Winter is a beautiful and budget-friendly time to travel around Europe. If you can brave the colder weather, you’ll benefit from cheaper prices, much quieter tourist destinations, and beautiful scenery as the cities light up with holiday charm.
The thing is, Europe is a pretty big place. Whether you’re coming from further afield and backpacking around different cities or coming from somewhere else in Europe for a short city break there are plenty of options to enjoy.
So, where are the best European winter travel destinations and what can you expect? Let’s find out.
First on the list is the capital of Austria, Vienna. Full of history, art and music, Vienna is a perfect getaway for someone who’s looking for a relaxed and cultured experience with palaces, museums, opera houses, and delicious cafes seemingly around every corner. It’s also a great jumping off point if you’re looking to enjoy the ski season.
Austria has a long tradition when it comes to winter sports generally and skiing specifically. If you’re not in the mood to get on the slopes, you can still enjoy the vibe by visiting one of the many, many apres ski bars throughout the country. If you want to stay in the city itself, there are plenty of Christmas markets, ice rinks and fairs to enjoy.
One of the most beautiful places in Europe, Geneva is amazing at any time of the year thanks to Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps, but in winter it really comes into its own. The warming deliciousness of Swiss hot chocolate transforms into something otherworldly after you’ve come in from the snow swept city.
If you want to hit up some of the best slopes in the world, the iconic ski town of Chamonix is just an hour drive away from Geneva. Being on the French/Swiss border, you really can have your pick of ski resorts and you can eat some of the best, most filling, heartiest food, with so many great restaurants and cafes in the city and surrounding area. This combination of great food, great slopes, and great people really makes Geneva one of the best European winter travel destinations.
The capital of Hungary is a well known and well loved stop on most backpacker trails with frequent trains between there, Prague and Vienna. If you’re looking for a properly wintery, Christmassy vibe with your getaway, Budapest is going to be the place for you.
During December, it’s dominated by a giant Christmas market and a huge ice rink. The weather means bundling up is necessary, or you can do as the locals do and find one of the city’s many open air thermal spas to warm up in. It might sound weird to jump in an outdoor pool in the middle of winter, but trust me, it’s going to feel amazing!
Really, can you have a European destination list without including Paris? I don’t think so. When a city has a nickname like the City of Lights, you want it to be dark when you’re there so you can see it really shine. This makes winter the perfect time to see them in all their glory. Also people forget that February is still technically winter – what better time to wrap up and get cosy in the City of Love than Valentines?
The extra reason that Paris is one of the best European winter travel destinations is that there are much fewer crowds to contend with at the popular sights like the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the list goes on. It’s Paris, you know the sights I’m talking about.
If you’re looking to escape the cold of wherever you’re heading to for the winter months, then consider Lisbon. The gorgeous, time capsule of a capital that is Lisbon often gets overlooked on European tours and trips in favour of its Spanish neighbours like Madrid and Barcelona, but Lisbon has a charm all of its own. It’s cheaper, it’s less busy and it has beautiful beaches nearby with world class winter surf swells if that’s what you’re into.
The other amazing thing about Lisbon is the food and drink. My god, the food. Delicious little pastéis de natas, fresh seafood, gorgeous cheeses, criminally underrated wine and port. It’s fantastic, and with average winter temperatures of 15 degrees celsius, it’s pretty warm for Europe. No need to bring all those chunky layers and pay for all that extra checked luggage!
Although it might not be the first city that springs to mind when you think of German cities, Köln (or Cologne) sits in the west of Germany and transforms into a Christmassy paradise in November and December.
Most cities have one or two Christmas markets at the absolute most, but Köln goes all out with nine Christmas markets spread all across the city. It’s amazing – one of the markets is on a boat. If you’re wanting to get in the Christmas spirit, have plenty of Glühwein and Lebkuchen, and generally just have a great time in a smaller city, this is the European winter travel destination for you.
If there is a European city that is going to get even the most ardent sun-worshipper loving winter, it’s the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. Fair warning, this isn’t the cheapest location on this list, but it can definitely be done well on a budget.
From wintery temperatures to hearty food to odd yuletide traditions involving the mischievous Yule Lads and a giant black cat, there is plenty to love about being in the city itself. However, if you venture out of the capital you can experience the natural wonders of the Gullfoss Waterfalls, the power of the Strokkur geysir, warm up in geothermal spas, and if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights. With a list of potential excursions like that it’s no wonder it’s one of our best European winter travel destinations!
So, just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you have to hunker down and hibernate until warmer temperatures return. You can go get some winter sun in southern Italy, Portugal or Spain, or you can embrace the unique atmosphere of the season and see some of these amazing cities at their wintery best.We would love to know your favourite winter travel destination. Let us know in the comments below!
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