Winter is the most magical time of the year. Some of us love the warmth of hot chocolate while it snows outside and others love to escape the winter blues altogether. Whatever your desire and style of travel, we got you covered in our list of 28 Best Winter Destinations in Europe.
Whether you are looking for the best winter city breaks in Europe, sun and sand, skiing, snowboarding, and horse-drawn carriage rides, or the best Christmas markets in Europe – we have something for everyone. These destinations are handpicked to allow you to experience the BEST of Europe in winter.
28 Best Winter Destinations in Europe
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European winter months are typically from November to February. These months will cover the best of winter with holiday cheer, Christmas markets, ice rinks, special shopping offers, masses, and festivities. And not to forget FOOD and a plethora of dining options.
Winter is also considered a low tourist season in some cities, which means you can expect fewer crowds in tourist attractions like museums, day tours, etc. Winter also calls for special activities like northern lights, romantic stay-cations, and lights festivals.
Experience the best winter city breaks in Europe, and make the most of your trip. Use this guide to build your own Europe winter itinerary.
Andorra de Vella, Andorra
There are several winter activities to do in Andorra from relaxing to fun. Caldea is a large natural spring complex and spa where you can dip in the heated pools and take part in some hydrotherapy.
It is a massive complex spread over 18 floors and is the largest thermal spa complex in Europe. With 400,000 visitors per year, there is something for everyone there, including a relaxing adult-only section.
And of course, Andorra is known as a ski haven. The country lies at an average 2,000 meters above sea level and even reaches 3,000.
The most popular place to catch some powder is Gran Valira, which is also one of the largest ski resorts in the world and has 118 slopes measuring a total distance of 210 km. If you want the total story, there are actually 110 lifts in total that can take 156,000 skiers per hour.
For the adventurous tourist, you can skip the flash hotels and actually stay the night in an igloo at Hotel Iglu Andorra. This ice hotel has five rooms that can hold up to 30 guests.
But if you want something a bit closer to the slopes, Hotel Ski Plaza & Wellness and Sport Hotel Hermitage and Spa are probably your best options.
As the sun sets and the Christmas lights come on, you can experience Vienna’s most romantic Christmas market. There is no shortage of traditional Austrian crafts and Christmas decorations in the capital city.
Located in the shadow of the Rathaus is Vienna’s largest Christmas market. In addition to the colorful stalls filled with beautiful, unique Christmas ornaments, you will also find an extensive menu of holiday punch options and numerous sweet and savory treats to try.
With a children’s craft area, weekend choir performances, and ice-skating, there’s something to entertain everyone at Vienna’s most centrally located Christmas market.
If you like your Christmas market with a side of art, head to Belvedere Schloss. You’ll spend your day covering an art collection that covers the Middle Ages to contemporary pieces.
If it is history that you’re looking for, head to Schloss Schonbrunn and stay for the Christmas market.
Schonbrunn Palace was transformed from a hunting lodge into a stunning Baroque summer residence in the 18th century.
Whether you take a guided tour of the royal apartments, enjoy the strudel show at Café Residenz, or take in a classical concert, there are plenty of ways to warm up while shopping for Christmas gifts at the Schonbrunn market.
Don’t forget to spend an evening wandering the streets inside the Ringstrasse.
You’ll find Christmas markets and beautiful lights that adorn even the smallest of passageways. Despite the cold temperatures, gemütlichkeit – that is, warmth and coziness – can be found around every corner in Vienna throughout December.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Sara from Journey of Doing
The colder months are a lovely time to visit Brussels, the capital city of Belgium. The bars are welcoming, food is hearty, and the streets twinkle in fairy lights. Despite the cold, there are enough activities to keep you busy, most of which are very cozy, if not romantic!
In the center of Brussels, you’ll find multiple authentic ‘brown cafés’ with a large beer menu. Order a Belgian Trappist beer which instantly helps to beat the cold. Beware, as most Belgian beers are quite strong.
Tucked away in a little alley, you’ll find the bar Toone, which also has a fireplace and a cat. As for the food, buy some street food like fries or waffles.
If you prefer not to eat outside, head to the restaurant Restobières which has a very original menu: all the dishes are prepared with beer. It can’t get more Belgian, right? 😉
In winter, Brussels hosts a yearly Christmas market called ‘Plaisir d’Hiver’. It’s the opportunity to marvel at the beautifully decorated Christmas stalls, practice your twirls on the ice skating rink and try some ‘jenever’. That’s a typical Belgian liquor which is available in innumerable different flavors.
Make sure to also take a spin in the Ferris wheel for a sweeping view over the center of Brussels.
Another great Winter event is Bright Brussels when light installations turn the center into a dreamy fairytale place. Follow the recommended itinerary and explore Brussels’ historical landmarks in a way you’d never seen before.
