Are you visiting the UK in winter (or considering it!) and want to know the best places to visit and must-do experiences? We have you covered with UK winter travel inspiration plus practical tips to make the most of your trip wherever you go.
Many people assume that the UK is nothing but rain and chilly weather during winter. However, it’s actually one of the best times to visit. The UK in the colder months of winter can be magical with picture-perfect landscapes, festive activities and cosy pubs where you can warm up with a hot drink or enjoy a delicious meal after spending the day making the most of your UK holiday.
In this article, discover the advantages (and disadvantages) of planning a winter vacation in the UK, the best places to visit (and must-do experiences to include in your UK itinerary), the best places to stay plus answers to frequently answered questions. We have also included practical tips to ensure your visit is as comfortable as possible.
- Visiting the UK in winter
- Best places to visit in the UK in winter
- FAQs – Visiting the UK in winter
- If you’re planning a trip to the UK in winter add these experiences to your bucket list.
- Planning your UK trip
Visiting the UK in winter
Advantages of visiting the UK in winter
- For those on a budget visiting the UK during the winter months is ideal. From about November through to February (excluding December, Christmas, and New Year) is considered low season with accommodation cheaper than at other times of the year.
- In the winter major attractions are not as busy. For example, you’ll often be able to enjoy iconic London attractions such as the London Eye or Buckingham Palace without the long queues.
- Many UK cities, towns and villages have a festive feel with Christmas lights, decorations and other seasonal treats including traditional foods such as mince pies which you can enjoy without the hustle and bustle of large crowds.
- Many towns and cities in the United Kingdom hold specific activities to celebrate the festive season. York, Edinburgh, and Birmingham are among the numerous cities that feature an annual Christmas market where you can sample traditional cuisine, crafts, and entertainment.
- You can cosy up in a friendly fire-lit pub with a glass of mulled wine or craft beer.
- If you want to experience a genuine English Christmas with roast dinners, family time walks in the snow, and seasonal markets, visiting the UK during the winter is a must.
- The winter months provide a unique atmosphere to the countryside, with frost-covered fields and often clear bright blue skies.
- There is the possibility of taking part in special events such as Hogmanay in Edinburgh.
Disadvantages of visiting the UK in winter
- The days are shorter. If you don’t like getting up early or staying out late, then visiting during the winter period (November – February) may not be for you. In addition, many attractions (including National Trust properties) close or have shorter opening hours. This means you may not be able to see and do as much as you want.
- The weather can be cold especially if you are visiting places in northern England, Scotland or other parts of the UK where snowfalls are common during winter.
- Winter is the rainiest season of the year so car journeys can take longer due to poor visibility.
- Snow and ice make road travel more challenging and may make it harder for you to get around.
Best places to visit in the UK in winter
Edinburgh is one of the best destinations to visit in the UK in winter and particularly during the festive period. The Scottish capital hosts numerous events and activities in the build-up to Christmas including a fantastic light show on Princes Street Gardens where more than 1,000 fairy lights are switched on for the Festival of Lights.
Every year in early December the Edinburgh International Christmas Market in nearby George Street welcomes visitors from all over Europe to sample a variety of festive treats and enjoy live entertainment.
In addition, the city’s streets are adorned with beautiful wreaths and garlands, while families travel from far and wide to see one of the largest decorated trees in the UK in the centre of the city.
The start of a new year is heralded with one of the best street parties on earth at Hogmanay, the world-renowned Scottish New Year.
The city centre is closed to traffic for the huge street party on 31 December where up to 100,000 people join in a mass rendition of Auld Lang Syne (the New Year song) at the stroke of midnight.
Edinburgh’s Hogmanay celebrations continue until mid-morning with a family fireworks display and live music.
York is one of the most popular UK tourist destinations during winter with over 1 million visitors every year enjoying all that this charming city has to offer including its spectacular medieval architecture, cobbled streets, York Minister, Shambles, and Jorvik Viking Centre.
There is a fantastic line-up of events and activities including its renowned Christmas Market on the city’s famous Shambles that offers more than 200 stalls selling handicrafts, food, drink and festive gifts plus fun for all the family with traditional entertainment and children’s rides.
Visitors come from far and wide to see the magnificent York Minster bedecked in its Christmas finery and there are also visits with Father Christmas.
The Lake District
The Lake District is one of the most popular UK tourist destinations with a staggering 14.9 million visitors a year. The area has been immortalised in poems by William Wordsworth and visited by famous authors from Beatrix Potter to Arthur Ransome who have all fallen in love with this beautiful corner of England.
