If you are planning a trip to England in winter, or you are British and planning a staycation for Christmas, London is the place to go. Although it is a wonderful city break at any visit of the year, visiting London in winter is a fun and unique experience. Here are my top tips for the best things to do in London in the winter, and how to prepare for your trip.
Why Winter is the Best Time to Visit London
There is no bad time to visit London, and whether you have a weekend or a week in the city there is plenty to keep you busy no matter what time of year you visit. However, London in winter is usually quieter than other times of the year, as tourists choose warmer destinations.
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A well as fewer crowds and fewer queues, you might find that prices are a bit cheaper too, so visiting London during the winter is good for you and your wallet! If you come prepared with lots of layers, a good waterproof jacket and shoes and an umbrella then you will be ready for anything the London winter has to throw at you!
Winter Weather in London
Weather in London usually isn’t as cold as the rest of the UK, with temperatures hovering between 2 and 10°C (30-50°F). It rarely freezes in London, and snow isn’t common – although not unheard of. If you are lucky, you may get snow in London during the winter, but it probably won’t last long.
More likely will be rain. November is one of the wettest months of the year in London, with an average of 64mm of rain falling in the month. December is usually a bit dryer, and during your visit you will probably get some wet weather, hopefully, mixed with dry spells.
One thing to remember about the UK in winter is that it goes dark quite early – with sunset at around 4 pm in December and most of January. One benefit of that is you get to experience this beautiful city at night – but make sure you plan your day properly and get an early start if you can to make the best use of the daylight.
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What to Wear in London in Winter
Layers! It can be hard to predict the weather in England, but you can usually expect it to be chilly and wet.
Don’t forget an umbrella and waterproof jacket. A good pair of waterproof shoes or boots will keep your feet dry and warm and you will be glad of a woolly hat, scarf and gloves too!
Things to do in London in Winter
Take a Walk in the Park
If you are prepared for the weather, a stroll through one of London’s beautiful parks is the best way to sweep away the cobwebs and enjoy the fresh air. On a crisp winter morning, head to Richmond Park to see the herd of deer nibbling at the grass or walk through Hyde Park or St James’s Park to Buckingham Palace.
Visit Free Museums and Galleries
If you are visiting London on a budget, don’t worry about having to spend money to keep warm. London has some of the best free museums in the world, so you can enjoy incredible art, beautiful sculptures and learn about all sorts of things without getting cold.
Some of my favourite free museums in London include the Natural History Museum which is filled with exhibits about everything you can imagine in the natural world, from dinosaurs to rock samples and a huge Sequoia tree which was 1335 years when it was felled and the National Gallery which has some wonderful pieces of art from the likes of Turner, Monet and Van Gogh.
The Tate Modern also has an impressive collection of modern art, and the view from their roof terrace is one of the best views in London.
See a Show
London is one of the best places in the world to see a theatre performance, and the West End is the place to go. Look up your favourite productions, from The Lion King to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to find the theatre where you can watch.
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Walk Along the Thames
No matter what the weather, a walk along the Thames is always on the best things to do in London. From here you can admire some of London’s most famous landmarks, including the London Eye, Westminster and Big Ben (currently under renovation), St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, and Tower Bridge – among many others!
Ice Skating Outdoors
Wrap up warm and rent some skates to take advantage of the ice-skating rinks that arrive in London during the winter. Popular spots to get your skates on include an ice rink outside the Natural History Museum and one at Somerset House.
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London is a wonderful shopping destination and the perfect place to buy Christmas gifts or shop the sales in January.
You’ll find high-end designer shops on Regent Street and Oxford Street, and off Regent Street is Carnaby Street which has more independent fashion boutiques. Camden is also great for independent shopping, and the Portobello Road market in Notting Hill is a fascinating place to pick up all sorts of knickknacks.
Even if you don’t have the cash to spend you can still window-shop, spot some London buses and re-live your childhood in Hamleys of London which turns into a real winter wonderland for Christmas.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
This huge theme park opens in Hyde Park, with fairground rides, Christmas market stalls and colourful light displays. Unfortunately, it has been cancelled for 2020, but hopefully will be back for 2021.
Foodie Things to do in London
Eating and drinking are two of my favourite activities, and there are plenty of both in London to keep you occupied!
Enjoy Afternoon Tea
A quintessential English past-time, enjoying an afternoon tea in London is an absolute must. There is a wide range of afternoon teas to choose from, from standard fruit scones with clotted cream and jam to themed afternoon teas and even eating afternoon teas on a bus!
