London in Winter
Updated: May 14, 2019
It is certainly a very nice time to be in London during winter (2018). It is really lovely and christmassy. We managed to do lot of things and visited many places on our list. Temperature was around 6-9 degree, just right for me :-) with only one day at around 1 degree and it was freezing cold. But it was really a nice change from the hot and humid weather all year long!
I visited London a few years ago, it was in spring. In terms of places to visit, it does not make a big difference in winter vs in spring. Pretty much I visited the same places. The difference is Christmas Markets and outdoor Ice Skating - both can only be done in winter. Also, the day is shorter in winter (it got dark at around 5 pm).
(You may check my previous post)
This time, we stayed in London for 10 days and 9 night. Here is a summary of our trip.
Day 1: Science Museum, Household Calvary, and a Christmas Market somewhere between St Paul's Church and Southbank (we were aiming to go to Southbank Christmas Market but ended up somewhere else on the way walking there :-)).
Day 2: Natural History Museum, Ice Skating at Natural History Museum, and Westminster Abbey to see the 30 minutes organ recital.
Day 3: Hop-on hop-off bus with audio commentary, Cruise along river Thames from Westminster Pier to Tower Pier, and (outside of) Tower of London.
Day 4: Windsor Castle, LEGO Store and Christmas Market at Leicester Square.
Day 5: The Changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace, British Museum, Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park.
Day 6: Shakespeare Globe, Southwark Cathedral (Catholic Anglican church), Borough Market, Trafalgar Square.
Day 7: Wimbledon Tennis Stadium, Richmond Park, and Chelsea Stadium.
Day 8: Warwick Castle, Stratford-upon-Avon, and Oxford.
Day 9: Hampton Court Palace.
Day 10: Tower of London and Hamleys Toy Store.
We took a night flight and reached London in the morning. We went straight to our hotel by taking Heathrow express train to London Paddington station then taxi from there to Grange St Paul's Hotel. This hotel is strategically located near two underground stations namely St Paul's (Central Line) and Mansion House (District and Circle Line), and also near City Thameslink for the railway. There are a few buses from a bus stop located just 160 metres from the hotel that go directly to Waterloo station for the National Rail.
Science Museum was our first destination for the day. We took a train from Mansion House to South Kensington (District / Circle Line) and on the way walking to Science Center, we stopped at the Natural History Museum Ice Skating. Look at the blue sky! Science Museum is big and quite interesting (but a few days later we found out this is our least favourite). We (or my husband and I) didn't spend as much time and as thoroughly looking at things as we wished because our tired and sleepy boy wanted to return back to the hotel. We did a bit of sightseeing and passed Household Calvary and St James' Park then headed back to the hotel. By this time, around 2 pm, the sky was grey!
Our second day activity was all around Natural History Museum. First, visited the museum (it's free!) then did ice skating just in front of the museum. Natural History Museum is highly recommended and it is our family favourite museum for this trip. The museum is very huge and it offers a lot of things to see. This was my second visit to the museum (the first one was 8 years ago) yet I felt like I still have not covered everything. This time, we spent about 3 hours in the museum and it's not enough.
For the first time visitor like my 7 year old boy, I think getting into the Hop-On-Hop-Off bus is a brilliant thing to do. There are many different routes and you just need to sit down, relax, and enjoy the view while listening to the explanation through the Audio Commentary. You can stop whenever you like and explore certain place. I bought the Hop-On-Hop-Off tickets from The Original Tour, located at Trafalgar Square. Often, there is deal if you buy different tourist attraction tickets. The ticket I bought included cruise along River Thames.
I've visited Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, a few years ago on my first visit to London and I loved it. This time, I took my son to visit and he absolutely loves it. It is one of his favourite places during this trip. We took a train to Eton Riverside from Waterloo Station and then walked from Eton Riverside Station to Windsor Castle. We rent an audio guide and followed the direction to visit St George Chapel first then State Apartments. Unfortunately, Mary's Doll House was closed for renovation.
After spending a few hours in Windsor Castle, we had a late lunch nearby, in a Fish and Chip Restaurant. We still had a bit of time before our train took us back to Waterloo Station, London, so we walked by the River Thames. It was so nice and serene.
