Let’s face it – Europe is certainly not the warmest place on Earth for summer lovers when it comes to the winter months. However, if you’re in for embracing the cold weather, there are quite a few winter city breaks in Europe that would make your jaw drop.
We have asked more than 20 travel bloggers to share their favorite European winter destinations and tell us why they love this place so much and what is there to see.
Whether you are on a Christmas market hunt, looking to rock the slopes with your ski or snowboard, or just want to enjoy some winter wonderland places, this list is for you.
Keep on reading to find out the 27 best winter getaways in Europe that are even better in the cold season.
Winter City Breaks in Western Europe
1. Vienna, Austria
Austria is certainly one of the top European winter destinations when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, but the capital Vienna has its own unique charm during the winter season.
Consider Vienna one of your must-do winter city breaks in Europe, as it is among the prettiest and most-richly decorated cities around the Christmas holidays on the continent.
Vienna is full of marvelous things to do in the winter – from Christmas markets hopping and enjoying a cup of punch on the special Christmas terraces, to going ice skating on the incredible Ice Rink in front of the Rathaus (City Hall), indulging and delicious food, finding the best schnitzel and town and so much more.
This city is truly magical in the winter time and it is only a miss if you do not come and see it during your European winter adventure.
2. Salzburg, Austria
Contributed by Nadine from Le Long Weekend
Most well-known for being the birthplace of Mozart and as the filming location for many of the scenes in the Sound of Music, the Austrian city of Salzburg barely needs an introduction.
However, what you may not realise is that visiting Salzburg in winter affords a whole new experience; one filled with magical markets, traditional festivities, and stunning scenery. Come late November, the city’s squares and streets are lavishly decorated for the season, and the first Christmas markets start to appear.
December is typically when you’ll find the annual Krampus parade which both delights and slightly terrifies both young and old alike, and January is the perfect time to hit the slopes on the neighbouring ski fields. Winter often means lots of snow in Salzburg and the city looks beautiful when dusted in a thick layer of it. Don’t let it put you off exploring the Fortress at the top of the town, and its neighbouring gardens, which are also home to the city’s Water Museum.
Head in the other direction and take a wintery walk around the Kapuzinerberg, rewarding yourself at the top with a cake & coffee at the Franziskischlössl restaurant. Visit in December to make the most of the season’s festivities and shop up a storm at the markets and inner-city boutiques. Be sure not to miss the traditional wares on offer at Heimatkunst Lackner, and why not take home one of their iconic cuckoo clocks as the perfect souvenir!
3. Brussels, Belgium
Contributed by Nina from Lemons and Luggage
When it comes to the best cities to visit in Europe in the winter, Brussels is often overlooked for the much smaller Bruges. But Belgium’s capital is worth a visit on its own. Often referred to as the capital of the EU, Brussels is officially bilingual (French and Dutch), but English is very widely spoken due to the international character of the city. This makes Brussels a particularly attractive destination for people who don’t speak French or Dutch.
The most famous sight in the city is the Grand Place, the square in the center of Brussels. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is regularly named among the most beautiful squares in the world. While it is decorated with a beautiful flower carpet in the summer, it’s no less impressive in the winter with its gorgeous medieval buildings that are lit up beautifully. If you visit during Christmas time you will even see light and sound shows. During this time, the rest of the city is also beautifully decorated with Christmas lights, and there are several Christmas markets.
When it’s too cold to wander around the alleys of the city, you can warm up in one of the impressive museums, such as the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium or the Brussels City Museum. One of the coziest things to do in Brussels is probably having a hot chocolate in one of the marvelous cafés that also sell their own chocolates. There is no better time for enjoying a Belgian hot chocolate than the cold Brussels winter. Vegans don’t have to worry either as there are vegan options in Brussels as well.
4. Edinburgh, Scotland
Contributed by Maria from Maptrekking
If you are traveling the UK and need a cozy, festive getaway, visiting Scotland’s capital is the perfect answer. Many go searching for the sun during the winter months, but Edinburgh shouldn’t be overlooked since it has so much to offer!
Even with a population of over half a million, Edinburgh has a lot of charm. The wonderfully preserved Gothic and Georgian architecture helps to remind you of what it used to look like! In the winter, it is made even better with Christmas decorations and the amazing, open-air Christmas market. Besides finding souvenirs or Christmas gifts, save space for trying treats at the food stalls and make sure to try some mulled wine or a hot toddy.
