Europe is gorgeous throughout the year, but due to the cold weather, not as many people visit Europe during the winter as they do during the spring and summer. However, there are a lot of reasons to visit Europe in the winter. The opera and theaters run at full steam, colorful Christmas markets decorate the streets of most cities in Europe, a lot of cities actually look better while “wearing their winter clothes”, and there’s no feeling like snow crunching below your booths as you’re exploring some of the best winter destinations in Europe. In this article, we’ll cover not only the best places to visit but also, how to get there, where to stay, and how to travel around Europe in the winter.
As much as we’d like to exclude some of the most popular places from this list, we just can’t make a list of the best winter destinations in Europe without the official hometown of Santa Claus. Lapland is the ultimate winter paradise in the northernmost part of Finland. You’ll have the rare chance to stay in snow igloos, see huskies and reindeer, take a winter safari, see the northern lights, and feel the special Christmas magic of Lapland.
However, if you plan to visit, note that this is one of the coldest places in Europe and you should get international travel insurance before you go because you never know what might happen. If you want to visit Lapland, the nearest airport is Rovaniemi. A lot of low-cost airlines fly here and you should be able to get a cheap ticket.
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
The Vatnajokull national park in Iceland will blow your mind with its icy beauty. When I first saw the pictures of this place, I didn’t believe it’s real and I just had to mention it on this list of the best winter destinations in Europe. Every winter, the glacial water in the park’s caves freezes, creating unrealistically-beautiful shapes that give the place a glassy-blue interior. However, keep in mind that you shouldn’t visit when the weather is not cold enough. It’s not recommended to visit at the beginning and the end of the winter because there’s always the risk of the cave collapsing if parts of it start melting.
If you want to visit the national park, the nearest airport is the one in Reykjavik. The caves are located only 45 minutes away from the capital.
Traveling to towns like Abisko in the winter offers you unique experiences you can only see in the north while experiencing an unfrequented paradise far away from the busy Christmas markets in most European capitals. Abisko is one of the best places for people who want to enjoy the northern lights. The viewpoint at the Aurora Sky Station offers an amazing view of the bright colors of the Aurora Borealis as they shed light on the towering surrounding mountains, creating one of the most dramatic winter landscapes in the world.
If you want to get to Abisko, the nearest airport is in Kiruna or there are also several trains per day leaving from Stockholm.
Kiruna is a Swedish city north of the Arctic Circle that doesn’t hibernate in winters; it actually thrives. In December, you won’t see the sun for 21 days and the Northern Lights will be a common sight. Some of the main tourist attractions in town are the Samegarden, where you can learn about the local Sami culture, the Snow Festival, trying glogg (local mulled wine), and the local iron mine that produces enough iron in a day to build six Eiffel Towers, despite the freezing conditions. And while you’re around, you can also visit the very first ice hotel in the world in the neighboring town of Jukkasjarvi.
Lofoten is one of the best winter destinations in Europe; it’s a treat to all senses – especially the eyes since there are so many winter hues on display. This archipelago in Norway is famous for its dramatic scenery, with numerous mountaintops jutting up into the sky, the scenic cycle routes that go through old, charming fishing village, and colorful buildings lined up at the waterways.
You can go ice fishing, eat delicious food, drink the gift of Norse gods, soak in Northern lights, go rock climbing, and explore the unspoiled natural beauty. The two easiest ways to reach Lofoten are by taking a flight to Harstad/Narvik Airport or taking a train to Svolvær and hopping on a ferry to the archipelago.
No list of the best winter destinations in Europe is complete without Narvik; a charming town on the shores of the Ofotfjorden, deep inside the Arctic Circle. If you’re looking to go skiing or snowboarding with the Northern Lights in the background, Narvik is the perfect place. You can also take some of the unique dog sled tours, take some of the many trekking routes, and of course experience one of the finest ski centers in Europe.
The nearest airport is Harstad/Narvik Lufthavn Evenes. However, this is a regional airport, meaning you probably won’t find a lot of cheap flights. However, Narvik is connected to the rest of Europe via train.
