As someone who was born in London, and has lived at all points of the compass within its 10 mile radius, I have a great affection for our capital city. Yes, it can be busy, smelly and noisy but it also can be breathtakingly beautiful and is FILLED with interesting people and fascinating things to see and do. Especially at Christmas time!
Christmas in London with the Kids
Having lived near Manchester for many years (the home of the BEST Christmas markets by the way!), my family are now back within a 55 minute train journey into the centre of London. As the children have gotten older and less of a flight risk we have ventured into ‘town’ more and more often. If you are wondering about my tips for keeping the kids safe whilst out and about in busy cities like London, or entertainment ideas for the train journey in, then these can all be found in my book ON THE GO - CLICK HERE.
Now far be it for me to call myself an expert on this, in fact there are content creators and bloggers who entirely dedicate their work to sharing the things to do and see in London (try @thelondonkids). However we have been in a fair few times now and I wanted to share our experience as some of you have so kindly asked!
I am going to write a more generic ‘London with Kids’ blog very soon but for now, considering the festive period is swiftly approaching (help, I’ve prepared NOTHING!), I thought I would quickly note down some of the Christmas fun we have had over the years for those of you planning to visit our capital city this year.
We have seen Matilda the Musical which was fabulous and we also saw a Mary Poppins Matinee performance on a festive day out which was magical, however if it is a musical you are looking for this December then Elf- The musical in the Dominion Theatre by Tottenham Court Road, might just be perfect. The theatre says it’s for ages 4+ and as we all know “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear” so I’m sure a sing-a-long will be in order!
However, if you’re wanting to see a show whilst in town this festive season then you are really going to want to see a Pantomime, of course - perfect for kids and adults alike - all the fun, silliness and sparkle with shouts of “It’s behind you!” There is a list of Pantomimes happening in our captial city this festive season right HERE.
Cirque Du Soleil at the Royal Albert Hall is also absolutely spectacular both as venue and as a show. The benefit of the Cirque du Soleil is there is no dialogue but lots to watch so I feel it’s better for the younger ones who aren’t so bothered about chatty bits. However the Cirque Du Soleil show doesn’t begin until January, so tickets would make for a good Christmas present.
We went ice skating in Winter Wonderland last year (more on that later) and because we loved it so much, this year we are going to Somerset House for a Christmas skating outing - a gorgeous setting right in the centre of London. There are lots of options both indoors and outdoors throughout central London - you can find a list HERE.
We first tried ice skating when my two were 6 and 8 and they were confident after the full hour - despite lots of little falls initially which they quickly bounced up from. It isn’t for a faint hearted though so if you have tried rollerskating and your kids weren’t up for it maybe steer clear but if they are usually quite into that sort of things - scooters, bikes, skateboards etc. then they will likely enjoy it. You hire skates there but take warm waterproof clothes and gloves (ideally waterproof ones like THESE) or spare clothes as they get wet falling over on the ice. The adults joined in too but you would need to check ages and rules at different rinks to know if you had to accompany them or could watch safely from the sides with a cuppa!
Our favourite shops at Christmas time are:
Selfriges on Oxford Street - it’s got a toy section on the top floor and because its a bit hidden it doesn’t seem to be as madly busy as shops like Hamleys. You can also meet Santa and friends there at certain times - more HERE.
When we went it was the best Santa I’ve ever seen. He was in a big glittery coat and he taught the kids secret handshakes they’ve never forgotten. They also had a brilliant magician and games and toys to try out. More about the events they have on offer HERE.
LEGO store Leicester Square - a brilliant place to visit anyway as the store is so interactive - loads to see and do. Ewan and I were invited as part of the press launch for Christmas this year and we tried the cross Atlantic snow throw happening outside the store and got to go inside and write a Wishlist to post to Santa (see what we got up to here). It’s a must do for us when in town. There is always a queue to get in but don’t worry it goes quickly as people are always coming and going. Plus there is a Christmas market in Leicester Square now to have a little mooch about in before or after.
Hamleys on Regent Street - obviously a classic toy shop with 7 floors of kid heaven but beware it is always very busy at this time of year - Santa is usually there though!
Don’t go to the M&M store unless you’re prepared to spend a FORTUNE on M&Ms from the self pouring things. I watched in horror as my kids filled their bags up in seconds and then Ewan dropped his on the floor. Yep. Absolute chaos. He quickly refilled another bag and I was then charged about £50 for the “pleasure”.
Last year we met some friends at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to give it a try. We had taken the kids to Disneyland Paris not long before and they had really enjoyed all the rides so we figured they would be up for a giant fair too. We paid for tickets that included entrance and a certain number of rides and we also pre-booked ice skating and a sledging session. I can’t remember the exact price details as my friend organised it but we had a certain number of pre-paid tokens we could use and then we bought more when the kids wanted to go on extra things. It was expensive! More on tickets and rides HERE.
