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SKATE at Somerset House
Photograph: David Jensen

Things to do on Christmas Eve in London

It’s the big day in lots of countries, but in the UK Christmas Eve is often just a retail frenzy. Do this stuff instead

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell
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The information on this page was correct at time of publication, but please check with venues before you head out

Don’t just spend Christmas Eve doing last-minute shopping, prepping veg or sitting glumly in the pub. Make the most of every minute of this  year’s festive season, and have a Christmas Eve to remember. From twinkling lights to the city’s loveliest Christmas trees to make you feel all warm and anticipatory, take a look at our top picks for things to do on December 24 2021

RECOMMENDED: Our full guide to Christmas in London.

Spending Christmas Eve in London?

  • Theatre

London’s theatres are back to their best for Christmas 2021, with a spectacular array of shows for all comers. Whether it’s a cutesy puppet show for toddlers, a traditional family trip to see a pantomime, or a dazzling night at the circus, our guide to Christmas theatre in London has got you covered. 

Check out our comprehensive panto guide for the best places to sample this most entirely British of festive traditions. But if fabulous dames and shouts of ‘He’s BEHIND you!’ aren’t your particular bag of brussels sprouts, then don’t worry: there’s something out there for all tastes. 

Read on for more info on the best festive shows out there, whether they’re at London's biggest venues or in teeny-tiny pub theatres. Or for a comprehensive guide to what’s on right now, keep an eye on the latest theatre openings.

  • Things to do
  • Weird & Wonderful

Okay, so the Marble Arch Mound hasn’t had a great 2021, even among other Londoners that haven’t had a great 2021. But it’s still open, it’s still free and it should give great views of the West End’s Christmas lights. It even has a café inside it now. It’s only open until January 9, so why not visit one of London's great white elephants?

Book free tickets on its website.

 

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  • Things to do
  • Exhibitions
  • South Kensington

Carl Fabergé might be best known for his ornate, very expensive eggs, but the master Russian goldsmith also made many other equally luxurious works during his time. A new exhibition at the V&A will show off some of his and his company’s finest examples, including opulent cigarette cases, gemstone-adorned pendants and – of course – some stunning eggs, including the Third Imperial Egg, worth approximately £24m. 

  • Things to do
  • Weird & Wonderful

There’s a new advent tradition in the making: the festive podcast. Specifically, ‘The Ghosts of Christmas Presents’, a 24-episode festive tale, with a new ten-minute instalment uploaded every day from December 1 until Christmas Eve. This is the fourth year of the London-set podcast. The 2021 outing follows previous iterations in not exactly sticking that closely to seasonal traditions – ‘The Snowman’ it ain’t.

This year, it tells the story of Benedict Nail, a solitary middle-aged bloke looking forward to spending Christmas Eve alone during the lockdown winter of 2020. That night, he encounters the ghosts of past Londoners – from a Roman legionary and a Medieval nun to a Victorian labourer.

Created by writer Tobias Sturt and voice actor Jon Millington, it sounds like an intriguing take on the Dickensian idea that Christmas is a time for the spirits of London to visit us and reveal their secrets. Also, who doesn’t enjoy a Yuletide tingle up the spine?

‘The Ghosts of Christmas Presents’, daily until Dec 24.

 

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  • Things to do
  • Ice skating

Our skating wings were clipped last year, with even the outdoor rinks having to close prematurely. The good news is, most of London’s best ice-skating rinks are back in full force for the 2021-22 season. Winter Wonderland’s is the biggest; Canary Wharf’s is open for the longest period (18 sweet weeks!); Somerset House’s is the most fabulous; and the Natural History Museum’s will be the most missed when it closes FOR EVER come January. Take your pick, lace up your skates and get swishing.

  • Things to do
  • pop-ups
  • Shoreditch

This winter, the Queen of Hoxton’s rooftop garden transforms into an ‘Alice in Wonderland’-themed playground, with food, drink, events and decor inspired by Lewis Carroll’s psychedelic stories and characters. Try a ‘Drink Me’ Potion shot or sip on cocktails like the Jam Jar Jabberwocky (Koppaberg gin, apple and lemon juice and berry jam) and the Mad As a Hatter Mule (Portobello and blueberry gin topped with ginger beer); chomp on a Wonderland burger – a beef patty topped with pulled beef brisket, salad and pickles served in a red bun – or a Queen of Hearts katsu burger; and suck on a shisha like the Caterpillar with his hookah. Expect playing cards, teacups and, if you’re lucky, a glimpse of the Cheshire Cat.