The Lake District offers spectacular walks and cycle routes, unrivalled scenery and fabulous pubs for cosy winter nights beside roaring log fires. Visitors can also see the area by boat on one of its many lakes or sample some traditional English ales at one of the country’s finest breweries.
The UK capital winter attractions include the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, the Natural History Museum, ZSL London Zoo and Kew Gardens as well as numerous events such as Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park (think rides, food and drink and a giant observation wheel) and a festive Christmas Day Parade.
The city’s famous landmarks are also lit up for the festive period with a spectacular display of more than 80,000 lights on Oxford Street stretching from Selfridge’s to the Marble Arch end.
Head for a show (or a pantomime), book an afternoon tea or partake in a little retail therapy in some of London’s best-known shops (Harrods anyone?)
Bath is possibly one of the most romantic destinations in the UK during winter. A Roman spa city, Bath was built on natural hot springs that bubble up from the ground. Visitors can still enjoy a soak in the thermal baths today while appreciating its elegant Georgian architecture.
Winter visitors can enjoy all of Bath’s attractions including the Fashion Museum (celebrating fashion over the past 300 years), The Jane Austen Centre (guided tours of her Georgian home) and Royal Crescent (Bath’s famous curved row of houses, designed by John Wood).
Enjoy Bath’s iconic streets lit up for Christmas as part of the cities festive celebrations.
The Peak District is one of the most popular UK tourist destinations during winter with over 1.8 million visitors every year enjoying the spectacular scenery, quaint towns and villages and tranquil countryside that this beautiful national park has to offer.
Visitors come to see the area by bike, walk, run or simply soak up the atmosphere in one of its cosy pubs beside a roaring log fire. On offer are over 400km of trails covering gentle rambles to challenging hikes suitable for all abilities.
One of the most popular destinations in the Peak District during winter is Chatsworth House near Bakewell, one of Britain’s finest stately homes. Visitors can enjoy a range of festive activities and special events including its popular festive illuminated walk, Christmas exhibition tour and Christmas market.
Visitors come to the Scottish Highlands in winter for its stunning scenery, fantastic walking trails and cosy pubs by roaring log fires. The area is an outdoor lover’s dream with spectacular mountain scenery, lochs, glens and vast stretches of moorland perfect for long walks or cycle rides. There are over 500 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet) to discover plus other challenging hiking trails.
During the winter, visitors to the Cairngorms National Park are almost certain to encounter snow, making snowshoeing, skiing, ice skating, and tobogganing popular winter sports. Tours of whisky distilleries are also on offer!
If the northern lights are on your bucket list the Scottish Highlands in winter offer the best chance of seeing them.
Visitors to the Cotswolds can enjoy a mix of cosy rural pubs, beautiful villages and picture-perfect Cotswold stone cottages which are adorned with Christmas lights during the festive season.
Take a winter walk and explore the quaint villages of Bourton on the Water or Bibury and enjoy the beauty of frosty mornings before popping into a local cafe to warm up with morning tea and cake.
There is also a fantastic calendar of events including horse racing at Cheltenham Racecourse, Carols at Bourton-on-the-Water and magical nativity scenes.
The Brecon Beacons in Wales is one of the UK’s top walking destinations and with over 900 miles of footpaths visitors can enjoy exploring the beautiful countryside on foot. Well-maintained trails include the popular Beacons Way which follows the path of a disused railway line and takes about 6 days to complete.
There are also numerous activities offered in the region including mountain biking, caving, kayaking and canoeing. Visitors can enjoy New Year’s Eve at Cardiff City Hall with an evening of food and entertainment followed by a spectacular fireworks display over the bay.
Northumberland National Park is England’s largest national park covering some 21% of this north eastern county of England. Visitors come to enjoy its stunning scenery, dramatic coastline and peaceful rural villages.
The park is perfect for outdoor activities including walking, cycling (road or mountain), climbing, running or horse riding across the beautiful landscape. The area also has a vibrant culture and tradition with numerous creative industries on offer throughout the winter including art, craft and music plus an exciting calendar of festive events.
Take a drive along the Northumberland coastal route and stop along the way at some of the beautiful seaside towns, villages and castles. Pop into the famous Barter Books in Alnwick with its open fires and comfy chairs – perfect on a cold winter’s day.
Northern Ireland is home to some of the most spectacular scenery in the whole of the UK with rolling hills, coastal shores and lush countryside.
In Belfast, visitors can enjoy celebrations such as festivals, markets and events over the festive period including ice skating at City Hall Square (Boutique Winter Festival), Belfast’s Christmas boat parade on the River Lagan and a spectacular firework display at Titanic Slipways.
