London truly lights up at Christmas. When the weather turns cold and grey, the capital’s colorful holiday displays keep spirits high — even as the sun begins to set at 4 p.m. In late November-early December, Londoners usually celebrate the switch-on of London’s first Christmas lights with huge firework displays, Christmas carols, and even celebrity appearances. These events and holiday markets might have been cancelled this year, but the Christmas lights are still shining. And with less crowds and more pedestrianized streets, it’s an even better time to marvel at London’s best Christmas displays. Here’s where to find the best Christmas lights in London, in 2020 and beyond.
To plan the rest of your London experience, check out our guide to the city’s best neighborhoods, markets, and most Instagrammable spots. Plus, get tips on photographing London’s Christmastime displays with our guide to London night photography.
Regent’s Street began London’s Christmas lights tradition back in 1954. Regent Street is home to the largest light installation in the city. The street’s stunning “Spirit of Christmas” display features angels flying above one of London’s most famous shopping areas. This is a bustling part of town, but luckily, the street is going to stay car-free from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays in the lead-up to Christmas. Vehicles are also banned on Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus on those Saturdays (December 5, 12, and 19), in order to draw more shoppers to the area and provide more space for pedestrians.
Around the corner from Regent Street on Piccadilly Street is Fortnum & Mason, an iconic London department store known for its extravagant afternoon tea. The store is decked out like an advent calendar at Christmas — you can’t miss it.
This year, Oxford Street’s lights pay tribute to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) staff and the key workers that have contributed to London’s pandemic response. Londoners can nominate their own “2020 Hero” on the Oxford Street website, and successful nominees will see their name in lights for one week. A Christmas poem will also appear in lights on banners that run down Oxford Street. The 27 LED curtains are made up of 222,000 lights in total. Though there was no grand switch-on this year, the lights are still worth a socially distanced visit.
New Bond Street is famous for its luxury fashion brands. In fact, it has been identified as the most expensive shopping street in Europe, and the third in the world. New Bond Street’s Christmastime decorations are suitably luxe, with dazzling peacock feathers stretching out across the street.
At Cartier’s New Bond Street location, the Christmas decorations are anything but subtle. Wrapped like a gigantic present, the eye-catching display is complete with a giant panther wrapping its paws around the storefront.
This year, Carnaby Street’s display of glittering pink lights and neon banners is in partnership with the charity Choose Love, which helps provide essential products to refugees. This pedestrianized street is only a few streets away from Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Bond Street, so checking out all these Christmas lights is doable in one evening.
Carnaby’s Kingly Court is also a great place for a dinnertime pit stop: the three-story dining spot has plenty of outdoor seating, and is home to 20 restaurants, bars, and cafés, including popular chains like Pizza Pilgrims and Shoryu Ramen.
The main Christmastime attraction at Covent Garden is the tree: with more than 30,000 lights, this is London’s biggest hand-picked tree. In normal years, the light switch-on at Covent Garden is a major event. In 2019, Emma Thompson and Emilia Clarke switched the lights on at Covent Garden while promoting their holiday rom-com. Though the gathering has been cancelled for 2020, Covent Garden’s shops and dining are open, along with its open-air Apple Market. This is also a sight to see in December, with its huge baubles and mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.
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Kew Garden’s stunning winter trail is an Instagrammer’s dream. Running for its eighth year in 2020, Christmas at Kew features an illuminated Rose Garden, a sparkling Tunnel of Light, and fiery sculptures in the Fire Garden. Warning: this much-anticipated Christmas display is highly popular. Tickets (which cost between £19.50-24.50) sell out fast, so be sure to plan ahead.
The Churchill Arms
In need of a pint after Christmas shopping? The Churchill Arms is one of London’s most iconic pubs. Located in the London borough of Kensington, this pub celebrates each new season with extravagant decorations: in the spring and summer, the pub’s exterior overflows with flowers. In the winter, 90 Christmas trees — yes, you read that right — cover the pub head-to-toe, while 12,000 lights make the whole place glow. The Churchill Arms has been keeping up this Christmas tradition for over 30 years, so even 2020 couldn’t stop the pub from going all-out with their display. This famous spot is also the first London pub to serve Thai food alongside their beers, so you can warm up from the cold with a nice Pad Thai.
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Canary Wharf’s annual Winter Lights festival usually takes place in January, but it has already been cancelled in 2021. As a replacement, the area launched its “Connected by Light” display. The organizers say they’ve chosen a smaller number of installations this year that visitors can appreciated from a distance, in order to safely showcase some of the UK’s best light artists.
The Connected by Light display will stay lit until the end of February, while Canary Wharf’s Winter Lights event plans to return in 2022.
Neighborhoods across London each have their own spin on Christmas decoration. From Mayfair’s elaborate storefronts, to Belgravia’s rainbow-covered Motcomb Street, to Greenwich Market’s cheery lights, there is no shortage of Christmas spirit in the capital. Even The Shard, London’s tallest building, lights up its top 20 floors in honor of the holidays, with a special display on New Year’s Eve.
What are your favorite Christmas decorations in London? Let us know on Twitter!