Seasonal Planning for England Travel
The English have a saying: "There's no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing." The clichés abound of a soggy nation whose unpredictable weather often catches out the unwary visitor. The truth is, although the seasons follow a predictable cycle year by year, the weather can change week by week (and day by day) with astonishing frequency. In contrast, one unduly hot, dry, and gloriously sunny summer may be followed the next year by rain-soaked summer months in which the sun rarely shines.
The fickle nature of English weather is due to its location in the North Atlantic, where it's subject to different air masses from every direction. These air masses are in constant motion, causing frequent weather anomalies that can bring snow in April, hail in July, and unduly warm December days. Nonetheless, the climate overall is relatively temperate and rarely experiences the extremes of continental Europe. Hence, the seasons are predictable enough as an average to help plan your visit with confidence.
England's four seasons are each roughly three months long. Using London as a guidepost, the warmest month is July, with an average temperature of 66°F (19°C), but occasionally rising into the high 80s°F (27°C); the coldest month is January, averaging 43°F (6°C), but sometimes falling below freezing. Regional variations are pronounced, with southern England being considerably warmer on average than the north while upland areas are, in general, far colder and wetter than lowland regions.
Consider the best time to visit England to be spring and early fall when it's usually warm and dry, and you can enjoy the beautiful spring flowers or autumnal leaves changing hue while avoiding the crowds of summer. However, the country can be enjoyed at any time of year. Regardless of when you visit, just remember to bring an umbrella and raingear.
|Seasons||Pros||Cons||Best for||Where to Visit|
|Spring (Mar-May)||Profusion of flowers in April and May; low-season, with fewer visitors to museums and popular tourist sites; lower prices||March can still be cold and windy; April has showers and often heavy rains||Stately homes and gardens||London for the Chelsea Flower Show; Brighton for the Brighton Festival|
|Summer (Jun-Aug)||Generally warm and dry||Peak travel season; beaches and main tourist sites can be crowded||Beaches, hiking, and active vacations||Lake District, Yorkshire Dales, and North York Moors National Park for hiking; Glastonbury for Glastonbury Festival|
|Fall (Sep-Nov)||Mild to warm weather in September; beautiful autumn foliage in October and November||October and November are typically cloudy and rainy||Exploring cities and museums, beaches in September, stately homes and gardens in October and November, Guy Fawkes Night||London for museums|
|Winter (Dec-Feb)||Relatively few tourists and lower prices; uncrowded museums and popular tourist sites; Christmas decorations||Cold, windy, and rainy; higher prices at Christmas and New Year||Exploring cities and museums, winter sports activities||York for the Jorvik Festival, London for Christmas shopping|
Spring in England (March to May)
"Unsettled" was never a more appropriate term than for these months as the weather transitions from the harsh conditions of winter to spring. Typically it shifts between sunny and warm or rainy and cold as it trends toward sunnier and warmer. Snow is still a possibility in March (especially in northern England) and even on rare occasions in April—a notoriously unpredictable month known for "April showers."
Overall, these months are delightful as trees leaf again and blossom, woodlands are swathed with bluebells, bulb plants shoot up in profusion, and newborn lambs frolic in lime-green meadows. However, except for late May, it's still too early to don shorts and flip-flops, as spring is often quite wet and windy. So, bring a warm, rainproof jacket and a willingness to adapt yourself to the unsettled weather.
England's gardens and countryside are at their best by April and May. Markets come alive. Tourist sites that may have closed for winter begin to reopen around Easter. And festivals begin to be held. May's two bank holiday weekends can be particularly busy as the English make the most of their time off work.
For London, temperatures in March average 44°F (7°C), with an average high of 53°F (12°C) and an average low of about 42°F (6°C). Overcast or cloudy days decrease as the month progresses, with a 59 percent chance of a sunny day by March 31, the clearest day of the month. March is also the driest month, with only 2 inches (5 cm) of rainfall. The chance of rain increases slightly in April, the rainiest month of the year, while temperatures increase to an average of 49°F (9°C). By May, the average temperature rises to 59°F (15°C), with an average high of 62°F (17°C) and an average low of about 47°F (8°C).
Events in spring
St. Patrick's Day, London. An annual parade on March 17 includes traditional cultural performances in Trafalgar Square.
Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Match, Ashbourne (Derbyshire). Played on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday since the 17th century, this 16-hour "football match" pits two sides of town (with hundreds of players) in a giant melee without rules. The goals are three miles apart!
Easter Parade, London. On Easter Monday, a colorful parade with floats and marching bands can be seen in Battersea Park.
The Shakespeare Season, Stratford-upon-Avon. The Royal Shakespeare Company presents works by the Bard in his hometown and runs from April to October.
Brighton Festival, Brighton. England's largest arts festival takes place in May.
London Marathon, London. This huge charity run in May follows a course through central London on one Sunday toward the end of the month.
Bath International Music Festival, Bath. From mid-May to early June, six weeks of performances span the music and arts spectrum.
The RHS Chelsea Flower Show, London. The biggest horticultural event in the world happens in late May.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Summer in England (June to August)
Traditionally, the summer months are the warmest and driest months of the year, although (as with all British weather) this cannot be relied on. Even sunny summer months usually receive plenty of rainfall, often in torrential downpours. On an average year, summer is hot for short spells (in other years, the sun may barely shine all summer). Then, the Brits swarm to the coast and city parks to revel in the sunshine. There's no need to bring winter wear, yet you should pack a sweater and light rainproof jacket for chilly evenings and the chance of protracted cool spells.
Days are long. London has 17 hours of daily sunlight in mid-June, not counting the lingering twilight. The far north gets even more. For London, temperatures in June average 60°F (16°C), with an average high of 67°F (19°C) and an average low of about 53°F (12°C). July is the warmest month, averaging 64°F (18°C), with an average high of 71°F (22°C) and an average low of 56°F (13°C). August is just one degree cooler, although it is also the second rainiest month of the year.
