15 European destinations that really come into their own in the winter

There’s something special about winter in Europe. Whether you’re shredding the alpine slopes, strolling through twinkling Christmas markets, gazing at the Northern Lights, or snuggling up with a mulled wine, a European winter is truly magical.

Even better, you won’t have to compete with the summer crowds, which means you’ll have the cobbled streets, medieval castles, and beautiful cities all to yourself. Can’t decide where to go first? We take a look at 15 of the best European destinations to visit in winter.

1. Innsbruck, Austria

Dreaming of snowy mountains, alpine forests, medieval history, and plenty of winter sports? Look no further than Innsbruck, a charming city located in the Austrian Alps in Tyrol. As a two-time host of the Winter Olympics and filled with world-class alpine resorts, Innsbruck is famed as the ‘Capital of the Alps’. Whether you want to go skiing, snowboarding, ice-climbing or tobogganing – and whether you’re a pro or a newbie – you’ll find something your speed in Innsbruck. 

When you’re done hitting the slopes, you can wander around the city with its pretty imperial architecture. See the Baroque-style Ambras Castle, the royal Hapsburg home, or tour the dazzling Swarovski Crystals headquarters. We love that you can go from savouring a strudel in a medieval town to breathing in the fresh air in the Alps – all within minutes.

GET INSPIRED BY: Christmas Markets of Austria, Germany and Switzerland

2. Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled is absolutely stunning all year round, but there’s something extra special about it during winter. This bright blue alpine lake transforms into a winter wonderland, with the surrounding forests, clifftop castle and island church sprinkled with snow.

It’s just one picture-perfect moment after another in Lake Bled, whether you take in the views from Bled Castle or glide across the waters in a pletna boat (as long it’s not frozen over!). You can go skiing, hiking and ice skating… and don’t forget to indulge in the famous Lake Bled kremšnita, a heavenly cream cake that is highly addictive!

RELATED CONTENT: Why you should travel to Slovenia in winter

3. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is the best-preserved medieval city in Europe and one of the most gorgeous, especially during winter. The city comes alive with twinkling light displays in trees and storefronts. There’s also festive Christmas markets in the Old Town and a magical Christmas village in the town square.

Wander the cobbled streets to discover historic architecture and scenic canals. Get your skates on at ice-skating rinks, or indulge in all the comfort food you could dream of. Don’t miss out on the Belgian hot chocolates, mayo-covered frites, delicious waffles and local beer. They even have an underground beer pipeline!

RELATED CONTENT: Beer lovers rejoice: Bruges has its very own beer pipeline

4. Rovaniemi, Finland

This enchanting town is the most festive destination on the planet and a Christmas-lover’s dream. If you’ve ever wondered what Santa does all year when he’s not handing out gifts on Christmas Eve, you’ll find the answer at the Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi. This is the official home of Saint Nick, where over 500,000 visitors from around the world visit him each year. A real-life Santa is at the village every day receiving letters and meeting his adoring fans.

Along with meeting Santa in his magical office, you can also send a letter from Santa’s official post office. Take a thrilling snowmobile or reindeer sleigh ride, or go cross-country skiing across the untouched wilderness of Finland. For some bucket-list action, you can cross the Arctic Circle which runs through the Santa Claus Village. Or see the breathtaking Northern Lights dance across the sky from September to March each year. 

RELATED CONTENT: Visiting Santa’s Grotto in Rovaniemi, Lapland, should be top of any Christmas lovers bucketlist

5. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is an amazing destination all year round, but once December hits, the city transforms into a true Europe winter wonderland. With grand architecture like St. Charles Bridge and the Old Town’s church spires coated in a dusting of snow and a warm glow from the old-fashioned street lamps, Prague is like something out of a storybook. 

It’s also home to some of Europe’s best Christmas markets where you can sample trdelník (fried dough), warm mulled wine and local beers to your heart’s content. There are even beer spas where you can literally soak up your favourite Prague brew.

GET INSPIRED BY: Prague, Vienna and Budapest

6. Bergen, Norway

Some places in Europe are just made for winter and Bergen is definitely one of them. Set among the breathtaking fjords and mountains of Norway, you’ll quickly see why Bergen was one of the places used as inspiration for the movie Frozen.

Spend some time sightseeing around Bergen, including the colourful wooden buildings and pretty harbour. Then head out a little further up Mount Fløyen and Mount Ulriken for incredible views over the region. You can go downhill and cross-country skiing and camp out to see the Northern Lights. Or just stay cosy inside with a mug of hot chocolate and some famous pepperkaker gingerbread. This is Nordic winter at its best.

RELATED CONTENT: Welcome to my home: a totally biased view on why to travel to Scandinavia

7. Copenhagen, Denmark

If you’re looking for a Europe winter fairytale, it’s hard to go past the home of Hans Christian Andersen. The city of Copenhagen has inspired countless stories and we can see why. There’s plenty of stunning sights to explore, starting with the romantic 19th-century Tivoli amusement park. See the Rosenborg Castle, the Tivoli Gardens, the brightly coloured buildings of Nyhavn, and the Christiansborg Palace, which all look so beautiful with a blanket of snow. 

Denmark is also the birthplace of “hygge” (the Danish concept of “cosiness”) and you’ll find that feeling all over Copenhagen in winter. Join the locals in warm cafes and pastry shops where you can drink the mulled wine known as gløgg, while relaxing in the beautiful surroundings. If you’re visiting in February, don’t miss out on Wondercool, Copenhagen’s winter culture festival with tons of fantastic food and art shows. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Capitals of Scandinavia

8. Reykjavik, Iceland

With a name like Iceland, it’s no wonder this country is an impressive place to visit in winter. It’s freezing cold but here the locals celebrate winter, with celebrations like the Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival in February. It’s one of the best winter festivals in Europe, filled with glittering light displays against the snowy backdrop of the city.

