Of all the destinations where I’ve had the good fortune to celebrate the holidays, London is a clear winner. From seasonal markets to festive window displays to cozy pubs serving mulled wine, it’s easy to find holiday cheer sprinkled all across the city.
Whether I’m touring the markets, joining in the holiday celebrations or just exploring new corners of the city, it’s important to stay fueled. Fortunately, I’ve found the United Kingdom’s capital city to be one of the most gluten-free-friendly destinations on the continent. From fast food to fine dining to afternoon tea, London doesn’t disappoint.
Step back in time
To get your bearings in London, I can’t think of a better place to start than the British Museum. Whether you have an hour or an entire day to spend, the museum will guide you through hundreds of years of history with a series of fascinating artifacts like the Rosetta Stone and the Parthenon sculptures.
When you’re ready for lunch, head over to Hummus Bros., which makes my favorite falafel in the city. Portions are generous, toppings are plentiful and gluten-free options are easy to identify on the menu. I order mine with extra hummus and tortilla chips, but you can swap in gluten-free bread or rice cakes instead.
For one of London’s best completely gluten-free spots, seek out Beyond Bread on a quiet side street just west of the British Museum. From sandwiches on freshly baked bread to warm cinnamon buns to cakes and cupcakes, everything here is gluten free and delicious. I can’t get enough of the fresh baguettes and seasonal treats like mince pies.
See London’s coolest artwork
Feeling artsy? Walk across the Millennium Bridge, a pedestrian footpath that starts just south of the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral and offers unbeatable views of the River Thames, London Bridge and the skyline on either side of the river.
On the south side, check out the Tate Modern, my favorite London museum and the place to see once-in-a-lifetime artwork by some of the most exciting contemporary artists from around the globe. Housed in the former Bankside Power Station, the Tate Modern boasts a gigantic turbine hall that sets the stage for larger-than-life creations that you won’t see anywhere else. The museum is also home to one of London’s biggest and brightest Christmas markets. Held right outside, this market has everything from carnival rides to hot food and handmade gifts.
Snack through Borough Market
Just a short walk or Tube ride east of the Tate Modern, Borough Market is my favorite place in London. This expansive food market dates back more than 1,000 years. For over a millennium, Borough Market has been situated at the foot of London Bridge, where traders have sold everything from cheeses to meats to fresh produce to prepared foods.
Today, vendors still offer a wide variety of goodies, and unlike in medieval times, many of the wares are now labeled gluten free. Looking for aged cheese, seasonal vegetables or fresh fish to prepare back in your Airbnb apartment? Take your pick from the market’s best traders. Want a mug of mulled wine or a pint of cider to warm up on a chilly winter day? Pull up a stool and get comfortable, especially if you’re visiting in December.
If you’re looking for some of the best gluten-free goodies in London, you’ll find them here, too. The Free From Bakehouse stand will tempt you with rich brownies, delectable cakes, bite-sized cupcakes and plenty of seasonal treats made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.
My pick for the best stand, however, is Horn OK Please, which serves up fun and flavorful Indian street food. Though the menu changes throughout the week, this spot always has at least a couple gluten-free options, ranging from hearty dosas to colorful chaat, or Indian snacks.
Long celebrated for its live music venues, hip nightclubs and vintage boutiques, Camden is also home to one of my favorite London shopping experiences. A combination of open-air stalls and permanent structures, Camden Lock Market dates back several decades. You’ll find everything from clothing to jewelry to furniture here, but I typically make a beeline for the food stands.
Located in the Market Hall, Cookies and Scream is a gluten-free diner’s dream. Everything this small bakery makes is both gluten free and vegan, and treats include chocolaty Chewie Wookie Bars, fudgy Gosh! Brownies and rich cookie dough shakes.
