If you’re planning a family day out in London in December, there’s a wealth of fab things to see and do there, many of which are free of charge. Each month I publish a round-up of some of the most interesting, unusual, quirky and fun things to do in the city with kids – here’s my selection for December 2018.
Carols at Trafalgar Square
There are groups of carol singers performing at Trafalgar Square each afternoon from 10th to 21st December (apart from 15th). The singers perform beside the square’s giant Christmas tree, which is donated by Norway to Britain every year, as thanks for our country’s support during WWII.
Cost: Free (although donations are appreciated as the singers are usually raising money for charity).
Returning to Clapham Common for 2018, Winterville bills itself as an alternative Christmas experience. With ice skating, festive films, tasty street food, fun fair rides and live music as well as Mexican wrestling, Plonk Golf and roller skating it’s a great place for a fun festive trip. Winterville is open until December 23rd, 2018.
Cost: Varies according to activity. If you book tickets in advance, entry is free.
London International Horse Show
The annual London International Horse Show is at Olympia from 17th to 23rd December. The spectacular equestrian event hosts World Cup competitions in Dressage, Show Jumping and Driving. There’s also a shopping village and many different places to eat.
Cost: From £23 per person.
Harlequins Big Game 11
This is a great event for rugby fans – Harlequins Big Game 11 takes place at Twickenham Stadium on 29th December. Besides the rugby (Harlequins v Wasps) there’s live musical entertainment.
Cost: Child from £15, adult from £25.
New Year’s Eve fireworks
The New Year’s Eve fireworks display at the London Eye is a spectacular event. You can watch the fireworks on TV or you can buy tickets in advance to actually go and see them. This event is always extremely crowded and so it probably isn’t suitable for very small children.
Cost: £10 per person.
Christmas at Kew
The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew are lit up after dark with more than a million lights and thousands of laser beams for Christmas at Kew, from November 22nd, 2018 to January 5th, 2019. Besides the winter trail with twinkly lights through the famous gardens, there’s a fire garden and water projections. There are also some vintage fairground rides, and kids may spot Father Christmas and his elves.
Cost: Adult from £16.50, child from £10, under-fours free.
Every winter a large area of Hyde Park becomes Winter Wonderland. The attraction offers live shows, a large outdoor ice rink, fairground rides and a Christmas market. There’s no charge to enter Winter Wonderland – you only pay for the activities which you try. It’s best to book ahead for things such as ice-skating and the live shows. From 22nd November, 2018 to January 6th, 2019.
Cost: Free to enter, pay according to activity.
Southbank Centre’s Wintertime Festival
The Southbank Centre’s Wintertime Festival has a busy schedule of entertainment for all the family from 9th November 2018 to 6th January 2019. Highlights include live shows, a winter market, and global street food.
Cost: Depends on event – access to the market is free.
Christmas in Leicester Square
Christmas in Leicester Square is running from November 9th 2018 to 6th January 2019, and offers range of entertainment as well as a Christmas market and Santa’s Grotto. Highlights include Monski Mouse’s Christmas Baby Disco Dancehall, Brat Kids Carnival and The Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show!.
Cost: Free entry, Grotto from £11.50, tickets for performances vary according to event.
Hogwarts in the Snow
Once again some of the sets from the popular Harry Potter films at the Warner Bros Studio Tour are transformed for the festive season. We loved our New Year’s Eve visit to see Hogwarts in the Snow – here’s my review: Warner Bros Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts in the Snow is running from 17th November, 2018 to 27th January, 2019.
Cost: From £43 per adult, from £35 per child, free under-fives.
Each December there are beautiful Christmas light displays across London. Some of the best are on Oxford Street, Regent Street, Covent Garden and Carnaby Street. There are some excellent Christmas shop window displays along these streets too.
Wherever you are in London this month, you’re sure to be near an ice rink. Each winter a scattering of outdoor ice rinks pops up across the city. Some of the best ice rinks are at the Natural History Museum, Somerset House (my new favourite place to skate), the Tower of London (my second favourite place to skate), Hampton Court, Winter Wonderland and Canary Wharf. Fellow blogger Cathy Winston enjoyed skating at Hampton Court with her daughter and wrote a review of it for me – you can read her post here: Ice skating at Hampton Court Palace, London. Book in advance so that you can skate at your preferred time. Ice skate hire is included in the ticket price.
December and January are pantomime season (oh yes, they are!) and there are shows running at theatres up and down the country. Pantomime is a marvellous tradition which developed from the sixteenth century Italian street theatre of the Commedia dell’arte, and it’s a perfect way to introduce children to theatre. This year in London there’s Peter Pan at the the Richmond Theatre, Aladdin at the New Wimbledon Theatre, Snow White at the London Palladium, as well as many others.
Cost: Varies according to show.
Besides pantomimes, there’s a wealth of other festive shows on offer which are great for families. Some of the best are The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre for its 21st consecutive year, a musical performance of A Christmas Carol at the Lyceum Theatre and The Nutcracker at The Royal Opera House.
Cost: Varies according to show.
Life in the Dark
The Natural History Museum invites you to put your senses to the test when you visit their Life in the Dark exhibition. You can learn about the lives of nocturnal animals at the exhibition until 31st January 2019.
Cost: Entry to the museum is free, entry to Life in the Dark costs from £7.50 for adults, under-16s are free.
Good Grief, Charlie Brown!
You can see Snoopy, Charlie Brown and friends at the excellent Good Grief, Charlie Brown! exhibition at Somerset House this winter. I remember reading the Peanuts comic strips by Charles M. Schultz in my dad’s newspaper as a child, but before visiting the exhibition I had no idea of their ongoing cultural significance, that Lucy and Peppermint Pattie were feminist icons, that there was an actual Snoopy for President campaign in the US in the 1968 and 1972 elections (now there’s a campaign which is ripe for revival), or that NASA has a Silver Snoopy award for space safety. Fascinating stuff. The exhibition is running until March 3rd, 2019.
Cost: Adults £14.00, under-12s free.
Sculpture in the City
Sculpture in the City is an annual event featuring contemporary art works on display in public areas in the City of London. This year the event includes works by Sarah Lucas, Amanda Lwin and Marina Abramovic, and the art works are in place until April 2019. You can find out more about the pieces on display here.
The Sun: Living With Our Star
The Science Museum‘s latest exhibition looks at our relationship with our closest star, the Sun. Visitors to this interactive experience can enjoy an indoor beach, try on virtual sunglasses and watch the sunrise in places around the world on a huge wall display. Until May 6th, 2019.
Cost: From £15.
More on London
If you’d like a moneysaving sightseeing pass for your trip to the city, The London Pass includes a one-day hop-on hop-off bus tour, as well as free entry to more than 80 attractions, tours and museums, such as the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey and The View from The Shard. The pass also gives you fast-track entry at some of the most popular attractions, so you don’t have to waste time queueing.
If you’d like a London guide book, I recommend both the Lonely Planet London Travel Guide and the London Marco Polo Travel Guide. If you need accommodation, check out my post about family-friendly places to stay in the capital.
Check back each month for my latest London round-up – or you can subscribe to my blog (by entering your email address in the box on the right – where it says ‘YOU’D LIKE MY POSTS BY EMAIL?’) and it will be emailed to you automatically.
You can read my January round-up of top things to do in the city here:
Here’s a post with loads of ideas for fantastic free stuff to do in London for families with a teen in tow:
Over to you
Do you have any tips to share for great things to see or do in London this month or any other month? Do share so that I can include your recommendations. Check back each month for the latest round-up, or else subscribe to have posts sent automatically to you by email.