What to do in London for Christmas: Holiday shows, Christmas markets, and more

Discover all the festive things to do in London during Christmas. From Christmas markets and lights to holiday shows and pantomimes, there's no shortage of holiday fun for everyone.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

There’s nowhere quite like London at Christmastime. Come the holidays, the capital transforms into a festive hub, giving both residents and visitors alike plenty of fun ways to get into the seasonal spirit.

The West End and London’s wider theatreland is full of shows that make perfect holiday viewing, from spectacular musicals and family-friendly entertainment to that most traditional of festive viewing: the pantomime, which is guaranteed to make you feel Christmassy. Oh yes it is!

You can also take full advantage of London’s many attractions, which are particularly enticing during this winter wonderland time, as well as festive additions like the huge lighting displays and unmissable Christmas markets – ideal for stocking up on presents, as well as treating yourself.

Follow our London holiday guide for all the jolly fun, and book tickets to a Christmas event in London today.

Shows in London at Christmas

This is a wonderful time of year to catch a big show. It’s a great way to celebrate with the whole family, whether you choose a production specifically aimed at young audiences, or just one that has something for everyone. You can also book some special trips during the holidays, as a way of catching up on all the latest amazing theatre – or revisit an old favourite.

Plenty of London shows – especially pantomimes – span the holidays exactly, beginning in late November or early December and running through to the following January. Plus there are long-running productions that you can catch up with whenever you like.

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Wishmas, The Old Bauble Factory

Head down to this special grotto beneath Waterloo station and you’ll find a new fantastical Christmas adventure from Secret Cinema. The enchanted world of Wishmas features a complex operation that looks after wishes, brought to them by robins.

You’ll be whisked away on a special train, exploring multiple different rooms with a Christmas flair and meeting festive characters galore – plus there are treats, food and drink, and even gifts. It’s the ultimate immersive experience for the holidays.

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Elf, Dominion Theatre

The popular stage musical version of the Will Ferrell film comedy is back in the West End. Join misfit Buddy as he comes to realise he’s actually a human, not an elf, and so travels from the North Pole to New York in search of his dad.

This year’s cast is led by Matthew Wolfenden, Georgina Castle, Tom Chambers, Rebecca Lock and Kim Ismay. It’s a goofy romp for all ages, plus a heart-warming Christmas reminder of the importance of family.

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Nutcracker, London Coliseum

It wouldn’t be Christmas without the Nutcracker, that enchanting ballet which sees a family gathered around the tree for a festive party, and then night-time adventures for young Clara when her magical Nutcracker doll takes her on an adventure.

English National Ballet’s production is particularly gorgeous, with its grand Edwardian setting, story-book designs, and more than 100 dancers and musicians bringing this beautiful ballet, and its Tchaikovsky score, to beautiful life.

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Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Let it snow! The frosty world of Arendelle, as enchanted by Elsa’s accidental spell, is the ideal setting for a Christmas theatre trip, and this stage musical version of Disney’s hit movie is total theatre magic.

You get all the great songs from the film, like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” and “Let It Go”, plus new numbers written specially for the stage show, such as “Colder By the Minute” and “Hygge”. Let the storm rage on outside as you enjoy a nice warm theatre.

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Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Lyric Theatre

While the Palladium will be hoping that their panto goes smoothly, Mischief’s riotous comedy version of Peter Pan is aiming for the complete opposite: absolute theatrical chaos, in the best way! It’s a side-splitting spin-off of The Play That Goes Wrong.

Once again, an unlucky amateur troupe attempts to stage a show, in this case JM Barrie’s classic tale, only for disasters to befall them. Think stuck doors, collapsing scenery and – of course – some crazy aerial calamities when the cast begins flying. It’s a dose of welcome hilarity for the holidays.

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Hansel and Gretel, Shakespeare’s Globe

This beautiful new production sees Poet Laureate Simon Armitage adapting the Brothers Grimm fairy tale for stage – and the Globe transformed into an atmospheric festive space, continuing its new tradition of winter wonder.

Hansel and Gretel’s journeying into the woods, and meeting with a mysterious old lady, will be told with music and magic, making it a welcome invitation into theatre for young audiences as well as parents, grandparents and more.

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Peter Pan, Rose Theatre Kingston

We just can’t get enough of Peter Pan this year. If you fancy seeing the story told in a slightly more traditional way, rather than the panto variety, the Rose Theatre has you sorted with Evan Placey’s fresh adaptation of Barrie’s imaginative yarn.

The production also features music by the Olivier Award-winning Vikki Stone, and the cast includes members of the Rose Youth Theatre, making it a particularly fun one for young audiences to experience.

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The Snowman, Peacock Theatre

It’s the 26th year that this adorable adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s picture book, and the animated Dianne Jackson film, has graced the West End – and it’s still one of the loveliest introductions to theatre.

Mind, audiences of all ages will find themselves transported by Robert North’s wondrous choreography, the fabulous sets and costumes, the joyful sense of discovery, and that famous Walking in the Air set-piece.

