Is there anything more magical than a fresh blanket of snow? As someone who grew up in Alaska, I’ll never forget that first morning waking up each winter to a winter wonderland outside the windows. Add that special kind of magic to an incredible destination like London, and you’ve got the recipe for an unforgettable experience!
Despite what you might think or know about the cold, dark months of the year in the British Isles, winter is a lovely time to visit London, and I’ve made several trips to London in the winter. In this post, I’ll share why you should visit during the decidedly less crowded winter, by sharing all the things to do in London during the winter – despite the rain, snow, and/or cold.
Just because London is cold and dark doesn’t mean you have to curl up on the couch and stay home. London in the winter has plenty of activities to keep you busy, dry, and warm, from markets and museums to theaters and Christmas lights. So whether your dates are confirmed, you found a London flight deal, or you’re just considering a trip to London and trying to decide when to visit – this post will convince you that winter is a magical time well worth a trip!
When is Winter in London?
Winter isn’t a season travelers typically love. Still, it has its perks. In London, it means fewer crowds, Christmas discounts, and lovely events. The truth is that a magical city like London is stunning no matter what season you’re visiting.
When organizing your trip to London, you might wonder if it falls during the winter season. While the start and end of this cold season vary from year to year, winter in London is generally from mid-November through mid-march.
January and February are the coldest and darkest months of winter, with an average temperature of 22F.
London Winter Weather
Most people don’t rave about the idea of visiting London in the winter, fearing freezing temperatures. However, the weather during winter in London isn’t as bad as most people think. While London’s winter weather is highly unpredictable (most of the year is), there are endless ways to fight off the cold days and still enjoy what the city offers.
Typical temperatures for winter are between 35°F and 50°F. While temperatures don’t tend to drop below freezing, you might experience some snow and the well-known rainy days, which don’t go anywhere. The good news is that London is in the Southeast of the country, so it tends to be warmer and to have less snow, rain, and freezing temperatures than the rest of England.
1. Admire Holiday Lights
Arguably the best thing to do in London in the winter is to admire Holiday Lights. While every pocket of the city dresses up in their best Christmas gowns, the well-known areas decorate their streets with stunning light displays to celebrate the jolly season. They all give it their own spins: from historic to exuberant, while others are edgy, or artistic. Some locations host an event with famous people coming to kick off the festive season. Admiring the twinkling displays is an excellent moment to shop around and find souvenirs as most shops hold amazing discounts. You can usually see Christmas lights from November until early January.
2. Enjoy Holiday Cheer at a Pop-Up Christmas Market
Lovely markets flourish around the city for Christmas, becoming an excellent option to avoid central London’s hectic crowds to buy presents and try delicious food. Their opening dates change from year to year, so make sure you check which ones will be happening in 2021.
- Southbank Center Christmas Market – The Southbank’s riverside becomes a fairy-tale during Christmas. It’s an excellent opportunity to sample street foods and mulled wine. Applebee’s Fish is an iconic stall serving up classic fish and chips.
- Christmas By The River (London Bridge) – Christmas By The River has been going on for seven years, and it will continue for 2021! They set up more than 70 wooded cabins in one of London’s most prestigious areas, the London Bridge! Stroll through the stalls while admiring stunning views of the river.
- Leicester Square – If you’d like to combine shopping with art, visit Leicester Square, one of London’s most traditional markets. After browsing all the stalls, stick around to watch some shows. They host comedy, cabaret, and burlesque shows in the Belgian Spiegeltent.
- Greenwich Market – Discover over 150 stalls and shops selling all sorts of festive goodies. Head out to one of the gastronomic stalls for a bite of seasonal food.
- Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland – Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is one of the biggest Christmas markets in London and it overflows with a beautiful array of stalls selling handmade crafts to beautiful jewelry pieces.
- Kingston Christmas Market – Explore Kensington upon the Thames to find unique Christmas gifts. The cabins offer the widest range of handmade arts and crafts, beautiful decorations, and stocking fillers.
3. Go Ice Skating
Visiting London in the winter means getting your skates on! London is full of outdoor ice-skating rinks to have some winter fun.
- Somerset House – Somerset’s neoclassical courtiers transform into a magnificent ice rink for Christmas. You can visit during the daytime to glide around its signature dazzling 40ft Christmas tree or during the chilly nights to slide on the ice to the beat of the music from rink-side DJs.
- Natural History Museum – You can also ice-skate in front of one of London’s most iconic museums, the Natural History Museum. Whizzing around the giant tree at the rink’s center with a backdrop of the majestic building is a magical experience. Don’t miss the chance to do it in 2021, as organizers have confirmed this will be the last year that the museum hosts the Christmas ice rink.
4. Visit Borough Market for Warm Bites & Sips
Oh, boy! Borough Market is excellent all year round, but it is at its best during winter. Offering the ultimate eat-and-stroll experience, the foodies market winterizes its offer, with the stalls overflowing with all sorts of warm dishes and drinks.
There are so many food options: paella, Indian food, Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese, kebabs, pies and mash, confit duck wraps, pulled pork wraps, salted beef. You’ll find plenty of warm beverages, too. Grab a cup of mulled wine or spiced apple cider to fight back the winter chill.
