With borders gradually opening up again after a lost summer season, Europe offers a vast range of travel opportunities in its colder months. So, to help you plan your long-awaited next adventure, we have brought together recommendations on the best winter destinations in Europe from expert travel bloggers. Whether you are looking for the best winter cities in Europe, beautiful wintry nature or places for outdoor adventure, we hope you will find something here to inspire you.
In this article:
Best winter destinations in Europe: Scandinavia
We begin our compilation on the best winter destinations in Europe with a section dedicated to Scandinavia, the sparsely populated region that spans the north of the continent. The Nordic countries are especially magical in the winter months, as snow descends and the Northern Lights come out to dance.
1. Alta, Norway
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The small town of Alta in Northern Norway is often dubbed “the town of the Northern Lights”. With only 20,000 inhabitants, this remote town is situated at 70 degrees north latitude, and well above the Arctic Circle.
The winter months are the best time to visit Alta, as the polar night is present from November to January. This is when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, meaning the town is in almost total darkness for most of the day (and night).
There are a few hours where there is a blue glow, often called “blue hour”, but the darkness does mean there is a higher chance of seeing the Northern Lights, which is the main reason for visiting Alta. It is best to join a tour as the guides will check weather reports to see where the clearest skies are and will also help with photographing their eerie beauty.
As the Northern Lights can be elusive, it is best to stay a few nights and book tours for each evening so you have a better chance of viewing them.
During the daytime there are plenty of winter activities to take part in, for example, snowmobiling, snowshoe hiking, dog sledding, cross-country skiing, ice fishing and reindeer sledding. If sightseeing is more your thing, make sure you visit the modern Northern Lights Cathedral and the unique Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel.
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
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If you’re looking for an idyllic winter retreat in Europe, look no further: Copenhagen in Denmark has got you covered. The days may be short and cold, but locals definitely know how to spend their afternoons and evenings relaxing, drinking hot chocolate, and enjoying their beautiful surroundings.
From special dazzling lights to its fantastic Christmas markets, and all the festive foods found therein, there are many things to do here besides skiing. As soon as you arrive in Copenhagen, you’ll notice that Copenhageners love shopping for gifts and drinking glogg, a traditional holiday drink. Glogg is a Scandanavian mulled wine or warm cider with added raisins, nuts and dried berries. It leaves you with a tasty snack after you finish the drink and keeps you cozy as you wander around the city.
Danish Christmas markets are incredible. Tivoli and the Christmas Market at Kongens Nytorv are the two most popular markets to visit. Tivoli Gardens, the famous Danish amusement park, is a popular year-round destination. The park once inspired fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney, so it’s an absolute must if you decide to visit Denmark in the winter.
Another highlight that will charm you with festive cheer is Kongens Nytorv, a popular square near Copenhagen’s harbour. Located in the very heart of Copenhagen, the whole square is decked out with bright Christmas lights and other decorations. Here you can find stands selling just about everything imaginable, as well as an upscale hotel that is turned into an advent calendar for the Christmas season.
3. Kiruna, Sweden
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If you’re looking for an awesome winter destination in Europe, consider Kiruna in Sweden.
This beautiful town has everything a good winter destination should have: snow, views, and it’s officially one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Europe.
While you’re waiting for the Aurora, there are plenty of other things to do in Kiruna. Heard of the world-famous Ice Hotel? Yep, this entire hotel is built completely from ice – walls, reception, beds, everything. It’s a bizarre experience, but well worth a visit.
Kiruna is the closest town to the Ice Hotel. It’s built differently each year, and you can visit just for a drink in the bar and experience it for yourself, even if you don’t like the idea of staying overnight!
You can also go hiking, snowmobiling, dog-sledding with a team of huskies, cross-country skiing, enjoy wildlife and photography tours, or just relax and enjoy the incredible views across the mountains and winter landscape. If you have a good hotel, you could even relax in your very own hot tub!
If you can, book a trip to the nearby Sky Station, where a cable car will take you up a mountain to a restaurant at the top. Here, you can relax and enjoy the fabulous views and possibly even see the Aurora twinkling overhead.
4. Rovaniemi, Finland
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A beautiful city in Lapland, Finland, Rovaniemi is the official hometown of Santa Claus, and one of the most beautiful locations to visit in the winter. The city itself is host to many tourists during, before and after the holiday season.
The city is well known for its impressive collection of hotels, the Santa-inspired theme park Santa Park, and its infamous Santa Claus Holiday Village.
The area in and around Rovaniemi has amazing experiences that one may book, including reindeer rides at Santa Claus Village or slightly outside of town. There are also plenty of opportunities to take husky sleigh rides, as many husky farms are located in or close to the city. Northern Lights tours are also popular, and there are places in Rovaniemi that get dark enough to be able to spot them.
Rovaniemi also has a lot of opportunities to try traditional Finnish things such as saunas or swimming in an ice-cold lake. Being so far north, the added bonus of the city is that it sits right on the Arctic Circle. Santa Claus Village and Santa Park both have specific areas where you can ‘cross’ into the Arctic Circle. Rovaniemi really is one of the best places to visit in the winter in Europe.
5. Tromsø, Norway
Coming from New Zealand, I’m used to celebrating my January birthday in the height of summer, sipping a cold beverage while cooking up a storm on the BBQ. So after moving to the UK, a winter birthday was such a novelty! While searching for a snowy wonderland to celebrate the big 2-7, Tromsø in northern Norway came up as an option, and we were sold as soon as we saw photos.
Tromsø is a buzzing town located in the Arctic Circle. If you’re visiting between mid-November and mid-January, you’ll experience Tromsø’s polar night, where the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon. We visited at the end of January and had sunlight for about four hours a day, ideal for a bit of daytime adventuring before chasing the Northern Lights at night.
There’s plenty to see and do around Tromsø to fill your winter itinerary. Take a day tour around the Arctic fjords, or take a cruise instead if that floats your boat. Thrill-seekers can’t miss snowmobiling, animal lovers could choose from whale watching, reindeer feeding or husky sledding, and if you want the best views in town you’ve got to take the Fjellheisen cable car (or a 1,200-step walk) up to Storsteinen.
