We love London at all times of the year, but during the holiday season, it's especially enchanting. There’s a definite buzz in the days leading up to Christmas and New Year’s, as the locals finish their yuletide shopping, the stores set up their lavish holiday displays, and the streets are in full, brilliant sparkle.
Here are some of the best places to see the twinkling splendor of Christmas lights in London Town.
1. Oxford Street
For a modern take on the traditional Christmas display, head to Oxford Street in Central London. Wedged between Marylebone and Mayfair, this stretch is well known for its high-end boutiques and fun eateries and pubs. This year, a new lighting design will feature 27 multihued curtains of LED lights strung across the street, with a total of 220,000 individual environmentally friendly bulbs contributing to the sweeping, grand effect.
2. Trafalgar Square
Chances are you’ll head to Trafalgar Square at some point during your London getaway -- indeed, it’s home base to some of the city’s most popular sights, including the National Gallery, Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, and, of course, Nelson’s Column and the square’s world-famous lions.
Trafalgar also plays host to a grand Christmas tradition. Each year since 1947, the country of Norway has sent a giant spruce tree to Trafalgar Square to commemorate Britain’s support during World War II. The 85-foot tree is harvested from the woods around Oslo, Norway, shipped on an ocean liner to London, and decorated in the traditional Norwegian style, with glittering lights strung vertically. In the days leading up to Christmas, you’ll see carolers there daily. It’ll certainly get you in the spirit of the season!
3. Regent Street
In the heart of London’s West End, Regent Street puts on a real Christmas show; in fact, it’s London’s largest! The area’s Spirit of Christmas display features traditional glittering angels with wingspans that stretch across the street. These sparkling lights have gone up on Regent Street every year since 1954, and strolling through this particular display is a beloved tradition for locals. You will likely encounter crowds on Regent Street’s main thoroughfare, but you can also take in the angels from nearby Piccadilly Circus, where it’s usually less congested.
4. Kew Gardens
Easily one of London’s most beautiful spots, Kew Gardens truly sparkles at Christmas. The staff goes above and beyond to transform the Royal Botanic Gardens into a winter wonderland festooned with lights and lasers. There is a special holiday trail and night walk where visitors are treated to the sights and sounds of the season. You can grab a snack or some mulled wine from a street-food booth along the trail, and end your special evening out by warming up around the fire. Tickets for the experience must be purchased in advance and cost £18 for adults.
5. Covent Garden
Plan to sneak a kiss or two at Covent Garden, where mistletoe is the star of the holiday display. In this West End shopping district, you’ll see 40 massive mistletoe chandeliers with hundreds of brilliant berries on each one. Huge spans of twinkling lights link the chandeliers, and there are hundreds of thousands of additional bulbs around Covent Garden’s historic Market Building. Outside, Covent Garden’s Piazza will boast London’s biggest hand-picked Christmas tree. And keep an eye out for the display’s famous reindeer statue!
6. Carnaby Street
The shopping district off Carnaby Street in London’s West End has long been known for its funky, mod feel; the Beatles and the Rolling Stones routinely hung out there in the 1960s. The holidays continue that offbeat tradition. This year, the district’s spectacular Christmas display will feature underwater scenes full of sea creatures, with a focus on sustainability. Every element used in the design will feature recycled or repurposed materials. After Christmas, the entire installation will be donated for reuse. In addition, shoppers are encouraged to donate to the ocean conservancy charity Project Zero. It’s a great chance to support a worthy cause!
7. The London Eye
For a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of all of London in its holiday glory, consider a trip to the top of the London Eye. Book your tickets in advance for a spin on the famous structure, and enjoy the 45-minute trip that will give you an excellent vantage point from which to spot the city’s many holiday light displays. Keep your eyes peeled for the Shard, the 95-story skyscraper near the London Bridge. Every year during Christmastime, the top 20 floors are illuminated in a spectacular light show. Tickets for the London Eye start at £27 for adults; booking online in advance will save you a long wait.