The sledging session was the worst part because despite having an hour slot for our go, the queue was still incredibly long so we spent about 40 minutes queueing with 4 cold children for two goes down a slope on rubber tubing. It was really fun but I’m not sure it was worth the wait.
The rides were all quite full on and I wasn’t up for most of them, even though I generally like rides. The kids absolutely loved them though and were high up on swings and flung round and round repeatedly. The fun houses were a bit gentler, although the amount of children on them meant it was still quite chaotic. There were things for littler ones, like trains or mini rides.
We stayed from morning until it got dark. As the evening went on there were more drunk adults and it started to feel a bit daunting a place to be with little kids. They could easily have gotten lost. We lost each other as adults a number of times after toilet visits or food stops.
The food options were good and we shared a giant pizza and got some other bits and bobs from the stands.
The ice skating was brilliant - we all enjoyed that and it was well organised.
Overall be prepared for complete sensory overload. Noise, chaos, mud, fun, sugar, bright flashing lights and general mayhem. Leaving was also tricky as the entrance to the tube was blocked with the sheer volume of people so we ended up walking. We aren’t going again this year, if that gives you a clue to our overall thoughts…! I’m sure the kids would like to though! See a video of our visit HERE.
The whole city is beautiful and of course you can walk anywhere and see window displays and lights - my favourite are always around New Bond Street but Oxford Street, Regents Street and Carnaby Street are also spectacular. Bus 139 from Waterloo to Golders Green will show you lots of them. I haven’t tried this particular route but I have ridden the bus from Vauxhall into town at Christmas time and it was a brilliant way to see so many lights. I also saw a Santa riding a bike! So my top tip is, despite usually recommending the tube in London - at Christmas ride the buses! Here is the Christmas route you can take. It’s a typical red London TFL bus so you don’t pay tourist bus prices!
However if you do want to do a special lights bus ride then Toot Bus is an open top bus and has a special lights Christmas bus. We have done a Toot Bus general kids tour before and it was really great, so I’m sure this is fab too!
We have visited the Science Museum (The Wonder Lab is a must add on - book tickets before you go!) and the Natural History Museum which are next to each other. If you are going into town with children they are always good to visit as they are free to get in to and somewhere warm and dry to be if the weather isn’t great - however they do get SUPER busy. Book one of the exhibitions if you want a slightly less busy area to be for a while.
We have visited the home of what was the Queen then, and is now the King. They do a guided tour for Children which Florence and I really enjoyed on a girls day out - it was fantastic and very interactive for the kids as they are given an electronic device with questions and quizzes and activities on it to help explore each room. We went in the summer rather than at Christmas time but I’m sure it’ll be very festive inside inside the palace at this time of year. Mind you, with all the gold on show I’m not sure they really need to put the decs up! More on ticket prices and tours HERE
My ‘To Do’ List
Some other places we haven’t yet visited but I have saved on my wish list include:
The free Immersive Butterfly Experience at Tottenham Court Road in the Now Building which is on until 31st December
Winter by the River near London Bridge looks like a lovely a festive market, riverside.
I just wanted to share them here in case you like to do your own research - feel free to drop me your own review in a few lines over email and I can add it to this page! Email me on [email protected]
My Day Out Plan
If I was planning a full on festive day out in town it might look something like this:
- Train into the city
- Head to Selfridges to look at the toys and meet Santa and the elves
- Get a mid morning snack and walk from Oxford Circus down part Liberty’s, through Carnaby street, then China town, down to Leicester square.
- Go to the LEGO store and have a look in the market
- Get some lunch
- Walk down to Trafalgar Square to see the giant Christmas tree
- Walk along the Strand to go ice skating at Somerset house
- Get a hot chocolate, cross the river and walk along the Southbank to Waterloo or hop on the Thames Clipper from Embankment to the London Eye for a mini boat trip
- Hop on the 139 bus at Waterloo Station and ride it to Baker Street
- Get some dinner
- Head back into town to watch Elf the Musical
- Get the train home, exhausted but happy!
I’m not sure you could genuinely squeeze these all in, but what a fun day it would be trying!
That’s all from me and obviously is it NOT a fully comprehensive list of ALL the brilliant and wonderful things you can do in our capital city over Christmas but it’s a little flavour, and if you’re looking for more ideas then Google is your friend or perhaps you might want to start HERE.
ALSO A LITTLE NOTE: There are protests planned in London for December so you might want to check online to make yourself aware of where and when these are happening if you wish to avoid crowds etc. Check MET police updates or information from City Hall.