Who doesn’t love the winter season? I’m not much for gloomy, overcast, and rainy weather but I have to admit I love the winter season. White snow, mulled wine, warm scarves, and a breath of fresh brisk air.
Europe is my favorite region in the winter season. It’s why we keep coming back to the continent during December, January, and March. Just because it’s the coldest time of year doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to travel.
Turns out, we’re not the only person that loves to spend winter in Europe. We’ve asked 19 other travel bloggers to chat about where to have the best winter vacation in Europe. Here is where they consider must-see places in Europe in winter.
Best Winter Vacations in Europe
St. Petersburg, Russia
The Telegraph compared visiting Saint Petersburg in winter to “stepping into a Russian novel”. Now, who wouldn’t want to experience that? Saint Petersburg in winter is a must-visit destination in Europe and is truly magical at this time of the year. Freakishly cold (so bring a good down jacket), but magical nevertheless.
Saint Petersburg is located on the Neva River so it is notorious for wind chills. It is also dark and gloomy during winter months, but I promise it will be worth it once you see the frozen canals and royal palaces covered in snow. You can actually tour some of the palaces to warm up and get absolutely blown away by their grandeur and beauty. Some of the palaces recommended to visit are Catherine Palace, Yusupov Palace, Mikhailovskiy Palace, and Winter Palace.
Experiencing Russian opera and ballet is another advantage of visiting during winter. While summer is the peak season for travelers, it is the off-season for most of the theatres. So braving the cold will give you a chance to boast about watching famous Russian ballet at Mariinsky Theatre.
If you are more into adventurous activities than arts and culture, consider ice skating and skiing at Victory Park or at the frozen pond at Yelagin Island. Whatever it is you choose, Saint Petersburg will not disappoint. After a cold day outside you can always warm up with a bowl of steaming hot borsch or a plate of traditional Russian pelmeni.
–The Foodie Miles
Tallinn, in my opinion, is one of the best places to visit in Europe in the winter. During the winter the city can often become magical with snow-covered rooftops and streets. This combined with the fact that the city is naturally beautiful with medieval towers, ancient walls, a stunning old town, and cobbled streets make it extremely photogenic and one of the best winter destinations. It’s also only a two-hour ferry ride away from Helsinki!
One of the highlights of this city is the Old Town, which is in the center of the city. This is full of attractions such as museums, churches and historic landmarks, as well as beautiful restaurants. Within the city are also lots of top places to stay and a good hotel would be the stunning Savoy Boutique. This hotel is located right next to the Old Town and a short walk to many of the cities main attractions. It comes with a lush and elegant design and after exploring would be an amazing place to go back to and escape the cold weather.
Finally, when visiting Tallinn you’ll need to make sure you take a good quality coat, as well as a hat, gloves and winter boots. As during this season temperatures can average between -2°C and -5°C. It can also get very windy, especially at some of the many awesome viewpoints around the city, so wrapping up warm is crucial when visiting to enjoy the city and stay comfortable.
–Travel and Destinations
Zermatt in the winter time can only be described as a magical winter wonderland. This chocolate box alpine village, under its blanket of snow, is set against the backdrop of the iconic Matterhorn and is a must on anyone’s Swiss itinerary. Whether you’re into skiing or not, you can’t help but fall under the charm of this beautiful village. It will enchant you with its little back roads, its traditional and modern chalets, its lack of traffic (it’s a car-free village) as well as the restaurants and shops that line the main street.
Skiers are spoiled for choice with the kilometers of slopes on offer. A trip up to the Klein Matterhorn or a journey on the train to the Gornergrat is a must for non-skiers. There is a lively après-ski scene and an abundance of restaurants catering to all tastes from traditional Swiss fayre to Japanese, Chinese, Italian and more. It is also a great resort for families visiting Zermatt although it does come with a hefty price tag.
If you want to be in the heart of the action and are looking for a fun, quirky place to stay, be sure to check out the Unique Hotel Post. We usually stay in self-catering accommodation as this suits our family’s needs perfectly and is a great option
Top tip: don’t forget to pack a skiing balaclava. We can’t live without ours! It can get very cold and windy on the slopes and they help keep our faces toasty warm.
–The Little Den
Any trip to Iceland will start and end in the capital city, Reykjavik. It’s a great city to visit all year round, but during Iceland’s winter months it comes alive! There may not be much daylight in the winter season, but the streets are covered in white snow and are lined with Christmas lights. In the winter you can see the Aurora Borealis, a spectacular show and a sight everyone should see in their lifetime.
