This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)
Are you trying to plan your next trip but you still don’t know where to go? This list of the best European cities to visit in winter will provide lots of useful ideas and inspiration! It’s not limited to the popular winter destinations in Europe: read until the end and you’ll be surprised by quite a few hidden gems! Northern lights, festivals, events, Christmas markets, but also lots of snow and quite a few budget destinations. Let’s see what are the must see places in Europe in winter and get ready to start packing!
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Prague in winter – Snow and romance
Planning a trip to enjoy winter in Prague (Czech Republic) is always a good idea. Me and Al have visited for Valentine’s day, on a snowy February, and it was one of the most romantic trips we’ve ever experienced together!
Prague is one of the best European cities to visit in winter because it’s low season, so you will be able to book awesome hotels for half the price.
Another important thing you should keep in mind is that, because of the snow, the queues at Prague Castle will be much shorter (we had to stand in line for more than one hour when we visited in springtime).
Being low season, you won’t have to push your way through the crowds while visiting Prague, and that’s exactly why we explored its narrow streets hand in hand, nose up in the air as we admired the historical buildings of the old city.
There’s a completely different feel: the scent of trdlo, the snow slowly falling down from the sky and the silent streets make Prague one of the unforgettable winter destinations in Europe!
Those of you who want to visit Prague in December will be happy to know that the huge Prague Christmas market is located in the Old Town Square, surrounded by the super colorful buildings you’ve probably already seen hundreds of times on Instagram.
There’s even a tall Christmas tree in the centre of this Christmas village: every year it represents a different region of the Czech Republic.
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Copenhagen – Smart winter Europe trip
Winter in Copenhagen (Denmark) usually lasts from November to February. Temperatures can sink below zero in December and January, but if you pack the right winter gear (I will never say enough good things about thermal underwear), you will be able to enjoy one of the most expensive destinations in Europe almost on a budget.
I won’t lie to you: Copenhagen is usually pretty expensive, unless you visit off-season.
Planning a trip to Copenhagen right after the Christmas visitors have left is a pretty smart decision, enough to add the Denmark capital to your bucket list of the best European cities in winter.
Less visitors in fact mean that you will be able to take amazing pictures of Copenhagen’s most popular attractions without having to wait in line. Hotels and flights often offer nice deals that will save you quite a lot of money.
Now, if you’re at least a little bit like me (I could never resist Italian Saldi and I shop too much when I’m travelling), you will be happy to know that after the Christmas holidays, Copenhagen’s shops open their doors to January sales.
Copenhagen is also one of the must see places in Europe in winter because of a pretty awesome festival.
From February 1 to February 24 you can attend the Copenhagen Light Festival! The harbour and city spaces will be lit up by great light installations. About 35-40 areas in Copenhagen will in fact turn into some kind of futuristic fairytale villages that you should absolutely visit!
Vienna – One of the best European cities to visit in winter
One of the best places to visit in Europe in December is Vienna (Austria), home to the most famous European Christmas markets.
Vienna in winter is full of snow, which covers monuments and historical buildings. One of the most popular spots is the Belvedere Palace, where there’s a Christmas market selling traditional handicrafts and “gluhwein” (mulled wine).
If you’re worried about being too cold, don’t be. I explored the Vienna Christmas markets wearing thermal underclothes and I managed to warm up thanks to a lot of cheap and delicious street food.
Bratkartoffeln were my favorite: thick slices of roasted potatoes that you can eat like Maroni (roasted chestnuts).
Sausage stands are everywhere, which means you’ll be able to eat a wide variety of sausages with bread and side dishes for just a few Euros. They’re warm and filling!
The dessert girls (and boys) like me will love to travel to Europe in winter if they’re visiting Vienna. While I’m aware that sachertorte is a must eat, you should also add krapfen to your foodie bucket list.
There are krapfen stands in the street or inside every Christmas market. These warm doughnut-like pastries are filled with warm chocolate or jam, then covered with powdered sugar. I make them at home sometimes but they’re never as good as those I ate in Vienna!
