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The best places to visit in the UK and Ireland in the winter
Destinations & Inspiration

The best places to visit in the UK and Ireland in the winter

Ellena Morgan
By Ellena Morgan - 11 minute read
Both the UK and Ire­land are great places to vis­it no mat­ter the sea­son, but we’d argue that there’s some­thing tru­ly spe­cial about the win­ter months in these beau­ti­ful islands. From stargaz­ing in Dart­moor to drink­ing marsh­mal­low ales in York (yes real­ly!), there’s so much on offer when con­sid­er­ing your options for win­ter breaks in the UK. So regard­less of what type of trav­eller you are, or what type of home swap vaca­tion you’re look­ing for, dis­cov­er our selec­tion of the best UK win­ter hol­i­day destinations.

Edin­burgh, Scotland

A round-up of the best places to vis­it in win­ter in the UK and Ire­land sim­ply has to start with a lit­tle nod to Edin­burgh. Although Scot­land is majes­tic in any sea­son (it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly love­ly place to see the autumn leaves too), there’s some­thing spe­cial about vis­it­ing Edin­burgh in the win­ter. The ancient sand­stone build­ings look even more mag­i­cal with a dust­ing of snow, and Edin­burgh Cas­tle is even more impres­sive with a dra­mat­ic win­ter sky behind it. Like many oth­er cities, Edin­burgh also has some great Christ­mas mar­kets, and we’d par­tic­u­lar­ly rec­om­mend ice skat­ing in St. Andrew Square. And of course, we can’t fea­ture Edin­burgh in win­ter with­out men­tion­ing Scot­tish New Year (aka Hog­manay), which is one of the most cel­e­brat­ed hol­i­days in the coun­try. It’s a three-day event run­ning from the 1st-3rd Jan­u­ary involv­ing street par­ties, big bon­fires, live music and great food, and of course lots of fire­works. Now there’s a great exam­ple of how to get your new year off to an epic start!

Edinburgh at dusk

Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

It’s not hard to see the appeal of the Cliffs of Moher in Coun­ty Clare. As one of the country’s top vis­it­ed attrac­tions and one of the best things to do in Ire­land, 1.5 mil­lion tourists flock to this beau­ti­ful area every year. With a ver­ti­cal cliff face and a rugged and rocky coast­line, this instant­ly recog­nis­able land­scape is plas­tered on every tourist guide to the coun­try – and quite right­ly so! Vis­it­ing the Cliffs of Moher dur­ing the win­ter gives you the unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to view this mag­i­cal scenery with­out the hoards of crowds that descend on the region in the peak sum­mer months. Make sure you check the weath­er before head­ing off on your adven­ture, as the cliffs are very exposed and the rocks are incred­i­bly slip­pery in wet weath­er, so should be avoid­ed in high winds and extreme weath­er conditions.

Snowy cliffs of Moher Ireland
Streets of York, England light up with Christmas lights and Christmas trees

York, England

With lots of Christ­mas mar­kets to explore, York is a mag­i­cal place to vis­it in the run up to Christ­mas. But if we’re being real­ly hon­est, it’s a great place for a win­ter hol­i­day in the UK in any of the cold­er months. Why is that? Well, York offers the win­ning com­bi­na­tion of love­ly archi­tec­ture, oodles of his­to­ry and a fan­tas­tic social scene! The ancient, cob­bled streets are packed to the brim with great eater­ies, inde­pen­dent bou­tiques and cosy pubs, with many of the city’s water­ing holes dat­ing back cen­turies. From marsh­mal­low-flavoured ales to orig­i­nal fea­tures that are hun­dreds of years old, you sim­ply have to vis­it one of these great pubs in York where you can cosy up by the fire. And no vis­it to York is com­plete with­out see­ing the tow­er­ing York Min­is­ter, which is a Goth­ic Cathe­dral in the heart of the city, and one of the biggest (and best) of its kind in Europe.

Dart­moor Nation­al Park, England

Locat­ed in the depths of Devon, Dartmoor’s rugged land­scape trans­forms over the win­ter months into a mag­i­cal win­ter won­der­land. The often-harsh con­di­tions in this Nation­al Park are loved by adven­tur­ous hik­ers year-round, but it’s espe­cial­ly spe­cial see­ing the exposed heaths with a dust­ing of snow and the wild ponies roam­ing. If you’ve packed lots of lay­ers and you’re ready to embrace the cold, then we’d rec­om­mend going stargaz­ing. Dart­moor is one of just six ded­i­cat­ed dark sky zones’ in the UK which are pro­tect­ed from light pol­lu­tion, mean­ing that this beau­ti­ful spot is per­fect for incred­i­ble sight­ings of The Milky Way.