Then at night, it’s time to search for the glowing aurora borealis. Tromsø is perfectly placed for aurora viewing, but to maximise your chances of seeing them you should book a guided tour. This way you’ll get warm winter overalls, a professional guide who knows exactly where to go depending on the conditions, and most tours offer photos so you can truly take in the magical phenomenon instead of trying to figure out how to work long exposure on your camera. So sit back, relax, and take in one of the top bucket-list travel experiences the world has to offer!
6. Ylläs, Finland
Finnish Lapland is a place of extraordinary beauty at any time of year, but in winter, when the rugged landscapes transform into an endless scene of shimmering white, it holds a special kind of magic.
Tucked away in the north of the country, Ylläs is home to vast forests, frozen lakes and a cluster of small mountains known as ‘fells’, which spend much of the year blanketed in snow and are brimming with opportunities for adventure.
Cross-country skiing is an excellent way to explore, with Ylläs being home to numerous groomed ski tracks that allow you to cover plenty of ground on foot.
Husky sledding is another quintessential Lapland activity that should not be missed. Not only is it a fantastic way to experience the frozen landscapes, but you’ll also get to spend the day with a lively and lovable bunch of furballs – just be sure to choose an ethical tour operator.
For a more adrenaline-fuelled day out, pack your snowboard or skis and hit the slopes, or join an exhilarating high-speed snowmobile safari of the fells and forests.
As darkness cloaks the landscapes, it’s time to return home, curl up beside a crackling fire and nurse a glass of belly-warming glögi (a hot berry juice), before experiencing the most Finnish tradition of all, a sauna.
Be sure to keep an eye on the night sky as well, as Ylläs makes an excellent place to witness the elusive Northern Lights whirling overhead.
Best winter cities in Europe
European cities take on a special charm in winter, with Christmas celebrations taking centre stage, music on the streets and market stalls popping up in central plazas. In this section, travel bloggers recommend the very best cities and towns to visit in Europe during winter.
7. Alhambra, Spain
Part palace, part castle and part a stately home with gardens, Spain’s Alhambra is a wonderful place to visit. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it covers an area of 35 acres and is set in dramatic surroundings on the main hill overlooking Granada in Andalusia, southern Spain.
It’s a place to experience at any time of the year. However, the combination of the mild winters experienced in southern Spain, and the lower tourist numbers that visit out-of-season, makes this a perfect winter destination.
The Alhambra is a place for history and culture lovers. When you walk around, you’ll proceed through a variety of different sections, all built at different times and all reflecting the influence of different religions, cultures and rulers.
This includes a 13th-century fortress, a 14th-century royal summer residence, and a 16th-century amphitheatre. There’s also the Nasrid Palaces, a collection of indoor and outdoor Moorish rooms, courtyards and water features. This part of the Alhambra is stunningly beautiful and gets the most crowded. It’s here where you’ll really benefit from a winter visit and the chance to take pictures in relative peace.
To top off your visit to the Alhambra, you must find a vantage point from which you can take in the whole structure, sitting as it does, high on the hill in Granada. The best place to do this is from the Mirador de San Nicolas, a viewpoint at the top of the hill in the Albaicin district of the city.
Once you’ve seen it from this vantage point, I defy you not to fall in love with the place.
8. Bari, Italy
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Most visitors to the southern Italian region of Puglia view Bari as little more than a jumping-off point on their way to nearby smaller towns or beaches. But this regional capital has a lot to offer, including a well preserved old quarter, a beautiful seaside promenade, and delicious Puglian food. The regional cuisine is quite different from anything served in Italian restaurants abroad, or even in other parts of Italy, and it includes many vegetarian and vegan dishes.
And since Bari doesn’t get many visitors compared with other Italian cities, the locals tend to be quite welcoming. If you pass by an elderly Italian granny rolling out orecchiette pasta by hand, she may even invite you into her house to show you how it’s done!
December, and the Christmas season in particular, is the perfect time to visit the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari’s old town. This is the final resting place of St. Nicholas, otherwise known as Santa Claus! Although St. Nicholas lived his whole life in what is now Turkey, his body was brought to Bari in the eleventh century to protect it from being desecrated by Muslim Turks. The basilica is now a popular place of pilgrimage, both for Catholic and Orthodox faithful. And what better time to pay homage to Old Saint Nick than on Christmas day?
9. Bruges, Belgium
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Situated in the Flanders region of Belgium, the postcard-perfect city of Bruges is a huge draw for tourists year-round, but visiting in winter gives it a whole extra layer of charm. Bruges looks like something off a Christmas card no matter what time of year, but in winter, complete with snow on the ground, cosy chocolate shops and the famous Burg Square Christmas Tree, there’s no place more magical.
To take in the best of Bruges’ winter magic, start in Grote Square. Every December, this square is transformed into a huge Christmas Market, complete with mulled wine, gingerbread and cutesy stalls selling trinkets and christmas decorations. There’s also an outdoor ice rink at the centre of the square in winter, which is popular with both locals and tourists alike.
Obviously, any trip to Belgium would not be complete without sampling some Belgian waffles, so pick one up to sample as you wander Bruges’ gorgeous canals. As the evening draws in, duck into one of the many beer cafés to warm up over a selection of Belgian beers before sampling some hearty Flemish stew for dinner.
Most visitors spend only one day in Bruges, but in summer, the tiny city becomes swamped with visitors, leaving many feeling that their stay in Bruges was rushed. Staying at least two days in Bruges in winter means you’ll be able to enjoy the city’s amazing tourist attractions at a leisurely pace and without the crowds.
10. Budapest, Hungary
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Although many tourists decide to visit Budapest in the summer period, winter can be another great time for traveling to the Hungarian capital. First of all, the city is quieter as there are not so many tourists around, and on top of that, you can find many unique things to do as well.
