As a native New Yorker, I think London has fairly mild winters, relatively speaking. But having been living in London for a few years now, I’ve noticed that there always seems to be at least a couple of very cold spells that creep in before the weather starts to warm up.
However, Londoners don’t let that stop them from doing all of the fun stuff that this city offers, and so as a tourist, it shouldn’t stop you either. You just need to know what things to do in London in the winter that will let you enjoy it without freezing your butt off. This list gives you a bunch of great ideas for what you should put into your London itinerary.
*BTW– when you see (WA) this means that this venue is fully wheelchair accessible. Also, COVID closures will affect most of these things, so check with the venue before you plan anything.
Do some indoor sports in London
London has had tons of indoor “sports” venues pop up over the last few years, and most of them are combined with a bar, naturally. So you can sip a cocktail or two while you participate in your chosen activity. It makes us Londoners feel better about drinking all the time…
Here are a small selection of the venues that you should check out for some fun drinking + activity. These places tend to be popular for group gatherings, so I recommend booking in advance to make sure you don’t show up on the day and get turned away.
Image Courtesy of Bounce
If you’re into ping pong, Bounce (WA), located in Farringdon and Old Street, is your spot. It’s also a bar, so don’t worry, if you aren’t good at ping pong, expectations are usually VERY low…
Image Courtesy of Swingers
For a very low-impact, low-speed sport, visit Swingers (WA) near Oxford Circus or Bank for fun games of mini golf (they call it crazy golf here) plus lots of cocktail and street food options on offer. There’s also Junkyard Golf in Shoreditch and Plonk Golf that has four venues around the city.
Image Courtesy of Flight Club
Only in England would it be considered a great idea to pair drunk people in a bar with some pointy darts… just kidding, don’t worry, it’s totally safe. If you want to get competitive with some dart throwing, head to one of Flight Club’s (WA) four locations and book you and your group an oche (pronounced like ‘hockey’) for some play time. The cocktails here are good, and strong… just the way I like them.
View this post on Instagram
Maybe you don’t classify Bingo as a sport, but this is my website so imma do it. Dabbers is a bar and restaurant that does super fun bingo events, where you can win prizes, sing songs, and more, all while you eat and drink. They do brunches, dinners and themed bingo events. They even do one that’s dog friendly.
Go on a food tour
Image courtesy of Devour Tours
Food tours are so fun in London, and the good ones support small food businesses during quieter times of the day and teach you a ton of history at the same time that you’re stuffing your face with a delicious treat. They tend to be inclement-weather-friendly as they pop in and out of warm food establishments, so a food tour can be one of the best things to do in London in the winter. You might find yourself outside at a market at one point but it’ll be worth it.
I have two companies that I recommend for food tours in London.
Devour Tours does a London Bridge & Southwark Food Tour, which packs a whole lot of British food history in with yummy dishes. One of the stops is at a beautiful restaurant that trains vulnerable young adults in the food industry, and you’ll also visit Borough Market and one of the oldest pubs in London.
Eating Europe also does some great food tours in London, with my favourite being the East End Food Tour, where you’ll learn about East London’s eclectic history, how it became so popular for street art, and of course, quite a few facets of England’s food scene.
Go to a London theatre or cinema
Cold weather is a great excuse to book yourself in for a couple of theatre shows or cinema experiences while you’re in London. I do love a cultural experience that requires me to just sit still and watch…
Image Courtesy of Bush Theatre
London’s most famous theatres make up the “West End”, and you can find tickets for those shows on sites like LoveTheatre. But I recommend going a bit more niche for more unique shows and experiences as well as cheaper ticket prices. These smaller theatres, sometimes called Fringe theatres, often host shows that eventually transfer to the West End, so you’re seeing them for cheaper and before they get the hype.
There are tons of small theatres all around London that are still internationally known, including The Almeida Theatre (WA) in Islington, The Yard (WA) in Hackney Wick, and the Bush Theatre (WA) in Shepherd’s Bush.
Check out this list from the Evening Standard of London’s best independent theatres for theatre buffs for more inspiration.
Image Courtesy of Rich Mix
London’s independent cinemas
Sure, there are the typical multiplexes around London, but you’re here for a unique experience, right? Choose an independent theatre and you’ll also be supporting local Londoners and sometimes be contributing directly to charity.
For example, Rich Mix (WA) is a Shoreditch cinema run as a charity and that often has art exhibitions and other unique events and things to see. Plus, prices are cheap! There’s also the Lexi Cinema (WA) in Kensal Green which gives 100% of its profits to charity.
