If you're travelling from abroad it's worth knowing the dates of the national holidays.
Christmas Eve, the 24th, is a normal business day, so the shops will be open. Christmas Day and Boxing Day, the 25th and 26th of December, are both national holidays (bank holidays) and although that means there's little open on Xmas day itself, Boxing Day is normally the first day of the sales and so London is abuzz with excitement. New Year's Day is also a national holiday, but New Year's Eve is not.
For the remainder of the Christmas period, London stores are generally open 7 days a week, often with late opening hours during the week (to 7pm or 8pm in some cases) and restricted opening hours on Sundays (normally 10am to 4pm) due to the Sunday trading laws. If you're looking for christmas presents, then you may also want to check out our page on unusual gifts.
For many many years we talked about the New Years Sales, as many of them started in the first week of January.
But as retail has become more and more competitive the sales have started earlier and earlier, in some cases even before Christmas! Like anywhere in the world, the first days are always the most frantic, with some people literally camping outside to ensure they pick up the best bargains.
It's impossible to list all the best stores for the Christmas experience, but these are some of our favourites.
John Lewis in Oxford Street (and Peter Jones in Sloane Square) are almost British institutions. At Christmas their stores are filled with great decorations, and filled with Christmas shoppers who trust the quality and prices.
Marks and Spencer is back on track as one of Britain's best department stores. Their flagship shop is on Oxford Street (near Marble Arch), but their online shopping site has a cool Christmas guide for everything you need.
Banana Republic opened its flagship store on Regent Street in 2008. Unlike it's sister brand The Gap, Banana Republic is a little more upmarket.
Harrods is not just one of the world's most beautiful looking stores but it also uniquely opens its Christmas department in the summer, to give shoppers plenty of time to grab their tree ornaments. Their annual sale is legendary.
Selfridges has been our favourite store for a long time. A unique combination of modern style and timeless classics, with plenty of places to stop, rest, east and drink. It gets very very busy in the run up to Christmas.
Liberty has been synonymous with luxury and great design since 1875. It's located between the high street dominance of Regent Street and the more boutique-y feel of Carnaby Street.
The Christmas Shop- Yes you read that correctly, there's a year-round shop dedicated to Christmas in Hays Galleria, just by London Bridge Station and the London Dungeons. They sell Christmas decorations including lights, ornaments, garlands, nativities, crackers, stockings and much, much more.
Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge prides itself on amazing window displays all through the year, but they absolutely go to town at xmas. It's not the cheapest store in London, but what it does sell is really great. They first opened for business in 1813.
A Long Way From California
I’ve grown up my entire life celebrating Christmas morning in Southern California. My first Christmas in England was definitely an eye opener.
by Beverly Franklin-Atkinson
see all xmas blog posts
On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... If you received all of the gifts in the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, you would receive 364 gifts. It would seem quite a challenge to deliver 12 swans a swimming.