Although a Europe winter can be cold, there are plenty of reasons to visit which vastly outweigh the chilly temperatures. With fewer crowds, cheaper prices, and fairytale-esque snowy landscapes, Europe is an undeniable winter wonderland. For us in the Southern hemisphere, our holidays usually mean that European holidays often happen in the wintery months. But never fear! At first many people might not be too stoked with this, but trust me, it is a blessing in disguise.
Having just spent a winter in Europe, I am now on board the winter bandwagon (although any season in Europe is awesome). Not all destinations are the same in winter as in summer, and if you are planning a winter itinerary there are considerations that need to be made. A lot of guide books and blogs are written for the summer months which sometimes isn’t too helpful for planning a winter itinerary. So, I have recruited some well-respected travel bloggers to weigh in and share their favourite European winter destinations. These destinations are varied, unique, and truly shine in the winter. So sit back, relax, and get ready for some wintery wanderlust.
Prague, Czech Republic
Written by 5 Lost Together
Prague is a beautiful city to visit in the winter months, especially if you visit during the Christmas market season. The city is usually blanketed in a dusting of snow, enhancing the beauty. Much of the Old Town survived the destruction of the 20th century and you can wander endless cobblestone streets and winding laneways. When visiting in winter, you can warm up in Prague‘s ten major museums or better yet, duck into a cafe for some world-renowned beer.
The Christmas market in the Old Town Square features quaint red huts selling unique handicrafts, jewellery and toys. The scent of fragrant baking and mulled wine fills the air and warms your spirit even on the coldest days. There is a giant Christmas tree lit up in the Square where carollers gather nightly during the festive season. Another great place to warm up is Vytopna Railway Restaurant where you can sample traditional Czech food, but also have beer delivered to your table via train. Prague truly is a winter wonderland and makes a great European winter destination.
READ MORE: Travel Textbook’s Quick Guide To Prague
Written by Drifter Planet
If you live in Europe, then Hamburg in Germany is one of the best places for a winter holiday. Not only will you get to witness the famous German Christmas market (Nov and Dec) here in Hamburg, but also Hamburger Dom Funfair (November). The latter is one of the biggest public festivals in the North of Germany. With canals, pretty houses, historical architecture, a red light district, interesting street art and an amazing party scene, Hamburg offers something for every kind of a traveler. Hamburg also has a lot of interesting attractions that are indoors and can be visited when it’s too cold outside.
You can spend a day at Chocoversum Chocolate factory, the Miniature Wonderland, or check out Elb Tunnel which is the longest underwater river tunnel in the world. Even if you don’t visit any of the famous attractions, you’re going to love walking around in Hamburg because it’s very pretty. Believe it or not, this city has more bridges than Amsterdam and Venice combined.
Portes du Soleil, French Alps
Written by A World To Travel
My love for mountains and snowboarding lead me to work on-and-off for five consecutive winters (and a whole Summer) in ski resorts spread across the Alps. I got to know epic resorts like Val Thorens, Saint-François-Longchamp, Risoul-Vars, Pra Loup, Les Deux Alpes, and many others. But my favourite was, indeed, Portes du Soleil. Portes du Soleil is one of the largest resorts in the world. It encompasses thirteen resorts between Mont Blanc in France and Lake Geneva in Switzerland, making a skiable area of 650km with 10 terrain parks. I was often based in Avoriaz while working there.
Written by The Crowded Planet
One of the best things about travelling in Northern Europe is that you can visit in different seasons and have completely different experiences. The Finnish capital of Helsinki is one of my favourite destinations ever. If you asked me when to visit, I would definitely recommend visiting in winter. The city is simply magical during the cold season! If you visit in January and February the days are very short, but the light looks so special, as if it were golden hour all day long. You can also enjoy wonderful winter activities like dogsledding and snowmobiling not far from Helsinki, and if you’re brave enough you simply must try ice swimming after a sauna! This picture was taken from a helicopter tour of the city, another highly recommended activity if you’re visiting in winter.
Written by Travel Textbook
Switzerland as an entire country is the perfect winter destination, but no single place sums it up quite like Lauterbrunnen. Nestled in a valley of sheer cliffs, complete with cascading waterfalls, Lauterbrunnen is a postcard-perfect Swiss town. Enjoying some soul-warming fondue whilst overlooking the iconic church towards the Alps as people are skydiving overhead; is there anything more iconically Swiss winter?
The Peaks District, United Kingdom
Written by Gallivant Girl
The Peak District National Park is a must-visit for keen hikers. Just 30 minutes by train from Sheffield and Manchester, the Peak District is an accessible getaway from city life. While it is undoubtedly most popular during the summer months, winter days are also ideal for exploring. Not only is it less busy, but it can feel like a true winter wonderland with snowy views for miles over rolling hills on a clear day. The English winds can form unusual and truly stunning ice formations, which makes visiting in winter an entirely different experience to the greener summer months.