It was dark by the time we reached Waterloo Station in London, but it was only 5 pm so we decided to go to Leicester Square to visit the biggest LEGO Store in the world and one of the most popular Christmas Markets. This Christmas Market in Leicester Square is not big and there is no ride for kids. It mostly sells food (chocolate fondue, waffles, dutch pancake / poffertjes, sausages, my son favourite hot chocolate, my favourite mulled wine :-) and some other things) and ornaments (very pretty!). I enjoyed the Christmas Market so much. I liked the idea of drinking mulled wine in the cold and enjoyed the Christmas decorations.
We scheduled our fifth day for the Changing of The Guard at Buckingham Palace. It happens every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday, at 11 am. We reached there about 35 minutes before 11 am and there was no more space just outside the gate. We ended up taking a space from the other side of the palace, on the Victoria Memorial side. The spot was good to see the marching in and marching out, but we can't see what's going on inside. If you are at the gate side, you can't see the marching in and marching out, but you can see what's going on inside.
Next destination for the day was British Museum, a museum located in Bloomsbury area of London, dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its collection (Ancient Greece and Rome, Ancient Egypt, Middle East, Europe, Asia, America, Africa) is among the largest and most comprehensive. With my 7 year old boy, we spent about 2 hours there. It could have been more if I were there by myself. Just like in Windsor Castle, an audio guide is available in the British Museum and it really helps. My son enjoyed listening to the explanation of the items in the museum. My son was very delighted being able to see the famous Rosetta Stone.
We still had time and decided to visit the 3rd Christmas Market (a must thing to do during Winter :-)), the Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park. This is probably the biggest Christmas Market with many rides for the kids. It is just like a mini amusement park to me. I prefer the small and less noisy kind of Christmas Market like the one in Leicester Square. Unfortunately, I ran out of my battery, so I had no decent photos to put.
On the sixth day in London, we went to Shakespeare Globe, just a 15 minutes leisure walk (800 metres) from our hotel via Millenium Bridge that is crossing the River Thames. We joined the guided tour. Unfortunately, it was winter and there's no play in the outdoor theatre.
From Shakespeare Globe, we walked towards Borough Market. It was an enjoyable 10 minutes walk, passing Anchor Bankside, said to be one of the oldest pub in London.
Just before reaching Borough Market, we saw an Anglican Church called Southwark Cathedral. We went inside to take a look. Magnificent! It was a few weeks before Christmas, it seemed to me some school children were practising for the Christmas Mass. It is believed that the church has been a place of Christian worship for more than 1,000 years, possibly in the 7th century. This church only became Southwark Cathedral in 1905.
Borough market is a wholesale and retail food market. It is one of the largest and the oldest food market in London, at least from the 12th century. I really had a great time here, explored the market and tried many different food. This place is definitely one of the places you must visit in London, especially if you are into food and market. It might not be as interesting for kids. I had to bribe my 7 year old with an ice cream (in the winter!), cookies and macaroons, so that he let me spend some time looking at everything.
Our schedule on the 7th day was to visit my good friend and her family in Croydon, about 20 km south of London (30 minutes train ride). She picked us up from the train station and took us around. First, to Wimbledon Tennis Stadium then Richmond Park, and finally to Chelsea Stadium. We joined a short tour that took us to the Centre Court. The tour ticket includes an entry to the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, where the Gentlemen's Singles Trophy and Ladies' Singles Trophy are kept.
Richmond Park , the second largest park in London measured at 955 hectares, is located about 6 km north-west of Wimbledon Tennis Stadium. My friend drove us there to see the deers. The park was the hunting ground for King Henry VIII, my son told me.
We drove about 7 km north-east towards Fulham, where Chelsea Football Club and Stamford Bridge Stadium are located. We did not join the tour as it was late in the afternoon. We only had enough time to see the store.
Warwick Castle - Stratford-upon-Avon - Oxford were our destinations for the eighth day. We decided to join a day tour by Evan Evans to maximize the time. We bought the day tour tickets from The Original Tour (located at Trafalgar Square).
We started early at 8 am at Victoria Coach Station. It was about 2 hours tour-bus ride from London towards Warwick Castle, a medieval castle developed from a wooden fort, originally built by William the Conqueror during 1068. This was my 2nd visit to Warwick Castle, the first one was in 2010. The attractions I wouldn't want to miss are Great Hall, State Rooms, Chapel, and the Tower and Battlements, where you have to climb 530 very narrow and steep steps to get a magnificent view from height.
