Should You Visit London In Winter?

The British capital is an exciting place to be. The winter months might bring colder temperatures and rainy days, but don’t let that put you off. A trip to London in winter is like peering into the pages of a Dickens novel. The short days bring long nights lit by twinkling lights and the warm glow of windows of inviting pubs and restaurants, with Londoners anticipating the festive season.

Despite the rain and wind of winter, visiting London in winter is a rewarding time to be in the city. Not only do you have fewer tourists, but you also get to see a very cozy and very welcoming side to London.

Curious to find out more? Continue reading then. I have spent many winters in London, and I will share everything you need to know to plan your trip, including what to pack and the best things to do in London in winter.

London in winter

What You Must Know Before Visiting London In Winter

What’s the weather like in London in Winter?

In the UK temperatures start to drop in November, marking the beginning of winter in London. The average daytime temperature is 9.3°C (48.7°F). Expect cloudy days and regular rain, with an average of 17 days across November seeing some rainfall. It won’t even be particularly cold, but it will certainly be gray and wet.

As December arrives, temperatures drop further. The average daytime temperature in December in winter is 7.7°C (45.8°F), but they can drop to below freezing at night, with frost and even snow occurring. There’s very little sunshine per day, and more than half of the month experiences rainfall.

January is even colder – the coldest month of the year in London, actually. The daytime temperature is 5°C (41°F) on average, and temperatures can also drop to below freezing, so it’s a good idea to wrap up warm if you’re planning a visit in the New Year. There’s plenty of rainfall, too!

Then there’s February, which is also a chilly month with daily averages of 6.3°C (43.3°F), but there’s an increase in sunshine as the month wears on and signs of spring begin to linger.

what to wear in London in winter
Photo by SHansche @istockphoto

What to wear in London in winter

London can get bitterly cold in the winter months and you need to be dressed appropriately, especially as you’ll be sightseeing and walking around all day. Years ago my cousin visited me in December and we went out for the day. We ended up in Covent Garden to check out the Christmas Markets but I wasn’t dressed for the weather and I was truly miserable! So, here are a few tips on what you should pack for your winter trip to London.

For one thing, you’re going to need something to keep you dry. Rain is almost an unavoidable fixture of London in winter – in fact, that’s common in Britain throughout the year. Most Londoners will don a warm, waterproof winter coat with a hood, though umbrellas are also a common sight on the streets.

Layers will be key in keeping you warm during a trip to London in winter – but it’s more about quality than quantity. You will want to pack thick thermal tights or leggings that you can wear underneath dresses or paired with cozy sweaters. I recommend these Kuhl Impulse Tight thermal pants which can be worn under a regular pair of winter pants. If you also want a thermal shirt I recommend Kuhl Akkomplice Krew.

winter in London
Photo by DisobeyArt @istockphoto

You should also pack a couple of long-sleeve shirts and thick sweatersicon that you can layer – I love Kuhl Flight Jacket as it is super warm and cozy, but they also make lighter sweaters if you prefer.icon

If you want a really good jacket to keep warm even in arctic temperatures (literally!) opt for the Artik Parka by Kuhlicon. Nothing will keep you warmer, and it has lots of pockets so you don’t have to scramble in your bag to look for your phone. Another option could be Kuhl Skyfire Down Parka, which is certified cruelty free.

It’s also a good idea to pack a warm hat, a nice thick scarf, and a pair of gloves to help keep the cold at bay (you’ll be particularly thankful of them when it’s windy). I normally opt for touch screen gloves so that I don’t have to take them off any time I want to take a photo.

Finally, a pair of comfortable boots is a good idea – especially if you want to keep your feet warm and dry. Trust me, you don’t want to be sightseeing in London with soggy feet!

Don’t worry too much about being overdressed, because when you visit sights in venues like museums there are usually cloakrooms where you can leave your coats.