There’s also a lesser-known light festival called ‘Citizen Lights’ which takes place in the commune of Schaerbeek. This one is smaller and more authentic because it’s mainly frequented by locals and not overrun by tourists. And the good news is that both events are free things to do in Brussels
CONTRIBUTED BY: Sophie from Bitten by the Bug
Ostend is in the northwest corner of Belgium. It is known for its white sandy beach and turquoise waters. Unlike the well known Brussels, Ostend is a calm and relaxing atmosphere at a slower pace.
Since Belgium has a mild winter with low precipitation, Ostend will make a perfect beach vacation to escape the cold winter freeze.
Since tourist traffic is low in the winter months, you can enjoy Ostend like a real locale. There are several winter activities Ostend has to offer depending on your taste and lifestyle and the time you travel.
Beach: If you visit Ostend in the later winter months (towards spring) or later fall months (starting winter), this will still be a viable option. You will love the ocean views, and the sunsets are spectacular.
Christmas Market: You have to experience the Christmas Market in Leopoldpark. It is well decorated with lights and music to add a festive atmosphere.
Winter Ice Rink: Ostend has the biggest winter ice rink in Belgium. It is approximately 1,000 square meters or 10,500 square feet. With over 50 stands to explore, come prepared to spend all day going from stand to stand.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Lydia from Africa Wanderlust Travel Blog
Although Croatia is well known for its beaches and beautiful Adriatic coast, its capital Zagreb is a lovely less known winter destination to visit. It became quite famous lately as a home to the best European Christmas market for three years in a row.
With many smaller markets and events happening around the city center, there is so much to do during December there.
Food is especially good at the Christmas market, so be sure to explore it during your stay. The calendar with all the events and concerts could be found at the Zagreb Advent official website.
Located just next to the Medvednica Mountain, Zagreb is a charming destination for some skiing, as well. A popular event happening at the beginning of January is the Snow Queen Trophy when you can enjoy some mulled wine while watching some of the best world skiers competing. If there is enough snow, you can also go and ski yourself there.
If you would like to buy a local souvenir that will remind you of your winter holidays, get yourself a Licitar heart. A small red heart initially made of gingerbread is something people would give to their loved ones back in the old days. However, it’s used as a Christmas tree decoration in Zagreb today, and you’re going to see it on many large Christmas trees around the city.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Tea Gudek Snajdar from Culture Tourist
Prague, Czech Republic
The stunning capital of the Czech Republic – Prague – turns into a gorgeous haven during winters. The colorful rooftops and the Vltava River sprinkled with snow make for a dreamy vacation and that’s why it is one of the best winter destinations in Europe to visit for Christmas markets, beer, and sightseeing.
Prague’s central area – the old town market square turns into an enchanting beauty – like out of a fairytale. Although it’s winter, you can still partake in walking tours to learn about Prague’s history and admire the Astronomical Clock and other attractions.
While you are at it, stroll the Christmas Markets at the Old Town Square and the Wenceslas Square. Buy traditional trinkets and wooden toys to take back home and savor delicious barbecued pork and sugar-coated chimney cake or ‘tradelnik. Sip some hot cocoa and biscuit as you walk the market.
Or Svařák– a Czech mulled wine with lemon and citrus flavors.
Christmas Markets in Prague last from the end of November to the first week of January. There are Christmas markets at Castle Hill as well.
Other then the Christmas markets, Prague in winter is a delight as you can still enjoy the city’s attractions like walking the Charles Bridge and soaking in amazing views from its tower, taking a quick trip to the Prague Castle and wandering through the Golden Lane and museums and greeting the swans at the Vltava River banks.
Prague is a romantic destination and is a perfect way to spend a winter city break with Christmas, history, and delicious cuisine. Book your stay at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Prague
READ: Where to stay in Prague
There’s a lot to do in Copenhagen winters besides skiing. Danish Christmas markets are remarkable. The gorgeous decorations line the paths between shops selling ornaments, gifts, food, and drink.
The best Christmas market is in Kongens Nytorv. It’s one of the largest in Copenhagen and across from The Hotel D’Angleterre. The facade of this gorgeous hotel is turned into an advent calendar for the Christmas season. The magic is done through LCD screens placed over the windows.
A festive visit to the Christmas markets in Copenhagen is best completed with a warm cup for gløgg. Gløgg is mulled wine, or cider that is spiced and served hot with raisins, nuts, and cinnamon stirred in. You drink the contents and then eat the soaked foods with a spoon. It’s the perfect way to stay cozy in the cold weather.
Tivoli Gardens, the famous Danish amusement park, is beautiful in the winter. It’s reopened for the Christmas season and decked out with bright Christmas lights and other decorations.
One of the highlights is seeing the Crazy Christmas Cabaret inside of Tivoli Gardens. It’s a crowd-pleaser every year and the only show performed in English for the whole year.
Denmark is a very flat country, but they’ve improvised to bring indoor skiing to Copenhagen. Opening later this year, the Amager Bakke power plant will open Copenhill. This will be an indoor hill built along above the chimney of the power plant that is used as a skiing hill.