If you’re planning to visit between the end of November and the beginning of January, you will find many Christmas markets in Budapest. The Christmas market in front of the St. Stephen’s Basilica is known as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, where you can watch a custom light show projected on the Basilica in the evening. Even if you’re spending only a weekend in Budapest, you can’t miss that! You can also find many cute wooden chalets selling delicious food and mulled wine, and you can try the ice-skating rink in the middle of the square as well.
Talking about ice skating, did you know that you can find Europe’s largest ice-skating rink in Budapest? There is a huge lake in the City Park near the Vajdahunyad Castle, which is transformed into an ice-skating rink in the winter period. If you’re already tired of all the ice skating and wandering around the Christmas markets, head over to the Széchenyi Thermal Baths where you can spend a relaxing afternoon in the hot thermal waters.
Winter in Budapest can be quite chilly, so if you’re feeling cold, you can sit inside one of the cozy restaurants. Try a traditional goulash soup and wash it down with a famous Hungarian alcoholic drink, pálinka! The alcoholic content is usually between 37–86%, so it will definitely warm you up in a heartbeat.
11. Hallstatt, Austria
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Hallstatt, the picturesque little village in the Salzkammergut, is certainly one of the most beautiful places in Austria, and a wonderful destination for a winter holiday. Situated in a breathtaking setting on the shores of the black Lake Hallstatt, and with the imposing snow-capped mountains in the background, this small village of 800 inhabitants is a real visitor magnet. In winter, a picture-book atmosphere awaits you here – no wonder that this place is probably the most photographed in Austria.
Although the village Hallstatt is relatively small, there are many sights worth seeing, such as the historic marketplace with the beautiful Trinity Column. Especially beautiful are the many colorful houses, and in winter there is a very beautiful Christmas market. Also interesting in Hallstatt is the Bone-House, where a collection of 600 colourfully painted skull bones has been kept. Those who love to take amazing pictures should in any case also visit the Hallstatt-Aussichtspunkt – the viewpoint of Hallstatt where the best pictures are taken.
In the surroundings of Hallstatt, nature lovers, sports and outdoor enthusiasts will have their fun. The snowshoe hike on the Dachstein-Krippenstein towards the Five-Fingers Skywalk is a highlight, and a visit to the beautiful Gosau with its magnificent ski area is also absolutely recommended.
12. Ioannina, Greece
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Although Greece as a whole is regarded as a quintessentially summer destination, the fact that the country is also home to quite a few spectacular winter destinations as well should not go unnoticed. One such example is the city of Ioannina, one of the best places to visit in Greece during the winter months.
Ioannina is an utterly picturesque city situated in the stunning region of Epirus in northwestern Greece. The main reason why it’s best to visit Ioannina in winter is simply because it is then that this pretty city looks even prettier. Moreover, Ioannina is a vibrant university city, and it’s during winter that visitors can feel the city’s authentic vibes at their best. Last but not least, during winter you can check out all of the city’s sights without the inevitable crowds Ioannina attracts in the summer.
As an added bonus, Ioannina is probably the best place to celebrate a unique New Year’s Eve in Greece, as the entire city turns into a large-scale open-air party during which locals and visitors alike have the time of their lives.
Some of the best things to do in Ioannina during the winter months include taking long lakeside walks or visiting the lake’s utterly quaint and picture-perfect inhabited island. Similarly, a stroll around the city’s historic centre or its impressive castle offers unique photo opportunities under the cloudy winter sky.
If you’re discouraged by the (admittedly) low temperatures to visit Ioannina in the winter season, fear not. Thanks to the city’s exceptional café and bar scene, your body and heart will always feel warm and happy with a cup of hot chocolate or, better still, with two shots of superb local tsipouro.
13. Kiev, Ukraine
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Kiev, Ukraine is one of Europe’s most underrated and best winter destinations. On first thought the idea of winter in Ukraine may seem unappealing, but for many reasons it’s a perfect destination. One such reason is the extended Christmas market season. Because Ukraine celebrates the Orthodox Christian Christmas on 7 January, you’ll find the festivities of the holiday last an extra two weeks.
You may be wondering what to do in Kiev besides the holiday fun. There’s a lot to do and see in Kiev like the gorgeous architecture of the city’s palaces, churches, government buildings and monasteries. Kiev has a blend of building styles from Soviet to art nouveau design and many are brightly coloured and stand out in the grey of winter.
Make sure to see St. Andrew’s Church, St. Michael’s Monastery and St. Sophia’s Cathedral – all impressive examples of design in the city. Don’t forget to visit Mariyinsky Palace, Peter The Great’s Winter Palace and the Presidential residence today.
Another reason to visit Kiev in the winter is the food and cocktail scene. The hearty cuisine of Ukrainian restaurants is perfect on a cold winter’s day. You can also add cocktails before or after your meal at any number of the great mixology bars in Kiev. The city is home to some of the best and most budget-friendly restaurants and cocktail bars in Europe.
The winter months are perfect for discovering the city of Kiev, a well-known but underrated destination in Europe. The city is inexpensive, and flight deals in winter are as plentiful as the sights, tastes and attractions in Kiev.
14. Madrid, Spain
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The Spanish capital, Madrid, is a great destination for a winter break. Even during winter in Madrid, you’ll find that it’s a relatively dry city which still receives plenty of sunshine, so you can easily get out and see the sights. However, the air temperature can get down to a chilly 6–8°C (approx 44°F).
Nothing beats a stroll around the gorgeous Parque El Retiro. If you happen to visit on the weekend, it’s filled with buskers, people practising their dance routines or skateboard tricks, and fitness classes. You can even go for a row on the lake. Inside the park, you’ll find several museums housing exhibitions; The Palacio de Crystal and Palacio de Velazquez.
One of the most visually stunning areas in Madrid is a district called Malasaña. Here you’ll find dozens of beautiful cobbled streets along with stunning tilled shop facades dating back to the 1900s. If you’re into street photography or want beautiful colourful pictures for your Instagram feed, then be sure to wander around here.
If you want to shop, then two of the best markets in Madrid are Mercado de los Motores (this runs once a month), which is a vintage market located in the motor and train museum, and El Rastro (every Sunday morning), which is Madrid’s biggest flea market.