The Peak District offers trails for all abilities. There are plenty of options for keen hikers seeking a full-day adventure – Kinder Scout, the highest point (636m) is particularly beautiful on snowy days. Those seeking a more leisurely stroll can enjoy the views of the peaks while walking between pubs in the nearby towns, which serve roast chestnuts, hot spiced cider and mulled wine to weary hikers. Castleton is a great option with an annual Christmas tree festival and Santa’s Grotto. Be sure to wrap up warm, and if it’s snowy – take a sledge!
Written by From Real People
The city of Cologne is most famous for its stunning Gothic Cathedral. Traditional German efficient did not extend to its construction however, which first started in 1248 but was not completed until over 630 years later in 1880. The Cathedral sits on the banks of the Rhine River that is another reason to visit this beautiful city. For the best view of both the river and the Cathedral, take a trip to the top of the Koln Triangle Tower on the other side of the river.
Although it’s a great place to visit at any time of the year, the best time to visit Cologne is in the 4 to 5 weeks before Christmas. The reason? It’s amazing Christmas Markets. Lots of cities around the world have Christmas Markets but in Cologne there are 7 different markets, all with their own theme and style. From the grand splendour of the Cathedral Market, the cute and cosy feel of the Alt Stadt Market at Heumarkt through to the famous Angel Market at Neumarkt and the Gay Market at Christmas Avenue, there really is something for everyone. There’s nothing more likely to get you into the Christmas spirit than a hot Gluhwein in this amazing city.
Written by Breathing Travel
Written by Getting Stamped
One of our favourite European winter trips was a river cruise down the Danube River. Our trip started in Budapest, this was our first trip to Budapest so we added on a week so we can check out all the things to do in Budapest before we headed down the Danube. Winter in Budapest is gorgeous. There are Christmas markets set up throughout the city, the temperature is chilly but not freezing a comfortable 4-10ºC, there aren’t a ton of tourists in town, and the hotel prices are lower. Budapest reminds me a lot of Prague (which I also love) but way fewer people and even cheaper prices (yes this is possible). I loved wandering the streets and stumbling on Christmas markets and warming up with a cup of hot mulled wine all while getting some Christmas shopping done.
Written by Surfing The Planet
Andorra is a tiny country in Europe, situated in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. Despite its size, it has its own identity and the principal official language is Catalan. The main reason to visit Andorra is the fantastic mountainous landscape you can enjoy here.
In winter, Andorra is a great and relatively cheap ski destination with some of the major ski stations of the continent. The two main ski areas are Grandvalira and Vallnord. Grandvalira is for braver people and has many black runs, whereas Vallnord, in the Northeast, is known for easier slopes. Of course you don’t have to ski to enjoy winter in Andorra – you can try a lot of other activities such as sledging, ice-skating or snowshoeing. A bonus is that Andorra is known for its great thermal baths, so after a tiresome day, you can relax in one of the country’s great spas.
Written by Short Holidays and Getaways
Kitzbühel is a medieval town located in the Tyrol region of Austria, in a valley at the foot of the Kitzbüheler Horn. Kitz is a fashionable ski resort, attracting international visitors to the snow season. The famous downhill Hahnenkamm ski race is also held in Kitzbühel. Not only is the skiing fantastic, but the town is archetypically beautiful, with brightly coloured buildings. There are church steeples, cafés with faux fur rugs adorning chairs, and horse-drawn carriage rides. This is a very cute Tyrolean town and one that is magical in winter.
READ MORE: Travel Textbook’s Guide To Austria
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Written by Travel Highway
Written by Global Brunch
Utsjoki is the perfect winter wonderland. It is the ideal winter destination if you love all things snow and want to experience one of Europe’s last true wildernesses. Utsjoki is the northernmost municipality in the European Union, located 450km North of the Arctic Circle. The breath-taking Arctic landscape surrounding Utsjoki is not just pretty to look at, but is a playground for the best outdoor winter activities. Explore this winter paradise with a snowmobile, snowshoes, cross-country skis or on a husky sled – the choice is yours! One of my personal favourites is taking a snowmobile out into the Arctic Tundra for a fun day of ice fishing and campfires.
Winter is a great time for Northern Light chasing in Utsjoki. Thanks to its location, the success rate of spotting Auroras is incredibly high. However that is not the only natural phenomenon you can witness there. Every year from November until January Utsjoki is dipped in beautiful pastel colours during Polar Night (the 6 week period when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon).
MORE FROM GLOBAL BRUNCH Best Outdoor Activities to Explore Lapland’s Winter Landscape and twitter.com/GlobalBrunch
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Written by Living La Vida Global
READ MORE: Travel Textbook’s Guide To Germany
Written by Travel Textbook
The Danish capital oozes Nordic cool, and is the perfect spot to spend while in the winter. With bustling modern cafés, a trendy art scene, and plenty of beautiful architecture, there is no city that does winter quite like Copenhagen. Spend some time strolling along Nyhavn or marvelling at the gorgeous palaces. Winter feels damn near perfect here (as long as you are not too budget conscious).