Horse grazing on grass in Dartmoor

Lon­don, England

There are many rea­sons to vis­it Lon­don in the cold­er months, and we’d go as far as say­ing that Lon­don is one of the best UK win­ter hol­i­day des­ti­na­tions. The city is trans­formed as it gets adorned in sparkling lights and dec­o­ra­tions, includ­ing the float­ing angels of Regent Street, the flam­boy­ant glit­ter strung across Carn­a­by Street, and the sparkling mistle­toe dis­plays in Covent Gar­den Mar­ket. From var­i­ous inde­pen­dent mar­kets scat­tered across the city to the icon­ic shops on Oxford Street, Lon­don is the ulti­mate spot to com­plete your Christ­mas shopping. 

If you’re trav­el­ling with kids, then make sure you vis­it one of London’s many pan­tomimes, and if you can bear the crowds, a trip to the icon­ic Hamley’s Toy Shop is a must. If the weath­er isn’t on your side, don’t fear – here’s our roundup of the best things to do in Lon­don on a rainy day.

You also can’t dis­cuss the ulti­mate win­ter get­aways to Lon­don with­out men­tion­ing Win­ter Won­der­land. This is an icon­ic part of the fes­tive peri­od in the nation’s cap­i­tal, where you can enjoy ice-skat­ing, fair­ground rides and roller­coast­ers offer­ing views over Hyde Park, plus the chance to tuck into a hot choco­late or mulled wine in the beer tent.

Christmas lights and crowds of shoppers on Oxford Street, London
Sand dunes looking over the sea on the Hebrides, Scotland

The Hebrides, Scotland

Scot­land trav­el guide: The best things to see and do in Scot­landIf you want to see the best of the Scot­tish coun­try­side in win­ter, then look no fur­ther than The Hebrides. Equal­ly stun­ning in sum­mer with white sand beach­es and turquoise waters that look more like the Mediter­ranean Ocean rather than the Atlantic, there’s some­thing just as charm­ing about vis­it­ing these islands in the win­ter. Home to epic cas­tles, snow-capped moun­tains and wild coast­lines, it’s a great time to vis­it with­out the peak sea­son crowds. We’d rec­om­mend pay­ing a vis­it to Fairy Pools’ on the Isle of Skye to see incred­i­ble water­falls against the back­drop of the epic Black Cuillin Moun­tains. As you’ll be so far north, the sun sets around 3.30pm, so we’d rec­om­mend tim­ing your hike so that you can see the epic sun­set. If you’re lucky, you might even get a glimpse of the North­ern Lights! And don’t for­get that win­ter breaks in the UK can be impact­ed by unpre­dictable weath­er, so make sure you dress warm­ly and have some good qual­i­ty water­proofs, as sog­gy clothes will ruin any hike! After more top tips? Then check out our guide to the best things to do in Scotland.

Bre­con Bea­cons, Wales

Locat­ed in the south of the coun­try and over 46,0000 hectares in size, the Bre­con Bea­cons are spec­tac­u­lar all year round, but def­i­nite­ly worth a vis­it in the win­ter months. One of the best things to do in Wales, hik­ing is one of the most pop­u­lar activ­i­ties in this Nation­al Park, with a range of great hikes avail­able for vary­ing abil­i­ties. One of the most pop­u­lar and reward­ing routes is hik­ing Pen y Fan, the high­est point in the Bre­con Bea­cons. Opt for a gen­tle walk from the Storey Arms Cen­tre, or chal­lenge your­self with the epic, chal­leng­ing Bea­cons Cir­cuit that deliv­ers incred­i­ble views from the sum­mit, as well as over the Neuadd Reser­voirs. And just like Dart­moor Nation­al Park, Bre­con Bea­cons is also a des­ig­nat­ed dark zone – mean­ing you can enjoy plen­ty of stargaz­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties dur­ing the clear, chilly win­ter nights.

Snow-capped hills of Pen-Y-Fan in Brecon Beacons

Coun­ty Done­gal, Ireland

Ire­land might not be the first place you think of when it comes to see­ing the North­ern Lights, but dur­ing the months Octo­ber-April you’ve actu­al­ly got a pret­ty good chance of spot­ting the Auro­ra Bore­alis. We’d rec­om­mend head­ing to the most north­ern point in Ire­land, Malin Head on the Inishowen Penin­su­la, where you’ll be in for some spec­tac­u­lar views, North­ern Lights or not. If you’re vis­it­ing dur­ing the fes­tive peri­od in win­ter, don’t for­get to pay a vis­it to Donegal’s Lap­land! Here you’ll find elves, meet San­ta and see live fes­tive per­for­mances that are great fun for the whole family.

