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11 Great Reasons To Try Backpacking Europe In Winter + 5 Awesome Itinerarie

Backpacking Europe in winter doesn’t sound so enticing at first thought. The weather is cold, the winter days are shorter, and some attractions are even closed during the winter. On top of that, it’s highly recommendable to get travel insurance in case of weather-related flight/trains delays. However, there are still some major advantages while traveling around Europe in the winter. It’s not the end of the world if the weather is cold. Like the smart traveler mantra says: ‘There’s no such thing as a bad weather, only unsuitable clothing’. Here are some reasons to go consider backpacking Europe in winter!

Europe Looks Fabulous In Its Winter Clothes

winter in saint petersburg

Snowflakes falling in front of the illuminated Eiffel Tower. The magnificent Colosseum surrounded by snowy streets. Icicles hanging from the eaves in an authentic German village. The crunching sounds of tires under the snowy roads in Scandinavia…

Europe can oftentimes look like a fairytale in its winter outfit. Some cities simply look better in the winter. Even though some sights might be closed during winter, the off-season is the in-season for cultural events. Opera houses have more events, theaters work at full steam, and even the Mediterranean isn’t so damn hot during winter.

The Festivals And The Time Around Christmas

christmas market

Walking down the streets of Europe and looking at the Christmas decorations, while having a glass of warm spiced wine and a gingerbread can really make you feel like the star of a Christmas movie. The atmosphere is really warm around Europe, despite the cold winds and the white snowflakes that are starting to invade most European cities. There are also a lot of traditional carnivals before the start of Lent and the atmosphere is really vibrant around these days and certainly, something worth seeing. 

There Are Fewer Tourists

Strasbourg best winter destinations in europe

Backpacking Europe in winter, you will be able to spot the difference pretty soon, as you won’t be stuck in a line for two hours waiting to see the Louvre or to get to the Eiffel Tower. Traveling during the winter will allow you to avoid the waves of tourists which are present during the summer days. And I always say that these big waves of tourists change the appearance of a city. During the winter you will be able to see the European cities in a more natural appearance, and you will witness the normal, everyday life, which is quite different compared to the tourist season.

Related: how to spend three days in Amsterdam?

Everything Is Cheaper

The fewer tourists result in cheaper prices. And this is applicable to flight fares and accommodation facilities too. To put it simply, the lack of demand lowers the level of the prices. However, the metropolitan cities have visitors throughout the year, so the difference might not be that big in these cities. But you will surely be able to get big discounts in the smaller cities that are trying to attract more tourists in the winter period. If you want to get the best flight deals in Europe, use this Qatar Airways coupon to save up to 20% on your flight booking.

You Can Experience The Northern Lights

northern lights backpacking europe in the winter

In winter, the days are shorter, and consequently, the nights are longer. The longer, darker nights mean more opportunities to see the breathtaking Aurora Borealis, commonly known as Northern Lights and if you ask me, this is one of the biggest reasons to try backpacking Europe in winter. The best place to witness this the Northern Lights in Europe is Northern Scandinavia, and sometimes even Scotland. Conditions such as cold, crisp nights with clear skies are the prime conditions for witnessing the stunning Aurora Borealis.

You Can Stay In Ice Hotels

ice hotel

The Northern Lights aren’t everything Scandinavia has to offer. Every winter, especially in Northern Scandinavia, there are accommodation options that are built entirely from ice. If you visit during the winter you will have the unique opportunity to stay in a hotel, where everything is made of ice, including beds, closets and even shot glasses.

You Have More Flexibility

Italy on a budget

One of the benefits of backpacking Europe in winter is that you won’t have to stress over your accommodation (since there aren’t too many tourists around). During the summer months, accommodation facilities have their rooms booked months in advance. In winter, that’s not the case, and this gives you more flexibility while planning your trip. You can afford yourself to be spontaneous and make unplanned stops while traveling or even prolong your trip for a few days. On top of that, there will be many more last-minute deals and all the famous restaurants will be less crowded.

The Winter Cuisine

Visit Europe in the winter

The cold weather conditions in the winters have spawned a number of traditional cold-weather dishes which are different in different parts of Europe.