If you’re in the mood for a traditional London staple, head up the street to Oliver’s Fish & Chips in nearby Belsize Park. Wednesday is gluten-free day at Oliver’s, with gluten-free fish and chips fried in separate oil. Whether you’re already visiting Camden or taking a special jaunt to North London, Oliver’s fish and chips with mushy peas are well worth the trip.
Get regal in Hyde Park
No trip to London is complete without a visit to the city’s major attractions. If you’re traveling during the holiday season, you’ll have even more to see, like the huge Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. This Bavarian-themed holiday market might be a little kitschy, but it has enough attractions—including fun houses, carnival rides and fair food—to keep the whole family occupied for hours.
Just down the road from Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace is a must-see. Time your visit to catch the famous changing of the guard ceremony, or spend a couple of hours on a guided tour of the opulent State Rooms.
Keep heading east, and you’ll reach even more quintessential London sights, like Westminster Abbey, the Palace of Westminster and Big Ben. While you can’t climb the Elizabeth Tower, home of Big Ben, unless you’re a UK resident, you can book tours of both the palace and the abbey. Feeling fancy? Add an afternoon tea to your Palace of Westminster tour, and book ahead for the gluten-free version.
Indulge in afternoon tea
For a true London food experience, I love treating myself to an afternoon tea, which includes much more than a hot herbal beverage. Completely decadent, the gluten-free afternoon tea at the Ampersand Hotel’s Drawing Rooms includes a tiered silver tray overloaded with sandwiches like smoked salmon with dill, coronation chicken and goat cheese with chutney. Next up is a pair of buttery scones with accompaniments like clotted cream and strawberry preserves. The top tier, however, is where the pastry chef can truly show off. Eyeing the elaborate, mouthwatering spread of white chocolate-topped apricot jelly, fluffy coconut mousse, salted caramel with hazelnut sauce and a pistachio macaron with cherry sauce, I was in heaven.
If you’re looking for a more traditional experience or you want to enjoy your tea and cakes hundreds of feet above the London skyline, you have several other options. Book a gluten-free afternoon tea at Claridge’s for classic luxury, or go contemporary at T?NG, located on the 35th floor of The Shard, one of London’s most eye-catching skyscrapers. If you’re interested, you might even be able to book a Christmas tea with seasonal treats.
Catch a show or shop till you drop
Broadway fans won’t want to miss the opportunity to catch a show in London’s West End, home to St. Martin’s Theatre, the Lyceum Theatre, the Palace Theatre and many more. Not in the mood for the theater? Just blocks away, London’s Soho and Covent Garden neighborhoods are ideal spots for holiday shopping, whether you’re looking for family and friends—or yourself.
After working up an appetite in Covent Garden, head to Leon for a quick bite. This UK chain specializes in healthy fast food, and each location serves up tons of clearly labeled gluten-free options for breakfast, lunch and dinner. In the morning, I like the fast and filling Salmon and Avocado Egg Pot or Greek Yogurt Pot, and for lunch or dinner, I go with the Original Superfood Salad or the Sweet Potato Hot Box.
If you have time for a leisurely meal before or after the theater, make it Dishoom. This Indian restaurant is celebrated throughout London, and it’s modeled on the Irani cafes popular throughout Mumbai around the mid-century. Alongside vintage decor, the restaurant serves up a mean menu of contemporary Indian dishes.
Dishoom strives to be inclusive, especially when it comes to gluten-free diners. When dining here, I love starting with the bhel, a light and colorful salad made with puffed rice, tamarind, lime and pomegranate. For a main dish, you can’t go wrong with any of the richly flavorful curries or the spicy lamb kebabs. Top your meal off with a rose and cardamom lassi for the perfect end to any London evening.
With so many seasonal events, cozy markets, and warm and inviting restaurants, it’s no wonder this city is a perennial holiday favorite. Whether you’re visiting for the first time or the 10th, you’ll find plenty of seasonal magic in London.
Travel Editor Anna Sonnenberg is a food and travel writer who has journeyed around the world gluten free since being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2012. She launched her website, glutenfreejetset.com, in 2013.