract paintings are one of the highlights of the Hayward's amazing 'Mixing It Up' exhibition (on until December 12), and now we get a whole exhibition of them. For her debut show at Mayfair's Thaddaeus Ropac, you can expect giant canvases of clashing colours, hiding what must be full sets of teeth if you look closely enough.

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