Exploring London in Winter: An Insider’s Guide

Planning to visit London in winter? Make the most of the winter festivities, snuggle up by roaring fires, find cool things to do and make the most of your trip with this insider’s guide. 

Think that London only comes to life in the summertime? You’re wrong. 

London in the summer has its obvious charms – festivals, picnics in the park, pub gardens… but dig a little and you will find that there’s plenty to keep your calendar packed when the temperatures drop and the days shorten.

As a born-and-bred Londoner, I’ve pretty much made exploring the best things to do in London during winter a fine art. From huddling around a pub fire to drinks in a riverside igloo, don’t miss this fabulous activities during your trip. 

What’s more? I’ve included tonnes of insider tips for exploring the city during the chillier months. 

First Up, What’s the Weather Like in London in the Winter Months? 

Winter in London
Winter in London – I wish I could say it looks like this all the time (c) Shutterstock

Winter in London lasts from December to February, with January and February normally being the coldest months. 

Contrary to popular belief, London’s winters aren’t actually that cold. Average winter temperatures vary between 5℃ and 10℃ (January is the coldest month with an average temperature of 6.7℃ ). 

That said, the wind chill can make it feel like it’s about -50℃ (OK, maybe I’m exaggerating slightly), so you should wrap up warm.

MonthAverage High (℃)Average Low (℃)Average Days of Rain
December9510.2
January9411.1
February958.5

Top Tips for Visiting London in Winter

Visit at Christmas to See the City at its Merriest

Christmas in London

London really gets into the festive spirit at Christmas, with all kinds of Christmas markets, theatre and, of course, the world-famous Christmas lights. 

Check out my Christmas in London guide if you’re planning to visit in the run-up to Christmas time. 

Visit in January and February to Keep Costs Down 

December is the most expensive month to visit London in the winter. Hotel prices and flights cost more, particularly close to Christmas. January and February are much quieter and cheaper. 

Compare hotel rates on Tripadvisor. 

As January and February are generally quieter times to visit London, they’re a good time to go if you want to visit some of the city’s big attractions without being overrun by the crowds. 

Check out my guide to The Best Time to Visit London if you’re not sure when to plan your trip.

Where to Stay in London in Winter

Things to do in Soho - Liberty London
Soho

First of all, stay as centrally as you can afford or somewhere with really good transport connections. Covent Garden and Soho are cool but expensive, Westminster, Mayfair and Piccadilly are great if you have cash to spend or Shoreditch is a more affordable, trendy option. These are my favourite hotels… 

  • The Landmark London – Yes, it’s expensive, but The Landmark is a beautiful haven in the centre of London with one of the most ‘Grammable interiors in the city. 
  • K West Hotel & Spa – K West is in Shepherd’s Bush outside of Central London, but well-connected transport links take less than 15 minutes to get into the heart of town. Plus it has an amazing spa that’s the perfect winter retreat. 
  • The PILGRM – A budget hotel offering stylish rooms for you to bed down for the night. 

Or read more in my guide to the Best Areas and Hotels to Stay in London.

Wear Layers for Comfort 

Deciding what to wear in London on a cold day is tough. My advice is to wear layers you can easily remove.  

The tube on a wintery day in London feels like stepping into the pit of hell, not to mention the fact that restaurants and bars can often crank up the central heating to the point where you pretty much melt into a wet mess. On the other hand, if you don’t wrap up warm enough, you’ll be freezing when you go outside.

Check the Calendar for Special Events 

I’ve mentioned a couple of cool winter attractions and events in London in the things to do section below but there’s always something on. Check the listings to find something that takes your fancy. 

What to Pack for London in Winter

This isn’t an exhaustive London packing list, but if you’re wondering what to pack for London in winter, these are the items you should have in your suitcase. 

  • An Umbrella – It doesn’t rain as much as people think it does… but it does rain frequently and you’ll regret it if you don’t have an umbrella. 
  • Hat, scarf and gloves. The daily temperatures fluctuate a lot, but for the most part you should wrap up warm for walking around. 
  • A Comfortable Pair of Boots – I prefer a chic pair of ankle boots like these for smarter nights out and my mega-comfortable Timberlands for walking around in the day. 
  • A Winter Jacket – See my advice about layering above. You want a nice cosy winter jacket that can go from day to night. 
  • Thick Socks – You’ll be surprised how much wearing a nice thick pair of cosy socks will make a difference. Your toes will thank you for it. 

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    Cool Things to do in London in Winter 

    Go to a Christmas Market

    London Christmas Markets
    London Christmas Markets

    Christmas in London is a magical time of the year. The Christmas lights, the Christmas carols, the Christmas trees festooned with all kinds of gorgeous baubles and perhaps my favourite of all, the Christmas markets.

    In the past few years, London’s Christmas markets and fairs have mushroomed. 

    From the all-out (slightly manic) Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park to the more relaxed Winterville in Clapham Common – there are plenty of spots to do a spot of pre-Christmas shopping, slurp up mulled wine and eat all the Christmassy sweet treats that you could ask for.

