London in winter travel guide – things to do and where to stay

How to visit London in winter - winter in London

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Are you planning a trip to London in winter? Get your woolly hat and gloves ready, it’s a lot of fun.

Having lived in the city for many years we can assure you that London is a city that embraces its cold and brisk weather patterns. So there are plenty of things to do in London in winter even on the greyest of days.

Things to do in London in winter

london weather in winter

We wont lie, visiting London in December, January and February provides some unique challenges.

The days are cold and darkness sets in early and you will probably want to spend a lot of time indoors. But you might be surprised to learn there are some fun outdoor attractions too.

So get creative and plan out a London winter itinerary with these activities.

Catch a show in London’s West End

Garrick Theatre London
Image credit: Terence Chisholm
 

In winter, Londoners head to the theater and so should you. Apart from being a classic British tradition, many new shows are launched in winter. From classics like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera to the latest productions starring world famous actors there is a show for everyone playing in London’s West End. 

Check Time Out for up to date lists of what’s on and find discount and last minute ticket deals on the London Theatre Direct website for what’s showing in London this winter.

Top London theatre shows 2019 / 2020

  • Mary Poppins – what better way to celebrate London than joining in a rousing chorus of Supercalifragilistic! The much loved classic book and movie have recently been brought to the stage to widespread acclaim > click for ticket info
  • School of Rock – this is a fun stage version of the Hollywood blockbuster by musical great Andrew Lloyd-Webber that gets rave reviews – click for ticket info
  • Matilda – a clever musical version of the Roald Dahl classic perfect if you want to treat your kids and make them laugh out loud – click for ticket info

Want our popular London itinerary as a printable document? Click here!

Find a cosy London pub

Holly Bush, Hampstead, NW3
Photo credit: Ewan Munro

Nothing could be cosier and more English than an open fire roaring inside a quaint pub. Stay warm and cosy with a pint of ale or glass of wine by the fire. 

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at 145 Fleet Street is one of London’s oldest pubs, dating from just after the Great Fire of London. This pub has a coal fire burning in the bar and a fascinating history. Apparently Charles Dickens and Mark Twain once drank there.

If you like the sound of that, here is a list of pubs in London with an open fireplace or if you’d prefer a guided experience you might like to join a fabulous walking tour of the city’s historic pubs where you uncover the hidden stories behind each watering hole > click here for tour information


Looking for more activities to do at night in London?

Read our guide to London after dark


Visit London’s museums and galleries

british museum highlights great hall

Many of the city’s museums and galleries are free to visit, so they are always a popular winter activity in London. We love visiting the British Museum in all seasons but this visitor favourite can fill a whole rainy London day.

The ever popular Natural History Museum, Science Museum and V&A in Kensington are always extremely busy. And for good reason. They are a treasure trove of interactive exhibits suitable for all ages and interests. We recommend visiting these museums early (before midday) to avoid the crowds.

Tip: We often go to South Kensington tube station and have breakfast so we can enter as soon as they open at 10:00am. Here is a list of popular London eateries that can be found nearby.

In Covent Garden, the London Transport Museum takes you on a journey through London’s fascinating transport history – from double decker buses to the first underground lines. There are some useful play spaces there if you are visiting with kids and need a more active indoor activity.

To avoid the main tourist traffic go to Greenwich where there are several fascinating museums including the Cutty Sark, Royal Observatory and Meridian Line and National Maritime Museum. You could easily spend a day in Greenwich enjoying the museums with a break for lunch in the famous covered market. 

Things to do in London in winter - Visit London museums - the Natural History Museum is a favourite

Art galleries

There is a London gallery for all art lovers – from modern art at the Tate Modern to Old Masters and Renaissance glory at the National Gallery. Many of the galleries offer free admission to their permanent collections and have cosy cafes to warm up in with a hot chocolate after your dose of culture.

Enjoy a mid shopping trip culture fix at the Wallace Collection near Selfridges. This museum is free to enter and has severam impressive galleries including paintings by Dutch Masters and beautifully curated collections of armour, porcelain and furniture.

