Check our guide to the best UK winter breaks. Forget grim weather, ignore long, dark nights and have fun instead. Discover picturesque destinations that are even more beautiful during winter.
This article is inspired by our Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for travelling the world.
Visit Cairngorm Reindeer in the Cairngorms, close to Aviemore. Established in 1952, it's home to the UK's only free-roaming winter herd. The herd's now 150 reindeer strong and winter tours are available with expert herders.
The name Cairngorm comes from the Gaelic An Carm Gorm, meaning “the blue hill” after the blueish-tinged stones found in the area. The conservation of the landscape’s unique flora and fauna is, of course, one of the principal reasons national park status was conferred.
The Cairngorms National Park covers almost 1750 square miles and incorporates the Cairngorms massif, the largest mountainscape in the UK. It is the only sizeable plateau in the country over 2500ft. It’s the biggest national park in Britain. Crossing the range is a significant challenge: by road, the only connection is the A939 Tomintoul to Cock Bridge, frequently impassable in winter due to snow.
On foot, the only way to avoid the high peaks is to follow the old cattle drovers’ route called the Lairig Ghru. It is a very long day’s walk between Inverdruie at the edge of Rothiemurchus and the Linn of Dee, near Inverey.
Set in Aviemore, 48 km from Inverness Castle, Ravenscraig Guest House offers accommodation with a shared lounge, free private parking and a garden. Featuring family rooms, this property also provides guests with a sun terrace. The guest house has ski storage space.
Surrounded by woodland, Aviemore Youth Hostel is situated on the boundary of the Cairngorm National Park and a short walk from Aviemore town centre, offering an ideal location for outdoor activities.
Cairngorm Lodge is set in Aviemore, 13 km from Boat of Garten Golf Club and 13 km from Highland Wildlife Park, in an area where skiing can be enjoyed. Situated 48 km from the University of the Highlands and Islands, Inverness, the property features a garden and free private parking.
York is the North’s most compelling city, a place whose history, said George VI, “is the history of England”. This northern city has a lot to offer in terms of how to spend UK winter breaks:
Situated in the heart of York, The Bar Convent is only a 15-minute minute walk from the city centre and just over 300 m from York Railway Station. The Grade I listed building offers an exhibition on the history of the site, a garden and free WiFi.
The Fort York is a city centre boutique stay nestled off the medieval Stonegate in the heart of York. It offers a mixture of themed private rooms, 8 bed family rooms and showering facilities. Free WiFi access is available throughout the property.
The 3-star Hedley House Hotel & Apartments is situated in a quiet residential area, 500 m from York Minster and 8-minute walk of York city centre, bus and rail stations. The hotel boasts a 6-people hot tub, and an on-site beauty therapist.
Head to Portmeirion in North West Wales during winter. Set on a rocky peninsula in Tremadog Bay, three miles east near Minffordd, the Italianate private village was the brainchild of eccentric architect Clough Williams-Ellis.
His dream was to build an ideal settlement to enhance rather than blend in with its surroundings, using a “gay, light-opera sort of approach”. The result is certainly theatrical: a stage set with a lucky dip of buildings arranged to distort perspectives and reveal tantalizing glimpses of the sea or the expansive sands behind.
Winter weather's mild in this little pocket of Wales so you can still explore Portmeirion's gorgeous sub-tropical gardens.
Most of the money Clough Williams-Ellis earned went directly to the gardens of his ancestral home Plâs Brondanw. The house is closed to the public, leaving just the gardens – an immaculate topiary set before a panorama of Snowdonia, juxtaposing civilization with wild countryside. It has a lovely café to boot – plus some of the grounds (follow the “To the Tower” sign).
A ten-minute woodland walk brings you to the outlook tower, with expansive views of Porthmadog and the Moelwyns.
Built by a visionary architect in 1925, Portmeirion Village & Castell Deudraeth overlooks the beautiful Dywryd Estuary. Located just south of the coastal village of Porthmadog on a private peninsula, the hotel offers a spa and wellness centre, an on-site mini market, a bar and a restaurant.
With free Wi-Fi, a bistro restaurant and a charming bar serving real ales, The Golden Fleece offers bed and breakfast accommodation spread across 3 historic buildings. All buildings are located within the market square of Tremadog, just a kilometre from Porthmadog town centre.
Many tourists bypass the East Midlands’ five counties – Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire – on their way to more obvious destinations. This mistake is understandable given that the region seems, at first sight, to be short of star attractions.