The Danes think of everything! Copenhill is one more reason to visit Copenhagen for winter – you won’t miss out on skiing.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Derek from Robe Trotting – Biggest Surprises Moving to Denmark.
Small alleyways have Christmas scenes, individual homes seem to be festooned with greenery, and large flocked trees are on every corner. But the storefronts are the most amazing -decorate with large cookies, bows, gifts, greenery, stuffed animals, and lights. Everything is large and boisterous!
‘Paris always a good idea’. This statement and the sentiment behind it is so true. Paris, the capital city of France is stunning at any time of the year and hence it deserves a mention in our list of best winter destinations in Europe.
Paris experiences moderate winter temperatures with snow. Typical winter months are from late November to late February. When the city is covered in white snow, the pretty red decorations during Christmas, New Years, and Valentine’s Day make up it.
So here is what you can expect in Paris in winter. Shoppers will LOVE the season. Window shoppers and people-watchers too. Stroll Champs Elysees for some eye candy – from high-end retail, luxury brands to the affordable.
Churches are beautifully decorated for Christmas, so pay a visit to a church of your choice. Ensure you check their website for mass timings.
When the temperature drops outside, it’s time for nice dinners. Reserve a place overlooking the Parisian highlights like a dinner cruise on the river Seine. Or go for gold and book for dinner at the Eiffel Tower, with the entire city of Paris underneath your feet.
Paris also boasts of natural ice rinks where you can skate for free. The most popular one is in the Hotel de Ville. Do definitely take advantage of that. Find all hotels in Paris – perfect for first-timers.
All major tourist attractions are open during the winter months in Paris. So explore the Louvre Museum at your pace, the Grand Palais, the underground tunnels at Catacombs of Paris, and more. Winter is sort of offseason, so you won’t see a huge line-up in regular sightseeing attractions in Paris.
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland
Have you ever dreamed of sleeping under a blanket of stars or maybe green dancing lights as well? I know as a kid I wondered what an igloo would look like.
Enter Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort – Igloos and Chalets. Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is located in the Saarisclka Fell Region of Finnish Lapland.
The stunning 4-star hotel is actually a glass igloo located in the wilderness. You get to sleep under a million stars and watch the northern lights every day.
The resort is located in Lapland. You can drive from Helsinki and parking is available at the resort. You can also fly from Helsinki to Ivalo, which is the closest airport to Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort is a great way to experience nature in its wildest and pure form. The resort has glass igloos and chalets to host guests. It can accommodate couples and families for a scintillating vacation under the stars.
The glass igloos contain all modern amenities to keep you warm and toasty on a white snowing wintery night. Each glass igloo has a bedroom with a sauna or shared bathrooms. It is recommended that you wear thermals when you are in an igloo, and the resort provides you will warm socks.
Parking and WiFi is free. Breakfast and other meals are provided on-site. You can also rent skis and other equipment to enjoy winter outdoor activities. Husky and reindeer rides can also be arranged.
Neuschwanstein Castle – Fussen, Germany
The Neuschwanstein castle is a must-see location no matter the time of year, but there’s something even more magical about this castle in the winter! This is the castle that inspired the Sleeping Beauty castle in Disneyland and it’s easy to see why.
You can visit the castle from Munich to Neuschwanstein for about $17 each way per person. However, there are only a few buses each week (usually just Saturday and Sunday) that will take you directly to Schwangau Neuschwanstein. Or book a day tour.
You can stay at the foot of the Neuschwanstein Castle for only $85- $140 a night at Romantic-Pension Albrecht on Booking.com! It comes with a free breakfast, but book as far in advance as you can as it gets filled up quickly!
From there you can easily walk to both castles (yes, there’s more than one castle in this area!): the Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein.
One downside about visiting in the winter is that the Marienbrucke bridge with the best viewpoint of the castle is closed. However, if you are feeling rebellious, you can still head up to the area and find a viewpoint of your own like we did!
If you’d like to go inside the castle, you can book in advance online for €13. It must be at least 2 days in advance and they are known to sell out, so book early!
With any extra time, you can visit the Hohenschwangau castle and even hop over to Fussen which is an adorable town with its own castle as well!
CONTRIBUTED BY: Dayna Brockbank from Happily Ever Travels
Germany’s Christmas markets are known worldwide for the authentic cultural experience they provide to locals and visitors alike. Germany has thousands of them all over the country. One particularly great Christmas market is the Stuttgart Weihnachtsmarkt.
Located in the heart of the city, the market attracts millions of visitors every year and has a variety of activities, food, and shops catering to every age group.
The Weihnachtsmarkt begins in late November and ends right before Christmas. For the entire month of December, it attracts not only locals but people from all over the world.
The Stuttgart Christmas market is among the largest in the country. Nearly 300 different booths adorn two different squares, both connected to form one large market. There are awards given to the most beautiful stall in the market every year and the stall owners work hard to decorate their booths ornately.