There are a handful of festivals in the wintertime like the Dark Music Days in January and Rainbow Reykjavik in February. The most famous festival; however, is the Winter Lights Festival which is held the first week of February. The festival celebrates the winter and the growing sunlight that is returning to Iceland.
My favorite place to stay in Reykjavik is the CenterHotel Midgardur. The hotel is sleek, modern, and centrally located in town. We stayed here after our campervan trip around the Ring Road, and it was nice to be in a comfortable bed and with a hot shower after 10 days sleeping in a van. The best part is it’s reasonably priced for the city so it will help with your Iceland travel budget.
If I were to pick the best time to visit Iceland it would most certainly be in the winter. Just make sure to pack a few coats in your carry on luggage!
-The World Pursuit (that’s us!)
While a popular tourist destination over the summer months, Paris holds a little-known secret very close to its chest. In winter, France’s beautiful capital transforms into one of the most stunning cities in Europe and is definitely a must-see destination that should not be overlooked during the colder climate.
Aside from the breathtaking sight of white rooftops and iconic monuments being dusted with snow, there are also many benefits of visiting Paris during winter. Have you ever wondered what it would be like barely having to line up to enter the Musée du Louvre or not having to brave a snaking queue to ascend the Eiffel Tower? This was my experience and a sign of what you can expect in the winter months, especially after New Years and before Easter. Fewer tourists competing for limited space means you can spend less time wasting your day lining up and more time exploring the museums and other popular attractions that make Paris such a desirable winter destination.
Fewer tourists lead me to the next benefit of visiting Paris during winter. Minimal tourists also mean minimal pickpockets, who are notorious for targeting visitors at popular Parisian attractions. Yes, unfortunately, it’s likely there will still be a few prowling about on occasion but I was very surprised at the difference in their numbers between my summer and winter visitors in the same year. It’s much a much more enjoyable experience when you’re able to relax a little and take in the sights of Paris without the lingering pressure of being targeted by pickpockets.
-The Invisible Tourist
This Swedish city north of the arctic circle doesn’t hibernate in winter; it thrives. The snow is knee deep, the northern lights are often visible, and many locals drive around their snowmobiles. The sun doesn’t even rise for 21 days in December. As the locals say: the days may be short and the nights may be long, but with a bright full moon, it looks a lot like daytime. That’s honestly an attitude we should all aspire to have. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, it’s also simply a fascinating place.
Some winter activities include learning about Sami culture, visiting the Snow Festival (end of January), and drinking glögg to keep warm. For the active visitor, there’s ice skating, dog sledding, skiing, and ice climbing. Uniquely so, the local iron mine is one of Kiruna’s main tourist attractions.
Historically speaking, Kiruna has mostly been a mining town. They found iron deposits in the area and next to it they built a town. Now they’ve discovered more iron underneath the town. So what do the Swedish do? They relocate the town eastward like that’s no big deal at all. The mine produces enough iron for six Eiffel Towers a day, and is open for visits year-round – despite the frozen conditions in winter.
Speaking of freezing, in the nearby town of Jukkasjärvi hosts the original Ice Hotel. If you ever wanted a stay to never forget, this is it. Every year, snow is harvested and ice blocks are carved out of a nearby river. Then engineers and artists build the entire structure from scratch. You’ll sit on it, you’ll drink from it, and you’ll sleep on it. Make sure to bring a pair of warm mittens when visiting Sweden in the winter!
-Mind of a Hitchhiker
Tucked away in a quiet corner of northwest Belgium is the fairytale medieval town of Bruges. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, narrow cobbled streets weave through its center linking the canals, hidden squares and colorful houses of this beautiful old town. Regarded as one of the best medieval towns in Europe countless Belgian chocolate shops, waffle makers, quirky beer houses and tiny restaurants fill every corner. Bruges is easily one of the best cities in Europe to visit in the winter.
Bruges is extremely popular with day trip visitors from the surrounding cities, especially at weekends, so we recommend staying at least one night to truly experience its magic. We love the Hotel Acacia, located next to the main square, with its resident parrot, Coco, who greets guests upon arrival at the hotel! Beautiful in every season, Bruges is extra special during the winter when it is home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe and the Old Town transforms into a festive wonderland complete with a Christmas village in the town square.
Packed with everything festive from delicious food to mulled wine, unique chocolate souvenirs and ice skating under the shadow of the Belfry Tower, the Bruges Christmas market is definitely one not to miss. Evenings spent wandering through the twinkling Old Town eating, drinking and skating are some of our most magical memories. Don’t forget, it can get chilly in between all those mulled wines and hot chocolates – winter in Europe requires wrapping up warmly and we always pack a cozy warm scarf to keep the cold winter air at bay!