For more information, read my post What To Wear In London.

pubs in Covent Garden London in winter

The Best Things To Do In London In Winter

London may not be a winter wonderland covered with snow during the coldest time of year, but the British capital definitely knows how to cozy up and keep warm. There are plenty of ways to do this – and many more seasonal things to do in London in winter that you shouldn’t miss out on.

Visit a pub

Pubs are perhaps the coziest places in London in winter. There’s nothing quite like opening the door on a warm pub with an open fire and shutting the door on the wet and windy world outside.

If you’re not from the UK, a pub might seem like a daunting place to spend some time, but don’t worry – these drinking establishments are mostly welcoming places that are the perfect destination for soaking up some classic British culture. London has an almost endless list of pubs (approximately 3,500), ranging from hip, modern gastropubs to historic drinking holes that have been serving pints of beer for centuries.

What pubs you go to depends on where you are in the city – it’s not usual that you’d travel far to go to a specific pub, and people usually stick to their locals or pubs near their workplaces. However, there are a few gems that warrant a special visit.

French House in Soho is an old school boozer that opened in 1891, a great place to enjoy respite from the cold city streets. Over in Borough, there’s the George Inn. Situated close to bustling Borough Market, it’s such a landmark that it’s owned and managed by the National Trust (think wood-beamed ceilings and period features). The Holly Bush in Hampstead is an 18th century pub complete with a wood-burning fire, making it the perfect place to warm up with a hot toddy after a busy day walking in the city.

You can even go on a historical pubs tour such as this one.

winter in London

Visit the best museums in London

London is home to an absolute wealth of museums and many of them – even the top ones – are completely free of charge to enter. Visiting museums during winter in London makes sense; it’s a great way to both enrich your cultural experience of the capital and keep out of the cold (or stay dry!).

The V&A is one of a collection of museums in South Kensington and is a landmark institution for everything art and design related. Boasting a permanent collection of over 2.3 million pieces, the museum is free and can easily take a whole day to explore.

Just up the road is the Natural History Museum (also free), which features a decadent central hall and a world-leading collection of 80 million fossil, animal, plant, mineral and rock specimens – there’s even an earthquake simulator and the chance to pass through the center of the earth on an escalator.

free museums in London

The British Museum is a fantastical showcase of global history, from ancient Iraq and classical Greece all the way to Saxon burial treasures uncovered in the UK. It’s completely free to explore this eye-popping collection.

For some modern art, there’s nowhere better than the Tate Modern on London’s South Bank. Taking up space inside a disused power station, this art gallery features a permanent collection of modern artists from Dali to Warhol but is also simply just a cool place to hang out; it’s free to visit.

Not all museums are free, however, but that doesn’t make them any less worth visiting. One such is the London Transport Museum. Situated in Covent Garden, this accessible and endlessly interesting museum takes you on a journey of transport history from old London buses and original early tube trains, with plenty of charming artwork and posters to admire from the 1860s onwards.

Make sure to read my post The 20 Best Museums In London.

London in winter

Wander around the Christmas Markets

Like many European cities, Christmas in London means Christmas markets. These German-inspired festive fairs can be found scattered across the capital and make for a fun way to enjoy a few drinks, a bite to eat and a bit of Yuletide cheer.

Close to the London Eye, London’s South Bank is positively festooned at Christmastime with twinkling lights and heated pods where visitors can grab a bite to eat and warm up with some mulled wine along the riverside. Hackney Christmas Market, taking place at Bohemia Palace, is a great place to enjoy a few drinks, try your hand at craft workshops and purchase some ethically sourced products.

Arguably the biggest Christmas market of all, Winter Wonderland (in Hyde Park) is a magnet for anybody who wants to have a fun time in London during the festive season. Here not only is there the chance to shop for festive goods among its wooden cabins, but there’s also an enormous outdoor ice rink, big beer halls, an ice bar and hair-raising rides.

