Ashley Kosciolek has been a travel editor at Cruise Critic, a TripAdvisor company, for more than ten years and has written extensive reviews on voyages to dozens of cities across the globe. She serves as an industry expert and enjoys active sailings that allow her to learn while on the go. Her favourite destinations include London, Krakow, Amsterdam, Rudesheim and Dawson City in Canada’s Yukon Territory. She can found on Instagram (SlyJabroni) and Twitter (@SlyJabroni.)
As the fuzzy warmth of the holidays is replaced with the grey gloom of Winter, it’s natural to feel the pressure of heading back to work, keeping your New Year’s resolutions and coming to terms with the fact that all that’s standing between you and Easter is figuring out how to spend — or how not to spend — Valentine’s Day. If you’re like me, your bank account is still recovering from Christmas, and you’re left thinking that you could use a bit of self-care. Despite the need for a recharge, it’s not the ideal time of year to be shelling out a month’s salary for a splashy holiday.
So what’s a girl to do? Stay close to home, that’s what.
Before you groan and stop reading, picture yourself listening to crashing waves under a cosy blanket while holding a toasty cup of hot chocolate, taking in a historic view from the steamy waters of a soothing rooftop pool or enjoying a throwback dive into a ball pit, followed by a cocktail adorned with your favourite childhood candy. If any of these sound enticing, check out the list of fun options below. They’re right here in jolly old England, and some will cost you less than a trip to Starbucks.
- Brunches: Seriously, who doesn’t love brunch? Thanks to millennials, this midday weekend meal has exploded in popularity, leading to several creative takes. Venture to Canary Wharf for The Breakfast Club’s drag brunch, or check out the BINGO Bonanza Bottomless Brunch in People’s Park Tavern’s Greenhaus in Hackney. Both are held on Saturdays, and prices include boozy beverages.
- Bars: There’s nothing like a stiff drink to calm the nerves, but if your local has become synonymous with boredom, try a more interesting watering hole. Start with Ballie Ballerson in Shoreditch, where the dance floor is complemented by an adult ball pit and the drinks menu includes as much candy as it does alcohol. If puzzles, riddles and customised cocktails are more your thing, The Bletchley — a World War II-themed Chelsea bar that requires you to crack codes in order to receive your drinks — is a great choice. If you’re planning to start the party early, head to Cahoots in Soho’s Kingly Court for a boozy afternoon tea in an abandoned tube station, complete with a 1940s train carriage that’s been renovated into a dining area.
- Museums: If you’d rather get drunk on knowledge, check out one of the dozens of museums in London. There are too many to list here, but if you’re looking for the most budget-friendly (read: free) options, consider the historical British Museum in Bloomsbury; the lavish Wallace Collection in Marylebone; or Soho’s House of Minalima, where “Harry Potter” graphic designers Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima display and sell their work.
- Shows: Are you a fan of the stage? If so, London is the place to be. Think “Hamilton” or “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is out of reach? Not so. Thanks to strict rules that ban the resale of tickets, ticketholders who can’t attend these performances can recoup some of the costs by returning the tickets to the theatre. Try calling the venue the night before or the day of to see if seats have opened up. Tip: Go alone. It’s easier to find one available ticket than multiples. For other shows, try snagging day-of discounted tickets by heading to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square, or download the TodayTix app, which will send you alerts about price drops and ticket lotteries.
Looking for more ideas? Check out Cruise Critic’s in-depth review for more fun things to do in London.
- The beach: Who says beaches are just for summer? Brighton Beach is accessible all year, and if you arrive properly equipped, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy a winter afternoon there. Bundle up, and bring a thermos of your favourite heated beverage, along with a down blanket or sleeping bag. Plant yourself on the pebbles, and listen to the sound of the water, or take in an afternoon sunset. If sitting on your bum doesn’t tickle your fancy, Brighton Pier is open every day of the year, except Christmas, offering food and rides.
- Art: For artsy types, Brighton offers a delightfully gritty and whimsical display of graffiti on everything from buildings to skip bins. Walk around for the day. It might seem simple, but it costs nothing, and you’ll get some lovely Instagram-worthy photos. Masterpieces are everywhere, but some of the most fun work can be found in North Laine. Break up the experience by popping in at one of the many Bohemian shops for which the area is known, and pick up some vintage clothing or a bite to eat.
- Veganism: Even if you can’t live without bacon and you crave a great burger at least once a week, this is the time of year when it’s fun to try something you haven’t tried before — like food that resembles bacon … but isn’t. Brighton is basically the vegan capital of the UK, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from, whether you’re actually vegan or just want to taste something new. Solid picks include Happy Maki on Pool Valley, which specialises in sushi burritos, and Beelzebab at The Hope & Ruin pub on Queens Road, where you’ll find an entirely plant-based menu with faux popcorn chicken and killer puddings. The latter boasts a crazy-but-fun atmosphere and live music on certain days.
- Relaxation: If rejuvenation and relaxation are what you need after a busy start to the year, Thermae Bath Spa on Hot Bath Street is the most well-known spa in the historic town of Bath. Discounted access is available on weekdays, with the cheapest packages offering two hours of access to the facility’s naturally heated rooftop mineral pool and a multi-sensory wellness suite featuring saunas, steam rooms and showers, among other amenities. Spa treatments and meals are also available for an added cost.
- History: History buffs will salivate over the Roman baths at Abbey Church Yard. This ancient engineering marvel was built by the Romans, who believed that the warm, mineral-rich water from the local underground spring had healing properties. Although the baths themselves aren’t open for bathing, self-guided tours of their fascinating inner workings are available daily, except Christmas and Boxing Day.
- Strolling (and shopping): If a quiet stroll is what you seek, take a walk along the River Avon before crossing the Pulteney Bridge, built in 1774 and famed for its design, which incorporates retail space throughout. Continue your walk through town to Bath Abbey and the Roman baths, or indulge in some retail therapy at the small businesses on the bridge or at the SouthGate retail complex on Southgate Street, which includes big-box high street retailers like Apple, Urban Outfitters and Allsaints.