The market is wonderful for everyone from singles to families. There is a large ice rink where ice skates can be rented as well as plush animals for smaller children. A small steam train is great for children and families and rides around a beautiful miniature village display. Several carnival-type rides are also out for small children.
There are a variety of food booths that have food ranging from pizza, traditional bratwurst, currywurst, and spätzle to some American favorites such as pork burgers and even Flammkuchen, a rolled-out dough baked with a crème sauce and topped with vegetables or meats.
The shopping booths are decorated beautifully with lights, animal displays, and German décor. Many shops sell original German items, cuckoo clocks, wooden items, Christmas ornaments, household items, children’s toys, candles, and many different kinds of sweets.
Visitors can spend hours wandering the booths and will no doubt find something they will certainly purchase. Be sure to try gluhwein, a warmed up spiced wine, a staple at German Christmas markets.
If you’re staying more than a day, Steigenberger Graf Zeppelin is a fantastic hotel to stay at during your time in Stuttgart.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Diana from The Elusive Family
During the holiday season, Budapest fills with the Christmas vibe. The Hungarian capital was also voted the most affordable Christmas Market destination in Europe. Two markets in Budapest that you definitely should not miss:
- The biggest Christmas Market is held at Vörösmarty Square. This is the most popular fair in Budapest, right in the city center. There are around 100 stalls set up and live programs entertain the Christmas crowd from the main stage every afternoon.
- Apart from the best-known festive fair on Vörösmarty Square, the city has a fabulous market right in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. This market has two unique features: a light show, projected on the building of the Basilica itself, coordinated with music, and a skating rink in the center of the square.
Each of the Christmas markets is famous for its unique, high-quality craft products, such as handmade chocolate bonbons, leather gloves, knitted scarves, dried fruits, and herbs.
Christmas markets are also a paradise for foodies! Try as many delicious, authentic Hungarian dishes as you can, the memory of the tastes will stay with you I promise. Try stuffed cabbage, goulash, grilled sausages and meats with mulled wines, craft beers, or hot tea.
Be sure to try our sweets, too! “Beigli” this folded pastry stuffed with walnut or poppy seed is Hungarian Christmas itself. Buy just a slice of a whole loaf and consume it with the wine of a cup of milk.
There are some other sweets you should not miss: “Mézeskalács” is a lightweight type of gingerbread that comes in cute shapes and such detailed decorations that you might not want to bite in them.
“Szaloncukor” is a chocolate-coated soft candy. We decorate our Christmas trees with them so actually, they are edible Christmas decorations! 🙂
Thermal baths are bliss in wintertime. Visit Szechenyi Baths or Gellért Baths and enjoy the hot spring pools. Get an entry ticket to Szechenyi Baths
Enjoy a great cruise on the Danube as the winter sights are beautiful during a night boat tour.
The Ice Rink in Budapest City Park is a must for winter sports lovers. Rent a pair of skates to glide in front of Vajdahunyad Castle.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Katalin Németh from Budapest Connection
Blue Lagoon, Iceland
Blue Lagoon is a beautiful geothermal spa in Iceland. Its surreal layout, milky blue water, and relaxing atmosphere make it one of the best things to do in Iceland in December.
Located only 20 minutes from the airport, you will arrive in a secluded area with a wooden path that led towards the hotel in Blue Lagoon.
The moment you submerge inside the pool, you will feel magic! The water is warm enough to create a comfortable contrast to the chilly weather. Sometimes with snow falling, the tiny icy droplets will soothe and melt into your skin.
You will be totally mesmerized by the ambiance at the Blue Lagoon in winter. Without a doubt, it should be on everyone’s bucket list in the winter.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Daisy from Beyond My Border
The landscapes and skyscapes of Iceland invite cliches and superlatives like nowhere else. Ferocious freezing breakers crash onto glistening black basalt. Just across the road, waterfalls tumble down hundreds of feet over mossy cliffs from Europe’s largest glacier.
Overhead the sky paints a spectrum lifted from Disney unicorns. Make the most of that light, because only four short hours from the day’s beautiful sunrise, comes an equally stunning sunset.
Touristic highlights with magical names sit about this landscape within reasonable driving times. Shining elephantine ice diamonds festoon a glistening black beach at Breiðamerkursandur.
The birthplace of the earth’s longest-running parliament sits between two moving cliffs at Þingvellir. And every second of every day, 100 tons of water cascades 30 meters through a frozen wonderland at Gullfoss.
Spanning two separate tectonic plates, Iceland’s geology is still forming every day. And since it sits under freezing skies with its feet in the warm gulf stream, its climate is even more fluid.
Iceland creates its own stories of the world. It was the spring point for the western discovery of the American continent five hundred years before Columbus. Its language has been almost unchanged in the millennium since that day.