Vienna is also one of the best European cities to visit in winter for those who want to experience “ball season” or concerts at the Vienna State Opera House.
Ball Season in vienna takes place between November and January: you’ll be able to waltz with your partner at the Bonbon Ball or you might even take lessons.
Make sure you follow the dress code!
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Venice – Winter Carnival in Italy
Winter in Venice (Italy) is super romantic and way less crowded than spring or summer.
The most famous Italian city is perfect if you’re planning to visit Europe in February, because you can combine a romantic Valentine day trip to Italy with your partner and also enjoy one of the most important winter events in Italy. Carnevale!
Venice Carnival 2020 will start on February 8 and end on February 25. It will breathe life into the sleepy Venice, with seasonal treats, music, dancing, and of course tons of awesome dresses!
Masquerade balls are pretty popular: there’s even a masked costume contest that takes place in Piazza San Marco from February 20!
The most famous event at the Venetian Carnival is Il volo dell’angelo (“The flight of the Angel” in Italian) on Feb. 16. It’s a traditional event: an “angel” will fly from the bell tower to the middle of the square, offering an homage to the Doge.
Venice is thus one of the best European cities to visit in winter if you love street shows and traditional events. As I already mentioned, February is the perfect month because thanks to Carnival of Venice there are tons of free events and parties on the canals!
Bratislava – A budget snowy destination
Bratislava (Slovakia) is one of the budget destinations in Europe that you should absolutely visit in winter.
I was lucky enough to visit Bratislava in December, and I got to enjoy awesome Christmas markets filled with seasonal treats!
Bratislava is also a budget homebase to visit Vienna and Prague: it’s located between the two popular (and expensive) destinations. You’ll just have to hop on a train to spend one day in Prague and one day in Vienna. That’s how you can easily plan a budget multi city trip in Europe to visit lots of awesome Christmas markets!
Being one of the best European cities to visit in winter for those who love ice skating and hockey, you should make sure to book your hotel in advance, to make sure you get the best rates.
Planning a Danube river cruise in winter can definitely be a great idea: it will be super romantic and less expensive! So it will fit perfectly into your schedule also if you have a low budget.
Last but not least: Christmas shopping in Bratislava is cheap and so much fun!
Head over to Eurovea, a shopping mall right on the Danube river bank. It’s full of nice cafes where you can sip hot cocoa while taking a break from your shopping spree. I even found a lot of cute stationery for my collection: it was absolutely inexpensive!
Bolzano and Italian Dolomites – Skiing in Italy
Winter in South Tyrol is absolutely amazing. Tall mountains covered in snow, Christmas Markets, snowmobile adventures, toboggan runs and romantic dinners in front of a lit fireplace: you will never get bored.
Bolzano is one of the best European cities to visit in winter, but not only because it’s the perfect homebase you can use to explore South Tyrol.
Here in fact they host the best Tyrolean Christmas markets in Italy!
If you’re looking for an active winter Europe trip, then make sure you add Bolzano to your bucket list. Us Italians consider it one of the best skiing destinations, but you can absolutely try your hand also at cross country skiing, snowshoeing, winter hiking, tobogganing, ice skating and even at winter horse riding on a sunny day.
The Italian Alps in winter are snowy, but usually good weather and sunshine will allow you to enjoy the great outdoors (provided you wear thermal underclothes!).
December and February are two of the best months to visit Bolzano for your European winter trip. In December you will love all the Christmas Markets and seasonal food. In February you can spend a few romantic days with your partner to celebrate an unforgettable Valentine’s day!
Rovaniemi – Fairytale winter Europe trip
Rovaniemi is one of the must see places in Europe in winter. The capital of Finnish Lapland is known for being home to Santa Claus, but there’s much more than that!
