The one and only time I visited London (before I actually moved here a few weeks ago) was last year for a 4-day weekend getaway to tag along on my husband's work trip. I wish someone had told me what to expect as far as the weather so that I could have packed appropriately. Now that I live here, I finally figured out what I need when I leave the house for the day. I'll share that with you so you come prepared.
The assumption Americans have when thinking of "London" is cold, wet, and dreary. Since moving here, my friends and colleagues back at home keep asking me if it's colder and rainier in London than back at home in the Northeast. To their surprise, and also to my own surprise, it's actually NOT that cold in London even in the dead of winter.
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If you're from the Northeast of the states like me, or any of the colder areas in the winter, you've experienced the brutal winter hurricanes full of blistering cold winds, several feet of snow, needing to shovel your sidewalks, and so forth.
In those locations, You can't survive without winter boots, a thick parka, gloves, a scarf, a hat, and maybe even earmuffs. (Yes, it's that serious.) You essentially must dress in a down-filled bunny suit. You're flocking to the stores for water, non-perishable food, and firewood in case of being snowed in or facing power outages.
I've been there and I thought London's weather would be comparable. But I was shocked when I moved here. The extreme seasons of winter and summer are not at all extreme.
You may think you need to pack your heavy goose down-filled parka with a fur hood when you travel to London. That's what I did. Big mistake!
Lately, the highs have averaged around 9 degrees Celsius (48°F) and the lows around 5 degrees Celsius (41°F). On a very cold day it may dip to 1°C (34°F), but this doesn't happen often. You can read why Great Britain doesn't snow in the winter. It deals with a mixture of reasons.
Britain has an oceanic climate. Since it lies right next to the ocean, the western winds provide constant moist air. In addition, the water from the Gulf of Mexico is bringing warm water. These two factors result in a lack of extreme weather in London.
I walked around this week where locals considered it to be "colder" and I never needed more than my 60-gram insulated thin parka. One day this week, I wore a thick sweater underneath my parka and I was sweating in the tube (subway), which was miserable.
Doesn't London rain all the time? No. It doesn't rain ALL of the time. The last two weeks, we've had more dry or sunny days than rainy days. But it does rain more frequently in the winter months in comparison to the Northeastern states of America unless it's the month of April. We all know nothing compares to America's "April Showers Bring May Flowers" rain. The rain is rarely torrential in London.
In the spring and fall, you're seeing weeks when there is not a single drop of rain. It's all sunshine during those favourable months and probably the best times to see London. But winter vacations for Americans often fall in December and January.
Earlier this week, we had a very sunny and beautiful day in Camden and I made a trip 30 minutes north to Hackney. But when I got off of the tube, it was dreary. About 2 hours later, it rained in Hackney. I asked a friend if they were hit by the sudden rain and they said it was sunny and beautiful all day by the Moorgate station (closer to Central London). I've learned my lesson and do what the Brits do: always carry an umbrella or just brave the drizzles.
Continuing on with the on and off rain of London, you may want to pack some short rain boots. Is it necessary to have tall, dramatic, knee-high galoshes? My answer to that is, no.
If you want to avoid sopping wet shoes by accidentally stepping into a puddle, you want to pack some rain shoes. But they don't need to be very high because you're not experiencing torrential rain coming at you sideways like you sometimes see in the states due to strong winds.
I walk around in ankle rain boots and they don't make you appear as though you're heading into a rainstorm which is the impression knee-high galoshes may give. Knee length galoshes also not the most comfortable to walk in.
One more thing on the rain and I'll be done. What's a great item to pack in preparation for rain? A raincoat! Since it's winter, a lined rain coat would be ideal or just layer up underneath a simple raincoat. Stuff it in your backpack and you're ready for anything.
There's been a wonderful trend in the states with increasing water intake. The public is more knowledgeable about the health benefits and requirements of drinking water all day. I'm sure you've invested in reusable water bottles to keep at your work desk or take with you on the go.
That trend has not caught on much in London and the glass sizes for water provided at restaurants are about 6 ounces and not frequently refilled for you unless upon constant request. I got a bit tired of this, so I actually carry around my water bottle if I'm going to places like markets, shopping, or anywhere I'll have to walk around a bit before heading home.
If you're planning to attend venues with high security such as the British Museum where bags are checked upon entry, remember NOT to bring your gigantic water bottles because it won't be allowed inside for security reasons.
Regardless of whether you're a man or woman, if you're touring a new place, you're going to want some form of a bag to carry your belongings including the trinkets and gifts you buy from the shops to take back home. I speak from experience when I warn you: BEWARE of pick pockets!
You're in an urban area. It's a tight city. The sidewalks are much smaller than those in NYC and there are just as many people you have to squeeze through at any given time. It's a perfect opportunity for someone to pick your bag/pockets without you feeling a thing.
I was in front of the Buckingham Palace with a small leather backpack that unzipped from left to right. One minute it's closed. The next minute my husband noticed it was wide open and asked me why I opened it. I didn't!
But I had luck on my side! I had purchased so many trinkets from the gift shops and markets that my wallet and phone were at the bottle of my backpack and the remaining 80% of my bag were several paper gift bags that the pick pocket couldn't rifle through without me noticing.
Learn from my mistake. If you use a backpack, use one that cannot be opened in one easy motion. There are small hiking backpacks that have a drawstring or zipper underneath a snap closure. I recommend something complicated like that. Or even an old school fanny pack kept in the front of your body would work as well. I also keep valuables in the inner pocket of my jacket if you have that available and just periodically check that I have everything as I continue roaming this beautiful city.
Here's your necessary winter weather-related items to pack for your trip to London:
One more recommendation I'd love to make for you to have the best trip in London is to go on a food tour with Eating Europe. They'll immerse you into the culture, have you meet the locals, and show you the best of London's food scene. It'll be one of the highlights of your wonderful trip.
Now, you have an idea of what London's winter holds for you. It's not too cold and you won't be seeing snow. So, don't overpack with your winter gear. Save some room for layered clothing, rain gear, and an umbrella. And frequently check that you still possess all of your belongings especially after being in a crowded touristy area. You'll have a blast when you visit. Make sure to tell me how your trip went by leaving a comment below. Feel free to ask me questions as well. Can't wait to hear from you.
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