As lovely as it can to jet off for some winter sun, spending winter in the UK can be pretty magical too. Thanks to our rich history and diverse landscapes (and our love for crisp winter walks and roaring open fires), the UK can be one of the very best places to cosy up for Christmas and beyond.
Whether your idea of a winter staycation is skiing down snowy mountains, strolling among festive markets, or curling up in front of an open fire – there’s something for everyone.
To get you inspired, here are nine places in the UK to visit for a winter holiday.
1. New Forest, Hampshire
Forests are magical at the best of times, but in winter, when the branches are dusted with snow and frosty leaves crunch underfoot, they’re even more enchanting. Plus, returning to a log cabin or a cosy cottage and warming yourself up in front of a log burner – perhaps with a glass of mulled wine – is the perfect activity after an exhilarating winter walk.
The New Forest is one of the biggest areas of open forest in England, and if you love wandering through nature and being among the trees, it’s the ideal destination for a winter staycation.
If you want to stay active on your break, you can paddle down Beaulieu River in Canadian canoes, or spot wildlife in the North Solent Nature Reserve – though if you’re just after some rest and relaxation, you’ll definitely find that here too.
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2. The Isles of Scilly, South West England
Realistically, you won’t be able to do much sunbathing on a winter staycation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face – and relatively mild temperatures. Thanks to an almost sub-tropical climate, the Isles of Scilly are one the warmest places in the UK, and while it’s not exactly the Med, average temperatures of 11°C in December mean it’s generally considerably warmer than the rest of the UK.
Just 28 miles off the coast of West Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly are an archipelago of around 140 tiny islands – although only five are inhabited. In the summer months, the islands can be extremely busy, but in winter, you can enjoy a true taste of island life.
Go for windswept walks across the beach as slate grey waves crash against the shore, curl up around log fires in cosy pubs, and enjoy the blissful feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world.
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3. York, North Yorkshire
If you prefer to be among people on your holidays, and like the idea of chatting to strangers in lively pubs or browsing for bargains in buzzing markets, then why not head to York?
This historic city is filled with old-world charm in the winter months, and if you’re visiting in December, it’s hard not to get caught up in the Christmas spirit. Stroll through cobbled alleyways and beneath Tudor beams, admire treasures in glowing shop windows, and pick up stocking fillers and sip warming drinks at the St Nicholas Fair.
If you’d like the opportunity to get out of town and enjoy some time in the countryside, York is also ideally situated to explore both the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors. The rolling green valleys and charming villages of the Yorkshire Dales are the perfect setting for a country walk and pub lunch – or alternatively, you might want to lose yourself on the heather-covered moors or bustling coastal towns of North York.
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4. County Antrim, Northern Ireland
If you’re drawn to a rugged coastline, miles of unspoilt beaches, and a landscape that’s as magical as it is beautiful, then why not consider heading to County Antrim for a winter’s break?
Though it’s most famous for being the home of Northern Ireland’s most popular attraction (the mystical Giant’s Causeway), County Antrim has much more to offer. Whether you want to wander the streets of Belfast or climb across precipitous coastal rope bridges, there’s plenty to do.
You can warm yourself up after a chilly coastal walk by relaxing in cosy pubs, sipping whiskey, and listening to live music.
Also, on a crisp winter’s day, attractions like Carrickfergus Castle look even more spectacular – and in this special part of the country, you’re only a walk away from some of Northern Ireland’s loveliest glens. In recent years the Northern Lights have even been seen here too, so you may be lucky enough to spot the glimmering lights of aurora borealis dancing across the sky.
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5. The Cotswolds, England
If your idea of winter fun is exploring picture-perfect villages, browsing bustling Christmas markets, and staying in cosy chocolate-box cottages, you may want to think about heading to the Cotswolds this winter.
Encompassing the counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Gloucestershire, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, the Cotswolds is a popular destination throughout the year – but it’s in winter that it really comes alive.
Check out the sparkling festive illuminations at Blenheim Palace, where you can walk beneath the 100,000 glittering bulbs of the vaulted Tunnel of Light and toast marshmallows over a fire pit.
