When you think of winter destinations, London probably doesn’t come to mind. After all, though there’s lots to do during winter in London, it’s as likely to rain as snow on any given day of the festive holiday season that ends each year. Not exactly the most cheery!
But don’t let that discourage you from visiting London around this time of year; there are plenty of incredible holiday-specific activities including Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, Christmas markets, and, of course, Christmas lights in London! Festive, luminous displays can be found all across the city, from private homes to bustling thoroughfares.
In this post, I’ll break down some of the best spots in London to see Christmas light displays. Some are well-known and popular, whereas others might surprise you and give even locals reading this a reason to seek out a new part of town to watch thousands of twinkling lights illuminate the dark winter nights.
1. Oxford Street
Locals who love grandeur and exuberance will argue that Oxford Street puts up the best Christmas lights in London. The truth is Oxford Street likes to go big in this festive season.
Last year, Oxford Street unveiled 27 dazzling light curtains, replacing the 1778 baubles, which floated above shoppers for several years. The curtains consisted of more than 200,000 twinkling bulbs! Besides celebrating this jolly season, Oxford Street decided to dedicate 2020’s Christmas lights to NHS staff and key workers, with the name of a “2020 Hero” alongside heartwarming poems and gratitude messages appearing in the lights each week.
2. Regent Street
The Christmas lights at Regent Street are doubly special since this street is where the sparkling tradition began. Back in 1954, the Daily Telegraph reported that London looked “drab” at Christmas. Facing such declarations, Regent Street decided to show the newspaper they knew how to celebrate Christmas and hung dazzling decorations across the entire street. Regent Street set a successful example, and many other parts of the city followed the tradition.
Today, the lovely decorations still hover above, invading this part of the city with an angelical and Christmassy atmosphere. There’s a big switch-on event in the middle of November to kick off the festive holiday season in London. Hopefully, in 2021 will be able to see it again!
3. Carnaby Street
Carnaby Street has always been home to unorthodox movements in every possible field. Their lights game follows the same path. Don’t expect to find charming angels or reindeer floating in the air. Instead, expect pop-culture-inspired light displays!
In 2018, Carnaby launched a Queen-inspired light installation to celebrate the film Bohemian Rhapsody. In 2020, Carnaby set up lights displaying messages of hope and kindness, with bright pink neon signs bearing words such as “love,” “hero,” “future,” and “London.”
I can’t wait to see what Carnaby has prepared for the 2021 London Christmas lights!
4. Bond Street
One of the capital’s most luxurious shopping districts, Bond Street boasts some of the best Christmas lights in London. They are a clear example that when you do something right, there’s no need to change it. Year after year, spectacular peacock feathers light up along the glamorous street.
The designers had explained that their distinctive peacock-inspired design dates back to the late 1700s when Bond Street was the favorite haunt of ‘The Bond Street Loungers;’ dapper men who promenaded down the street and became the early fashionistas, or ‘peacocks’ of their day. I could say that the ‘peacocks’ essence never truly left as the cocky light design illuminates today’s fashionistas who pop into the fancy stores along the street looking for presents.
5. Covent Garden
Visiting Covent Garden during Christmas is like entering into a winter wonderland. Giant mistletoe chandeliers and over 115,000 twinkling lights illuminate the cobbled streets of this 19th-century Piazza.
What sets the Covent Garden light game apart is that it boasts the biggest hand-picked Christmas tree garlanded with 30,000 lights! How big? We’re talking about a whopping 60 foot tall Christmas tree and not just any tall tree. This one comes from the same farm that the Royal Family gets their trees from.
6. Seven Dials
When you finish absorbing the magic at Covent Garden, you can reach a new Christmas destination 6 minutes away: Seven Dials. These London Christmas light displays capture the intimate side of Christmas. The design is beautiful yet subtle, with white twigs featured at the famous roundabout, with pink and silver baubles weaving through.
Stroll around the cobbled streets and explore the quirky boutiques and eclectic eateries, who also dress up in their best Christmas outfit.
