27 Fun and Practically Free Things to Do This Winter

updated Feb 8, 2024
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Woman reading book on sofa at home
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When winter settles in, temperatures drop, and daylight wanes. And although the holidays are filled with excitement, once the festive season passes, it seems like forever before there’s anything interesting on the calendar. But fret not! This winter can be different if you have an open mind. From doing feel-good volunteer activities to trying a new skill to hosting a game night, here are 27 fun and inexpensive — or free — things to do this winter.

1. Transform your house with hygge principles.

If anyone knows how to deal with the humdrum days of winter, it’s the Scandinavians. Enter the Danish concept of hygge (pronounce hoo-gah), which is all about enjoying the simpler pleasures of life — typically in a cozy home setting.

To many, this means incorporating hygge elements in their decor: Think string lights, lots of candles, lots of cozy blankets. For others, this means cooking a favorite dish and sharing it with close friends and family. However you choose to implement this oh-so-comforting idea, we guarantee it’ll make winter a lot less bleak.

2. Organize your food storage containers.

Okay, okay, so this may not be the most fun thing to do, but it’ll sure make your life a lot easier. There’s nothing worse than digging through a landslide of mismatched lids and containers when you’re just trying to quickly pack up leftover pizza. To organize your food storage containers, you could buy a product that will help you easily stack them or DIY a storage solution with items like a tension rod or an old mail sorter.

3. Set aside time to really listen to music.

According to a super depressing study, our engagement with music fades as we become adults. This is mostly due to good things, such as less peer pressure and more stability, but the sad fact remains that adults don’t have the same deep connection with music as teenagers. To help combat this, set aside time this winter to just sit down and listen to music in whatever form will be best to really get into it — whether that’s a vinyl, streaming on your phone, or even in the car. (And take time to read the liner notes!)

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Prop Stylist: Stephanie Yeh

4. Have a themed dinner night.

Is there anything better than a good dinner party? Spice it up this winter by making it a fun theme — like “bring a board night” (this could range from the classic charcuterie board to a taco board to a donut board), a celebration of meatballs around the world, or whatever fun and creative theme you and your crew can come up with. Don’t forget to take pics!

5. Go on a nature scavenger walk.

Sure, winter isn’t the most fun time to get outside (unless you’re one of the lucky ones with temperate winter climates), but it’s good for your body and your brain to be out with nature for at least a little while each day. To give yourself extra motivation, make it purposeful: Look for interesting things to bring back in your home as decor, like pine cones or fallen leaves.

6. Host a slideshow presentation night.

If you’re unfamiliar with this social media trend, slideshow presentations have made their way out of the board room and into your friend’s living room to create a totally entertaining evening. Create your own hilarious spin on things by asking your friends to create slideshows that could range from “texts my friends have sent me with zero context” to “what crime each of my friends would commit.” Be sure to have someone bring the wine.

Credit: LightField Studios/Shutterstock.com

7. Construct a living room fort. 

Whether you have kids or just want to cozy up with your sweetie on a date night, do something different and turn your living room into a comfy zone. Go all out and build a makeshift tent with blankets, or gather all the pillows and lay them on the floor for the ultimate night in.

8. Volunteer at a local pet shelter.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a dog or cat lover: Make time to play with the animals this winter. Pups may feel especially cooped up as time outside may be more limited, and kitties are always in the mood to play, purr, and receive pets.

9. Spend time on your local trail.

Yes, it’s chilly, but fresh air is necessary all year round. So, bundle up, and head to the local park or rails-to-trails system to spend time in nature. If the ground is clear, it’s also an excellent opportunity to invite those with wheelchairs or strollers to cozy up and traverse a paved trail.

10. Patronize your local coffee shop.

Skip the chain cafes, and test out your locally-owned coffee shops instead. If you already have a favorite, try a different one across town. Find a warm, seasonal drink that entices you and order it. Who knows? You may even find a new place to get your morning cup of Joe.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

11. Host a wine or beer tasting.

Need an excuse to get together with friends? Have everyone purchase their favorite bottle of wine and do a tasting. As the host, provide snacks and ensure that everyone brings a different brand of wine.

