Best Winter Destinations in Europe
With the winter weather blowing in, many of us may be seeking that perfect place to cozy down for the year’s coldest season. Others may see winter as the most romantic and beautiful time of the year and wish to soak up as much of the yuletide as we can. Either way, the European continent has a wealth of destinations to satisfy every taste. Whether that be the snowy slopes of the Swiss Alps or the gentle winter sunshine of the Mediterranean, the best places to spend winter in Europe are endless.
With such a concentration of different countries and cities in one continent, Europe offers a buffet of culture for the would-be winter traveler. Let’s take a look at the best places to spend winter in Europe and what each of these stunning European destinations can bring to your winter experience.
The capital of Germany’s southern state of Bavaria, Munich, has long held a place as one of Europe’s top winter destinations. The cold of a southern German winter seems to marry perfectly with the feel of the city. Especially festive during this time of the year, Munich holds elaborate Christmas markets, known as Christkindlmarkts, some of the best anywhere in the world.
The city’s closeness to picture-perfect winter scenes such as castle Neuschwanstein, said to be the inspiration for the castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, and idyllic Bavarian architecture seem to bring the whole winter wonderland to life. Not only does this make it a perfect destination for families to bring young children, but there is also plenty for adults to enjoy too.
The wide-open squares of Munich, known as plazas, become the center of much winter cheer and merrymaking. Sipping hot winter drinks as you’re surrounded by a hub of Munich’s people can’t help but bring a sense of joy to your winter break. The cuisine of southern Germany also matches perfectly with the winter vibes. Warm pretzels, hot German sausages such as Weisswurst (“white sausage”), and good German beer all make the winter experience in Munich all the more comfortable.
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Highlights of spending winter in Munich
- Magical Christmas markets
- Close to winter wonderland castles
- Hearty winter food that blends perfectly with your surroundings.
- Sociable love for the winter season
The largest city in all of the United Kingdom, London is always a fantastic destination to visit but is undoubtedly one of the best places to spend winter in Europe. During the final months of the year, London transforms into a Christmas capital, not unlike the scene we would expect from an American city such as New York.
Christmas grottos and fantastical window displays in iconic places such as Harrods are welcome sights for the whole family, but the children especially. Here they can meet Santa Claus and his elves, receiving a gift and a bit of winter cheer, perfect for keeping the children happy on winter family break in the English capital.
One of the largest city parks in London, Hyde Park, is transformed into a winter wonderland at this time too. The park is complete with ice and snow sculptures, an ice-skating rink, rides, and Santa Land, where you’ll find child-friendly rides. The city also displays some of the best Christmas light displays anywhere, most famously being along the iconic Oxford Street.
As London is used to the cooler climates, its infrastructure and attractions are all geared towards enjoying life indoors. Whether this is the multitude of traditional cozy British pubs or the plethora of museums and art galleries with free admission, you will never fail to find something to do in the city, making it one of the best places to spend winter in Europe.
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Highlights of spending winter in London
- City parks transformed into winter wonderland attractions.
- Fantastic Christmas light displays along Oxford Street.
- Homely and cozy pubs, perfect for spending warm winter days indoors.
- Numerous free admissions to galleries and museums for snow days.
The French capital of Paris is deservedly on the list of best places to visit in Europe, and this is still the case during those winter months. The famous Champs Elysee avenue in the center of the city is transformed into a giant ice skating rink, perfect for the whole family to enjoy a winter sport in the heart of Paris.
Another iconic Parisian landmark, the Notre Dame Cathedral, goes through its own winter transformation. With a giant Christmas tree and elaborate light show, Notre Dame Cathedral is made even more impressive and elegant during the winter months.
What really makes Paris one of the best places to visit in Europe with family during winter is the fact that it is home to Disneyland Paris. During the dying months of the year, Disneyland Paris displays elaborate holiday decorations, shows and gives your children the chance to visit Santa Claus.
Also, home to cozy French bistros and welcoming bars, the famous European city is set out perfect for the winter months. When the snow and ice get a little too much, you can visit the myriad of iconic museums and art galleries that make this city so famous around the world.
