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Day-trips outside of London in December & London Winter Activities

Hello fellow travellers! So I will be heading out to London for a month from mid December to mid January this year and am in need of some travel advices.

First question - Day-trips outside of London in December ?

I've been to a couple of great places to visit outside of London during summer and autumn (in other words, when the weather is pleasant enough). But what about in December and January when it can get really cold and miserable out? Can anyone suggest me any towns outside of London (maybe within 2-3 hours train ride) that maybe good options to take for a day trip? Personally I would still love to be outside, do some hiking, taking in the fresh (cold) air, if possible (e.g. Dover, Cornwall, The Cotswolds). And also anywhere that's rich in history - smaller towns with access by train would be preferable. Outside of London, I have been to... Bath, Cambridge, Salisbury, and Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Second question.. London Winter Activities?

What are some of the activities / sightseeings would you recommend us doing in December / January within London (that is almost potentially unique to London).

Thanks for any advice in advance!

Posted by
3428 posts

We used to go to the UK - especially London and Scotland- in late Nov/early Dec regularly. Can't now due to family health issues. But I really miss it. Kew Gardens in London is great even in winter. The 'regular' markets are always a favorite with us- Covent Garden, the church yard at St. James just off Picadilly Circus, St. Martin's in the Fields' church yard...... I also understand that London usually ahs one or more outdoor ice skating rinks set up in the winter. And there is the regular theatre as well as the Proms and Pantos. Windsor, York, Canterbury, Bath, Cardiff and Edinburgh (as well as London) all have good to great Christmas Markets. All are easily reached by a reasonable train ride, and all have other things that are worth seeing (and easier in winter, too). We enjoyed Winchester, too, but weren't there for the market day. For New Year's eve and New Year's day, I'd suggest Edinburgh, IF you can get accommodations at this point. They do it BIG there (it's called Hogmanay). There area parades, street parties, outdoor (and indoor) concerts, torch walks, fire ball spinning, special dinners, and lots more. Just dress for the weather and enjoy!!! If you cant' do Edinburgh, try Inverness, or almost any other Scottish town, or village! We've been in Aviemore in the snow- lovely and we don't even ski- but if you do it is supposed to be nice for that, too.

Posted by
27759 posts
  • Ice skating at the several outdoor rinks, especially at Kew Gardens
    and Somerset House.

    • Boxing Day and January sales especially the madness at Harrods.
    • A proper English Christmas dinner with paper hats and really bad jokes and cheap novelties and Christmas Turkey with Bread Sauce, covered with bacon and chipolatas, and Christmas Pudding.
    • New Years Day swimming in the Serpentine.
    • Carols and Lessons at Kings (Cambridge).
    • Carol concert at one of the many London Churches.
    • Christmas peal.
Posted by
115 posts

Equatorer - I see you are from Syracuse, NY. I live in Western NY, so I am going to assume that both of us would find a British winter fairly mild and easily managed! I haven't been there other than spring/summer either, but I am planning to. I envision my challenge being how to "travel light" and have only self-carry luggage due to the clothes for winter, even in Britain, being bulkier. Wardrobe will have to be smaller than usual. I am a real outdoors person at home in all seasons and I know that footwear is the key thing. How can a British winter day be worse than what we have here?! I also lived in Maine for a few years, where lots of sights close in winter -- that doesn't occur in GB. Just plan to do what you'd do in other seasons and remember - no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Like at home, being out in the harsh weather is a good excuse to find a charming place, even if your own kitchen, for ducking inside for tea and scones! That said, the WONDERFUL wealth of "indoor" museums in London are all going to be open all winter. Ann in Avon, NY.

Posted by
21 posts

Thanks all for your great suggestions! You all have been really helpful. :)

@Toni: After much consideration, I might actually make way for a 2-3 day trip to Edinburgh (the city looks beautiful and rich in history). Also a 4-hour train ride is not bad at all. Although a round trip ticket doesn't look cheap from what I see / trying to avoid the stress of taking flights. And.. I just read the news and looks like Scotland is going for independence. Do you think I'll still be able to go to Scotland with my UK visa in December this year?

@Nigel: I will definitely be having a proper English Christmas dinner with my family here. (Last year we needed to go through 4 Christmas dinners with many of our neighbors who were not on Boxing day or Christmas!)

@a.jenson: Haha you have a point. Don't think England will get anywhere near as cold as New York. Thanks for the good tips on clothing!

Posted by
135 posts


another city worth considering for a day excursion by train from London (2hours from Liverpool St), is Norwich, county city of Norfolk. Medieval Cathedral; city castle; market; many shops etc etc. Norwich (and Norfolk) is off the beaten track for most non-British tourists and is a hidden gem.

Within London, there are many excellent military museums you can see - RAF Museum Hendon; Imperial War Museum (Lambeth); National Army Museum, Chelsea to name the three biggest. And all free too, I think.

Posted by
3428 posts

I don't think you'll have any problems at all. For one thing, if you are a US citizen, you don't have to get a 'formal' visa for the UK. Plus, even if Scotland votes for independence, it won't happen immediately. We watched a special on BBC and they said the vote would only start the process. The Houses of Parliament and Scotland's Parliament would have to enter into all kinds of negotiations about a great many issues! So you've got several years until the 'break up' really happens - if it ever does. Edinburgh (AND Inverness - AND Aviemore- AND lots of other places) is well worth a multi-day visit. Don't forget to tour the Whisky museum and get your free wee dram at the end of the tour! And if at all possible, tour one or more whisky distillery (our favorites are the Speyside whiskies- Dalwhinnie, Belvinnie, Glenfidditch, among others). You could break up the train ride by stopping in York for one night. A long afternoon and evening there is nice. Wander the Shambles and the market to do a bit of shopping, walk part of the wall, make go to the Jorvic museum, see the Minster. The take the train on to Edinburgh early the next morning. We've done this several times and really enjoy it.