This is one of the fairytale winter destinations in Europe, which is packed with cultural and family-friendly activities. Rovaniemi is also super safe for solo female travelers so don’t be scared to treat yourself to the trip of a lifetime!
Those looking for unique adventures will have plenty of activities they can book.
From snowmobiling to ice-fishing (usually the catch of the day is cooked on an open fire), from reindeer encounters to a husky safari. There’s always something for everyone.
Whether you’re visiting with your kids or not, you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit the fairytale Santa Claus Village, located 8 km North of Rovaniemi (you can get there easily by hopping on bus n. 8).
Over there you can ship presents, letters and postcards from Santa Claus Main Post Office, so they will have the unique Arctic Circle postmark. There’s also an ongoing exhibition in the Christmas House, to learn about the holiday traditions in many Countries.
… don’t be ashamed to feel excited, I’m just like you!
Reminder: Temperatures will often drop below zero: make sure you pack accordingly!
Abisko – Northern lights and winter adventures
If you still don’t know where to go in Europe in December, then consider visiting Abisko (Sweden).
This town in Swedish Lapland is located about 200 km into the Arctic Circle and is possibly the best place in the world to see the Northern Lights.
The best time of the year to see the Northern Lights in Abisko is between October and March.
December and January are particularly cold, but there’s about 20 hours of darkness every day, so if the conditions are right, there’s the chance to see the Northern Lights even in the late afternoon.
February and March on the contrary are usually more popular among the tourists, so Abisko is very crowded and you will need to book well in advance to make sure you find lodging and a tour to see the Northern Lights.
Abisko is also one of the best places to visit in Europe in December if you want to explore the IceHotel, a world famous hotel made of snow and ice.
Here you can visit amazing Art Suites, Ice Rooms, an Ice Chapel, and even an Ice Bar where you can have a drink in a very unusual setting.
The winter hotel is usually built in early winter and is ready by mid-December. There’s also an IceHotel 365, which allows guests to step inside a sub-freezing environment all year round, but… let’s face it: the IceHotel is much more beautiful!
London – Winter Wonderland and more
I probably already said so too many times to count them all, but… London (U.K.) is always a good idea, no matter when you decide to visit!
Winter in London can be cold, but not as much as you think. Unfortunately the weather has become very unpredictable, so you might or might not get snow. Yet you should be ready to deal with lots of rain. The best way to go is to pack a hooded raincoat: both me and Aldo find it easier to walk in London with a raincoat rather than having to deal with an umbrella.
Being one of the best European cities in winter, London can be pretty crowded and expensive. While you won’t be able to do much about the crowds, I strongly advise you to book well in advance (3+ months, preferably) to make sure you find a decent hotel without breaking the bank.
If you’re planning to visit London at Christmas, you shouldn’t miss the chance to visit Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park (November 21, 2019, to January 5, 2020). This free-to-enter event is one of the best things to do in London at Christmas! Ice skating, seasonal treats, circus shows, a Christmas market and awesome live music: you definitely won’t get bored!
Winter Wonderland in London is also a very family-friendly event.
Winter walks in London are also completely free and particularly popular. There’s nothing like walking with a cup of hot cocoa while searching for the amazing Christmas lights!
My mum, who’s been in love with London for over 10 years, always adds the Kew Gardens to her itinerary whenever she visits London in December.
Christmas at Kew is an after-dark event which guides the visitors through illuminated trails, live performances, light installations and spectacular displays. Some of the LED installations are interactive (they change colours when you touch them): let’s just say that you won’t want to leave after trying them!
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Budapest – Ice skating and winter spas
Many people don’t really associate Budapest (Hungary) with winter. They tend to believe that you can only enjoy Budapest baths in spring and summer. But that’s so wrong!
Szechenyi Baths is open in winter, and you should absolutely try a thermal bath when it snows! Even the outdoor pools are open in winter… if you are brave enough to try them!
Szechenyi Baths is also one of the pretty popular destinations in Europe at Valentine’s Day. Couples drink champagne in the baths, soak in the warm waters, then get a massage and get out as good as new. It’s the perfect way to relax and unwind!
