Who doesn’t love the winter season? I’m not much for gloomy, overcast, and rainy weather, but I must admit I love the winter in Europe. White snow, mulled wine, warm scarves, and a breath of fresh, brisk air.
Europe is one of my favorite regions in the winter season. It’s why we keep coming back to the continent during December – March. Just because it’s the coldest time of year doesn’t mean it’s not a good time to travel Europe.
We’re not the only people who love to spend winter in Europe. Every year millions of vacationers flock to the continent after the best winter destinations in Europe. Here are the must-see places in Europe in winter.
Where to Spend Winter in Europe
There aren’t many cities in Europe quite like Innsbruck, so that’s why it tops this list of places to spend winter in Europe. It’s coined the title “Capital of Alps,” and it’s easy to understand why once you set foot in the city.
Flanked by the impressive Nordkette mountain range that towers over the city, nature never feels far away. When the mountains are covered in snow, it is one of the best places to visit Europe in the winter.
It’s the only city where you can ski, explore a grand palace, window shop, and savor a strudel all in one day. There are plenty of things to do in Innsbruck with the Austrian Alps and a city rich in history.
In many ways, it’s everything we love about Austria, all packed into a modern city and historic city. We love the fact that you can be in a beautiful medieval old town and then within minutes places you in the heart of the Alps with cowbells ringing and fresh Alpine air.
Love or hate Venice; there is no denying its popularity. It is the most beautiful historic city on the planet, but tourists also besiege it. The sinking city is a network of 118 islands connected by bridges. Buildings here are old, and if you manage to get away from the crowds, it feels like you’ve stepped back five centuries. It is surreal; even after several visits, we still love Venice.
In our opinion, Venice is best visited in the winter, when the streets are quiet and the air is fresh. The canals of Venice are notorious for harboring a lot of waste, and in the summer, the smell can get pretty bad; however, in the cooler months, there are fewer tourists, less waste, and the scent is at bay.
The city of Amsterdam needs no introduction. It is known as the Venice of the North because of its hundreds of canals. Amsterdam is nothing short of impressive and a must-see in winter in Europe, when the crowds die down. Whether you’re into history, architecture, partying, food, shopping, art, or cafes, there is something here for everyone.
Our favorite thing to do in Amsterdam is to simply sit canal-side in a quiet neighborhood, like Jordaan, and enjoy a cold Amstel. Or you could do even better with a boat cruise. Check out the Anne Frank House, Rijksmuseum, and Van Gogh Museum if you’re looking for traditional sights.
Another fantastic place to spend winter in Europe is this Polish City. It’s a known fact about Poland that Krakow is one of the best-preserved cities in Europe because it was amazingly spared destruction in WWII. The city lies in Southern Poland and has an impressive medieval core and Jewish quarter. The town’s central point is the massive Ryenk Glówny (market square).
In the square, you’ll find the impressive Cloth Hall, a Renaissance-era market, and St. Mary’s Basilica, a 14th-century Gothic church. It’s a gorgeous city, and best of all, it may be the most affordable to visit, so you get a great bang for your buck. You’ll find holiday cheer and even Christmas markets during a European winter.
Lech Am Arlberg, Austria
If we were to pick one of our favorite ski resort towns in Europe, it would be Lech Zurs Arlberg in Vorarlberg. Lech is exactly what you could want out of an Austrian ski holiday.
The village ambiance is tough to beat due to a wide selection of boutique hotels, all intimate in size due to strict ordinance laws. You won’t find mega hotels or foreign investments in this former farming village.
It’s all distinctly Austrian, with restaurants, hotels, bars, chalets, and B&Bs run by local families. Everything in the village is modern and luxurious but understated so that you won’t be completely gobsmacked here. This charm is what continues to draw regulars from around the world year after year.
Chamonix is a resort mountain town in the French Alps at the foot of Mont Blanc. It’s well known in mountaineering and ski communities, and you’ll quickly understand why once you arrive. The town is surrounded by colossal peaks and has a reputation for some serious terrain that experts fly from around the world to ski on. That being said, it’s a massive ski area with plenty of places for beginner and intermediate riders.