12. Plan a movie night. 

Gather the kids, or put them to bed and watch a film solo or with your partner. Build on the movie’s premise by selecting themed snacks and drinks to serve during the show. Be sure to choose a comfy spot for watching because you’ll be sitting for a while.

13. Build snowpeople.

Is there anything more classic than building a snowman in the winter? Keep your eyes on the forecast, and make a whole village’s worth of snowpeople when there is new-fallen snow. You can even gather your neighbors to join in the outdoor fun.

14. Have an at-home spa day.

Winter weather definitely takes its toll on skin and hair, so treat yourself to a spa day at home. Either buy products or purchase ingredients to make masks, scrubs, and treatments. Then spend the day relaxing and pampering yourself.

Credit: KateMaxStock

15. Binge-watch that show — finally.

Almost everyone has a list of shows they want to see but never have time to sit down and watch. Remedy that this winter by planning a day to binge-watch without feeling one ounce of guilt.

16. Take an online mixology class.

Build your bartending confidence by taking a mixology class in person or online. Get the ingredient and supply lists ahead of time, and follow the instructions step-by-step. Once you perfect the drink, feel free to add your own twist to the beverage.

17. Add one fabulous dish to your repertoire.

Even if you can’t find your way around the kitchen, it helps to have a go-to dish you can make in a pinch. Either pick something tried-and-true, like spaghetti with homemade sauce, or elevate your cooking game with a more challenging meal.

18. Read a book to someone who can’t.

Do you have grandkids who can’t read or know someone — say, an elderly or poor-sighted person — who has difficulty doing so? Commit to reading a book to them over the winter. Either do it in person or schedule phone dates to go through a book. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

19. Redecorate or rearrange a room.

Sometimes it just feels good to refresh your space, which doesn’t always mean spending a lot of money. Instead, shift around what you already own by moving pieces to a different room or heading to your local charity shop for new-to-you finds.

20. Learn to calm your mind.

Mental health can suffer when days are shorter and the weather grows cold, so do something daily to stay at peace. For example, incorporate a brief daily stretching routine or meditate to help your mind’s well-being.

21. Plan your next vacation.

Winter is here, but spring break and summer will be on their way before you know it, so start planning your vacation time. Either educate yourself about a destination or book flights and accommodations if you know your travel dates.

22. Print photos from your phone.

Living in a digital age is wonderful, except when it comes to preserving photos for future generations. So instead of scrolling social media, take the time to upload your images to a picture site and order albums and prints to display.

Credit: Robilad Co/Shutterstock.com

23. Try a new skill.

Whether you take an online masterclass, head to YouTube, or attend in-person sessions, sign up for classes to learn something new. Test your hand at pottery, try perfecting an English accent, or learn to embroider. 

24. Utilize your local library.

Has it been a while since you’ve frequented your neighborhood library? Go and see what’s in stock. Renew your library card, and check out movies, books, or whatever strikes your fancy. Just make time to read or watch what you take home.

25.  Test out a hack.

Social media is full of hacks to make life easier, so let your inner myth buster try one out. Test a hack for eyeliner, organization, or gift wrapping. Incorporate the trick into your daily life if it works.

Credit: Photo: Sidney Bensimon; Prop Styling: Carla Gonzalez-Hart

26. Schedule a game night.

Games can bring families and neighbors closer together, so organize a night to play. Break out the board games, or look online for other challenges you can do. Then, split into teams and spend time laughing and eventually declaring a winner.

27. Visit a local haunt.

Even the most avid neighborhood cheerleaders probably haven’t been everywhere in their hometown. Patronize a local boutique, eat at a different restaurant, visit a small museum, or tour a historic site. You’ll gain a lot by familiarizing yourself with your city.