    Read more: Christmas in London

    Drink a Ridiculously OTT Cup of Hot Chocolate

    Chin Chin Hot Chocolate
    Chin Chin Hot Chocolate

    Hot cocoa has thrown off its fuddy duddy vibe and has totally tarted itself up into the kind of irresistible drink that a) warms your cockles b) looks great on Instagram. Want to know what I mean? Take a look.

    You can see why settling in for one of these bad boys is such a cosy thing to do in London on a cold day. Forget measly concoctions of cocoa and water (maybe with a splash of milk if your mum was feeling generous), these hot chocolates are seriously flossed.

    Chin Chin’s comes with a huge dollop of melted marshmallow that is blowtorched and looks (and tastes) like something straight out of Willy Wonka’s factory.

    Alternatively why not choose the origin of your hot chocolate at Jaz and Jul’s Chocolate House in Chapel Market (Brazilian, Peruvian or Madagascan don’t you know) – then round it off with a mound of whipped cream. Because it’s winter and you can.

    Visit London’s Cool Museums

    The National Gallery, London
    The National Gallery

    There are so many pop ups and events in London during the winter that it can be easy to overlook some of the classic landmarks. 

    London has some of the best museums in the world. What’s more? Most of them are free.

    You should head to one of the city’s impressive museums, even if you’re only in London for short break

    Start with favourites such as the Natural History Museum, V&A and Science Museum in South Kensington’s Museum Mile – that will keep you out of the cold and entertained for a few days.

    Read More: Free London Museums You Need to Visit

    Settle in for a Decadent Afternoon Tea

    Christmas at The Biscuiteers
    Christmas at The Biscuiteers

    London’s afternoon tea roster is poppin’ at any time of the year but it makes so much sense during the winter when the idea of cramming yourself with warm and crumbly scones and drinking vats of tea sounds like heaven.

    You can never go wrong with high tea at a London institution like The Ritz, The Dorchester or Claridges (the latter is my fave). It gets better though, with themed afternoon teas like the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory one at One Aldwych or the Festive Afternoon Tea at Biscuiteers.

    A Wintery Walk Through Ham House & Hornbeam Arch

    Wrap up warm and set off on one of the National Trust’s gorgeous winter walks through the gardens of Richmond’s 17th-century Ham House.

    Set on the banks of the Thames 10 miles out of the centre of London, Ham House is the perfect spot for a wintry walk along the river and in the house’s extensive formal gardens. Unlike most other gardens, Ham House’s garden is at its best during the winter months, when the geometric lines and topiary look their best.

    Read Next: Visiting Richmond Park – Everything You Need to Know

    Check Out London’s Cool Street Art Scene

    Street art in Croydon
    Checking out the street art in Croydon

    Free things to do in London in winter are few and far between, but this is one of my favourites. Bundle yourself in layers and set out to see some of London’s cool street art. 

    The only question is where to start?

    The street art in Shoreditch is diverse and has the added benefit of being in a relatively small area, perfect for an afternoon’s stroll. Though the pieces change, there are hundreds of street art spots boasting pieces by familiar names such as Mr Cenz and Dale Grimshaw.

    Camden has a thriving street art scene, as does Brixton but my new favourite street art spot is in Croydon (shout out to my hometown) – home to some of the coolest murals to pop up in the city this year, which is why I’ve featured it in my piece on quirky and unusual things to do in London.  

    Read more: The Ultimate London Bucket List

    Marvel at London’s Christmas Lights

    Christmas Lights on Bond Street
    Christmas Lights on Bond Street

    London never looks better than when it’s festooned with Christmas lights casting their glow on its streets. I’ll admit that I missed the lights the last few years, but this year is a total cracker.

    Start with the biggies at Oxford Street, which are in close competition with the super-pretty ones on Regents Street – but I’ll let you in on a secret. Neither were my favourites… that title goes to the cool neon Christmas lights on Carnaby Street. See why?

    Also well worth a visit: Seven Dials and Bond Street.

    Hang out at one of London’s Winter Pop Up Ice Rinks

    Ice Skating at Somerset House
    Ice Skating at Somerset House / Shutterstock

    It’s no secret that the ice rinks that pop up all over the city are some of the best winter attractions in London. Set in a number of cool locations, the ice rinks are the perfect opportunity to show your ice-skating skills. 

    I really don’t understand how people do it. You put shoes with blunt knives on them on, get onto a cold and slippery surface and somehow manage to glide gracefully like a swan. Every time I step on the ice, it’s like Bambi taking her first steps.

    Don’t let me ruin it for you though – there are so many pop-up ice skating rinks in the city that you’re not going to struggle for choice. The biggest and the best known are the ones at the Natural History Museum and in Somerset House

    Wrap up warm!