In winter, Belfast has a packed events calendar with everything from live entertainment, markets and food festivals to culture and theatre.
Dartmoor National Park
Dartmoor is a vast expanse of unspoilt and stunning countryside in South Devon. Visitors enjoy walking, cycling and horseriding over the rolling landscape as well as exploring local villages and towns including historic Okehampton and picturesque Tavistock.
The area is also home to Dartmoor National Park Visitor Centre which offers award-winning exhibitions about Dartmoor’s fascinating wildlife (including the famous ponies which roam Dartmoor), landscapes and cultural heritage. The site boasts a café, shop and free exhibition galleries packed with interactive exhibits for all the family to enjoy.
For an unforgettable New Year celebration in Dartmoor why not join one of the Bronze Age Nights themed events where guests can enjoy storytelling around a campfire, horseriding and marshmallow toasting. These events take place throughout the winter season so visitors can enjoy experiencing time-honoured festivities from years gone by!
FAQs – Visiting the UK in winter
When is winter in the UK?
Winter officially runs from 1 December to 31 March. During December, January and February you are more likely to experience colder weather than at other times of the year.
How many hours of daylight are there in the UK in winter?
During December the UK gets an average of only 8 hours of daylight. In Scotland, the shortest day has just under 7 hours of daylight.
Is it better to visit the UK in winter or during other times of the year?
It depends on what you want your holiday experience to be like. Travelling during summer will give you a chance to enjoy warm temperatures and take advantage of long sunny days.
Visiting between spring and autumn provides a better chance of nice weather and you’ll avoid the crowds. But there’s something truly special about visiting the UK at Christmas time plus of course it has the added benefits of lower costs and fewer tourists!
Read more – When is the best time to visit the UK?
How cold is the UK in winter?
If you’re visiting the United Kingdom in the winter (the coldest months), you should prepare for cold and damp with temperatures averaging around 5°C (41°F) but as low as -4°C (25°F) in northern parts of Scotland.
Expect more than the odd rainy day (after all it is the UK!)
What to pack for the UK in winter?
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.” (Alfred Wainwright) It can get pretty chilly in the UK in winter so packing a waterproof winter coat and boots, warm clothes and a hat, scarf and gloves are all recommended.
We recommend wearing layers so you can adjust your clothing to suit the environment as it can be stifling in shops and on public transport in winter.
Read more – What to pack for the UK (all seasons)
How can I travel around the UK in winter?
If you’re planning to hire a car for your UK winter visit, check the weather forecast beforehand so that you know what conditions to expect. Driving in winter can be challenging especially on wet roads or if there’s ice and snow.
If you are travelling by train and there is an adverse weather forecast check the status of your train on the National Rail Enquiries website.
Read more – UK transportation guide
If you’re planning a trip to the UK in winter add these experiences to your bucket list.
- See a pantomime dame perform as your favourite festive character. There are pantomimes at theatres across the country, from London’s West End to small village halls.
- Take a walk in one of England’s national parks: choose Snowdonia in Wales or the Peak District and Yorkshire Dales in northern England for snowy landscapes and mountains capped with white snow – perfect if you like walking and winter sports.
- Spend Boxing Day (Dec 26) shopping in the sales. If you’re a fan of bargain hunting and limited edition, luxury pieces – it’s the one day to take advantage of great discounts.
- Try out your ice skating skills at Somerset House in London, Manchester’s Platt Fields Park or Hyde Park in Leeds.
- Visit the world’s most festive capital city, where everything is beautifully lit up with Christmas lights. Spend an afternoon wandering around Oxford Street to see the window displays in department stores.
- Visit some of the UK’s Christmas markets for local crafts, food and gifts for family and friends.
- Try mulled wine or hot chocolate with homemade mince pies.
- Snuggle up in a warm cosy pub with an open fire.
- Go to a carol service or even sing in one if you are brave enough. Singing is not mandatory but it does add to the festive spirit of the occasion!
- Go to the New Year’s Eve party in Edinburgh.
- See Edinburgh, Bath, York or other UK cities illuminated with festive lights.
Festive markets in the UK 2021
As the UK (and the world) is still emerging from the Covid-19 pandemic there is still not a return to all the Christmas markets across the UK. Please check local websites for 2021 festive plans.
Planning your UK trip
If you want to drink mulled cider (or wine) in a cosy pub, toast marshmallows over an open fire and enjoy some festive cheer then the winter (and especially December) is the perfect time to visit the UK!
- When to visit – Guide to UK seasons
- UK travel inspiration – Staycation guide
- Planning – Plan your UK trip in 10 easy steps
- Accommodation – Where to stay
- Book your trip – Best UK booking sites