What to do in London at Christmas: see West End shows, visit restaurants, and more

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

There’s nothing quite as magical as Christmas in London – and, in particular, Christmas in the West End. The capital starts to look very festive indeed from around November onwards, with big lighting displays and seasonal decorations going up. London becomes a true winter wonderland in December and January.

Right in the heart of London, the West End is the place to be if you visit during the Christmas season. The theatres’ dazzling signs banish the dark and gloom of winter weather, and you can celebrate with friends or family at one of the city’s many world-leading productions.

London Christmas shows range from the usual long-running musicals, plays and comedies through to brand-new shows and productions specially designed for festive viewing. That means you’ve got plenty of choice: your Christmas outing could be a theatre favourite like Wicked, a family-friendly outing (and one with a nip in the air) like Frozen, or a seasonal treat like the Palladium’s lavish pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk.

So, if you’re excited to check out Christmas theatre in London while you’re in town, read on for our handy guide to all the best productions – plus places to eat and drink, and other fun festive outings in town.

Shows in London at Christmas

London has phenomenal theatre all year round, so you’ll definitely be able to find a fantastic show to see during the winter season. But if you’re looking for a Christmas show in particular, you’ll find that most begin their runs in late November or early December, and continue through the holidays into the New Year, finishing by the end of January.

London usually has numerous Christmas shows, led by pantomimes (from starry West End events through to local theatre celebrations), plus festive musicals, comedies, dance shows and revues. Read all about the Christmas shows in London you can see in 2022.

Christmas pantomimes to see in London

Jack and the Beanstalk - 1200 - LT

The biggest annual pantomime in London is the Palladium’s, which always features big-name actors and comedians. This year, it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, and the incredible cast includes leading comics Dawn French and Julian Clary, pop star and musical theatre leading lady Alexandra Burke, returning favourites Nigel Havers, Paul Zerdin and Gary Wilmot, and West End talent Rob Madge, Louis Gant and Natalie McQueen.

Book Jack and the Beanstalk tickets on London Theatre.

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Mother Goose - 750 - LT

Another of the hugely anticipated London pantomimes is the one and only Sir Ian McKellen giving us his dame in Mother Goose. This touring production is at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End for the Christmas season, and is sure to be a honking good time. Also in the cast are comedian John Bishop and musical theatre stalwarts Anna-Jane Casey and Oscar Conlon-Morrey.

Book Mother Goose tickets on London Theatre.

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Potted Panto - 1200 - LT

Or why not see a fast, furious and hilarious show that encompasses several pantos all at once? The ever-popular Potted Panto is back at the Apollo Theatre, and its madcap cast will whiz you through all the familiar characters, tropes and jokes of seven classic pantomimes in just 70 minutes – a real Christmas bargain. Oh no it isn’t! Oh yes it is!

Book Potted Panto tickets on London Theatre.

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There are also brilliant pantomimes at London theatres like the Hackney Empire and the Lyric Hammersmith, which are renowned for cleverly updating traditional stories with contemporary gags and songs. Plus the National Theatre has its own twist on the form with Hex – a new musical take on the classic Sleeping Beauty. Read more about London pantomimes.

Children’s Christmas shows in London in 2022

The school holidays at Christmas are a wonderful time to make family memories by attending a show together – and the fun, festive productions are also a great introduction to theatre for younger audiences. Many have elements of audience participation, child-friendly slapstick or puppetry, and familiar fairy tale stories.

The Snowman - 1200 - LT

The unbeatable family favourite is The Snowman, a dance version of the Raymond Briggs tale that is as much a fixture in London Christmas celebrations as mince pies and crackers. Playing at the Peacock Theatre for its 25th year, this heart-warming trip to the North Pole captures all the winter wonder of the original – including that indelible “Walking in the Air”.

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Blippi - 1200 - LT

If your children are fans of Blippi, then good news: you can catch Blippi the Musical at the Lyric Theatre this Christmas. The live-action theatre version of the animated TV/YouTube show continues the programme’s winning combination of fun and learning, with familiar numbers like “The Excavator Song”, singalong nursery rhymes, and lots of special treats.

