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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: The Winter Forest
Things to do, Event spaces

The Winter Forest

icon-location-pin Broadgate Circle, Broadgate
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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: Fanatic Creative
Things to do, Markets and fairs

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

icon-location-pin Hyde Park, Hyde Park
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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

icon-location-pin Kew Gardens, Kew
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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. 

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

icon-location-pin Southbank Centre, South Bank
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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. 

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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Things to do, Walks and tours

Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland

icon-location-pin Syon House and Park, Brentford
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Each year, Syon Park’s Enchanted Woodland transforms the 600-year-old gardens with a light display, completely illuminating the Great Conservatory. It’s almost always a sell-out, so book in advance.

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

Regent Street Christmas Lights

icon-location-pin Regent St, Regent Street
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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. 

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Things to do, Walks and tours

Christmas at Kew Gardens

icon-location-pin Kew Gardens, Kew
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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 lights
Photograph: Jeff Moore
Things to do

Covent Garden Christmas

icon-location-pin Covent Garden Piazza, Covent Garden
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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.

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Things to do, Exhibitions

‘Wave’ at Eccleston Yards

icon-location-pin Eccleston Yards, Victoria
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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.

'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

icon-location-pin Hackney Empire, Hackney
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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. 

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

Natural History Museum Ice Rink

icon-location-pin Natural History Museum, South Kensington
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Skate it all about on arguably London’s most enchanting ice rink, thanks to the beautiful backdrop of Alfred Waterhouse’s buildings.

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Photograph: Andy Screnson
Things to do, Ice skating

Tower of London Ice Rink

icon-location-pin Tower of London, Tower Hill
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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. 

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

Skate at Somerset House

icon-location-pin Somerset House, Aldwych
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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. 

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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. 

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

Peter Pan Cup

icon-location-pin Serpentine Lido, Hyde Park
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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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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. 

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

United Visual Artists: ‘Other Spaces’

icon-location-pin 180 The Strand, Strand
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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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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

icon-location-pin National Gallery, Trafalgar Square
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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. 

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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’

icon-location-pin Barbican Centre, Barbican
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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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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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Folding book containing a sermon on the Abhidhamma in Shan language, Mueang Lakorn, Thailand, dated 1917
Photograph: British Library Board
Museums

‘Buddhism’

icon-location-pin British Library, Euston
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A history of one of the world’s religions. Learn about the Buddha’s journeys and teachings, about life and rebirth, compassion and suffering. 

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

‘Caroline Coon’

icon-location-pin Tramps, Islington
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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’

icon-location-pin Goldsmiths CCA, New Cross
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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.

Photograph: Laboratoriorosso
Museums

‘Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh’

icon-location-pin Saatchi Gallery, Chelsea
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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. 

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

‘Dora Maar’

icon-location-pin Tate Modern, Bankside
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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’

icon-location-pin Tate Modern, Bankside
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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’

icon-location-pin Shaftesbury Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue
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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’

icon-location-pin Hauser & Wirth, Mayfair
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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’

icon-location-pin National Portrait Gallery, Charing Cross Road
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Expect flying dragons, bawling cherubs, free-floating monkeys and iridescent fabric in this show that depicts beautiful tales in this forgotten history.

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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’

icon-location-pin Serpentine Sackler Gallery, Hyde Park
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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.

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Theatre, Drama

‘Death of a Salesman’

icon-location-pin Piccadilly Theatre, Soho
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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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