Christmas markets in Budapest are very popular in December. Mulled wine, warm strudel, traditional dishes and lots of interesting souvenirs make them one of the most loved destinations in Europe at Christmas.
There’s even a huge ice skating rink in front of Vajdahunyad Castle!
If you’re thinking of visiting Budapest at Christmas, you should use the Christmas tram (also known as “Budapest light tram“) to explore this amazing Hungarian city.
It’s put into operation from 5 pm every day in December and January and it’s completely covered in Christmas lights: you won’t even need to buy an extra ticket to ride it! Use the Budapest Card for unlimited public transport rides and tons of discounts on attractions and restaurants.
Transylvania – Snow and scary legends
Whenever I think about Transylvania (Romania) one thing pops into my mind. Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Not the book (even if I studied it extensively at University) but the movie version with Gary Oldman, Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder. I just can’t help myself: I love that movie so much!
Transylvania is one of the must see places in Europe in winter for several reasons. First of all, it’s a budget destination that has so much to offer. Then there’s nothing like exploring Bran Castle, where Vlad Tepes (aka the “real” Dracula) might have lived, when it’s covered in snow.
Local legends about Bran Castle are particularly scary: do not book a tour with a local guide in winter (when it gets dark soon) unless you want to be scared to death!
But Transylvania isn’t just about Dracula (don’t worry, even book lovers like me won’t feel disappointed). There are so many cute little towns to explore, and doing so in winter will help you to avoid the crowds.
Cities like Brasov on cold winter evenings are quiet and full of locals willing to chat with people coming from all over the world.
Medieval towns like Sighisoara, with its historical city center which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, turn into fairytale villages when the streets are covered with a white blanket of snow.
If you’re looking for winter adventures and you can’t afford a trip to Abisko (Sweden), know that they do have an Ice Hotel in Transylvania as well!
The Balea Ice Hotel only has a bunch of rooms and is rebuilt every winter. Guests will have special beds to keep them warm during the freezing nights and you’ll be served on ice tables at the hotel restaurant!
It’s the perfect budget option for those who are planning an adventurous winter Europe trip.
Dublin – Winter festivals and lots of good music
Dublin (Ireland) is possibly one of the best European cities to visit in winter, and is also known as the “friendliest city of Europe“, according to TripAdvisor.
There’s nothing the Irish love more than chatting over a pint of beer. They are friendly and spontaneous people. To the point that (and this happens to me and Aldo all the time) if they see you sitting alone at a pub, they’ll just come sit with you. Within five minutes they’re already chatting as if they’ve known you their whole life. We love their attitude!
Winter in Dublin is cold, but full of awesome festivals, Christmas markets and pop-up shops.
Planning your winter holidays in Ireland can be a great idea, but make sure you’re ready to drive if you want to attempt a multi-city trip. Public transport in Ireland isn’t the most reliable, especially in winter, so you’ll need to drive.
January in Dublin is especially packed with great events. Two of our favorites are the Temple Bar TradFest and the Dublin Bowie Festival.
TradFest is a traditional Irish music festival, held from January 22 to January 26, 2020.
It showcases the best Irish music and international folk artists, while promoting the next generation of Irish musicians. All the venues are historical landmarks, most of them located in the Temple Bar area, which is also a good base if you’re looking for a hotel or b&b.
Another must see, scheduled from 7-13 January, is the Dublin Bowie Festival, celebrating the work and life of David Bowie.
2020 marks the 50th anniversary of The man who sold the world, and there will be music tributes in the Olympia Theatre and at the National Concert Hall. It is a must-see and there are so many people dressing up with costumes inspired to Bowie’s iconic style: make sure you pack a great outfit and bring your camera!
Edinburgh – Hogmanay and Christmas markets
Edinburgh (Scotland) is yet another one of the best European cities to visit in winter, according to our experience.
