Christmas Day is a magical time to explore the capital at its quietest, provided you get up early enough. As you’ll see from our schedule below, after about 11am there’s a surprising amount of people about, with more and more cafes, pubs and restaurants opening each year.
There are no tubes, buses or trams running, but if you can get into town by walking, cycle hire, taxi or your own transport, here are some of the things you’ll be rewarded with.
6am: Join an epic Christmas Day Walk — the Grand Tour of London — starting just before 6am and taking in 10 miles of (mostly) deserted London over the course of the day. Booking essential, limited places.
7am: If you prefer to be driven, coach company GoldenTours offer a panoramic tour of London with pick ups from central London hotels from 7.15am. There’s also a lunch and afternoon tour, booking essential.
8am: The first cafes start to open in the West End. Pret a Manger opened a lot of branches last year; we expect the Trafalgar Square branches will open early (although they haven’t said when yet). A couple of independent cafes off Leicester Square usually open at this time too.
9am: The Peter Pan Cup is an annual Christmas Day swimming race in the Serpentine, Hyde Park, the roots going back 150 years. The race starts at 9am, just turn up to spectate.
Parkruns are held at numerous green spaces across the capital: Highbury Fields, Northala Fields, Wimbledon Common, Bromley, Dulwich, Hilly Fields, Greenwich, Fulham Palace, Richmond and Peckham Rye. Register now.
Traditionally, there’s the London Cycling Campaign Christmas Day ride from Greenwich through Southwark to Edgware Road starting from 10am. At time of writing this is not confirmed for 2015, so keep an eye on the website.
Time for a spot of Christian worship. Westminster Cathedral marks the Nativity with Mass, St Martin-in-the-Fields with the Eucharist. Want to attend Sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey at 10.30am? Book your free tickets now. Of course, churches all over London will run services on Christmas Day; check with your local for details.
11am: Worship in the City begins. Join Sung Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral presided over by the Bishop of London with carols and music. It’s free and unticketed so get there early to secure your place. Note, coffee shops and lunch places around St Paul’s tend to open to cater to the congregation.
12noon: Enjoy a festive feast and sightsee on the River Thames at the same time aboard a City Cruises Christmas Day Traditional Lunch Cruise. Booking essential.
Pubs start to open from 12.30pm. See the eating and drinking section below.
2pm: London Walks traditionally put on a ‘Christmas Morning 1660’ walk about Samuel Pepys London at 11am and an afternoon Dickens walk at 2pm. Just turn up, meet in Trafalgar Square.
3pm: Evensong time at Westminster Abbey and churches across London. Check with your local church for details.
4pm: Pubs start to close.
Eating and drinking
If you want to have lunch out in London on Christmas Day, you better get moving. OpenTable has a list of London restaurants offering Christmas Day lunch and dinner that’s being added to all the time.
More and more places to eat in the West End are opening for Christmas Day as there are a lot of people in town mooching around with not much to do!
For a non-traditional Christmas meal head to Edgware Road where Lebanese restaurants, like Maroush and its sister establishments, are open all day and night.
The majority of restaurants in Chinatown are also be open as usual, but do check with restaurants directly.
Plenty of central London pubs now open for lunch on Christmas Day and you don’t have to book for them all — for example Nicholson’s pubs in the West End have a ‘walk in’ menu. Still probably best to reserve a table if you can though.
Covent Garden and Leicester Square areas are a good bet, as pubs like The Bear and Staff, Porcupine and Brewmaster are all open, as are South Bank favourites The Founders Arms, Doggetts and the Anchor at Bankside.
See last year’s article for an idea of other pubs that open on Christmas Day around London. Note, most will start to close from 4pm. After that the major hotels are your best bet for a later drink. Don’t be shy, walk in and ask if the bar’s open.
Find out more, read our guide to spending Christmas in London.
What have we missed? Let us know in the comments.