But of course there are many other unique, independent cinemas around London. Here’s a list of ones to check out from Conde Nast Traveller.
Drink (…for warmth, of course)
The default thing for Londoners to do when meeting up with friends in the winter is to meet at a pub, and remember that until around 8ish in evening, most pubs are family-friendly too (and for dogs!) making pubs great for casual gatherings.
So join in with the Londoner way and keep warm in a cosy pub while drinking a pint or having a glass of red wine.
In my opinion, the best pubs to do this are ones that aren’t in popular tourist areas like Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, and Westminster. If you head to areas like Notting Hill, Hackney, and Hampstead, which are more like local neighborhoods and totally worth exploring anyways, you’ll find pubs that are more suited for families and longer, relaxed pub hangs. For example, they may have a fireplace or sofas to curl up on, and a delish food menu to order from.
There are tons of great pubs all around the city so you shouldn’t have to travel too far to get to one. But here are a few personal favourites of mine that are great for winter visits.
The Hemingway near Victoria Park in East London feels a bit like being in someone’s home, and they have beautiful lights strewn across the dining and drinking area which add to a cosy atmosphere as the sun sets. Sunday Roast here is fantastic!
Watch this video to see what else you can do in nearby Victoria Park, voted the best park in London many years in a row. Make a day of it!
Image Courtesy of The Spaniards Inn Facebook page
The Spaniards Inn (WA) on the edge of Hampstead Heath is in a beautiful 16th century building, most of which is sectioned off into different areas, making it super intimate and cosy. On days that aren’t really cold, you can sit out on their winterised patio, complete with twinkle lights and space heaters to keep you warm while you have one of their cask ales or craft beers on tap.
I’d recommend stopping at The Spaniards Inn for a lovely pub lunch after a winter walk around Hampstead Heath. See what you can do in this beautiful part of London…
Image Courtesy of The Gunmakers
The teeny tiny The Gunmakers pub in Clerkenwell is a hidden gem in the area, sitting between Exmouth Market and Leather Lane Market in Chancery Lane. You can sit in their winter garden, beautifully and intimately decorated, or venture upstairs with your drink to sit on one of the comfy sofas or armchairs. You’ll feel like you’re in someone’s Victorian-era home.
Visit one of London’s most unique museums
In the winter, the city’s most popular, free museums, like the Natural History Museum and the British Museum, get INSANELY crowded with both tourists and locals looking for something indoors to do that doesn’t cost money. Certain times of the year, like the week between Christmas and New Year, can get so bad that it honestly ruins the experience.
Leave those museums for another time and instead use this London visit to explore the city’s more unique and underrated museums.
Image Courtesy of The Garden Museum
Some of my favourite unique museums in London include:
The Museum of Brands and Packaging (WA) in Ladbroke Grove is a fun, alternative way to learn about English history. Walk through the museum displays that start a couple of centuries ago and work their way to present time, seeing the history of fashion, consumerism, trends and more in this country. It’s quite interesting!
The Fashion and Textile Museum (WA) in Bermondsey is great for anyone who appreciates fashion or design. The museum is quite unique in that it only has one exhibition at a time, which remains for a couple of months or so, and then it shuts for a couple of weeks, then unveiling a brand new exhibition. This means that you can visit multiple times and always get to experience and learn about something completely new.
The Garden Museum (WA) in Lambeth was opened in 1977 to help rescue the abandoned church of St. Mary’s at Lambeth which was due to be demolished. Instead, Rosemary and John Nicholson turned it into the Garden Museum, as the church is the resting place of John Tradescant, the first great gardener and plant-hunter in British history, way back in the 1600s. Explore the stunning building to learn about Britain’s history with gardens (they love ‘em!) and see some beautiful plantlife. The Garden Cafe is also worth making a lunch reservation at.
Watch this video to preview some of the museums mentioned plus see a few more…
Go to an art gallery
If you’re more into art exhibitions than museums, choose one of London’s many art galleries to bumble around. Yes, everyone knows the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, but we’re going to go more local and off the beaten path…
Image Courtesy of SPACE
The Whitechapel Gallery (WA) in Whitechapel calls itself “the artists’ gallery for everyone”. The contemporary art gallery has been around for over a century, and according to the website it “has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Frida Kahlo to contemporaries such as Sophie Calle, Paul Noble, Thomas Struth, Sarah Lucas and Mark Wallinger”. Impressive. The Whitechapel Gallery is completely free to visit, just be sure to leave a donation to help support their efforts.