Nevertheless, the countryside hereabouts is sprinkled with historic market towns, pretty villages and prestigious country homes. All of these make East Midlands a perfect destination for the UK winter breaks.
Rural northern Nottinghamshire, with its gentle rolling landscapes and large ducal estates, was transformed in the nineteenth century by coal. Deep, wide seams of the stuff spawned dozens of collieries, and colliery towns, stretching up across the county and on into Yorkshire.
Today, the mines have all gone, their passing marked only by the occasional pithead winding wheel, left, bleak and solitary, to commemorate the thousands of men who laboured here.
To learn about surviving in East Midlands book a winter course at Woodland Survival Crafts. This back to nature experience teaches you foraging, overnight survival techniques and basic bush craft skills.
In the heart of Leicester, this elegant Victorian townhouse is less than 500 m from the railway station. The family-run boutique-style hotel offers free parking, stylish en-suite rooms, and unlimited free WiFi.
With free Wi-Fi throughout, Mama’s Inn Boutique Guest House is situated on the Northern fringe of Nottingham city centre, fronting Mansfield Road and backing onto Huntington Street (A60 road). The guest house is excellently located to a wide array of shops and amenities, including the Victoria Shopping Centre.
Only 15 minutes from Derby and the M1 motorway, the Morley Hayes Hotel offers luxurious rooms, many with balconies. It has 2 golf courses, 2 restaurants and a helipad. A free shuttle service is available from Derby Railway Station or East Midlands Airport to the hotel.
Swap Alaska for Gloucestershire and go dog sledding at Arctic Quest. Trained husky teams navigate custom-Ybuilt dog sledding tracks here. Snow-free sleds, mean it's not weather-dependant. And both day courses and overnight stays are available.
In Gloucestershire you can take a 35-mile drive full of sightseeing of castles and nature reserves, travelling through mostly flat terrain alongside canals, then ending up in Gloucester. As the tour continues there is the opportunity to learn more about the important canal restoration work that is being carried out in the area. And finally to explore Gloucestershire’s county town.
Gloucester is not one of England’s most beautiful cities, though it is a place of enormous historical interest. Gloucester’s docklands area has been transformed with a mixture of housing, shops and restaurants. Around the site many original features have been retained, including rail tracks, mooring rings and a steam crane for moving large cargo.
The excellent, child-friendly National Waterways Museum has hands-on activities, interactive displays and video presentations, not to mention a steam dredger to explore on the quayside. The museum tells the story of England’s commercial waterways. From the canal-building mania of the late 18th century to their decline in the 20th century, brought about by the combined competition of road and rail transport.
After a day full of experiences, don't miss the opportunity to try regional speciality dish - Gloucestershire Squab Pie. Unlike squab pie from other regions that uses young pigeon, this one is made from lamb or mutton. Special recipe Tewkesbury mustard has been made there since the 17th century.
In the heart of Gloucester, the 15th-century New Inn features a medieval courtyard, real ale pub and free Wi-Fi. There is also a traditional restaurant with period features.
Located 17 km from Kingsholm Stadium, The Old Farm provides accommodation with free WiFi and free private parking. The accommodation features a spa bath.
The Naight House has garden views, free WiFi and free private parking, set in Gloucester, 14 km from Kingsholm Stadium. Cotswold Water Park is 48 km from The Naight House, while Gloucester Cathedral is 13 km from the property. The nearest airport is RAF Fairford Airport, 62 km from the bed and breakfast.
With the lowest profile of Wales’ three national parks, the Brecon Beacons are refreshingly uncrowded, primarily attracting local urban walkers. Known for the vivid quality of their light, the Beacons hills disappear and re-emerge from hazy blankets of cloud, with shafts of sun sharpening the lush patchwork of fields.
Covering 520 square miles, the national park straddles southern Powys and northern Monmouthshire from west to east. The most remote parts are around the Black Mountain peaks to the west, with miles of tufted moorland and bleak. Often dangerous, summits plummeting to the porous limestone country in the southwestern section, a rocky terrain of rivers, deep caves and spluttering waterfalls.
To the northeast, the lonely Black Mountains are separated from the Beacons themselves by the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal. Built around the beginning of the nineteenth century to support coal mining, iron ore and limestone quarrying, the canal is an impressive feat of engineering.
