Let’s take a London Christmas lights walking tour together! Wanderful’s London Chapter Director Kristen Mankosa guides us on a 90-minute stroll through the city and its holiday celebrations.
A Christmas Light Trail from Trafalgar Square to Carnaby Street
There are few things in life more magical than Christmastime in London. Though Christmas 2020 looks vastly different from the London of Christmas Past — fewer light-switch-on festivals, fewer Christmas markets, and no Winter Wonderland are some key traditions missing from this year’s holiday season.
However, the city has gone all-out on light displays and storefront windows to make sure that Christmas cheer can still be found.
So, if you’re already in the city and looking for a way to deck out your holiday season then grab your mask, someone from your bubble, and head out on this 90-minute, self-guided walking tour that hits all the best lights around central London.
Begin your tour with the Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree, a massive tree that dominates the square and provides a centrepiece for holiday entertainment in non-pandemic times.
The tree is donated from Norway to the people of Britain each year as a thank you gift for British support to Norwegians during World War II and is decorated in a traditional Norwegian style.
From Trafalgar Square, Walk down the Strand, toward Covent Garden, and admire the North Bank Lights along the way. Turn left at Southampton Street to enter Covent Garden.
Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden’s 60-foot Christmas tree has made a triumphant return to the Piazza this year, along with all the classic favourites like the giant Christmas baubles and Mistletoe Lights hanging from the market halls.
As an additional surprise, Covent Garden will have daily “snow shows” on the hour between Noon and 6pm, as well as a festive LEGO display and even a mulled wine festival if you visit between 10-13 December. Check the Covent Garden website to book ahead for some of these events.
Take your time exploring the market where you can find gift inspiration, holiday store windows, and plenty of options for a hot chocolate to warm up with!
When you’re ready to move on, continue onto James Street for a short distance and then turn left on Floral Street, just by the White Lion Pub.
Floral Street is a quaint street full of fashion shops and boutiques, though in the 18th century this short road was lined with nearly a dozen pubs! Now it boasts charming brickwork buildings, a cobblestoned street, and a crisscross of lights overhead.
As you near the end of the street, you’ll see a passageway on your right, next to the TK Maxx. Turn right into Conduit Court and you’ll find the Instagram-worthy Infinity Chamber leading to Long Acre and directly across from St. Martin’s Courtyard.
St. Martin’s Courtyard & Mercer Walk
St. Martin’s Courtyard, which is now part of The Yards Covent Garden, is a small shopping plaza tucked just off Long Acre. It boasts great places to eat, like London’s famous Dishoom and the brand new Arome Bakery, as well as some elaborate themed Christmas lights.
This year’s lights have a floral feel to them and hang overhead as well as light up the sides of the buildings.
Once you’ve had your fill of the courtyard, walk through the covered passageway on your right that leads to Mercer Street. A quick right-left jog will send you into Mercer Walk where branches of bright, white lights and shiny red baubles are strung up around this cute, pedestrianised walkway.
The highlight here is Stanfords Travel Bookshop, London’s oldest and largest travel bookstore. I definitely recommend stopping here to look around, check out their famous map floors, and top up with a hot chocolate to go!
Neal’s Yard and Seven Dials
From Stanfords Bookstore, you’ll want to head to Neal Street. To get there, turn right onto Langley, left on Long Acre, and left again onto Neal Street. Neal Street will take you into Seven Dials and you’ll be passing some more great shops like the Tea House and The Noble Collection — a haven of collectables for comic lovers and movie buffs!
Make your way up the road until you arrive at Short’s Garden. Turn right onto Short’s Garden and then left into Neal’s Yard.
Tucked away inside Seven Dials, Neal’s Yard is one of the most colourful spots in London and, despite its small appearance, is full of restaurants, cafés, and even the home of Neal’s Yard Remedies.
Walk through the yard, past Graffiti Artist Bambi’s Princess Diana Tribute, and out the other side at Monmouth Street. You’ll find yourself directly across from a Hotel Chocolat and just up from the Monmouth Coffee Company, both of which offer great options for a hot beverage if you’re feeling a chill!
Turn left onto Monmouth Street and follow the forest of twinkling lights to the Seven Dials Sundial, which is surrounded by frosted silver branches with colourful bulbs nestled among them. Walk around the dials and continue down Monmouth Street, heading toward Leicester Square.