While winter in Edinburgh is particularly cold and windy, temperatures shouldn’t drop below zero (even if the weather lately is unpredictable, no matter where you go). Provided that you wear the proper clothes, and warm thermal underwear, nothing will prevent you from exploring all the Harry Potter spots in Edinburgh. Or, if you’ve rented a car, you might want to plan a few day trips from Edinburgh to explore the surrounding area and a few iconic castles.
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Edinburgh, as many other cities in Europe, hosts lovely Christmas markets and decorates the historical buildings with cute Christmas lights. Those of you who are less clumsy than me will love to ice skate (I nearly broke my arm the first and only time I tried)!
If you’re planning to visit Europe in winter, make sure your trip ends in Edinburgh of the Hogmanay festival.
The coolest New Year’s party is held between December 30, 2019 and January 1, 2020.
Don’t expect it to be “just a concert“. Hogmanay celebrates the Winter Solstice and has been featured by Discovery Channel as one of the Top 25 World Travel Experiences.
This huge street party has marchers bearing firelit torches, traditional Scottish music beneath Edinburgh Castle, fireworks and candle-lit concerts. It’s definitely a must see if you are looking for something unusual and super cool to and if you have planned a trip to Scotland in winter!
Lucerne – Why you should visit Switzerland in winter
Skiing in Switzerland in winter is a popular activity. Yet not many people know that Lucerne in winter is way less crowded and less expensive.
We can safely state that Lucerne is one of the best European cities to visit in winter for quite a few reasons. Being less crowded, in fact, it shows a completely different side when it’s covered in snow. Less tourists also mean that families will be able to enjoy a quiet trip, and the most adventurous tourists might add a bit of a thrill to their winter vacation by hiking the Swiss Alps.
There are lovely Christmas markets in Lucerne, from December to early January. The old town is lit up with cute little Christmas lights: walking hand in hand on the small bridges is a truly romantic experience.
Be aware that while Lucerne is absolutely magnificent between December and January, it might also be more crowded because of the Christmas markets.
This lovely little Swiss town can be explored on self guided walking tours. Make sure not to miss the Chapel Bridge, that you will find on the walk from the train station to the old town. It’s the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe and while it’s usually very crowded in the warmer seasons, in winter is much more quiet and… romantic.
Did I mention that Lucerne in winter is also the perfect destination for a Valentine’s day trip?
Bergen – Tons of fun winter activities
Many people believe that travelling to Bergen (Norway) will be enough to see the Northern Lights. Yet while it’s geographically possible, it’s still uncommon. You’d have to book a tour to see the Northern Lights to travel North with expert guides.
But don’t be sad about it: there’s so much more to do! Bergen is one of the best winter destinations in Europe for those who are planning to visit when it’s covered in snow.
All the thrill-lovers out there who seek to adventure in the great outdoors will surely appreciate a trip to this medieval city, located among snowy mountains, that offers tons of winter activities.
Those who don’t feel like hiking in the snow will surely love the fact that Bergen is one of the winter destinations in Europe that offer a lot of options to climb up high mountains without having to hike.
One of the best things to do if you want to enjoy awesome views of the fjord, is the Fløibanend funicular, one of Norway’s most popular attraction. It starts in the city center, next to the Fish Market, and it takes you to Mount Fløyen in about 8 minutes.
The Cable Car Ulriken 643 will take you to the highest of Bergen’s “Seven Mountains”. That will allow you to enjoy spectacular views and mountain terrain 643 metres above the city streets.
Once in Ulriken, if you really want to test yourself, you can still join a guided walk in the snow using snowshoes. It’s a moderately easy hike through the landscape around the summit of Ulriken (this is an activity that has to be booked well in advance).
Winter is also a great time to take a fjord cruise from Bergen to idyllic Mostraumen, to see steep mountains and gorgeous waterfalls. Cruises last 3 hours and start at Zachariasbryggen, right next to the Fish Market.