The city of Edinburgh is also known as the ‘Athens of the North’ because it was a crucial place during the ‘Enlightenment’ of Europe. Many laws, scientific procedures, and discoveries, etc. were made during this intellectual movement that shapes how we live today in the modern world. For a great indoor activity, learn more about the Scottish Enlightenment at many of the free museums in Edinburgh.
One of the biggest winter events in Scotland that you can’t miss is ‘Hogmanay’, otherwise known as New Year’s Eve. Historically, Hogmanay comes from the Vikings celebrating the winter solstice. Edinburgh specifically is known around the world for its massive celebration efforts like the Princess street garden concert, a torchlight procession, a huge street party, firework display, Scottish dancing (ceilidh), and more!
5. Rovaniemi, Finland
Contributed by Veronika Primm from Travel Geekery
Rovaniemi belongs to the ultimate Christmas destinations. The town is located in Finland, right on the Arctic Circle! North of Rovaniemi there’s only Lapland and more and more wilderness.
What’s more, Rovaniemi, or actually just outside the town, is where Santa Claus is based. You can visit him all-year-round in his Santa Claus village, but of course at Christmastime it’s the most magical. Meeting up with Santa himself can be done for a fee (€30) but even just hanging around Santa’s post office and shop, where lovely elves are helping, is special enough.
Rovaniemi is a winter paradise. Most of the activities to do in the area are connected to winter. In this holiday season, you can always count with a thick layer of snow. You can engage in husky safari, take a ride on a reindeer-pulled sleigh, go skiing or snowboarding, cross-country skiing or snowshoe hiking. Riding a snowmobile or ice fishing are popular too. Just outside Rovaniemi you can often spot the bewildering Northern lights. All accommodation options usually feature a sauna, after which you’re expected to roll in the snow.
Finnish Lapland is the best winter destination there can be, especially for winter sports and fun. Visit from the beginning of November until the end of March for the best snow conditions.
6. Oslo, Norway
Contributed by Nichola from Globalmouse Travel
Oslo is great at any time of year but winter feels like the perfect time to visit. Norwegians seem to embrace the colder season perfectly and therefore being in a country where houses and shops are filled with light and warmth seems ideal. Start your visit with a trip out to Oslo Fjord on one of the many sauna boats where you can heat up in the wood-fired sauna before plunging into the freezing waters – what better way to embrace winter.
Warm up indoors at the amazing Viking Ship Museum (because it should be enjoyed in every season) and stop for sweet, spicy cinnamon buns at one of the inviting bakeries across the city. If you’re here on a Norway family holiday, a visit to the tropical Reptilpark would also be of interest.
There is skiing at Oslo Vinterpark which is easily reached by the city’s metro, or you can combine a visit to the city with a trip to one of the ski resorts a couple of hours from the centre by train (like pretty Beitostolen or Kvitfjell). A visit to Oslo in the winter will warm your soul – it just has the feel-good vibe of a city really embracing the season full on and that’s infectious.
7. Lucerne, Switzerland
Contributed by Pamela from The Directionally Challenged Traveler
Lucerne, Switzerland is a quaint city that is perfect for a winter getaway in Europe. Nestled at the bases of Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi, with peaceful Lake Lucerne right in the middle, winter is an ideal time to visit. There are plenty of things to do in Lucerne, that you’ll never get bored!
A snow-covered Kapellbrucke, or Chapel Bridge, in the center of Lucerne is a great place to start exploring the city. As you walk across one of the oldest wooden bridges in Europe, be sure to look up! There are paintings with scenes from Swiss history throughout the bridge. Lucerne is incredibly walkable – so walk around town and try some fondue from Pfistern, or indulge your sweet tooth at Max Chocolatier. For an aerial view of the area, you can visit the top of Mount Rigi via gondola. Be sure to check out Rigi’s website and webcams to check for visibility so you don’t waste your time and money. You can enjoy the views from the top or even ski down the mountain. Skiers will also love visiting Klewenalp-Stockhutte, a short 9 mile (15km) drive from Lucerne.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during late winter, you may be able to celebrate Fasnacht in Lucerne. It runs for five days before Ash Wednesday and includes at least three parades throughout town! February is the high season for traveling to Lucerne, so be sure to get your tickets and accommodation in advance.