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Highlights of spending winter in Paris
- Beautiful ice rinks in the heart of the city.
- Light displays across famous buildings such as Notre Dame Cathedral.
- Cozy Parisian bistros welcome you into the warmth to enjoy fantastic French cuisine.
- Disneyland Paris becomes a winter wonderland for both the young and old.
Another of Germany’s iconic Bavarian cities, Nuremberg is not only the second-biggest city in the state of Bavaria but arguably one the best to visit during the end and start of the year. Bavaria, and Germany as a whole, are well-known for their Christmas markets, known as Christkindlmarkts, but the city of Nuremberg surely takes the top spot. Nuremberg’s Christmas Market has been active for over five centuries and is a world within itself.
Over one hundred stalls sell everything you could wish for during the festive season. Most famously of all are the Rauschgoldengel, which are gold-foil angel decorations, and the traditional gingerbread, known as lebkuchen. The fantastic Christmas market takes place against the backdrop of the breathtaking Nuremberg architecture, something that has defined the city for centuries.
This architecture and awesome sights really come into their own in the January and December months. No visit to the city would be complete without a stroll along the cobbled streets and a visit to Nuremberg Castle, a perfect landmark for a winter visit. To get into the Christmas spirit even more during the December weeks, why not head to Lorenzkirche church, home to one of the largest organs in the world.
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Highlights of spending winter in Nuremberg
- One of the best Christmas markets in the world.
- Stunning architecture that blends with the winter weather seamlessly.
- An idyllic countryside that surrounds the city.
Germany seems to take the lead when it comes to the best places to spend winter in Europe and no list of German cities would be complete without mentioning the capital, Berlin. Berlin encapsulates all the best things about a December or January in Germany, but on a much larger scale. Taking influence from the Bavarian Christmas markets, the German capital is home to one of the largest and varied in the country. Drawing in traders from across Germany, you will find a plethora of Christmas gift ideas here, along with a wide range of German-made treats.
During the December and January months, Berlin becomes a hotspot for winter actives. The city is home to a giant ice rink, where you can skate until your heart’s content and your cheeks are rosy. For the more thrill-seeking winter lovers, toboggan runs are found across the city, especially on the slopes of one of Berlin’s highest hills, Teufelsberg.
Long known as a city of fantastic entertainment, December sees a boom in performing arts. Shows run throughout the winter period, with a jam-packed calendar of theatre performances and more. To escape the snow and ice, Berlin is also renowned for being a city full of luxury spas of varying types. A jump in the sauna or heating pool is a sure way to warm yourself up after a day in the cold.
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Highlights of spending winter in Berlin
- One of the largest Christmas markets in Germany.
- City winter activities such as ice-skating and tobogganing.
- Huge repertoire of Christmas theatre shows throughout the winter months.
- Large spa treatment facilities throughout the capital.
Keeping in the German-speaking world, the Austrian capital Vienna is high on the list of best places to spend winter in Europe and especially during the December and January months. The image of Austria as a whole and the picture of winter seem to blend perfectly and they do! An alpine country, Vienna’s location means you are only ever an hour’s drive away from some of the top skiing resorts and locations in the world, such as Semmering and St. Corona.
Known as the city of music, Vienna during winter time plays host to a huge range of classical and modern performances, most notably at the famous Vienna Opera House. During December, Vienna’s City Hall Square transforms into a fairyland, with fantastic light displays, bustling Christmas markets selling everything from mulled wine and gift boxes with dates to hearty foods such as frankfurters and currywurst, and Christmas workshops.
In front of the iconic Schönbrunn Palace, the winter months transform it into a romantic atmosphere of musical concerts and traditional handicraft shops, creating a magical urban sprawl of festivity. With so much to see and do during these months of the year, the Austrian capital has become one of the most magical places in Europe to visit. Combining a love of food, music, Christmas, and idyllic festiveness, Vienna has it all.
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Highlights of spending winter in Vienna
- Close to numerous world-class skiing resorts.