For our round up of the best art galleries in London click here.

Afternoon tea indulgence

london winter activities - afternoon tea

The British tradition of afternoon tea is a must do each time you visit London. You can have the poshest of teas at The Ritz or take your tea on a vintage London bus as you tour the sights of the city.

If you fancy a stylish and modern tea, we recently enjoyed an indulgent afternoon tea with a spectacular view of the Tower of London at Aqua Shard

Now afternoon tea can be taken at many unique venues across London but I think the most fabulous tea is at the iconic Houses of Parliament – a truly unique London activity. 

Tip – join a VIP tour of the Houses of Parliament followed by afternoon tea on the House of Lords terraces with TakeWalks – one of our favorite tour companies. They’ll tell you stories of one of the most famous buildings in London and you’ll sip your tea as Big Ben tolls close by.

I love tea so much I made my own round up of favourite places in London for afternoon tea > click here to view

Shop till you drop

Christmas windows at Liberty of London

Shopping in London in winter is lots of fun. You can stay warm in the famous Burlington, Piccadilly and Royal arcades you’ll find on Piccadilly. The historic malls are the perfect spot to browse luxury treats from iconic British and international brands. At Christmas time they are decorated in classic style and are a great place for photos.

While you’re in the area pop into Fortnum and Mason and browse their range of high end food stuffs – perfect for souvenirs or treats.

If you’ve come to shop at some of the biggest flagship stores in the world, duck in and out of the stores along Oxford and Regent Street for high street bargains and luxury finds. 

Make sure you drop by Liberty of London at  and enjoy one of my favourite activities > shopping for scarves! At Christmastime you must go to the top floor where there are all the tree baubles you could dream of in Liberty of London’s Christmas shop.

If you like markets and artisan made goods head to Spitalfields for a uniquely London experience and fun offerings from small designers.

Tip – Post Christmas sales are fantastic in London and you are likely to find some great deals. Even the lead up to Christmas can uncover some very tempting bargains

Take a stroll in a park

the best parks in london in winter - kensington gardens

Before you settle in for a cosy afternoon at a pub or enjoy your afternoon tea, take a brisk walk in one of London’s famous parks and gardens. Though the leaves have dropped, you can still appreciate the grandeur of these open spaces. 

Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park are popular choices close to the main attractions. Admire the Albert Memorial and say hello to the ducks and swans on the Serpentine. If you’re visiting in December, Hyde Park is transformed into a winter playground known as Winter Wonderland with Christmas activities, rides and stalls. And of course Santa!

Want our popular London itinerary as a printable document? Click here! 

Visiting London in December

ChristmasinLondon HowtovisitLondoninwinter

December is the best month to visit London in winter. The city is magical and decorated beautifully during the Christmas season.

There is nothing more festive than shopping in central London at Christmastime soaking up the atmosphere, and enjoying Christmas windows and decorations around Covent Garden and New Bond Street.

Christmas Markets in London

The Southbank Christmas Markets are a fun way to spend an afternoon. Sip on mulled wine as you browse the craft stalls for gifts and ride the carousel.

The market and Christmas activities stretch from outside the Tate Modern to near the London Eye.

Right in the heart of Soho, there is a lovely Christmas market at Leicester Square. This one gets very busy with shoppers and visitors so visit earlier in the day if you want to avoid the crowds.

London winter ice skating rinks

Ice skating at Somerset House

Try ice skating at Somerset House or the Natural History Museum. You can even skate in front of the Tower of London.

This is one of our favourite Christmas traditions. For some reason the ice skating rinks close after the Christmas season which is a real shame – it’s so much fun!

Tip – book tickets early for ice skating especially if you are visiting closer to Christmas. It is a very popular activity with both Londoners and tourists.

Don’t forget to visit London’s famous fun fair Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Open from November to January, there are fairground rides, a market to browse and an opportunity to meet Santa of course.

Where to stay in London in winter

When it is cold outside, we think it is important to stay somewhere lovely and cosy. Find a hotel in a central location with all the creature comforts and you have the ultimate mid winter treat. 

