A Europe-vacay in winter is all about visiting touristy destinations without the ado of queues and traffic, so you can truly relish your time there. Celebrating Christmas in any region in Europe has its own charm with the celebrations going on for days. In fact, some European countries hold Christmas markets from mid-November to December, a truly celebratory attraction.
Here are some of the best destinations in Europe that make for a great trip in winters.
1. Athens, Greece
The capital of Greece deserves to be visited all through the year, however winter makes Athens a truly pleasant experience. Since the climate is milder compared to some other countries, you can still step out to look at Athens in full glory and the city functions as well as it does during the rest of the year.
On a Sunday winter morning, head to the Acropolis to admire the majestic architecture. Walk through olive trees lining its steps and reach the top to get a view of the stunning Athens landscape.
If you are planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Athens, head to Mount Lycabettus to watch the fireworks amidst twinkling lights. And if it gets too chilly, head to a tavern and have a shot of Ouzo or Raki, of Athens fame.
2. Transylvania, Romania
A land of folklore and storytelling, Transylvania is the birthplace of inspiration for the Dracula novel. Its cities like Brasov and Sibiu are worth exploring during winters, with their charming churches and huge town squares sprinkled with a layer of snow.
At the backdrop of Transylvania’s cultural heritage is its Carpathian Mountains that turn into a winter wonderland as soon as it snows. You’ll also find villages with lots of pedestrian areas where traditional horse and cart style farming is still prevalent.
3. Dublin, Ireland
Being one of the friendliest cities of Europe, the best thing to do in Dublin is to sit in a cosy Irish pub and chat up with the locals. The city sees spells of cold weather especially in January and February, and if you are lucky, you may even experience some snow. Most of Dublin’s attractions are indoor ones like the 18th century Trinity college, the National Museum of Ireland or even the Guinness Storehouse and winter, makes for a great time to uncover them, crowd-free.
One of Dublin’s biggest indoor markets with more than 100 stalls – the Smithfield Square hosts its own Christmas Bazaar Market starting end of November. Every January, Dublin hosts the TradFest that has a series of free events showcasing traditional Irish and folk music. If you are planning to visit in March, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations that go on for several days around the 17th, is a great way to know the city.
4. Berlin, Germany
Since winters in Berlin are freezing cold and the days are short, you’ll want to plan out your vacation in advance. You’ll find public transportation running efficiently even in the coldest of weathers, saving you the inconvenience of having to walk longer distances in the cold.
Berlin’s Japanese Christmas Market is one of the quirkiest markets in Germany. Winter makes it the perfect time to visit the Volkspark Friedrichshain- an urban park where you can even go sledding. Berlin’s Botanischer Garten lights up every November through December through which visitors can walk for about 1.5 kilometers.
5. Lucerne, Switzerland
Staying at Lucerne in winters means you can get the best of the hotels with the most picturesque views, like ones with a private balcony overlooking the Reuss river. Temperatures hover around the freezing point making it the best time to try your feet at skiing, hiking with snowshoes on or just enjoying a traditional Swiss cheese fondue.
Winters are great to take a short walk around the Altstadt (old town) and see its charmingly colorful buildings. These buildings have gorgeously painted facades that date back to the middle ages. The afternoon tea at the Chateau Gütsch is unmissable, and gives an incredible view of the entire city and that of the lake.
6. Vienna, Austria
The Christmas markets in Vienna are a highlight in the winter and make it a flourishing tourist spot even in December. Go for a walking tour across 4 markets and you are bound to find an endless line of stalls selling souvenirs and hot mulled wine. The trams and metros here are always reliable, clean and warm and some are large enough with tables, making you feel like you’re sitting in a mobile coffee shop. Like in a lot of regions across Europe, the locals observe Christmas Eve with as much fervor as Christmas day, to celebrate Santa going up in the sky. Expect to see the markets closed and streets empty on these days as everyone enjoys with family.
One of the best ways to enjoy winters in Austria is to indulge in their coffee culture. Some of its cafes are as old as 300 years and have preserved their original styles. It’s lovely to go ice skating in Vienna where you can choose from the many indoor and outdoor skating rinks.
7. Rovaniemi, Finland
The snowy months of December and January take temperatures in Rovaniemi to -20 and -30 degrees Celsius. This is Santa Claus’ hometown and through these months you’ll have several activities related to the grand old man. You can find Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, where kids and adults alike write letters to family and friends back home and have it stamped with the “official” Santa Claus Main Post Office postmark.
The Ice Kingdom is a favorite with kids for fun performances, with ice sculptures that make for great photo opportunities as well. Its Ranua Wildlife Park features Polar Bears while its zoo has many species of owls and hawks. In March temperatures and visibility is favorable for watching the Northern Lights. Once here, you must also try some ice swimming at the town beach on the other side of Kemi river.
8. Abisko, Sweden
For some serious winters, go to Abisko for Northern Lights spotting. The “blue hole” effect at its lake that surrounds the mountains bless it with clearer weather compared to other places in the Arctic and make it easier to view the aurora borealis. You have an 80% chance of successfully watching the northern lights if you’re staying in Abikso for three nights.
While in Abikso at low temperatures, you can also enjoy a snowmobile ride and a piping hot mug of lingonberry juice. Try your hand at dog sledding that ends with some puppy cuddling. You should also visit the frozen waterfalls at Abisko National Park which makes for breathtaking pictures.
9. Copenhagen, Denmark
The land of hygge, Copenhagen has a magical vibe in winters. Get cozy, hopping from café to café and relish a poke bowl at one of their many restaurants at Jægersborggade- a high street that lines up many an art gallery, vintage shops and eateries.