–The Whole World is a Playground
Dresden is a beautiful city to visit at any time of the year but in winter it really comes to life. It has a rich history, grand baroque palaces and museums decorate the city center, stuffed with a wealth of treasures and art collected by the most notable ruler of Saxony, King Augustus the Strong. The winter means Christmas markets for Dresden. Each market is unique and reflects its neighborhood and origins. The largest market on the Altmarkt square is also the oldest in Germany. The Streizelmarkt is built from the ground up each year but resembles more of a village than a temporary festival. Gluhwein, Gluhbeer, and Jagertea are the drinks of choice here. Be sure to try a selection since each stand has its own unique flavor.
Beautifully handcrafted decorations from the nearby Erzgebirge mountains can be taken home as a souvenir. The Streizelmarket is opened with the Stollen Parade. Stollen is a traditional fruit cake, coated with a mixture of powdered sugar and butter. A huge stollen is paraded through the city on a wagon pulled by horses accompanied by a marching band and fanfare. Outside of Christmas ice skating is possible at the winter festival and the museums which are quieter than other times of year beckon visitors out of the cold.
Stay at the Vienna House QF Hotel, an elegant hotel in the heart of Dresden’s baroque old town, a central location, without compromising a restful night’s sleep. Five of Dresden’s Christmas markets and many museums are situated within a few minutes walk of the hotel.
-Happiness Travels Here
The first time I visited Lviv, Ukraine was in the winter time and it was love at first sight. The city looked beautiful, like from a fairy tale! The clear blue sky, the snow crunching under the feet and shining in the sun was pure magic. Lviv is a place where you easily have one of the best winter vacations in Europe
Sometimes there was so much snow that the streets were blocked, but that just added to the overall atmosphere of the city. Even the crazy cold (like -20°C) didn’t bother all that much. And when I was starting to feel uncomfortable I could escape to one of the cozy cafes that Lviv is full of. The beauty in Lviv hides inside and there are few places where the interior will make your jaw drop – some of them are the Opera, House of Scientists or Ethnography Museum. Since Lviv is also crazy cheap you can have great culinary experiences at a low cost. Just remember to take warm merino wool socks with you as winters in Lviv can get really cold!
During one of my visits, I discovered by accident the George Hotel. As it turned out it’s the oldest hotel in Lviv, full of history and a long list of noble names that stayed there. Not to mention the interior that is stunning too. With your breakfast, you will get a live piano music to make the start of the day even more enjoyable.
Sardinia is the ultimate summer destination in Europe, thanks to its amazing beaches. Yet, it’s also one of the warmest places in Europe in winter, thanks to its gorgeous nature, beautiful cities, charming villages, unique archeological sites, winter festivals and delicious food and wine.
Cagliari, the capital, is a good place to begin explorations. Not only is the city is packed with interesting sights, museums, restaurants, and nightlife; but it also provides easy access to a number of nearby attractions. Be it coastal hiking trails, archaeological sites, and even lovely beaches where to take an afternoon stroll.
Cagliari has a wide choice of hotels to choose from, but one of the best is George Hotel. which is walking distance from the city center. It is located right in front of Sardinia’s most important theater and near a beautiful urban park. The hotel has a lovely bistro and a bar that is a favorite of the locals.
The weather in Sardinia during the winter varies depending on the location. It typically snows in the mountains, but the coast enjoys mild temperatures and sunny days most of the time. However, humidity in the air is such that even the slightest breeze may make it quite cold, so a good travel scarf is a must-have accessory to block the cold.
-My Adventures Across The World
Lisbon, Portugal’s capital city, is a very warm place in Europe in December. Blue skies and sunshine are still plentiful and the relative lack of tourists makes this a great time to visit. As long as you wrap up, the mild winter temperatures mean you can still enjoy the numerous outdoor cafés and strolling around the city to admire it from various hilltop viewing spots.
Even on grey days, Lisbon is far from gloomy. The city is renowned for its light, which reflects from the wide Tagus River and the limestone cobbled paving. Vibrant street art, colorfully painted tile-clad buildings liven up the cityscape even further.
The aroma and smoke of roasting chestnuts permeate the streets and in the weeks surrounding Christmas, innovative decorations dominate Lisbon’s squares and major thoroughfares. Depending on which month you choose to visit, you’ll encounter various food and winter markets. Christmas also brings a cycle of concerts to the city, some in the squares, others in theatres and churches.