- Swaths of musical shows throughout the ‘city of music’.
- Booming Christmas markets and streetwide celebrations.
- Many stalls selling a variety of Austrian handicrafts.
Last but not least, on the German trail over winter cities, are arguably one of the most iconic cities in the country, Cologne. Famous for its epic cathedral and stunning Germanic architecture, Cologne has long defined the image of cultural Germany and is well worth a visit any time of the year.
When the winter chill comes in across the city, Cologne really comes into its own. If you are searching for the ideal antidote to cold winter days in this German city then the Claudius Therme is your savior. A thermal bath and sauna complex sprawling across Cologne’s Rheinpark, the complex is home to numerous saunas, thermal pools, and relaxation rooms.
Another ideal way to keep warm and soak up the Cologne culture is to pay a visit to one of the traditional Brauhaus and drink the local beer, Kölsch. Sitting in this warm and charming beer house reminds you are in the heart of western Germany and is a perfect way to observe the people passing by.
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Highlights of spending winter in Cologne
- Stunning and famous architecture in the backdrop of winter.
- Warming and welcoming bars selling traditional Kölsch.
- Impressive thermal bath houses and saunas.
The Scottish capital of Edinburgh is one of the most romantically picturesque cities in all of northern Europe. Visiting the city during the winter months only adds to the overall wintery charm that Scotland has. Surrounded by rolling hills and green countryside, Edinburgh is enveloped in a landscape that comes to life with a mysterious beauty during the colder months.
With Edinburgh’s famous Royal Botanic Garden, you don’t need to leave the city to observe the brilliant image of Scottish nature. In winter the garden gets covered in snow and various rare plants bloom, adding to the wintery beauty.
Back in the city, Edinburgh has a huge number of cozy pubs and cafes, bustling with locals and visitors soaking up the Scottish hospitality. Wandering around the famous sights of Edinburgh Castle during December days adds its whole new angle of Scottish beauty that just isn’t here during those spring and summer days.
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Highlights of spending winter in Edinburgh
- Stunning natural winter landscapes so close to the city.
- A warm and welcome pub and cafe culture.
- Winding streets and landmarks such as Edinburgh castle come into their own.
One of the largest cities and possibly the most famous in Switzerland, Zürich draws in thousands of visitors in the winter months of the year and for very good reasons. Christmas time brings jaw-dropping displays of opulence, including a huge Christmas tree decorated with 7,000 Swarovski crystals. Unlike many European Christmas markets that happen outdoors, Zürich’s Christmas market takes place in the city’s Main Train Station, giving an extra air of warming atmosphere and celebration.
Topping the European Christmas celebrations once again, the city’s inner courtyard of the National Museum hosts a spectacular, interactive light show called Illuminarium, bringing the city to life. Combining the Yuletide celebrations with the epicness of a circus, Zürich puts on The Circus Conelli, combining aerial acrobatics, comedy shows, and musical performances.
Although in northern Switzerland, Zürich’s location amongst an alpine country also means you are only a day trip away from the famous Alps mountain range. Not only are they stunningly beautiful sights, but they also offer the chance for world-beating winter sports, including a number of top ski resorts.
A healthy combination of winter sports, breathtaking natural beauty, and a hub of wintertime activities definitely make Zürich one of the best places to visit in Europe in December or January.
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Highlights of spending winter in Zurich
- Amazing theatrical Christmas events throughout the city.
- Close to the Alps and their many skiing resorts.
- Spectacular light shows over the December and January months.
- Home to the winter circus of The Circus Conelli.
Being in southern Spain, the Spanish city of Seville conjures up images of blazing summer days and a plethora of summer fruit such as Seville oranges. And yet, Seville has quickly become one of the most popular cities to visit during the winter months and not only to escape the colder weather. Though not the only thing worth visiting Seville for, the weather during the winter months is one of the biggest attractions for visiting the city, and with average temperatures at a pleasant 10-12 degrees, it is easy to see why.