8. York, England
Contributed by Annabel from Smudged Postcard
York, in Northern England, is a brilliant place to visit at any time of year but it is particularly special at Christmas time. The city has some excellent Christmas markets dotted around its historical heart and the medieval streets feel very festive.
York is a walled city so the perfect way to explore is from the walls which offer an elevated view of the city. If you’re looking for things to do in York with kids, the walls are a great place to burn off some energy. They are free to walk along and children will enjoy running along the pathways.
One of the highlights of a visit to York is the city’s splendid cathedral, York Minster. At Christmas time, visitors can listen to the choir singing carols in this incredible Gothic building.
Shopping in York is great fun. The famous narrow shopping street the Shambles is full of festive offerings and fans of Harry Potter will enjoy exploring some of the wizard-themed shops.
There are some excellent places to eat and drink in York. Most famous is Betty’s Tea Rooms where visitors in winter can escape the cold and enjoy a warming cup of tea and some festive Christmas cake. If chocolate is more your thing, York’s Chocolate Story retraces the history of chocolate in York, is the perfect place for a hot chocolate. However, the Christmas markets with their mulled wine may be even more appealing!
9. Madrid, Spain
Contributed by Megan from Megan Starr
Founded in the 9th century, the capital of Spain, Madrid, is one of the best and most festive cities in the country and there are always things to see and do, especially during the winter months and the Christmas holiday. And, like many other European cities, Madrid has a gorgeous Christmas Market (known as the Plaza Mayor Christmas Market).
Regarded as one of the best Christmas markets in Madrid, Plaza Mayor begins in the middle of November and remains open until the end of the year. It is also one of the oldest Christmas Markets in Spain and dates back to the 19th century, making it even more worthwhile to visit! It holds over 100 stalls that sell everything from delicious churros to souvenirs to take home with you or give as gifts to friends and family.
Another fantastic place to enjoy during winter in Madrid is the Javier Fernández ice-skating rink on Azca. Located at the legendary Picasso Tower, the ice-skating rink was founded by a local ice-skating champion and is a wonderful place to try your skills and have fun surrounded by historical buildings and illuminating Christmas decorations. If you’re looking for a fantastic place to get away during winter in Europe but somewhere that is not extremely cold, definitely consider Madrid!
10. Belfast, Northern Ireland
Contributed by Allan from Bangorni
Belfast has been more of a place to avoid in the past, due its troubled years, but this definitely works to the city’s advantage as it is now a wee gem of a destination ,as it is still overlooked by mass tourism.
Unlike Dublin, which is big, brash and busy in winter, Belfast still remains relatively serene, and full of local character and charm.
Central to festivities in the city is Belfast City Hall which hosts the annual Belfast Christmas Market where stalls, entertainment and events are scattered between the historical statues and monuments of the heritage building compound. This also makes an ideal start to touring the various things to do in Belfast including the connecting shopping streets of Donegall Place and Victoria Square, a rather shiny open air shopping mall with a free observatory for views over the city.
But the real charm in Belfast in winter has to be in the nightlife and the traditional Belfast bars and pubs that are world-renowned for their craic (local banter). One of the better areas to find a local night out is the graffiti inspired and cobbled lanes of the Cathedral Quarter where, if you’re lucky, you can maybe grab a private snug at the Duke of York for some local drinks and traditional music.
There is also the lively Botanic area of Belfast which is a huge favourite with the students of the city and is always laidback and fun to explore. Or, for a more serene visit to the city, there are always the riverside walks of the Titanic Quarter, an open-air museum celebrating the shipbuilding origins of the world-famous cruise liner.
11. Strasbourg, France
Contributed by Elisa from France Bucket List
Strasbourg is one of the most beautiful cities to visit in France and a lovely winter getaway. Strasbourg is the capital of the historic region of Alsace, and it is located in the east of the country, near the border with Germany.