Brecon Beacons National Park Visitor Centre is chiefly useful for its well-stocked shop of maps, books and guides, though most of the complex is taken up with local crafts displays. Staff can give experienced hikers details of walks tackling the more challenging peaks of Corn Du and Pen y Fan. Otherwise, you can walk straight out from the door onto Mynydd Illtud Common, laced with gentle paths looking across to some major peaks.
Located in Llangattock, the Old Rectory Country Hotel is situated in Brecon Beacons National Park, a kilometer from Crickhowell. The hotel offers free parking and WiFi.
In Crickhowell, in the Brecon Beacons, The Bear dates back to 1432. Expect a welcoming atmosphere, old world charm and good food. Awarded Inn of the Year 2010 by the Good Pub Guide.
Within 27 km of Longtown Castle and 35 km of Clifford Castle, Caboodles Cottage features free WiFi and a terrace. Set 23 km from Brecon Cathedral, the property offers a garden and free private parking.
About forty miles from one end to the other, the north Norfolk coast is one of the UK’s top tourist destinations – and no wonder.
There’s something for just about everyone here beneath the wide skies of Norfolk. From the resorts of Cromer and Hunstanton to the chichi, metropolitan delights of Burnham Market and a string of wildlife reserves. Add to this a series of long sandy beaches, a platoon of excellent hotels and a brigade of first class restaurants and it’s easy to see why the region is quite so enduringly popular.
For walkers, the Norfolk Coast Path is an especially fine way of exploring the north Norfolk coast’s nooks and crannies as it nudges through belts of sand dune. The Norfolk coast is also famous for its crabs. So don't miss out on this delicacy.
You will find more information on how to spend your holiday in Norfolk in our guide to the best things to do in Norfolk.
In addition to beautiful views and tasty crabs, the coast offers a number of places you won't want to miss:
Promenade Cromer pier, Norfolk © Shutterstock
Featuring a spa bath, The Hamlet is situated in Cromer. This property offers access to a patio, free private parking and free WiFi. Blickling Hall is 15 km from the accommodation, while Cromer Pier is 8.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Norwich International Airport, 31 km from The Hamlet.
In a quiet tree-lined avenue just 3 minutes’ walk from Cromer Seafront and Pier, the stylish Virginia Court Hotel offers free parking, free Wi-Fi and award-winning Norfolk breakfasts.
Featuring an indoor heated swimming pool, The Grove is a Georgian country house situated half a kilometer from Cromer town centre. The beach can be reached via a private gate into the woods and takes 10 minutes on foot. Free private parking is available on site.
The archipelago of Shetland lies beyond the horizon, closer to Bergen in Norway than Edinburgh, and to the Arctic Circle than Manchester.
Travel to Shetland and see the Northern Lights. The closest UK area to the North Pole it's best for Northern Light activity in winter. And the Aurora Borealis has been seen in these parts so often, it's known locally as the Mirrie Dancers.
Shetland is full of attractions you may also want to visit:
Located in Lerwick, within 500 m of Bain's Beach and 500 m of Lerwick, Solheim Guest House provides accommodation with a garden and free WiFi. The property is around 5.5 km from Holm of Beosetter, 6.4 km from Bressay Island and 6.6 km from Green Holm. The guest house features family rooms.
Located in Lerwick, 500 m from Bain's Beach, Norlande features a garden and views of the garden. Located around 300 m from Lerwick, the guest house with free WiFi is also 5.3 km away from Holm of Beosetter. The guest house features family rooms.
Many consider winter to be the best time of year in Cornwall. It is in winter that Cornwall shows itself from the side of the place described in novels and novellas.
Both North and South parts of Cornwall have a lot of attractions to offer during the winter breaks. First it's impossible not to mention the Eden Project. Showcasing the diversity of the planet’s plant life in an innovative, sometimes wacky style, the Eden Project was the brainchild of Tim Smit.
Six miles west of Fowey and the nearest town to the Eden Project, St Austell is an unprepossessing place. If you ever wondered where the West Country’s most ubiquitous beer comes from it's The St Austell Brewery. Located at the top of the town it is still owned by the same Hicks family who established the brewery in 1893. It is open to beer aficionados and others interested in seeing the brewing process at first hand.
The Brewing Experience tour provides a fascinating insight into ale brewing, including stops at the exhibition and museum and a tutored beer sampling
When it comes to the northern part of Cornwall there is no doubt that the Atlantic coast is worthy of a visit at any time of year. Here you will also find atmospheric historical sites such as St Enodoc the burial place of John Betjeman and Tintagel Castle - a romantically ruined fortress on the cliff edge.