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Or perhaps your kids love Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture books – in which case you must get booking for The Smartest Giant in Town at St Martin’s Theatre. This gorgeous adaptation brings songs, puppets and imaginative theatre to the tale of a scruffy giant, George, who splashes out on a swish outfit, only to find that there are animals who need his help, and his new clothes. Read more about Christmas shows for younger audiences.

Book The Smartest Giant in Town tickets on London Theatre.

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New West End shows to see at Christmas

This festive holiday is a fantastic time to catch up with all the best new shows in town. London is always hosting brand-new work and cutting-edge revivals of classic plays and musicals – reinvented for a new generation.

Orlando - 1200 - LT

2022 has been a busy year of exciting openings. This winter season, one of the hottest tickets is a new version of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, starring non-binary actor Emma Corrin – aka Princess Diana in the fourth season of The Crown. How will Woolf’s pioneering take on gender and sexuality play out for a contemporary audience? You’ll have to book to find out!

Book Orlando tickets on London Theatre.

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Another show hitting the headlines is Newsies: the Disney stage musical which is finally making its UK premiere. Playing in the round at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre, this propulsive show about the real-life newsboy strike in New York City will make you want to seize the day – and will definitely give you some good news this Christmas.

Book Newsies tickets on London Theatre.

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Best of Enemies - 750 - LT

Or check out the latest acclaimed show from the unstoppable James Graham (This House at the National Theatre/West End, Sherwood on TV). His entertaining and thought-provoking play Best of Enemies, about a fierce debate which changed both television and politics forever, is now playing in the West End – and Hollywood star Zachary Quinto leads the cast.

Book Best of Enemies tickets on London Theatre.

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Plus there are fab new openings like the country music spectacular Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol; hilarious theatre farce Noises Off; English National Opera’s stirring It’s A Wonderful Life; Matthew Bourne’s ground-breaking Sleeping Beauty; Shakespeare’s romantic comedy As You Like It, starring Strictly Come Dancing champion Rose Ayling-Ellis – and more! Read about other great shows to see this winter.

Best places to eat and drink in London at Christmas time

Of course, the best Christmas theatre outing also includes a meal or a drink. Read on for our tips for festive dining options.

Christmas food to eat in London

What could be more English, and more luxurious, than a festive Afternoon Tea in the West End? The Theatre Royal Drury Lane is now an all-day destination, and its Grand Saloon is a beautiful spot. Tea is served on fine-bone china featuring mythical characters, and it’s a positive feast of delicious delicacies – from puff-pastry sausage rolls to warm scones with butter, cream and homemade jam.

Afternoon tea is served from 12pm-5pm and reservations are required. Of course, you’re then ideally placed to watch Frozen at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, but you’re also within easy walking distance of numerous other West End theatres, as well as Covent Garden, Oxford Street, and Charing Cross train station.

Or for a meal at great pre- or post-theatre menu rates, try Sucre in Soho. Renowned Argentinian chef Fernando Trocca serves up flavour-rich fusion food, like cheddar, chilli and onion empanadas, or entrana steak with chimichurri.

Sucre is in the heart of Soho, so well placed for dozens of West End Theatres. It’s a five-minute walk to the Piccadilly Theatre, a 10-minute walk to the Dominion Theatre, or a 15-minute walk to the Duke of York’s Theatre. Transport wise, it’s close to Oxford Circus and Tottenham Court Road Tube stations. Opening hours are 12pm-1am Monday-Saturday, 12pm-midnight Sunday.

Christmas drinks to enjoy in London

The perfect complement to your theatre outing, Bar Américain at Brasserie Zedel is right in the heart of theatreland – in fact, it even has a cabaret space in the same building. The bar has chic Art Deco styling and cosy tables with leather booths, plus a fabulous cocktail menu featuring prohibition specials like the Blood and Sand and the Airmail, as well as classics like a Cosmopolitan or Moscow Mule. There’s also a stellar wine list and superior Champagne.

Brasserie Zedel is right next door to the Piccadilly Theatre and Piccadilly Circus Tube station, plus it’s within a five-minute walk of the numerous West End theatres clustered on Shaftesbury Avenue, like the Gielgud Theatre, the Sondheim Theatre and the Apollo Theatre. Bar Américain is open 5pm-midnight on Monday-Thursday, 4pm-midnight on Friday, 3pm-midnight on Saturday, and 4pm-11pm on Sunday.