If the weather does get too cold or on the slim chance that it rains, you could, of course, visit the famous Prado Museum, Palacio de Cibeles (I recommend visiting this one for the stunning interior – it used to be the city post and telecommunications hub) and Telefonica.
Alternatively, if you’re after something a little bit quirkier and not quite as touristy, then certainly put Chamberí Metro Station on your radar. This station ran as part of Line 1 from the 1900s up to its closure in the 1960s. Until 2008 it was sealed off to the outside world. Since then it’s been restored and opened as the Andén 0 museum. You’ll find loads of old advertisements, colourful tile artwork and original artefacts from the station – it’s like a little time capsule.
15. Manchester, United Kingdom
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Well known for its industrial and musical background, Manchester is also a very lively and friendly city. As you may imagine, it can get quite cold in winter. Northern England is known for the rain but don’t let that stop you; it’s well worth a visit.
If you are heading there in November or December, the best thing to do in Manchester is checking out the Christmas markets. Unlike London, you won’t find one big Winter Wonderland, but seven Christmas markets! They are spread all around the city, and you will find them at every corner. The exact locations are: Albert Square, Cathedral Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens, Market Street, Exchange Square, New Cathedral Street, King Street and St Ann’s Square.
Manchester is a pleasant city to visit in winter, regardless of the markets. The city centre is quite small, which makes it easy to explore on foot. You can join a walking tour and discover the most famous landmarks such as the Town Hall, Midland Hotel and the Gay Village.
Manchester is also home to many museums, perfect for people looking for a nice place to warm up. The Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) is definitely worth a visit, and if you have time you should also check out the Art Gallery and Manchester Museum. They are all free!
Finally, in the evening, head to Northern Quarter or Deansgate, where you will find many bars and pubs with live music.
16. Munich, Germany
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Munich in winter is a really special time. A few hours’ drive from the Black Forest region of Germany, Munich is a typical Bavarian city and a great place for a German winter road trip stopover. Spending time in Munich in winter is a real treat as the city comes alive with cold, crisp days, twinkling fairy lights and winter sports.
The highlight of any winter trip to Munich are the Christmas markets; the oldest and most important is held on Marienplatz, running from the last week of November right through to Christmas. The market dates back to 1642 and is celebrated in the heart of the old town with a huge traditional Christmas tree, wooden huts full of traditional Christmas gifts and gluhwein with roasted chestnuts to warm you.
For winter activity, head to the Nymphenburg Palace where you’ll find Munich’s longest curling track. The shallow water freezes across the 500-metre stretch between Gerner Bridge and Hubertusstraße, and all are welcome to try this winter sport – it’s a lot harder than it looks!
There’s also ice skating on Karlplatz square, and if it snows, tobogganing in Luitpold Park and Westpark. When you’re done with sports involving snow and ice, head to one of the indoor municipal pools, which all have their own saunas, helping you to forget the cold weather outside.
If you really want to see proper snow, then take a day trip from Munich to the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak. In the Alps, the summit of this beautiful mountain can be reached by cable car and train. The views are stupendous, the air clear and they serve the best hot chocolate at the top!
17. Nice, France
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Nice has long been one of the best winter destinations in Europe for the aristocracy to escape to enjoy the sun. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were spotted strolling along Promenade des Anglais, which is a beautiful place to enjoy ocean views. Nice is a lovely place to a delicious beachside lunch or warm up with a hot chocolate on colder days.
France’s fifth-largest city is packed with restaurants, bars and clubs. So, there are plenty of places to stay warm during the winter nights. During the day, things to do in Nice include exploring the labyrinth of streets in the Old Town. If the weather gets chilly, you can easily stay warm by visiting the city’s museums and galleries.
Nice is a city of art and where Cézanne was born. The best is the Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, which is the most famous contemporary art gallery in the area. You might also like the Matisse Museum on Cimiez Hill. Another reason to visit Nice in winter is to enjoy the opera season in Nice’s Italianate opera house. Make sure to visit the Russian cathedral, which is one of the most visited monuments in Nice, and one of the most stunning Orthodox churches outside of Russia.
Another good reason to visit Nice in winter is to go shopping, and the winter sales are an excellent time to get some bargains. The city has fabulous designer boutiques and department stores.
18. Porto, Portugal
Porto is a city made for a weekend break, but during the summer months the level of tourism can be a little overwhelming.
Thankfully, given its relatively temperate climate – it rarely dips below 14°C, even in January – it is a wonderful destination to visit off-season, and may even provide a little winter sun for visitors escaping northern Europe, as well as cheaper prices, quieter streets and none of the super-long queues that are common across the city’s more popular tourist attractions.
If you do get a run of rainy days (which unfortunately isn’t too uncommon in Porto, even in the middle of July), there are still plenty of sights to explore and enjoy without having to worry if you’ve forgotten your brolly. Those that like a tipple should head across the river to Gaia where you will find the city’s famous port houses, most of which provide guided tours of the cellars with ample tasting opportunities.
If cultural experiences are more your thing, however, then you’ll be pleased to hear that Porto plays host to a number of world-class museums and art galleries – from contemporary art in Serralves to photography exhibits in Centro Português de Fotografia – and provides public access to a number of stunning palaces (don’t miss the beautiful Palácio da Bolsa).
One spot that absolutely everyone should visit is Livraria Lello, a fairytale-like bookshop that is said to have inspired JK Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter, before popping around the corner to take a picture of the oh-so-Portuguese azulejos that adorn the Igreja do Carmo.
Oh, and you simply have to indulge in as many pastel de nata as you possibly can, especially from the iconic Confiteria do Bolhao, which has been serving up these little parcels of sunshine since 1896.
19. Prague, Czech Republic
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Winter Prague is like nothing you’ve ever seen. The allure of the pre-Christmas time makes this fairytale capital pop in festive colours and bring about the magic feel of Christmas.
You can see it best at one of the smaller Christmas markets around town. I can highly recommend the beautiful Prague Castle Christmas market, or a market at the Náměstí Míru Square. Christmas carols are on, people meet to have mulled wine together, kids run around in excitement… it’s a special atmosphere.
