10 quirky things to do in Britain this winter

There’s so much more to the season than eating English breakfast holed up in a hotel, from cosy forest stays to invigorating winter picnics...

Stay in a woodland lodge

Make for the woods like Robin Hood – book into a log cabin or lodge and you’ll be wishing for rain so you can stay indoors. You can cuddle up in front of the fire in the evenings and wake up to birds chirping in the trees each morning. Then during the day enjoy long walks through the forest, feeling the satisfying crunch as you step on twigs and frosty fallen leaves. You can find family friendly resorts with lots of activities, rustic treehouses and romantic cabins made just for 2 – or 1 if you’re really looking for some quiet time. Try Canopy & Stars, Cool Places and Forest Holidays for more ideas. 

Watch a film at an independent cinema 

The screen and red seats inside The Prince Charles Cinema, London
© Nicole Engelmann Photography @ne_moments www.nicoleengelmann-photography.com

Winter evenings were made for movies. But no need to go to a boring old multiplex when you’re in Britain. Get a feel for our film heritage somewhere like The Electric in Birmingham, which is one of the oldest cinemas in the country and has old-school waiter service to match – order a deli platter and a nice glass of fizz. The Prince Charles Cinema in London is famed for screening sing-a-longs and cult classics (they frequently show oddball romantic drama The Room) at bargain prices. 

See the sights by night 

Wells Cathedral by candlelight
Wells Cathedral Candlelight Concert © Jason Bryant

Embrace the dark nights and see some of the UK’s most historic sites in an atmospheric low light. The Tower of London, for instance, offers Twilight Tours, adding extra spook-factor to the ‘Bloody Tower’. In the run-up to Christmas you’ll also be able to take festive candlelit tours of historic houses such as Benjamin Franklin’s House and Charles Dickens’ House in London. And of course there’s nothing quite like taking in the splendour of one of the country’s cathedrals for candlelit carols – Wells Cathedral in Somerset, southwest England, is one of the most popular.

Warm up in a secret spa  

Couple relaxing in a hot tub by the sea in Cornwall
The Scarlet Spa, Cornwall

You don’t have to splash out on a hotel stay to enjoy a lovely spa day. Center Parcs is a woodland resort for active family holidays, but what some don’t realise is you can drop into one of the 5 locations around the country just for the day, to indulge in their amazing spa facilities. Few spas boast such a range of therapeutic experiences, from the glittering Indian blossom steam room to the Japanese salt steam bath. For a more intimate experience, head to one of the tented treatment rooms at The Scarlet Spa in Cornwall, southwest England. They also have clifftop hot tubs, indoor and outdoor pools, and heavenly relaxation spaces. 

Feed some real reindeer

Christmas team at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre with reindeer in the snow
© Hen Robinson

Follow an expert reindeer herder through the mountain enclosure at The Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, in the Highlands of Scotland, to experience the magic of these gentle creatures in their natural habitat. You can stroke and feed the animals, and the pose any pressing questions to the herder as you go. 

Check into a castle

Fort Clonque surrounded by sea, from above

Magnificent to visit, yes, but can you imagine what it would be like to sleep in one? In Britain, it’s a lot easier than you might expect. The Landmark Trust rent out all sorts of interesting historic buildings, with castle stays ranging from Forte Clonque in the Channel Islands, reachable by drawbridge, to Astley Castle in Warwickshire, which combines modern architecture with a 13th-century site owned by 3 queens of England. 

Eat in an igloo

No need to leave London for this one. Just for the winter season, Coppa Club has constructed some highly sought-after dining igloos fitted out with fairy lights, blankets and private sound systems. So while you and your group eat your festive dinner, enjoying amazing views of Tower Bridge, you’ll truly be in your own little bubble. 

Hear live music in the countryside  

Pembrokeshire pub in the evening

Everybody knows you can find world-class music in cities like Liverpool and London, but what about in the countryside? Well, surprise surprise, people in the countryside like music too – all you have to do is seek out the right local pub or village venue and you’re in for a foot-tapping night of fun. Especially if you like folk music or sea shanties. The towns and villages of Pembrokeshire, Wales, boast some particular hot spots - check out The Tiddly for open mic nights and Burnett's Hill Chapel – a church by day with thigh-slapping bluegrass bands by night. 

Watch the Northern Lights 

Thought you had to go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights? Think again! If you visit Scotland at the right time, and there’s optimum conditions, you could see the dazzling dance of the aurora in the Shetland Islands, Orkney, Galloway Forest Park, The Cairngorms, Lewis or Harris, and even from Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh if it’s particularly strong. Take a look at Visit Scotland’s guide for some top tips. 

Go for a picnic 

Picnic basket laid out in the woods
Winter picnic at Brechfa Forest, Carmarthenshire, Wales 

Despite the ongoing joke about Britain’s bad weather, the truth is it’s pretty mild year-round in most places. Besides, there’s a Scandinavian saying much-used in Britain that goes something like: ‘There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.’ So wrap up warm, pack a hamper (no need for a cool box), a flask of hot tea and head out to enjoy the most spectacular view you can find. Chances are, there’ll be no one else there to get in the way of all those perfect Instagram shots. Discover Carmarthenshire have even put together a handy Winter Picnic Guide for you.