This post focuses on a walk around west London in order to see Christmas lights, windows, and decorations. Many of the displays and decorations change each year, so it's always worth a walk around to see the new decorations. The walk that I normally follow is described in this post, and the walk can be completed in an afternoon. The best time is to plan to be around Oxford or Regent Street at 3:30-4:00 as London starts to get dark at about 3:30.
Factor in a little extra time for doing a little bit of Christmas shopping or grabbing a hot chocolate and mince pie. This walk assumes that you start at Covent Garden and finishes around Green Park. I've captured a map from Google and plotted the route using red lines.
I started just before 2:00 in the afternoon at Covent Garden, although you could start at Waterloo train station and go to the Christmas shops along the Thames before walking across Hungerford foot bridge to Covent Garden. Each year, South Bank on the southern bank of the Thames (above Waterloo Station) hosts a small Christmas market and food market. There are also amusement rides and entertainment in the evenings.
Back to Covent Garden. I recommend seeing Covent Garden when it's still light as many of the decorations are outside. The interior of the hall does contain decorations as well, but it's dark enough to still see any lights. Covent Garden is easy to access from a number of tube stations; we walked from Holborn (Central and Piccadilly lines), but I've typically used Charing Cross station (Northern line) before we moved. There's also Covent Garden station (Piccadilly line).
Covent Garden (stop 1) has many decorations to see. Look out for the large Christmas tree, the decorations inside the covered market hall, the annual Lego sculpture, a giant reindeer decoration, and real reindeer. The real reindeer are only available to see at certain times.
An optional diversion is to walk north of the market into the area known as Seven Dials (stop 2). To get there, start at Covent Garden north and go from James Street to Neal Street. There are a lot of smaller shops along here, including a nice shop selling teas and shops selling make-up and skincare products. At the top of the street is London's largest science fiction/fantasy/board game shop, Forbidden Planet. Then head back down Monmouth Street to the roundabout where the seven streets meet, giving the area its name. The area always has its own Christmas lights.
When you have returned to the top of Covent Garden, turn right to King's Street. At the end, turn right up Garrick Street. You'll notice a shop selling sweets from America and other countries across the road and a small alleyway with the pub "Lamb and Flag" at the end and virtually across from it. Follow this road to the end, then wait to cross on Cranbourn Street. (You'll see a statue here dedicated to Agatha Christie). In front of you is Leicester Square underground station.
Continue walking past the station and into Leicester Square (stop 3) where the cinemas are located. You will also see the square itself, and a Christmas market with a few games is normally set up inside along with a ferris wheel. Some decorations are normally hung from the trees here.
From Leicester Square, make your way through the square to the far side and down the small alley known as St. Martin's Road, which leads to Trafalgar Square (stop 4). Trafalgar Square is the location of London's largest Christmas tree. Each year since 1947 as a recognition of support during the second World War, Norway present England with a Norwegian Spruce Christmas tree. Trafalgar Square is home to the National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery. The church in the square, known as St. Martin-in-the-Fields, is charming and does have Christmas carol singing on select evenings. After seeing the Christmas tree, head back to Leicester Square.
From Leicester Square, walk to Piccadilly Circus (stop 5). The directions are to turn left and walk past the Swiss glockenspiel (clock), which chimes and plays at certain times in the day. Keep walking past the large fountain featuring raising horses, which is known as the Four Bronze Horses of Helios. On the opposite side of the road is the large building Trocadero which was a fabulous multi-floor gaming building in its glory days but was shut a couple of years ago and is now virtually empty. There are lights along this small stretch of road as well, and they are giant snowflakes (at the time of writing this).
Straight ahead is Piccadilly Circus and the statue in the middle, known as Eros (cupid). You will also see the radiant glow from the advertising board next to it. Typically, the statue of Eros features decorations. In a previous year, it was a snow globe. Last year, it was a pile of gifts. This year, I did not notice any decorations, but they may not be up yet.
Once you have seen all that you want to see in Piccadilly Circus, the next stop is to locate Piccadilly Street (stop 6), which is one of the streets from the Piccadilly Circus roundabout. Regent Street is the busy street with the golden-coloured rows of buildings that curve around to the right. Piccadilly Street is the street immediately to the left. Cross the road to head down this street.
Piccadilly Street has several nice shops and cafes along it. The first stop is St. James Piccadilly Church (stop 7) where many market stalls are set up. Feel free to have a quick browse here for Christmas gifts. You will then pass the BAFTA (British Academy of Film & Television) building, Princes Arcade (a small covered street for botique shops), and an excellent book store known as Hatchards. Next to the bookstore is Fortnum & Mason (stop 8) department store. Look at the window displays, which are always amazing during Christmas. Also, feel free to step inside to the food hall and other areas for gifts. The Parlour on the first floor is excellent if you wish to take refreshments, ice cream, or afternoon tea. (You can read my review of their afternoon tea here.)
If you are lucky to arrive at the right time, you may see the giant clock display on the fascade of Fortnum & Mason. The chimes play and the figures move on the hour. After leaving the department store, cross the road to the other side. In front of you is the Royal Academy of Arts. Next to it is Burlington Arcade (stop 9), and it is worth a view as it is decorated for the holidays. Feel free to buy macaroons at Laudree, which is at the entrance of Burlington Arcade. When you're done, turn around and head back the way you came but do not cross the road.
