This article is part of a series which researches the top cities for Christmas Markets in Europe. In this series, London was recognised as the 15th most coveted Christmas Market from a list of over 500 European cities.
About London Christmas Markets
Visiting Christmas markets is one of the best ways to enjoy the season and the city at its most magical. There’s festive shopping but also much more: ice skating, rides, Santa’s grottos, food and drink – even Mexican wrestling, giant puppets and roller disco!
These fixtures of the yuletide calendar date back to medieval Germany (which explains why so many feature wooden chalets that would look at home in the Bavarian Alps). Lincoln boasts that it mounted the first traditional German market in the UK in 1982, as part of its twinning with Neustadt in Germany. In the past 40 years since then, markets grown from modest events offering a bit of shopping and a glass of mulled wine to full-on Christmas experiences including regional and ethnic food, gifts ranging from pocket-money baubles to expensive collectibles, and activities catering to young families as well as party-hearty singles.
Now the events in big metropolises like London, Birmingham and Manchester attract hundreds of thousands of visitors with their versions (last year Manchester reportedly sold 80,000 festive mugs in the first 14 days — that’s a lot of gluhwein!). London’s Winter Wonderland, arguably one of the most visible in the capital, drew more than 3 million visitors alone last year.
So pull on your bobble hat, check your Christmas list and get ready for the season!
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This Christmas extravaganza in Hyde Park combines yuletide wonder with theme park fun. There’s an ice rink (book in advance), Peter Pan on Ice, a FREE Santa’s grotto, an ice slide, fairground attractions and rides that range from kiddie carousels to heart-in-the-mouth high-flying contraptions.
Where: Hyde Park, London W2 2UH
When: 22 November 2018 — 6 January 2019. Closed Christmas Day
Cost: Free to enter. Rides can be expensive.
Tips: Bypass the busy counter by the entrance when purchasing tickets for rides. There are kiosks further inside the park where waiting time is minimal.
Southbank Centre’s Winter Market and Wintertime Events
It’s lovely to wander down the Thames in the shadow of the Eye eating everything from Thai food to raclette to fish-shaped pastries filled with cream (why? I don’t know, but I love them). The ornate carousel here is great for pictures and you can pick up gifts, drink seasonal cocktails, and soak up the festive spirit.
At the Southbank Centre’s Winter series, there’s Christmas-themed culture of every kind. Its Rumpelstiltskin performance puts a new spin on the classic fairy tale, Circus 1903 recreates a turn-of-the-century circus using life-sized elephant puppets from the War Horse team, and The Snow Ball invites everyone to don their fancy dress and hit the floor to seasonal hits, just to name a few of the options. Plus there’s storytelling, classical music, Caribbean Christmas, a drag show and more.
When: 9 November – 27 December, 2018
Cost: The market is free; events are either free or various prices. Check website for details.
Tips: It’s worth taking time to scan through all the Southbank Centre’s Winter offerings, as they showcase such a wide variety of uplifting performances, cultures and arts.
Winterville Christmas Market on Clapham Common
This Christmas experience lights up South London with a groovy vibe: There’s a big wheel, roller disco, kids’ raves, Mexican wrestling, crazy golf, ice skating, Santa’s grotto and a line of Street Feast food vendors that will have you eating your way across the green. Buy jewellery, ceramics, kids clothes and more at the Solo Craft Fair, catch a puppet show in a Routemaster bus, or marvel at a French-inspired aerial circus. Backyard Cinema will be back with a 3,000-square-foot magical maze and 2 screens so you can snuggle on family-sized bean bags watching Christmas classics ranging from Home Alone to Labyrinth to Die Hard.
Where: Clapham Common, Windmill Drive, SW4 9DE
When: 15 November 2018 – 23 December 2019
Cost: Free entry at all times for under 16s. Everyone free on Tuesdays, £2 Wednesday – Sundays for adults, except for Friday & Saturday nights £5.
Tip: Get your tickets soon for Backyard Cinema – some showings are already sold out. And bundle up as it’s a fair walk from Clapham South Tube station or nearby bus stops
Christmas in Leicester Square
The compact Leicester Square market has a Santa’s grotto, fairy lights and buzzy atmosphere. Visit the vintage Spiegeltent for the programme of Christmas shows, including Monksi Mouse’s Christmas Baby Disco and the Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show.
Where: Leicester Square, WC2H 7NA
When: 10 November – 24 December, 2018. Closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
Cost: Entry is free but visits to Santa’s Grotto are £11.50
Tips: Go early to avoid the crowds, which build up in the evenings
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Christmas by the River
What could be more English than browsing twinkling stalls next to Tower Bridge? Christmas by the River stretches from Hay’s Galleria to London Bridge City Pier with than 50 independent traders. Plus, there is a bar carved from ice in Eis Haus. (Say that in your best German accent.)