When you see the sweeping views of the fjords, the picturesque harbor, the gorgeous wooden buildings, and the fascinating Northern Lights in the background, you’ll understand why winter is the peak season in Bergen. When it comes to the best winter destinations in Europe, Bergen is my personal favorite. The temperatures are freezing but the atmosphere is warm enough to keep you going. Bergen has its own airport and a lot of direct flights from different cities in Europe. The alternative would be taking a bus or train from Oslo to Bergen.
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Saint Petersburg is one of those cities whose majestic winters can’t be described with words. The average temperature in Saint Petersburg in the winter is -9 degrees Celsius but the city is mind-blowing. After all, it wasn’t Russia’s imperial capital for nothing. If you want to learn more, check out my guide to Saint Petersburg at winter.
Edinburgh is a beautiful city throughout the year but during winters, it turns into a real fairy tale town. There’s just something magical about gothic architecture in winters and Edinburgh has an abundance of it. The months of December and January are when Edinburgh looks more vibrant than ever with all decorations, street lights, Christmas celebration, and the iconic New Year Festival Hogmanay that includes three days of various music events and continuous fireworks.
What makes Dublin one of the best winter destinations in Europe are the festivities during this time of the year. The Smashing Times City of Dublin Parade (21 December), the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, and the world’s largest Celtic Drum session for the New Year’s Eve party are events that will cheer up even the people who aren’t very fond of the winter festivities. The Christmas markets and lighten-up decorations around the city just add to the perfect holiday vibe surrounding Dublin this time of the year. Planning to visit soon? Check out the best places to stay in Dublin.
Tallinn is one of the prettiest former communist capitals in Europe and one of the most sustainable cities on the old continent. It’s a destination that’s worth visiting year-round but there’s just something special about the thick layer of snow on the trees, roofs, and streets that makes the city look even more magical.
Tallinn’s Christmas markets aren’t very talked-about but if you ask me, Tallinn is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe. The Old Town is charming, the Christmas food is delicious, and there are a lot of cozy cafes in which you can relax and soak in the Christmas atmosphere.
Photo by Rbrechko CC by SA 4.0
Most tourists that visit Europe are starting to recognize Lviv as one of the most interesting cities in Eastern Europe. Lviv’s winters are very cold and rich in snowfall, which oftentimes blocks large parts of the city. This might be frustrating for some but if you’re a winter enthusiast, you’ll surely love Lviv in its winter clothes. The city is home to some fascinating historic buildings that look even more beautiful during winters. Some of them include the House of Scientists, the Ethnography Museum, and of course, the iconic Opera building.
Schloss Neuschwanstein, Germany
Talking about winter fairy tales, you probably know about Schloss Neuschwanstein even if you didn’t visit before. It’s a real-life Disney castle that looks practically identical to the castle from Cinderella. The castle is beautiful in the summer too, but it looks even better with a thick layer of snow on its rooftop with all the snow-capped mountain peaks towering above it in the background. The nearest airport is in Munich and you can easily reach the castle by bus, train, or taxi.
No list of the best winter destinations in Europe is complete without Engelberg in Switzerland. If there’s a winter paradise on Earth, this is it. As one of the most primeval destinations in Swiss, Engelberg is the gold standard of winter destinations. Nestled at an altitude of 1,000 meters and an abode of snow, the city also witnesses long and snowy winters that start from as early as October and lasts till late May.
If you’re adventuristic enough, you can check out the 35 km-long cross-country ski trails meandering through the magnificent Engelberg. While you’re there, also check out the 12th-century Benedictine monastery called Engelberg Abbey.
The nearest airports are the ones in Zurich and Basel but you can also get to Engelberg by train from these two cities.
When talking about the best winter destinations in Europe, it doesn’t get much better than a white vacation in the snowy Alps. The small Alpine resort town of Valls has everything one might expect from a winter vacation; picturesque cobbled streets, charming wooden houses, world-class ski resorts, jaw-dropping landscapes, winter baths, and a lot of traditional Alpine festive celebrations. The nearest airport to Vals is Zurich (ZRH). Alternatively, you can reach the village via bus from Milan or Bergamo.