Our pick of London’s luxury hotels

The Goring is close to Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey for sightseeing and Sloane Square for shopping.

This elegant hotel is a haven from the fast pace of the city and is renowned for impeccable service and hospitality. Staying here is such a treat > click here for latest prices

Across town at the Rosewood London in Holborn the atmosphere is equally tranquil. Close to the theatres of Covent Garden and shopping on Oxford Street, the hotel is in an historic building that captures the essence of London’s grandeur.

I have enjoyed many meals at the Holborn Dining Room within the hotel and always recommend visitors dine there when in London > click here for the latest prices

Click here for our complete accommodation guide for London

Cosy London hotels

Right in the heart of London, the Piccadilly London West End is the perfect base for theatre lovers and shoppers.

Guests enjoy complimentary luxury toiletries and fluffy bathrobes at this modern and stylish hotel > click here to check latest prices

Close to the Tate Modern, Borough Market and action on the Southbank, citizenM London Bankside is a modern hip hotel in a great location. Guests love the artwork and modern style > click here for latest prices

Click here for latest London hotel deals on Booking.com

London apartment rental

Depending on how you travel and who you travel with, staying in a well appointed apartment may be a better accommodation option. You can find thousands listed on Booking.com and AirBnB

We recommend you choose areas that are close to transport and activities to make the most of your trip:

  • Kensington
  • Soho, Oxford Street, West End
  • Marylebone

Read my guide to finding the best apartments and houses for short term rental online and find your perfect London winter base.

London winter weather

snow in london in winter

Winter runs December to January in London. Days are short and nights are long – the sun sets around 4pm and rises again after 8am.

Temperatures in winter stay well below 10°C / 50°F but rarely dip below freezing. Snow is rare in London but it is a magical sight to behold. There’s nothing quite like seeing the city’s iconic monuments blanketed in snow.

Make sure to bring a warm coat, hat and gloves so you can enjoy your trip to London outdoors as well as inside. 

Click here to view our London packing guide

How long is winter in London?

It can be bitterly cold in London until April. We had the dubious pleasure of walking straight into a horizontal sleet storm over Easter one year.  

Londoners excitedly wait for the Spring and Summer when the blossoms are out.

During those seasons the living is all about lazy days in the gorgeous parks and gardens and a long afternoon pub garden lunches. In the meantime, there is much to appreciate about London in winter.

Click to here check the latest London weather

Further reading for your winter trip to London

If you want to hit all the classic sights and only have limited time in London, you might like to check out our 3 day London itinerary. Over three days you can visit everything you love about London – the history, pubs, parks and shopping – even in winter!

More useful posts for your trip to London:


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37 thoughts on “London in winter travel guide – things to do and where to stay

  1. Jennifer Howze says:

    Good list! I’d also suggest some of the old-fashioned arcades for shopping, including Burlington Arcade. Even if you don’t buy, it’s fun to browse and still stay dry.

  2. Sally@Toddlers on Tour says:

    Whenever we travel we always allow for rain days and have activities pre-planned and left on the back burner for those days. But you have given me some additional inspiration with High Teas and catching a show.

  3. Bob says:

    I visited London one time and it was in January. I got lucky the weather wasn’t too bad and it wasn’t that cold. Spent a week exploring the town and discovering all kinds of really cool things.

    • Katy says:

      Lucky about the weather Bob. I must confess I find it one of the most difficult things about living in London. Glad you had a great time

  4. Clare Thomson says:

    Great ideas for winter here, Katy. Christmas is really special in London but I think January can be a great month to travel too – much less busy and lots of great indoors activities. Let’s face it, afternoon tea is a brilliant thing to do at any time of the year! #FarawayFiles

  5. Oonagh Grace says:

    I have fond memories of my older girl skating at the Natural History Museum during Christmas a couple of years ago. The weather was really cold and the sky was a gorgeous blue and London looked amazing!

