A cheap and cheerful guide to Christmas in London

16 December 2021

We don’t know if you’ve been able to tell, but in the UK we absolutely love Christmas. So, if you want to celebrate Christmas in a true British fashion, but without breaking the bank, here is our cheap and cheerful guide to Christmas in London.

oxford street decorated with Christmas decorations

Christmas Markets (or any market will do)

big baubles hanging up in covent garden
There are markets all around London, and some of them get a festive spin at Christmas. They are all free to visit, so it is well worth checking one out:

Southbank Winter Market

A short bus ride over the river to Waterloo. Stroll along the Thames and enjoy this Winter market. You will find pop-up bars, street food vendors and lots of stalls to shop or browse. 

For more details. 

Borough Market

This is an all-year-round market, but at this time of the year, when good food is of high importance, Borough Market will not disappoint. Here you can purchase artisanal produce, sample the outstanding street food or just get lost in the buzz of this historic market. 

Christmas opening times. 

Colombia Road Christmas Market

Primarily a Sunday flower market, Colombia Road is transforming into a Christmas market on Wednesdays in December. A great mid-week excursion to get us to the end of term.

All the info can be found here

Covent Garden/Oxford Street/Carnaby Street

carnaby street lights in 2019
This is such a fun walk to do. Maybe grab a hot chocolate and stroll between these locations, which boast the best Christmas lights in the city.

Hampstead Heath followed by a hot drink in the pub? Yes, please. 

black and white misty photo of the london skyline
It is a busy time of year, especially for students. It might be nice to prioritise some time for getting into nature and taking a long walk. Hampstead Heath offers some tranquillity in the city, so if getting away from the hustle and bustle is just what you fancy, you should definitely go here. With a friend or by yourself, a stomp around the heath will do the world of good. Ps. see if you can spot anyone going for a swim in the ponds!

Check out all of Hampstead Heath's walking routes

Hampstead is a charming part of London with quaint pubs and cafes dotted all around. Take a book or write some postcards over a hot chocolate or mulled wine.

Festive film night

animated snowman and a little boy flying through the air in the snow
Watching films is just what these dark December evenings call for. Christmas films are a must, but some all-star British cinema can also get thrown into the mix.

This is our must watch list: 

  • ‘Love Actually’, featuring the likes of Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman and Hugh Grant. This has become a Christmas classic and will likely make you laugh, cry and cringe a bit.
  • ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ is a Christmas must. Watch Bridget and Mark Darcey, (national treasure, Colin Firth), awkwardly chat over hors d'oeuvres in kitsch festive attire. 
  • James Bond. Every and any James Bond film will be on over Christmas, so take your pick!
  • Anything Aardman. ‘Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ and ‘Chicken Run’ are fan favourites.
  • ‘The Snowman’, which is only 30 minutes long, is a beautiful, animated film that will melt your heart… This film holds a lot of sentimental value to many British people.
  • 'A Christmas Carol' (1999). A great film adaptation of Dickens’ classic novella. This film reminds us that the holiday period is an opportunity to show kindness and generosity towards others. 
  • Harry Potter. We don't need to say anything more.  

Make a pomander or Christingle

pomanders are oranges decorated with cloves and ribbon
This is a Christmas activity that you may not know about, but trust us, it is fun, easy and affordable, yay! Your decorated orange can be left to dry by a radiator to give your room the ultimate Christmas aroma.

All you’ll need is some whole cloves, an orange and string or ribbon. Pierce the orange with the whole cloves and tie string around the orange to hang it up. If you want to get super fancy with it, you can carve patterns into the orange too. 

A Christingle is a bit more complicated…probably better for the BBC to explain

Carol concert

carol singers in decorated royal albert hall
Singing carols will fill your soul with Christmas cheer. Many churches will host concerts, so perhaps google a local church near you or others around London. Everyone is welcome!

Over 40 choirs will be performing in Trafalgar Square in the run up to Christmas. Performances take place from 4 - 8 pm on weekdays, and from 2 - 6 pm on weekends.

If all else fails, there are Youtube livestreams or recordings of carol concerts. Here is an Advent Carol Service live from Trinity College Chapel in Cambridge. 


Somerset House iceskating rink at Christmas
There are many ice-skating rinks to choose from this time of year. Tickets are around £11/£15 pp – remember to check for student discounts!

For an affordable option go to Sobell Leisure Centre in Islington. You can skate for just under £10 pp, including skate hire. Bargain!

If you are keen to get skating, why not join the UCL Ice Club? They do weekly skating sessions for only £7.00 including skate hire


poster for sleeping beauty the pantomime with four characters over the words sleeping beauty.
The Pantomime is a right of passage at this time of year. Oddly enough, the worse a pantomime is, the better it is…This are bad jokes, cheesy music, slap stick comedy, garish costumes and the audience always get involved. You’ll be booing…A LOT, but it is part of the fun. 

You can see Sleeping Beauty at Hoxton Hall for £11.50 with your student card!

The Ballet

ballet dancers in white tutus
Watching ballet is wonderful at this time of the year. You have a few options to watch ballet, including the magical Christmas ballet, The Nutcracker. 

Sign up to the Young Royal Opera House. For young people aged 16 – 25, you can secure tickets from £25.00. 

You can also watch full-length ballets on YouTube, such as this live performance at the Mariinsky Theatre in Russia


three people laughing and celebrating christmas in christmas jumpers and outfits
For some people this is a lonely and difficult time of year. If you have any free time over the Winter months, you might consider volunteering. Your time would make a huge difference to charities and the service users that rely on them. Some charities may only need volunteers to commit for an hour or two, and you can guarantee that it will be a fun and joyous time for all.

Here are some volunteering ideas. 

That wraps up our guide to Christmas in London. We hope it will inspire you as we head towards the end of term. We want to say a huge well done for finishing your first term at UCL. Make sure to celebrate your hard work and take some well-deserved rest over the Holidays.

UCL have a dedicated page with a breakdown of the support and services available to students over the Winter break, should you need any help, do not hesistate to contact support services.  

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from the International Student Support team