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 2019.
The Great Christmas Pudding Race
This annual charity event in aid of Cancer Research UK takes place in Covent Garden and is great fun to watch. Teams of six race around a festive obstacle course while carrying a Christmas pudding on a tray. There are festive tasks to complete along the way, the race is in heats and there’s a prize for the best fancy dress. This year’s Great Christmas Pudding Race takes place on Saturday December 7th. You have to be at least 14 years old to take part in the race.
Cost: The registration fee is £75 per team. Each team of six is asked to raise at least £600 for Cancer Research UK.
Carols at Trafalgar Square
There are groups of carol singers performing at Trafalgar Square on most afternoons from 9th to 24th December. 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).
London International Horse Show
The annual London International Horse Show is at Olympia from 16th to 22nd 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 £28.20 per person.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
There’s a production of Goldilocks and the Three Bears running from 30th November to 24th December at Jacksons Lane arts centre in North London. Aimed at children aged 3 to 7, the show is told from the perspective of the bear family, who live in a home made from upcycled rubbish which they have found in the woods.
Cost: From £10.
Harlequins Big Game 12
This is a great event for rugby fans – Harlequins Big Game 12 takes place at Twickenham Stadium on 29th December. Besides the rugby (Harlequins v Leicester Tigers) there’s live musical entertainment and spectacular pyrotechnics.
Cost: From £27.
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.
Southbank Centre’s Wintertime Festival
The Southbank Centre’s Wintertime Festival has a busy schedule of entertainment for all the family from 8th November 2019 to 5th January 2020. Highlights include a five-star retelling of the classic story Black Beauty, turn-of-the-century circus at Circus 1903, a winter market, and global street food stalls.
Cost: Depends on event – access to the market is free.
Christmas in Leicester Square
Christmas in Leicester Square is running from November 8th 2019 to 5th January 2020, and offers range of entertainment as well as a Christmas market and Santa’s Grotto. Highlights include the Showstoppers’ Christmas Kids Show, Fun Kids Epic Roadshow Adventure and Santa’s Grotto.
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 16th November, 2019 to 26th January, 2020.
Cost: From £47 per adult, from £38 per child, free for under-fives.
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 20th, 2019 to January 5th, 2020. 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 £18.00, child from £11, 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 21st November, 2019 to January 5th, 2020.
Cost: Free to enter, pay according to activity.
Somerset House 24/7
Somerset House’s major winter exhibition 24/7 explores our inability to switch off from our 24/7 culture. The exhibition features a host of immersive works which explore the unrelenting pressure to consume and produce. One of the works allows you to be wrapped in a copper blanket, to block any electro-magnetic signal getting to you, and you can also learn about the experience of an artist who went for six months with no internet access. Until 23rd February 2020.
Cost: Adults £14, students £11.00 under-12s free.
Royal Opera House
Live at Lunch is a series of free lunchtime performances inspired by the Royal Opera House’s heritage and its operas and ballets. Artists from the ROH as well as guest artists perform from 1pm on specific dates until 28th February, 2020. Performances take place in newly opened-up spaces of the Royal Opera House.
Sculpture in the City
Sculpture in the City is an annual event featuring contemporary works by internationally renowned artists. The works are displayed in public areas in the City of London. The art works from the 9th edition of the event are in place until April 2020. You can find out more about the pieces on display here.
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 favourite place to skate), the Tower of London (my second favourite place to skate), Hampton Court, Winter Wonderland and Canary Wharf. You can read my London ice skating tips here: Best places to ice skate in 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 Cinderella at the Lyric Hammersmith, Goldilocks and the Three Bears at the London Palladium, Sleeping Beauty at the Greenwich Theatre, 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 22nd consecutive year, the English National Ballet performing The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum and Nativity! The Musical at the Apollo.
Cost: Varies according to show.
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: 60 free things to do in London with a teenager.
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.