SPACE’s (WA), erm, space in London Fields is part of a wider project around London. Their mission is to provide affordable creative workspace and various support programmes to help artists grow their career sustainably. Many people don’t know that on the ground floor of this building there’s a revolving program of exhibitions open to the public and completely free to visit. I once visited to see an exhibition on local typography, and as I’m writing this, they’re preparing for an exhibition involving ghosts!
There is also currently an exhibition called Dialogue in the Dark (WA), which is completely in the darkness and brings you “through London” without the use of images, as someone without sight would experience it.
I’ll wrap up this curated list of galleries with Proud Central, a photography gallery in Charing Cross. According to their website, “Proud Galleries stages compelling shows by legendary photographers who continue to capture the most iconic people, moments and trends defining Pop culture”. Pop in for free to admire some incredible photography, and check out their upcoming exhibitions.
By the way, many of the places I mention throughout this article are included in my 3-Day London Itinerary. Have a look if you think it’s way too overwhelming to try to figure out how to pair all of the stuff you want to do together into one itinerary for your trip.
Image Courtesy of Four Seasons Park Lane
Go to one of London’s luxurious spas
Be super bougie and book yourself in for a spa day at one of London’s most luxurious hotel spas. Some of the highest-rated in the city include the Four Seasons Park Lane (WA) (with its incredible views over the city), Espa Life at the Corinthia (one of the largest spas in London) and Akasha Holistic Wellbeing at Hotel Café Royal in Piccadilly Circus (they have a treatment that uses 23-carat-gold minerals).
For more affordable and laidback spa options, there’s Cowshed (WA) (a Soho House brand with multiple locations), Linnaean in Embassy Gardens (Swedish-insired Medispa and beauty salon), K West Hotel and Spa (it has a snow room!), Hula in Hackney (Tiki-themed, vintage-loving), and Yemaya London in Streatham (luxurious but not insanely expensive).
Image Courtesy of Skylight London
Go ice skating
If it’s between November and February, then there’s one outdoor activity that I DO recommend doing in London during the winter… going ice skating. It’s easy to find ice rinks in Central London, like Somerset House and the Natural History Museum. But for something a bit more laid back and cool, head to Skylight London, a rooftop bar in Wapping that transforms into a cosy winter retreat complete with ice rink, winter igloos for eating and drinking, and an amazing view of the city.
See some live music or comedy
Ugh I LOVE seeing live music and comedy in London, I think it’s a GREAT night out that’s a bit more fun than just having a drink and staring at each other all night…
Image Courtesy of The Piano Bar
A few venues to check out:
The Piano Bar (WA) in Soho is a sexy little cocktail lounge in an old townhouse. There are live musicians playing every single night here, and they are incredibly impressive artists so you won’t be disappointed. This is a private club so one of you in your party will need to buy a membership, which is £50 and gives you 50 £10 off ticket discounts, which can be used all at once when booking tickets for you and your party, or over multiple nights or across the year.
Image Courtesy of The Bedford
The Bedford (WA) in Balham is awesome. From the outside, it looks like a normal pub. But insiders know that there’s a small theatre in there too, where you can see comedy shows and up-and-coming music acts. They have been hosts to stars early in their career like musicians Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and London Grammar, and comedians such as Catherine Tate and Michael McIntyre. The comedy shows are just £15 a ticket and the live music shows are FREE!
Image Courtesy of Sebright Arms
Head to the Sebright Arms in Bethnal Green, hidden away just off of Hackney Road, for live music, good food and drinks, and very local vibes. Their claim to fame is hosting early shows for now-huge-acts like Charli XCX and Catfish and the Bottlemen.
Have a read of this article on The Culture Trip for more indie live music venues to check out in London.
Shop at local independents
MMMMM… shops are so nice and warm, and so are the fuzzy feelings you get when you find a gem to take home with you at an independent business, knowing that you supported a local biz and found something unique. That makes shopping one of the best things to do in London in the winter.
Vintage and secondhand shopping in London
London is big on vintage, and there are big and small shops around London, but the best area with a large concentration of vintage shops is Shoreditch. You can hop from shop to shop without having to spend too much time outside, while digging through all the vintage vibes to hopefully uncover a special item or two to take home with you.
I share some good vintage shops to visit in Shoreditch in this video…
Charity shops are where you’ll find lots of secondhand pieces that people have donated and then charities sell them for donation money. You can find these all over the city, with prices varying depending on the wealth level of that neighborhood.
