If there’s one thing the British know how to do – and do well – it’s winter! For the outdoor types, that same cold drizzle and biting wind that makes the cities seem so grey at times can also give the rugged countryside a real dramatic kick. Winter can be a great time to travel to the UK with plenty of unspoilt and atmospheric landscapes as well as some gorgeous cosy cities to choose from. From all our collective trips over the UK during the so-called offseason, we’ve narrowed this list down to 20 of our favourite best places to visit in the UK in the winter…
The Cairngorms, The Scottish Highlands – best for outdoor winter activities
The Scottish Highlands make a cosy getaway any time of the year but during the winter parts of it turn into a dramatic winter wonderland! There’s arguably no more enchanting place to enjoy winter than the Cairngorms National Park, this truly beautiful and activity-rich protected park becomes much more than a place to hike. Due to its high altitude during most winters you can expect the area to be covered in snow and ice. So visit for great outdoor adventures such as skiing, sledding, and snowboarding. The park features both low level and high-level hiking and snow activities, so no matter your adventure desires or experience level, you can find plenty of outdoor enjoyment here. Alternatively, just watch wildlife instead, in the winter you can spot red deer, winter hare, and ptarmigans.
York, Northeast England – wander cobbled streets and visit historic attractions
York is beautiful city to visit anytime time of the year but during the winter its particularly atmospheric. History plays a significant part in any trip to York as the city was founded in 71 AD. Rich historic buildings have been lovingly restored throughout the years, so visitors are free to roam the cobbled streets and just take in the rich heritage of the picturesque city (as well as the cute independent shops)! However, if you want a few indoor activities to keep you well out of the cold, York has plenty of those as well. For example, try the fantastic York Dungeon and the wonderful gothic York Minster. So bring your camera and a good pair of walking shoes and remember to wrap up, it can get pretty chilly in the North of England during the winter months.
Peak District – for wild, rugged and atmospheric landscapes
One of the most naturally beautiful places to visit in England, the UK’s first national park is an excellent place to get a little exercise during the frosty winter months. Eschew the summer crowds and step into a magical winter wonderland. This national park offers the chance to enjoy many outdoor winter activities such as snowboarding, but most people come to enjoy a comfortable walk to look at the spectacular scenery the Peak District is known for. Also, throughout this area are many quaint pubs and cosy cottages ideal for warming up after a hike into the hills and valleys of the Peak District.
- Check out our post on Top 15 of the best Dog-friendly hotels in the Peak District
Canterbury and Whitstable – a great combination of an elegant historic city and a pretty coastal town
Whitstable (is a seaside town on the north coast of Kent in south-east England) and Canterbury (a cathedral city 5 miles away) seem to be, on the surface, summer destinations, but actually these lovely areas of the UK are excellent throughout the year. Whitstable’s illustrious coastline is a beauty to behold during winter and best of all, you will not be fighting the crowds during the offseason. This is the ideal time to take in one of the many historic sites of Canterbury and Whitstable. Cathedrals and historic buildings seem to be around every corner in this area and even during the offseason, locals keep the electric atmosphere buzzing.
Woodstock, The Cotswolds – a fine Georgian town which literally lights up in the winter
A Christmas holiday is becoming more popular these days and if you want to take the kids to enjoy the festivities surrounding the Christmas season, Woodstock, the Cotswolds is the place to do it. As well as truly stunning surrounding landscapes, the city lights up, literally during winter. Blenheim Palace provides a Christmas celebration to remember with a lighted trail featuring over 100,000 luminescent bulbs in the futuristic woodland Laser Garden. Further down the trail, colored lights take over the palace’s façade illuminating the castle perfectly. Walk the ground sipping on mulled cider or toast marshmallows on the fire pit. There is even plenty for the young ones to enjoy with a classic Victorian era carousel, Christmas market, and a helter-skelter. Woodstock, The Cotswolds is sure to be your family’s Christmas haven.
- We have a post on Top 15 of the best Dog-Friendly hotels in the Cotswolds
West Bay, Dorset – a stunning coastal community where Broadchurch was filmed
Along the English Channel coast, you will find West Bay Coastline. This is a hot spot for locals and tourists looking to soak up the sun during the summer months, but just because winter is here does not mean the area lacks any charm. Visiting West Bay Coastline during the winter affords you the same breathtaking scenery as it does in the summer, but you need not worry about the hoards of other people obstructing your pictures. Plus, there are many cafes and eateries that offer coastal cuisine without the hustle and bustle of summer crowds as well. You can visit the atmospheric setting for the famous TV series Broadchurch and explore filming locations without battling crowds.
