While many prefer to visit Europe during the summer months, what most people don’t know is that Europe is absolutely magical during the winter season. Cold, yes but nonetheless, beautiful. As it is low season, that also means that the streets are less crowded and hotels are often more affordable. Still not convinced? Stop whatever you’re doing and imagine yourself strolling around the many Christmas markets with a hot mulled wine in hand as you wander around the mesmerizing mix of lights, sounds, and merrymaking. To help you out, here are a few of my personal favorite Winter destinations in Europe that you have to see.
Admittedly, we didn’t spend too much time in Innsbruck as we made a straight beeline towards the mountains after a spending a few days in the city. However, from what we did see, between the many alpine resorts, Christmas markets, and the incredible sporty vibe, this place is a must visit during winter. From skiing, tobogganing, and snowboarding, Innsbruck is one of those destinations that people naturally gravitate towards during winter so expect to see a fun crowd while you’re there.
What Not to Miss: Taking part in the many winter sports, Seeing the panoramic view from Seegrube ski station, Christmas Market by Marie-Theresien-Strasse
While you’re in Austria, a visit to Salzburg is also something we highly recommend, mainly for the incredible views and cultural vibe. If you think the city of Salzburg is beautiful during the summer months, try going there during winter. You will see the snow set amidst the tall steeples and historic buildings as you stroll along the river banks. Rich in history and culture (did someone say Sound of Music?), Salzburg is a treat to explore during winter time.
What Not to Miss: Skiing, drinking Glühwein, stroll around Salzburg’s Old Town
While the city of Berlin gets a numerous amount of visitors during the summer months, winter time makes this already electric and vibrant city even more intriguing. Walking around its historic areas, forested parks, and city streets with a light blanket of snow falling is pretty special. A particular favorite activity is strolling along Tiergarten, Berlin’s 210-hectare park which transforms into a winter wonderland. A great way to check out the best of Berlin is through TruTripper, a popular holiday booking website known for their city break guides.
Must Not Miss: Berlin Wall, Tiergarten Park, Charlottenburg market, a visit to Brandenburg Gate, and of course, take part in Berlin’s never ending nightlife.
One of my fondest memories with my partner was when we spent the Christmas season in Budapest. We walked around the well-lit streets, hopped from one ruin bar to the next, and enjoyed visiting the best Christmas markets we’ve ever seen, gorging ourselves with all sorts of delicious food. If you haven’t been to Budapest, it’s a place that I urge you to make plans and visit. Similar to Salzburg, the spa and bath culture in Budapest is rather popular, especially in the winter months. With over 125 thermal springs, Budapest has plenty of bath houses to choose from. A few of the most popular ones are Széchenyi Baths, Gellért Thermal Baths, Veli Bej, and Rudas Baths. Between the grandiose architecture of these bath houses and vibe of taking part of a time honored tradition, I would even go as far as saying going here during winter time makes it even more memorable.
What Not to Miss: Soak in the many bath houses with sub zero temperatures outside, ice skating on the City Ice Rink, Visit the Christmas markets on Vörösmarty Square and by the Basilica.
Read: Things to Do in Budapest
Prague, Czech Republic
I vividly remember standing in the main square in Prague with a warm cup of hot chocolate in hand as I ate some Trdelník, a traditional Slovak pastry. Just as I looked up, it started to snow. Light snowflakes fell onto the ground and as if on cue, all the Christmas lights around us lit up. It was MAGIC. Sweet cakes and hot chocolate aside, Prague is gorgeous during Winter time. They have Christmas markets, free concerts, and events, with annual Christmas exhibition by the Bethlehem Chapel.
What Not to Miss: An early morning walk across Charles Bridge, Christmas markets by the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, drinking hot mulled wine and eating Trdelník, a carriage ride through the city.
Resources: Where to Stay in Prague
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Located not too far away from Prague is the quaint town of Cesky Krumlov. If you’re looking for something a little more low key, head here and stroll along the many cobblestone streets and castles. This UNESCO heritage site is a sight to see with its usually red and orange tinted rooftops, covered with thin blankets of snow, creating an even more dramatic panoramic shot of its old town.
What Not to Miss: Visit the neo-gothic church of St. Vitus, stroll by the Vltava River, visit the Český Krumlov Castle and Tower
Editor’s Note: Planning your trip already? Don’t forget to check out our Europe Packing List for tips on what to bring!
While the competition between the best Christmas markets in Germany is tough, a particular favorite of ours is the one in Frankfurt due to the sheer size of it. The Römerberg is the heart of Frankfurt’s city center and is the location of all the action. What makes this place special during Winter time is the number of attractions that you are able to see and do during the offseason.
What Not to Miss: Visit the ancient Eschenheimer Tower, wander around the Palmengarten, Germany’s largest botanical garden, watch a show in the Alte Oper (Oldest Opera House)
Generally speaking, Krakow is a great destination to visit for a number of reasons, with one of it being that it’s so budget friendly compared to the rest of the other Western European destinations. However, be warned that it gets COLD in Krakow during these months. Naturally, while you’re here, a trip to the Auschwitz concentration camp is a must. While some may consider this a mood damper, learning about this part of history is something I definitely recommend doing while in Europe.
What Not to Miss: View the large Christmas trees by St. Mary’s Basilica and by Wszystkich Swietych Square, wander around the snow-covered Old Town, snowboarding or skiing in Tatras, and of course a visit to the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Related: 7 of the Cheapest Cities in Europe
Naturally, Switzerland makes the list as one of the best places in Europe during winter. Interlaken is a particular favorite due to the incredible amount of sports and adventure activities. When we were there, our hostel even had a hot tub, perfect for soaking away those sore muscles from all the skiing and snowboarding. For those who are familiar, Interlaken is the outdoor adrenaline capital of Switzerland and is best enjoyed during Winter. Sorry, don’t expect things to be cheaper here during this time!
Must Not Miss: Long walks along Lake Thun or Lake Brienz, winter kayaking, mountain sports, night sledding, paying a visit to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s rood.
Over the past couple of years, tourism in Iceland has boomed and more and more people head here. While Iceland is a year round destination popular amongst many, visiting it during Winter time is pretty incredible. Apart from the regular displays of the Northern Lights, the insanely dramatic snow glazed landscapes, this place is a must visit during Winters in Europe. If you’re there during February, you might even catch a glimpse of their annual Winter Light festivals.
What Not to Miss: Outdoor geothermal pools, seeing the Imagine Peace Tower, Winter Light Festival
Hopefully, these Winter destinations in Europe has inspired you to visit this continent during offseason. Just remember to dress warmly and you’ll be fine. The lack of long lines, the budget-friendly accommodation prices, and the good old warm feeling that you get when gazing upon a snow-covered landscape scene are only a few of the reasons why I love spending winters in Europe. What about you? What’s your favorite winter destination?