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Winter Holiday Destinations in Europe
Europe in the winter has many personalities. Whether you’re looking for a deserted crisp and cold cities, beautiful snowy landscapes, or traditional Christmas markets and festivities, you’ll find the best winter destinations in Europe here.
If you crave adventure and winter sports, love wandering city streets with the promise of hot chocolate and a crackling fire when you return to your hotel, adore fairy tale Christmas settings, or you’re just looking for a different sort of holiday, you’re in the right place!
You won’t find, beaches, warm weather or winter sun holidays in Europe here. This winter Europe guide is about exploring wintry European destinations and heading for the cold and snow for your European winter vacation. Let us help you find the best winter holidays in Europe!
When is Winter in Europe?
Winter in the northern hemisphere, Europe included, starts on the 1st December and lasts until the last day of February. Europe experiences bitterly winter temperatures with varying degrees of snowfall in most regions of the continent.
Six Reasons to Visit Europe in the Winter
Is winter a good time to visit Europe? We think it’s one of the best times, and here’s why;
Europe Travel Resources
Here are the websites and services we personally use and recommend for traveling in Europe.
Winter Destinations Europe Map
How to use this map – Use your fingers (or computer mouse) to zoom in and out. Click or touch the icons to get more info about a place, and click the arrow in the box top left to open the index. To add to your own Google Maps account, click the star next to the title of the map.
The most northerly train stop in Sweden, the Abisko National Park in Lapland is for serious winter lovers and those taking Europe winter breaks at the nearby famous Icehotel in Kiruna.
Abisko has one of the highest Northern Lights sight ratings in Scandinavia due to its low levels of light pollution and Arctic Circle location. Head here during the few weeks of December and January when the sun stays below the horizon during the Polar night, for the best chance to see the breathtaking aurora borealis.
This highly rated small group Northern Lights photo tour will help you to discover the Abisko National Park in Swedish Lapland. You’ll get to spend an evening under the stars and explore the wilderness on foot, in a van, and by sleigh.
Whilst you’re waiting for the show to start, try your hand at husky mushing or cross-country skiing – just make sure you include thermals on your packing list!
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One of the best European city breaks, Amsterdam shines in winter and is a magical city in the lead-up to Christmas, with celebrations that go on for the whole month of December. It’s also an awesome place to ring in the New Year, lively with parties and club nights.
The crowds are thinner in the winter months, leaving you to enjoy frosty canals, cozy cafes, deserted museums, and cool bars, without the hordes – and prices – of summer.
Make sure to check out the Amsterdam Light Festival which runs through December and January, and Museumplein, which transforms into a winter wonderland complete with a picture-perfect traditional Christmas market.
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Bergen is a wonderful city all year round, but in winter it is elevated to a magical place, just as you might imagine it to be. Norway‘s second-largest city is surrounded by seven fjords and seven hills, a landscape that creates a dramatic backdrop for your winter visit and served as the inspiration for the Disney movie Frozen.
There is a lot to do in the city, including visiting the lively Vagen harbor in Bergen’s old quarter, Bryggen, which is one of Norway’s eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites. For fabulous views, head up to Mount Fløyen on the Fløibanen funicular and pick up some of the hiking trails at the top, or try your hand at sledding.
For an incredible day trip, travel from Bergen to Flåm by rail. The first part of the journey is on the main Bergen to Oslo line, which skims picture-perfect fjords dotted with iconic red fishing huts, before climbing to Myrdal in Norway’s dramatic uplands. From here, you’ll change onto the Flåmsbana, and make the precipitous and breathtaking descent to Flåm itself.
Why not try this excellent private tour from Bergen, which includes a Sognefjord fjord cruise to Flåm before journeying back on the spectacular Flåmsbana – it’s the perfect way to see more of beautiful Norway in less time!
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Berlin, the capital of Germany, is a multi-cultural hub for travelers. A fascinating and dark recent history, legendary nightlife scene, and an eclectic vibe mean there are plenty of options for foodies, hipsters, and historians alike.
Most of Berlin is walkable and Germany is very good at managing snow, so public transport, taxis, and sightseeing buses will all still be in operation. From the Brandenburg Gate, make sure to see the Reichstag Building, Tiergarten, and Potsdamer Platz. There are museums and memorials dedicated to WWII and the Holocaust, which are also a must-see before you head to Museum Island, Berlin’s cultural quarter.
There are more than 100 large and small Christmas markets in Berlin, offering traditional German food, mulled wine, hand-crafted Christmas gifts, and fun fair rides. Head for Alexanderplatz for the biggest and most traditional market, and make sure to stop and admire the Christmas trees and fairy lights that adorn the city.