In France and Switzerland, there are the fondue and raclette, both being delicious snacks with bread and different kinds of warm cheese. Germans and even Slavic countries have roasted chestnuts as a staple food during the winters. Southern Mediterranean people don’t even think about eating their delicious, winter, heavy-on-cream sauces during the summer (because it’s too hot to eat something so greasy).

Every country has their own delicacies that you’ll be able to find only during the winter. Mulled wine is a typical winter drink in many countries, and Slavic countries have mulled sweet rakija (local hard liquor).

Liking this article? Make sure to check out my ultimate list of hidden gems in Paris.

That Sounds Great But What About The Cold?

Strasbourg best winter destinations in europe

One of the main things that makes backpacking Europe in winter difficult is the weather. Winter in Europe comes in a few different shapes. Some places can get quite chilly but, the South of Europe, especially Italy, Spain, and Greece are balmy during the winters. But, if I were you I wouldn’t look to get away from the cold and I would organize my Europe travel itinerary in a way to cover as many snowy places as possible.

You should just pack as many winter clothes as you can and go for an adventure, one that will allow you to see Europe in a very different light. You will be guaranteed more time to see all the tourist places, with fewer tourists around, eat delicious, heart-warming food and enjoy the laid-back local vibe. Use this opportunity to explore the cold foggy channels of Venice, hit the slopes of Switzerland, go ice skating at the Eiffel Tower, go for skiing at Chamonix or enjoy the Northern Lights in Scandinavia.

For more information about food in Europe, check out my list of the best food destinations in Europe.

Just How Cold Does It Get In Different Parts Of Europe?

mellau hidden gems in austria

Starting in the North, places like Scandinavia are pretty much winter wonderlands. Here, ‘cold’ doesn’t just mean wearing an extra layer; it’s more like, “I can’t feel my face” kind of cold. Think temperatures that often dip below -5°C, sometimes even playing tag with -30°C. It’s the sort of cold that makes you appreciate every warm cup of coffee like it’s a hug from the inside.

Then you have Central Europe – places like Germany, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Here, winter brings a chill that’s a notch down from the Arctic embrace of the North. Temperatures hover around 0°C, give or take. It’s the kind of cold where you can enjoy the snow without turning into a human popsicle.

Now, if we mosey down to Western Europe, countries like France and the UK offer a more ‘mild’ winter experience. The temperatures usually dance around 0°C to 10°C. It’s cold, but not ‘questioning your life choices’ cold. You’ll need a good coat, but you won’t necessarily need to dress like you’re on an expedition to the North Pole.

Finally, Southern Europe – think Spain, Italy, Greece – tends to be the winter refuge for those who prefer their winters mild and manageable. Temperatures here are often in the positive, hovering around 10°C to 15°C. It’s more of a ‘let’s have a pleasant stroll with a light jacket’ vibe, rather than a ‘how many layers can I wear at once’ situation.

How To Pack Light When Backpacking Europe In Winter?

backpacking europe in winter

This guide to backpacking Europe in winter couldn’t be complete without sharing a few expert packing tips that will make your trip a lot easier and a lot more comfortable.

Firstly, layers are your best friends – think of them as the Swiss Army knife of clothing. Start with a moisture-wicking base layer (because no one likes feeling like a walking icicle), add a cozy middle layer like a fleece or wool sweater, and top it off with a waterproof and windproof jacket. This combo is like the holy trinity of winter warmth.

Now, let’s talk pants – one or two pairs of good thermal leggings or long johns will save you more space than packing bulky trousers. Over them, wear some versatile, durable pants that can take a bit of winter beating.

For your feet, waterproof boots are a must – because nothing dampens the spirit quite like damp socks. Pack a couple of pairs of thick socks, and remember, they can double up as impromptu hand warmers in a pinch.

Don’t forget accessories: a warm hat, gloves, and a scarf. These items can be stylish, but functionality is key. They’re like the cherry on top of your winter outfit sundae.

Pro tip: Roll your clothes instead of folding. It’s like Tetris for your backpack, maximizing space and minimizing wrinkles.

Backpacking routes in Europe in Winter 

Now that we covered most helpful aspects of backpacking Europe in winter, let us suggest you a few backpacking trails for exploring the old continent during this time of the year.

