Why you should visit London over Thanksgiving

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While there are many good times of year to visit London, heading there during Thanksgiving week is the perfect combination of extra vacation days and offseason rates. Additionally, right now visitors to London  have the advantage of a more advantageous than usual exchange rate (about £1: $1.23 at press time). The festive holiday season is already in full swing by late November, so why not kick off your holiday shopping on Oxford Street and make a trip out of it?

The Christmas lights display, on Oxford Street in London. (Photo by Bikeworldtravel/Getty Images)

Getting there

According to Skyscanner data, November is the cheapest time to fly to London. For example, round-trip economy tickets between New York-JFK and London Heathrow (LHR) on carriers, including American Airlines, British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic, are pricing around $480 per person for Thanksgiving week.

And here’s a bird’s-eye view of round-trip pricing from Boston in November via Google Flights:

But, you don’t have to pay cash for your flights. A Thanksgiving trip could be your chance to get value from Virgin Atlantic Flying Club awards as there’s currently availability during that week. It’s 10,000 Flying Club miles one-way from JFK to LHR plus $149.20 in taxes and fees. You can drop the taxes and fees to under $100 if you use your Flying Club points to book on Delta instead of Virgin Atlantic. You can transfer American Express Membership Rewards (instant transfer), Chase Ultimate Rewards (instant transfer) and Citi ThankYou Rewards (instant transfer) points to Flying Club at a 1:1 ratio.

You can also increase your balance by applying for the Virgin Atlantic World Elite Mastercard. For a limited time, you can earn up to 80,000 bonus miles within the first year. That bonus is broken out as 60,000 bonus miles for spending at least $2,000 on purchases in the first 90 days of account opening, 15k bonus points at each anniversary, plus additional bonuses for adding authorized users (2,500 each, up to 5,000 total) and hitting spending thresholds.

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The new Virgin Atlantic A350 Upper Class Suite. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin)

Delta also has good availability flying JFK to LHR in November using Delta SkyMiles if those are burning a hole in your mileage pockets. A weeklong round-trip is pricing at just 22,000 SkyMiles plus $181.45 per person in economy.

Check out our guide to getting into London from Heathrow for when you arrive. As a dual U.K./U.S. citizen in London, I’ve learned the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Chase Sapphire Reserve code local transportation in London as travel, including buses and the Underground. So that’s 3x every dollar spent with the Chase Sapphire Reserve or 2x with the Chase Sapphire Preferred.

You can still have your Thanksgiving meal

If you’re worried about missing your turkey and pumpkin pie, luckily, London has that covered. Much like a relaxed Sunday lunch, several pubs serve a Thanksgiving meal. Lady Abercorn’s Pub & Kitchen in the Andaz London Liverpool Street hotel holds a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. You can have a more upmarket Thanksgiving meal at Balthazar (£55/$67 per person last year) or even a Thanksgiving-themed tea at the Dorchester’s restaurant CUT at 45 Park Lane (£55/$67 per person in 2018).

Is Black Friday a thing in London?

If you’re worried about missing Black Friday deals, do not panic. First, there’s still the internet, so don’t despair. Also, Brits may not celebrate American Thanksgiving, but we have embraced Black Friday sales. Stores such as John Lewis on Oxford Street take part. Some traditionally British retailers shun the American “Black Friday” label but hold sales nonetheless. Selfridges calls their sale the “Christmas Comes Early event.” Liberty holds a 20% off sale for Liberty Loyalty customers (anyone can sign up) from Friday to Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.

Liberty Department Store (Photo by Luis Villa del Campo/Wikipedia)

Benefits of low season

The weather in London is still generally mild in November with highs around 53 and lows touching 45. Just know that you can encounter some rain.

The end of November also presents an excellent opportunity to book activities that you may struggle to find availability for in the high season. Thanksgiving is an excellent time for West End theater tickets such as “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” or getting a sunset slot on the London Eye.

The London Eye. (Photo by GTS Productions/Shutterstock)

On the London Eye (adults $33, children $27, under 3 free), for example, every time slot is still open on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week:

Every time slot from opening to close is still available on the London Eye for Thanksgiving week.

 

Availability on Ticketmaster.com for “Harry Potter And the Cursed Child” tickets for Thanksgiving week.

It’s also a good time of year in London for reservations at a high tea location or restaurants like Dishoom that are usually full. Dishoom’s five Central London locations are notorious for their long lines and no reservation system for parties less than six. If you go on a weeknight in November, you stand a chance of finally trying their black daal signature dish. Read here for other family-friendly restaurants in London.

When you dine out in London, make sure you use a card with a dining out multiplier that applies to worldwide restaurants such as the American Express® Gold Card with 4x dining or the Citi Prestige with 5x on dining

Holiday activities

The famous Christmas lights of Oxford Street, Regent Street, Carnaby Street and Covent Garden are all switched on by Nov. 15. These stunning light displays make up for the early sunsets around 4 p.m. the last week of November.

Carnaby Street in London. (Photo by Circle Creative Studio/Getty Images)
Carnaby Street in London. (Photo by Circle Creative Studio/Getty Images)

Several iconic locations in London host ice rinks that are open by mid-November. Natural History Museum, Tower of London and Somerset House have outdoor rinks. Each site has penguin stabilizers for children to rent and a lovely skate hut for hot chocolate or stronger drinks after your skate. Skate sessions last 45 to 60 minutes and cost approximately $15 to $20 for adults and $10 to $15 for children (varying based on time of day and venue). If you want to head a bit further out of London, Hampton Court Palace offers a stunning ice skating rink outside of King Henry VIII’s former home.

My son skating on the ice rink at the Natural History Museum. (Photo by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen)

Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is open from Nov. 21. It’s a cross between a Christmas market and an amusement park with roller coasters, games, street food vendors, bars and shows. It’s free to enter with more 100 activities inside varying in cost. Be sure and pack a credit card that gives a bonus on entertainment (without charging a foreign transaction fee).

Bottom line

While London may not immediately spring to mind as a top Thanksgiving week destination, it provides a refreshing mix of the familiar with a lot of London charm. Don’t forget to check out TPG UK for more British-specific content to inspire your trip across the pond.

Considering a trip to London? Here are some related resources:

Featured photo courtesy of Somerset House

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