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Bled’s stunning landscape not only makes it one of the most beautiful places in Slovenia, but one of the most gorgeous Alpine areas in Europe.
Known for its healing climate, thermal waters, and off-the-beaten-track ambiance, this small city is perfect if you want a quieter escape, and really is one of the must-see places in Europe in winter.
Bled is also perfect if you’re looking for a bit of adventure. The surrounding Triglav National Park is ideal for outdoor activities such as winter hiking, snow shoeing, snowboarding, and skiing.
In between all this, don’t forget to check out Bled Castle, a medieval fortress believed to be the oldest castle in Slovenia, and the famous Lake Bled, which you can skate on if it freezes over!
Bruges is a delightful city, perfect for a day trip from Brussels, and one of the best European cities in winter if you’re traveling from the UK. Full of historic architecture, pretty squares, and interesting, independent shops, it’s easy to lose yourself in the old town of Bruges for a day.
There will be Christmas markets, gluhwein, and perhaps a horse-drawn carriage ride along the cobbled streets to enjoy, making this a perfect winter destination for romantics.
Bruges is also a foodie destination, famous for Belgian frites, fine chocolate, and fluffy waffles served with a vast array of toppings. Eat your way through Bruges’s culinary scene as you walk and try local Bruges and Belgian foods, or take a fun waffle-making workshop!
Trying out all of Bruges’ delicious food is even better in winter when the twinkling lights and clear frosty days give you license to eat as many waffles as you want!
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This is a winter city if ever there was one. Rich in history and culture, winter in Budapest has a fairy tale like quality, making it a top European winter destination.
An added bonus is that Budapest is also a fantastic budget destination, easy on the pocket at any time of year. There are beautiful Christmas markets, with Vörösmarty Square being one of the most popular in Central Europe, as well as one of the oldest in Hungary.
Over in City Park, with Vajdahunyad Castle as the backdrop, is a huge ice skating rink that runs from late November to mid-January before it is turned back into a summer pond complete with ducks!
There’s also the stunning State Opera House and St Stephens Basilica to see, but the main winter attractions are the fabulous natural thermal springs that deliver 70 million liters of warm and therapeutic water every day to more than a dozen spas.
Taking a dip in the famous Széchenyi Baths is an absolute must during a winter visit. With its fifteen indoor baths, three outdoor pools, saunas, Turkish baths, and massages you’ll be in thermal heaven!
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Air that’s thick with hygge, canals crisp with ice, and a dusting of snow on the cobbled streets make Copenhagen in Denmark one of the top winter city breaks in Europe.
It will be cold, but that’s ok because there’s glogg (mulled wine with raisins and almonds), pancake puffs, and real fires in hotels, cafes, and bars across the city, perfect for keeping warm and snuggling!
Venture out to the brilliantly kitsch Tivoli Gardens for the Christmas market and winter wonderland that even the most responsible of adults will enjoy.
After the fun fair, find a sauna to warm up the traditional way (perhaps skip jumping in the canal afterward) and then head for Nyhavn, where the colorful houses stand out in stark contrast to the grey skies and icy water.
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The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is a beautiful city where medieval and neoclassical history and architecture exist in harmony. Full of quirky corners and hidden squares, and even a castle just waiting to be discovered, you’ll be enchanted by the city’s wonderful hospitality and unique vibe.
As well as visiting the dramatic landscapes of Arthur’s Seat and Calton Hill, in the city itself the Edinburgh Christmas Market at Princes Street Gardens is one of the highlights of visiting Edinburgh in December. Enjoy sipping warming mulled wine, shopping for traditional Scottish Christmas gifts, and sampling tasty local foods from the pop-up wooden stalls.
Come to Edinburgh at New Year for Hogmanay, one of the world’s best-known celebrations. With street parties, fireworks, and first footing – the first person to enter the home of a household on New Year’s Day is seen as a bringer of good fortune for the coming year – aplenty, this is a wonderful time to explore Edinburgh.
One of the best winter villages in Europe, Austria‘s poster child town of Hallstatt is so perfectly pretty, it could be a film set. Colorful Alpine-style houses overlook the Hallstätter See, a shimmering lake framed by soaring mountains, only more spectacular with a dusting of snow in winter.
Nestled in the Salzkammergut region east of Salzburg, a UNESCO listed area surrounded by lakes and Alpine mountains, Hallstatt makes a perfect base for adventurous winter sports, like winter hiking and local skiing, and is a greta base for an Austrian road trip. Don’t miss visiting the Hallstatt Skywalk, at the top of the Salzbergbahn funicular, for panoramic Instagram-worthy images.