You can also soak in one of the country’s many outdoor geothermal pools (like the famous Blue Lagoon), and head out to see the dazzling Northern Lights. Don’t forget to warm up with all the traditional foods like Reykjavik’s pylsur (hot dog), Icelandic lamb, rye bread from a hot spring and even Iceland’s specialty ice cream! If you really want to thaw out, wash it all down the local Icelandic schnapps. 

GET INSPIRED BY: Northern Lights of Iceland including the Blue Lagoon

9. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest overflows with charm, especially in winter. There are endless ways to make the most of the colder months, from soaking in the famous hot thermal baths to skating on the massive outdoor rink in the central park.

See the Hungarian Parliament surrounded by chunks of drifting ice on the Danube or hide out in a cosy cafe or museum. You can also wander the pretty Christmas markets where you can sample festive treats like chimney cakes and pick up a unique souvenir to take back home.

GET INSPIRED BY: Imperial Europe

10. Tallinn, Estonia

Some places in Europe get even better in winter, and Tallinn is one of them. The capital of Estonia takes on a magical atmosphere in winter. Think dustings of snow, twinkling lights, ice-skating rinks, and the Old Town Christmas Market complete with a huge Christmas tree. It gets very cold in winter, but there’s no shortage of saunas and spas to soak in. There’s also plenty of comfy bars and cafes where you can sip mulled wine and watch the snowfall out the window.

If you want to go exploring, Tallinn has one of Europe’s best-preserved historical centres, with dozens of UNESCO-listed medieval churches, merchant houses, cobbled streets and ancient walls. Head to the top of Toompea Castle for spectacular views over the city. 

RELATED CONTENT: 9 of the best things to do in Tallinn, Estonia

11. St. Petersburg, Russia

Even the sub-zero temperatures can’t take away the magic of winter in St. Petersburg. Set on the Neva River, you’ll be blown away by the beauty of the city, from frozen canals to regal palaces dusted in snow.

Some of our favourite sights are the Tsar’s Winter Palace, the grand avenue of Nevsky Prospekt, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the 18th-century Peter and Paul Fortress. Discover the dark history behind Rasputina and the Romanovs at Yusupov Palace, one of the most elegant noble residences in Russia. Visit the tombs of Tsar Nicholas II and his family at Peter and Paul’s Cathedral.

Tour the Catherine Palace, one of the largest Royal residences ever built, and learn the secrets of its fabled Amber Room. Go ice skating at Victory Park or enjoy a glitzy night out at the ballet in a historic Tsarist era theatre. Don’t forget to warm up with some traditional Russian food, like a steaming bowl of hot borsch. Delicious! 

GET INSPIRED BY: Festive St. Petersburg and Moscow

12. Dublin, Ireland

Ireland is full of joy in winter, with plenty of awesome events being held throughout the season. If you’re visiting in December, don’t miss the City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration, a festival that honours the Winter Solstice each year. You’ll get to experience traditional storytelling, céilí dancing, and a fire ceremony. Stay until New Year’s Eve and you’ll get to see the world’s largest Celtic drum session set up around the city.

Besides the great events, Dublin is simply beautiful in winter and there’s no shortage of cosy pubs to sample a local Guinness beer. You can also visit the Guinness Storehouse, where you can learn the art of pulling the perfect pint (tip: it takes exactly 119.5 seconds). Head to the Gravity Bar upstairs for some spectacular views over Dublin.

13. Nuremberg, Germany

Germany is famed for having the best Christmas markets in Europe, but the best of the best is found in Nuremberg. This Bavarian city takes Christmas markets to a new level, putting on an extraordinary display that transforms its medieval old town into a festive winter dreamland.

The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt has been held for centuries, and today has over 100 stalls. They’re filled with everything from handmade toys and Christmas ornaments to traditional foods like bratwurst sausage and lebkuchen (gingerbread). You could spend hours wandering the market, taking in the glittering lights and lively performances. You can also drink glühwein (hot mulled wine) until you forget how cold it is!

GET INSPIRED BY: German Christmas Markets

14. Interlaken, Switzerland

If you’re dreaming of winter in Switzerland, you can’t beat Interlaken. The resort town is set in a valley close to the towering Swiss Alps, and you’ll have all the winter sports at your door.

Whether you want to see famous peaks like Eiger and Jungfrau, learn to ski or snowboard, or take on some extreme sports like paragliding and skydiving, Interlaken has it all. When you’re all snowed out, you can warm up with Swiss hot chocolate and cheese fondue. Yum!

RELATED CONTENT: 12 facts about Switzerland you’ll never find in a guide book

15. Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is one of Europe’s oldest cities. The winding streets, medieval buildings and ancient castles become even more exquisite in the winter. Wander through Edinburgh Castle and explore the gorgeous Princes Street Gardens. Or head to Arthur’s Seat on the edge of the city, with stunning views over the city.

If you visit in January, you’ll be treated to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay Festival, a three-day carnival celebrating the New Year. You’ll see fireworks, outdoor concerts and dancing Scots. Plus you get to eat tons of delicious Scottish food like Scotch pie and superb whiskey.

RELATED CONTENT: 11 dishes you absolutely have to try on your next trip to Scotland

Are you dreaming of a magical winter in Europe? Let us know your favourite winter destination in Europe in the comments below… 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • Be the first to sign up for our brand new newsletter, coming soon…

  • Travel news, itineraries and inspiration delivered straight to your inbox.