Winter is one of the best seasons to vacation in Europe. Wondering where to go? We’ve got some great suggestions collected from the pros. Get those hats and scarves ready as you plan a trip to really enjoy the snow and wintery landscapes of Europe.
Traveling in Europe is amazing all year round. Since we began living in Weiden (near Grafenwoehr) Germany, we have been able to check out the best Europe has to offer in winter, and it has become one of our favorite seasons to travel. When choosing a place to go in winter, first you have to decide what you want to do while on vacation. I like to experience snow, skiing, sledding, hot chocolate, fondue, wintery things…usually. I have to admit after a string of German gray days with no snow, I’m also ready to escape the cold and go somewhere warm, but there are not many places that are truly warm in Europe in winter.
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Where to Go in Europe in Winter!
You usually have to go much further away for sun. So, sticking with a “real” winter also seems to do the trick. I don’t mind bundling up at all. The great thing about packing for a winter holiday is you know you have to layer up and bring those scarves, hats, and mittens. Some of our favorite places we’ve visited in winter include: Mt. Blanc, France; Gothenburg, Sweden; Bergen, Norway; Bruges, Belgium; and even Cappadocia, Turkey. We’re still making plans to do more, so I asked some of the most knowledgeable winter travelers where they like to go. Check out where these travel bloggers love to go in winter.
Travel Bloggers Recommendation the Best Winter Destinations in Europe
by Elaine and David of The Whole World is a Playground
The Danish capital of Copenhagen is one of our favourite winter destinations in Europe. From the iconic port area of Nyhavn and the world famous Little Mermaid to the bustling Torvehallern indoor market Copenhagen has so much to explore. Make sure to wrap up warm as the weather can get very chilly during the winter months. A fresh blanket of snow and ice usually coats the city which makes it even more magical at this time of year. Enjoy a mulled wine or hot chocolate in one of the many cosy cafes dotted around the city as you stroll the cobbled streets in the crisp winter air. Be sure to take a break for coffee or a few beers over some classic board games in the Bastard Café.
Some fun day trips from Copenhagen include the stunning UNESCO World Heritage inscribed castles of Frederiksborg and Kronborg (aka Hamlet’s castle). The Swedish town of Malmo is also easily accessible via the incredible 16 kilometer long Oresund bridge.
Check out Elaine and David’s Instagram as well.
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The Scottish Highlands, UK
by Susanne Arbuckle of Adventures Around Scotland
The Scottish Highlands are an amazing place to explore all year round; however they offer a very different visitor experience in the winter. The frost–dusted landscape looks particularly magical with photogenic
white capped mountain peaks and frozen lochs.
Mountain resorts come alive and offer a variety of activities for outdoor winter enthusiasts from skiing and ice-climbing to dog-sledding and reindeer spotting. If you prefer a more relaxed winter break then taking a gondola or funicular railway trip up to a mountain cafe is a special way to enjoy the scenery without any
Although the days are shorter, the lack of light pollution and clear winter skies provide the perfect opportunity for star-gazing and if you’re lucky you might even see the Northern Lights.
At the end of a cold winter’s day exploring the Highlands of Scotland, there is nothing better than relaxing by the roaring fire in a cosy pub with a wee dram of whisky to warm you up.
Winter is also the best time to book a value vacation in Scotland as this is the quietest season for tourists which means you can find some really great deals on travel and accommodation.
Check out Susanne’s Instagram
by Clemens of Travellers Archive
In comparison to other big cities in Europe, Istanbul is often pleasantly warm or at least not freezing cold in the winter months. The city often does not hide under thick clouds at this time of the year, like so many other places do, but often presents itself with bright sunshine. It’s this time of the year, when Istanbul often looks kind of charming. Take a walk from the Haghia Sophia to the Blue Mosque, treat yourself to a cay-tea or take a Börek to go.
The fireplaces of the houses calmly blow their smoke into the air, while the muezzin calls for prayer. A trip on the Bosporus is also worthwhile in winter, with clear air and wide views. Another great thing for the winter season in Istanbul is a visit to a hammam, where you can dive out of city, into the humidity-laden air of the Turkish bath and on a gray day there is probably nothing better than to roam through the large private art collections like Salt (Garanti Bank), Borusan or Sabanci.