Hallstatt at Christmas is even more magical (if that’s possible), and becomes a wonderland of twinkling fairy lights adorning the cute wooden houses in the small square where the traditional Austrian Christmas market takes place. You can even take a magical Christmas tour in Hallstatt to learn all about the local festive traditions and customs.
If you want a perfect destination with winter sports and an Alpine backdrop, look no further than Innsbruck. Surrounded by the mighty Alps, with its imperial architecture and charming alt Stadt, Innsbruck is a welcoming city that offers immediate access to a vast winter sports playground.
One of the best places to visit in Europe in winter for skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or hiking, the accessible mountains and glaciers surrounding Innsbruck are waiting for you to experience all they have to offer.
If you love the look of this gorgeous city, but don’t want to visit in the winter, then a trip to Innsbruck in summer will reward you with wildflowers, warm days, and lots of extreme sports options.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
The polar opposite of the Canary Islands, one of Europe’s popular warm winter destinations, the Lofoten Islands in winter are pretty hardcore, with average temperatures hovering around freezing, Lofoten is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in winter in Europe if you’re looking for adventure.
There is not a great deal to do here in winter. Take long coastal walks, hike (as long as you’re prepared and have the right gear), capture amazing winter images, and enjoy the solitude. This Norwegian winter destination is not for everyone but for some, the lure of spending time in the Arctic Circle during the colder months cannot be denied.
It rains a lot in November. From December 9th to January 4th you will experience the incredible Polar night. In January the days will be short, with the sun sitting low on the horizon, which is amazing for capturing the moody skies and changing light during the short time between sunrise and sunset. Take a Lofoten Archipelago photography tour with a professional photographer and guide to find all the best spots.
Stay in northern Gimsøya if you’re hunting the lights. For a bit more life and photographic opportunities pick from Hamnøy, Sakrisøya, Reine or Nusfjord – all of them picture-perfect Lofoten locations.
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Madonna di Campiglio, Italy
Madonna di Campiglio is the perfect place for a magical white Christmas in Italy. With its beautiful scenery, high-end boutiques and lively bars, this elegant and charming mountain town is one of Europe’s best winter snow holidays.
Surrounded by the snow-topped peaks of the Brenta Dolomites national park and sitting at an altitude of 1,522 meters this beautiful town is also one of Italy‘s best ski resorts and offers nine miles of cross-country skiing trails and 35 pistes served by modern facilities.
During the holiday season, Madonna di Campiglio comes into its own with thousands of sparkling fairy lights and vibrant festivities, including the traditional Christmas slalom on the Canalone Miramonti run.
Enjoy the atmospheric Christmas market, which sells everything from beautiful decorations and handcrafted items, to honey and mulled wine. Wrap up warm, there will definitely be snow!
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Other low-season holiday ideas…
Prague, Czech Republic
An idyllic destination during the festive period, Prague becomes a winter wonderland around Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, making it one of the best cities to visit in the winter.
The traditional Christmas markets here are some of the most authentic in Europe, and alongside the two famous squares there are a further three more; the cute huts on Republic Square and those at Havelska Market and in front of St George’s Basilica.
Wander the streets in between, and enjoy the cafe culture and street snacks whilst soaking up the historic sights of the castle and famous bridges sprinkled with snow and frost. Head back to one of the main squares for a traditional sing-along with carols, and yep, you’ve guessed it, Good King Wenceslas is always top of the list!
The world’s most northerly capital combines brightly painted buildings and fascinating culture with lively nightlife and an excellent restaurant scene, perfect for city breaks at any time of the year, but particularly atmospheric in winter.
A town by many countries’ standards, the tiny city of Reykjavik has a lot going on. Visit the unearthed Viking longhouse for a history lesson on Iceland’s rich heritage, head for some of the many galleries and art spaces in the city, or make your way out of town to experience the snow-capped mountains, wild seas, waterfalls, clear air and lava fields of the stunning landscape. This is a city that is good for the soul.
Once you’ve visited the Golden Circle road trip attractions, take a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon and warm up in the geothermal waters, which usually hover around 37-40° celsius, which is a gorgeously warm 98-104° fahrenheit.
If you love the look of this small country, but really don’t want to go in the winter, then a trip to Iceland in summer will reward you with fields of wildflowers, sunlit waterfalls, and warm days.
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
One of the highlights of Germany’s Romantic Road and one of the most photogenic Christmas destinations in Europe, Rothenburg is Christmas, Germany, and medieval all rolled into one gorgeous parcel. It has to be one of the most romantic towns in Germany and especially beautiful in the winter, with a light dusting of snow. It will be busy here at this time of year though, so book well in advance.