Snowy road with cottage on the left-hand side on County Donegal

The Cotswolds, England

The Cotswolds in win­ter are like some­thing out of a dream – sur­round­ed by ele­gant stone build­ings and beau­ti­ful thatched cot­tages, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped of The Hol­i­day’ and straight into your own Hol­ly­wood rom­com. Vis­it the many choco­late box-esque vil­lages of Bour­ton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and Cas­tle Combe, which have long been a source of inspi­ra­tion for writ­ers and artists includ­ing the Bron­të sis­ters and William Blake. If you’re look­ing to enjoy the coun­try­side, there’s no short­age of stun­ning walks and scenery, with plen­ty of cosy pubs en route where you can enjoy a post-walk tip­ple or a hearty meal. If you’re lucky enough to be there when it snows, we’d rec­om­mend sled­ding the hills near Broad­way Tow­er, or if you’re look­ing for a hike, Malvern Hills in near­by Worces­ter­shire is a great day out.

Snowy fields over rolling hills in The Cotswolds, UK
Two adults hold a child's hand walking down a road in Bath, Somerset

Bath, England

Arguably one of the UK’s most beau­ti­ful cities, the ancient Roman city of Bath should be at the top of everyone’s UK win­ter city breaks lust list. Home to the famous Bath Christ­mas Mar­ket, the sand­stone streets are lined with over 170 wood­en huts (or chalets) from which local crafters sell their goods includ­ing hand­made cloth­ing and jew­ellery, works of art and tasty treats. If you’re vis­it­ing in Novem­ber, the city also hosts Bath Mozart­fest, a nine-day long fes­ti­val that is com­prised of over 15 con­certs per­formed by world-class musi­cians cel­e­brat­ing the work of Mozart as well as oth­er famous com­posers like Beethoven and Schu­bert. Even if you’re not the biggest clas­si­cal music fan, you won’t be able to deny the mag­i­cal ener­gy radi­at­ing from this epic event which is host­ed in some of Bath’s most stun­ning venues. If you’re look­ing for some­where to warm up after a day of explor­ing the city, then end the day with a vis­it to Ther­mae Bath Spa where you can unwind in var­i­ous steam rooms and saunas. The rooftop hot tubs and ther­mal pool offer incred­i­ble views over the ancient city. 

Dublin, Ire­land

There’s no short­age of amaz­ing things to do and see in Dublin, and this is par­tic­u­lar­ly true on a win­ter break. Admit­ted­ly the tur­bu­lent win­ter weath­er can be brac­ing, but there are plen­ty of indoor attrac­tions where you can ride out any blus­tery spells. We’d sug­gest tak­ing a stroll around the famous Trin­i­ty Col­lege, explor­ing the exten­sive col­lec­tions housed at the Nation­al Library, wan­der­ing around The Nation­al Muse­um of Ire­land or delv­ing into the Lit­tle Muse­um of Dublin. As a bonus, you’ll also be trav­el­ling off-peak, mean­ing you’ll be able to enjoy explor­ing the streets with less crowds too. If you’re after some retail ther­a­py with a side order of cul­ture, then we’d rec­om­mend a stroll along Grafton Street, one of Europe’s most busy shop­ping loca­tions, which is lined with buskers brav­ing the weath­er year-round. After all that shop­ping, rest your feet and refu­el at the icon­ic Bewley’s Ori­en­tal Café, which first opened its doors in 1840s. Just be aware that this icon­ic eaterie is locat­ed in the heart of the shop­ping dis­trict in Dublin, so expect to queue to get a table – it will be worth the wait!

Grafton Street in Dublin light up by Christmas lights

Feel­ing inspired for your next win­ter break in the UK and Ire­land? We hope you loved this arti­cle, and if you have any sug­ges­tions for addi­tion­al amaz­ing win­ter hol­i­days in the UK and Ire­land, then get in touch with us so that we can weave in your thoughts! If this blog has fired up your imag­i­na­tion and you’d like even more ideas, then check out our arti­cles on the best things to do in Ire­land, the best things to do in Scot­land and the best things to do in Wales. Or if you’re fan­cy­ing a trip to the coast, check out our juicy reads on the best UK beach des­ti­na­tions and best sandy beach­es in the UK.