    Read More: Everything You Need to Know about Visiting Somerset House

    Visit Hogwarts at Christmas 

    OK, so technically the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studios are in Watford, a short train ride outside of London but you simply HAVE to visit the show-stopping Hogwarts at Christmas… that is if you can get the tickets. 

    I’m not going to lie, the Harry Potter Studios are totally magical at any time of year, but in the runup to Christmas it goes into winter-wonderland overdrive. You’ll love it. 

    Read More: Planning Your Visit to London’s Harry Potter Studios 

    Snuggle in a Pub (Preferably in Front of a Fire)

    Clerkenwell Pubs
    Settle into a cosy pub

    There’s nothing like a British pub for all the cosy winter feels. 

    It’s almost like someone set out to find the perfect antidote for cold nights and short days and came up with the idea of somewhere you can hang out with your mates, pint in hand, by a roaring fire with some hearty food on your plate… in other words, a pub.

    Not all pubs are created equal – you need to be very particular about the kind of pub you want to head to in in London during the winter months.

    First of all there must be a fire, second, it must pull a decent pint (and have nice wine too – blasphemous but true), and finally it must serve great food. 

    There are some gorgeously quaint little old pubs in London: The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell fits the bill nicely, as does the Holly Bush in Hampstead (with the added bonus that it’s perfectly located for post Hampstead Heath walk drinks too).

    See the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square 

    Christmas Tree Trafalgar Square
    Christmas Tree Trafalgar Square

    The Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square is a London icon. Each year since 1947, Norway has gifted the tree to London in remembrance of our alliance during World War II. Swing by while you’re visiting central London and enjoy a bit of Christmas cheer. 

    Fuel Up on Some Warming Food at Borough Market 

    Borough Market
    Borough Market

    Borough Market is London’s best-known food market, thanks to a wide selection of traders serving all sorts of delicious foodie treats. Where better to go and enjoy a nice warming dish to help ward off the winter chills? 

    I’d highly recommend the insanely good cheese raclette at Kappacasein… maybe with a glass of mulled wine to wash it down. 

    Go Shopping at London’s Winter Sales 

    Tempting as it may be to do all your winter sale shopping online, there’s nothing quite like the fun frenzy of shopping in London’s winter sales. 

    The sales, which traditionally started on Boxing Day or the 27th December, now seem to start earlier and earlier every year. Great news if you’re in the market for picking up a bargain or two. 

    Indulge in a Blissful Spa Day 

    Hydrotherapy Pool at K Spa
    Hydrotherapy pool at K Spa

    Spending a day in a spa is always an appealing prospect, but particularly so when it’s cold and rainy outside. 

    London has no shortage of fabulous spas, but my absolute favourite is the K Spa at K West Hotel – a chic, award-winning spa with a sauna, sanarium, hot tubs and ice room. Book a day-ticket (and a treatment if you want) and escape the outside chill. 

    Winter Warmer Films in a London Cinema

    Cinemas pop up all over London in the run up to Christmas with one mission – to fuel our ever voracious appetite for festive films. Let’s face it, you can never, ever watch Elf or Home Alone too many times.

    You’ll be glad to know that there are still plenty of wintery film options in that bleak period after Christmas when we all start counting down the days to summer and how few pennies we have in our wallets.

    Chain cinemas in London are ten-a-penny but the Prince Charles Cinema’s singalong film showings and movie marathons are something completely different.

    How about a singalong screening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? That sounds like something worth dragging your carcass out into the cold for.

    Get Cosy at an Alpine Ski Lodge

    We may not have the mountains and the snow in London in winter (unless the fake slope at Hemel Hempstead counts) but who says we don’t have the apres-ski?

     Everyone knows that most of the fun happens off the slopes anyway, so you can skip the pesky having to hurtle down the mountain in the snow part and just go straight to the good stuff – namely the wine and the cheese.

    You can find pop up ski lodges in the most unlikely of places. This year’s the first that well-known New York pop up Miracle has taken up residence in The Henrietta Hotel in Covent Garden, while Sky Garden’s Moet & Chandon Bar gives all the festive feels with Champagne and and twinkling lights.

    Read more: Romantic Things to do in London

    Indulge Your Inner Child with a Trip to the Pantomime

    London Palladium
    Catch a panto at the London Palladium

    Did you know that most pantos run well into January? So if you haven’t caught one of the fabulously OTT affairs this winter, there’s still time. What’s more, theatres tend to quieten down after Christmas so it’s easier to get tickets.

    Snuggle Up in a Riverside Igloo

    Coppa Club
    Coppa Club

    Nothing says things to do in London in winter than snuggling into a see-through plastic igloo on the bank of the Thames with views of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London right?

    The Coppa Club’s winter igloos first came to the capital a few years ago and have been a key part of London’s winter warmer calendar ever since.

    Like pretty much all good things in London, the igloos have been booked up well in advance but you can get lucky if you swing by on a whim and a hope.

    Things to do in London in Winter: Map

    Click here for a Google Map of London’s Winter spots.

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