Chamonix is also credited as hosting the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924 and the host town for the annual Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in the summer.
Besides skiing and mountains, the town of Chamonix is as charming as it gets, with plenty of restaurants and shops to wander around. It’s close to Switzerland, but a fraction of the price of mountain towns like Zermatt.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Cortina d’Ampezzo is a small town in the region of Veneto, Italy. It’s the central hub for exploring the stunning Italian Dolomites, close to hot spots like Tre Cime National Park and Lake Sorapis.
It’s as posh as posh gets in Italy, and you’ll quickly notice it when you walk around the town center and pass the Louis Vuitton and other high-end shops. The town turns into something seen in Christmas movies during the holiday season, with a beautiful tree and Italian cheer all around.
There are three skiing areas in Cortina: Ski Area Faloria Cristallo Mietres, Ski Area Tofana, and Ski Area Lagazuoi 5 Torri all are fantastic for on-piste skiing and part of the Dolomiti Superski.
It’s tough to argue with the appeal of Edinburgh as it’s one of the most stunning cities in all of Europe, but it’s one of the best winter destinations in Europe. The Scottish capital is full of a long and dark history. The city center is split between the jumble of medieval buildings in the old town and the perfectly lined Georgian buildings of New Town.
The city, in many ways, is a mess, but a beautiful one at that! It’s brimming with class, tourist sights, and character, and I assure you there is no shortage of things to do in Edinburgh.
The city contains many contrasts and offers everything from world-class art festivals in the winter to fine dining, rowdy pubs, designer shops, comedy clubs, luxury hotels, and hip coffee shops. It’s almost impossible for any visitor to have the same experience in Edinburgh.
We tried our best to enjoy a bit of it all, but we’ll have to return someday with more time. We’ve visited Edinburgh’s epic Hogmanay Festival for New Year. All seasons are tremendous, and Edinburgh is a unique winter European destination.
Norway in the winter is what fairytale books are made out of. Especially the more north you head. We found a fantastic winter home in Narvik where we could spot the Northern Lights and go snowboard on powder all in one day.
The first night of our tour outside of Narvik included a dog sled at night led by head torches and the Aurora Borealis above us. Our second night was followed up with the Northern Lights over the city of Narvik from atop the ski hill. Both experiences are ones to remember forever!
If you plan to see the Northern lights in Northern Norway, I’d advise you to rent a car to guarantee your chances. Northern Norway is mainly coastal and comprised of a mix of mountains and islands. The result of the unique landscape and the sea create very localized weather and unpredictable weather.
Narvik is also where you can visit Narvikfjellet, one of Norway’s most famous ski resorts. Off-piste riding is a significant draw for Narvikfjellet as their brand new gondola provides access to some big terrain with views of the fjord down below.
Madonna Di Campiglio, Italy
This is the jewel of the ski scene in the Trentino region and is a must-visit place while spending winter in Europe. Madonna Di Campiglio is a well-known resort that is famous for hosting many Italians looking for solid skiing, dining, and relaxation in a very posh environment.
In fact, it still holds on to its claim to fame as the summer vacation spot of Austrian Royalty and Princess Sissi. The town is a beautiful little gem set at the base of the Dolomites and has all the charm of a mountain town.
The town is nearly car-free, and it’s easy to take an evening stroll after a day on the slopes. We spent our evening window shopping while checking out 19th-century architecture with a cappuccino in hand. Charming wooden homes line the streets at the foot of the Dolomites. It is easy to see why the resort town is well cherished in Northern Italy.
The tiny mountain village of Grindelwald provides perfect access to two ski areas and numerous hiking trails. High above Grindelwald lies the Bernese Alps and a famous mountain face. That mountain is Eiger’s notorious North Face.
The village has a long main road, and plenty of accommodation options to handle a large number of tourists that make the journey up the valley from Interlaken, one of our absolute favorites is The Aspen Hotel. The village lacks the charm that the surrounding villages have, such as Gimmelwald, Murren, or Wengen, but those are nearby!
Still, it does provide fantastic access to the Swiss mountains – excellent for skiers and those after a solid European winter holiday.