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Peter Pan, London Palladium

The annual Palladium panto is generally the starriest and most extravagant in London – and this year is no exception. Leading its lavish production of Peter Pan is Jennifer Saunders, of Absolutely Fabulous fame, playing Captain Hook.

She’s joined by Julian Clary as seaman Smee, plus Palladium panto regulars Paul Zerdin, Nigel Havers, Gary Wilmot, and musical theatre stars Louis Gaunt, Rob Madage and Frances Mayli McCan. Take a wild trip to Neverland this Christmas.

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Holiday things to do in London at Christmas

If you’re looking for things to do in London during Christmas, you’re in luck: there are tons of great attractions on offer. Take advantage of having that extra time to explore, whether you’re visiting for Christmas or you’re a resident – it’s amazing how many of us live near all of these great activities and haven’t yet visited them.

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Skate West End

Lace up your skates and experience the magic of Christmas in the heart of London's West End with the city's new ice skating rink. Nestled in Hanover Square, just a stone's throw from the bustling shopping hubs Oxford Street and Regent Street, this festive wonderland is fun for the whole family.

Enjoy gliding around the circular outdoor rink in the crisp air, or warm up at the seasonal bar with some tipple or hot drinks. Whether you're seeking some after-work fun, planning a magical date night, or simply escaping the Christmas shopping frenzy, Skate West End is the perfect way to enjoy the holiday season. Skate West End's commitment to giving back makes it even more special, with £1 from every ticket sold donated to Great Ormond Street Hospital Charity.

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The London Eye

London is beautiful year round, but there’s something particularly awe-inspiring about it on a bright, frosty day, or during a dark winter’s night when that famous skyline is all lit up. So, why not take a trip on the London Eye during the holidays?

It’s the world’s tallest cantilevered observation wheel, and has panoramic views in all directions. You’ll get a completely new view of landmarks like Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben, all while enjoying your ride in one of the high-tech glass capsules. You can make it even more special by adding the Champagne experience.

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Warner Bros Studio Tour

If you’re hankering after a warming glass of Butterbeer this Christmas, or a holiday shopping trip to Diagon Alley, then make a bee-line for the Warner Bros Studio Tour. This incredible behind-the-scenes look at the Harry Potter film series is truly magical – and you’ll get all the secrets of how the movies were made.

You can visit famous locations like Platform 9¾, where you can climb aboard the Hogwarts Express, the vast Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office, Ollivander’s Wand Shop, Gringotts bank, the Ministry of Magic, and the Gryffindor common room. It’s a wizard day out.

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Madame Tussauds

Rub shoulders with the rich and famous this Christmas. Madame Tussauds is a must if your holidays need some celebrity glam – you can chill with new arrivals like Lil Nas X, plus fellow music superstars Ariana Grande, Stormzy, Dua Lipa, Taylor Swift and David Bowie.

Walk the red carpet with Harry Styles, Zendaya, Leonardo DiCaprio, Eddie Redmayne, and Meghan and Harry. Or head into the palace, where you can wave from the balcony and have tea with the King and Queen. There are also dedicated Marvel and Star Wars zones, plus the Spirit of London ride.

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Christmas markets and lights in London

London has plenty of special festive activities for this holiday season, like Christmas markets and lighting displays. It’s a great way to get in the mood, to celebrate with family or friends, to find the most delicious Christmas goodies, and to get cracking with your holiday shopping.

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Christmas markets

Your first stop has to be Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This juggernaut boasts festive rides, games, shows and even ice sculpting, plus a Bavarian village, street food, and a traditional Christmas market filled with wooden chalets. There you’ll find tantalising gifts and homemade decorations. You’ll need to purchase entry slot tickets on the website.

Southbank Centre Winter Market is also a firm favourite – plus you can combine it with a trip to the National Theatre or the Old Vic. It’s a hub of cuisines from around the world, as well as artisanal goodies, especially good for stocking fillers.

You can also find fantastic markets right in the centre of London, perfect if you’re heading to a West End show. Try the Leicester Square Christmas Market and the Covent Garden Christmas Market, both joyful events. There you can sip mulled wine and nibble on mince pies as you browse the handmade crafts.

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Christmas lights

There are tons of great Christmas lighting displays in London. The most famous is the lights at Oxford Street – well worth a visit as you do your shopping and admirable the seasonal window displays.

The South Bank has eye-popping colourful lights too, so you can check those out as you hit the market and take in a show, while Carnaby Street has funky themes each year – plus it’s handy for Soho and West End theatres.

It’s also well worth a festive trip out of London to Warwick Castle for their Christmas at the Castle celebrations. That includes a Nutcracker-inspired entrance, twinkling trees and projections as part of the Light Trail, and unforgettable light displays actually on the historic castle walls.

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Photo credit: Nicholas Pound as Santa in Elf the Musical (Photo courtesy of production)

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