And of course, what better time of year then winter to soak up the atmosphere of witchcraft and magic? In Cornwall you will find an amazingly interesting Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. It takes an intelligent, comprehensive and non-gimmicky account of witchcraft and sorcery through the ages, displayed in themed galleries.
Within 1.2 km of Readymoney Cove Beach and 2 km of Coombe Haven Beach, Lower Deck offers free WiFi and a garden. The property is 1.7 km from St Catherines Castle and 14 km from Restormel Castle.
Little Quoin in Fowey offers accommodation with free WiFi, less than 1 km from Readymoney Cove Beach, a 19-minute walk from Coombe Haven Beach and 10 km from Eden Project. The property is 14 km from Restormel Castle and 35 km from Truro Cathedral.
Offering a Cornish welcome, The Glendeveor is only a few minutes walk from the beaches, shops and facilities of Newquay.
Woodstock has royal associations going back to Saxon times, with a string of kings attracted by its excellent hunting. The Royalists used Woodstock as a base during the Civil War but, after their defeat, Cromwell never got round to destroying either the town or its manor house. The latter was ultimately given to the Duke of Marlborough in 1704, who razed it to build Blenheim Palace.
Long dependent on royal and then ducal patronage, Woodstock is now both a well-heeled commuter town for Oxford and a base for visitors to Blenheim
The interior of the Palace is stuffed with paintings and tapestries, plus all manner of objets d’art, including furniture from Versailles and carvings by Grinling Gibbons. The Churchill Exhibition on the ground floor provides a fascinating introduction to Winston.
In the Blenheim’s gardens you’ll find a butterfly house, lavender garden, maze and other diversions. On the west side of the house, fountains spout beside the terrace of the palace café and paths lead down to the lake past the vivid Rose Garden. A path from the front of the house leads you across Blenheim’s open park down to Vanbrugh’s Grand Bridge and up to the hilltop Column of Victory, topped by a heroic statue of the 1st Duke.
Blenheim Palace offers free guided tours inside the palace which depart about every quarter-hour, though you’re free to opt out and stroll at your own pace. On Sunday or when the palace is very busy, tours are replaced by guides stationed in every room, who give details as you move through.
In picturesque Woodstock, just 20 minutes’ drive from Oxford centre, Macdonald Bear Hotel offers a restaurant. Set in a 13th-century inn, the rooms have period features. Just a kilometer from Blenheim Palace, Bear Hotel Macdonald is surrounded by Oxfordshire’s beautiful countryside. Kirtlington Golf Club is a 10-minute drive away and The Wychwood Project is just 5 minutes’ drive away.
Situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, The Kings Arms features a restaurant and a bar. The hotel offers free WiFi. Oxford is 16 km from The Kings Arms, while Stratford-upon-Avon is 50 km from the property. The nearest airport is Heathrow Airport, 96 km from the property.
The Lake District is England’s most hyped scenic area, and for good reason. Within an area a mere thirty miles across, sixteen major lakes are squeezed between the country’s highest mountains. Most of the region lies within the Lake District National Park which, in turn, falls entirely within the county of Cumbria.
Try a Predator Experience near Humphrey Head in the Lake District this winter. The wandering wolves are a hybrid-breed - pure-bred wolves are illegal in the UK - and Predator Experience also offers walks with hawks and foxes.
Given a week you could easily see most of the famous settlements and lakes – a circuit taking in Windermere, with the towns of Ambleside, Windermere and Bowness dotted around it. Coniston, with its own lake and famous peak, the Wordsworth houses in Grasmere. The picture-postcard village of Hawkshead, and the more dramatic northern scenery near Keswick and Ullswater would give you a fair sample of the whole.
Set close to Lake Windermere, just a 5-minute walk from Long Wood Bay Watersports Centre and a 2-minute drive from Ambleside, Briery Wood Hotel is surrounded by peaceful fields and woodland. The traditional property has its own restaurant looking out onto landscaped gardens.
Walkers Rest is located in Windermere, 7 km from Lake Windermere and 38 km from Derwentwater, in an area where cycling can be enjoyed. Set 1.9 km from World of Beatrix Potter, the property offers a garden and free private parking.
The hotel is perfectly situated with views of Lake Windermere, just a short stroll from the bustling village centre of Bowness-on-Windermere and the boats that travel the length of Windermere, making it easy to visit Ambleside, Brockhole, Wray Castle and Lakeside without a car.