Once you have returned to Piccadilly Circus, turn to the left without crossing the road. Regent Street (stop 10) is in front of you. This is a busy street with large buildings that curve to the right. Excellent photographs can be taken down the street from near where the underground entrance is located. This street always has pleasant lights, and there are new lights this year.
Walk down Regent Street to stop in some of the shops. In my view, the right-hand side of the road is probably the best bet, but both sides of the road offer good views and shops. Hamley's Toy store, Molton Brown, Ferrari, and a large range of clothing stores are available. Hamley's Toy Store (stop 10) is located on the right-hand side of the road and is always popular at this time of year with visitors and its window displays.
Keep your eye open for a small road on the right, just past Hamley's, known as Foubert's Place. Turn onto this road and walk down a couple of blocks to Carnaby Street (stop 11). This is a street not to miss. The Christmas lights will be instantly noticeable, and I love Carnaby Street's Christmas lights. They are different every year; this year's are giant pink party disco balls. Carnaby Street is worth a look around with some nice shops and restaurants in Kingly Court, which is a right turn onto Carnaby Street.
If you have been to Kingly Court, turn left and walk up Carnaby Street. Another gem is Choccywoccydoodah (stop 12). To get there, turn right on Foubert's Place (opposite the direction of Regent Street) and about two blocks and on the corner is Choccywoccydoodah. The chocolate shop is normally popular, but the gift shop at the front has many amazing chocolate sculptures and cakes. This may be a good idea for gifts. They also have a small cafe upstairs, but there's always been a queue when I've walked past.
Once you have visited Choccywoccydoodah, walk back the way you came to Carnaby Street. Turn right, which is actually Great Marlborough Street. Here you will find the back of Liberty department store (stop 13) and its chocolate shop. It's worth a visit to the department store, but the store is a little difficult to navigate. Before entering the store, turn your back to it and take some photographs of the Carnaby Christmas lights. This is my favouirte angle to view the lights.
Make sure you view the front of Liberty department store in order to see the window displays and the decorations on the front of the timber-framed building. They normally have Christmas trees and lights. The best view is to cross the road onto Argyll Street.
When you've finished at Liberty, head up Argyll Street until you come to Oxford Street (stop 14). You can turn to the right and walk up Oxford Street to look in shops if you wish, but the tour continues with turning left toward the underground station. This is probably London's busiest area, so head past Oxford Circus underground and cross the road. You should be at the section of Regent Street and Oxford Street now, and this area on the south side of Oxford Street and right-hand side of Regent Street (looking south) is good for photographs.
Oxford Street does have different lights some years, but the past couple of years have seen fold and pale blue orb lights. Continue to walk down the street and also check out the lights on Debenham's, John Lewis, Boots, House of Fraser, and other shops. Oxford Street has so much to offer in terms of shopping. The windows are worth checking out too.
Before going too far up Oxford Street, make sure you do not miss St. Christopher's Place (stop 15). This little alley is hard to see if you do not know it is there. It's located next to The Body Shop, and look out for the angel with wings holding an orb high up (pictured below). This fellow is always in place, and the alley is so small that only one person can enter or leave at a time. Don't worry, though, as the street does open up once you enter from Oxford Street. Glance down the street and you will see Christmas decorations and a small parade of shops.
After you have looked around, head back to Oxford Street and turn right. Soon, you will come to Selfridges department store (stop 16). Have a look at the window displays along the front of the building. The largest and most-featured display is the last window on the corner of the building. Marks & Spencer's across the road and next to Selfridges also has nice Christmas lights. Make sure that you cross the road to get some photographs as the Christmas lights and decorations are above eye level upon Selfridge's. Make sure that you have a look inside and stop in the food hall if you wish.
Once you've looked in Selfridge's, cross the road to be on the opposite side on Oxford Street and walk up to Bond Street station. Walk just past the station to find South Molton Street (stop 17), which is covered with Christmas lights and contains a pedestrianised shopping street. Continue walking down this street to the end where you come to Brook Street. Turn left and then turn right onto New Bond Street (stop 18).
You are now heading into Mayfair (stop 19), and the shops and window displays with high fashion brands are beautiful along here. The street is also covered in Christmas lights. Stella McCartney's shop normally had a lot of lights, and feel free to walk around around this area. For Berkeley Square, turn left onto Bruton Place.
Continue walking south on New Bond Street where it eventually joins Piccadilly Street. You will be near the Ritz and Green Park station if you cross the road and turn right.
This covers my Christmas lights and decorations tour of west London, but I have not covered everything. Winter Wonderland, Harrods and Knightsbridge also have nice lights and displays.
If you do not mind the walk, continue past Green Park station until you come to Hyde Park Corner Station, right after Green Park on the left hand side. Cross over the road to the entrance to the station and you will soon see lights and the Christmas market for Hyde Park Winter Wonderland. This is always busy, especially at the weekends, and you can spend almost a day here on its own. There's a Christmas Market, food and drink stalls, rides, ice skating, and many other attractions. Last year, I went to the Ice Sculptures and Ice Bar.
To see Harrods (for the windows), continue walking past Hyde Park station, but make sure you cross the road as the road forks here and you'll need to turn off at Brompton Road after Knightsbridge station.
Harrods and Winter Wonderland are both on the Piccadilly line if you prefer to get the tube from Green Park station.
Let me know what you thought of the London Christmas lights this year.