Leicester Square also puts on a classic German-influenced Christmas market with craft goods on sale and wintry treats to tempt hungry shoppers.

things to do in London in winter

Watch a show in London’s West End

One of the most popular things to do in London in winter (and actually any time of year), is to get tickets to one of the capital’s famous West End shows. This district of London is home to 39 theaters, the oldest being the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, which opened in 1663.

Going to see a musical or play has long been a popular pastime for Londoners, and remains so to this day – whether it’s the Lion King or a long-standing play like Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap. It’s a glittering part of the city, filled with fancy hotels, upscale cafes, plenty of pubs and late-night dining – seeing a show at the West End means making a whole evening of it, after all.

Regent Street

Go shopping

London is a top shopping destination. There is absolutely no shortage of places to pick up all sorts of trendy, unique, vintage or designer items. For Christmas shopping, there’s no beating the festivities of Oxford Street – home to flagship stores like Selfridge’s and John Lewis, with the world-famous Liberty located nearby.

Neighboring Carnaby Street itself comprises a charming collection of boutiques for statement fashion and British clothing brands. Then there’s Regent Street, featuring the famous toy store of Hamleys, as well as designer boutiques and beautiful covered arcades.

Over in Seven Dials, close to Covent Garden, you’ll find the ever-popular Neal’s Yard, which features independent shops and vintage stores to browse. In the east, Columbia Road is a quirky spot for window shopping and picking up unique designs, while Spitalfields Market (my personal favorite in London) has become a foodie hotspot and home to a sometime antique market.

For those serious about getting some Christmas shopping done, or who particularly like malls, there’s Westfield. There are two of these: one in White City and another in Stratford. Each one has over 250 stores from designer labels to household names like Marks & Spencer, with incredible courts to match. When it comes to shopping in London, the list truly goes on and on.

St. Paul's Covent Garden

Hang out in Covent Garden

Set in the West End of London, Covent Garden is an entertainment destination of pedestrianized streets and a central area populated by street performers. You could easily spend a whole day in this corner of the capital, soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying a long lunch, a spot of coffee, visiting the London Transport Museum or seeing a show at the Royal Opera House.

This is probably my favorite place to hang out in London during Christmas time, though I should warn you, it gets packed!

In fact, comes winter Covent Garden is even more charming as the festive season sets in. There’s a huge Christmas tree each year, a Christmas village is erected and thousands upon thousands of twinkling lights decorate the proceedings.

Don’t forget to read my post 10 Cool Things To Do In Covent Garden.

things to do in London in winter

Take a walk in the park

It might be winter, but that doesn’t mean that London’s parks should be ignored. In fact, it may surprise you that a British pastime in winter – especially over the Christmas period – is going for a leisurely walk with friends or family. The capital’s green spaces are the ideal places to get a breath of fresh air and enjoy a spot of nature.

Hyde Park is the most famous of London’s parks, and during winter much of the park is taken up by Winter Wonderland. Away from that, strolling the 320-hectare Hampstead Heath – a wild, natural park popular with dog-walkers, nature-lovers and just about everyone – is popular at New Year, given the great views of the city and its fireworks.

Over in the east, Victoria Park may not be the most polished park in London but is a much-loved green space, which is busy particularly on Sundays with families and groups of friends enjoying some time off. If you’re here in November, you shouldn’t miss the annual fireworks display that takes place here.

Then there’s Holland Park in Kensington, my personal favorite especially in the winter, when you get the impression of just being in a forest!

Slightly further out from the city, Bushy Park is a sprawling place to stroll, with wild deer and botanical gardens to explore – and all just on the doorstep of Hampton Court Palace, too.

views of London

Get on the London Eye

The London Eye is a fun way to see the city from up high, and one of my favorite attractions in London altogether, whatever the season.

Essentially this is a big Ferris wheel, making it a unique sort of observation deck – as opposed to simply stepping in an elevator and stepping out again. Opening its doors in 2000, at the time it was the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, standing at a height of 135 meters (443 feet). It’s particularly popular and is actually the most visited ticketed tourist attraction in the UK, attracting over 3 million visitors a year!

