While most people may view the U.K. as more of a summer travel destination to take advantage of the fleeting warm weather, there is plenty to do and see during the winter season.
Numerous events take place during the winter festive season and attractions such as popular museums and musical theatre in the West End become less crowded due to a thinning out of tourists that normally visit during the summer.
So whether you love winter sports, twinkling Christmas lights, or simply hiking in cooler weather, check out these great winter activities and entertainment options awaiting you in the U.K.
Best Winter Activities and Entertainment for Travellers in the UK
Winter Skiing in the U.K.
While snow and skiing weather can be a bit unpredictable in the U.K., there are a few great spots to tackle the slopes weather you’re a skier or snowboarder.
Being further north than England, Scotland boasts some of the best ski resorts and centres in the UK.
The largest ski centre in Scotland is Glenshee with over 40km of ski runs, most of which are a mix of red and blue trails. You’ll also find a bit of backcountry skiing here.
Other great Scottish ski areas include Lecht 2090, named for its height in metres above sea level, as well as Glencoe Ski Resort and the Nevis Range Glencoe is also a favourite of snowboarders and much like Glenshee offers up nice backcountry skiing.
If you’re looking for something closer to London, you can try out the indoor ski slope in Hemel Hempstead about an hour drive north of the big city. Known as the Snow Centre, it offers up real snow on a 160m slope with 30m wide ski and snowboard runs. It even has ski lifts and is a great spot for beginners to get lessons.
Relax in Natural Hot Springs
Winter is the perfect season to relax in the 46-degree natural hot springs of Bath as the Romans did 2,000 years ago. The city of Bath offers up plenty of places to relax in the thermal springs as well as endless spa treatments.
Thermae Bath Spa offers up not only the indoor Minerva Bath but a rooftop pool as well with glorious views over the city.
Mineral-rich thermal springs can also be found at the Spa Village in The Gainsborough Bath Spa. Enjoy a soak within the glass atrium via two different thermal pools or take to the steam room.
Many hotels in Bath actually offer up their own onsite spa facilities, where you may also be able to check out infrared saunas, ice chambers, or celestial relaxation rooms.
Attend the Stonehenge Winter Solstice
The famous stones of Stonehenge which were built between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C. are closely tied to both the summer and winter solstices.
Many come in June to see the sun rise above the Heel Stone, but equally as exciting is catching the winter solstice on December 21 or 22 depending on the year.
During the winter solstice, you can enter the inner circle of Stonehenge via special tours to catch the sun set among the three great Trilithon stones in which two giant stone pillars support the third on top.
The winter solstice celebrations marks the shortest day of the year and the stones of Stonehenge were carefully aligned to mark the event.
Some researchers believe the winter solstice may have been more important to the creators than the summer solstice, with huge feasts once taking place for the occasion. Today, visitors can catch Druidic ceremonies and Pagan celebrations.
Enjoy Christmas Festivities
Christmas is a special time to be in the U.K for countless reasons. The giant Norwegian spruce Christmas tree is lit up early December in Trafalgar Square and London’s Hyde Park becomes a winter wonderland with ice skating, Christmas markets, and plenty of festive music.
London Bridge City hosts another Christmas market known as Christmas by the River, while Leicester Square hosts circus acts and plenty of shows like the Christmas Cabaret.
Enjoy ice sculpting workshops and plenty of hot drinks and delicious Christmas treats while listening to carol groups.
Even Kew Gardens gets in on the actions with massive light installations such as tunnels of light and fire gardens with the total collection of displays containing well over a million Christmas lights.
Experience Hogmanay in Scotland
As Christmas comes to an end, head to Scotland where the party is just beginning. Hogmanay is the biggest celebration of the year in Scotland and marks the arrival of the New Year.
On New Year’s Eve, you can grab a torch and take part in the famous torchlight procession that creates a moving river of fire down the Royal Mile.
Then it’s on to the Hogmanay Street Party beneath Edinburgh Castle where you can dance to live music acts and DJs, with outdoor bars popping up for the occasion. It all culminates with the midnight firework celebrations and thousands singing Auld Lang Syne together.
If you’re not too hung over from the night before, New Year’s Day marks the comical Loony Dook swim in the frigid winter waters of the River Forth at South Queensferry.
Catch Some West End Theatre
One place where you’re always assured of finding plenty of entertainment is London’s West End. West End musicals cover so many interests including bestselling books and blockbuster movies that you’re bound to find a musical that suits your tastes.
Whether you’re after long-running classics like Les Misérables or Wicked, or want to get on board the latest trending musicals, be sure to secure your tickets in advance to musicals playing at theatres like the Phoenix, Lyceum, Sondheim, or Adelphi.
All up, there are 39 different theatres providing endless entertainment.
Image credit: Garry Knight (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Visit the Many Museums
Whether you’re into war, wildlife, or works of art, The U.K. has a museum for you. Even better is the fact the permanent collections of most museums are free for the public to enjoy.
Dating back to the mid 18th century, the British Museum is the oldest public museum in the world and displays an extensive collection of over eight million artefacts depicting human culture through the centuries.
For a deeper look into London’s History, be sure to check out the Museum of London which exhibits a timeline of artefacts covering this incredible city from the Middle Ages through to the Tudors, Victorian Era, and today.
Meanwhile, the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square features many great works from artistic geniuses such as Vermeer, Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo.
Over at the Victoria and Albert Museum, you’ll find the world’s largest design and decorative display. Explore the world of silver, costumes, glass, sculpture, furniture, photography, ceramics, and more.
Learn about legendary naturalists, animals, and the history of the natural world at the Natural History Museum. On display are dinosaur skeletons, a rare first-edition of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, meteorites, and more.
See the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, where prisoners like Guy Fawkes and Anne Boleyn were kept, or journey back to WWII with a visit to the Churchill War Rooms which were used right up until Japan’s surrender.
Other museums are quite quirky such as Edinburgh’s Surgeons’ Hall Museums with its displays of human organs and archaic medical equipment.
See the Northern Lights
While you may think of the northern lights, or aurora borealis, of being more of an Arctic Circle experience to be had in far north Norway, Finland, or Iceland, they are sometimes visible in the U.K. during winter.
While the northern lights are generally spotted more frequently in northern Scotland, they can occur as far south as Pembrokeshire.
Some of the best places to spot the northern lights are in U.K.’s dark sky preserves like Brecon Beacons National Park, Snowdonia National Park, or Glenlivet and Tomintoul regions of Cairngorms National Park.
The key is to place yourself in a landscape with minimal light pollution to give yourself the best chance of seeing the natural phenomenon.
Visit a Reindeer Herd
Not many people know that Scotland is home to Britain’s only free-roaming reindeer herd, reintroduced to the country back in the early 1950s.
The herd includes roughly 150 animals and winter offers the opportunity to visit the free-ranging herd via a guided hike.
The herd can be found in the Cairngorm Mountains and while the males drop their antlers just before winter, the females display theirs until around May when they then give birth to their calves.
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