In Spain, gifts are exchanged on January 6th, with the traditional story being that the Three Wise Men visit the houses in the country bringing gifts to all the children. This being the case, early January in Seville sees a huge street parade trundle through the city streets, complete with gift-giving to the crowd.
With the Catholic Church one of the main driving forces in Spain, the traditional nativity scenes throughout Seville are traded for the Belén tradition of depicting the entire city of Bethlehem, not just the manger scene – when walking through Spanish streets of Seville, this will become a fantastic pastime of trying to find the best one!
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Highlights of spending winter in Seville
- Fantastic weather, with the temperatures staying around ten to twelve degrees.
- Incredible street parades, with differing traditions.
- Try a wide range of local dishes, bringing you the feel of summer in winter.
- Huge nativity displays display the whole of Bethlehem.
The second Spanish city on our list shows that the Iberian peninsula is a fantastic place to visit during the winter months. The eastern Spanish city of Valencia looks out onto the Mediterranean sea, a painfully beautiful view no matter what time of the year. Although popularly visited during the summer months, winter in Valencia takes on a whole new feel and image.
No winter visit to a European city would be complete without a trip to the Christmas Market, and the warm winter streets of Valencia do not disappoint. Already having a strong market culture, the Christmas Market in Valencia blooms into countless stalls selling a variety of festive goods, including sweet treats, handicrafts, and bespoke Christmas decorations.
Trading your mince pies and Christmas puddings for local delicacies is a switch that is sure to bring a smile to any sugar-loving visitor to Valencia in winter. Valencia is famous for making and selling a sweet treat called turrón. Turrón is made from honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake – no visit to Valencia during wintertime would be complete without tasting its delights.
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Highlights of spending winter in Valencia
- Warm winter weather, keeping around the 10 to 15-degree mark.
- Stunning views out to the Mediterranean sea.
- Unique christmas markets selling local goods and foods such as Turró.
- A great location to explore eastern Spain while you are here.
No European and especially Spanish guide to winter stays would be complete with a nod to one of the country’s most popular cities, Barcelona. Barcelona in winter times combines everything you could want for a winter stay with warmth. Also, looking out onto the Mediterranean sea, Barcelona’s beaches and coastline still retain their beauty right into the winter months.
Aside from the undeniable pleasure of not being cold while you conduct your Christmas shopping, visiting Barcelona in the dying months of the year will allow you to visit its numerous world-class tourist attractions without the hordes of tourists. Sites such as the iconic Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell created by the genius architect Antoni Gaudi are usually swamped with holiday-makers. Yet, in December and January, you are free to explore at your leisure, taking in the sights against the backdrop of winter beauty.
Although you won’t be throwing snowballs and skating across ice, the lower temperatures compared to Spanish summers can be easily combated by spending time in the city’s thermal baths. Barcelona has restored an ancient Roman in the Gothic Quarters called Aire de Barcelona. Here, you can choose between a normal hot bath, scented rooms, and even a red wine bath!
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Highlights of spending winter in Barcelona
- Pristine Mediterranean coastline without the hordes of tourists.
- Lack of lines queuing for some of Europe’s most popular cultural sights.
- Enjoy the thermal baths before you set out to the mild temperatures of winter.
- A plethora of world class cuisine, complete with a winter twist.
When we think of popular places to visit in Europe, many of us are quick to think of epic cities such as Paris, Barcelona, and Berlin. Yet, those looking for something a little different and are looking to keep to a budget should set their sights on the charming English city of Oxford. Famous for being home to one of the oldest European universities in the world, the central-southern English city has so much more than academia and during the colder seasons, a magic that is like nowhere else.
For any anglophiles with a dewy-eyed vision of quintessential Englishness, Oxford in winter is the place to be. Complete with cobbled streets, charming English architecture, and a laid back almost village-like feel, there is much to love about the city. Those asking the question, where does it snow in Europe in December? Oxford may be your saving grace.
When the snow blankets the Oxford streets, it is easy to allow yourself to fall into a Dickensian novel mindset, only increasing the city’s charm. To escape the bite of an English winter, Oxford is home to numerous cozy English pubs, many of which have their own unique history. Taking the eagle and child for example – this pub was once the meeting place of two of England’s most celebrated authors, JRR Tolkien and C.S Lewis.