The next destination was Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford-upon-Avon, 15 km south-west of Warwick Castle. It was about 30 minutes bus ride.
We visited the 16th-century half-timbered house where Shakespeare was born in 1564 and grew up. My 2nd time visiting Stratford-upon-Avon. This time, it was raining non-stop, which made it a very cold day.
We had our lunch (in a hurry!) in a cafe just accross the Shakespeare's birthplace.
After lunch, we continued to travel 60 km south-east to Oxford through the Cotswolds and ... it's still raining! I enjoyed looking at the English villages along the way.
The rain got worst by the time we reached Oxford and it was freezing! By now, I couldn't enjoy anymore the walking tour through the wet and puddly cobbled streets. But what can I say... English weather, as they always say!
There's a small Christmas Market in Oxford and we had a little bit of time to look around before walking back to the meeting point where the bus was waiting for us.
I had a cup of mulled wine (gluhwein), I lost count how many cups I've had during this trip :-) but it tasted so good, especially during cold and rainy day. It took us around 1.5 hours to be back in London and it's still raining when we reached London. What a wet day!
Hampton Court Palace, a royal palace in the borough of Richmond upon Thames, is our destination on the ninth day. We took a train (South Western Railway) from Waterloo Station to Hampton Court Station, about 40 minutes train ride.
I really love this historical palace. There are so many stories behind it. The palace was started to be built in 1515 for Cardinal Thomas Wosley, who later gave it to King Henry VIII. The palace has many rooms to visit, paintings to enjoy, interior to admire, and stories to listen to (through an Audio Guide). The East Front Gardens looked amazing with very neatly shaped trees.
We spent the whole day in Hampton Court Palace.
Finally, the trip had to come to an end. We took the night flight so we still had the whole day before flying back. We decided to go to Tower of London and Hamleys Toy Store.
Tower of London is London’s iconic castle and World Heritage Site. I took my son to Tower of London on the third day when his dad was at work but he refused to enter for some reason. Luckily, we managed to persuade him to go inside on this last day. Tower of London is definitely a must place to visit when you are in London. At the end, he enjoyed it especially looking at the Crown Jewels and met some Yeoman Warders.
We still had some time (not much!) to spend in Hamleys at Regent Street. What a huge toyshop! Probably the biggest toyshop I've ever visited in my life. The only problem was it was extremely crowded. People were busy looking for Christmas presents for their loved ones. I could not enjoy looking around so I ended up just waited at the entrance for my son and my husband. Too overwhelming!
The Hamleys was the last place we visited before heading to the airport and flew back. What a lovely winter holidays!
For me, the highlights of this trip were Hampton Court, Windsor Castle, Natural History Museum, Christmas Markets, Borough Market, Tower of London, and Wimbledon Tennis Stadium.
Things we wanted to do but not able to:
(we'll save this for the next time we visit London)
- Watching Musicals in Theatre like Matilda. We just coudn't find the right time as we already had plans for the weekend while the weekdays performance is quite late (for our 7 year old son). The evening performance is usually at 7 pm (our son bed time) and it lasts for 2 hours.
- Watching a Play in Shakespeare Globe.
- St Paul's Cathedral tour (to see the inside and get the explanation).
- Legoland Windsor (it doesn't open during weekdays in winter but open everyday during summer).
- If you plan to do Hampton Court and Tower of London, it is cheaper to take Family Annual Membership of GBP 105 (2 adults and up to 6 kids) compared to pay entrance fee individually. Other places included in the Historic Royal Palaces are Kengsington Palace, Kew Palace, Bangueting House, and Hillsborough Castle.
- There is a pass called London Pass. If your plan is pretty much fixed, it will save money to get a London pass instead of paying individually at each place of attraction.
- It is cheaper to buy the tickets to some attractions online compared to at the gate. If your schedule doesn't change, it is definitely better to buy online.
- Often, there are deals (discounts) if you buy different tourist attraction tickets from The Original Tour, located at Trafalgar Square. Always check on-line to see the deals.
- It is easy to travel with trains and buses in London, just get an oyster card that you can top-up.