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The French Alps
by Vicki of Make Time To See The World
If you’re a fan of the snow and getting all wrapped up for the cold weather whilst sipping on vin chaud and eating chocolate & Cointreau pancakes, you can’t get a better destination than the French Alps in Winter. With a variety of different ski resorts open from November to May, there is a resort to satisfy everyone. From huge resorts like the Three Valleys with it’s 600 kilometers of ski area, to the resorts that have incredible snow parks for all the tricksters, and the ones topped with glaciers for that extra crisp ski base. And even if you don’t ski or snowboard, spending time in a ski resort is a magical experience – there’s nothing like looking out from a few thousand meters above sea level and seeing log cabins covered in snow like something out of a Christmas fairy-tale. Just magical!
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by Paulina of Paulina On The Road
There is a little country in the heart of Europe, that many travellers miss when they visit Europe: Luxembourg. It doesn’t only hold several superlatives like being the only Grand-Duchy and one of the richest countries in the world, but it is also an excellent travel destination. Especially in winter.
During winter, temperatures might get cold in Luxembourg, but therefore you’ll be spoilt for choice with Christmas markets and snowcapped fairytale castles.
The Winterlights Festival in Luxembourg City lasts 3 weeks and here you can treat yourself with traditional Luxembourgish delicacies such as Gromperekichelcher (spiced fried potato pastry) , Eggnog (dairy alcoholic drink) or Glühwein. To burn all these calories, there’s nothing better than to go for extensive hikes in the snowy landscapes of the Mullerthal region where you’ll be surrounded by medieval castles and enchanting rock creations.
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By Hannah from Adventure Travel Family
Borovets in Bulgaria is an up-and-coming ski resort that allows visitors to enjoy winter sports without breaking the bank. The town has many good value hotels and cheap apartments within walking (or snow-shoeing!) distance from the chairlifts and gondolas. A wide selection of blue, red and black slopes are spread over 58 kilometres of ski runs and there is a nursery slope for those still finding their snow-feet!
For kids, a snow nursery with ‘magic carpet’ lift and rubber tube ride will keep them entertained while parents hit the bigger slopes, and more experience skiers can hit the snow park and practice jumps and flips.
There are plenty of traditional inns offering home-cooked food, including delicious potato stews, vegetable soups and freshly baked bread. In the evening Borovets comes to life with illuminated ski runs and bars offering delicious cocktails, a lively atmosphere and views over the slopes. The resort is just 90 minutes from Sofia airport, making it a great option for a long weekend or winter mini break. The ski run, chairlifts and gondola are even open on Christmas Day; ideal for burning off the excess of the festive season!
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by Natasha of The World Pursuit
Ever since we visited Zakopane two years ago I have been dreaming of going back. This mountain town in Poland is the perfect place to go for a winter escape in Europe. Nestled right in the Tatras mountains, Zakopane is a great base for those looking to go skiing, snowboarding, hiking, or just wandering around a cute town during Christmas. There are also plenty of cafes and bars to hide away in from the cold in Zakopane. My favorite thing to do here was drink mulled wine with the locals. However, I have yet to say what the best part about Zakopane is. The cost! Poland is incredibly affordable and although Zakopane is a ski town it is no exception. You can easily get by on less than $50 a day here, while being completely comfortable!
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by Elena of Passion For Greece
Athens is a 365 day destination. A historical city that offers endless possibilities for all tastes and budgets. Winter is the perfect time to visit Athens as there are usually less crowds than during the summer time. The sun shines in Greece all year round. Enjoy a leisurely stroll around the city’s historical landmarks, climb up to the famous Acropolis and admire the vista views that stretch as far as the horizon. Soak in the historical richness of Athens while basking in the sun, sipping a freshly brewed Greek coffee in one of the cute traditional cafes in the scenic tiny neighbourhood – Anafiotika.
Discover another side to Athens and head towards the Athenian Riviera which is made up of a series of scenic coastal towns that stretch all the way to the Temple of Poseidon. Watch the sun dip below the horizon at one of the most renowned sunset spots in Greece.
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by Jenny of Travelynn Family
The compact medieval city of Ghent, with its cobbled streets and fairytale charm, is often overlooked by travellers who make a beeline for Bruges. But increasingly, more travellers are discovering its quaint canal-side architecture, edgy art scene and quirky bars. Time your visit between the winter months of November and January for the Gentse Winterfeesten, a Winter Festival embracing all things Christmassy and cold; sparkling light displays, traditional festive markets selling both local and international foods as well as craft treats, an ice-rink under the City Pavillion, an ice grotto to meet Santa, thrilling fairground rides and a giant ferris wheel affording panoramic views of the city and beyond.
