Most of my visits to London had been quick trips made in the summer or spring. It wasn’t until I moved there for grad school that I truly experienced their winter. And I learned very quickly that London loves Christmas. And they’re right to… There is something truly magical about London between the months of November and January. The city lights up in the most unexpected and lovely ways despite the dark and dreary weather. It gets cold, but not freezing most days. There’s occasionally snow but only enough for you to appreciate it before it’s gone.
What I love the most is the festive feelings everywhere.
A wander down Oxford Street and Regent Street will show you storefront after storefront with holiday-themed displays perfect for a bit of window shopping, with strings of lights reaching from building to building. Carnaby Street and Covent Garden also get all dressed up for the occasion with giant ornaments, lights, wreaths, and general festive cheer.
Trafalgar Square hosts a massive Christmas tree, while Somerset House and the Natural History Museum fill their courtyards to create skating rinks.
The U.S. has still not adopted the Christmas market to nearly the extent Europe has, which is a bit of a disappointment in my opinion. Hyde Park turns into Winter Wonderland, filled with rides, hot cider and wine, food, games – and entrance to the experience is free. So you can wander the crowds and take in the sights and sounds on the cheap. Leicester Square also hosts a smaller Christmas market with little booths to shop at. It’s much easier to pop in and out of than the Hyde Park situation.
Though it gets dark early and the weather is not ideal, there’s nothing quite like wandering past a pub and seeing everyone wrapped up inside enjoying their evening, or passing by a window display of a man dressed as a tree or only in brussel sprouts, or seeing lights flicker on overhead as you drive by on your double-decker bus.
Winter is a magical time to be in London.
No, we don’t really get snow. And yes, most of the city seems to disappear for the month. But DC in December is still a lovely place to be.
Last year, I happened to get a tour of the White House during the holiday season, but there are plenty of accessible (and mostly free!) options for a festive December in DC.
The National Christmas Tree is lit, with smaller trees representing each of the states (and territories!). My favorite part as a child was always the massive Yule log (because it was warm after being outside freezing!).
The National Botanical Garden gets festive as well. There’s a model train display and this year’s theme is botanic gardens from Hawaii to Maine.
Less flora, more fauna? Head to the National Zoo for ZooLights! Most of the animals will be snoozing, but you can wander amongst the light displays of all your favorite zoo friends.
Speaking of lights: Georgetown lights up for Georgetown Glow. The curated lights display takes you on a path through and around Georgetown with different installations. Each year brings different artists and different spots for the area to light up each night.
Maybe you don’t want to drive all the way into the city? Old Town Alexandria is always a lovely place to visit, but in December it definitely keeps its charm. The first weekend in December is the Scottish Walk supporting the Campagna Center. (There’s always plenty of pups, too!)
My personal favorite part of the holidays is a good Christmas market. Luckily, there’s one on F Street. The Downtown Holiday Market features local artists and crafters, as well as food stalls. It’s a great stop for a last minute Christmas gift and reminds me of London at this time of year.
Have you got any festive plans for the month of December?