I went for a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed afternoon tea in London and loved it! It isn’t the cheapest thing to do in London, but if you can time it well you can have a big breakfast and an afternoon tea without bothering with an evening meal.
Take a Food Tour
Although you will be outside in the elements in between stops, you can warm up with delicious food and drink as you go. I took a Secret Food Tour in London and loved tasting a range of traditional British food.
Drink in a Traditional English Pub
There is nothing more English than spending a cold and rainy afternoon in the pub! Pubs are usually toasty warm, with lots of beer, wine, spirits and cider to keep you satisfied no matter what the weather is doing outside.
Visit a Gin Distillery
London is the home of gin, and Beefeater Gin has been making bottles of the good stuff since the 1800s. You can book a tour of their distillery which includes a visit to the gin museum, learning all about the history of gin and how to make it, a gin tasting and complimentary gin and tonic. Read more about my London gin tasting experience.
Christmas in London
London certainly gets into the Christmas spirit, with decorations and colourful lights appearing all around the city from mid to late November.
This year Christmas in London will look a little different, so be sure to check the details and opening times before you travel.
London Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is sadly cancelled in 2020, but you should still find some festive cheer around the city.
Christmas Markets will still pop up around the city; try the South Bank Centre Winter Market, Leicester Square Christmas Market or Christmas By The River at London Bridge City.
Simply walking the streets you will be able to see some of the best Christmas lights and decorations. Huge Christmas trees appear in Trafalgar Square, at Covent Garden and various other places in London, and shops really push the boat out on their Christmas window displays.
You could even arrange a tour to see some of the best Christmas decorations in London, from Oxford Street to the London Eye.
New Year in London
We Brits love to see the New Year in with a huge party, and London is no exception. However, a night out on New Year’s Eve is likely to be expensive. Restaurants and bars usually have ticketed events tend to offer ticketed events, usually involving a food and drinks package.
There is a huge firework display in Central London, around the London Eye and Westminster. It is usually a ticketed event, although tickets haven’t been released for 2020 yet so we shall see what is in store for that. It is also televised, so don’t worry if you can’t snag a ticket for that, you can still get a great view from indoors!
Remember that public transport is likely to be very busy in Central London on New Year’s Eve, so check the Transport for London website to plan your trip. It is usually free to travel on buses and tube trains from 11.45 pm on New Year’s Eve to 4.30 am on New Year’s Day.
Where to Stay in London
There are so many different options for where to stay in London it can be overwhelming to choose! I love the area around Tower Bridge as it is walking distance to a lot of the attractions such as the Tower of London and Tower Bridge, while not being crazy expensive.
It is also well connected by the Tube to the rest of London, being close to the underground stations Tower Bridge for the Circle and District Lines, and Aldgate East for the Hammersmith Line.
Hostels in London
I stayed at Wombat’s City Hostel London, a fabulous hostel close to Tower Bridge, and I have to say this had a massive impact on my enjoyment of London. The hostel was spotlessly clean, the staff were friendly, and the location was unbeatable.
Wombat’s London is about 10 minutes’ walk from Tower Bridge, the Tower of London and Tower Hill underground station, and is walking distance from Shoreditch, Borough Market and plenty more places to see in London.
Dorm rooms are great for backpackers or visitors on a budget, or you can treat yourself to a private room for all the perks of being in a hostel, with the privacy of your own room.
Hotels in London
There are thousands of hotels in London to choose from, and you can find something for every budget, although getting the balance between good quality and good value isn’t easy! Staying outside of the city centre is cheaper, so if you are staying in London for several days you could save money that way, but if you are short on time then somewhere close to central London is a must.
CitizenM Tower of London is right next to Tower Bridge underground station, and the rooms have great views of the Thames and Tower of London. Guests loved the comfy bed, friendly staff and the views!
Hotel Indigo Tower Hill also gets great reviews for the friendly staff, comfy beds and quiet rooms.
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Airbnb in London
Airbnb could be a great option for you in London; there are options for every budget if you just want a private room, or you can find some lovely apartments to rent too.
If you prefer to have your own place you could try this lovely cozy flat in St Katherine’s Docks, or this well-presented flat which is also great value. Alternatively, you can check out all the options for Airbnb in London.
If you have never used Airbnb before, use this link to sign up & get up to $52 credit to use on your first trip! Read more about the Airbnb first time discount code and my full Airbnb guide or click below for your Airbnb coupon.
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Just to let you know, this post may contain paid or affiliate links, which help to maintain Tales of a Backpacker and give me the chance to keep travelling, and to keep creating awesome content for you! I only recommend goods and services I believe are useful and reliable.Last updated: September 7, 2020