Monday, May 27News For London

Beat the crush, and have a cultured Christmas, Londoners urged

Arts & Culture, Christmas, Transport in London, TFL

Londoners and visitors to the city have been urged to help beat congestion in the centre of the capital over the Christmas holidays by planning their journeys in advance, and using buses as well as the Underground.

Entry point of Christmas in Leicester Square.  
Image: Muhammed Hamza Khan & Shuyang Guo

Each Christmas, hundreds of thousands of extra journeys are made in the city, whether for shopping, site seeing or for visits to theatres and other seasonal attractions. For traders, the season is an important part of their annual revenue.

But the seasonal attractions can lead to extra congestion while Londoners get on with their everyday working lives.

In Leicester Square, the heart of London’s theatreland, the entertainment company Underbelly has organised a Christmas event since 2016, including decorated trees and stalls offering mulled wine and other seasonal attractions. It’s a popular venue for tourists, but it adds to the footfall in “one of the most crowded places in London”, according to the travel agent, Expedia.

The annual Winter Wonderland event in Hyde Park also draws visitors, adding to traffic in the district as well as attracting people from across the city.

Pedestrians in Leicester Square.  
Image: Muhammed Hamza Khan & Shuyang Guo

When Westminster World reporters visited Leicester Square, it was notable that the extra congestion affected local residents. One – who asked not to be named – said: “It’s busier because there are a lot of people travelling, and obviously we get a lot of tourists so – particularly at night time it’s very busy.” 

A cyclist added their personal plea for seasonal visitors to be more traffic aware, adding: “It seems to be more difficult [to travel] around because there are more Christmas markets and more pedestrians in central London. If I travel about central London by bike, I need to be more careful because there are so many more people.”  

Office workers not yet caught up in the holiday spirit are still affected, though. “Walking from the station to our office takes longer, because of more people shopping, and the extra tourists,” one Londoner observed. Commuters are also feeling the strain during their journeys to and from work. 

“During Christmas in London, it’s packed – you can’t even cross the streets, it’s so super-busy,” one man complained. “The trains are full, and you often have to wait for another: it just adds to your commuting time.”  

Passersby share their thoughts on congestion in Leicester Square
Credit: Muhammad Hamza Khan & Shuyang Guo

The city’s transport systems – and their staff – also have to deal with seasonal strain: not only extra passengers, but the impact of Christmas festivities. For many, the season of office parties and other celebrations inevitably sees a spike in drink-related incidents.

Iesa Ali, a TFL employee, reflected the views of many transport workers who hope the travelling public will accept the need for patience – and forbearance – during the holiday period. “I suggest people just try to be more patient, because we are going to have a lot more people coming in and out of stations who don’t know where they are going,” he said.

As tourism rebounded after the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism was worth some POUNDS 14.2 billion last year, according to the London Tourist Board, with some 15.6 million international visitors to the city.

Transport for London suggests that Christmas visitors to the capital can enjoy the festivities and help beat congestion by using the buses that cross the city centre as well as the Tube. The opening of the Elizabeth line has also helped speed journeys and spread passenger traffic, and some bus routes offer a chance to see the sights – from Oxford Street and Regent Streets with their shops and stores – to other routes taking in Knightsbridge, Hyde Park and other parts of the city.