Take a visit to Gravesteen during the festival and you will see rooms of the medieval castle, which showcases weaponry and torture devices, transformed into a Winter Wonderland with balloons on the ceiling, piles of presents and snow scenes. We particularly loved the medieval dungeon transformed into a tranquil Christmas setting complete with carols and Christmas Tree. As you walk around the city centre, pick up a hot chocolate or waffle from a street stall to warm you up. You will smell the waffles before you see them!
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by Tom of Travel Tom Tom
One of my favorite hangouts in winter is Innsbruck. Although not the biggest city in Europe it has the best of both worlds: city life and mountain life. In winter the city center becomes a magnet for those looking for cosy streets filled with Christmas market stands. During the day you can explore the architectural highlights of this iconic city with its colorful houses. At night the city comes alive and you will find many places to have a drink and mingle with locals and tourists.
Everywhere you walk in Innsbruck you can hear the mountains calling. Within half an hour drive you have two amazing glacier ski resorts that can also be reached by public transport: Stubai and Hintertux. The city center is adorned with a large number of pubs, local shops, and restaurants and is always crowded with young people. When the winter sun comes out terraces will fill up quickly and people hike up or take the Nordkettenbahn into the mountains to have a drink with a view over this gorgeous city.
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by Tracy of Tracy’s Travel In Time
Bergen is a beautiful city and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1070 and is Norway’s second largest city. It is situated on the south western coast of Norway and is surrounded by mountains and fjords.
There is so much to do in Bergen including visiting Bryggen and the site of the beautiful old Hanseatic wharf and buildings. In the middle ages this area was the hub of all trade after the Hanseatic League established an office here. It is a charming area to walk around with lots of pretty wooden buildings to admire. The old wooden buildings along the harbour front are probably the most photographed buildings in Norway – certainly in Bergen!
If you are feeling energetic (which the entire population of Bergen seem to be on Sunday mornings even in the middle of winter) a walk (or a run) up to Mount Floyen is to be recommended. The views of Bergen from the top are amazing. If you don’t want to walk (or run) there is a funicular which will take you to the top in about 8 minutes.
Other attractions in Bergen include the popular fish market and numerous museums and there is always the option to jump on a boat in the harbour for a cruise available year-round to the nearby 27-kilometer long Osterfjorden in Hordaland province.
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by Alyse of The Invisible Tourist
While a popular destination for visitors during summer, the stunning Swiss city of Lucerne transforms into a magical winter wonderland throughout the colder months and should not be overlooked. One of the main benefits is there are fewer tourists in the Old Town – they’re all up in the ski fields leaving you free to discover the vibrant facades, boutiques, cafes and cobbled laneways in a relaxed way. Lake Lucerne is a magnificent backdrop to these beautiful buildings, where some date back to the medieval times and even as early as the Middle Ages.
One of the must do’s in Lucerne during winter is to take the goldola journey up to the summit of Mt Pilatus. My breath was absolutely taken away by the sheer beauty of the scenery with a thick blanket of snow covered trees and mountain alike all the way to the horizon. Don’t let moody skies put you off your trip up as the weather can change very rapidly at the summit. Believe me when I say you will be well rewarded with incredible views over the Swiss Alps from the observation deck when the sun is out!
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by Katy of Untold Morsels
London sparkles in winter, especially in December when the streets shimmer with Christmas lights and festive revelry abounds. It is a city built for winter and there are many indoor and outdoor activities for visitors.
Home to one of the world’s biggest collections of museums and galleries, you could spend your days discovering art old and new. But, if museums are not your cup of tea, shopping the seasonal sales is a favourite with visitors. Or, you could catch a show at the West End theatres.
In winter, the city hosts several scenic ice skating rinks. There is even one outside the Tower of London. But on a crisp winter’s day there is nothing better than a walk across one of London’s famous parks followed by lunch in a cosy pub or a posh afternoon tea.
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by James of Portugalist
If people visit Portugal in the winter, it’s usually to visit the warmer Algarve or maybe even Lisbon. Porto tends to be overlooked.