Chinatown and Piccadilly Circus
Monmouth Street eventually becomes Upper St. Martin’s Lane, which you’ll want to follow until you come to the Great Newport Street and Long Acre intersection. We’ll now be heading into Chinatown to see their new lanterns.
Turn right onto Great Newport Street and walk across Charing Cross Road at the pedestrian crossing, though mind the traffic.
After the crossing, you should be directly in front of Newport Court. Follow Newport Court and take a right to Newport place, then left into the heart of Chinatown. You should now be on Gerrard Street and in full view of the hundreds of brand-new colourful lanterns hanging across the street.
Deviating from the traditional red, these lanterns are brightly lit and come in every shade of the rainbow! At the end of the road, turn left on Wardour Street and then right on Coventry Street. You should be able to make out Piccadilly Circus just ahead.
Fortnum & Masons and Bond Street
Make your way to the Statue of Eros and follow the road around the corner, walking down Regent Street St James’. You’ll only be on the road for a moment before Turning right onto Jermyn Street.
The lights down Jermyn Street, a road lined with luxury menswear shops, mimic the dazzling lights on the more prominent Regent Street. These lights, together with Regent’s Street and the St. James’ Market, create one of the largest cohesive light schemes put on in the area. Designed to look like angels soaring across the night sky, you can follow the holiday spirits to the back of Fortnum and Mason.
From there, you’ll then turn right on Duke Street St James’ and head to the front of the department store to peer into their holiday windows. Once you’ve gotten a good look, cross Piccadilly Road at the pedestrian crossing to take in the full majesty of the F&M décor — the building has been lit to resemble an Advent Calendar with a new window lit each day in a larger-than-life Christmas Countdown.
When you’re ready to move on, turn right — walking away from Piccadilly Circus — toward Bond Street. You can choose to either walk up through the Burlington Arcade, a 200-year-old shopping venue full of luxury retailers and a Ladurée (hot chocolate and macarons, anyone?), or head directly to Bond Street.
Turn right onto Bond Street and take in their fantastic peacock-themed Christmas lights that run the entire length of the road.
Walk past the glitzy holiday storefronts — like Cartier dressed up with a red bow made of lights or Tiffany’s electric decor in their iconic blue — and dazzling displays, all while keeping an eye out for the peacock feather chandeliers that hang over Bond Street.
Make your way north until you come to Fenwick’s on Brook Street. Turn left onto Brook Street and then right on South Molton Street.
You should now be on a pedestrian walkway full of starlit arches that cast the street in an icy-blue glow.
If the thousands of lights aren’t enough twinkle for you, more lights crisscross above the walkway and end in an electric white Christmas tree that’s two stories tall!
Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Carnaby
You should now be standing at the corner of South Molton Street and Oxford Street. Turn right on Oxford Street and walk underneath the massive LED displays with names of the UK’s heroes, as submitted by members of the public — family members, friends, and NHS workers flash across the banners as a way to thank all the silent heroes of 2020.
When you reach Oxford Circus, turn right onto Regent Street for the return of The Spirit of Christmas display, where more than a dozen 17-foot angels sparkle in union, creating an effect that makes them seem as if they’re rippling down the grand avenue together.
You’ll eventually want to turn left onto Great Marlborough Street, but you may want to walk further down Regent Street before making a U-turn back toward Great Marlborough.
There, you can walk along the Liberty Department Store’s windows and view the unique installations that were based on hand-painted scarves that the Liberty’s designers created during lockdown. The scarves blended Liberty’s heritage from the 18th century with the vibes of London’s Soho and have now been brought to life as glittering displays in each of Liberty’s 10 store windows.
Once you’ve had your fill of Liberty’s, turn right into Carnaby Street for the last leg of this tour.
After the year that 2020 has been, Carnaby hopes to put a smile on everyone’s face with a lights display of positive words and uplifting messages, leaving everyone who visits feeling slightly warmer and fuzzier than when they arrived.
From Carnaby, you can now make your way home in any direction of your choosing.
The UK’s capital city may feel different this holiday season but we can still enjoy the sparkle the season brings. Just make that your walking partners are those from within your bubble, that you wear your mask and adhere to NHS and health guidelines, and maintain social distancing as you walk.
Places like Liberty have helpful guides along the front of their stores to ensure everyone can enjoy their windows while maintaining the appropriate distance.