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slitta a Covent Garden

During the Christmas period, London changes its appearance: it is filled with lights and decorations, this year with an eye to sustainability. The most important moment is the switching on of the Christmas lights which marks the beginning of the countdown for this magical day that everyone is anxiously awaiting. The best way to enjoy this festive atmosphere is with a free evening walking tour that you can do on your own. If you are wondering where to find the best lights in the city, in this article I will give you all the information to better plan your stay in this magical period, optimizing the time available.

A BIT OF HISTORY

The first electrically lit Christmas tree is the work of Edward H. Johnson who in New York, on December 22, 1882, built a hand-wired tree with eighty red, white and blue incandescent bulbs for his home. Before then, candles were used for decorations, almost always glued onto the branches with wax or fixed with pins. Although the tradition of lighting streets and department stores began in the late 19th century, it only arrived in London in the 1950s, starting on Regent Street (between Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus). Later, in the 70s due to the recession they disappeared and then returned to the scene in the 80s. Today they certainly represent one of the attractions not to be missed when visiting the English capital.

WHEN DO THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS TURN ON IN LONDON?

If you’re wondering when the Christmas lights are turned on in London and for how long, the dates can vary slightly from year to year, so to find out exactly, I suggest you check the official websites. Usually, first light starts in early November. Most high streets celebrate this event with music, mulled wine and a local celebrity doing the honors.

HOW LONG DOES THE WALK IN SEARCH OF THE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS LAST?

The duration of the walk depends on the stops you intend to make, for example I often find myself walking for 3 hours choosing to stop often to take pictures. Otherwise, it could last up to an hour. The best time to take a walk among the lights is just after dark (around 4pm).

WALK BETWEEN CHRISTMAS LIGHTS AND DECORATIONS IN LONDON

OXFORD CIRCUS

I advise you to start the walk at the “Oxford Circus” underground stop, easily reachable with the Victoria line, the light blue line. Just outside the station you will find Oxford Circus which this year is illuminated with 5,000 stars, made up of around 300,000 LED bulbs made from recycled polymers. All of this is a huge plus for sustainability, in fact they are 75% more efficient than standard light bulbs and much less energy will be used than last year. Also, as they are 100% recyclable, they can be reused.

SOUTH MOLTON

On a side street of Oxford Street is South Molton, a pedestrian street surrounded by shops with exclusive brands. For the Christmas holidays, the street was set up with 63,000 lights given by blue triangular arches embellished with sparkling stars, the effect is very instagrammable.

BOND STREET

Continuing on takes you to Bond Street. Change is in the air on Bond Street this year, as the famous peacock feathers used in the last seven editions have been replaced with royal themed illuminations featuring over 90,000 LED lights. Planning for the new staging began in 2021, in preparation for the celebration of Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee year. The new layout features four huge crowns at the main crossings of Bond Street, inspired by the Imperial State Crown. These points are now illuminated with sparkling lights and shapes that mirror the platinum, gold, diamond and pearl necklaces. Don’t miss the Cartier facade, the most photographed on the street. A poca distanza dalla sua scomparsa, è un bellissimo omaggio natalizio alla defunta monarca. Shortly after her passing, it’s a beautiful Christmas tribute to the late monarch.

ANNABEL’S MAYFAIR

Annabel’s, as on every noteworthy occasion, never disappoints and has in fact added a spectacular dose of Christmas magic to the capital. This year you can admire the carousel with flying unicorns, warm colors and characters from the Victorian era. Designed by the creative director of The Birley Clubs, Tatiana Kharchylava, the mastermind behind all the legendary facades of Annabel, the installation is inspired by elements of the club’s interior and transported them to the outside. Inside, in fact, the white winged horse is known to welcome guests as they arrive.

BURLINGTON ARCADE

In the heart of Mayfair, the world’s first shopping arcade, Burlington Arcade opened in 1819. The handsome covered shopping street is brimming with small, exclusive shops and, at Christmas, is adorned with an array of traditional red, gold and white decorations hanging from the ceiling. Don’t miss the facade of Fortnum & Mason, just off the gallery, which is decorated with a giant advent calendar every Christmas.

REGENT STREET – PICCADILLY CIRCUS

In close proximity to Oxford Circus is London’s busiest shopping street, Regent Street. Usually avoided by most locals, during the Christmas period its magical atmosphere makes it so fascinating that even Londoners choose to stroll among its lights. Regent Street was the first street in central London to introduce Christmas lights in 1954. Today they run through Piccadilly Circus, St. James’s and Waterloo Place. There are approximately 300,000 LED lights handcrafted to form the so-called “45 Spirits of Christmas” which are hung along the entire width of the street. This year, the angels will be switched on from 3pm to 11pm to reduce their impact. Plus, Piccadilly Circus is always a great place to shop, eat and meet in trendy clubs. Being a very popular area, if you want to avoid crowded times, I suggest you visit it early in the morning or in the evening.