Why is winter the best season to visit Iceland? Two words can answer this: Aurora Borealis. And those Trolls and the Cat? Santa doesn’t visit Iceland, so make sure you leave gifts on your windowsill for the thirteen fearsome sons of Gryla before Christmas.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Ania from The Travelling Twins
Dublin, the capital of Ireland, is probably not at the top of your list when you think of European Christmas destinations. Dublin in December will pleasantly surprise you!
The dark winter days are enlightened by an overload of Christmas sparkle, everywhere you look.
Many stores and attractions deck out for the holidays. For example, the Guinness Storehouse, a perfect indoor activity in winter, has done a really good job of combining the local black drink with holiday cheer. You can shop for Guinness related Christmas ornaments or pick a gift for your loved ones while taking their tour.
Dublin is gifted with many indoor malls and they offer perfect holiday shopping opportunities as well. But the best thing in Dublin must be pub life. Hopping from bar to bar, tasting local specialties, is a year-round fun activity to do in Dublin. But in winter, it becomes especially cozy and comfortable.
Each pub is decorated with Christmas lights and you feel right at home. Some pubs even offer a Christmas menu throughout the whole month of December.
Another great thing about Dublin over Christmas is the people of Dublin. When you travel during the holiday season, you might miss your family or that warm cozy feeling from home. But Dublin makes up for it and then some.
The people of Dublin are so warm and welcoming, you’ll forget any worries. Whether you need directions on the street or a friendly face to talk to in the pub, the people of Dublin are there for you over Christmas.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Naomi from Probe around the Globe
Unlike many countries in Europe, winters in Ireland are usually not too cold and snow is mostly limited to the occasional dusting. This makes Ireland one of the best winter destinations in Europe for magical winter hikes, especially on clear, frosty days.
Nights, on the other hand, are great for viewing the Northern Lights and for stargazing.
If you are looking for a gem of a mountain to hike, then look no further than Diamond Hill in County Galway.
All three of the well-marked routes on this mountain offer stunning vistas of the dramatic landscape of Connemara National Park with views of Kylemore Abbey, the Twelve Bens mountain range and the rugged Atlantic coastline. In snow, the beauty of this winter wonderland is truly breathtaking!
Torc Mountain in Killarney National Park is a particularly enjoyable hike that offers incredible birds-eye views of some of Ireland’s most magnificent scenery including the Lakes of Killarney, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the Dingle Peninsula. While you are in the area, don’t forget to check out the nearby Torc Waterfall too!
On a cold, crisp winter day, the beauty and stillness of Glendalough in Wicklow National Park are simply spellbinding. This idyllic location is also the site of a monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.
The White Trail (Spinc and Glenealo Valley) is a superb, but strenuous loop walk offering rewarding views of the lakes and valley below.
Ireland may not be the first place you think of when it comes to viewing the Northern Lights, but the remote Inishowen Peninsula on the Wild Atlantic Way in County Donegal is a great destination for viewing this marvelous natural phenomenon. This northerly location experiences little light pollution, so when the weather and solar wind conditions are right, it is an excellent place to watch this awe-inspiring spectacle.
There is always a level of unpredictability, as the Northern Lights cannot be precisely forecast in advance, but even if you miss the Northern Lights, the dark sky of the Inishowen Peninsula offers excellent star-gazing too.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Emer & Nils from let’s go Ireland
Lichtenstein is a very small and very beautiful country nestled between Austria and Switzerland, amongst some very big mountain ranges above the Rhine. Lichtenstein is one of the smallest countries in the world and as a result, it often goes unconsidered in people’s travel planning.
A trip to Liechtenstein in winter has been one of the most magical, fun, exciting, and surprising countries to visit in Europe.
Arriving in Liechtenstein’s capital city, Vaduz was spectacular.
If you are traveling on a budget, this is a great place. We had no great plans to be too adventurous by hiring lots of snow-sport gear, but we really didn’t need to. We literally walked into the main street and in our wanders, we found a shop to hire toboggans. We followed the lead of a nun in her robe, who came flying down a toboggan run.
We had hours of fun tobogganing down slopes in Vaduz, not only were we exhausted from the number of times we walked up the hill, but also from the number of crashes and from laughing so much. People hired toboggans in Vaduz like people hire bikes to cycle around Melbourne – it was just the norm and such a memorable experience.
Everything in Vaduz is walkable, easy to negotiate and any trips outside are accessible by bus. Do yourself a favor and add Liechtenstein to your bucket list – it truly is a beautiful country with so many great opportunities on offer.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Erin from Love to Travel Stay Eat Do
Amsterdam is a magical city year-round and so it makes it to our list of Best Winter Destinations in Europe. Throughout the year, Amsterdam is full of exciting activities that are unique and diverse in its offerings. However, during the winter months, Amsterdam attracts fewer tourists; therefore, the city is less busy and more enjoyable.
