A couple of weeks ago I woke up in my London Airbnb at 3 a.m., jetlagged and unable to sleep. My place was in the heart of Soho and, after trying for a hour to fall back asleep, I decided to see what the area looked like when most people were still asleep. I was not disappointed:


London is well-known for it’s winding lanes and tiny alleys — which the city inherited from its medieval street layout. Walking around early in the morning, I discovered that many of these tiny alleys were strung with Christmas lights.


In many cases, the lights dangled between the buildings. But there were also displays that didn’t quite span the street:


There were bells:


And this tunnel thing:


In one case, an entire building — which was down a tiny alley and overlooked a restaurant, was entirely covered in lights:


Many larger streets also had lights. The picture below shows a street in London in the early evening when the streets were filled with people leaving work.


Setting up lights like this would be tough in many American cities because we lack the necessary narrow streets and continuos lines of buildings (known among urban planners as a “street wall”). So, as an American, these displays were especially impressive to me. I was also amazed by the scope; I walked for several hours, and discovered new lights pretty much the entire time (eventually the sun came up and the lights were turned off).

If you get a chance to visit London during the holidays, I would highly recommend wandering around Soho and looking at the lights. It’s free, easy to do, and gives you and excuse to duck into all the old alleys. In the meantime, here are a few more pictures of what I saw during my recent visit:

— Jim Dalrymple II


Written by Jim Dalrymple II

Urbanism and travel writer. Also a journalist covering the news.


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