Christmas in the UK

Advisor Lauren at the Christmas Market in Edinburgh

Christmas is a magical time of year. A holiday now grounded with traditions; it presents the perfect opportunity to create some new traditions as you’re living abroad. There may not be a guarantee of snow (depending on where you’re studying), but it is not difficult to get into the holiday spirit while you’re in the UK. Here are some of my favourite aspects of the holiday season in the UK:

Not sure where to start? Let some of your favourite holiday traditions guide you to fun activities you can do while you’re in the UK!

1. If you like driving around looking at lighted up/decorated houses:
Go to a lighting ceremony! (or 2, or 5!)

  • Location: All over the UK

The start of the Christmas season is marked in different ways for different people. Many of us in Canada have grown up with the notion that decorating your house with lights and tinsel is a good way to get into the holiday spirit. Maybe you have even driven around with your family looking at other decorated houses in your neighbourhood.

In the UK, one of the most defining items to mark the start of the holiday season are the various ‘lighting ceremonies’ that occur. Many communities will have their own ‘lighting ceremonies’ which is essentially switching on a bunch of decorative twinkle lights all over the town centre.

Depending on where you are, these ceremonies can be simple such as having overhead lights lighting the way to the shopping centre for an hour, or if you’re located in London, lighting ceremonies on some of the more notable streets (Oxford Street, Regents Street) are marked with a huge celebration and concerts that take up the entire afternoon/evening.

The lights on Marks & Spencer after the lighting ceremony on Oxford Street, London.

It’s fun seeing lighting ceremonies in your own community, but as you travel around take a look at the different ways lights are featured in the decorating.

2. If you like playing games and seeing Christmas around every corner:
Check out Winter Wonderland!

  • Location: London (Hyde Park) from November 21, 2019 – January 5, 2020

If fun carnivals are more your style, check out Winter Wonderland in central London. Located in London’s Hyde Park every holiday season, this massive carnival includes opportunities to do some shopping, rides, carnival eats and other fun activities.

This event is free to enter but there is the opportunity to purchase items like ride tickets, food etc. once you’re in the grounds.

It’s the perfect date night location or simply roam around with friends! If you’re not located within London, Winter Wonderland typically runs until the middle of January which gives you plenty of time to plan a weekend trip!

For more information visit:

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park!

3. If you like giving gifts more than receiving them:
Shop for gifts at one of the many Christmas Markets!

Some delicious (and cute) snacks, lights and carnival rides at Winter Wonderland!
  • Location: All over the UK

A personal favourite of mine, you’ll find little markets popping up all over the UK around the start of November. These are usually found in the marketplace or square of your city but can be found elsewhere depending on where you are.

Christmas Market in Leeds

The markets are filled with all sorts of fun Christmas delicacies and include snacks, artisan crafts, fun gift ideas and mulled wine. *See Below.

4. If you like hugging hot beverages while the cool wind hits your face:
Grab a cup of mulled wine!

  • Location: All over the UK

A delicacy all over the UK and the perfect beverage to keep you warm on a damp winter evening. Mulled wine is a heated alcoholic drink that utilizes wine (typically a deep red) along with spices (cinnamon, clove) and fruits (oranges, cranberries, currants). If it’s something that you’ve yet to try (I myself had never tried it until moving to the UK) I highly recommend it while you stroll along looking at Christmas lights, or wandering around the Christmas markets.

Not a fan of wine? Living in a different country also means you can find fun holiday drinks at popular locations (like Starbucks) that you wouldn’t normally get to experience in Canada. Other popular coffee shops offer fun holiday themed cups that will put you in the holiday spirit as well.

Pictured to the left is the cutest Gingerbread Latte from Costa. Presented in a penguin cup and given alongside a gingerbread biscuit.

5. If you like playing pond hockey:
Find an outdoor rink and go skating!

  • Location: All over the UK

If you want a little taste of Canada while you’re spending the holidays in the UK, try seeking out one of the many skating opportunities. London’s Winter Wonderland offers the UK’s largest open-air ice rink but accompanying many of the Christmas markets, communities will often have a space set up with an outdoor skating rink and offer skating. Interested skaters will typically pay a fee for a skating time slot (usually in 1-hour increments). No skates? No problem! Don’t feel obligated to drag your skates across the pond with you, the outdoor skating rinks will offer the opportunity to rent skates for the duration of your skate.

A good place to start your search for one of these skating rinks would be at your local Christmas marketplace, however larger cities like London will offer the opportunity to skate among some of the city’s iconic landmarks (some of these include Somerset House, The Tower of London, and Hampton Court Palace!)

**Prices will vary depending on location and duration of skate*

6. If you like old traditions:
Have a look at some of the elaborate window displays!

  • Location: All over the UK

While it’s not uncommon to see some fancy window displays while shopping around during Christmas in some areas of Canada, it is something that is experienced a little less frequently than some would like.

As the UK is rooted in rich history and traditions, many of the older department stores and shopping areas will still heavily feature a more traditional style of marketing and make use of fancier window displays to boost interest during the holiday season.

The most obvious examples will be Harrods and Selfridges in London, but many older established areas will also make use of gorgeous displays in their main shopping areas/malls.

This cute animatronic Teddy Bear inspired rendition of a Christmas Carol was set-up in the Bentall Centre in Kingston Upon Thames.

No matter what your personal holiday traditions look like, there’s no shortage of fun winter activities in the UK. As you will more than likely be living on your own and away from your family for the first time, explore new traditions that you can later bring back and share with your Canadian friends and family!

Interested in studying in the UK? You can find out more by contacting one of our advisors!