One exciting thing about Amsterdam is that in the winter months it rarely snows or goes below 0 degrees. Despite being pretty far North, winter temperatures stay around 3 degrees. However, the air in Amsterdam feels damp in the winter and has a lingering chill to it, so if you come in the winter, be sure to bundle up.
The best event Amsterdam hosts which draws in multiple visitors for winter vacations is The Amsterdam Light Festival. Amsterdam Light Festival takes place for 53 days during the winter months and transforms Amsterdam’s canals and streets with memorizing light installations.
This spectacular winter art exhibition runs from late November to mid-January with 30 of the best art installations showcased out of the hundreds of submissions. The art installations can be admired by foot or bike, but the best way is by boat.
The light festival illuminates the entire city center with a whimsical feel and exploring it can be done on your own or by tour.
A boat tour done via a festival partner is a great way to see all the installations and the boat provides a unique and fun perspective. However, walking around the city and viewing them on your own is also brilliant.
If you check out the IAmsterdam page before your journey you can even get a map, so you know where to go. On your own, you can also stop at one of the many Amsterdam cafes and walk with a warm drink.
Despite Amsterdam’s chilly weather, it does offer much beauty in the winter months. Heading to Amsterdam for winter and checking out the Amsterdam Light Festival will result in an experience like no other.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Samantha from Sam Sees the World.
Arctic Cruise, Norway
The ultimate way to explore Arctic Norway and to witness the eerie beauty of the Aurora Borealis is on board a Northern lights cruise in Norway. December was the perfect time of year for experiencing polar nights, whale filled fjords, and countless winter activities.
Depart from Andalsnes, the mountaineering capital of Norway. Idyllically located in the valley of Romsdal, by the mouth of the river Rauma, the small, colorful town is nestled in between fjords and dramatic mountains.
Tromso, the gateway to the Arctic is the next stop. Popular amongst tourists, it is where nature and culture go hand in hand. Winter activities such as snowmobiling, snowshoeing, dog sledding, cross country skiing, ice fishing, and reindeer sledding were all available.
Alta, dubbed “the town of the Northern Lights” is a delightful stop. It lies well above the Arctic Circle at 70 degrees north latitude. Stay here to chase down Mother Nature’s elusive light show.
You can also join the Northern lights tour and check off the Northern Lights from the Europe bucket list.
The final stop was at Stavanger, located in the south-western corner of Norway. The cruise ship docked in the charming city center, just a short stroll away from Stavanger Cathedral.
Lysefjord and the iconic Preikestolen (the Pulpit Rock) were just an hour’s boat trip away, so join in an excursion to explore the area and try out Norwegian waffles!
CONTRIBUTED BY: Roshni Patel from The Wanderlust Within
Warsaw’s annual Christmas Market in the Old Town is a great way to sample regional delicacies from across Poland and get a glimpse of some national holiday traditions.
Dozens of wooden stalls are set up in the Castle Square, near the Royal Castle, which was all rebuilt in meticulous detail after the World War II bombings. A lit Christmas tree stands on display in front of the castle and the mood is always festive and cheery.
At this market, you can find oscypek, a smoked cheese made from sheep’s milk and salt traditionally made in southern Poland’s Carpathian Mountains. Thick woolen socks, hats, and mittens from that region are also popular as temperatures dip below zero and often include heavy snowfall.
Poland is known across Europe for its handmade glass Christmas ornaments. They are often colorful and glittery, varying in shape from the traditional round balls decorated with snowflake designs or religious scenes to more ambitious pieces in the shape of bumblebees or even Queen Nefertiti’s bust.
Other popular items include simple but quirky wooden toys from the Czech Republic or black rye bread imported from neighboring Lithuania.
Food stalls fill the air with the smell of roasted chestnuts, mulled wine or pierogi, Polish dumplings made from unleavened dough that are stuffed with potatoes, sauerkraut, meat, cheese or fruit. Pierogi is one of the dishes included in the traditional Christmas Eve dinner, and are so popular that restaurants like Pierogarnia specialize in the numerous variations on the dish.
The market is usually held in December and offers a great starting point for exploring the city’s Old Town. Venture deeper, or wander the side streets, and you can load up on unique souvenirs and Christmas gifts like amber jewelry from the country’s Baltic coast.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Dee from Vanilla Papers
Zakopane makes it to the list of best winter destinations in Europe. Zakopane is the winter capital of Poland. The name means literally buried in snow.
The town is located in the picturesque Tatra Mountains close to the Slovak border. The mountain resorts nearby offer a lot in terms of winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding.
With the longest ski slope in the country Kasprowy Wierch just 10 minutes ride from the center of Zakopane and Białka Tatrzańska, the biggest ski resort in the Polish Tatras only 25 km away. The nearby mountains are also a perfect spot for cross country skiing as well as ski touring.
Another winter activity that is very popular in the region is horse sleigh riding in traditional wooden sleigh often ended with a bonfire with sausages and mulled wine. If the weather allows it and there is no danger of an avalanche, you can also take a tour to Morskie Oko (Eye of the Sea – a beautiful mountain lake, the biggest one in Tatras).