Water, stone and wool are the elements that have shaped the history and appearance of the city of Bath: the thermal waters that underpinned the city’s growth. Bath’s hot springs alone set the city apart from anywhere else in the UK.
What is a better way to spend a winter's day than taking a dip in hot water baths. Head to Thermae Bath Spa which allows you to take the local waters in much the same way that visitors to Bath have done since Roman times, but with state-of-the-art spa facilities. The complex is heated by the city’s thermal waters and offers both pool and shower sessions and a variety of treatments from massages to dry flotation.
The centrepiece is the New Royal Bath, a sleekly futuristic “glass cube”. Designed by Nicholas Grimshaw it incorporates the curving indoor Minerva Bath, fragrant steam rooms and a rooftop pool with glorious views.
Note that treatments can (and must) be booked at the ticket desk or by phone, but pool sessions cannot be booked in advance. The queues can be frustrating – weekdays are the quietest time to visit (quietest of all Tues–Thurs). Towels, robes and slippers are provided, but you’ll need a bathing costume.
In the centre of Bath, this boutique-style guest house has stylish bedrooms with pocket-sprung mattresses, flat-screen TV, and quality feather bedding (microfibre bedding can be provided on request) and cotton towels. Royal Victoria park is just a 5-minute walk away.
Set in Bath and with Bath Abbey reachable within 700 metres, Dukes Bath offers concierge services, non-smoking rooms, a bar, free WiFi throughout the property and a garden. The property is around 1.4 km from Royal Crescent, 2.9 km from University of Bath and 3.7 km from Oldfield Park Train Station. The property is 21 km from Bristol Temple Meads Station and 22 km from Cabot Circus.
A boutique townhouse hotel in the centre of Georgian Bath, The Queensberry mixes modern style with historic architecture, offering a quiet courtyard garden and an award-winning restaurant. The hotel offers free WiFi in all areas.
At over 2500km, the Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest-defined coastal touring route. Stretching the length of the rugged Atlantic coast, from the Southern Peninsulas to the Northern Headlands, it’s an unforgettable way to explore the west of Ireland. Although it’s possible to travel the route by bus (and even bike), it’s more relaxing to rent a car and enjoy it at your own pace.
Along the way, you can see and enjoy Ireland's nature and cities, which undoubtedly have a special charm in winter. Starting in the handsome heritage town of Kinsale, head south to the Old Head of Kinsale – a remarkable little peninsula with great views looking back on the town. Continue west to the pleasant town of Clonakilty to spend the night.
After sampling some of the famous Clonakilty black pudding, pay a visit to Inchydoney Beach. Just south of the town, it was recently voted best beach in Ireland.
Featuring sea views, The Beacon Kinsale County Cork provides accommodation with a bar and a balcony, around 2.8 km from Dock Beach. Free WiFi is available in this holiday home, located 26 km from Cork City Hall and 26 km from Cork Custom House.
In the heart of Clonakilty, this luxury hotel has a leisure centre with an indoor pool, sauna and steam room. With a modern restaurant and bar, the beautiful coastline is just 10 minutes away by car.
The Emmet is a boutique hotel located on a Georgian Square in the heart of Clonakilty, surrounded by the beaches and coast of the Wild Atlantic Way. There is free private parking outside the hotel and free WiFi is offered throughout.
To many people, the Cotswolds is the essence of England, a place where they would love to live – if not immediately, then certainly when they retire. There are also many ways to have an exciting time on your winter breaks here. Choose from the various destinations Costwolds has to offer:
Winchcombe Street is located in Cheltenham, 14 km from Kingsholm Stadium and 29 km from Weston Park, in an area where hiking can be enjoyed. It features city views and free WiFi.
Cornerstone Cottage is located in Chipping Campden, 19 km from Royal Shakespeare Theatre and 19 km from Royal Shakespeare Company, in an area where hiking can be enjoyed. Set 3.7 km from Weston Park, the property offers a garden and free private parking.
Set in Gloucester, 2.5 km from Kingsholm Stadium, The Oakwood Hotel by Roomsbooked offers accommodation with a bar, free private parking and a garden. The property is around 39 km from Cotswold Water Park, 45 km from Weston Park and 3.5 km from Gloucester Cathedral. The accommodation features a 24-hour front desk and free WiFi throughout the property.
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