The Christmas market is legendary, even in Germany, home to the Christmas Market! Rothenburg’s market has been taking place every year since the 15th century. We’ve been to a fair few Christmas markets in Europe and this is one of our favorites, for the tradition and spectacle it provides, and its picture-perfect setting.
Make sure to visit the world-famous Kathe Wohlfhart Christmas shop – love it or hate it, you can’t ignore this most distinctive of tourist attractions when you’re in Rothenburg!
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Rovaniemi has to be one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe and is known as the home of Santa Claus. It’s also the site of the official Santa Claus Village, where you can meet the man himself and hang out with his elves and reindeer.
Once you’re over that, some of the best things to do are dog sledding, snowshoeing, sleigh rides, Northern Lights watching, ice fishing, snowmobiling, ice-cart racing, and ice floating (whatever that is).
For a bit of culture and to learn more about Finnish Lapland and the Arctic, head to the Arktikum Science Museum where you can find out more about the history, nature, and landscape of the area.
Strasbourg, on the France-Germany border, is easily reachable by car in a day from Calais. This gorgeous medieval city is made up of charming half-timbered houses, imposing churches, and pretty canals, and has an eclectic French meets German culture.
Think of a medieval town dusted with snow and you will be imagining Strasbourg, one of the best places to visit in Europe in December for its beautiful Christmas market.
Yes, Christmas markets do exist outside Germany and Strasbourg’s has been going for centuries! This Christmas market is becoming more popular by the year and offers all the usual hand-crafted gifts and lots of delicious French goodies to eat.
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Tallinn is a beautiful place and one of the best cities to visit in Europe at any time of the year. Go in winter though, with cold crisp days and stunning medieval architecture, and Tallinn’s Vanalinn district (old town) becomes simply magical.
From mid-November until early January you will find the sparkly Christmas market and tree in Raekoja plats, the Town Hall Square. In December you can skate next to the stunning and historic St. Nicholas Church in the center of the old town, before heading to Kehrwieder Chocolaterie for a warming and delicious hot chocolate.
It’s not all about markets and hot chocolate though. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tallinn has plenty of other attractions, including superbly well-preserved medieval buildings, historic urban structures, and tradition by the bucket load. Take a walk along the city walls, visit Toompea Castle and climb some of the twenty towers still surrounding the city today.
Vienna is one of the most captivating European cities in winter when hot chocolate and Sachertorte are high on the menu and classical holiday concerts take place almost daily.
Visit during ball season for an opportunity to re-enact the bygone era of high society and decadence. Experienced waltzers should make for the traditional Philharmonic Ball while those wanting something a little more modern can check out the less formal Bonbon Ball.
If that’s not your thing, try a spot of dancing on ice at one of the ice-skating rinks set up over the city in winter. Follow this up with seasonal roasted chestnuts and delicious potato wedges from the street stalls whilst warming up with a steaming mug of gluhwein.
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Ok, so there probably won’t be snow. But what Venice has in common with many of these other winter destinations in Europe is that the crowds of summer will have long departed, leaving the evocative alleys, canals and bridges deserted.
Although snow is not likely, you may well experience the Acqua Alta, or ‘high water’, when the sea level gets so high in October, November, and December that it spills over and floods the piazzas and streets of the city. Venetians are used to dealing with this, and the frequently hit Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) has raised pedestrian walkaways at the ready.
You can do everything in Venice in winter that you can do in summer; strolling the streets and piazzas, visiting the islands like Murano, Burano, and Torcello, and popping into palazzos, art galleries, churches, and museums as you wander.
If you visit in late winter from mid-February, you’ll find the Venice Carnival taking place, which is famous for its elaborate masks, and a huge event that attracts visitors from all over the world. This is not the time to visit if you’re on a budget!
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Although Zermatt is a great skiing destination, one of the best things about this winter fairy tale town in the Swiss Alps is that it’s just as good for non-skiers as skiers, and makes a great destination for winter walking holidays and a Swiss road trip.
You can pamper yourself in one of the town’s many spas, take the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise Cable Car to the top of one of Europe’s highest mountain at 4,478 meters, go snowshoeing, eat the most delicious cooked Swiss cheese (probably top of our list) and cozy up in front of a blazing fire. Pretty much everything that says relaxation and a perfect winter holiday.
You can also explore the Swiss Alps on the Glacier Express, which takes an incredible route through powdery snow-capped mountains, gorgeous alpine villages, fairy tale castles, and iconic bridges as it travels between Zermatt and St Moritz, two of the most beautiful places in Switzerland.
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