The town itself is thriving with life (also at night) and the Highlanders from the Tatras are well known for their folklore and hospitality.
Zakopane has a wide offer of hotels, guesthouses and villas for rent, however, many people also rent rooms in their houses, sometimes including delicious homemade food as well.
The local specialties here include oscypek (a smoked cheese made of salted sheep milk, made exclusively in the Tatra Mountains region of Poland, best served grilled with cranberry topping), kwaśnica (sauerkraut soup), and placek zbójnicki (potato pankake often served with goulash).
If you get really cold, you can get delicious mulled wine everywhere, but you may also try herbata z prądem (electric tea), which is hot tea with alcohol (mostly vodka).
Alentejo & Algarve, Portugal
Alentejo and Algarve regions in Southern Portugal are great places to spend the winter holidays. The weather here is usually sunny and warm compared to the rest of Europe. The great thing about coming here in winter is that it’s much less crowded than in summer months and quite a bit cheaper as well.
Though it’s warm and sunny during the day at night it can get a bit chilly it’s very nice to stay in an old and cozy farmhouse turned into a guesthouse like Courela do Salgueiro or Moinhos do Paneiro in Caroche.
All the summer activities like hiking, surfing, cycling are still available in winter and can be done without rushing, competing for a spot, or being disturbed. The water here is always quite cold so summer or winter doesn’t make a big difference for surfing or kitesurfing you’ll have to wear a wetsuit.
Waves for surfing are actually better in winter if you like surfing or want to learn it you can rent an apartment in one of the beach towns like Praia do Odeceixe or Sagres and share the waves with only a few locals.
One of the top things to do in the area is to walk the Rota Vicentina, a famous trail that goes along the Vicentina Coast and finishes at Cabo de S.Vicente, the southwesternmost point of the European continent.
Winter is a good time to walk it, it’s not too hot for walking like in summer, there are very few people on the trail compared to the peak season so you can have beautiful sandy beaches all to yourself.
Visiting the stunning caves of the Algarve e.g. Benagil Cave is another great adventure. Some of the caves can be reached only by boat and due to the offseason, you might be the only people there.
Wine tasting is a great option in case of bad weather you can visit famous estates, try local wines and have a fine dinner.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
When we think of winter vacations, we think of exotic trips to see the northern lights or the excitements of snow activities. The beautiful baroque city of Porto does not come to mind immediately, it is almost a hidden gem in winters.
One of the many advantages of visiting Porto during winter is that, precisely because the temperatures are quite mild, it is possible to do most part of the activities that you would do during the rest of the year BUT with the advantages of the low season (meaning lower prices and fewer queues).
Visit monuments such as the famous Lello bookshop or the stunning St Francis’ gothic church, which are typically flooded with tourists but not during winters.
Another great thing to do during winter in Porto is to take part in the many Christmas activities, which take place during the entire month of December. You can buy traditional Portuguese gifts to bring back home.
Moreover in the main avenue of Porto, Avenida dos Aliados, or in Praça Dom João I, you will find ice rings where you can practice your skills.
And, because the weather is so nice during winter, you can enjoy street theatre and contemporary dancing organized by the City Hall. It is truly magical!
Finally, Portuguese people do not have the tradition of drinking glue wine during winter BUT we drink tons of hot chocolate at Café Guarany or at Penguin Café, two classical cafes that you shouldn’t miss while visiting Porto.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Sara Riobom from Portoalities
The Canary Islands, Spain
Ah, the days of endless summer. If you love LOVE summers and can’t let go, Canary Islands is the way to go!
Known as the Little Venice, Canary Islands brings in tons of sunshine, beaches and volcanic rugged terrain perfect for summer hikes and photos of the Canary Islands will melt your heart.
The Canary Islands is one of the warmest places in Europe, and it can be easily reached from many other European countries and winter is the perfect time to escape the cold. Resorts are open all year round and winter is a low tourist season.
Canary Islands is also a MUST visit due to its stunning landscape – the sand dunes, the volcanic terrain, small towns scattered across, and the stunning water.
Vineyards are found in plenty here and a wine tour is a ritual. It is also a sports haven with golf courses, mountain biking, surfing, and other water sports.
Malaga is one of the finest warm destinations to visit in Europe in winter.
Its beaches attract thousands of tourists during the summer months, will be almost deserted during the winter and, although for some it might be a bit too chilly for a dip in the Mediterranean, it’s certainly still warm enough put down your beach towel and catch some rays.
If it’s culture rather than beach life that you’re after Malaga has museums galore, from the Picasso Museum to the Centre Pompidou (shaped like a giant Rubik’s Cube) and the quirky Museum of the Imagination.
