I booked an overnight flight to London, arriving on Christmas morning. After I'd made the booking (see note below), I learned from a friend of a friend that a lot of the city shuts down on that day. I've already learned that I will need to take a cab from the airport to the house I'm borrowing, since there's no public transport; and I've read about the £4 surcharge for taking a cab on Christmas. Here's my question: do I have any chance of buying food to get me through that first day? Most anything will do: I just need to sustain myself until the city stirs again. Or should I fill my suitcase with 24 hours' worth of protein bars and instant ramen?

(NB: what I'm really asking about here is buying groceries, not going to restaurants.)

(Why didn't I think of this when I was booking? Because I live in an urban area where there are trains, buses, and shops available every day of the year. It would never have occurred to me that a city of London's size, activity level, and diversity would shut down so completely.)

  • 36
    Most of my knowledge of London comes from TV, and my understanding is that it's very dangerous on Christmas, what with all the alien attacks and everything. Seriously, though, can ask the person you're borrowing the house from to leave some groceries? Or have food delivered on Dec 24? Dec 4, 2017 at 4:25
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    I never met a big city yet where you couldn't buy food/groceries 24/7/365. And you can be sure that Mickie D's will be open.
    – Mawg
    Dec 4, 2017 at 7:55
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    Also, London is a very cosmopolitan city (the borough of Newham has only 13% British born Christians), so there are generally lots of small corner shops, run by (and for) people who do not celebrate Christmas.
    – Mawg
    Dec 4, 2017 at 7:57
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    If, as is quite likely, the food places in the Heathrow terminal are open, I suggest buying a sandwich or lunch box to take with you. It will give you something to eat as soon as you get to the house, before scoping out the local convenience stores. Dec 4, 2017 at 12:24
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    In any case it might be worth looking into whether you can pre-book your travel from the airport, rather than paying the eye-watering cost of a black cab (assuming Heathrow).
    – nekomatic
    Dec 4, 2017 at 15:45

3 Answers 3


All large stores will close on Christmas day because of the Christmas Day (Trading) Act 2004, which requires stores larger than a certain size to close for the day.

However, you will find that most smaller independent "convenience" stores will stay open, especially in London due to the high level of multi-culturalism that exists in the city - non-Christians still need access to basics over the Christian holiday, and many non-Christian small store owners will be happy to serve you on Christmas day, and there is usually one within a short walking distance of most houses in London.

Be aware however that small "corner shops" (as they are known in the UK, even if they are not on a corner...) will charge you significantly more for the same goods than you would find at a major store.

  • 8
    @crmdgn its a bit of a British running gag that if you forgot to buy someone a present, you can always run down to the local convenience store and buy some piece of crap for them :) And its always obvious that that is what happened due to the type of gift you end up giving :D So yeah, you should be fine for food and drink.
    – user29788
    Dec 3, 2017 at 22:26
  • 8
    Many years ago I bought a turkey for xmas dinner on xmas day at a halal butcher in London.
    – Berwyn
    Dec 3, 2017 at 22:39
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    I was in London on Christmas a couple years ago. Most all restaurants were closed, but I found a Turkish restaurant that was open. Dec 4, 2017 at 0:26
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    The joke exists in the southeastern USA as well. Nothing says Happy Holidays like a carton of cigarettes and a 12-pack of beer.
    – chili555
    Dec 4, 2017 at 3:14
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    No idea how true it is these days, but a lot of pubs used to open on Christmas day lunch time for a few hours. Dec 4, 2017 at 9:26

Just to give you an idea of how empty London is on Christmas morning:

One Christmas morning, decades ago, about 10am, I quietly lay down for a couple of minutes in the middle of the junction between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, just because I could.

This was before the Crossrail project, so it was still a 4-way junction with an exit going down to Cambridge Circus - normally an exceptionally busy junction.

Not a single person or vehicle showed up.

But that's in the very centre of London (literally, the building there is called "Centre Point")

Out by the airports, it may be different.

  • 12
    You can take some amazing photos in London on Christmas Day. Dec 4, 2017 at 12:41
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    @JeevanTakhar Very much like the opening sequence of "28 Days Later" ...
    – Stewart
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:39
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    @Stewart I'm totally doing that.
    – crmdgn
    Dec 4, 2017 at 13:40
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    Difference from 28 days later... Is God caused this! Dec 4, 2017 at 16:48
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    @ChrisH Indeed. On a normal day, you'd be lucky to go faster than a jogger! I think horses were faster, 200 years ago! standard.co.uk/news/transport/…
    – Stewart
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:05

London is a very large place, so it really depends which area you are talking about. Typically the centre and banking areas will be deserted as the residents head to their holiday homes in the suburbs. Heavily touristy areas will still be offering limited services to visitors. Suburbs will vary depending on local ethnicity, but most will offer some kind of service.

There are many things to consider:

London is a major tourist destination, and you won't be the only tourist in the city at this time of year. As a result, most hotel restaurants will be open, although possibly for shorter hours than normal. Likewise other restaurants in popular tourist areas may choose to open for a short while on Christmas day.

It's becoming popular and trendy to go out for a meal on Christmas day, rather than cooking yourself. Many restaurants are now offering Christmas specials, so you may find a few restaurants choose to open on Christmas day for this reason. This is probably more prevalent amongst smaller family run places, rather than chain restaurants. Most of these may be fully booked however, but you may get lucky if there's some cancellations.

Not everyone celebrates Christmas. In such a multi cultural city like London, you will find it is just another day for many residents and businesses. Most of these will be open as normal (possibly even extended hours due to higher demand due to rivals closing).

Most of this applies equally to smaller towns and villages in the UK. Even the small country town I live in, it's still possible to find smaller convenience stores open for business, as well as bars open for drinks on reduced hours.

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