Salzburg is the fourth-largest city in Austria and became put on the European tourist map after Julie Andrews was seen frolicking in the Austrian Alps in The Sound of Music.
It’s a popular place to travel in Europe in winter thanks to its many Christmas markets! The Salzburg Christmas Market in the City Centre is probably the most popular as it dates back to the 15th century and is located at the foot of the Hohnsalzburg fortress. It’s where locals and visitors alike prefer to gather with hot potatoes, doughnuts with kraut and spread Christmas cheer.
Some other popular Christmas markets are Advent Magic in Hellbrunn and the Christmas Market on Mirabell Square. There are several concerts and advent gatherings. If you don’t plan to visit around Christmastime, don’t worry, there are plenty of other things to do, like walk around the old town, stroll into the Salzburg cathedral, and see Mozart’s Birthplace!
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Luxembourg City is a mix of the old and new, with highrises rising all over the city and a pleasant old town located in the city’s heart. It’s a melting pot of nationalities, and you’ll often hear English on the streets as many foreigners come to work for banks and tech companies based in the city. It brings a pleasant expatriate vibe to vibe to the town and adds to its character.
The city and country embody many quintessential European cities and countries and there are many things to do in Luxembourg. We were lucky enough to visit during the Christmas season, catch one of the season’s first snowfalls, and even take part in Luxembourg’s fabulous Christmas markets.
The Christmas markets here are almost identical to those in German and Austrian cities and are well worth a visit! Make sure to have brunch at the Chocolate House for a delicious and unique hot chocolate when you feel chilly outside.
Few cities in Europe feel as forward-thinking as Helsinki. The Finns have pushed into the modern era and embraced design, food, and art. No place is this more evident than in Finland’s capital. It’s a marvelous city that delighted us with plenty of things to do in Helsinki in the winter.
You never seem too far from nature for such a modern city, even in the winter. The city features an extraordinary amount of green space as it’s spread out across a series of islands in the Baltic Sea. You have a brilliant mix when you add in the city’s delicious restaurants and Finn’s apparent affinity for having a good time.
The Finns know how to live life with “kalsarikannit,” a word to describe sitting at home in your underwear drinking with no intention of going out – that made us laugh.
Helsinki is a beautiful city to explore, full of things to do and delicious food to eat. We spent a week here around Christmas time and could not have had a better time exploring a city. Helsinki is the first European city break destination that comes to mind, but it is well worth a memorable trip to Finland.
Vienna has been voted the most liveable city in the world several times over, and it’s known for its abundantly happy citizens, so it’s no wonder it’s one of the best places to spend winter in Europe. It’s a beautiful city full of historic buildings and palaces.
Most notable is the Habsburgs Palace, a stunning example of Baroque architecture and awe-inspiring gardens. Vienna opera house is known for being one of the best in the world, and don’t forget to try the famous Sachertorte (chocolate cake).
During the holidays, you’ll find world-class Christmas markets and plenty of Glühwein to go around!
St. Petersburg, Russia
Saint Petersburg is an excellent winter destination in Europe. 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, which is notorious for wind chills. It is also dark and gloomy during the winter months, but I promise it will be worth it once you see the frozen canals and royal palaces covered in snow. You can tour some palaces to warm up and get blown away by their grandeur and beauty. Some 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 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 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.
Tallinn is one of the best places to visit in Europe in the winter. The city can often become magical during the winter 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. It is full of attractions such as museums, churches, historical landmarks, and beautiful restaurants.
When visiting Tallinn, you’ll need to make sure you take a good quality coat, as well as a hat, gloves, and winter boots. During this season, temperatures can average between -2°C and -5°C. It can also get very windy, especially at some of the many superb viewpoints around the city, so wrapping up warm is crucial when visiting to enjoy the city and stay comfortable.
Zermatt in the wintertime can only be described as a magical winter wonderland. Under its blanket of snow, this chocolate box alpine village 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), and the restaurants and shops that line the main street.
Skiers are spoiled for choice with the kilometers of slopes on offer, and skiing is definitely one of the best things to do in Zermatt. 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 an excellent 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 the best place to stay in all of the Swiss Alps, an overnight at the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof is a must.