But Porto makes for an excellent winter break destination, especially around Christmas. Unlike Lisbon and the Algarve, Porto has a milder climate. It’s grey and it’s cold, but it’s nowhere near as cold as other European cities: it’s still warm enough that you can easily walk around outside without needing too big a coat and scarf. It’s just the perfect amount of cold.
Porto’s cuisine lends itself to winter weather as well. Tripe stew, the famous Francesinha, and Porto-style bifanas are all perfect winter-warmers. Then there’s the port-tasting which, combined with all of that winter food, is the perfect way to keep warm on a winter afternoon.
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By Nisha of Lemonicks
What a fantastic feeling it would be to look out of the window and all you see is a white blanket covering everything from trees, houses, cars, to roads and lakes… literally everything ! Finland is a ‘Cool country’… Cool not in temperature but in attitude. ‘Cold from outside but warm inside’ country.
Finland is a country to fall in love with it and its people. The winter is very harsh. The temperature is mostly subzero but the warmth in people’s heart overpowers it. Winter in Finland varies in duration from three to seven months, depending on the part of the country. The arrival of the cold, dark, snowy winter doesn’t mean life stops. On the contrary Finns not only survive it, but enjoy it! And I did the same!
People visit Lapland in quest of Northern lights. Even if you don’t get to see it, make sure you enjoy Lapland for more than just one reason. Reindeer, sleigh, snow, snowmobiling, and Santa Clause … that’s what you should be doing in Nordic region during peak winter.
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by Jonathan of Everybody Hates A Tourist
In the dead of winter, the sun never rises in Tromsø, Norway. While the limited light may be tough for some, there are plenty of great things to do in Tromsø during the winter months. The biggest draw is the Northern Lights. Travelers from all over the world flock to Tromsø in order to see this unique natural phenomenon. While the relatively warm coastal waters keep Tromsø more comfortable than you’d expect for being above the Arctic Circle, there are plenty of snowy activities to do as well.
Dogsledding, skiing, and snowshoeing are all popular pastimes. If the weather doesn’t permit outdoor activities, Tromsø has several interesting museums & an aquarium. It’s also not bereft of nightlife, as it has a solid food & drink scene, including a few craft beer spots. Despite not having much sunlight, Tromsø, Norway is a great place to visit in the winter months. The Northern Lights are the biggest attraction, but the wealth of other activities make Tromsø a unique wintertime destination.
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Aren’t these some amazing European winter destinations? I know I’ve gotten some new ideas, have you? Where is your favorite European winter destination? Let us know in the comments.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.
Save the Best of Europe in Winter for later!
Friday 19th of January 2018
Fantastic post! Thanks for adding my contribution about Bergen.Looking forward to seeing the others too in this series!
Friday 19th of January 2018
Tracy, Well thank you!
Friday 17th of November 2017
was hoping to visit Switzerland and Luxembourg this winter, after your article I will definitely go there!
Saturday 18th of November 2017
Roman, Glad to hear it. Have fun!
Thursday 16th of November 2017
These are all amazing spots in winter! Hoping to make it to Norway soon, so I'm keeping this list handy. I'm just shocked no one mentioned the land of ice and fire (Iceland) :D
Friday 17th of November 2017
Luke and Meagan, I hope you get to Norway soon. It's such an amazing country.
Tuesday 14th of November 2017
I have to admit that I'm not much of a winter person. Unfortunately, this limits our travel. This list is handy for looking for winter destinations. I would love to check out Finland!
Wednesday 15th of November 2017
Jennifer, It's true. Only traveling in summer or nice weather is going to end up limiting your destinations. Winter travel is a lot of fun...just dress warmly!
Tuesday 14th of November 2017
I would have loved to see the Pyrenees featured in your article. They're very much an unspoilt winter destination, much better value and no less beautiful than the Alps which always seem to take centre stage. There is tons to do in winter here, from lazing in a thermal spa with a view of the mountains to all kinds of active stuff such as snowshoeing, winter canyoning, paragliding, XC skiing, ski touring and even bonkers airboarding (hurtling down a ski slope on a kevlar coated inflatable cushion!). The gastronomy of the Pyrenees is also exceptional with delicious mountain cheeses, local pork products, artisanal chocolate and biscuits etc. Highly recommended!
Tuesday 14th of November 2017
Penny, I would have written them up if someone had suggested it. Where do you think is the best place to go in the Pyrenees?