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Visiting London during winter? In this post, you can find plenty of ideas on what to do in London in winter. This is a curated list including the best things to do in London in winter as per a local.
We all know that London is one of the most fabulous places to visit and, while most travelers tend to head to the Big Smoke during the summer months, winter is an equally great time to visit.
Of course, there are all the usual festive events and activities which attract plenty of visitors, but there are also some more unusual things to do which can make a trip to London during the wintertime just that little bit more special.
To give you some ideas, here is a guide on what to do in London during the colder season.
Table of Contents (skip directly to the info you're looking for)
- 1 Christmas Lights Switch-On Events
- 2 Christmas at Kew
- 3 Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
- 4 Ice Skating
- 5 Husky Sleigh Rides
- 6 Dinner in an Igloo
- 7 ICE BAR London
- 8 London Sales
- 9 Take a Winter Walk
- 10 Chinese New Year
- 11 Valentine’s Day
- 12 London Fashion Week
Christmas Lights Switch-On Events
Throughout November, there are many Christmas lights switch-on events all over the city as London to officially begin the festive season. While they take place pretty much in every major district, there are some which are much more extravagant and fabulous than others.
Here are the ones you should definitely consider visiting:
This is one of the city’s most popular shopping areas, so it should come as no surprise that they really pull out all of the stops when it comes to this street’s Christmas lights.
It is said that this year the street will have 27 sparkling curtains of lights, made up of over 200,000 bulbs, lighting up people’s shopping experience. As well as the switch-on, there will also be a number of exclusive shopping offers, in-store street performances, and a whole host of other pop-up events.
The London Eye is one of London’s most iconic sights, so what could be better than seeing it all lit up with twinkling lights? In addition to the wonderful lights, the area hosts the Southbank Centre’s winter market, with lots of wooden stalls selling all kinds of handcrafts, along with traditional food and drink.
Circus 1903, an American circus troupe, also perform in the area, from December to January, delighting show-goers with a variety of stunts and tricks, such as knife-throwing, acrobatics, and high-wire acts.
Another of London’s most recognizable sights, the Shard, becomes a light installation during winter.
While its show changes every year, last year the display reflected the changing colors of the sky, from the golden sheen of dawn to lavender sunsets, in 30-minute light shows. I’m sure whatever they have planned this year will be just as spectacular.
One of the most beautiful light displays in the entire city, Regent Street’s lights, are known for their stunning white angels. They provide the perfect backdrop to a luxury shopping trip here.
In fact, an exclusive shopping evening is part of the switch-on celebrations, and you will also get to see performances by famous musical acts, while also taking part in fun activities.
Other Christmas lights switch-on events worthy of a visit include Covent Garden, Seven Dials, and Piccadilly. Switch-on dates differ from area to area, and some dates have not yet been announced as of writing this so, for up-to-date information, keep an eye on the Visit London website.
Christmas at Kew
Let’s be honest, there is never a bad time to visit Kew Gardens, considered to be the most bio-diverse place on Earth. Now in its seventh year, Christmas at Kew is a night-time trail filled with amazing light installations.
This year, you will be able to see glittering spiral trees, cool laser projections, singing holly bushes, and a flickering fire garden, as you make your way down the trail.
At the end, you will reach the Pond House finale, where you can witness the spectacle of jumping jets of light dancing across the water.
If you get cold or hungry during your time on the trail, no need to worry. Street food vendors set themselves at various points along the way, so you can fill up on delicious eats such as sourdough pizza and traditional pies, and treat yourself to a mulled wine, spiced cider or hot chocolate.
Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park
Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is considered to be one of the highlights of London’s festive season. The largest festive festival to take place in the city, the Christmas markets here are of mammoth proportions, with over 200 stalls, but it is really the amusement park that most people come to enjoy.
There are over 100 rides, as well as a Santa’s Village, the UK’s largest outdoor ice rink, circus and comedy performances, and plenty of other activities to keep you entertained for hours and hours.
Hyde Park is not the only place you can go ice skating in London in winter. One of the most popular rinks is at the Natural History Museum, whose stunning building provides a beautiful backdrop.
A great thing about this ice rink is that, when you have had enough of skating or the cold gets a bit too much for you, you can head into the museum and marvel at its amazing exhibits, such as its 25.2-meter-long blue whale skeleton.
Another ice rink which has an absolutely fabulous backdrop is the one next to the Tower of London. Like the one at the Natural History Museum, this rink can get incredibly busy, but you can always take a break in the adjacent Ice Bar & Cafe.
Other ice rinks which are excellent choices include: Clapham Common, which forms part of the area’s less traditional Christmas market; Canary Wharf, which is one of the city’s few covered ice rinks, perfect for when the weather is a bit rainy; and Hampton Court Palace, a great addition to a day visit to one of Henry VIII’s favourite homes.
Husky Sleigh Rides
It may be an activity which is not traditionally associated with urban centers, but if you head to the WWT London Wetland Centre, it is completely possible to take a husky sleigh ride within London itself.
During their Santa Weekends, you will ride through the beautiful wetland scenery and probably forget that you are in the middle of one of the world’s biggest cities.
There will also be the chance to get up-close and personal with reindeer. Best of all, all of the proceeds from the admission fees go towards preserving this wonderful urban oasis.
Dinner in an Igloo
One of the coolest things you can do in London during winter, it might sound like something that can only be done in a specific place, but there are actually quite a few igloo pop-ups throughout the city in which you can dine.
Inamo Igloos and Winter Garden is located in the bohemian district of Camden and will serve you a great menu of sushi dishes, in an igloo furnished with sheepskin rugs, decorated with flowers and fairy lights.