7. Marylebone Village
Chic Marylebone Village also partakes in the festivities and likes to do it in style, pretty much like the luxurious boutiques you’ll find there. The designers set alight the streets with twinkling stars and garlands, bringing that Christmas cheer to London. There’s always a switch-on event with plenty of activities to keep guests entertained; shopping stalls, food, drink, a Santa’s Grotto, fairground rides, tombola, and live music.
Last year, celebrity Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs officially switched on the festive Christmas lights. If you’d like to splurge early this Christmas, the switch-on evening is the perfect opportunity, with discounts running across stores such as; John Smedley, J Crew, Rachel Riley, David Mellor, and Fabriano Boutique.
8. King’s Cross
If you’re an arts and culture vulture, King’s Cross will have the best Christmas lights in London for you. Many designer businesses, as well as local architecture studios, have their headquarters in King’s Cross. That’s why the area tends to use the Christmas season to showcase its creatives. Instead of finding traditional mistletoes and garlanded Christmas trees, you’ll see “traditionally untraditional” installations– eclectic light displays with a somewhat futuristic look.
The Electric Nemeton Tree is the best example. Local architecture practice Sam Jacobs Studio designed this giant, walk-through sculpture, taking inspiration from fairy tale forests and the symbolism of the midwinter tree.
9. South Bank
South Bank had been home to a lovely Christmas Market for years. However, due to the Grinch (aka Covid), the city decided to cancel the fabulous market, leaving Londoners in total despair. However, South Bank Centre found a way to fill this part of London with Christmas cheer and uplift the spirits of Londoners.
In 2020, South Bank hosted Winter Lights, an open-air exhibition along the riverfront featuring 17 thought-provoking artworks that take inspiration from light, color, and the poetics of space. As all pieces used light and some animations, the area glowed with beautiful lights.
10. Fortnum & Mason
“Come December, we’ll be celebrating the countdown to Christmas on a grander scale than ever before,” stated Fortnum & Mason last year. The truth is that the upmarket department store on Piccadilly takes Christmas with utmost seriousness. Inside, all boutiques feature Christmas decorations, Christmas cakes, Christmas tea, Christmas mugs, Christmas everything. It looks as if you were entering Santa Claus’s workshop.
Outside, the department store transforms the façade into a giant advent calendar, and the windows of shops along Duke Street celebrate their season’s feastings, showcasing every delicious bite you’d like to serve for the big day.
11. Shard Lights
Photo credit: It’s No Game (L) & alh1 (R) via Flickr
The Shard lights make those dark winter skies a whole lot brighter. Like many other Christmas light displays in London, the first phase of 2020, The Shard Lights 2020 display, paid tribute to the nation’s NHS workers, beaming a massive “thank you” in Morse code and lights in shades of blue and white. Then, the spire lights illuminated London’s evening sky with traditional gold, red, and festive green hues.
For the big switch-on event, find your spot and look up to see how 575 LED lights and fixtures across the top 20 stories of The Shard light up the London skyline.
12. Motcomb Street
London’s fashionable Belgravia becomes a magical place when Christmas rolls around each year. Choosing a common theme, the streets of the lovely neighborhood decorate every nook with the usual glitter and sparkle. Last year, Belgravia chose a rainbow theme to ignite the festive spirit.
Belgravia’s Motcomb Street is the best starting point to explore the neighborhood’s light setup. Along the street, you’ll find rows of rainbow-colored LED banners brightening up this walkway. If you take your time, you might see the moment these beautiful rainbows turn to white.
13. Leicester Square
Leicester Square, one of the most famous squares in London, transforms into a Christmas wonderland. For the festive season, the square loves to shower the place with the Christmas spirit. Expect to see twinkling stars stretching along the area’s streets and all trees featuring colorful garlands and baubles.
While the lights are undoubtedly beautiful, people love Leicester Square for its iconic traditional Christmas market, where you can buy your own Christmas lights. The square also plays host to several Christmas-themed shows in the velvet-draped 1920s Leicester Square Spiegeltent.
Do you know any other great spots for seeing Christmas lights in London? Share them with everyone in the comments!