My favourite place for charity shopping is Notting Hill, as the charities send their most high-end stuff to their Notting Hill outposts, but this means you’ll also pay quite a bit of a “premium”. That being said, I don’t mind, as the selection is curated and so it’s more likely you’ll find something great. Other good areas for charity-shop-hopping include Northcote Road in Battersea and all around Chiswick.
London’s independent shops
When I want something new, I love supporting independent shops. Some favourite areas to find a lot of shops to hop back and forth to are Broadway Market, Columbia Road in Hackney, Brixton Village and Market Row, and Westbourne Grove in Notting Hill.
Watch this video to see some of the top underrated shops I recommend checking out…
Markets are also great for shopping for clothing, accessories, beauty products, and more. Check out the top markets to visit in London that you never heard of…
Do a food or drink-related workshop
Book ALL the (indoor) activities when it’s cold in London and you’ll be entertained for as long as you need. You could find a class or workshop for just about anything you might want to do, no matter how niche.
Here are some recommendations to start you off, beginning with food and drink.
Image Courtesy of Workshop Coffee
Workshop Coffee (WA), a London roastery with intimate cafes around the city, does Coffee Masterclasses on the weekends for anyone who wants to learn more about how they can do better coffee on their own.
Neal’s Yard Dairy hosts various events, dinner parties and workshops for those interested in cheese. They’re a great way to learn about England’s history with cheese… it’s an interesting one. Like… did you know Cheddar is a place?
Cabby’s is London’s first white rum distillery, and they now make gin too. Head to their Mile End distillery for “The Rum Taxi Experience”, where you’ll be greeted with a Rum and Cola or G&T and shown how the magic is made.
Learn how to make an afternoon tea experience yourself at Leith’s School of Food and Wine’s The Leiths Ultimate Afternoon Tea class. You’ll be taught how to create everything you need for a classic afternoon tea with a bit of a twist.
Learn to make something
Book into a workshop or class where you come away feeling creative and accomplished, armed with a unique and special souvenir to take home.
The Experimental Perfume Club in London Fields has one hour to full day perfume making workshops where you’ll find the scent that works best for your nose, and then learn how to make a bespoke perfume yourself.
Blackhorse Lane Ateliers, the only denim producer in London (and they do it sustainably) has a shop in Coal Drops Yard where they hold denim masterclasses. You’ll get to work on their vintage-looking but uber-professional sewing machines to create a denim masterpiece, like a bag. Find out more about the brand and the shop in our video showcasing them in our Sustainable London series.
Graffik Gallery, an urban art gallery in Notting Hill, runs graffiti classes suitable for both kids and adults. You’ll learn how to do stencil work, on a canvas that you’ll get to take home, and then you also get free reign to spray whatever you want on their gallery wall.
For couples, Anatomie Studio hosts Shibari rope skills classes. Shibari, aka Japanese Rope Bondage, is “the occasionally sexy art of tying yourself up in knots”. Join a beginner class to try something new and different! Anatomie is a sex-positive and kink-positive venue, and offers unique things to do in London in the winter.
Join a pub quiz
Lots of pubs around London draw people in on slow weekdays by hosting a weekly pub quiz. The idea is that it’s usually a small fee for each team to join, and the team with the most correct answers wins the cash prize. If you have at least two of you, it’s a super fun and casual way to spend a Sunday evening or weekday evening.
Even if you’re a solo traveler, you could absolutely walk up to a small team at your chosen pub and ask if you can be one more body… most teams will welcome the extra brain juice and will love that you had the courage to ask … Londoners aren’t used to that!
Honestly, the best way to find a pub quiz is to just keep an eye out for pubs with signs outside advertising their pub quiz night. A huge majority of them do quizzes so as long as you aren’t looking in the touristy areas (Covent Garden, Tower Bridge, Westminster, etc.) then you’ll find one easily. You could also ask at your hotel to see if they know of any quizzes happening nearby. They usually happen Sunday to Wednesday.
If you’re struggling to figure out how you’ll plan your first few days in London and want to include some of the stuff in this article, some things mentioned are included in the 3-Day London Itinerary. Grab that and your first three days in London will be sorted with locally-approved recommendations for what to do, see, eat and drink, all put together in a flexible, walkable plan.
Are you still looking for things to do in London in the winter? This list wasn’t enough? Well, check out these articles for more ideas for things to do in London.
- 12 Unique Afternoon Teas to Try in London
- 8 Sweet Treats To Devour In London
- 10 Amazing African Restaurants in London You Need To Try
Pin this to your Winter in London board…