Apart from checking out Prague’s Christmas markets, you can also ice-skate right in the Old Town at the Ovocný trh square.
Prague’s main sights such as the Charles Bridge, the Astronomical Clock on the Old Town Square and the Prague Castle must be seen even on a winter trip. The city has its fair share of museums, galleries, theatres and other indoor spaces where you can easily wait out any nasty weather. A high number of cosy cafés dotting the city centre, and the Vinohrady district provides a good pit stop that’ll warm you up at the same time.
If you get lucky, Prague will be covered in white fluffy snowflakes. It’s the most beautiful view to see the city’s roofs and spires all dressed in white.
20. San Marino
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One of the best European destinations for winter holidays is at the same time the least-visited country in Europe for 2018 – San Marino. The fifth-smallest country in the world with a population a little over 30.000 people, San Marino is ideal for a winter escape for many reasons.
As a hilltop town (basically!), San Marino can be a nightmare during the summer – endless steps and hills under the hot sun, lots of tourists (coming especially for a day trip so you can guess how many coaches are around), and higher prices. Yes, it can get cold during winter, but nothing can beat the fresh air of the mountain Titano – on which almost the entire country is built – and the relaxing atmosphere surrounding it.
The capital city (which is also the main attraction of this lilliputian country) made it to the Unesco World Heritage list, and the view from the top of the towers is simply breathtaking – even better if you are lucky enough to see it covered with snow!
The museums (especially Cesta) are way more enjoyable in winter too. The eerie feeling this place has is unbeatable, and the low temperatures highlight even more the rough but interesting history of the towers and the entire microstate.
Should you decide to visit the country, you can read in detail what to do in San Marino and create your own itinerary – you don’t need any tour, even if at first it looks tricky to find your way here. San Marino is the ideal place to not only unwind yourself during winter, but also learn some history and take some amazing photos on the top of the mountain.
21. St Petersburg, Russia
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Many travellers won’t think of visiting St Petersburg in winter, because they are scared of the harsh Russian winters. Yes, it does get cold, and snow is almost guaranteed from November until February. But it also makes the city more beautiful, and if you are prepared to dress warm, St Petersburg is a perfect winter destination.
St Petersburg is also known as “the Venice of the north” due to its network of canals lined with elegant palaces, and its scenic location along the Neva river. In winter, the frozen canals and palace gardens are a true wonderland that looks like it has come straight from a Russian fairytale.
The key to surviving the freezing temperatures in St Petersburg is a good mix of outdoor and indoor activities. Luckily, the city has lots to offer in that regard. With its history as the capital of Tsarist Russia there is plenty to explore, especially for those who love culture and history.
St Petersburg might be a relatively young city, built by Tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century. However, he built himself a worthy capital with impressive palaces, churches and cathedrals. Furthermore, the Romanovs collected a very large collection of arts that is now displayed in the Hermitage, the city’s most famous museum.
To get a sense of modern St Petersburg, the famous Nevski prospekt is where one should go. Here you find the city’s most trendy cafés and best restaurants. In winter, St Petersburg also has several ice-skating rinks, and winter fairs where you can try Russian winter drinks like sbiten and honey beer.
As you can see, there are plenty of reasons why winter is a great time to visit St Petersburg.
22. Tallinn, Estonia
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If you want to go on holidays in winter, you should visit Tallinn. This fairytale town is one of the best European destinations we have ever visited during that season. The biggest advantage of travelling to Tallinn in winter is that you will avoid the crowds while seeing the city when it is the most beautiful.
Here, you can stroll through the Medieval Old Town for hours. The red-roofed houses look especially pretty with a layer of snow on top. Go up to Toompea Hill or climb the city walls to see Tallinn from above. While you’re here, we recommend that you go to Kiek in de Kök, one of the former watchtowers, to learn more about the history of the region.
On your walk through the city, you will sooner or later come past Town Hall Square. In December, you can find a Christmas tree and a small market on this square.
If you get cold, stop in Cafe Maiasmokk, Estonia’s oldest café, and warm yourself up with a hot chocolate and an Estonian pastry. Or you could explore one of Estonia’s many museums. We especially loved the Great Guild Hall, which houses the Estonian History Museum, and the NUKU Museum of Puppet Arts. You could also learn about Soviet Estonia at the Viru Hotel and Museum, and look at the many instruments that the KGB used to spy on foreigners back in the day.
23. Vienna, Austria
Vienna, the capital of Austria boasting a UNESCO World Heritage Listed centre, is undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful and jaw-dropping cities.
To walk the 5-kilometre-long Ringstrasse home to world-famous sights such as the Imperial Palace, National History Museum, Vienna State Opera and the Parliament building is a joy at any time of year. However, to do so wrapped up against freezing temperatures under a winter sun adds an intangible beauty and a romanticism unmatched during spring or summer months.
Combine this with a break in one of Vienna’s majestic coffee houses sipping coffee and tasting a sweet strudel, and you have the ingredients for a perfect day. Fancy something stronger? Head to one of its many atmospheric vaulted restaurants and enjoy an iconic wiener schnitzel washed down with a local beer.
Less than 10 kilometres south-west of the Ringstrasse, the elegant UNESCO World Heritage Schönbrunn Palace, with its impressive ceremonial rooms and magnificent gardens, is yet another of Vienna’s splendid attractions. Spending a few hours strolling through just some of its more than 1,000 rooms and verdant gardens is an experience that will live long in the memory. The ornate ceiling fresco in the Great Gallery has to be seen to be believed.
Outside of such magnificent treasures, another of Vienna’s most recognised attractions is the 65-metre-tall Giant Ferris wheel in Prater park. Built in 1897 and famous for its central role in the Orson Welles film ‘The Third Man’, a ride offers breathtaking views over the city.
After spending just a day or two in this stunning city it is easy to understand why Vienna is regularly voted as one of the world’s most liveable cities.