Strasbourg is France’s Christmas capital. It hosts the oldest Christmas market in France and also the most beautiful one. The Christmas market is divided into different sites, so you will find winter fun across all the city. In addition to the holiday events, Strasbourg is a great cultural city with many exciting things to see and to. There’s the impressive gothic cathedral, one of France’s best cathedrals, which is beautifully illuminated in winter. And there are also a couple of picturesque neighborhoods, that are best explored on foot. For the coldest days of winter, I recommend the Historical Museum or the Alsace Museum. They are both very entertaining and helpful to learn more about the city’s history and cultural traditions.
However, the best place to be in Strasbourg in wintertime is in one of the city’s winstubs. A winstub is a popular restaurant proposing cheap, traditional food, and wine in a cozy atmosphere. Traditional winstubs are nothing fancy, but they are authentic and a great place to taste good Alsace food like choucroute, or tarte flambée.
12. Colmar, France
Contributed by Ophelie from Limitless secrets
13. Ghent, Belgium
Contributed by Isabelle from Issys Escapades
Ghent is a beautiful, medieval city located close to Brussels in the country of Belgium. Often overlooked for neighbouring Bruges, Ghent is equally as picturesque and perhaps, a tad more enjoyable to visit as it doesn’t attract the same crowds that Bruges does.
Ghent is a city that is full of history, culture and unique buildings and architecture. It is also made all the more splendid by the series of canals that weave their way throughout the city, making it an extremely romantic destination and one that is simply made for exploring.
Winter is a brilliant time to visit, as many of the most famous Belgian hotspots are filled to the brim with tourists during summertime, making winter more ‘off-season’ and a time that is far less crowded, making it the ideal time to uncover the delights of Ghent.
At winter time, Ghent offers a delightful Christmas market with a giant ferris wheel, that is located against the dramatic backdrop of the magnificent St. Bavo’s Cathedral. The cathedral is one of Ghent’s most popular tourist attractions, made all the more, so as it is the location that holds that world-famous Ghent Altarpiece, ‘The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb’ by the Van Eyck brothers, which was painted in the 15th century and is composed of 18 different panels. The cathedral is also beautifully decorated for Christmas.
Another site that you must see is St. Michael’s Bridge. Made even more romantic by the ethereal mist of wintertime, this is a top photography destination in Ghent for any budding Instagrammers! One of Ghent’s most interesting places to visit, its Gravensteen Castle, is made all the more interesting a location to stop off at in winter, as at Christmas time, the castle is turned into a magical winter wonderland that is designed to enchant both young and old.
One final reason that makes a Ghent city break the perfect winter destination, is the plethora of top quality bars and restaurants that the city boasts (including 6 Michelin starred restaurants). There is nothing better than to cosy up in a nice bar or restaurant after a day of sightseeing to warm up those feet and enjoy a delicious meal in toasty surroundings.
14. Manchester, England
Contributed by Pauline from Beeloved City
Located in North West England, Manchester is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. Yet, it’s an excellent destination, especially in winter.
Manchester is a dynamic city. It’s known for its lively neighbourhoods and music culture. There are many festivals taking place in Manchester in winter including Lightopia and the Chinese New Year celebrations, but the true magic happens at Christmas time.
In November, the Christmas markets start and they are absolutely amazing! There are 9 of them, scattered around the city centre. You will find beautiful crafted products and delicious food. Mancunians love their Christmas markets. They spend a lot of time here drinking mulled wine with friends. If you like to discover the local culture while travelling, this is a great opportunity to do so.
If you like ice skating, make sure to go to the ice-rink and the ice village on Cathedral Gardens.
For shopping, head to the Trafford Centre. This huge commercial centre is beautiful all-year-round, but when Christmas comes around, it becomes a true paradise. They spare no expense on decorations and activities and the result is absolutely amazing!
Manchester is also ideally located less than 1 hour away from Peak District National Park. Home to some of the most beautiful mountains in the UK, the Peaks are an excellent place to visit in winter as you can go hiking while enjoying the beauty of the snowy landscapes.
15. Tromso, Norway
Contributed by Anu from Country Hopping Couple
Norway is one of the popular European tourist destinations not only in summer, but also in winter. The country is synonymous with northern lights, gorgeous fjords, stunning waterfalls, not to forget their famous cities like Oslo, Lofoten and Tromso.
Tromso is one of the most beautiful cities in Norway! Whether you visit in the summer or winter, one is spoilt with choices on things to do in Tromso. There is a certain beauty in Tromso that can be experienced only if you visit the place! Tromso, located in the aurora belt in the arctic circle, makes it the most favourable place to see the northern lights.