READ MORE: The Best Things To Do In Copenhagen
Written by Mind of a Hitchhiker
Written by Migrating Miss
You may not think of Spain as a great winter destination, but Granada has to be an exception. This beautiful city overlooked by the Alhambra and the Sierra Nevada still sees plenty of sunshine in winter, although the air is definitely cooler. Wander through the whitewashed streets of the Albayzin, the oldest districts of Granada, and watch the sun set behind the Alhambra. You can still eat outside at many of the restaurants and bars, and enjoy traditional Andalusian tapas. Take a day trip to the Sierra Nevada to ski, snowboard, or just experience the snow in Spain, or you can be on the coast in just 1.5 hours. Visiting Granada in winter means less other tourists and still being able to enjoy the same delights the city has to offer in summer, just without the extreme heat and with the opportunity to visit the snow!
Val Gardena, Italy
Written by Inguaribile Viaggiatore
Written by Pack The PJs
Chamonix is renowned for being the home of alpine sports, but you don’t have to be a skier to enjoy Chamonix during winter. There are lots of things to see and do, with or without your skis. The beautiful town centre, with lovely churches and traditional buildings, is always open and always busy, whatever the time of year. A small Christmas market turns the town centre into a festive wonderland in December, with restaurants offering outdoor heaters and blankets to those wanting to sit outside surrounded by snow-capped peaks. Restaurants, cafés and patisseries are plentiful, as are premium stores such as Chanel, Benetton and Timberland. Accommodation is abundant and suits all budgets.
From the centre of Chamonix you can take a cable car to Le Brevant, the highest peak on the western side of the valley. From here you get amazing views of the Mont Blanc massif. Some choose to paraglide back down to town from here. The scenic cog train du Montenvers leaves the centre of Chamonix and climbs to the Mer de Glace, the largest remaining glacier in France.
Other popular activities in Chamonix include alpine and valley walking, white water rafting and canyoning, and ice climbing. But for many, Chamonix is simply a lovely place to shop, eat and socialise.
Written by The Lazy Trotter
Ever thought about visiting the Italian fashion capital city during winter? After Expo 2015 Milan has changed its face, ranking straight to the top of the best destinations in Europe. The city has so much to offer with dozens of bars, restaurants, shops, and clubs popping up all over, and winter os definitely the time to make the most out of it.
If you don’t mind a little bit of cold weather, then there is plenty to look forward to. You will love the scent of roasted chestnuts wafting in the air as you stroll around the narrow streets listening to the music of street artists playing away as you are fascinated by the colourful winter coats moving up and down the main shopping street.
Winter is also a great time to enjoy the numerous Christmas markets taking place both at Duomo Cathedral and Sempione Park. Not to mention the so many hipster and design markets organised inside old, urban buildings that you would never expect. And – don’t forget – winter is the best time of the year to eat the Italian panettone, a typical Milanese sweet bread loaf. You will just love it!
READ MORE: Travel Textbook’s Guide To Italy
Written by Siddharth and Shruti
Written by Portugalist
Written by Travel Textbook
If you’re thinking of an iconic fairytale winter in Europe then you have to include a trip to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Partially the inspiration for the Disney Castle, this castle is pretty much perfect. Visiting Neuschwanstein in winter comes with many bonuses including: way fewer crowds (meaning you won’t have to compete for this view), and the out-of-this world dusting of snow. Visiting Neuschwanstein from Münich is easy and it is a fantastic Bavarian day trip.
READ MORE: Visiting Neuschwanstein Castle From Munich
Written by Wanderer of the World
Ruka in the North of Finland is a perfect winter destination for a number of reasons. For a start, this time of year sees it turn into the perfect winter wonderland, complete with fluffy, deep snow, inky blue skies and snow-topped fir trees.
Ruka itself is home to a great ski resort. It’s not the best for beginners, but if you’re an Intermediate or Advanced level skier, then there are some thrilling runs here to keep you entertained. It also doesn’t get overly busy during ski season here, which is a bonus.
Furthermore, a vacation in Finland should most definitely involve some of their varied winter sports! Why not try husky sledding? Snowmobiling? Reindeer sleigh rides? You name it, the possibilities for fun (and unique) winter sports are endless!
Whilst you’re in Finland, I’d recommend booking your stay in a traditional log cabin, which usually come with log fires and private saunas. Add Glögi (a type of Finnish mulled wine) to your evenings and your winter will be truly cosy and spectacular!
Written by Travel Tyrol
The Tyrolean capital of Innsbruck is one of the best winter destinations in Europe for people who like to combine skiing with the pleasures of city life. You can literally be on a ski slope on the Nordkette mountain chain within 40 minutes of leaving the city center. Several other ski resorts are less than an hour away from Innsbruck, including the popular Stubai glacier. Even if you don’t like skiing, Innsbruck has lots to offer in the form of arts and culture during winter. It’s Golden Roof, Imperial Palace, Ambras Castle, and Bergisel Ski Jump with Panorama Museum are just some of the attractions that remain popular year-round. Winter also lends a special charm to the Swarovski Crystal Worlds in nearby Wattens. Snow-covered mountain peaks, a medieval old town, magical Christmas markets if you are lucky to visit in December – what else do you need in a great winter destination?
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