London is always a good idea, but is it worth visiting in winter? If you do decide to come for an off season city break here are some of my top tips for making the most of the place.
We’ve been lucky enough to visit London a lot over the years and it’s often been winter when we’ve been around – it’s slightly less busy and cheaper and that always wins for me!
While London is always busy, there’s really no getting away from that, it’s definitely a lot less so when you visit in the winter months of December, January and February. December does get more popular though because of Christmas and all the things going on then.
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Booking ahead for a winter trip to London
Where to stay: It’s always a good idea to book your accommodation well ahead of time, even though winter is technically low season for London. I use Booking.com as they have the best cancellation policies in my opinion (and sometimes you can pay when you arrive – bonus!). For vacation rentals check out VRBO
Attractions: since daylight hours are so few you might want to look at skip the line tickets and tours that really make the most of your time. Check these out:
Tips for visiting London in Winter
These tips for a London winter vacation are specifically about what will make your trip better in the cold months, not about what there is to do as such. Plenty of posts around about what to do in the city! (see the end of the post for more of our London post ideas that might be good for you)
1. Book attractions in advance
Attractions in London are almost all open all year round so when visiting in Winter you’ll not likely be disappointed to find somewhere closed for the season.
While London is generally quieter in the winter months it’s definitely not quiet and you might still find that there are queues for popular attractions and the booking slots can fill up for the best times of the day.
I’d definitely recommend booking tickets in advance of your trip – even if you decide the day before when you’ve seen the weather forecast! It’s much better than planning a trip somewhere and spending too long in a queue.
2. Stay in central London if you can
With potential for bad weather and short days it’s a good idea to have your base for your trip as central to your intended destination as possible.
While London is huge and cheap accommodation can be found as you head away from the city the cons of staying too far from the action definitely outweigh the pros of the cheaper price.
If your day is plagued by cold or wet weather having your hotel or apartment close by to get changed or simply to warm up can be well worth it! It also means you’re not wasting those precious daylight hours traveling into the city centre.
Even Central London is a big area though so have a think about what you’re planning to get up to and try and base yourself close enough. Hopefully the prices will have lowered for your winter trip!
3. Be prepared for the weather
The weather can make or break a visit to London but there’s no getting away from it and no one time that is likely to be better than others.
Rain, cold and snow can be present for all your trip or none of it – you may well be lucky and get some bright and clear days, or you may not! Just make sure you’re well stocked up with waterproofs and perhaps an umbrella and you’ll be ready for whatever the weather throws at you.
London is also a city that isn’t particularly walkable, unless you stick to certain areas. If the weather isn’t being so kind to you then you might want to make sure you have a budget for public transport, taxis or perhaps even the sightseeing buses. In the summer I’d definitely recommend walking where you can, simply because I prefer it, but it’s a lot harder to rely on doing that in winter.
4. Have a plan for the dark hours
London in winter time also brings with it lots of darkness hours. You’ll find that from about 4-5pm it’s dark which is fine for that festive feeling walking among the lights, but it’s not so great for sightseeing and although I’ve always felt London is quite safe, if you’re travelling alone or wandering around at night it’s something to remember.
One evening option for winter time in London is the theatre. The city has a great theatre vibe and there are so many shows to see. As well as the West End shows that are on you have the exciting Christmas themed shows and pantomimes that pop up too. If you’re worried about what to do when it’s dark on an evening a show could be the perfect option.
5. Have rainy day ideas like museums
London is just amazing for museums and the fact that the vast majority are free means that they are perfect to dip in to as and when you need them. Ideal for London’s changeable weather and cold days.
If the weather turns or if you’re just fed up of having a cold nose then an hour or two enjoying and learning could be enough to keep you smiling. Add in a coffee from the inevitable cafe that’s inside and you’ll be warm too!
You can check out some of the best free museums that we like in this post.
6. Check out some of the festive or local markets
There’s a few really good market areas in London and my favourite has to be Portobello Road market in the Notting Hill area of London. There’s a great vibe there and loads of stalls to look round and pick up an antique or two – we managed to come home with a stack of old marvel comic books once! Note that it isn’t on on Sundays – the best day to see it in action is Saturday but be prepared for crowds!
If you come to London in December you’ll also have the added bonus of the festive markets. Covent Garden is a great place to go to for a festive atmosphere – it’s bang in the centre of the city and has a huge Christmas tree to check out too.
7. Be aware of Christmas opening hours
This tip is for you if you’re planning to be in London over the week that includes Christmas and New Years. Plan ahead for food, attractions and getting around on those days.
The UK essentially shuts down from midday on Christmas Eve, all of Christmas Day and sometimes into Boxing Day.
That means that most attractions will be closed, public transport will be very limited and taxis will increase their prices! Main grocery stores and chains will be closed on Christmas Day so getting food could be difficult – even McDonald’s shuts! You might be able to find local, independent shops open still but they may have limited options of things to buy.
It’s worth planning a meal in advance too as restaurants will book up fast!
8. Get the Transport for London app
This is a general tip for visiting London but essential in the winter months when you might be more likely to jump on the tube or bus than taking a long walk.
The app is free and shows you how to get from where you are to your destination and the best way to do it. (You can also use their website too but for when you’re on the go the app is best)
It also tells you if there are any underground line closures or strikes on that will affect your journey and if you’re visiting in 2023/2024 then this is still particularly relevant!
9. Check out the Christmas lights in December
If you’re visiting London in December or even at the beginning of January you may be lucky enough to see some of the amazing Christmas decorations that light up so many of Central London’s streets.
Oxford Street is one of the main ones to check out but others of note are Regent’s Street, Bond Street and Carnaby Street.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these tips and that they’ve given you some ideas for making the best of your upcoming winter trip to London!
More London posts you might like:
- Best WW2 sites in London to visit
- The Original Tour London – Our review of the hop on, hop off sightseeing bus
- 10 Pretty Places in London to visit
- 13 unique things to do in Greenwich, London.
- Royal Palaces in London – 7 spectacular sites to visit
- The 13 best London museums for kids (and adults) – and they’re all free!
- My favourite children’s books about London
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🇬🇧💂♀️ London Travel FAQ 💂♀️🇬🇧
Do I need insurance for traveling to London?
YES! I always recommend people take travel insurance when exploring the world!
Check Travel Insurance Master for quote comparisons from different providers.
Do I need a car for visiting London?
NO – If you’re just visiting London then a car is not recommended and can be more of a hindrance than a help.
If you plan to explore more of the UK then I recommend DiscoverCars to compare car rental prices
How to book accommodation in London?
For hotels I recommend Booking.com
For apartments and cottages check out VRBO
Will my phone work in London?
Perhaps – it depends if you have roaming enabled and beware this can be an expensive way to use your phone.
If you need a SIM for use in the UK I recommend GiffGaff which you can get and set up before traveling.
What’s the best guidebook for London?
I really like the Lonely Planet Guidebooks
Where to get flights for London
Expedia is my first port of call for finding cheap flights to London.
Do I need a visa for London?
Many countries don’t need a visa for visiting England as tourists (USA, Canada, Aus, NZ and Europe) – it’s always best to check first though.
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