- Heading to Dorset with a pooch? We have a post on the best Top 15 pet-friendly hotels in Dorset
Bath, Somerset – an elegant historic city where you can warm up in the thermal spas!
Bath is an elegant and beautiful city that also makes a wonderful winter destination. There are many lovely independent shops, bars, and their famous Christmas market to explore and somehow, the great British winter seems that little more bearable in one of the Baths ancient (or modern!) thermal spas. Looking to warm up in indoor attractions then try the famous Pump Room, visit Bath Abbey, go to the theatre or a live Jazz evening. Also, try shopping and sampling some of the city’s award-winning independent restaurants – you won’t regret it!
Dartmoor, Devon – a vast moorland of craggy and atmospheric landscapes
Dartmoor in lovely Devon seems to attract just as many film directors as it does tourists. This is largely due to its enchanting settings and otherworldly allure. Visiting Dartmoor in winter is even more enchanting as the lush greenery mixes perfectly with the fallen snow or misty or frosty mornings. Visitors to Dartmoor in winter enjoy strolling through the pathways and hillsides to discover famous filming locations of movies such as War Horse. Don’t forget to bring your camera when visiting Dartmoor during winter, landscapes are enchanting and awe-inspiring in this very special setting.
Our video on our visit to Dartmoor and Newquay…
Edinburgh – the winter holidays are both a sparkling and cosy affair in the Scottish capital
There are many, many reasons to visit Edinburgh in the winter – their wonderful and excellent Christmas markets, the beautifully decorated Dome which is truly stunning this time of year, the atmospheric cobbled streets, dungeons and the chance to warm up with a wee dram in one of the many cosy taverns and bars. Edinburgh is a beautiful city and definitely one for fans of history and architecture so don’t forget to also visit their striking castle which dominates the skyline. Edinburgh has been settled for over 3000 years and over 20% of the entire city is listed as in conservation areas. Don’t forget to stay on for Hogmanay probably the most famous New Year’s Eve party in the world.
East Dean, East Sussex – go in search of smuggler’s haunts and bracing coastal walks
East Dean on the surface is a quaint, picturesque village and if you want to simply stroll around the town taking pictures, you are welcome, but visitors to this area are often more interested in the dark past of East Dean rather than the almost fairytale setting of today. It was once home to ruthless smugglers. One of the most famous accounts is James Dippery. A resident of East Dean, he was a renowned smuggler but bought his freedom in the early 1800s by ratting out other smugglers in the area. He did lose his freedom to live in East Dean but is said to have died a rich man in Australia. During the winter go in search of his old haunts in East Dean and then take a bracing walk to nearby Beachy Head pictured above (the walk is 5 miles and should take around 3.5 hours).
Oxford, Oxfordshire – an elegant university city home to many excellent shops, restaurants and Harry Potter!
History is everywhere in Oxford. A trip here seems to invite you to take pictures of the many historic buildings dotting the city. Apart from simply snapping pictures, Oxford features many small and larger attractions to explore during the winter season from their wonderful Christmas festivities (carol concerts and markets) to museums, libraries, bookshops, the Oxford Artisan Distillery and just gazing at their wonderful universities. Pubs and restaurants in the area are very inviting as well when the temperature begins to fall. Even though winter is not the high tourist season in Oxford, many biking and walking tours are still available and should be taken advantage of during your stay (this includes the Harry Potter tour where you can walk the same mysterious hallways Harry, Hermione, and Ron once did!)
Wiltshire – for unspoilt countryside and ancient historic monuments
One for the more hearty types, the ancient county of Wiltshire is characterized by wide valleys, dramatic architecture, and that famous ancient monument – Stonehenge. Stonehenge manages to become even more special if you’re lucky enough to see it in the snow. A visit this time of year is truly spectacular and there’s arguably no better way to soak up the history and mystery of Wiltshire’s ancient monuments and countryside than on a winter’s walk and then warming up in a cosy pub afterwards!