Visiting Tromso in winter gives you the opportunity to not only see northern lights, but also experience Polar nights (time when the sun never rises above the horizon, thus leaving with very less or no daylight). Being in the arctic circle guarantees unlimited fun with snow.
Whether it is celebrating Christmas in Tromso, or simply indulging in an array of adventure activities, Tromso is truly a magical winter wonderland. You can try your hands at skiing, sledging, snowmobiling or snow walking. Winter is also the season for whale watching and Tromso is a great place to spot orcas and humpback whales. Alternatively, you can visit the Sami tribe, the indigenous nomadic people of the arctic circle.
16. London, England
Contributed by Cassie from Ms Cassie Bailey
London is a wonderful place to visit in the winter, with plenty of indoor and outdoor activities to choose from – perfect for enjoying the crisp seasonal weather, and also warming up inside!
One of my favourite places in London at winter has to be Greenwich, from warming up by the fireplace at the Cutty Sark pub or enjoying a mulled wine at Greenwich market after visiting the local craft stalls. And nothing is more magical than walking through Greenwich Park in the snow!
If you have Christmas shopping to do, you’ll love the magical Christmas decorations on Oxford Street and the huge trees in Trafalgar Square. Famous shops such as Hamleys, Harrods and Liberties usually put on stunning displays for Winter too. (Just avoid peak times – usually, around 9am and 5pm – to avoid the crowds!)
Or for something seriously festive, head to one of the markets. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland is probably the most popular, with many stalls selling everything from traditional German bratwurst, to hand-made hobby horses and unique, personalised Christmas tree decorations. I once went ice skating here and it started snowing! Though the best Winter ice rink has to be the one outside Somerset House.
Aside from the many Christmas markets and festivals, there are many indoor activities in iconic London attractions, such as Tower Bridge, the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum.
17. Zurich, Switzerland
Contributed by Emma from Travel on a time budget
Zurich is an ideal European get away in the winter. With its delightful old town lit up on the long, chilly nights, it’s the perfect tonic to get you into the Christmas mood. There are cosy cafes where you can snuggle up away from the cold, as well as restaurants serving warming Swiss food such as fondue and potato rosti. The city also has a fabulous selection of museums, including the Swiss National Museum, the Reitberg Art Museum, the Zurich Tram Museum and, for football fanatics, the Fifa World Cup Museum.
Its close proximity to the mountains provides great opportunities to partake in winter sports such as ski-ing and tobogganing. You will also find a number of ice rinks, including one next to the Dolder Grand Hotel (itself worth visiting if you fancy a trip on the Dolderbahn funicular railway up the hill for afternoon tea).
If you don’t have the time to leave the city to experience the mountains, then you can view the snowy mountain tops from a boat trip on Lake Zurich or a bracing winter walk around the water’s edge in Zurichhorn Park. Or you could look out over the city and its surroundings from the Thermalbad and Spa’s delightfully warm thermal rooftop spa pool.
If you’re in Zurich in the run up to the festive season, head for the magical Christmas markets where you can browse for gifts or buy hot chocolate or gluhwein to warm you up. As well as a market in the old town, there is one in the main train station. This includes a huge tree decorated with 7,000 Swarovski crystals.
Zurich is a great city to visit all year round, but in winter it really is an ideal getaway.
18. Copenhagen, Denmark
Contributed by Sylvie from Travels with Eden
Copenhagen is the perfect place to visit in Europe during the winter season. The city is the capital of Denmark – located on the Eastern coast. There are plenty of activities going on in Denmark throughout the winter. The best way to see all the key sites is on the hop on hop off bus, which will take you on a much bigger loop around the city than you could do on foot.
Key sights include the little Mermaid statue, the Christiansborg Palace (supreme court and parliament) and the Botanical gardens where you can walk through the snow-covered grass and view thousands of plant species. Don’t miss Nyhavn, a row of colourful houses overlooking the river that are often the picture postcard of Copenhagen.