Christmas markets itinerary

christmas market germany

Start your frosty journey in the fairy-tale land of Germany. Munich’s Christkindlmarkt is a good kickoff point, with its heartwarming Glühwein (mulled wine) that doubles as hand warmer and festive cheer in a cup. Browse through handcrafted trinkets beneath the Gothic spires of the Rathaus (Town Hall), and let the aroma of Bratwurst guide you through the stalls.

Next, clip-clop your way over to Vienna for a market that’s as grand as the city’s Habsburg heritage. The Viennese Christmas Market in front of the City Hall is a wonderland of opulence, where the market stalls are as elegantly dressed as the city’s famous opera-goers. Sample some Sacher-Torte, it’s like a rite of passage here.

Now, how about adding a sprinkle of medieval magic? Tallinn, Estonia, with its UNESCO-listed Old Town, hosts a Christmas market that looks like it leaped right out of a history book – with all the modern amenities, of course. The handicrafts here are no joke; you might find a woolen sweater that’ll make you wish for colder weather.

Don’t even think of missing out on Strasbourg; it’s called the “Capital of Christmas” for a reason. This Alsatian delight has been hosting Christmas markets since the 16th century – they know their stuff. The twinkling lights here could probably be seen from space, not that you’ll want to look away for even a second.

Wrap up your Christmas market marathon in Prague, the Czech Republic. The Old Town Square market is a feast for the senses with its Gothic and Baroque backdrop. Here, the Trdelník (spit cake) is king, and you’re a mere subject to its sweet, doughy rule.

Eastern Europe Winter Itinerary

buda castle

Kickoff in Prague, the Czech Republic, where the cobblestones are as timeless as the tales and the pilsner flows like the Vltava River. Wander through the Old Town with its festive cheer, then warm up with a hot Trdelník, fresh off the coals.

Next, let Budapest, Hungary, woo you with its thermal baths. It’s basically a hot tub time machine that also soothes your aching traveler’s muscles. Don’t miss the ruin bars, where you can sip pálinka in buildings that wear their history like a badge of honor.

Continue to Krakow, Poland, where the snow-dusted spires of the Wawel Castle look like they’ve been sprinkled by a confectioner. Here, hearty pierogi and a stroll through the historic Jewish quarter of Kazimierz are a must, as they combine culture with culinary delight.

Swing by Lviv, Ukraine, a hidden gem where the coffee houses are legendary – not just for their brew but for their ability to transport you to an era of literary legends and whispered revolutions. It’s like the entire city is winking at you, sharing its secret of being one of Europe’s most underrated spots.

Wrap up your odyssey in the postcard-perfect town of Brasov, Romania. Nestled in Transylvania, it’s your gateway to Dracula’s castle, minus the vampires and plus all the medieval charm. Here, ‘breathtaking’ doesn’t do justice to the views from the mountaintops, nor the feeling of standing in the town square that’s been hosting gatherings since the middle ages.

Backpacking Along The Mediterranean Coast 

backpacking europe in winter

Kick things off in the south of Spain, where the Alhambra in Granada awaits. Yes, it’s as majestic as the travel blogs say, but with fewer selfie sticks blocking your view. Sip on some thick, soul-warming Spanish hot chocolate, which frankly, puts the watery version to shame.

Next, swerve over to the French Riviera. Cities like Nice and Cannes are taking a beauty nap in the winter, but they’re still glamorous – like a movie star in sunglasses and a scarf. Walk the Promenade des Anglais; it’s like a runway for people who have nowhere to rush off to.

Scoot across to Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Sure, you might need a light jacket, but you’ll have the pastel-hued towns and dramatic cliffs mostly to yourself. The local limoncello is like sunshine in a bottle, perfect for those cooler coastal evenings.

Slide down to the Grecian shores. Athens in winter? A marvelous idea. The Acropolis without the scorching sun is a history lesson without the sweat. And the islands? Santorini’s caldera is just as stunning without the summer throng, and Crete’s historic charm is year-round.

Wrap up your Mediterranean jaunt in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Winter here is like having the keys to the city; you can enjoy the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic’ without bumping elbows on the city walls or at the entrance to the Game of Thrones tour.

Backpacking Big Cities Route

Paris winter

Begin your metropolitan odyssey in London. It’s like stepping into a Charles Dickens novel, but with better plumbing. The city is a festive jigsaw puzzle of markets, ice rinks, and lights that make you feel like you’re in a snow globe – just without the shaking.