24. Yerevan, Armenia
Chosen by Vaibhav, the Wandering Vegetable | follow on Instagram
When people speak of the best winter destinations in Europe, very rarely will you hear the name of Armenia. But that’s because it’s an unexplored off-the-beaten-bath gem that not many people know about. The reason I love Armenia is that it offers you the perfect amalgamation of raw natural beauty, incredible history, vibrant culture and warm hospitality.
The capital city of Yerevan, in particular, has a characteristic charm of its own. With an average temperature of around 5–10°C, Yerevan can get pretty cold in the winter. But a pleasant sun always makes the winter a comfortable and lovely experience.
There are several things to do and see in Yerevan in winter like Republic Square, Genocide Museum, Freedom Square, the Mother Armenia Statue and Yerevan Cascade. If you’re an art lover, then do not miss out on visiting the Cafesjian Centre for the Arts. You could also enjoy watching a show at the Opera and Ballet Theatre.
It’s not only the capital city of Yerevan that offers you a lot to do; you can also take a day trip to Mount Aragats, hike the Amberd Fortress, visit the Pagan Temple of Garni, relax at the picturesque Sevan Lake, experience a thrilling cable-car ride at Tsaghkadzor, explore the Tatev Monastery, and enjoy the longest reversible tramway ride in the world to get there.
Even the food in Armenia is fantastic, with local flavours and textures giving you an insight into the rich Armenian food culture. Grab a meal at any of the local restaurants in Yerevan and you won’t be disappointed. Not just that, what makes Armenia an absolute must-do is that it is one of the cheapest European countries.
So if you’re planning a winter European escape, then go ahead and choose Yerevan with your eyes closed – because you’re going to love it!
25. York, UK
Chosen by Sinead, Best In York Guide | follow on Facebook
York is a great destination to visit in winter, particularly around Christmas time, as the city offers attractions for all ages and interests. The small, compact city is easily visited on foot, so no waiting in chilly weather for public transport!
Historic York is much quieter in winter than in Spring or Summer, allowing visitors to soak up the city’s unique architecture and famous sights without bustling crowds. The majority of York’s attractions are indoors, such as the iconic York Minster, the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe and home to the largest expanse of stained glass in the world.
Winter visitors can stay warm inside the medieval town house, The Barley Hall or the famous Jorvik Viking Centre. Explore one of the city’s excellent museums including the National Railway Museum or the York Castle Museum. Alternatively, visit a city centre historic house, for example, the Georgian era Fairfax House or the 800-year-old home of the Lord Mayor of York, the Mansion House.
Even York’s outdoor attractions are fantastic to visit in wintertime, as darker days add extra atmosphere. The medieval-era cobbled street, The Shambles – said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies – is best visited on a gloomy, overcast day. Plus, York’s medieval city walls – the longest city walls in England – are magical to walk in winter at dusk to watch the emerging city lights. Cold visitors can warm up in one of the city’s friendly pubs or indulge in a traditional hot roast dinner, which includes the world-famous Yorkshire Pudding.
Best winter destinations in Europe: nature and adventure
Europe has no shortage of natural attractions, with its towering mountain ranges, famous lakes, and some of the world’s most picturesque coastlines. In this final section, we take a look at Europe’s natural phenomena to witness in winter, from the coastlines that still offer plenty of sunshine, to the mountainous terrain that is most stunning when blanketed with snow and offers ample opportunities for adventure activities.
26. Azores, Portugal
Chosen by Oli, Not Brits Abroad | follow on Instagram
The Azores is a Portuguese archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean made up of nine islands. These volcanic islands are incredibly beautiful with some of the best scenery I’ve seen anywhere in the world.
The islands are covered in volcanic craters, misty hills and vibrantly green fields. Even without the scenery, the Azores is worth visiting just for its food. You’ll find a lot of fresh seafood and beef along with unique Azorean pastries, cheese and locally grown pineapples.
The largest island, Sao Miguel, is gaining popularity with tourists during its warmer, summer months. However, during winter, tourism is low, making it a great time to visit. Winter on Sao Miguel island is neither too hot nor too cold, with temperatures averaging around 15ºc. There is a bit more rain in winter, but since it’s the Atlantic Ocean, the weather can be unpredictable at the best of times.
During winter, many of the things to do on Sao Miguel are still available, including canoeing on volcanic lakes, canyoning in one of the national parks or coasteering along the sea cliffs. Most scenic areas and beaches will be open too. Since it’s not too hot in winter, it’s the ideal time to visit one of the many natural thermal pools and hot springs on the island.
The last benefit to visiting during winter is the cost, with flights and accommodation much more competitive outside of the busier, summer months.
27. Bansko, Bulgaria
Chosen by Larch, The Silver Nomad | follow on Instagram
Whether you love skiing or not, Bansko is the perfect place to visit in winter. The top ski resort in Bulgaria, Bansko sits at the foot of the towering Pirin mountains.
There is plenty to keep winter sports fans busy with skiing and snowboarding on the 70 kilometres of pistes with a healthy mix of blue, red and black runs. The lift takes you up the mountain and you can get off at various stages. Dotted along the pistes are coffee bars and restaurants if you need to stop for a break.
Bansko town itself is a town of two halves. The newer part close to the slopes has bars, shops and restaurants catering for the visitors, while the older part of the town is quieter with cobbled streets and alley ways leading you through the old buildings.
Here you can find mehanas, which are old-styled taverns serving up delicious stews and typical Bulgarian meals. Meals normally start with ‘shopska’, a salad of cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, onion and parsley with grated feta or sirene cheese and an oil and vinegar dressing followed by warming stews, roasted vegetables or kebabs.
Many of the buildings in Bansko Old Town have been converted to museums including Velyanova House, which has icons and frescos by the 19th-century artist Velian Ognev. You can also see his work in the Holy Trinity Church.
Next to the church is the house of Neofit Rilski. Rilski wrote the first translation of the Bible into modern Bulgarian and the house has many of his artefacts.
A short drive from Bansko are outdoor thermal springs such as Izgrev, where you can relax in the warm waters no matter how cold it is out.