Comfortably situated in the Swiss Alps, completely surrounded by peaks and glaciers, Zermatt is the perfect place for skiing enthusiasts. It’s one of the most expensive winter destinations in Europe, but it’s worth every penny. The best part about Zermatt is that it’s car-free. All visitors park their cars in neighboring Tasch and take a short train ride to get to Zermatt. However, note that finding budget accommodation in Zermatt is not an easy task, so if you want to get up to 15% on all properties in town, use my Booking discount code.
Interlaken is another beautiful winter resort town in Switzerland. Its central location makes it a great plan for mountain enthusiasts who want to conquer some of the wildest mountaintops of the Alps. That’s why Interlaken is so popular; because it offers access to the wild Alpine outdoors from the comfort of a town that has a lot of tourist facilities to satisfy everyone’s needs.
Some cities just look better during winters and Innsbruck is one of those cities. The artistic, Gothic buildings have a special charm during winter and the cold weather makes the whole town feels more alive. The historic old town looks absolutely majestic once it starts snowing and the busy Christmas markets just add to the city’s winter charm. Innsbruck has something in store for everyone; old historic buildings for history lovers, a lot of Christmas attractions for kids, a lot of bars and clubs for young people, great restaurants for food enthusiasts, and ski slopes for adventurists.
You should be able to get a cheap flight directly to Innsbruck’s airport but the city is also well-connected to a lot of other major cities in central Europe with bus and train lines.
Located in Eastern France, close to the border with Germany, Strasbourg is the perfect choice for a romantic winter getaway. Just head to “La Petite France” and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The narrow, cobbled streets and old, timbered buildings will make you feel like you traveled back in time. Another place that it’s a must is The Strasbourg Market of the Infant Jesus, the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the oldest ones in Europe (established in the mid-16th century).
Liechtenstein might be one of the smallest countries in Europe and one of only two double landlocked countries in the world but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to offer. The entire country lies in the Alps, meaning that there will be a lot of beautiful towns that are a great choice for a winter vacation. One such town is Malbun, a charming Alpine town that’s great for long walks, skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and famous for its cheese fondue.
If you want to visit, the only way to reach to Malbun is by taking a train because there are no airports in Liechtenstein (the total territory of the entire country is 160 square kilometers).
Krakow is home to some of the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe with rustic wooden stalls behind every corner. The Old Town has a special winter glare during this time of the year, and personally, I believe that the city is more beautiful in the winter than it is during summer. The city’s green belt, known as Planty Park, turns into a white belt, the city’s beautiful castles look even more majestic in white, and you have a lot more opportunities to see traditional Polish folklore dances.
Prague, Czech Republic
Even though Prague is a year-round destination, the winter season has its charm. The striking architecture feels like a fairy tale when covered in snow and if you visit Prague in December, you’ll catch the spectacular Christmas markets that make up for an exciting shopping spree. Overall, Prague is a destination that is entirely different in winters and it definitely deserves a visit.
Moreover, its central location means you can easily fit it in a winter Eurotrip. Bratislava is a short ride away, Berlin isn’t far away, you can easily get from Prague to Vienna by Railjet’s high-speed trains, and even the Alps aren’t very far away.
If you’re planning to visit, also check out this Czech Republic travel guide for some useful tips.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
A popular tourist destination, Bled is a captivating town in northwestern Slovenia known for the magnificent Lake Bled. Winter is the perfect time to visit Bled as there’s hardly any crowd and the landscapes are all the more idyllic.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a history lover or a nature enthusiast – Bled has it all. The medieval church on the Island Bled is one of the attractions that looks better in the winters. Also, the Bled castle dates back to the 11th century and is a sight to behold. You can walk around Lake Bled or row a boat, try local delicacies (original Lake Bled cream cake) and explore the untouched beauty on your own. Bled makes up for a perfect low-key romantic winter destination.
If you want to visit Bled, the nearest airport is in Ljubljana, 36 kilometers away. Alternatively, you can also reach Bled by train from Trieste or Ljubljana.
