Sure, it's one of the coldest, greyest, and dampest months of the year, but don't let that deter you. England has a more moderate winter than what many first-timers might think when contemplating a January visit to northern Europe. For instance, average temperatures in the nation's capital, London, typically reach daily highs of 48°F (9°C) while lows are above freezing at 39°F (4°C).
There are slight variations depending on where you travel. Newcastle in the northeast near the border of Scotland is a few degrees cooler due to its proximity to the North Sea. Due to the Gulf Stream, milder temperatures and more moisture can usually be found along southwestern England, including Penzance and the nearby Isles of Scilly. Shortened daylight hours are also a consideration this time of year, with about eight to nine hours between sunrise and sunset in January (sunsets are before 5 pm).
All this to say, England's winter weather is fickle and can change from day to day especially given wind patterns that come and go from various directions, often determining how cold or mild it may feel. You'll want to prepare by bringing layers, a warm winter jacket, gloves and a hat, and a solid umbrella or what the locals call brolly. Light snow is possible, too, but it's less frequent—perhaps just a few days per month.
Crowds & Costs
Except for the New Year, which is a busy period (especially in London), England quiets way down in terms of tourism. This is when kids and adults get back to their routines making January a fantastic time to explore England for those seeking low-season pricing for flights, train tickets, theater tickets, and accommodations, as well as fewer tourists at popular museums, restaurants, and guided activities. If you're exploring the countryside, keep in mind that some sites may close for the winter season.
Where to Go
Most travelers arriving in England will start their trip in the capital of London, one of the most visited—and most cosmopolitan—cities in the world. You could easily spend a week exploring the iconic historic and modern attractions on foot and public transportation, from Central London to lesser-known boroughs (there are 32 in total), as well as famous attractions on the outskirts like Hampstead Heath, Kew Gardens, and Windsor Castle, to name a few.
If you have more time, you can rent a car and explore the countryside, which will be peaceful this time of year. For example, you could spend several days driving around the Cotswolds, an enormous area taking up five counties in south-central England with rolling sheep-strewn hills, charming villages, and some of England's greatest palaces and castles.
Another option is to travel south to Dorset, located along the English Channel, with access to the UNESCO-listed Jurassic Coast. For a more extended trip, head to England's southwestern tip, the Cornwall Peninsula, which boasts the country's longest stretch of coastline with hundreds of beaches, trails, and impressive winter swells at towns like Newquay, attracting experienced surfers.
If navigating the roads sounds daunting, train travel is always an option with fewer crowds on board in January. London provides easy access to the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford for exhilarating day trips. Then there are bigger cities to explore like Manchester, York, Leeds, Bath, and Newcastle—each with its own attractions. No matter where you go, you'll want to plan your outings carefully due to the shortened daylight hours, leaving you more time to enjoy cozy English ambiance and hospitality wherever you land.
What to Do
If you dream of visiting London without the tourist crowds, this is one of the best months to do it. Bundle up and hit the streets, seeing key sites like Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and St. Paul's Cathedral, as well as famous museums (most are free-to-enter) like the National Gallery, British Museum, and Tate Modern. Break up your sightseeing with stops at traditional pubs and wine bars, top-notch restaurants, and gourmet stalls at Borough Market. Let's not leave out reservations for afternoon tea and tickets to performances in the West End—all of which are easier to get this time of year.
Then there are day trips and walking tours around university towns such as Cambridge, where many famous individuals have studied, like Sylvia Plath, Charles Darwin, and Stephen Hawking. You can also observe medieval architecture in the walled city of York and Georgian architecture in the city of Bath with the remains of an ancient Roman bath, not to mention several spas in the area—an excellent way to spend a chilly afternoon.
You won't have to travel far to take a long nature walk on a country or coastal path where you can experience England's rare flora and abundant birdlife. You can also hike portions of various multi-day treks around the country, like the inland Cotswold Way or the South West Coast Path, one of England's most famous hikes with spectacular coastal scenery loaded with picturesque beaches and cliffs.
This is also a great month to savor England's indoor gardens, like Cornwall's Eden Project, one of the world's largest greenhouses. There's an indoor skating rink in winter. Still, most visitors come to experience the balmy weather inside the different enormous biome gardens, including a Mediterranean section that can instantly transport you to Italy with orange trees and vineyards for the ultimate serotonin boost.
Events in January
New Year's Day, nationwide. The first day of the year is a bank holiday when friends and family gather to celebrate customs and traditions. In London, there is a festive New Year's Day Parade in West End (noon) that starts at noon on Piccadilly, attracting 10,000+ participants.
Burns Night, nationwide. Though January 25 is a Scottish holiday, the celebrations trickle over to England, when each year celebrates the birth of its most famous bard, Robert Burns. Look for pubs hosting festivities and traditional food and drink (i.e., haggis and whiskey!)
Chinese New Year, London and Manchester. In late January or early February (depending on the year), you can find activities and fireworks in London and Manchester, England's two biggest Chinatowns.
Beer and Cider Festival, Manchester. This fun multi-day festival in Manchester celebrates British brews and takes place toward the end of the month.
Traveling to England in January? Check out these great itineraries
London, Windsor Castle & the White Cliffs of Dover - 6 Days. This exciting tour covers the key London experiences, as well as popular day tours to Kent, the White Cliffs of Dover, and Windsor Castle.
Cotswolds Road Trip - 8 Days. Explore the heart of England from the famous "dreaming spires" of Oxford to the Roman baths in Bath, passing by some of the most quintessentially English villages of the Cotswolds.