Winter holidays are all the more rewarding with a cosy base – somewhere to warm up after a cold day exploring the British countryside.
Here are some of our favourite cities, towns and villages to visit in the winter months, from Scottish Highlands towns and Dorset villages to Northern Ireland’s seaside settlements and Wales’ mountain towns.
Each winter holiday idea has its own selection of warm, comfortable pubs and pretty accommodations, as well as suggested locations for nearby walks and activities.
Best winter holiday destinations in England
The Iron Bridge, spanning the River Severn just south of Telford, appears frozen in time when covered in snow and ice. The town is a tribute to our industrial heritage. Visit the Ironbridge Gorge Museums for a lesson in local history, and a chance to escape from the cold.
At 215 metres above sea level, this is one of the highest towns in England. Snow on the steep cobbles of Gold Hill increases the dramatic effect of the street, still remembered for 1973’s romantic Hovis advert. The are lots of opportunities for walking in Dorset, and some 10 miles north of Shaftesbury are Stourhead’s spectacular winter gardens.
Matlock Bath, Derbyshire
Things begin to feel distinctly alpine when the snow comes to Matlock Bath on the southern edge of the Peak District. Winter walking routes lead up the nearby hills: High Tor, Masson Hill and the Heights of Abraham. The High Tor Hotel offers beds and a restaurant (Tues–Sat).
Fuel up on coffee and cake in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere then make for the Cumbrian hills. There’s plenty to explore within a few minutes of the town, including a moderate-level walk to the Kennel Wood oak, and a mini mountain climb from Hawkshead – another ice town – to the summit of Latrigg.
The picturesque village of Broadway, with its warm, honey-hued cottages, is the perfect base for a wintry stroll. Take time to meander along the high street past pubs, cafés, tea rooms and shops – offering art and antiques, country clothing and gifts – then head into the Cotswold hills.
From this small town in the south-west corner of the Yorkshire Dales follow the icy waters of the River Ribble northwards for about two miles to the glorious waterfall of Stainforth Force. Ye Olde Naked Man Café is a firm favourite for a daytime snack. There are lots of option for walk in the area, including an 8.5-mile circular walk from Settle to Stainforth.
Best winter holiday destinations in Wales
Blaenau Ffestiniog, Gwynedd
In winter, the rugged mountains surrounding this Snowdonia town become buried in snow. Walk around nearby Tanygrisiau Reservoir beside dramatic hilly terrain. Accommodation and dining are available at The Oakley Arms Hotel.
The breathtaking village of Beddgelert is situated in the Snowdonia national park. Nestled in a valley dominated by mountains it sits at the convergence of two rivers, the Glaslyn and Colwyn. Attractive bridges cross the water and lead to many captivating walks in Snowdonia. If pure luxury is what you’re after to warm your sole on a snowy winter’s day, then the Sygun Fawr hotel is the place for you.
Best winter holiday destinations in Scotland
Picture-postcard Stirling, built on the banks of the River Forth in central Scotland, is particularly magical in winter. The castle watches over the city, while the snow-covered summits of Stuc a’Chroin and Ben Vorlich dominate the landscape beyond. There are plenty of places to stay, including Willy Wallace Hostel and The Stirling Highland Hotel.
The rugged setting of this picturesque west-coast village 30 miles north of Ullapool contributes to its icy conditions. The mountain peak of Suilven provides the perfect snowy backdrop to the village. Hike up it, or simply marvel at it, then head to the harbourside, where Peet’s Restaurant serves locally produced food with bonus views across the loch.
Excitement abounds when looking out from the Highland town of Aviemore to the mighty Cairngorms mountains, beloved by snowboarders, skiers and winter climbers. It’s the visceral reaction to the size and rawness of these granite giants that makes this landscape such a compelling place for all nature lovers. Bustling Aviemore, with its choice of hip or traditional bars, a good Italian restaurant and swish, hotel-run wooden cabins, is the ideal base for a wintry foray around the northern fringes of the park and its most beautiful lochs.
Best winter holiday destinations in Northern Ireland
Newcastle, County Down
The coastal town of Newcastle in County Down offers a quiet escape on what is often a busy time of year for holidaying. To the norther of the town is Murlough National Nature Reserve, a wildlife-watchers’ dream, while behind it sits the mighty Mourne Mountains – a true winter playground after a night of snowfall.
Enniskillen, County Fermanagh
This historic market town, built on an island between Upper and Lower Lough Erne, is the ideal base for exploring Fermanagh in winter. It’s the county’s largest and most vibrant settlement, where pretty townhouses rub shoulders with traditional pubs and vivacious cafés. For beer, drop into traditional pub Blakes of the Hollow, then head downstairs for fine dining at Café Merlot.
Words: Paul Richardson