In case you don’t know about it, Sibiu is a medieval town with cobble-stoned streets that’s becoming one of the rising stars on Europe’s tourism scene. Walking Sibiu’s historic streets will make you feel like taking a trip back in town and the town is low-key one of the best romantic winter destinations in Europe. There are a lot of historic buildings, a gorgeous Old Town, cheerful Christmas markets, and the town’s very own ice hotel. Sibiu has an international airport but you can also combine the Sibiu trip with a visit to Bucharest or Transylvania.
Budapest is slowly becoming one of the most popular destinations in Europe despite the season. There are a lot of beautiful historic buildings to visit, a lot of authentic thermal baths that feel amazing after a long day of exploring the city, a lot of quirky bars and restaurants, and of course, beautiful nature surrounding the city. To put it simply, Budapest has it all.
Madonna Di Campiglio, Italy
Madonna di Campiglio is one of the finest winter resorts in Italy. Interestingly, the town was famous as the summer vacation spot of the Austrian Royalty in the past. However, throughout the years, the town made a name for itself as one of the most charming winter mountain towns in Europe. Madonna di Campiglio is located at the base of the Dolomites and it’s filled with old wooden houses, impressive 19th-century architecture, divine ski slopes, and a lot of cozy cafes.
If you plan to visit, the nearest airports in the area are the ones in Milan, Verona, Venice, and Innsbruck. All of them are approximately 3 hours away. If you need more tips about exploring this part of Italy, check out our guide to hiking in the Dolomites.
Plitvice National Park, Croatia
Home to 16 beautiful lakes and numerous cascading waterfalls, Plitvice is the place to be for nature enthusiasts this Christmas. If it’s cold enough (and it often is), some of the waterfalls freeze, creating magnificent landscapes and great photo opportunities. The best part about visiting Plitvice in the winter is that there aren’t a lot of tourists around and the park admission fees are lower because it’s the offseason. There are two nearby airports in Zadar and Zagreb. Both cities are 2-3 hours away from the national park.
Serbia isn’t a popular winter destination among most international travelers but Kopaonik is actually one of the finest winter destinations in the Balkan. This winter resort town is located halfway between Belgrade (the capital of Serbia) and Skopje (the capital of Macedonia) and will give you the unique opportunity to experience the finest of the Balkan’s winter charm. Kopaonik’s ski center is decent and the prices are a lot more affordable compared to some of the other renowned ski resort towns in Europe.
Popova Sapka, Macedonia
In case you didn’t know, roughly 80% of Macedonia’s territory is covered in majestic mountains. Arguably the most beautiful one of them all is Sar Planina and Popova Sapka is the finest ski center in the country. In the area surrounding the ski center, you’ll see nothing but endless stretch of white, more than 20 ice lakes and you’ll have the rare opportunity to see the endangered Balkan lynx. The nearest airport to Popova Sapka is the airport in, Skopje, roughly 90 minutes away from the ski center.
If you’re looking for something different this winter, consider visiting the Meteora monastery. You won’t find any Christmas markets or festive atmosphere, but you will find a pristine, blissfully unfrequented (during this time of the year) place. There are six cliff-hanging monasteries that local priests built during the Ottoman era to hide from the Turks in the 14th century. Hence, it’s no surprise that Meteora is part of UNESCO’s Heritage List but that’s not the only thing you can do around. You can also take a trip to Trikala, a very old city that has a lot of great Christmas festivals from the end of November until the beginning of January.
The easiest way to reach Meteora si by taking a train from Athens. The station you need to get off at is Kalampaka.
Despite being one of the oldest cities in the world and one of Europe’s most vibrant capitals, it’s also a great place to visit in the winter. The weather is not too cold, you can surf throughout the year, enjoy the food scene and nightlife (Lisbon is one of the best stag destinations in Europe), explore the Old Town, see the city’s old museums and churches, while not missing out on the Christmas atmosphere. Moreover, Lisbon is also home to one of the biggest and busiest airports in Europe. This means you’ll easily find a lot of cheap flights to the Portuguese capital.