Then, hop over the Channel to Paris. The City of Light in winter is a blend of romance and chilly elegance. The queues for the Louvre and Eiffel Tower are suddenly not as daunting, and you can enjoy a warm croissant in a cozy café without fighting for a seat.

Berlin is up next, with its cool, edgy vibe turned up a notch against the winter backdrop. The Christmas markets here are like a hipster’s dream, with Glühwein served in boots and techno versions of Christmas carols. It’s a history-rich city that doesn’t hibernate; it celebrates.

Head down to Rome, where the Eternal City takes a breather from its usual hustle. Winter is when you can actually ponder life in front of the Trevi Fountain without being photo-bombed. Pasta tastes just as good in the cold, and the cappuccinos feel like a warm hug.

Finish your urban exploration in Madrid, where the winter is more of a suggestion than a season. It’s chilly, but the Spaniards’ warm hospitality more than compensates. Here, you can marvel at the art in the Prado Museum, then dance the night away – because Madrid never really sleeps, even when it’s cold.

Useful Resources For Backpacking Europe In Winter

If you’re looking for a good flight deal, use this Qatar Airways coupon to save up to 20% on all flights to Europe.

For travel insurance discounts, you can use my SafetyWing discount code.

For transportation bookings in Europe, use Busbud and save big on all bus rides in Europe (for more info, check out our Busbud review).

If you’re looking to save on accommodation, you can get 15% off on all bookings in Europe with my Booking discount coupon.

Finally, consider using to combine all of your points and save big while you travel.  

backpacking in Europe in winter
backpacking europe in winter

Clarice Lao / Camping for Women

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

This is definitely a wonderful idea. I am not really fond of crowded places thus, we prefer travelling during off-peak seasons. Thus, I would have to agree that we get more flexibility when there are fewer tourists in the area. Will consider this next time. Thank you for sharing.

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

I'm not fond of crowded places either and honestly, this article is more for people like me :) I'm really glad to hear you liked it.


Monday 12th of November 2018

I am a family traveller and not sure if backpacking across Europe is a doable thing for me. This said, your article actually compels and tempts me to go back-packing and experience the winters and a white-Christmas for sure. For, I love the snow!

Passport Symphony

Tuesday 13th of November 2018

I understand, Meenkashi. Even if you're not a backpacker, you would still have a great time visiting Europe in the winter.


Monday 12th of November 2018

Ok so I am definitely more of a summer-lover but your post has tempted me to travel more in Winter! I couldn't agree more about the clothing, as long as you're warm you will be fine. I can imagine so many places in Europe look absolutely stunning covered in snow, like your photo from Paris. I absolutely love visiting Christmas markets too! Nothing like a hot chocolate or gluhwein to warm you up in the winter :D

Passport Symphony

Monday 12th of November 2018

Thanks, Rosie! I'm glad my article tempted you to visit Europe in the winter :)

Catherine Salvador Mendoza

Monday 12th of November 2018

Absolutely considerable! Especially on the part that Europe has less crowd in winter as many Europeans travel outside to escape cold winter and of course, everything seems cheaper! If I were doing this, I'd surely not miss the beautiful lanterns and decorations of Christmas, especially everything is covered in snow! Europe is indeed gorgeous and I'm looking forward to celebrating Christmas here next year! Plus, not to mention the winter clothes and fashion!

Passport Symphony

Monday 12th of November 2018

Thanks for the comment, Catherine. You're absolutely right! And that sounds like a great idea for a trip.

Bhushavali N

Sunday 11th of November 2018

Indeed Europe is gorgeous in snow! I saw snow for the first time in my 20s and it was in Frankfurt. That feel is just indescribable! Very true. Europe is indeed pretty cheap by mid Jan. Till then the Christmas and New year crowd and rates are applicable at most places. Some places are also a bit costly around Valentines, esp Paris... So many end up proposing on Valentine's Day in Paris and the hotel rates are just sky high. The concept of Ice hotels is interesting. I've read about a few in Finland called Igloo hotels. I should stay there atleast once in lifetime!

Passport Symphony

Sunday 11th of November 2018

Thanks for the comment, Bhushavali. You're right, Paris does get overcrowded during Valentine's day which is one thing I forgot to mention.