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Highlights of spending winter in Oxford
- Almost guaranteed some winter snow.
- Charming English architecture and history.
- Bustling Christmas markets.
- Cozy English pubs with links to literary greats such as JRR Tolkien.
One of the most popular European destinations to visit during the spring, summer, and fall months, the Dutch city of Amsterdam is a fantastic place to visit during winter if you’re looking for a better deal. With lower accommodation and airline prices, the popular liberal city can be enjoyed without the fear of breaking the bank.
Already a charmingly beautiful city, complete with crisscrossing canals and preserved 19th-century architecture, the whole city truly comes to life during the winter months. With the stunning city backdrop already in place, it is then breathtakingly enhanced by one of the best Christmas light shows anywhere. The Amsterdam Light Festival decorated the canal banks with colored lights and an array of giant light sculptures that you will audibly gasp at.
Winter in Amsterdam is also when the famous Dutch cafe and baking culture comes into its own. There’s nothing so soulfully warming as wandering out of the snowy canal side back streets and into the warmth of Dutch cafe. Choose from an array of warming baked goods and a smooth cup of coffee while you gaze at the picture-postcard view outside.
So self-contained, Amsterdam’s many sights are all within walking distance, making a winter walk through the city streets and joy all within itself and making a visit you will not soon forget.
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Highlights of spending winter in Amsterdam
- Breathtaking Amsterdam Light Festival.
- Numerous indoor attractions such as the Van Gogh Museum.
- Irresistible cafe culture, warming your hands and heart.
- Idyllic canals and streets have a whole new appeal in the winter dusk.
The Belgian capital and center of European politics, Brussels, may not often get the tourist attention it so rightly deserves, but visiting it during its winter months may be one of the best ways to see the city. With such a winter charm and culture that seamlessly appeals to the winter days, you could easily believe that the city was built to be enjoyed during the December and January months. Visiting the Belgian capital during winter is also very kind on the bank balance, something that can only make it more appealing.
As with many large European cities in winter, Brussels plays host to a bustling Christmas market. One of the main differences in the Brussels Christmas market is its fantastic location in the Grand Place. Here you can engage in the famously festive sweet delights that Belgium is so known for. Whether this is a smooth Belgian hot chocolate or a sugary Belgian waffle, you are sure to have enough to keep yourself warm and satisfied.
A visitor to Brussels’ Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert shopping arcade is all the better once you can escape the winter chill. This 19th-century shopping arcade features boutiques and designer stores – perfect for getting your last-minute Christmas presents.
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Highlights of spending winter in Brussels
- Elaborate Christmas markets.
- Indulge in winter treats such as Belgian hot chocolate and Belgian waffles.
- Perfect for Christmas shopping.
- Ideal for a winter break on a budget.
The Irish capital of Dublin has long been on the must-visit list of European cities and walking through Emerald Isle’s biggest city during winter only adds to the magic. A port city on the shores of the Irish Sea, the climate in Dublin really does take winter weather to a whole new level. Those who can handle the cold nights and windy chills of a Dublin day will truly see the magic of winter here.
Again, the natural layout and Irish culture seem to perfectly lend itself to the wintertime, and seeing the Irish capital in all its winter charm is almost something magical. One of the best things to do on a cold winter day in Dublin is to search out its many public houses. These pubs are often complete with roaring open fires and a traditional Irish band – ideal for relaxing with an Irish coffee or pint of stout.
To really impress yourself in the historic Galiec and pagan history of the island, a day trip to the Newgrange prehistoric site just west of the city is a must. Every year during the winter solstice, many people gather around the tomb and inside it, viewing the poignant moment when the sun rises directly in line with the building’s entrance.
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Highlights of spending winter in Dublin
- Fantastic traditional pubs with roaring fires and Irish music.
- Charming Irish streets, complete with friendly locals and markets.
- You are able to whiteness the sunrise through an ancient prehistoric tomb during the winter solstice.