Any trip to Iceland will start and end in the capital city of Reykjavik. It’s a great city to visit all year round, but it comes alive during Iceland’s winter months! There may not be much daylight in the winter, but the streets are covered in white snow and 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 Iceland festivals in the wintertime, like the Dark Music Days in January and Rainbow Reykjavik in February. However, the most famous festival 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 ten days of sleeping in a van. The best part is that it’s reasonably priced for the city to help with your Iceland travel budget.
While a popular tourist destination, Paris holds a little-known secret very close to its chest over the summer months. In winter, France’s beautiful capital transforms into one of the most stunning European cities. It is a must-see destination that should not be overlooked during the colder climate.
Aside from the breathtaking sight of white rooftops and iconic monuments 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, which are notorious for targeting visitors at popular Parisian attractions. It’s a much more enjoyable experience when you’re able to relax a little and take in the sights of Paris without crowds or the pickpockets big cities can have.
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 it looks a lot like daytime with a bright full moon. That’s honestly an attitude we should all aspire to have. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, it’s also simply a fascinating place.
Fun winter activities include learning about Sami culture, visiting the Snow Festival (end of January), and drinking glögg to keep warm. There’s ice skating, dog sledding, skiing, and ice climbing for the active visitor. 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 they built a city next to it. Now they’ve discovered more iron underneath the city. 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, the nearby town of Jukkasjärvi hosts the original Ice Hotel. If you ever wanted a stay never to forget, this is it. The hotel carves snow and ice blocks out of a nearby river every year. 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.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of northwest Belgium is the medieval fairytale 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 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!
Dresden is a beautiful city to visit at any time of the year, but it comes to life in winter. 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 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 unique flavor.
Beautifully handcrafted decorations from the nearby Erzgebirge mountains can be taken home as souvenirs. 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, quieter than other times of the 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.
Annecy is a small Alpine town within the Haute-Savoie region of France. It is located at the northernmost tip of the Lac d’Annecy, set against the stunning backdrop of the mighty French Alps. This means that despite its small size, there are many reasons to visit all year round. But for us, Annecy in winter is extra-special. Lac d’Annecy is the third-largest in France and boasts the position of being Europe’s cleanest lake.
The views of the lake from Annecy town, set against the backdrop of the snow-covered Alps in winter, are particularly magnificent. As well as offering easy access to several ski resorts and alpine trails, the historic Vieux Ville (old town) is a picture-perfect place to visit in winter with Insta-worthy photo opportunities galore.
Visiting during winter means that you can enjoy numerous seasonal delights around the old town of Annecy itself. The Christmas markets are always something special. Afterward, visit one of the countless restaurants in the town and enjoy some local cuisine. Annecy is a cheese-lovers dream, and local cheese-based specialties tartiflette and raclette will feature on many menus.
Finally, strolling around the lake or over to the town hall to watch the spectacular light show will help eliminate some of those cheese and wine calories.
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 stroll 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 the vast Tagus River and the limestone-cobbled paving. Vibrant street art, and 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.
Prague, Czech Republic
Overrun with tourists in warmer climates, 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 the 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 consider coming in the off-season for a more authentic, slice-of-life experience in one of Europe’s most magical destinations.
Finnish Lapland is the winter white paradise in Europe. Freshly fallen snow sparkles during the day and reflects the moonlight at night. The trees are transformed into nature’s best interpretive ice sculptures while the hues of the northern lights dance overhead. Yes, the temperature is frigid, but you won’t be able to resist venturing out into idyllic winter beauty only found in Lapland. Rovaniemi is the most popular spot to start your trip to Finnish Lapland.
The town is easily walkable and has numerous companies offering trips to explore the forests and trails all around, whether by snowmobile, dog sled, or reindeer sleigh. Once you’ve adjusted to life north of the Arctic Circle, head to the untouched wilderness of Luosto to snowshoe and watch the Auroras light up the sky.
If snowshoeing isn’t for you, the area also has downhill and cross-country skiing. Either way, there’s something genuinely unforgettable about exploring the snowy wilderness on foot without a motor humming to disrupt the silence.