5. Cozy Up in a Pub
Pubs are an indispensable part of Londoners’ life and British people in general. It’s hard to tell why they are amazing. Perhaps, it’s the friendly atmosphere or the instant homelike vibe that welcomes locals and travelers alike. London is chock-full of pubs where you can go to unwind, enjoy a delicious pint of ale, and warm up when it gets too chilly outside.
6. Take in a Theatre Show in the West End
Watching a theater show is one of the best ways to keep warm and dry when it’s raining outside. London’s theater scene is among the most diverse in the world and offers a plethora of shows catering to all tastes, from monologues and tragedies to comedy and pantomime. The National Theatre is the UK’s flagship, and its cultural agenda features some of the best shows in the country.
7. Admire a London View from a Warm Place
It doesn’t matter where you look. London is beautiful from head to toe. However, climbing up to the highest points in the city is the best way to take in all the beauty of London.
- The Eye – Located on the South Bank of the River Thames, The Eye is a top-notch experience to get panoramic views of the whole city and the river.
- The Shard – The Shard is a 72-story skyscraper offering a bird’s-eye view of the sweetest spots of London. While it’s a bit expensive, the experience is unique, so don’t miss the chance to visit.
- Skygarden – Some argue that the Skygarden is the “ultimate view of London,” and it’s easy to see why. It occupies three final floors of one of the city’s newest skyscrapers and features a luscious indoor garden with 360-degree views.
8. Enjoy a Warming Cuppa…
Being able to indulge in warm beverages is one of the perks of visiting London in the winter. After all, it is a proven method to thaw bones after long walks in winter weather. Here’s where to find a cuppa…
- …of Afternoon Tea – Enjoy a cup of tea and partake in this quintessentially English tradition. London has all sorts of afternoon teas, with some of the city’s best hotels serving this indulgent treat.
- …of Fancy Hot Cocoa – Yes, tea is a fine beverage to keep you warm. However, sometimes you need something thicker, richer, and warmer– like a decadent cup of hot chocolate. Luckily, London has loads of fancy venues to enjoy hot chocolate, but head to Rococo Chocolate in Belgravia for the best.
- …of Indian Chai – Warm-up with a steaming and sweet cup of Indian Chai, honoring the cultures that the British Empire brought back to the capital. This exquisite beverage is a heavenly concoction made of whole cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns, and ginger, all boiled up together with tea leaves and sugar in a pot of milk and water.
- …of Mulled Wine – Did you know Britain has its own unique intepretation of mulled wine? You can find it at a number of the Christmas markets mentioned above. (I’m also working on a recipe that I’ll post here soon!)
9. London Winter Events & Festivals
Last winter, most events and concerts fell through due to COVID. Nonetheless, several organizers have been going out of their way to ensure people can come back to enjoy live performances while following safety measures. There aren’t many confirmed events yet; however, I’ll update this section as I learn about dates and new festivals.
10. Bonfire Night
While it’s technically on the fence between autumn and winter, Bonfire Night is the first event that occurs as the weather turns cold in London each year. On November 5th (“remember, remember, the fifth of November…”), Bonfire Night commemorates the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, when Guy Fawkes and fellow revolutionaries attempted to assassinate King James I. Today, people attend large public bonfires (and occasionally light their own) and fireworks displays across London as a reminder of the failure.
11. EFG London Jazz Festival
After hosting a digital edition last year, EFG London Jazz Festival comes back in 2021 with an electrifying line-up of live performances! This stunning festival brings world-renowned and emerging artists from all over the world to delight jazz fans each year. A 10-day celebration of jazz, the festival will take place in November, from Friday the 12th to Sunday the 21st. It comprises hundreds of gigs across the city, so make sure you check their line-up!
12. Burns Night
Burns Night is a celebration that falls on the 25th of January every year. It commemorates the life and legacy of Robert Burns, a Scots poet who penned more than 550 poems and songs before his death in 1796. The centerpiece of Burns Night is the Burns Supper. Spots across the city celebrate the day offering traditional Scottish fare, playing folk music, donning tartan, and reciting Burns’s greatest poetry. Last year, many of the festivities were virtual, and organizers haven’t confirmed whether the event will be virtual again in 2022.
13. Chinese New Year
Each year in the cold winter months, the Chinese calendar changes over to a new year; London’s Chinese population mark this in a variety of ways, and centrally-located Chinatown is a place where you can experience the festivities first-hand. Look for hanging lanterns and other events if you happen to be in London around this time. (In 2022, Chinese New Year will occur on February 1st.)
Should You Visit London in the Winter?
In England, there’s a saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
Having said this, yes, you should absolutely visit London in the winter! London doesn’t slow down during wintertime and still offers lots of fun things to do and see. Visiting the city in winter also has its perks and uniqueness. It’s only during chilly months that you’ll be able to see the Holiday lights and explore the city’s Christmas markets.
Moreover, London has plenty of covered spots and indoor activities to enjoy if you don’t want to endure the cold outside. Another perk is that you can have most of London’s spots to yourself instead of fighting against a sea of tourists. Finally, while the weather is cold, it’s nothing you can’t tolerate wearing warm clothes.
So, don’t fret! Just do as Londoners do: put on your best winter coat, grab an umbrella, and hit the London streets.
Have any other questions about visiting London in the winter? Let me know in the comments!