Note that mid-July to early September coincides with the school summer break. This is the busiest time to travel, and it's best to make reservations for hotels, etc., well in advance, especially if you're planning a beach holiday. Many roads to popular beaches and tourist destinations can be chock-a-block with traffic, especially on weekends. This is also a great time to visit if you're keen on festivals, with everything from the Wimbledon tennis tournament to Royal Ascot.
Events in summer
Glastonbury Festival, Glastonbury. World-class, 4-day music festival with scores of famous bands and singers.
Royal Ascot Week, Berkshire. A multi-day event near Windsor with horse races and fashion eye candy (there is a dress code).
Trooping the Colour, London. On the second Saturday in June, a quintessential display of British pomp and pageantry for the Queen's official birthday. Tickets for the parade (plus two reviews on preceding Saturdays) are by ballot.
City of London Festival, London. Parades, art, music, and other cultural events throughout the city from late June to mid-July.
Lawn Tennis Championships, London. From late June to early July, the world's pre-eminent tennis tournament occurs. Early bookings are essential.
Henley Royal Regatta, Oxfordshire. Five-day international rowing competition in early July.
Kenwood Lakeside Concerts, London. Classical concerts from July to August, with fireworks displays and laser shows.
The Proms, London. From July to September, rousing classical concerts with Union Jacks and banners, plus balloons and fun sing-alongs.
Notting Hill Carnival, London. England's premier Caribbean-style carnival in late August.
Fall in England (September to November)
The warm summer weather usually lasts through September before temperatures dip sharply by mid-October. Fall is marked by a wide range of weather, shortening daylight hours, and the gradual onset of wintry storms. In London, expect an average high of 66°F (19°C) and an average low of 52°F (11°C) in September; falling to 58°F (14°C) and 47.5°F (9°C), respectively, in October, and 51°F (11°C) and 41°F (5°C) in November.
September is frequently sunnier, warmer, and drier than August. It has the fewest rainy days of any month. Early September is a good time for a beach vacation to take advantage of the fact that children have returned to school. However, by the end of the month, the leaves are beginning to adopt autumnal colors as temperatures dip. In October, the fall leaves are at their most colorful. In general, it is a relatively wet and windy month. Many tourist sites and hotels begin to close for winter. This is an excellent time to visit if you want to visit popular sites without the crowds.
By November, the air has a wintry chill, and some days can be very cold. This is also England's rainiest month and one of its cloudiest. The air is typically chilling and damp but with the occasional brisk, dry spell marked by crystal-clear skies. By month's end, the fall colors have mostly faded as trees have shed all their leaves. Upland areas (especially in northern England) may receive their first snow, and many regions see their first wintry fog.
Events in fall
The Ascot Festival, Berkshire. The last weekend in September sees Britain's premier horse-racing weekend.
Cheltenham Festival of Literature, Gloucestershire. Book readings, exhibitions, and theatrical performances in October.
Bonfire/Guy Fawkes Night, nationwide. One of England's most important celebrations. On November 5, locals build bonfires and burn an effigy of Guy Fawkes to commemorate his failed "Gunpowder Plot" to blow up parliament and assassinate King James I in 1606. Night-time bonfires are accompanied by fireworks and traditional fare, such as roast chestnuts, toffee apples, and (in Yorkshire) a ginger cake called "parkin."
London-Brighton Veteran Car Run, London. On the first Sunday in November, veteran cars and motorcycles manufactured before 1905 run from London's Hyde Park to Brighton.
Remembrance Day, nationwide. An emotionally moving ceremony on November 11 to honor fallen soldiers, held in towns throughout Britain. Royalty, members of the British government, and military leaders lead the televised service at London's Cenotaph. The entire nation holds a two-minute silence at 11 am.
Lord Mayor's Procession and Show, London. On the second Saturday in November, London's most elaborate parade features gilt coaches, military corps and bands, and traditional livery companies dressed in ancient regalia as the Queen asks permission to enter the City of London for the annual appointment of the Lord Mayor.
Winter in England (December to February)
English winters are typically cold, windy, cloudy, rainy, and very damp, although each year is unpredictably different, some being much milder and others much colder than average. Temperatures can fall below freezing in any month, and snowfall is common, especially in upland areas and northern England. Roads can be icy and foggy, gales are frequent, and daylight hours are very short, with London getting only 8 hours in late December. Pack a warm winter coat, plus a woolen hat, gloves, and scarf.
December is a beautiful time to visit for its Christmas decorations and festivities, markets, and carol concerts, while shops stay open late for the shoppers and only close on Christmas Day and Boxing Day (December 26). Note, however, that the Christmas holiday often extends into New Year, and many businesses and offices shut down for the entire period.
January is the coldest month of the year. However, it typically has several crystal-clear sunny days, albeit often bitterly cold and frosty. February is similar to January, with February 7 the coldest day on average. Still, the first snowdrops and other flowers (even crocuses and daffodils in warm years) begin to emerge by month-end.
London's average high in December is 46°F (8°C), and the average low is 37°F (3°C). In January and February, temperatures fall to an average high of 45°F (7°C) and a low of 36°F (2°C) but expect most nights and some days to be below freezing.
Events in winter
New Year's Day Parade, London. Marching bands and elaborate floats.
Charles I Commemoration, London. On the last Sunday in January, hundreds of cavaliers in 17th-century costume march through central London to mark the anniversary of the execution of King Charles I.
Chinese New Year, London. In late January or early February, Lion Dancers perform in Soho.
Jorvik Festival, York. In mid-February, a two-week festival celebrates York's Viking (and Roman and medieval) past.