Visiting the UK at Christmas? Here’s a local’s insider tips for a perfect trip

Christmas is a wonderful time of year to vacation in the UK – yes the weather can be a bit dark and drizzly, but everyone is so cheery and the vibe is so festive that you almost can forget the rain! Almost – most Brits will be loving to chat about the weather so you’ll be reminded fairly quickly!

If you’re traveling around the UK on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or the 26th December (Boxing Day) then there are some things you should bear in mind before you get here and when you’re planning your trip.

If you’re ready to visit Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland in the week around Christmas then these tips are for you…

public transport at christmas

Check public transport

If you aren’t renting a car in the UK then you’ll be relying on public transport or taxis to get around. Most of the year this can work well but around Christmas you’ll find that the timetables will change and most will have no service at all on Christmas Day.

This can be a bit of a shock if you’re used to buses or trains running no matter the day, but in the UK it tends to be a complete shutdown. Even in London, there are no tubes, buses or overground trains running at all on Christmas Day.

It’s always worth checking individual transport companies just in case they have some options on – if you know the company that is running the bus or train then either Google it or check their websites.

Christmas Eve and Boxing Day (26th December) should see services coming back but they are often much reduced and on Christmas Eve they can stop completely by the afternoon. Again, always check in advance so that your plans aren’t affected by it.

restaurant at christmas in uk

Book restaurants in advance

It’s not unusual for locals and tourists to go out for a meal at Christmas – many people enjoy the fact that they have no dishes to wash after a huge meal!

If you want to have a traditional British Christmas meal for Christmas, and especially if you’re in a hotel with no kitchen, then booking a table at a restaurant or a pub is a really good idea.

Booking in advance is essential though because they often are fully booked out for the day – don’t leave it to chance and hope to get in somewhere on the day. You might find Christmas Eve and Boxing Day are a little easier to get a table, but definitely book for Christmas Day.

Be prepared for costs to be a little higher

If you need to get around at Christmas and need to take a taxi then you might find that costs are a little higher – which can seem unfair when there are no other options running. Just be aware that it may be a little costlier! You might even want to have a tip fund for those who are making your day special (tips are never expected in the UK but are always appreciated)

Restaurants may have set menus that are a little more expensive than usual and while you might find takeaways operating, again they may have a surcharge for it being Christmas (not always but it’s good to be prepared).

carnaby street in London with Christmas lights

Early closing on Christmas Eve

Generally you’ll find that shops, supermarkets, attractions and even public transport will close early on Christmas Eve. This has been happening as long as I can remember and will allow the workers to get home and enjoy time with their families.

If you have plans for Christmas Eve then always be aware of opening times and plan for the earlier parts of the day.

Don’t expect attractions to be open on Christmas Day

Christmas Day is the one day of the year that you can almost guarantee that attractions will NOT be open. I was so surprised one year when we visited France for the holidays and the Eiffel Tower could be visited on Xmas Day – that’s not the case in the UK.

If it’s a free to visit area such as parks then you’ll be fine – but do consider how you’ll get there as well.

Walks tend to be the order of the day for Brits at Christmas – especially after a large meal. You’ll see loads of locals around enjoying the day!

Don’t plan to visit shops either!

As with attractions, shops tend not to be open either on Christmas Day and will have reduced hours on the day before and after.

This includes tourist shops, high street stores and grocery stores.

If you need food then you may find that local corner shops, especially if they are run by ethnic communities who don’t celebrate Christmas, are open and available to pick up any essentials you might need.

Food options for Christmas

To run on from the last point – make sure that you’ve bought anything you need to eat in advance of Christmas Day. So snacks, drinks (both alcoholic and non) and any meals you won’t be eating out for.

You might find that if you don’t want to go to a restaurant for a meal, or if you can’t get a table, that there will be some takeaways operating where you can pick up or it be delivered. Deliveroo, Just Eat or UberEats are popular in different areas – it depends where you’re based.

You might find that the options available highlight the wonderful ethnic communities in the UK (we have so many!) as they don’t always celebrate Christmas so it’s just another day to them.

Enjoy the festive TV

After you’ve enjoyed a walk around with the locals, eaten your fill of turkey and stuffing at the local restaurant and marvelled at how quiet the world is on Christmas Day then it might be time to sit and enjoy some festive TV programmes.

In the UK we often have Christmas Specials of our most popular shows on the TV, as well as plenty of movies for kids and adults.

santa run

Join the locals at the beach or watch a Santa run

Finally, if you can get to a beach then it’s a great place to blow away the cobwebs. Boxing Day is a traditional day to head down to the beach and even take a dip in the cold sea! Will you dare?

Alternatively – see if there are any special events being run such as a Santa Run. Often charity events like this happen on Boxing Day and they can be really fun to watch!

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Kirsty Bartholomew

Kirsty Bartholomew is a travel expert and has been getting lost around the world for over 30 years and writing about it for over 10 of those. She loves to help people explore her favourite places in Scotland, England and beyond. She cannot stay away from historical sites.

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