A trip to Copenhagen isn’t complete without visiting Christiania – home of an anti-culture commune since 1971. While you’re exploring Copenhagen, make sure you try some famous Danish cuisine. The cinnamon Danish pastries are a must-have and go well with a traditional Danish coffee in one of the many coffee houses and bakeries dotted around the city. In Nyhavn you can find plenty of upmarket eateries serving fresh seafood.
If you fancy a short trip from Copenhagen in winter, a short bus ride will take you to Bellevue Beach where you can marvel at the surrounding scenery and snow-covered sand. You may even spot the locals going for a freezing winter dip! The best area to stay in Copenhagen is around the central station where you can get transport to everywhere else in the city.
Winter City Breaks in Central Europe
19. Budapest, Hungary
Contributed by Maria from A life without borders
With its lack of tourist crowds and relatively mild winter climate, Budapest in winter is nothing short of magical. From outdoor ice-rinks flanked by fairytale castles to cozy cruises on the River Danube, Budapest has plenty on offer for the perfect winter getaway.
First up, take in Budapest’s stunning winter views by heading to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fisherman’s Bastion, or the Citadel on top of Gellert Hill. Enjoy strolling the beautiful Andrassy Avenue or Vaci Utca in the heart of the city before warming up in one of Budapest’s many historic cafes.
Take a scenic boat trip past fairytale architecture as you glide along the pretty Danube River – don’t worry, the boats are enclosed and toasty warm! Keep the winter chill at bay by luxuriating in one of the city’s famous hot thermal baths. Try the centrally-located Szechenyi Bath or Rudas Bath for its amazing rooftop jacuzzi with views looking out over the Danube.
Jump on tram number 2 for a charming ride along the Danube as you experience glorious views of the city and river. Experience ice-skating in City Park with the majestic Vajdahunyad Castle as a magnificent backdrop, before hitting up one of Budapest’s famous ruin pubs.
If you’re lucky enough to be visiting Budapest from late November until early January, call into one of the city’s charming Christmas markets. Don’t miss the Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market or the Advent Market at St Stephen’s Basilica for hearty Hungarian food, handicrafts and warming hot, spiced wine.
20. Prague, Czech Republic
Contributed by Allison from Eternal Arrival
For the perfect winter city getaway in Europe, Prague is a no-brainer!
This beautiful city is gorgeous any time of year, but Prague in winter shines in particular. The Christmas Markets are like something out of a fairytale, with the smell of svarek (mulled red wine) and medovina (hot honey wine) rafting in the air and a dusting of snow covering all the red-tiled rooftops, if you have a bit of luck!
In addition to the Christmas markets in Prague (which run from the end of November through the first week of January, one of the longer run times in Europe), you’ll also find a ton of incredible winter activities like ice skating on Ovocny Trh, attending a seasonal winter concert at one of the many music halls and theaters, strolling across the scenic Charles Bridge, going for a steam at the floating sauna Lazne na Lodi, wandering around a snowy Prague Castle complex, and tasting hearty Czech food perfect for the winter weather like gulas, cesnesky, and apple strudel.
Another great idea is taking a wintry day trip to beautiful Cesky Krumlov, a fairytale town that’s especially magical in winter.
21. Wroclaw, Poland
Contributed by Karolina from Polish Foodies
One of the best places to visit in Europe during winter is Wroclaw, a charming city in Poland where a winter wonderland comes to life in the form of a traditional winter market. One of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe, the traditional wooden stalls of the Wroclaw Christmas Market cover the Rynek Market Square, Plac Solny, and the streets of Olawska and Swidnicka.
Decked with lights and Christmas decorations, the edifices of the famous old buildings of Wroclaw’s Old Town Square. The most prominent among the line of colorful Baroque and Gothic buildings is the Ratusz, Wroclaw’s Old Town Hall which was built in the 13th century. Another sight to behold is the giant Christmas tree which illuminates the square. So, making plans to see the Old Town Square during the day and the evening is a must!
No winter fairytale is complete without dwarves and Wroclaw has oodles of them hiding in every corner. Each with a career of its own: rocker, baker, farmer, wizard… Keep an eye out for these quaint statues and see if you can find them all. The free map from the tourist centre marks the location of 52 dwarves, but the city boasts of 163 dwarf statues. As most cities, there are also some unregistered dwarves in the city.
