Exploring London during the winter break
16 December 2021
As we approach the end of term, there are lots of exciting things London has to offer if you’re sticking around over the winter break. Student Support and Wellbeing staff have suggested some great things to explore, eat and do across the city.
If you’re spending the winter break in London, there are plenty of things to do to fill your time. London can feel like it comes into its own in the winter months, and there is plenty happening in the capital to get involved in. Many of these activities are things you can do both with friends and on your own. We've also collated these suggestions being mindful of living on a budget, and including plenty of outdoor activities to keep safe in pandemic times.
It’s as important to spend time on recharging on your own as with other people, so whether it’s connecting virtually or in person, keep in touch with your nearest and dearest to support your wellbeing. In terms of organising your time, having a schedule for things to do might help you get out and about. If you’re more of a take-it-as-it-comes person, that’s great too - go for what works best for you personally.
As the COVID-19 situation evolves, some of the following activities may change or face additional restrictions, so please check both the Government guidance as well as the venue rules, booking requirements and opening times to ensure you can keep both yourself and your community safe. Be aware that some venues and events will now require you to show your NHS COVID Pass, and you can also use the NHS COVID-19 app to see if you’re at risk of COVID-19 from contact with others. Finally, please get your booster or vaccination dose as soon as you can to increase your protection.
No matter where you live in London, you’re (sometimes surprisingly) never too far from some green space. Explore your local area or go further afield – there’s plenty of spaces to go. In the southwest, Richmond Park is well worth the journey to do some deer spotting, as well as cycling, running or walking. There’s also Battersea Park in the Southwest, or Greenwich Park where you can get some great Insta-worthy pics of the city.
In North London, Hampstead Heath has you covered and is a great place for spotting some well groomed North London pups. Towards the east, Victoria Park is a great spot (don’t miss out on great food and drink from Pavilion), and the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, has plenty to offer too.
Explore the city and see the lights
At this time of year, the light displays are quite something, so get your gloves and hat on and go for a wander. The trip down to Kew Gardens is worth it for their amazing displays – make a day of it by tying it in with deerspotting in Richmond Park. Covent Garden and Seven Dials are also firm favourites every year and never disappoint. Check out Time Out’s top picks for light displays all over the city.
You could even hop on your bike, the bus or tube and make the most of (almost) traffic-free London on Christmas Day. There are plenty of neighbourhoods to explore in London – try Sloane Square or Chelsea to see a very different life to that of student budgets, or Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday to hear some strong cockney accents and amazing flowers.
Arts and culture
With any museum, gallery or cultural institution, it’s well worth looking at what they offer in terms of membership. Many places offer significant discounts for those aged 16-25, while you could also check student membership opportunities as it can often turn out that after 2 visits, you’ve made your money back.
Museums and galleries
London’s galleries and museums are second to none, so make the most of their openings throughout the winter. No matter what you’re interested in, there’s certainly a gallery or museum for you, and most of them offer free exhibitions as well as paid ones (don’t forget your student card for a discount!). Make sure to check their websites ahead of time to check if you need to book a (free) ticket for your visit.
If you need a head start, try the Tate Modern (St Paul’s), Tate Britain (Pimlico), Sir John Soane’s Museum (Holborn), some of The Victoria & Albert’s many collections (South Kensington), the Wallace Collection (Marylebone), The Photographer’s Gallery (Oxford Street), The Design Museum (High Street Kensington) or even the Cartoon Museum (Fitzrovia).
For something a bit different, try Dennis Severs’ House to see a Spitalfields house decorated as it would have looked in the 18th century, or the Museum of the Home in Hackney to see the ways we’ve lived in the past. You could even make a day of it by going for some excellent Vietnamese food in Hoxton afterwards. If you're more into seeing a something designed by architects, engineers, landscape architects and designers, then you're in luck - The Museum of Architecture's Gingerbread City is back (just don't try and take a bite).
Restrictions allowing, and depending on what you feel comfortable doing, you could check out what’s on at the cinema. There are usually some good offers for students, especially at off-peak times of the week (usually weekdays). Peckhamplex is quite the London institution in, you guessed it, Peckham. All tickets are a fiver, so it’s even worth taking a risk on that quirky arthouse film you keep seeing advertised.
Are you a budding theatre-goer? There are lots of ways to get into some great shows on a budget, usually on the day of the performance – try TKTS in Leicester Square or TodayTix. Whether it’s a musical, some Shakespeare or even some Panto, there’s something for everyone in London’s Theatreland. If you don’t get the chance to do this over the winter break, keep it up your sleeve for later in 2022 so you don’t miss out on London’s excellent theatre performances.
Get stuck in with volunteering
Doing good can also do you good! Get involved with some volunteering, no matter how much time you’ve got on your hands. For example, Students’ Union UCL have a great list of one-off volunteering opportunities open to students, while Crisis at Christmas is looking for volunteers to support their Crisis Christmas Centres.
Food and drink
London has food for every budget under the sun and it’s hard even to know where to begin! London as you’ll have noticed by now, is home to people from all around the world, so why not get out there and try some food that you’ve never eaten before? Look out for smaller independent restaurants and cafes to support locals and get amazing service. You might just surprise yourself.
Give yourself a break
Hopefully some of these ideas will help you to get an idea of things you can do over the winter break if you’re staying at UCL or in London. However, it’s also important that you give yourself to rest, recuperate and reflect after a busy term – read our latest blog to find out why.