If you’ve had enough of the cold, snowy landscapes, you can always go south to some warmer destinations. One of the best warm winter destinations in Europe is Algarve; the southernmost region of Portugal famous for its scenic beauty and warm beaches. You can still see beautiful Christmas markets, feel the atmosphere, go hiking, just without the snow. In fact, the weather is sometimes warm enough to go to the beach, sunbathe, and even go surfing. The best part about visiting Algarve in the winter is that it’s the offseason and everything is cheaper than the high-season, including flights and accommodation.
Even though considered to be predominately a summer destination, Sicily is beautiful throughout the year and full of unexpected holiday delights. The island gets roughly 300 days sunny days in a year and you can count on the weather being your side while you’re exploring the best of Sicily’s natural treasures.
When talking about the best warm winter destinations in Europe, I just have to mention Malta. The temperature in Malta rarely goes below 20 degrees, even in the winter, making the island a perfect choice for people who want to get away from the cold, snowy streets of most European cities. Similarly like other southern destinations on this list, not a lot of other tourists visit, and hence, the prices for everything are significantly lower.
Canary Islands, Spain
Finally, we round up this list of the best winter destinations in Europe with the Canary Islands. Even though geographically, the Canary Islands are closer to Africa than Europe, technically, they belong to Spain, which is in Europe. The archipelago consists of eight islands with Gran Canaria and Tenerife being the most popular ones. The islands are perfect for nature lovers or for people who want to have a summer holiday for Christmas.
There are a lot of unique things to do on the Canary Islands, like climbing active volcanoes and eating barbecue prepared on a volcano, chilling on black-sand beaches, driving through sand dunes, exploring narrow, scenic canyons… The list is endless. If you’re planning to visit, go to Barcelona or Madrid first. Flights to the canary islands are a lot cheaper from these two cities.
Taking tours in Europe
Do you want to book your tickets or guided tours to some of Europe’s most famous landmarks? Get your Guide is a great choice.
Train travel in Europe
Trains are the easiest and sometimes, the quickest way to get around Europe. However, booking train tickets and planning ahead can be complicated because every country has its own national train company. If you want to learn more about train travel in Europe, check out my ultimate guide.
Renting a car in Europe
Renting a car in Europe isn’t always easy, especially if you’re planning to cross the borders of multiple countries. You need to make sure that your driver’s license and insurance is valid in all of the countries you’re visiting. There are a lot of comparison websites for car rentals in Europe, but most of them disappear within the first year of their existence. Personally, I used numerous car rental websites in Europe and, in my opinion, the best choice for renting a car in Europe is AutoEurope. Furthermore, you can use this link and save up to 30% on all car rentals in Europe. Also, if you plan to travel around with a rental, make sure you get proper insurance; I’ve seen people getting ripped off for mere scratches.
A budget estimate
If you’re planning to take flights, everything below 100€ is a good deal. Most flights cost between 100€ and 200€ but if you see a ticket above 200€, it’s probably not worth it.
Alternatively, if you’re traveling by train, keep an eye on special weekend deals or weekly tickets. Oftentimes, you can get great deals.
Furthermore, on average, you should budget 10€-15€ for lunch and around 20€ for dinner. However, note that the price is a lot lower in the southern and eastern parts of Europe.
Where to stay
When choosing hotels or hostels, try to stay away close to the city center. You might pay a bit more, but the savings in public transport can be significant, especially in western Europe.
Do you want to save on your accommodation? Use my Booking.com discount code to get up to 15% off on all Booking-listed properties in Europe.
Packing list for winters in Europe
Winters in Europe can get quite cold and in this section, we’ll mention some of the things you have to take on a trip to Europe to make sure you’re ready for the cold temperatures.
-warm thermal socks;
–packing cubes to organize all of your things;
-travel insurance is a must when traveling in regions with unpredictable weather. In these situations, some of your flights, buses, or trains might be canceled. This can cause chaos for the rest of your trip and you need to protect yourself from these uncertainties. From my experience, the best choice that has you covered in all situations no matter where you go is WorldNomads.
Did you like this list of the best winter destinations in Europe? Did you visit some of them? Would you add some more places on this list? Let us know in the comments!
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