As you’d expect from a capital city, Lisbon has many fabulous palaces and museums including the Gulbenkian, the National Museum of Ancient Art and the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology where you can take shelter on rainy days. Even the metro stations form an underground art gallery. Shopping is also a pleasure, whether you prefer element-proof shiny malls, traditional independent shops, indoor markets, unique boutiques, treasure trove antique shops or quirky shopping centers with concept and design stores, such as Embaixada.
Nightlife still spills out onto the streets in winter, except on rainy evenings, although there are plenty of warm, cozy drinking and eating spots if it’s too chilly for you. The New Year’s Eve celebrations with fireworks over the Tagus River are worth braving the cold for.
-Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
Prague, Czech Republic
Overrun with tourists in the warmer months, Prague can feel downright deserted in winter. Snowfall will muffle your footsteps as you explore the Old Town and Castle Districts. Our favorite street, Novy Svet, is a vintage wonderland of embellished doorways specifically crafted to distinguish its residences from one another. At the bottom of the steps leading to Thunovská street, you can duck into a low barrel-ceilinged medieval townhouse repurposed into a cozy coffee bar. The fabled Charles Bridge is shrouded in mist rising from the Vltava, and the city skyline takes on a mysterious air in the milky light so beloved by painters through the centuries. Shopkeepers and servers have all the time in the world for pleasantries in the winter, and locals are happy to reach out with offers to share a meal or recommend an experience.
Go prepared with practical footwear – warm boots perfect for tromping around in cold and damp conditions. The Clarion Hotel Prague Old Town. is a great place to stay. It is tucked away on a quiet side street only a five-minute walk to Dlouhá Street. First-time visitors to Prague should definitely consider coming in the off-season for a more authentic, slice-of-life experience in one of Europe’s most magical destinations.
Andermatt, Switzerland is a postcard-perfect winter destination. Think snow-capped mountains, ski slopes, and thermal baths. After foreign investment and much restoration, the once small skiing village is now a significant Alpine resort destination. Joining the nearby skiing area of Sedrun, it has become the largest ski area in central Switzerland. If you love hitting the slopes, then you’ll be spoilt for choice as there are over 120kms of runs.
Yet with all the refurbishing and development, it still has that quaint village charm that you can enjoy at any time of the year. You’ll definitely want to visit at Christmas time as the sleepy snowy town comes alive with a jovial Christmas Market. There is a magical fairytale like quality as lights are displayed along the streets in a wonderful festive scene.
If you want to experience luxury, you’ll definitely want to stay at the George Hotel. My favorite thing about the Chedi is the indoor or outdoor heated pools. I love taking a thermal bath among the pristine winter scenery. Although the Chedi spa is very pricey, it is definitely one of the most luxurious you’ll ever experience. If you’re wanting the perfect alpine escape, give Andermatt a try. It really is a beautiful and charming winter destination.
Borovets in Bulgaria is a great destination for those who want to experience a ‘proper’ European winter on a budget. Just 90 minutes’ drive from Sofia Airport, the resort is small enough to be walkable but large enough to have all the conveniences and entertainment that visitors would expect from a modern-day tourist town. International restaurant chains have started to creep into the resort but most places are independent, traditional Bulgarian eateries offering hot stews, traditional soups, and freshly baked bread.
Summer is a beautiful time to visit Borovets, but the region really comes to life in the winter, when snow blankets the mountains and wolf cubs can be seen playing in the pine forests. The resort has a great selection of ski and snowboard runs from beginner to expert, as well as off-piste skiing and of course great apres-ski. For visitors who don’t fancy skiing, snow-shoeing, skidoo safaris, and husky sled rides are also available. Budget apartments are widely available, but if you’re looking for a relaxing holiday why not try the upscale Hotel Rila at the bottom of the main slope for ski-up affordable luxury?
–Adventure Travel Family
Traveling to Europe in the winter is the perfect time to visit, and Budapest is one of those cities that is truly special. There are way fewer tourists in town which have several benefits: cheaper accommodation rates, less crowded attractions, more tolerable temperatures, making it overall more enjoyable. Our first visit was just after Thanksgiving when the Christmas markets were set up throughout the city. As you wander around the city checking out all the things to do in Budapest you’ll continue to stumble upon Christmas markets. Which is also a great place to pick up a unique gift for those back at home.
If you happen to be going to Christmas markets in Germany or Austria you’ll find that the prices are much cheaper in Budapest. We stayed at the Kempinski Budapest Hotel, which has a Christmas market on one side of the hotel and the Budapest Eye Ferris Wheel on the other side. It’s the perfect location for exploring the city. Don’t’ forget an umbrella, it may be winter but the temperature vary in Budapest. You could have snow one day and the next day rain.