  6. Allison says:

    Lots of great ideas! We live in Chicago where the winters are brutal so our winter traveling always involves somewhere warm to break up the cold. But our anniversary is in April and my husband and I have talked about going to London for our 10th anniversary in a few years so I’ll keep these in mind for then since you say it’s still pretty cold that time of year.#farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Allison I can tell you I will not be visiting Chicago in winter. I have heard it is beyond brutal! In April London can be so lovely with all the blossom out and daffodils blooming. Spring is a lovely time to visit but also good to have indoors back up plans too

  7. Danny says:

    I never realized London had Christmas markets, too. I guess I’m just so used to them being here in Germany that I never really think about having a cup of mulled wine somewhere else. Although now that I think about it, I do remember seeing one in Bucharest last November. 🙂

    • Katy says:

      To be fair they are bit lower key than the huge German ones and also borrow a lot of food ideas from them too. Which is not such a bad thing!

  8. aandj8804 says:

    Great guide for a London visit! Next time I’m planning a trip there, I will seek out this post. 🙂 #farawayfiles

  9. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    Lots of great ideas here, particularly the Christmas markets which make the whole experience of winter in London more appealing. I used to work in Oxford St, in the John Lewis department store, so remember how busy it was with everyone shopping in December. And I love the South Bank, whatever the season.
    #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Now I really want to hear about what it’s like to work at John Lewis in Oxford Street at Christmas Trish. I am sure you witnessed the full scope of human behaviour! I usually avoid Oxford Street but it is so pretty lit up for Christmas

  10. Pinay Flying High says:

    This is going to be my first Christmas outside of the Middle East and I’m oh so excited! I can’t wait to see all the Christmas lights around the city and the markets as well. 🙂

    • Katy says:

      It’s coming soon! Just booked the kids into Santa’s grotto today and we are doing ice skating at the Natural History Museum. If you want to go shopping for Christmas decorations Liberty’s Christmas shop is open for business! I had to restrain myself!

  11. MummyTravels says:

    This is actually making me look forward to winter in London- there are some great museums but I do love the South Bank and the Iceland rinks. Which reminds me, I promised to take my daughter to the Natural History Museum rink this year! #farawayfiles

  12. Danielle says:

    Loved this! We visited London last March and spent way too much time o the Tube trying to get from place to place. Your suggestions in this post sound so much better! Saving for our next visit! 🙂 #farawayfiles

    • Katy says:

      Oh Juliette! I love watching people with skills on the ice. As a child of the 80s I loved watching Torville and Dean. So beautiful and graceful. I love to try it but I’m more concerned with not getting my fingers crushed or falling over than looking graceful. Hope you can skate in London soon. Central Park in New York is also pretty special

  13. daisythebus says:

    All good tips! We’re not quite brave enough to tackle London with four kids and a dog yet, but we dearly wish to show our kids some of the museums and parks. The girls would love the outdoors ice rink. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      I think summer would be a much better option! There are some great dog friendly places to stay too. The Brits love dogs as a general rule

  14. Ali May says:

    Katy, you’ve made me miss living in London SOOOOO MUCH! There’s something so magical about getting caught up in the wintery Christmas cheer. Going Christmas shopping in the snow, watching the sun set at 4pm, enjoying a quiet drink by the fire in a pub (I love the Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for the pies too!). #FarawayFiles

  15. fifi + hop says:

    Last time we were in London was in January (years ago) and it was fabulous. We went to museums, pubs, tea time, saw Les Mis and ate a ton of Indian food. It was cozy and fun..we had a great time in winter. #farawayfiles

  16. Bumble Bee Mum says:

    All my friends tell me not to visit London in winter as the winter there is bleak and depressing. But you have painted an entirely different picture! I guess if I was there for high tea, natural history museum and Kidzania, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s winter or summer. And with Christmas markets on top of that, I guess I see why you say December is the best month to visit. #FarawayFiles

    • Katy says:

      I don’t think it would be my first choice of season to visit but there are many wonderful things to do when it is cold and wet. Hope to see you in London soon ???

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