Top Christmas attractions in London

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London may be one of the world’s most contemporary and cosmopolitan cities, but that doesn’t mean it’s forgotten its historical charm, and this is never more evident than over the Christmas period. Even when London’s iconic streets aren’t coated in snow, its festive lights, decorations and Christmas markets create a truly Dickensian atmosphere even in the heart of the modern city, transporting visitors back in time and helping them get back in touch with the true meaning of Christmas – away from the glitz of the city’s shopping centres.

That doesn’t mean London’s department stores should be avoided altogether on your Christmas break though, especially as these can be the perfect places to buy your festive gifts. Famous department stores like Selfridges and the upmarket Harrods are as popular with window shoppers as customers, but it’s the city’s traditional Christmas markets that really capture the magic of the season, with many stalls selling hand-made goods and authentic yuletide snacks.

Christmas is one of the best times for sightseeing in the capital too, especially as popular locations like Trafalgar Square are given an extra boost with a festive makeover. The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree may not reach the height of Nelson’s Column, but this tree has its own share of legends and superstitions surrounding it – including its alleged origin in Germany and the religious symbolism of its carefully arranged decorations.

However, it’s the tree’s more overt symbolism as a reminder of war time – given to London by Oslo as thanks for Britain’s defence of Norway in the Second World War – that makes it particularly moving and relevant to modern passersby. The tree also makes a natural headquarters for London’s most talented carol singers, filling the square with heavenly sounds every evening during the holiday season.

If you’re staying at London hotels close to famous attractions such as the Tower of London, you may be surprised at just how much these get into the Christmas spirit too. The tower is popular all year round for its grisly history, but takes on a radically different role during the winter, when the dry moat is opened as an ice rink. Visit later in the day when the building is lit by floodlights to enjoy the best views.

London is a popular destination for theatre shows too, and companies such as the English National Ballet pull out all the stops to attract visitors during the period. You can always rely on London’s winter theatre schedule to feature classics like The Nutcracker, uniting audience members of all ages.