28. Carpathian Mountains, Ukraine
Chosen by Amy, Moonshine and Minibuses | follow on Instagram
Wild skiing, horse-drawn carriage rides, cozy mountain cottages – it’s not Switzerland, it’s Ukraine! While Ukrainian winters are often seen as brutally cold, away from the concrete cities you can find bright little pockets of winter fun.
The Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine offer a wide range of activities for everyone, usually at a fraction of what you would pay in other countries. And you don’t have to ski or snowboard to enjoy the Carpathians! Ukraine’s ski resorts offer much more. You can go on husky rides, shoot down the hills on a tube, try your hand at snowmobiling, or whisk through the snow on a horse-drawn sleigh.
My first winter trip to the Carpathians was with a group of snowboarding friends. I didn’t snowboard myself, but I was happy to enjoy the blustery magic of snow-covered pines and too much glintwein. You can also experience Ukraine’s unique New Year’s Eve celebrations, and you might even get to enjoy a second Christmas on January 7th, when Orthodox Ukrainians celebrate.
And while it’s true that the Carpathian Mountains aren’t the tallest or the wildest in Europe, they are amazing value for money. Visiting the Carpathian Mountains is just one of the many things to do in Western Ukraine during the winter, making it a great place to spend some of your holiday time.
29. Costa Vicentina, Portugal
Chosen by Campbell and Alya, Stingy Nomads | follow on YouTube
Southern Portugal is a great place to come for a sunny winter holiday in Europe. The Costa Vicentina is a protected area in the Alentejo region about 100 kilometres south of Lisbon. It is known as the Portuguese Wild Coast. The area is truly spectacular: rugged cliffs, dramatic drops, sandy beaches, charming fishermen’s villages, small bays and secret caves.
The area along the Costa Vicentina is a perfect place for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, surfing and kayaking. All these can be practiced during winter months. A big advantage of visiting the Costa in winter is that there are no tourist crowds like in the peak season. As a result, the prices of accommodation decrease, and there is no need to book hotels months in advance.
The weather in winter here is pleasant; it’s sunny and warm, but not too hot with occasional light showers. Perfect conditions for exploring the area on foot. There is a wide network of hiking trails called the Rota Vicentina that includes many day hikes and two multi-day trails: the Historical Way and the Fishermen’s Trail.
Cycling along the coast is another popular winter activity here. Both hiking and cycling routes are in good condition, and suitable for anybody, including travellers with children.
Delicious local food is another reason to visit the Coast. Fresh seafood, local cheeses and meats, wine and home-made pastry in combination with the beautiful scenery, nice weather, and several outdoor activities make the Costa Vicentina a perfect place to visit in winter.
30. Gudauri Ski Resort near Kazbegi, Georgia
Chosen by Yukti, Travel With Me 24 X 7 | follow on Instagram
Kazbegi is a hill-top town in the Caucasus mountain region of northern Georgia. One of the most beautiful towns of the Caucasus mountain region, this place is decked up with snow in winter and looks like a wonderland.
Due to heavy snow in this region, there are many ski resorts near Kazbegi. Gudauri region, which is 30 kilometres from Kazbegi, has skiing areas with professional guides, snow adventures and affordable skiing courses. As this country is very affordable for travellers, skiing in Gudauri is very affordable and therefore recommended.
There are many snow activities to do here. This region is very popular among skiers and snow adventurers. It also has wonderful ancient monasteries that look stunning when they are covered with snow.
The ideal way to reach here is from Tbilisi (International Airport of Georgia) via a road trip. The journey from Tbilisi to Kazbegi is also a very scenic drive, and in between there are many stops or attractions that are recommended. So for wonderful views of snow clad Caucasus peaks, pine trees, monasteries, and affordable skiing, Kazbegi and its nearby ski regions make for an excellent winter destination in Eastern Europe.
31. Kranjska Gora, Slovenia
Chosen by Anca, Dream Book and Travel | follow on Facebook
If you are looking for an authentic destination in Europe, consider a trip to the Slovenian mountains. We fortuitously based ourselves in Kranjska Gora, the region’s most famous ski resort, and discovered the area to be an amazingly non-touristic jewel to be explored in every season, which quickly became one of our go-to places for outdoor outings.
What you will find here, in a nutshell, are authentic local traditions, stunning landscapes, opportunities for outdoor activities, a rich historical heritage, as well as an affordable, high-quality tourism infrastructure.
Specifically, Slovenia is home to a significant portion of the Julian Alps, and their highest peak is located in the Triglav National Park, on the country’s north-west border. Ski enthusiasts who want to spend more time in the area can gladly go for the Julian Alps International Ski Pass that allows access to 260 kilometres of ski slopes in three countries (Austria, Slovenia and Italy).
Those who decide to spend their entire time in Slovenia will not be disappointed. The area offers a unique natural landscape unspoiled by mass tourism, friendly and affordable accommodation and dining opportunities run by locals, and a plethora of outdoor activities options for every taste.
The most important centre for winter sports in the area is Kranjska Gora, with its 18 ski slopes of different difficulties, a winter bike park, and countless opportunities for ice climbing, sledding, snowshoeing, ice-skating, winter hiking and snowboarding.
The area around the impressive Lake Bohinj offers a wide variety of options for alpine skiers, both beginners and advanced, alongside breathtaking views of the landscape, winter hiking trails, snow rafting and cross-country skiing facilities.
Culture and history buffs will be enchanted by old towns such as Radovljica and Kranjska Gora, which in winter turn into festive wonderlands. Numerous castles, like the ones in Skofja Loka and Begunje (Kamen Castle), each with its own distinct history, provide the background for a truly magical experience.
32. Lake Bled, Slovenia
Chosen by Joanna, The World in my Pocket | follow on Instagram
During wintertime, Lake Bled transforms into one of Europe’s most beautiful fairytale landscapes. Covered in snow, the lake and the small town seem asleep, but don’t be fooled as there are plenty of things to do in Bled during the winter months. Firstly, Lake Bled freezes in the cold months of January and February. Whilst it is not recommended to ice skate on it, it makes a fantastic background for surreal photos. For ice-skating lovers, the local ice rink in Bled is very welcoming.
