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London is one of the most popular cities to visit in the whole of Europe and with good reason. London has so much to offer from old buildings full of history to pubs with roaring fires and a Sunday roast that competes with your mums. Life is fast paced in London and there are always new events popping up all over the city.

Visiting London in winter will show you a different side to this beautiful city. With less crowds, you stand more chance of booking a table at the best restaurants and you might even get a seat on the tube! You can explore at your own pace.

Then there is the multitude of Christmas markets, outdoor ice skating rinks and fairgrounds which pop up during the festive period. Even walking through London at night is more special in winter when the Christmas lights are twinkling and there may even be a layer of crunchy white snow on the ground.

london in winter city lights

So today I’ve asked Sam, who lives in London after moving from Australia, to tell us about visiting London in winter. She’s given us a heap of insiders tips and ideas for how to enjoy a winter city break in London, Englands buzzing capital city.

If you enjoy this article, you may want to check out other cities in this ‘Interview with a Local‘ regular series. You’ll find city guides from all over the world from Prague to New York and Dubai!

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Things you need to know before visiting London

Population 8.1 million

Language English

Currency Pound Sterling

Airport There are many but the two biggest are Heathrow and Gatwick.

Must-sees Buckingham Palace, The British Museum, Hyde Park, The Tower of London, Southbank, London bridge

So now it is my pleasure to hand you over to Sam to tell us more about visiting London in winter from a local’s perspective!

London in winter river scene sunset

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An Interview with a Local: London in Winter

Sam writes a travel blog about minimalist international travel – she’ll travel anywhere as long as she doesn’t have to take more than 1 piece of luggage! Both the U.K and Greece feature a lot of her website and all articles are written in English.

Hi Sam, so why should we visit London?

Because London provides such a huge scope for things to see and do.

Whether you want to eat your fill at Michelin starred restaurants or tour the greasy spoons, ponder great masters or take in street art, shop the haute-est of of haute couture or pick up an awesome vintage bargain – London has your back.

As someone who enjoys quite an eclectic range of hobbies and interests, and as someone who bores very easily, I am yet to find nothing to do when I look for it. Across the city concerts, readings, festivals and markets spring up regularly – even in winter!

london in winter ariel view at sunrise

Is there any particular part of London where you recommend basing ourselves?

I like to stay in what I call “the centre + 5%”, far enough from the centre to avoid the extra costs, but close enough that it isn’t a bother to return to your hotel during the day.

There are some excellent places to stay in the surrounding boroughs, East London is a great place to base yourself as it has a lot to see and do close by as well as excellent rail links.

When I visited London as a tourist I stayed near Kings Cross and I have to say this was fantastic. There is lots to do, plenty of cheap eats, and most importantly for London – good rail links.

Regardless of where you stay my biggest tip is to *check* the rail links that so many people tout – I live technically in a commuter town with “excellent rail links” and it takes me over an hour to get in to central London! What is doable for commuters is not necessarily good for visitors!

What do you love most about winter in London?

The atmosphere and the lack of crowds! Growing up in Australia has instilled in me a deep romantic ideal of a chilly urban landscape, with collars turned up against the wind, and afternoons in cosy coffee shops while the rain beats at the window.

While the reality has on occasion driven me mad, I do love how London looks in the rain and I will fight to the death for my right to sit cosily sipping coffee like something out of a 90’s rom com.

The summer crowds shocked me on my visit in June 2014, it added so much time to my journey that I nearly missed my viewing time! While the crowds don’t entirely disappear in the winter they are certainly less. There is something very special about having a place of international fame almost to yourself.

London in winter white buildings

What is the weather like in winter in London? Should we be packing our thermals?!

I would recommend layers!

Early winter can freeze to the bone in the morning and be pleasantly warm in the afternoon which can mean hideous overheating if you wear something too warm. In January and February, I would definitely recommend bringing a warm jacket to compliment your layers.

Additionally, my biggest weather tip is to actually check the temperature – the day I am writing this is sunny and bright, it is also bitterly cold and I fell twice on the ice this morning. Sun doesn’t equal warm in London!

Can you suggest some things to do in London in winter?