The beautiful Austrian city Graz is a true gem. It’s the second largest city in Austria and the capital of Styria. Back in 1999, Graz was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites – and this is definitely not surprising. The cobblestoned streets, cute buildings, and the amazing landscapes are unique. In the winter is when this city really starts to sparkle.
Not only does it host 14 (!) truly Austrian Christmas markets, but also adds the snow a special atmosphere to the rather old, traditional, and sleepy city. Entering Graz during winter will put an immediate smell of roasted almonds into your nose. Followed by some mulled wine odor and the views of perfectly lit Christmas trees. Once the sun sets in Graz, the whole city will be put into an almost cold, but still warm-ish orange. Then, the atmosphere is truly magic. People start gathering in the streets, they wander to the various markets, get their first mulled wine and maybe snack on some grilled sausage, as this is a typical dish to eat on a Christmas market.
Then, it is also the perfect time to get to the Schlossberg. This mountain lies on top of the city and functions as the perfect lookout for those that are sunset-lovers just like myself. Within five minutes the funicular will take you to the top. The mountain is 123 meters high and during Christmas time it is home to one of the most romantic Christmas markets I have ever seen. It’s called “Aufsteirern” and is somehow a mix of medieval market and a magic Christmas play that takes place right around you.
Every Friday, they meet at the “Wunderland” Christmas market. It’s located in the cool and upcoming district Lend and combines some proper old Austrian and German music with Christmas atmosphere. Could it get any better? My tip – Don’t forget to pack mittens! How else can you hold a mug of mulled wine outside in the cold?
Not many people are aware that my hometown Milan is actually a great winter destination. Summers are very hot, and spring and autumn are very busy with festivals, trade fairs, and other events – but December-February is low season and you’ll be able to find great deals on flights and accommodation. The city does get cold – but the good thing is that you can go skiing about an hour away! Milan has the reputation of being an expensive city, but as a matter of fact, there are plenty of places to visit in Milan for free. You can visit many churches, museums on the first Sunday of each month and there are even some Christmas markets – my favorite is the one near Navigli.
Shopping is also reason enough to visit Milan – the city is famous for its expensive boutiques but there are also many artisan and young designer shops, where you’ll be able to snap up unique pieces of clothing/accessories at bargain prices. Areas like Brera, Porta Ticinese, and Isola are great places for a spot of pre-Christmas shopping. If you happen to visit the city in January or February, even better – that’s when the sales are on! Milan also has some amazing restaurants from all over Italy and beyond. Milanese dishes are actually perfect comfort food for winter – my favorite is risotto alla Milanese with saffron, delicious in its simplicity. PanEvo restaurant makes the best one in town!
–The Crowded Planet
We’ve been on a mission to explore some of the smallest countries in the world. It’s what recently brought us to Luxembourg and took us through Swaziland last year. On our grand tour of the Alps, we visited Austria and Switzerland so it only made a chance to stop by the country sandwiched right in between the two. Liechtenstein has an area of just over 160 square kilometres making it the fourth smallest country in Europe with a population of only 38,000 people!
Malbun is a small town in the alps that is great for a winter vacation in Europe. It’s here you can enjoy the best things to do in Europe in the winter – snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and fondue dipping! We even went for a winter walk in the woods with llamas!
We spent two full days in Liechtenstein and thought it was the ultimate place for families. The mountain and town is big enough to have some fun in, but also small enough to let your children run wild and free!
–The World Pursuit
Plan Your Visit to Europe
We rely on a few trusted websites that help save us money and time when booking hotels, flights, and car rentals. Check out some of our preferred partners below:
- Wondering what to bring to Europe? Check out our ultimate Europe packing list.
- Accommodation in Europe: We typically choose to stay with Airbnb while traveling in Europe. Read more about choosing a good Airbnb here. Here is a coupon for your first stay with Airbnb!
- Travel Insurance: We never travel without travel insurance with World Nomads. Natasha is a bit of a worry wart and would rather stay safe than sorry. World Nomads is ideal for flexible and great plans!
- Water: We find the water in most of Europe fine to drink, if you want extra assurance then we love traveling with our Lifestraw Go Waterbottle
- Adapter: Most of Europe uses the Europlug, but some also use the British three prong adaptor and the Type L adaptor. Many adapters are interchangeable, so make sure you find a good one like the one I have to keep you charged.
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