Get cosy in your warmest clothes and enjoy an explosive night of fun at a traditional firework display. Explore walking trails through light art installations at London’s attractions, or see the famous Christmas lights as you shop. Add in traditional warming drinks and roasting chestnuts and it makes it a magical time of the year to visit.
Fireworks Displays for a Piece of Local History
Every 5 November bonfires are lit across the UK and fireworks are let off. This is to commemorate the anniversary of a failed attempt by Catholic rebels to kill King James I in 1605 by blowing up the Houses of Parliament with barrels of gunpowder. There are spectacular displays across London, so wrap up warm and start your trip off with a bang at these events.
At the top of a hill with fantastic views across the London skyline, Alexandra Palace’s huge "festival of fireworks" (2 & 3 Nov) features more entertainment than you can shake a sparkler at, including a laser show, German Bier Festival, more than 50 street food stalls, DJs and circus performers.
There’s a huge bonfire and a spectacular 20-minute show by award-winning pyrotechnic company at pretty Battersea Park (3 Nov), near the site of the iconic former power station.
Blackheath fireworks (3 Nov) is one of the biggest free displays in London, attracting more than 80,000 people to enjoy tasty food and warming drinks with the swoosh of the rockets.
You get two displays for the price of one at Brockwell Park in Lambeth (3 Nov). The first display at 6.45pm is choreographed to kids’ movie themes such as Moana, Trolls and Frozen; the second (8pm) takes you through the time tunnel to boogie with the bangers including hit music from the 80s to today, such as Whitney, Oasis and Beyoncé. There are also two musical displays at Morden Park (3 Nov) and Wimbledon Park (5 Nov).
Christmas Lights for Festive Cheer
Give your trip some sparkle with a trip to see London’s famous Christmas lights. This tradition first started on Regent Street in 1954 when local shops and business decided to put up a display to show that post-war London was an attractive place to visit, and they have been cheering up winter evenings ever since.
To add a touch of glamour, the biggest displays are officially switched on in late October or early November.
The Christmas lights on Oxford Street are being given a total makeover this year. Although the final design is kept under wraps, organisers are promising a display to rival New York and Sydney. The big switch-on is usually carried out by a well-known personality, with thousands turning out to watch.
In nearby Regent Street, there are more than 300,000 lights hanging that will put a twinkle in your eye as you shop on one of London’s most famous shopping streets, which dates back to 1825.
It’s not just fantasy over at Carnaby, where lyrics from Queen’s "Bohemian Rhapsody" are lit up across the iconic swinging '60s fashion street, while the display at Covent Garden gives this historic market a very Christmassy feel. Last year they were switched on by Kylie Minogue—who should be so lucky this year?
The East End’s St Katharine Docks is a pretty marina with shops and leisure boats, plus a Christmas lights display and huge tree which make for perfect Instagram moments. Or browse the chic boutiques and restaurants of Chelsea’s Duke of York Square while the lights glitter overhead.
The lights on the South Bank make for one of the most romantic winter walks in London, as you stroll along the River Thames, breathing in the smell of roasting chestnuts with a traditional warming mulled wine or hot chocolate in hand.
Light Trails for Dark Evenings
The long winter’s nights were made for after-dark illuminated trails. These stunning displays see the grounds of some of London’s stately homes and attractions filled with sculptures and art installations made from light. Discovering spectacular scenes as you walk the trail is a great way to brighten up a family evening out.
Head through the archway at Kew Gardens (22 Nov—5 Jan) to find a field of light, spreading towards the Great Pagoda before you reach the lake, where 300 illuminated origami boats are floating. Among the many displays are firework trees, which are lit up with explosions of colour, and a huge tunnel of lights 100m long and 7m high. Finally, the Palm House comes to life with a display of lasers and leaping light beams.
When the animals have been all tucked up in bed, ZSL London Zoo (22 Nov—1 Jan) has a 1km trail featuring huge lit-up animal sculptures, a canopy of 100,000 lights, singing trees, and glowing fountains. There’s also vintage fairground rides, and Father Christmas makes a visit for the kids, too.
An Enchanted Woodland awaits visitors to Syon Park, where an illuminated trail (9—25 Nov) winds through the 600-year-old gardens around the ornamental lake.