Or maybe you’d like to visit Bath’s iconic Christmas market, where you can sip mulled cider, feast upon roast chestnuts, and feel as though you’ve fallen into a Dickensian novel? If you’re looking for unique Christmas presents, the many Cotswolds farmers’ markets are great places to pick up gifts, too.
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6. Cairngorms, Scottish Highlands
You don’t have to head to the Alps to enjoy a spot of skiing this winter. With a decent amount of snowfall each year, Scotland is the best place in the UK to hit the slopes, and there are dozens of Scottish ski resorts you can hole up in this winter.
The varied terrain at Glenshee, in the spectacular Cairngorms National Park, is especially ideal for skiers and snowboarders of all abilities – and depending on when you go, you may even get some slopes to yourself (that never happens in the Alps!).
Even if you don’t ski, the Cairngorms is an idyllic destination for a winter break. Its craggy mountains, mysterious lochs and ancient woodlands are perfect to explore by foot, and if you’re into wildlife and nature, you can spot eagles and all kinds of flora and fauna here.
To make it even more perfect for a winter staycation, the Cairngorms is also home to Britains’ only herd of free-ranging reindeer, who roam the mountains in a suitably festive manner.
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7. Norfolk, East Anglia
A sure sign that winter is coming is when you spot flocks of geese migrating from colder climates. If you’re interested in bird watching – or you just want to be among glorious, tranquil nature – then Norfolk will be the perfect winter destination for you.
Norfolk is the best place in the UK to observe thousands of pink-footed geese as they make their winter homes among the mudflats and salt marshes – and seeing them fly back to their roosts as the sun goes down is a sight you won’t forget. You may also spot grey seals and their pups; take a boat from Morston Quay if you want to get close to these intelligent animals.
Aside from wildlife, this part of the UK also boasts 90 miles of unspoilt coastline and 120 miles of navigable waterways, so whether you want to enjoy a bracing walk or a gentle cruise down the river, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
For a dazzling festive experience, head into Norwich for the Christmas light display, then visit Norwich Castle for their light projections!
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8. Lake District, Cumbria
With its gleaming lakes, rocky mountains and dramatic fells, the Lake District is one of the most beautiful places in the UK – but it’s especially stunning in the winter.
When the throngs of tourists go home, the solitude of the mountains feels even more powerful. And even when frost carpets the ground and mist swirls overhead, there’s never a sense of dreariness here – only dramatic landscapes and atmospheric weather.
The cosy pubs and inns of the Lake District are even more inviting after some wild winter walking – and because this region boasts some of the best walking routes in the country, the only hard task will be choosing which hikes to go on.
This is a place where you can experience the true magic of winter. Admire snow-capped peaks and icy lakes, sit by the roaring fire in cosy country pubs, and treat yourself to hearty, restorative meals in lovely local villages.
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9. Snowdonia, North West Wales
Snowdonia is a place that sounds like it was made for a winter break – and this part of North Wales is arguably even more beautiful in the winter months than in summer.
When the lush green valleys are blanketed in snow, the thundering waterfalls frozen solid, and the dramatic, craggy peaks capped with ice, Snowdonia becomes the epitome of a winter wonderland… and if you’re looking for adventure, you’ve come to the right place.
Climbing Mount Snowdon is a challenge at the best of times, but in winter it’s especially gruelling – though if you’re experienced at hill walking and are prepared for the conditions, it’ll be a day you’ll remember for years to come.
If trekking up a mountain in blizzard conditions isn’t your idea of fun, Snowdonia has many more activities that are ideal for winter: you can visit snow-dusted castles, ride the Snowdon Mountain Railway, and warm up in the charming tea rooms of Betws-y-Coed.
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Whether you’ve always stayed at home for winter or are used to jetting off for some off-season sun, we hope this article has shown you how wonderful it can be to staycation in the UK.
Whether you want to ski in rugged Scottish mountains and cosy up in country pubs, hike past frozen lakes and wander through vibrant Christmas markets, or spot unique wildlife and enjoy bracing beachside strolls – there’s a winter staycation for everyone, no matter how active or laidback you want your break to be.