North Yorkshire – explore the pristine wintry landscapes of the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales
This part of Yorkshire is a beautiful region all year round, but winter adds even more sparkle to the jewel of the North. Here you’ll find the wild, rugged and pristine landscapes of both the North York Moors and most of the Yorkshire Dales. This is ‘Bronte’ country known for its rugged beauty, most of which is protected by national park status. Also, try Whitby Abbey (the ruined Benedictine Abbey shown above)and York for its incredible architecture and the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. All particularly beautiful in winter and perfect for wrapping up warm and heading out into the wilderness to explore.
Cornwall – for dramatic seascapes, scenic coastal towns and wild rugged landscapes
Cornwall is extremely popular all year round but arguably it’s best to visit Cornwall during the winter months. This is when the sometimes unbearable crowds of summer have long dispersed and the scenery can be more dramatic and more serene than any other season. The winter weather in Cornwall can sometimes be warm but often wet and sometimes wild. Take your camera and your walking shoes and make sure you make the most of the exploring the pretty fishing villages and dramatic winter seascapes and then warm up in a traditional Cornish tavern. Also make sure you squeeze in a visit to the Eden Project, a popular all-year-round attraction.
London – discover many magical winter and Christmas events
Where do you start? London welcomes tourists all year round and there’s still plenty to do in the UK capital in the winter. The run-up to Christmas is a particularly magical time and this is the season to go ice skating in Somerset House (pictured above), see the lights on Oxford Street, take a romantic winter’s walk along South Bank or head to Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. For those looking for something to do away from the cold try indoor attractions such as the Tower of London, shopping at the toystore in Hamleys or visiting the world-famous Madame Tussauds.
Northumberland – for breathtaking unspoilt landscapes and scenic Heritage Trails
Some Geordies would argue that summer never really starts in their corner of Britain! Picturesque Heritage Trails and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the UK await those hearty enough to face the rain. One of the least unpolluted places in the country during the winter, Northumberland’s dramatic and incredible landscapes and historic market towns take on a whole new look. From a crisp coastal walk to the hustle and bustle of the Christmas markets, Northumberland makes a fantastic UK winter break!
Cambridgeshire – combine a fine university city with picturesque countryside
The ancient city of Cambridge is – of course – famed for having one of the most prestigious universities in the world and a trip here would be just as wonderful as the summer. Eschew Pimms on the lawn and the summer crowds for exploring incredible independent bars, restaurants and shops or just wander around its pretty cobbled streets and lanes. Also, head out further afield to see scenery from dramatic flat fenlands (the marshy region in East England) to the quaint East Anglican villages of Cambridgeshire and a trip in winter here is particularly beautiful and atmospheric.
Hampshire – discover a frosty New Forest and Jane Austen country
From the ancient hunting grounds of the New Forest – England’s newest national park – to the lands that inspired the works of Jane Austen, the county of Hampshire will leave your imagination running wild. A trip here in the winter is just as magical and here you can enjoy a winter’s walk on a crisp day under blue skies (or on a misty atmospheric day) on across Hampshire’s landscapes. Warm-up at one of the many excellent pubs or eateries to found scattered across the beautiful county.
Cumbria – explore a misty and atmospheric Lake District and Hadrian’s Wall
The most sparsely populated counties in the UK is also home to the famous Lake District National Park. Considered to be one of England’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty it has served as an inspiration for many an artist, writer and musician. Beautiful and mountainous Cumbria makes an excellent travel destination in both summer and winter and there are some truly incredible landscapes to explore and hike including the heritage site Hadrian’s Wall (a defensive fortification in the Roman province of Britannia which began in AD 122). Take a break from the chilly temperatures in one of the area’s Michelin star restaurants, pubs or even a local distillery.
Pembrokeshire, Wales – for beautiful coastal walks and dog-friendly beaches
The Pembrokeshire coastline sees its fair share of visitors throughout the summer months and it can get remarkably crowded, but a visit during winter is even better. Just like other coastal cities, Pembrokeshire slows down a bit during winter, but its rugged coastline remains to be explored. The best part about visiting Pembrokeshire during winter is the fact that the climate is never extreme. Even on the coldest day, it is perfectly comfortable to stroll along the coast or within the towns. If you have a dog the beaches allow dogs to wander unleashed during the off-season and the many pubs along your walk will draw you in for a quick warm-up making the experience all the more enjoyable.
Enjoy your UK winter break!