Strolling around Lake Bled in winter is so beautiful, with plenty of spots where you can build a snowman or join in a snowball fight with your friends.
Not many tourists visit Lake Bled in winter, which is an advantage if you don’t like crowded destinations. You will notice that most of the restaurants and cosy bars that are packed with tourists during summer and where it’s very hard to get a reservation, are more than happy to welcome walk-ins. Also, the service is much more attentive, and you might even get extras at the end of your meal, such as glasses of local schnapps or an extra dessert.
There are a couple of intimate wine bars along the lake, where you can enjoy a glass of delicious local Slovenian wine in front of a fireplace, while looking at the beautiful snow outside.
Lake Bled is also a great base if you like winter sports. Just 20 minutes drive away sits Triglav National park, a top skiing destination in Slovenia. And how better else to relax after a day in snow than in one of the thermal spas of the Bled Hotels?
33. Madeira Island, Portugal
Chosen by Edyta, SayYesToMadeira | follow on Instagram
Madeira Island is a great European winter destination for those who need a quick break from snow and cold. Winter temperatures in and around the island’s biggest city – Funchal – are really pleasant, and you can frequently wear summer clothes and sunbathe.
Madeira Island is a great hiking destination, with an attractive network of hiking routes: mountain hikes above the clouds, sunrise hikes, and the most unique of all, levada walks along small irrigation channels, usually running through primary UNESCO laurel forests, making you feel like hiking through a fern jungle.
If you are not a hiker, there are tons of other things to do in Madeira. You will definitely enjoy discovering its amazing botanical gardens, viewpoints, street art, culture and cuisine.
If you do not like crowds, come to Madeira in the first weeks of December. Plane tickets and hotel prices will usually be much lower, and you will be able to witness the island’s cities preparing for Christmas, installing Christmas cribs and Christmas light decorations.
If instead you would like to feel the amazing Christmas spirit, come to Madeira before the 23rd of December, when Funchal is celebrating the ‘Market Night’. Make sure you stay until New Year’s Eve, as Madeira is an ex-Guinness record holder for the biggest firework show.
34. Sicily, Italy
Chosen by Nicole, Nicole LaBarge Travel Blog
Visiting Sicily in winter is a completely different experience than any other time of year. If you are looking for somewhere warm (think spring weather) and completely uncrowded, you should really consider Sicily for a winter break.
There is so much to see and do in Sicily. I recommend spending at least a week there. Palermo is the biggest city with lots of monuments and museums. Then you have beach towns like Cefula that you actually can’t believe exist, and then my personal favorite place of Taormina.
Taormina is a resort town in the north-east of the island, and is one of the best places to stay in Sicily. The old city is built in the hills overlooking the coast. It also holds the second-largest Greek amphitheatre after Syracuse. The view from the theatre overlooking the coastline with Mount Etna in the background is absolutely iconic.
Taormina also boasts the best beach in Sicily, called Isola Bella. This pebble beach has turquoise waters and a small island you can walk out to. Obviously this is a popular attraction in the summer, but still well worth a visit on a sunny winter day. It’s even better without the crowds.
35. Tatra Mountains, Slovakia / Poland
Chosen by Jiayi, Diary of a Nomad | follow on Instagram
One of the best winter destinations in Europe is the beautiful High Tatras mountain range, located at the border of Slovakia and Poland. Its highest peaks are found on the Slovak side, and it’s the perfect place to enjoy stunning winter wonderland sceneries without the crowds.
In fact, the High Tatras are still a hidden gem that don’t receive too many tourists; almost everyone who visits is from Slovakia, Hungary or Poland. The reason for this is unclear though – this mountain resort is one of the dreamiest places in the world, with a large variety of things to offer to visitors!
To start off with, the High Tatras have a gorgeous selection of hiking trails. Some of the unmissable ones are Kriváň Peak, Rysy Peak, and Kôprová Valley. Another great thing to do in this area is to take a walk around some of the stunning emerald lakes at the foot of the mountains. The best ones are Štrbské Pleso and Popradské Pleso.
You can also enjoy a relaxing massage at the Grand Hotel Kempinski, which offers spectacular mountain views from its spa centre! As you can imagine, the High Tatras are also a great place for skiing, and the largest ski slope is Tatranská Lomnica, which is 12 kilometres long.
So, if you’re looking for a winter vacation that’s both activity-packed and relaxing, look no further than the beautiful and quiet High Tatras mountains.
36. Trentino, Italy
Chosen by Teresa, Brogan Abroad | follow on Instagram
Located in Northern Italy, Trentino is a little-known area that’s beautiful both in summer and in winter. But it is in the colder months when Trentino becomes a true winter wonderland, with everything you would expect and more.
Being so close to the Swiss and Austrian borders, the region has a very unique blend of Germanic and Italian influences that are reflected in the architecture, food and traditions. It’s like Trentino has the best of both worlds.
Trentino in winter becomes a playground for those wanting to hit the slopes. Whatever your level of experience, the areas of Folgarida Marilleva and Madonna di Campiglio have something for everyone. And the dramatic mountains are guaranteed to take your breath away.
The food is incredible here, and having a meal at one of the mountain huts or rifugi is a must. The rifugi come with spectacular views during the day, and in the evenings, to reach some of them you will be picked up by a snowmobile, which adds to the fun.
If you want to be more hands on with the local food, you could book a cooking class in an agroturismo, a farmhouse that offers food and accommodation, and learn how to make canederli, a bread and speck dumpling typical of the area.
For those wanting to take it easy, a lot of hotels and rifugi in Trentino have wellness centres where you can relax and have some ‘me’ time. But if excitement is more your thing, you can go for a short hike to the Ragaiolo suspension bridge (not for the faint-hearted!) in Val di Rabbi, where you will find a beautiful frozen waterfall.
To add another option to your European winter destination bucket list, take a look at our guide to visiting Malta in winter.
Planning a summer hike for next year? Check out our collaboration with travel bloggers recommending the best hikes in Europe.
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