Family-friendly Christmas dinner restaurants

A family outing to the theatre is all the more fun if you pair it with a meal out too: that’s a special treat that young audience members will always remember.

Everyone loves Italian food, so a safe bet for the whole family is Café Murano in Covent Garden. Angela Harnett’s mouth-watering menu includes a children’s section – kids can have chicken Milanese with chips, or choose their own fresh pasta type and sauce, followed by an ice cream. Meanwhile grown-ups can enjoy the theatre menu, which includes cavatelli with cime di rapa pesto, and hazelnut cake with caramel and mascarpone.

Café Murano is very convenient for West End theatres, too. It’s just a two-minute walk to the Lyceum Theatre (home of The Lion King), the Novello Theatre (Mamma Mia!), and Theatre Royal Drury Lane (Frozen). It’s closest to Covent Garden Tube station, but the likes of Holborn, Charing Cross and Temple are nearby as well. Café Murano is open from 12pm-3pm and 5pm-10:30pm on Monday-Saturday, and from 10:30am-3:30pm on Sunday.

Festive places in London to visit for Christmas

Alongside your theatre trip and meal out, take some time to explore London at this joyful time of year – the capital is full of festive events and activities.

Walk around London Christmas markets

Markets are ideal for doing Christmas shopping, sampling delicious food and drink, and enjoying the lovely ambience. One of the most magical is the Southbank Centre Winter Market, with its wooden chalets clustered alongside the river, fantastic street food stalls, warming mulled wine and hot chocolate, plus arts and crafts offerings – great for Christmas presents.

The market runs until 26 December, and is open Sunday-Thursday 11am-10pm, and Friday-Saturday 11am-11pm. It’s also right next to brilliant theatre venues like the National Theatre and the Southbank Centre, and a 10-minute walk to the Old Vic and Young Vic – so you can pair your festive shopping with a Christmas show like Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol.

You’ll also find plenty of festive fun right in the centre of town. Leicester Square Christmas Market is a real winter wonderland: a traditional market with hand-crafted delights, plus seasonal food and drink from different cultures, like bratwurst and glühwein. Leicester Square even has its own 1920s-style Spiegeltent for Christmas, featuring brilliant cabaret, circus and comedy acts.

You’re also perfectly situated for West End venues like the Prince of Wales Theatre, Harold Pinter Theatre, Duke of York’s Theatre, and many more. The Leicester Square Christmas Market is open until 8 January 2023, 12pm-10pm on Monday-Friday, 10am-10pm on Saturday-Sunday.

Where to go ice skating in London

Another glorious way to celebrate Christmas is to go ice skating – and London has several fab venues to try.

Our favourite is the picturesque Somerset House, where you can whiz around on the ice in the midst of its grand courtyard, admiring the beautiful historic architecture and the huge 40ft Christmas tree. When you want a breather, pop into the Skate Lounge to sip Moët and Chandon Champagne and cocktails, or munch on tasty Hotel Chocolat treats. For the clubbers, there are nightlife sets from DJs on the rink-side decks: literally and figuratively a cool night out.

Somerset House is also handily situated on the Strand in central London. It’s near lots of West End venues, like the Savoy Theatre, the Adelphi Theatre and the Vaudeville Theatre, plus numerous Tube stations and Charing Cross train station. The skating rink is open until 15 January 2023, 9am-10:45pm on selected dates (check the website for full details of its seasonal calendar), and you’ll need to book tickets.

Visit the West End at Christmas

From a range of spectacular shows through to delicious cuisine, bustling festive markets and the joy of ice skating, London’s West End really is the place to be at Christmas. You can plan a whole day out, or pop in for the evening, and you’ll find everything you need to celebrate the season in style.

However, since the West End is so renowned, it also gets very busy at this time of year – so don’t wait too long! Particularly if you want to bag good seats to a popular show, it’s definitely worth booking early to avoid missing out. Then you’ve got something jolly to look forward to, and you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable London Christmas outing.

Photo credit: Potted Panto (Photo courtesy of production)

Originally published on

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