CARNABY STREET

In a parallel of Regent Street you will find Carnaby Street, whose slogan this year is “the unexpected”. The shopping district chooses a new theme for its Christmas decorations every year and this year it will be a collection of the best decorations of the last 25 years, with elements from 14 different themes all incorporated. From the Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody to the tongues of the Rolling Stones, a giant snowman and underwater scenes from the unforgettable Under The Sea. The project is in collaboration with the charity Choose Love, to support and help refugees around the world. Choose Love will have a store at 15-17 Foubert’s Place that will sell a collection of limited edition products, the proceeds of which will be donated to support this cause.

WATERLOO PLACE

Next to the Guards Crimean War Memorial and opposite the Sofitel Hotel St James is a beautiful Christmas tree decorated in red and gold. With the lights of Regent Street in the background, it is one of the most “instagrammable” images of the English capital.

COVENT GARDEN

Also this year a tree of about 18 meters welcomes visitors. It should be emphasized that to make the process as sustainable as possible, three trees were planted for each tree cut down. In addition, at the end of the festive season, the Covent Garden tree will be recycled to make wood chips. In total, 115,000 lights were hung in Covent Garden. Baubles and giant mistletoe grace the market building and new this year is a hand-painted 1884 sleigh by British artist James Gemmill. But that’s not all! From 1st to 31st December, every hour from 12 to 21, snow will be projected to make the atmosphere even more magical. The walk ends right here, where you can take a break drinking Mulled wine, eating something in the various restaurants or skating at Somerset House. If, on the other hand, you want to continue walking, I will suggest below where to admire other illuminations.

OTHER PLACES TO SEE CHRISTMAS LIGHTS IN LONDON

WINTER WONDERLAND

This fun event is one of the top things to do in London this Christmas. Winter Wonderland hosts over 200 rides, attractions, games, ice rink, but also several food stalls. Once inside this “wonderland”, you can stay as long as you like, the cost of entry depends on the time of entry. Tickets can be free (if you don’t visit during peak times) or cost up to £7.50 (entrance during peak times); however, if you spend £25 on attractions, food, drink, rides or games in advance, your admission will be free, regardless of when.

HARRODS

For the first time in department store history, exterior lighting has changed dramatically, thanks to a mega acquisition by Dior. In fact, the facade of the famous Brompton Road address represents a large sailing ship. Inside, however, there is a village made of gingerbread houses taller than a person. Each biscuit replicates an important building for the brand: from 30 Avenue Montaigne, the new Dior Megastore in Paris, to Monseiur Dior’s childhood home, Granville (now a museum) and La Colle Noir, a castle near Grasse purchased in 1951 to grow flowers for perfume production. In addition, an elegant Dior café was set up.

CHURCHILL ARMS

Churchill Arms is one of the most iconic pubs in London and is located in Kensington. During the Christmas season it is quite a sight as it is decked out with around 80 Christmas trees and 22,000 lights covering the exterior. A real show.

KEW GARDENS

Kew Gardens is back to once again bring light, color and a healthy dose of Christmas magic to South West London. The trail of lights is among the best in London and transforms the gardens into an enchanted wood. An incredible selection of decorations and projections dazzles visitors along a 2.7 km route, approximately 40 minutes on foot.

OTHER ACTIVITIES NOT TO BE MISSED IN LONDON AT CHRISTMAS

SEE THE CHRISTMAS MARKETS AT SOUTH BANK

The Southbank Centre’s Winter Market consists of wooden chalets along the banks of the Thames that recall the markets of the Alpine area where you can find food, clothing and handicrafts. You can drink mulled wine, hot chocolate, eat burgers, waffles, macaroni, fondue, bratwurst, Dutch pancakes, mince pies and so much more.

ICE SKATING

Several skating rinks are set up during the Christmas season, as this is a very popular activity. New this year is the first and only rink overlooking the River Thames at Battersea Power Station, the new shopping center which opened in mid-October. The “Glide” attraction consists of three interconnected outdoor tracks with a spectacular Christmas tree at its centre. Off the ice, skaters can enjoy the vintage-style rink, live entertainment, as well as food stalls. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to move from the centre, I recommend Somerset House, not far from Covent garden. Therefore, to the walk dedicated to the lights, you can also combine a magical skating set up in the neoclassical courtyard with the Christmas tree in the center. On the weekends some famous DJs will play to skate to the rhythm of music. You can find more skating rinks at Canary Wharf Canada Square Park, Greenwich or at Hampton Court.

CHRISTMAS TREE IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE

The Trafalgar Square Christmas tree has a long history behind it. Norway gives this tree to the people of London every year to thank them for their support during WWII. Since 1947, a 25m tall tree has been cut down in Norway and shipped to London. Once it arrives in the capital, it is wrapped in fairy lights and lit up for the holidays. During this time there are other events taking place in Trafalgar Square including concerts and the setting up of a nativity scene.

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