Finally, one very good reason to spend winter in the charming city of Wroclaw is that you will be able to treat yourself to an amazing vacation without breaking your budget. Here, the average accommodation can range from 65 to 131 Polish Zloty (around 16 to 31 EUR) and the daily cost of food is around 8 EUR. Just imagine feasting on the best Polish dishes like pierogi (dumplings), golabki (cabbage rolls), and Polish cheesecake accompanied by mulled wine and beer without worrying about how much you’re spending!
22. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Contributed by Carine from We did it our way
Ljubljana is a great place to visit all-year-round, but it really comes to life in the winter, when it puts on a great show for the cold months. Ljubljana is small enough to visit on foot, with a ton of fun things to do within the city, but also, around it.
The first thing you will notice in the winter in Ljubljana is that all the fountains are dressed in their best winter hats. We’ve never quite seen something like this, so it really took us by surprise.
Next, there are holiday lights all over the city, adding to the festive spirit! Plus, from the end of November to early January, you can find the biggest Christmas market in the city, which is in Prešeren Square.
Other amazing things to do in the city are to visit the Ljubljana castle that sits atop the hill, and will give you a great view. You can also visit the central market, go on a boat ride on the canals or look at the boats pass from one of the many footbridges. Another must-see in Ljubljana is the beautiful Cathedral of St. Nicholas.
Finally, if you want to escape the city, we highly recommend taking a trip to Lake Bled. The scenery here is beautiful all-year-round, but there’s something so special about going in the winter, when everything looks a little frozen in time, and crystalized with beauty.
We recommend spending two full days in Ljubljana to take it all in, with an extra day to go to Lake Bled. This will give you enough time to truly enjoy the best of the city and its surroundings!
Winter City Breaks in Eastern Europe
23. Brasov, Romania
Contributed by Richard from RJ on Tour
The city of Brasov is located in the heart of Romania in the Carpathian Mountains. The city itself is a beautiful and friendly place with lots to see and do. Brasov has a rich history and some great architecture including the city walls and famous Gothic Black Church.
The city is one of the cheaper places in Europe to stay for a winter break in terms of accommodation and dining out. There are many places to eat out throughout the city including many in the central square. The square has a great vibe, especially at Christmas where there is a big Christmas Tree, a market and lots of festive lights.
Hiking is a great option for things to do including on Mount Tampa in the city Centre. Mount Tampa has great views into the mountains or to see the city from above. Just out of town toward the ski resort of Poiana Basov is Postavarul Massif, a mountain with a very nice peak to reach. A chairlift takes you to near the peak, the final stage is a very nice but challenging hike.
The ski resort of Poiana Brasov has lots of slopes for skiing or snowboarding, in fact nearly 24 km of slopes. Poiana Brasov is the most popular ski resort in Romania and has a wonderful natural setting. The lower slopes here have floodlights enabling a longer day on the piste until 9 pm. The Apres Ski is good too, the area has many nice bars and restaurants to wind down at.
The best time to visit here is either Christmas for the festive fun or throughout January/February. The area has 150 snow-covered days making it quite a long season.
24. Sibiu, Romania
Contributed by Raluca from Travel with a spin
Sibiu is beautiful at any time of the year, but it’s even more charming during winter, under a smooth and glittery layer of snow. Every year about one month before Christmas the city is adorned with impressive decorations. The multicolor lights fill the Nicolae Bălcescu street, The Grand and The Little Square, The Liar’s Bridge and Huet Square. For years the city was considered the best one to visit in Romania during the holidays season. Don’t miss the chance to see the city and the lights from above. One can climb up the Council Tower for a very small amount of money and get the best views over Sibiu.
As with any Christmas market, there will be plenty of tasty traditional food. My favorite is pork knuckle with pickles. If it gets too cold, you can also take a shot of pălincă, one of the most appreciated local drinks, but at the same time quite strong. It will also help your body digest the hearty meal.
For more of Sibiu during winter, one can also visit The Astra Museum, an open-air museum with old wooden houses, mills, a lake and a small zoo. It’s especially nice to wander around in winter.
For winter sports fans, Sibiu comes with even more surprises as only 10 miles away there’s Păltiniș winter resort, with seven ski slopes and a sleigh ride track.
A little farther away, but still doable as a day trip stands The Ice Hotel at Bâlea Lake. For a fraction of what one would pay in Northern Europe you can sleep in an unique room made out of blocks of ice or even get your own igloo for the night.