The sun is up in winters from 9 am to 3 pm, so you’ll have enough time to explore the Christmas market along with the Nyhavn canals with colorful, thin buildings set in a line.
10. Prague, Czech Republic
Average daytime temperatures in Prague in winters hover around 0 degrees Celsius, so fluffy snow falls lightly through the day. It’s a great time to visit the Old Town and Astronomical Clock without hoards of tourists surrounding it.
Christmas markets in Prague run longer than other European markets, up to the Eastern Ortodox Christmas that falls on January 7th. The Prague Castle is the largest in Europe and is gorgeous during winters, usually with a dusting of snow. You must also take a 30-minute walk among some of the most charming buildings in the city from the Old Town side of Charles’ Bridge to Prague Castle.
11. Bergen, Norway
As the second largest city in Norway, Bergen actually feels like a small town that still retains its fishing village flavor. The public transport here is great even in winters and is a respite from walking in the cold. You should take the Beffin boat that ferries locals across the harbor.
The Bergen fjords winter boat tour is one of the best winter attractions in Bergen. Kids will especially enjoy feeding the penguins and looking at the sea lions at the Bergen aquarium. Go sledging at the Fløibanen funicular or cross country skiing where lighted trails are up till 10 pm.
12. Ljubljana, Slovenia
The charming capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana has a beautiful Christmas market along the side of its river. Take a stroll at the pedestrian-only cobbled streets of its Old Town and take a day trip to Lake Bled and the Julian Alps. The hotels in Ljubljana have great spas and large soaking tubs for you to relax in.
13. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Spend a winter weekend at Sarajevo and experience the town quietly located in a valley with two mountains on either side. It has a lot of fountains scattered all over the city, so you can fill up and drink away as you walk through the Old Town.
Take in the sunset and the city views from the Yellow Bastian and try some original Sarajevo salep at one of its cozy restaurants.
14. Budapest, Hungary
While some European regions come to a grinding halt in winters, Budapest is one city that does the opposite. The best thing to do in Budapest winter is to go ice skating at the largest skating rink in Europe. Surrounded by the architecture of Vajdahunyad Castle and Városliget Café, makes your time at the skating rink more memorable.
At train stations, find a vendor selling warm bags of roasted chestnuts as you head to watch the light show at St Stephen’s Basilica. At the Christmas market, find some chimney cakes (known to be one of the very first cakes ever made).
15. Andalucía, Spain
Blessed with warm temperatures almost through the year, Andalucía brings in a lot of visitors from Europe and beyond, during winters. On one side of the city you’ll find sandy beaches, on another, the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Its natural parks have lush green mountains; letting you choose the landscape you want to enjoy in Andalucía.
The Doñana National Park is a lovely sight for nature lovers in winter. You’ll find about 300 bird species that come here at this time to breed and nest. Andalusians like to celebrate festivals through the year. Apart from the Christmas markets, the Cadiz festival (one of the oldest cities in Spain) in February is most exciting, where locals dress in costumes and have a carnival.
16. Venice, Italy
In winters, Venice becomes even more romantic, with fog rolling over the canals. Here’s your chance to take a quiet tour of the city and have meals in restaurants where normally you’d have to queue up to get a seat. Walk across to the many public churches and bàcaros to thoroughly relish your time here.
The Venice Carnevale takes place in January and has many events from colorful boat parades on the banks of Cannaregio to masquerade balls. The biggest attraction of Carnevale is the world-famous masked costume contest.
17. Sicily, Italy
Beaches in Sicily are pleasant during winters and hold lots of unique shells, pebbles and even Sicilian amber. Its botanical garden of Kolymbetra is at its best in winter, bearing ripe citrus fruits.
For those who seek cultural and historical nuggets, you will easily be able to do so in winters without the crowds, at Sicily’s archaeological and historical landmarks. February is the best time here, as you can relish on sea urchins, enjoy the Almond Blossom Festival and Siracusa’s Saint Lucy Festival.
18. Hallstätt, Austria
An overnight stay at Hallstätt in winter will put this picture perfect village, on top of your list of beautiful places. The snow capped mountains reflect on the calm icy lakes, while the old wooden homes are covered in snow. Its thin lanes are lit bright during Christmas. The view of the town during dawn and dusk make for amazing pictures that will always transport you back to this blue and yellow paradise.
Beginners and pros can go skiing, snowshoeing, take a horse drawn carriage rides and even go dogsledding. Typical of Austria, you’ll find many a hotel in Hallstätt having their own steam and saunas for you to relax and get warmed up after your day out in the cold.
19. Bruges, Belgium
New Years Eve is a perfect time to be in Bruges, thanks to its brilliant parties with songs and dances and glittering fireworks. If you are looking for a perfect gift, look for something that reads ‘Handmade in Bruges’.
Wander around the medieval city through its cobbled side streets and canals to reach the Lake of Love which is home to Bruges’ swans. Its Belfort (bell tower) has the best views of the city. All through your trip, you’ll find yourself enjoying the famous Belgian chocolate and beer.
20. Paris, France
The city of lights- Paris has a mysterious yet relaxed vibe in winters. You’ll see the city transform, with ice skating rinks set up in every major location and throngs of Parisians enjoying. Its Christmas markets are a sheer pleasure to visit, as all of them come with lovely views of either the Eiffel Tower or the Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. The Notre Dame’s Christmas décor is beautiful with a huge Christmas tree in its courtyard being the center of many pictures.
The best part of visiting Paris in the cold weather is being able to go to the Louvre and not spend as much time in queues. Inside, it’s warm and you can really take in the art without too many tourists cramping the space. Other places to go without the rush of tourists are the Center Pompidou, Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais and the Musee Rodin.