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The holidays are a magical time in London, Christmas lights are everywhere! They adorn the major shopping areas and London Christmas Markets, making Christmas shopping oodles of fun (even if you don’t buy anything 😉). London is one of our favorite cities to visit during the holidays. Here we share our choices for places to enjoy London’s Christmas lights . . . and get a little shopping done in the process.
London Christmas Lights
London Christmas lights are arguably the best in the world! I’ve never been anywhere that takes its decorations so seriously. Not only are the decorations really beautiful, every shopping area/neighborhood puts their own unique spin on things.
When to see London Christmas Decorations
Each shopping area in London unveils their Christmas decorations on slightly different dates. But in general the lights are illuminated for about 2 months, from early/mid November through New Year’s Day. And sunset comes early–at about 4pm during November and December. This means it actually starts getting dark at about 3:30pm, so there’s lots of time to look at the pretty lights!
This is great news for travelers to the city. It means you don’t have to actually be in London ON Christmas day. You can visit London any time within that 2-month window and still have an authentic London Christmas experience!
Where to see London Christmas Lights/Christmas Shopping London
Most of the London Xmas lights are clustered around major shopping areas, so you can ogle the beautiful decorations while you browse. Here are a few of our favorites. (Be sure to check out our Field Tested Travel Tips under each listing, where we provide some recommendations for snacks in the area.)
Covent Garden at Christmas
Covent Garden is a major shopping area that’s popular with tourists and locals alike. It’s located in central London, only a few blocks from the Leicester Square theatre district. There’s a large plaza (holding a giant Christmas tree) surrounded by columned galleries that are bedecked with lights and other decorations. Two market halls (North & South) that were once used for produce and other foodstuffs now house cute boutiques and cafes/restaurants. Choral groups often perform in the market halls, so you’ll likely hear a concert of Christmas carols while you shop.
Field Tested Travel Tip: Check out the Battersea Pie Station on the ground floor of the South Market Hall. This small, white-tiled cafe offers up yummy rib-sticking savory pies and “mash” (mashed potatoes). Perfect sustenance on a chilly November/December day!
What we love: The soaring market halls are very festive, and have some nice little cafes/shops.
Drawbacks: Many of the larger shops are “corporate” and can be found elsewhere (i.e. Apple, Oakley, Le Pain Quotidien, Shake Shack), although there are still several smaller shops unique to London.
Nearest Tube Stops: Covent Garden, Charing Cross
Oxford Street: Department Stores & Lights, Lights, Lights!
Oxford Street is the “big kahuna” of London shopping areas. Christmas lights are strung across the wide street and are bright enough to light up everything! Many of the big department stores are located here, including Selfridges, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Debenhams. Stop in to these stores to see there individual decorations as well! Plus they all have cafes/food halls, so you can get some refreshment while shopping.
What we love: Lights, lights, and more lights! Probably the brightest display in the city.
Drawbacks: The crowds. It can get pretty crazy, especially the closer you get to Christmas.
Nearest Tube Stops: Oxford Circus, Bond Street
Shoreditch/Spitalfields: Artisan kiosks & funky shops
Shoreditch in East London is one of London’s newer, hipper areas to undergo revitalization. Shopping is centered around the Old Spitalfields Market, a former fabric trading center that now holds several stalls selling high-end artisan/crafts and foods. The high ceilings of the market hall are strung with lights and banners. And the surrounding lanes also have unique shops that are similarly decorated. It’s become one of our favorite neighborhoods, and is really fun at Christmastime.
Field Tested Travel Tip: Check out nearby Brick Lane (2 blocks away)–it’s a haven of Indian/east Asian food! (Or, as the Brits like to say, “curry houses”)
What we love: The great selection of cool clothing in the market hall. Plus one of our fave specialist tea shops in London, London Tea Exchange, is just a few blocks away on Brick Lane!
Drawbacks: The market hall is covered, but not heated, so it can be chilly in there. But it gives you a great excuse to pick up one of the lovely scarves on sale at the kiosks!
Nearest Tube Stops: Liverpool St., Shoreditch High St (London Overground)
Trafalgar Square: Culture at Christmas
This area, just south of the bustling shops of Covent Garden (see above) near Charing Cross train station, has a more cultural feel. The lights festooned above the streets are still beautiful. The National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery (which are both Free things to do in London) are located here. The real centerpiece at Christmas is the giant (80 feet tall) Norway spruce placed in Trafalgar Square, decorated with vertical lights. The tree has a wonderful tradition: since 1947 it’s been an annual gift from the people of Norway. This is the Norwegians’ way of thanking Britain for assistance during the second World War–how nice! That’ll put you in the mood to say “God Jul! 🇳🇴”
Field Tested Travel Tip: Just across the street from Trafalgar Square is St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. Be sure to visit the gift shop at the basement level, which has an excellent collection of stationery and Christmas cards. And the Cafe in the Crypt (which is also in the basement . . . but a really cool basement) serves excellent home-cooked meals and afternoon tea at reasonable prices. For the full-on St. Martin’s experience, get tickets to one of the concerts, held several times a week in the main sanctuary. Last Christmas we saw a string quartet playing Christmas Carols . . . magical in this historic setting!
What we love: The free art museums and the giant Christmas tree.
Drawbacks: Shopping in this area is mostly museum gift shops . . . but they are lovely gift shops! 🎁
Nearest Tube Stops: Charing Cross and Leicester Square
Seven Dials Christmas Lights & Shopping
If the bustle and crowds of Covent Garden are just a little too “bustle-y,” head a few blocks northeast to Seven Dials. Named for the junction of seven small lanes meeting, this tiny square is my favorite place in London at Christmas. The obelisk at the center (donated by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1989) acts as an anchor for the neighborhood, which splays out like a sunburst from its spot in the middle of the junction. Lights and greenery bedeck the small lanes, which are filled with really nice little shops of all sorts.
Field Tested Travel Tip: Be sure to check out Neal’s Yard, an almost-hidden enclave tucked away in one of the “wedges” of Seven Dials. The famous Neal’s Yard Dairy began here. (They still have a shop, although the main facility is now at Borough Market.) The overall atmosphere here is very cosy and cute.
What we love: The “slightly off-the-beaten-path” location and gorgeous decorations
Drawbacks: With the streets splayed out at odd angles it’s easy to get lost. But that’s half the fun!
Nearest Tube Stops: Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Tottenham Court Road
Sloane Square/Kings Road at Christmas: Posh & Pretty
Historic King’s Road is the main shopping street in the beautiful residential area of Chelsea in western London, not far from Victoria Station. Here you’ll find Christmas lights based on a historic theme (King’s Road was built for Charles II to travel between palaces). The area is anchored on the eastern end by Sloane Square (and the Peter Jones department store). Tons of trendy shops are strung out along King’s Road, and in pedestrian-only Duke of York Square.
Field Tested Travel Tip: If you’re visiting with little ones, be sure to check out the Chelsea Christmas Grotto at Duke of York Square (from November 23-December 23). Kids are entertained by Father Christmas & elves, play games and decorate gingerbread. Tickets required.
What we love: In addition to lovely shopping, the residential streets in Chelsea are beautiful–especially at Christmas.
Drawbacks: The Christmas Grotto experience can fill up, so be sure to book ahead.
Nearest Tube Stops: Sloane Square, South Kensington, Imperial Wharf (London Overground)
We’re Larissa and Michael, your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive updates and valuable travel tips subscribe to our free travel newsletter here.