History buffs can take a wander around the Alcazaba and view the remnants of a Roman theatre or climb up to the castle of Gibralfaro for spectacular views over the city and coastline. Meanwhile, for lovers of the great outdoors, nothing beats a stroll under the orange trees in the Botanical Gardens.
Malaga has several Christmas markets dotted throughout the city but, without doubt, the main attraction in Malaga during the winter months is the festive light display. It’s renowned throughout Spain and attracts huge crowds during the festive period. The main display is at Calle Larios and, every evening at 6.30 pm, 8.00 pm and 9.30 pm, the Plaza de la Constitución fills with spectators eagerly awaiting the outstanding sound and light show.
Of course, you can’t come to Spain and not try some of the local delicacies. Start your day with a coffee at Café Central in Plaza de la Constitución and end it with cocktails at a rooftop bar overlooking the city. In between, there are hundreds of bars and restaurants to tempt your taste buds.
Malaga is famous for its espetos (sardines cooked over an open flame on the beach) and, while you probably won’t find these during the winter months, you’ll still be spoilt for choice with everything from simple tapas bars to fine dining establishments, not to mention the roast chestnut sellers on many street corners.
There’s a huge choice of hotels for all budgets – a personal favorite is Madeinterranea Suites. Tucked away down a side street in Malaga’s old town it’s a tastefully refurbished townhouse with comfortable rooms built around a typical Andalucian courtyard. Book your stay at Madeinterranea Suites.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Alison from Alison In Andalucia
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Visiting Lake Bled in winter is magical. Most of the tourists come to Lake Bled in summer, however, it is a fantastic winter destination as well. The entire town transforms into a fairy tale, with high snowdrifts and a frozen lake on which you can walk or skate on.
There are many things to do in Bled in winter, from practicing winter sports in the mountains to enjoying strolls along the lake and warming up with endless cups of hot chocolate.
I have spent three days in Bled in winter, staying at Astoria Bled Hotel, a couple of minutes’ walk from the lake. What I enjoyed most about the hotel was the spa. After a day spent in the cold it was so relaxing to just sit in the jacuzzi and watch the snowflakes come down and then melt on the glass ceiling.
For snow lovers, Bled is a perfect base for practicing winter sports. Many people who were staying at the same hotel as I was gearing up with their ski equipment and head over to the slopes, in the nearby Triglav National Park.
Taking the cable car up to Vogel Ski Centre, you will find plenty of slopes for every type of skier, beginner or advanced. Even if you don’t know how to ski, you can always come here to take a lesson or two. Plus, the cable car ride up offers amazing views over Lake Bohinj.
If you visit Bled in the middle of winter, when it’s very cold and the ice is strong, you can skate on the lake. If the ice doesn’t look strong enough, there is always the ice rink from the Sports Hall.
Bled is also a great foodie destination and in winter you can be sure to find a table at one of the most popular restaurants in town.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Exploring the Alps during winter is, of course, an iconic trip and one very popular with many tourists around Europe. However, whilst for many hitting the slopes on skis or a snowboard, this isn’t all there is to do in the region. One of the best ways to see the Alps is by train and none is better than the beautiful Bernina Express.
Departing from Tirano, on the Italian side of the Alps, and traveling all the way through the mountains, across to Switzerland, past some of the iconic resorts, and ending up in the key interchange of Chur. With its wide, panoramic windows, you can grab a picnic and bottle of red, sit back and enjoy the views.
Now, one of your key stops will be the glitzy and affluent town of St Moritz in Switzerland. Another favorite of snow and adventure sportspeople, the town has a splendid selection of hotels and restaurants. However, don’t make this your final destination!
Across the valley from the town, you will find Muottas Muragl, a Romantik branded hotel located 2,456m above sea level. To reach the hotel, you have to take the cable car up – which in itself is an epic journey – a vintage funicular railway originating in 1907!
Once you reach the hotel, you will find the incredible views that make this such a wonderful place to visit. With sweeping vistas down across St Mortiz and beyond, on a clear day, it will be one of the finest in the Alps.
The hotel is also home to one of the best sledding routes in the area, allowing you to suit up and take a thrill ride back down into the valley. Then, in the evening, relax in the hotel’s own restaurant, with splendid fine dining, exquisite service, and a wine list to die for. Find more destinations in Switzerland in winter here.
CONTRIBUTED BY: Laura & Charlie from The Travelling Stomach
Travel Tips – Best places to visit in Europe in winter
Here are some important items to keep in mind, before embarking on your trip to Europe.
Travel Documents and Visa – Ensure your passport and other travel documents are in order before your trip. If you require a visa to travel to Europe, read our application guide on Schengen Visa
First time to Europe – Get our Europe Travel Checklist
Travel Insurance – Winter also means unpredictable weather. Ensure your trip with travel insurance against trip cancellations and delays, or any medical emergencies. Get your quote here from Worlds Nomad Insurance
What to Pack for Europe in winter – We have written an extensive guide to pack for Europe here
We hope you enjoyed our list of best winter destinations in Europe.