AND- if you get an advance purchase ticket (have to commit to a specific day and time/train and non-refundable) you can save majorly on the fares. They usually go on sale about 12 weeks out. But you can check them now by just putting in a day about 10-11 weeks out from the day you are checking to compare.

Posted by
21 posts

@Mark G: Norwich looks like a nice little town indeed. I'm always keen on going off the beaten path. And I gotta say I love military museums so I'll be sure to check those out while I'm there (hopefully to hide from the cold as well)! I've only been to the Imperial War Museum (this one became my instant favorite over many art galleries).

@Toni: Thanks very much for your thoughts. I'm not a US Citizen (currently just residing here for studies) hence I was nervous for Scotland's independence (not that I don't support them if that's what the Scots want). But you're right, I don't think I would have problem going this December so thank you for your reassurance. As for the travels, I'm not big on alcohol but open to visiting unfamiliar places so that Whiskey Museum could be an insightful, who knows! And until now I'm only open for day trips beyond London (maybe with an exception to Scotland). But from what you suggests about the tickets, I'll definitely have to make a decision soon to get cheap tickets (even though it's not even that cheap at the moment - assuming train tickets don't vary as much as plane's)

Posted by
137 posts

When we were there in December we took the Oxford Express bus to Oxford (of course) and had a great day there. Go to the Eagle and Child pub and have a pint on Tuesday and pretend you're one of the Inklings.

We also took a Gray Line tour bus to Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral (one of the original five Magna Carta) and Bath.

Kew was great in winter, very frosty.

Remember Boxing Day, December 26, is a holiday and there are no transportation services.

have a great time!

Posted by
137 posts

Thanks for correcting me about Boxing Day.
I remember that was a day we did a lot of walking from High Street Kensington to the Serpentine to St. James Palace, through Mayfair, Knightsbridge and back to our hotel.
We had a blast.

Posted by
1253 posts

Equatorer - Edinburgh is one of my favorites cities to visit. If you can nail down dates for travel to Edinburgh, round trip train fare can be as little as £48 per person. I know being a student can limit ones expenses, but I thought i'd put it out there.

Posted by
21 posts

@Steven: Thanks very much for your suggestion, Steven. Oxford and the Kew Gardens are two of the places I will highly consider visiting. Winter sounds like a great time to go to pubs and have a pint, doesn't it? I went to Stonehenge during the fall season last year and luckily, the sun was shining the whole day, and it was beautiful. It must be really windy there in December! As for Boxing day, I will be spending time with my relatives in their home, stuffing ourselves with Yorkshire pudding! So limited transportation won't be a problem.

@Joel: There has been a change in my schedule, I will be back in the UK next summer as well so I will be taking a trip to Edinburgh at that time. Thanks for the tip about train fares, I will definitely keep an eye out for those low fares when I'm ready to make a trip there.

Posted by
3 posts

Durham is close to your 2-3 hour limit, but to my mind is one of the finest small cities in Europe, let alone England. Lovely walk around the river to see the castle and cathedral from all sides, Bill Bryson says Durham cathedral is the most beautiful building in the world. UNESCO world heritage site

Lincoln, less trains than Durham, but not as far. The main attraction are at the top of the hill (up a street called steep hill)

Chester, walled city (red sandstone) and interesting medieval "mall" shops on 2 levels

Liverpool, lovely waterfront, beatles story, tate modern, maritime museum

Posted by
149 posts

If you fin great places to go in the winter, please come back and pass them on! I'm leaving for London (tomorrow!! ahh!) and looking for similar winter things to do over the next few month

Posted by
107 posts

Lots of good advice and recommendations here. Oxford is a favorite of mine, and I noticed you haven't been there yet.

As to clothing, you can't beat a hooded Gore-Tex parka. You can find them used on eBay at low cost and some of them are insulated. Gloves, scarf and watch cap are the key accessories to stop heat loss from exposed skin. I'd expect cold temps and a lot of moisture in December, especially if you head north of London. Don't go out without an umbrella. You should also consider some waterproof hiking shoes or other rugged footwear. Nothing worse than soaked shoes.

Within London, you will be amazed at the art galleries and there's a nice little tour at the re-created Globe Theater. A great place for lunch or dinner is in the crypt cafeteria at St. Martin in the Fields on Trafalgar Square. It's right across the road from the National Gallery.

Best of luck.

Posted by
2941 posts

For day trips, Windsor Castle is not far. Walk around the village of Windsor also. Hampton Court Palace, just a short train ride from central London, will have Christmas decorations up in December, and is spectacular at any time of year. A longer train ride out is Warwick Castle; also magnificent.

For cold, rainy days, go to the British Museum in London. You could spend three entire days in there and not see everything. The Museum of London is another destination for a rainy day.

Posted by
21 posts

Thank you all for the great recommendations! All these places made me look forward to going back to the UK even more, knowing now that there are still countless of beautiful places I haven't been to. I have added many of the places you all mentioned to my list of places to see. When December arrives I will be back on this forum to tell you guys where I have been and my experience in those places during winter time. Cheers!