It’s not hard to miss, with the towering ride itself overlooking the River Thames on the South Bank, close to Waterloo Station and within a stone’s throw of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament.

Once intended as a temporary attraction, the London Eye has become a permanent fixture of the city skyline and riding in one of its 32 pods is a must (they’re numbered 1 to 33, excluding the number 13). It takes half an hour to go round, and climbs up above the city, giving you a bird’s eye view over the heart of London. Photo opportunities abound!

To get your London Eye tickets, click here.

For more information, read my post 7 Easy Ways Of Getting London Eye Tickets.

Christmas in London

Go to a carol concert

As Christmas approaches, there’s no better way to get into the festive spirit than attending a carol concert. These and events like it really bring out the Dickensian side of London and its inhabitants, and you’ll find them taking place all across the city, both inside and outside and in various formats. They’re not overly religious events, either, and are often family-friendly or community minded.

For example, if you want a big, bombastic carol-singing event, then the Royal Albert Hall is the place to go, and there’s also an annual Christmas concert at the centuries-old Westminster Abbey. Another historic venue for Christmas carols is Fulham Palace, namely inside the palace’s restored Tudor courtyard. Trafalgar Square also hosts choirs singing beneath the Christmas Tree in the run up to Christmas.

London in winter

Practical Guide

Guided tours of London

Other than the already mentioned activities, you may want to join a tour to get some background information on the city, or just to take in all the amazing sights of winter in London. Here are some tours you may want to consider:

London In a Day: Tower of London tour, Westminster Abbey & Changing of the Guard – if you have limited time in London, you can’t go wrong with this guided tour that takes you to all the most important landmarks in town.

Magical London: Harry Potter Guided Walking Tour – fans of Harry Potter are bound to enjoy this tour that goes to all his places, no matter their age.

Tower of London Early Access Tour – this excellent tour goes to one of the most popular attractions in town, before the crowds arrive.

Secret British Food Tour – who said British tour is tasteless? Go on this food tour to discover all the best traditional local flavors.

London Jack the Ripper Tour – probably the most atmospheric tour to do in London in winter, it’s incredibly quirky, and borderline creepy!

Heathrow Express

How to get to central London from the Airport

London is served by 5 different airports.

If you are flying in from the other side of the world, you’ll likely land in either London Heathrow or London Gatwick, and the best way to get from the airport to the city center is by express train. The Heathrow Express takes you to London Paddington train station, from where you can connect to the metro to reach other parts of town; whereas the Gatwick Express takes you to London Victoria station, also connected by metro.

You can get your Heathrow Express tickets here.

You can also book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here. For more options click here or here.

Budget flights from other European countries will land in Stansted or Luton. From Stansted you can take the Stansted Express train to London Liverpool Street, and from there the metro to your final destination. Luton Airport is connected via the Luton Express train that goes all the way to St. Pancras station.

If you are landing in Heathrow, read my post How To Get From Heathrow To London.

St Paul's Cathedral London

Where to stay

You won’t have troubles finding good accommodation for your winter trip to London, and in fact it may be a bit cheaper since it’s low season (unless you go for Christmas). I recommend staying somewhere central from where it is easy to commute.

If you are in the mood for somewhere particularly cozy, you could stay at The Henrietta. Rooms aren’t the biggest, but they will be spotless and very comfortable, with plush touches. You will be really close to Covent Garden.

If you have a smaller budget, you could opt to stay at the YHA London Central, which is close to the British Museum. In this case you’ll be staying in dorms, but don’t worry they are spotless.

Finally, if money isn’t an issue you could treat yourself to the marvelous Savoy, easily one of the best hotels in London with spacious rooms curated to the detail and all sorts of attentions to guests.

You should also read my post Where To Stay In London: The Best Areas And Hotels.

Further Readings

If you are planning a trip to London, these other posts will be useful:

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Discover the best things to do in London in winter - via @clautavani

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