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The best places to drink mulled wine in London
  • Bars and pubs

Sure, strolling through the winter markets with a mulled wine in your hand is the optimum way to warm up. But pub mulled wine can be a bit hit and miss. So we’ve sought out the best cosy London pubs pouring mulled wine that’s a cut above the rest. Find yourself a nook and wrap your mitts around one of these steaming, spicy bevvies.  

  • Museums
  • Military and maritime
  • London

‘Titanic: The Exhibition’ will take visitors on a journey through the commissioning of the ship, and the huge publicity surrounding its first crossing of the Atlantic, bound for New York. Along with firsthand testimonies and objects, there will be detailed recreations of the ship’s interiors, based on contemporary photographs and the input of Titanic experts. It’s also a chance to see some of the actual artefacts from the ship, many never displayed before in the UK, and experience the disaster at first hand (in a good way). 

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See London’s Christmas lights
  • Things to do

Want a winter walk with a difference? If you live near central London, why not take in some of the city’s Christmas lights, which make the capital dazzlingly beautiful each year? 

  • Things to do
  • Food and drink events
  • Fulham

Fulham’s Neverland, which becomes a beach club in the summer months, has transformed into Alpine haven Winterland for the cold season. Depending on the size of your group, you and your friends can book a lodge, cabin, ski lift bubble, forest igloo, chalet or Bavarian tent to settle down in for a night (or day) of boozing and feasting on spoils from The Moose Bar and food court. Extra Alpine vibes are conjured by foliage, fire pits and faux fur. And there’s plenty of entertainment too, including DJs, drag bingo, power-ballad bottomless brunches and arcade games. Find out more here

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  • Things to do
  • Sport events
  • Marylebone

This winter the sport of curling - the one you watch on telly during the Olympics and find curiously engaging - is coming to London. The Curling Club will be taking up residence in both Finsbury Square and The Langham in Portland Place, bringing ‘epic apres nightlife’ along with it. Both venues will be given a proper festive makeover, wintry cocktails, Alpine-inspired street food and entertainment on hand, alongside an opportunity to try your hand at the ‘short form’ verson of the game under the expert tutelage of current Team GB Curling capatain Eva Muirhead MBE.  

  • 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’ve got the lot. 

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  • Things to do
  • Events & Festivals

There will be many of the highlights of previous years on offer at Kew this winter: incredibly Instagrammable tunnels of light, glittering waterside reflections and trees swathed in thousands of bulbs, plus a panoramic light display in the world-famous Palm House.

There’s also a ‘Fire Garden’ and a chance to visit Father Christmas (not in the Fire Garden, we assume). Entry will still be via a pre-booked timed slot, as in previous years.

  • 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. 

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  • Kids

Even the mighty Santa’s plans were affected by lockdown in 2020, so we were robbed of our usual face time with the big guy. No such problem this year, he’ll be very busy flitting from London Zoo to Winter Wonderland to Kew and all over London, ho-ho-hoing and dishing out gifts to the capital’s over-excited children. But now it’s more important than ever to book your kids a slot with ol’ Saint Nick in advance to avoid tears and tantrums. Take a look at our guide to 2021’s Santa’s grottos in London and make a date with the one-and-only Father Christmas.

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Family Christmas shows in London
  • Theatre
  • Children's

As the wintry nights draw in, get a cosy festive glow at one of London’s many joyful kid-friendly Christmas shows, whether you’ve got your inner child or actual children in tow. Traditionally, the first port of call for anyone who wants to keep grannies, dads and toddlers on side is visit to the pantomime: if that’s what you’re after, check out our comprehensive guide to the best pantos across London. But there are plenty of other ways to keep everyone aged one to 101 entertained with a Christmassy theatre trip.

From the fringe to the West End, London’s theatre scene is bursting with family-friendly shows that are bright and silly enough to delight kids, while offering enough wit, subtlety and festive nostalgia to satisfy adults too. Whether you’re after an all-singing, all-dancing musical spectacular, an adaptation of a much-loved children’s classic, or a thrilling circus adventure, London’s theatres have got you (and your family) covered. 

 

Looking for things to do in London on Christmas Day?

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