Afterward, return to your very own log cabin, bookable through Lapland Hotel Luostotunturi. They’re surrounded by wilderness and come with their own fireplace and sauna! Having a great time in the extreme cold means having the right gear.
Regardless of where your Finnish Lapland adventures take you, be sure to pack a pair of thermal underwear. Tour operators will provide you with proper Arctic boots and snowsuits, but you’ll need the proper layers underneath to keep warm.
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 want to visit at Christmas time as the sleepy, snowy town comes alive with a joyful Christmas Market. There is a magical fairytale-like quality as lights are displayed along the streets in a wonderfully festive scene.
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, and more tolerable temperatures, making it 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 Budapest prices are much lower. 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 varies 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. In 1999, Graz was added to the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites – which is not surprising. The cobblestoned streets, cute buildings, and amazing landscapes are unique. In the winter is when this city starts to sparkle.
It hosts 14 Austrian Christmas markets and adds the snow, a special atmosphere to the rather old, traditional, and sleepy city. Entering Graz during winter will immediately smell roasted almonds on 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, 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 at 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 ideal lookout for sunset-lovers like myself. Within five minutes, the funicular will take you to the top. The mountain is 123 meters high and home to one of the most romantic Christmas markets I have ever seen during Christmas time. It’s called “Aufsteirern” and is somehow a mix of a 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 of Lend and combines some good old Austrian and German music with the 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?
Few people know that my hometown Milan is 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 the 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, and 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 can 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 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!
You may not have heard of Malbun as a place to spend winter in Europe, heck, you probably haven’t heard of Malbun at all, but I guarantee you it’s a beautiful secret waiting to be explored. 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 allowed us to stop by the country sandwiched right in between the two. Liechtenstein has an area of just over 160 square kilometers, 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 are big enough to have some fun in, but also small enough to let your children run wild and free!
Winter in Europe FAQ
What are the winter months in Europe?
Throughout a large portion of the continent, winter in Europe generally sets in in late November/early December and lasts until early April.
What is the warmest country in Europe during winter?
Spain is often thought of to be the warmest country in Europe. With an average high of 20-22°C, Gran Canaria is the hottest part of Spain in December and is where many Europeans escape to get away from the cold.
How cold is a European winter?
Europe is a large country with a lot of different climates. Russia is considered to have the coldest parts of with daily highs in winter averaging 0 °C in the winter. Days in December, January and February are dark and cold with temperatures below 0 °C in Northern Europe.
What is the coldest month in Europe?
February is the coldest month of the year in the EU.
Is Europe worth going to in winter?
We love skiing and snowboarding, drinking gluhwein at Christmas markets, playing in the snow, and the overall feeling of coziness. So to us, winter in Europe is absolutely something to experience. We have traveled many parts of Europe in the winter and have never had bad time.
Where are the best Christmas markets in Europe?
Europe is famous for its enchanting Christmas markets that offer festive atmospheres, traditional crafts, delicious treats, and stunning decorations. Some of the most famous Christmas markets can be found in Strasbourg, Vienna, and Cologne! Here are more of the most enchanting Christmas markets in Europe.
What to Pack For Your Winter Trip to Europe
We love to travel during the winter months and have spent a lot chasing the snow worldwide. Learn from a few of our tips and check out our Europe Packing list or ski trip packing list before your winter trip.
Plan For Your Trip
- Protect Your Trip: We don’t travel without travel insurance, nor should you. You never know what can happen while traveling, so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Find Cheap Flights: Sign up for Going (formerly Scotts Cheap Flights) to get notified when prices get low.
- Book a Rental Car: We use Discover Car to book all our rental cars! You can also read our top tips for renting a car abroad here.
- Travel Adapter: Make sure you find a good adapter to keep your personal electronics charged. Otherwise, you may be paying for a cheap one once you land. Purchase one here.
- Travel Backpack: We like the Nomatic Travel Backpack for our travels. Check the price here.
- Our Favorite Travel Shoes: Our answer to this question is always ALLBIRDS! Check them out on their site!
- Get a Travel Credit Card: We travel worldwide for free because we have leveraged our spending into points. See why you should get a travel credit card and how you can do the same with our favorite travel credit cards.