25. Saint Petersburg, Russia
Contributed by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
The idea of St. Petersburg in winter might scare you off, because of stories of the harsh and cold Russian winters. It is true that during this time days are short and you will need to dress warm to protect you from the freezing wind. But it is also when St. Petersburg is at its most beautiful.
St Petersburg is sometimes called the Venice of the north due to its canals flowing through the city. The city is full of beautiful bridges, palaces, cathedrals and museums that bring you right back to the time when the Romanov tsars ruled. Now imagine the canals to be frozen and all these elegant buildings covered in a blanket of snow.
St. Petersburg in winter is a magical winter wonderland as you explore the large palace gardens or join the locals playing in the snow in the city’s parks. Many parks will have open air ice skating rinks or rent out sledges. At Tsarskoe Selo palace, just south of St. Petersburg, you can even go skiing. With so many fun activities, it is no wonder that despite the cold, many people still head out.
Winter in St. Petersburg is also a festive time with Christmas and New Year celebrations, as well as the Maslenitsa festival that welcomes the coming of spring. Throughout the city you can find christmas markets and in preparation for the Maslenitsa festival there are lots of pancake stalls.
If being outside gets too cold for you, St Petersburg offers many ways to warm up again. Wherever you go, there is always a trendy cafe nearby for a cup of tea or coffee. There are also plenty of indoor activities. Most of the palaces have turned into museums where you can see the lavish rooms and excellent art exhibitions. This huge variety of things to do is what makes St. Petersburg such a great city to visit in winter.
26. Riga, Latvia
Contributed by Derek from Robe Trotting
One of the best cities to visit in Europe during winter is Riga, Latvia. Exploring the charming city on the Baltic Sea is fantastic any month of the year, but in the winter there are so many things to do in Riga.
Old Town Riga is one of the best places to spend time during a winter city break to the Latvian capital. This part of the city is so beautiful and historic that the entire old town has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town of Riga is well-decorated for Christmas and there seems to be a Christmas tree or market in every open square.
The Old Town of Riga also includes stunning landmarks like the grandiose House of the Blackheads. The opulent building was constructed in the 13th century, during the period when Riga was a major Hanseatic merchant city. It was designed to be a palace for unmarried merchants of the Hanseatic League to display their wealth.
Another must-visit destination in Riga Central Market. It’s Europe’s largest open-air bazaar and it’s normally packed in the summer months, but during winter you can escape the crowds. If you stop there for a bite to eat, you’ll get extra attention from the food vendors as you try familiar and unique local foods.
One perfect way to end your day in Riga is to relax in a traditional Latvian sauna. During the winter, a steam bath and mineral water soak is incredibly peaceful. Most of the high-end hotels offer saunas and there are other stand-alone facilities in the city.
27. Zagreb, Croatia
Contributed by Dzangir Kolar from Dr Jam Travels
If you are into Christmas markets, then Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, is the place to be. This city has been voted 3 times in a row (2016-2018) as the best Christmas market in Europe. Here you can visit the Christmas market between the end of November and the beginning of January. It surpassed London, Paris, and other bigger cities around Europe.
You can start with the funicular to the older Upper town (Gradec), visit Lotršćak tower with cannon firing at noon, Marko’s square with parliament seat (Sabor), and Stone gate (pilgrim spot).
In Lower Town, you will find Lenuci’s Green Horseshoe, a U-shaped system of city squares with parks, statues, fountains, and neoclassical 18-century buildings. Here is the core of the Christmas market with lights, concerts, a beautiful ice rink, a gigantic Christmas tree, stands with local and tasty food, mulled wine and gingerbread, or original and handmade gifts.
At Zagreb’s cathedral, you can adore a live nativity scene. The main venue for concerts is the Ban Jelačić square and a popular spot to wait for the New Year and the fireworks.
Zagreb has different influences from Slavic, German. Mediterranean and Turkish. This is visible in the cuisine. Typical dinner would be “Stuffed turkey with mlinci ” and lunch for the next morning hangover “Sarma with mashed potatoes”. As for drinks, at this time mead and mulled wine are popular. In this wine country, you could try something local like Graševina. Spirits are also common, plum, and pear variations of rakija would be a good choice.
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