If museums or art galleries are your thing then you could spend weeks here and not visit the same one twice. My personal favourites are the British Museum and the Petrie Collection. There are so many small galleries and collections (even a James Bond museum!) that everyone can find something to go and see. 

London in winter british museum

For people who haven’t recently slipped on ice like me, London has a huge range of ice-skating rinks open during winter and I can’t think of a scene more picturesque than an outdoor ice rink in a city like London.

Do you have any suggestions for things to do in London in the rain?

There’s a reason people know about English Teas. I’m not talking about different strains of tea leaves, rather, I am referring to the tradition of variously named food rituals. High Tea, Cream Tea, Afternoon Tea etc.

winter in london afternoon tea

The differences are many yet subtle – some are served with sandwiches and cake while others only sweets, but all come with tea (or coffee if they’re open-minded!)

With a laundry list of amazing cafes which offer one or more of these menus, you can embody the English spirit and cosy up away from the wind and rain – with a nice cup of tea.

Any cosy cafes or restaurants where your recommend getting warm in London in winter? Anything that you recommend on the menu? 

I have recently discovered a, previously unknown to me, haven of deliciousness – Ugly Dumpling SoHo. The options are vast – from traditional flavours like pork, prawn and chive, and vegie options to modern iterations like cheeseburger or fish and chips!

You can choose from platters of dumplings to share or specifically for you, delicious sides, and even a range of cocktails. I couldn’t choose a favourite when I was there, but potentially the most memorable thing was the dessert dumplings – I had never tried a sweet dumpling before and I was a little dubious, but I was wrong to be!

The restaurant is warm and cosy, with little tables tucked into every corner – and don’t worry if you’re walking past and it looks full because there is a downstairs seating area too!

Can you recommend any things to do in London at Christmas Time?

The Christmas Markets in London are not quite as expansive as elsewhere in Europe but we certainly bring a healthy offering. My personal favourite is the Southbank market as you can wander along the Thames while you shop, sip mulled wine, and admire the city lights. Not to mention that if you don’t feel like any of the market food, Southbank is lined with incredible restaurants and bars.

london in winter christmas street food

Is there anywhere you recommend spending New Years Eve in London?

There are incredible fireworks displays at strategic points throughout London, most notably the main show which illuminates some of London’s eye-catching skyline.

As well as fireworks, many of the iconic buildings put on lights shows like at the shard which is a beautiful site to see. If you want to really enjoy the visuals I would recommend a Thames River tour or rooftop party. 

There are plenty of non-fireworks related events too – this year some friends and I spent New Year’s Eve with The Candlelight Club. A 1920’s speakeasy experience to outshine all others – get fancy, get fed, and dance until the small hours in style and to amazing live music.

Any other Exciting events or festivals in London in the winter?

The Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is a huge draw for Londoners and visitors alike, almost the whole park is taken over by market stalls, food vans, and carnival rides.

Be aware of the huge crowds this draws for the entirety of its stay in London – this year they had to extend it well into January to keep up with demand.

Another tip for Winter Wonderland goers – just because it says you’re allowed to bring dogs doesn’t mean you should. We made the mistake of bringing a dog along and we didn’t get near to the gate because the crowds made her far too nervous! So service dogs aside, maybe leave the woofers at home.

Any Interesting Facts about London you can share with us? Anything else we should know?

The Oyster Card machines can look kind of scary – but the system is reasonably easy once you get over the initial shock of how many options there are! Do some research beforehand and figure out if a pass is best for you or if a pay-as-you-go top-up will be the easiest option.

Stand on the right of the elevator as busy commuters like to whoosh down the left side!

Other than that – make sure you see things YOU want to see, the “must see” attractions aren’t necessarily “must” for everyone and London has enough that you can fill your itinerary with your own personal must-sees!

Many thanks to Sam for this enlightening guide to visiting London in winter time. That dumpling restaurant sounds so tasty and I totally agree about booking an afternoon tea – there is nothing more quintessentially British than that!

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Have you visited London in winter? What was your favourite part? Or are you plannign a winter London city break? Tell us about it in the comments section!

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