If you would like to combine your igloo dining experience with unparalleled views of the Thames, you should book yourself a spot at Jimmy’s Winter Lodge and Igloos. It has an absolutely wonderful menu to choose from and there is even the option to add a pot of fondue.
Other amazing igloo dining experiences include Winterland in Fulham, Coppa Club Tower Bridge, and the Sipping Room at Canary Wharf.
ICE BAR London
Ice bars may be more synonymous with the colder Scandinavia countries of Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, but did you know that London has their very own too?
Located in Mayfair, your ticket to the ICE BAR includes a cape and gloves, so that you can keep warm, and your first cocktail; your visit will last about 40 minutes from the time you enter the bar, so plan accordingly. The bar has an extensive cocktail menu which, along with the ice decorations, changes every year.
There is also the chance to dine at the ICE BAR; headed by chef Jon de Villa of Yuu Kitchen, you can sample a great menu which combines Japanese, South-East Asian, and Filipino dishes.
A British tradition, not just in London but everywhere in the UK, are the winter sales, which are really an integral part of the festive season.
Being the capital city, London obviously has some of the best shopping in the country and, during the winter, it is possible to snag many bargains.
This is a great time to head to some of the more luxurious stores in the city, such as Harrods, who will have fantastic deals on their products. Some sales start on Boxing Day, others do not begin until January, so make sure to check online before setting off.
Take a Winter Walk
Spending too much time outside in the cold may not seem that appealing, but London is actually a fantastic place to take a walk in wintertime. If you do get lucky enough to enjoy a sunny, clear day, you will find many people taking to the parks and green areas to make the most of the fine weather and beautiful landscapes.
Hampstead Heath is a popular choice with many visitors to the city, especially if you decide to walk all the way up the hill so as to admire the magnificent London panorama.
Personally, I really love Greenwich Park as it has a wide variety of wildlife, such as deer and lots of species of birds. Greenwich Park also has the great advantage of having a number of museums and other attractions, either inside the park’s perimeter or very close to it if it gets a bit too chilly for you.
Other amazing places for a winter walk in London include: Highgate Cemetery, final resting place of a number of notable figures, including Karl Marx and George Eliot; Richmond Park, which is home to over 600 red and fallow deer; and Putney Heath, a wonderful open space which is also home to a 19th century windmill and museum.
Chinese New Year
London is well-known as a multicultural city and one of its greatest celebrations of this mixing of nations is its Chinese New Year festivities. The largest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, the heart of the celebrations is in Chinatown, close to the famous area of Soho, although the festivities do extend to Trafalgar Square.
The main event is the Chinese New Year Parade, which features a massive street parade with lion and dragon dances and drum performances, and there’s also lots of free entertainment and many stage performances in Trafalgar Square.
Street food is also a huge part of the celebrations, and you may find that lots of the restaurants in Chinatown offer huge discounts throughout this time.
If you miss the actual New Year’s Day – in 2020, it will fall on January 25th – you may still be able to catch the Lantern Festival which takes place 15 days later, when Chinatown is filled with floating red lanterns.
While it may not have the same romantic draw of other European cities, such as Paris and Venice, Valentine’s Day can be just as wonderful in London. So many restaurants, attractions, and hotels do specific Valentine’s Day packages that you will be spoiled for choice as to which to do – or at least, which to do first.
For the traditional among you, you can opt for a romantic meal for two in one of London’s most fantastic restaurants. A big hit with canoodling couples are the Sky Garden restaurants.
The Sky Garden is London’s highest public garden and there are a couple of restaurants here which provide the perfect atmosphere for a romantic dinner as well as promising some of the best views in the city.
Sitting upon 20 Fenchurch Street – known locally as the ‘Walkie Talkie’ – you could choose the swanky Fenchurch Restaurant which specializes in seafood or, if you prefer, there is the more casual Darwin Brasserie which serves traditional British fare.
Other restaurants considered to be great for couples include the OXO Tower restaurant, Berner’s Tavern, and Sketch.
Another British staple, which makes a great activity for Valentine’s Day, is an afternoon tea. Lots of cafes and restaurants offer them, but if you really want to push the boat out, you can book one at one of the top hotels, such as the Ritz, Brown’s or the Savoy.
If you are looking for an afternoon tea with a unique spin, Bite Me Burger Co. do a fun one with burger-themed cakes, or K West Hotel do a retro-themed tea with pick ‘n’ mix classic sweets to take home with you.
Alternatively, you could have an afternoon tea, or dinner for two, while floating along the Thames on a river boat; City Cruises offer these kinds of packages.
If you would prefer to do something different for Valentine’s Day, lots of companies offer a variety of activities.
You could take a speedboat ride on the Thames, splurge on a helicopter ride over the city, sip champagne while taking a ride on the iconic London Eye, or walk through the beautiful flowers at Kew Garden’s Orchid Festival. Your options for romantic atmospheres are really limitless!
London Fashion Week
One of the ‘Big Four’ fashion weeks alongside Milan, New York and Paris, London Fashion Week is the highlight of the fashion world’s calendar in the UK. Taking place between 14th and 18th of February, over 250 designers head here to showcase their new collections, with a variety of catwalk shows and expert talks to enjoy.
Following Fashion Week is the London Fashion Week Festival, which allows consumers to shop a curated edit of the collections which were on show, at discounted prices.
Although most people are put off traveling to London in winter because of the cold and often wet weather, now you know better! Hopefully, these suggestions have opened your eyes to the wonderful opportunities awaiting you in London during the winter.
While bad weather is probably in the cards at some point during your holiday, there is so much to see and do in the winter, indoors and out, there is a strong possibility that you won’t even notice.
This is a guest post by our guest contributor Allie. Allie is originally from The UK and enjoys traveling while housesitting around the world.