Where: 2A More London Riverside, London SE1 2DB
When: 30 November 2018 – 3 January 2019
Tip: With older kids, try late-night shopping til 8pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday
London’s only market set within a World Heritage site is open 7 days a week and is stuffed full of the kinds of distinctive gifts friends and family love to discover under the tree: vintage maps, creamy linen, and bona fide antiques sit next to original fashion and jewelry both classic and modern. Since it’s open all year, Greenwich is technically not a Christmas market but it’s one you won’t want to miss. They will be switching on the Christmas lights with a children’s Lantern Parade on Wednesday 21 November, starting from the Tourist Information Centre at the Old Royal Naval College. Expect Christmas carol singing, Father Christmas in his Greenwich Grotto and characters from the Greenwich Playhouse panto.
Where: Greenwich town centre SE10 9HZ
When: Open every day, with Christmas Lantern Parade & Lights On 21 November 2018
Tip: The nearby Staycity Greenwich High Road puts you minutes away from the market and Greenwich town centre.
The Cheesegrater Christmas Market
Here’s the new way to do a Christmas Market: in the 28-metre high atrium in one of the most distinctive buildings in London. Technically it’s called the Leadenhall Building but tell everyone to meet you at the Cheesegrater and they’ll know where to go. Details are still being finalised for this year, but if last year is a guide, expect German-style wooden chalets, Christmas jumpers on sale, choir singers plus perfect City touches like Champagne, oysters, and jazz.
Where: The Leadenhall Building, 122 Leadenhall Street EC3V 4AB
When: November – December 2018
Tip: Stay tuned for details at theleadenhallbuilding.com
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Country Living Christmas Fair
The popular magazine arrives in London to bring style to the season. Designers, makers and regional food purveyors sell their wares as well as share their secrets in talks, demos and hands-on workshops. For a fee in the Crafting Studio, you can decorate gingerbread, block print your own Christmas card, weave with sari strips and more.
Where: Business Design Centre, 52 Upper Street, Islington, N1 0QH
When: 7 – 11 November 2018
Cost: Advance tickets start at £15 adults, £8.50 children 5-16, free children under 5. Some special entry packages include extras like drinks or a goody bag.
Tip: Check out the Crafting Studio schedule and book a place before you go. Sessions run all day from 10:40am.
Christmas in Belgravia
Belgravia is one of my favourite areas of London, with its graceful buildings and tasteful shops. The details of this one-day Christmas event are still being firmed up, but you can bet it will be beautiful. Expect live music, Father Christmas in residence, a wrapping station and countless places to buy stocking stuffers and more lavish gifts.
Where: Orange Square and Pimlico Road in previous years. Check site for updates
When: Sunday 2 December 2018
Tip: Bring your wallet as the gift possibilities will surely tempt you
A Taste of London Winter 2018
Yes, yes, Christmas is a time to give gifts to your loved ones — but it’s also a time to eat. Here you’ll see cooking demonstrations, hands-on masterclasses, small dishes and wine and whisky tastings (skip those for the kids) along with boutique food gift stalls. This is the perfect place to ensure you’re raising another generation of gourmands.
Where: Tobacco Dock, Wapping
When: November 15-18, 2018
Cost: £15 for regular entry, with VIP packages from £35; child tickets £5
Tip: Come hungry!
Hampton Court Palace Festive Fayre
Prepare yourself for a royal treat at this Christmas food festival and market at this gorgeous palace that was a favourite of Henry VIII. You’ll wander around the courtyards tasting artisan food and drink, watching cookery demonstrations and enjoying carol singing.
Where: Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey KT8 9AU
When: December 7-9, 2018
Cost: Members go free as do under 5s, adult tickets start at £19.20, children at £9.60, family tickets at £34.30. VIP tickets are £75.
Tip: Don’t miss the festive classics at the Courtyard Bandstand and sing along!
Chelsea Physic Garden Christmas Fair
This garden occupies more than four acres of land and was established in 1673 to grow medicinal plants. Organisers are promising more than 100 stands for unique presents. The present-wrapping masterclass by Jane Means will ensure even my humblest gift is showcased delightfully.
Where: 66 Royal Hospital Road, Chelsea, SW3 4HS
When: Saturday 24 November 10am-5pm; Sunday 25 November 10am-4pm
Cost: Free for Friends of the Garden. Adult tickets £6, children’s tickets free
Tip: The garden is near the King’s Road, if you fancy popping up for more conventional shopping
Hyper Japan Winter Market
Do Christmas Japanese style at the UK’s largest exhibition celebrating Japanese culture. There will be beautiful tableware and wrapping paper, fashion sake, manga, anime — I’m also crossing my fingers for Hello Kitty and Pikachu.
Where: Olympia London, Hammersmith Road, Kensington W14 8UX
When: Friday 16 November – Sunday 18 November, 2018
Cost: Adult tickets start at $18.33 for the first session on Friday. Children under age 10, free on Friday. On Saturday and Sunday, kids under 5 go free, 6-10 years cost £5
Tips: They’ve got important scheduling notes on the ticket page, including closures in the middle of the day. Review these before you go https://hyperjapan.co.uk/tickets/
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Jennifer Howze is a blogger and journalist. She blogs about family travel with flair on Jenography.net. Previously she worked at The Times, and has written for The Wall Street Journal, Conde Nast, The Guardian, The Independent and CNN.com, among others. Get tips, advice and inspiration for family travel on Jenography.net www.jenography.net.