Learn About Some of the Top Destinations to Truly Experience Winter in Europe
Traveling to Europe in winter is the perfect way to see some incredible spots without crowds of tourists and sweltering temps. Visiting in the low season often means lower hotel and transport prices too. You really can’t go wrong visiting Europe at any time of year, but some places are decidedly more picturesque in winter, especially with a fine layer of snow. Here are some of Winetraveler’s top destinations in Europe to check out this winter.
Although Krakow is Poland’s second largest city, it rivals Warsaw as the capital, often called the ‘culture’ capital of Poland. With a vast history, thriving Jewish quarter and both international and Polish foodie delights, the city is one of the cheapest and most interesting spots to visit in Europe right now. The under-the-radar destination has a trending coffee culture, and the bagel was rumored to have been invented here. Need I say more?
Edinburgh’s Scottish charm is addicting, even in the dead of winter. Admiring the city covered in white, powdery snow from the hilltop Arthur’s Seat is simply magnificent. The Edinburgh Castle, an UNESCO World Heritage site is a village in itself — it can take an entire day to explore it all. Spend chilly evenings whiskey tasting, dining at Michelin-star establishments, exploring haunted pubs or eating alcoholic ice cream — the city is chock full of foodie adventures.
What’s the point of visiting Europe in winter if you’re not going to see the Northern Lights? Tromsø is one of the most famous places in Norway to do so. During the few short hours of winter daylight, you can wander around the wooden houses in the city or tour the famous Arctic cathedral which is shaped like an iceberg. Once the sun sets, the town has a lively bar scene that’s worth taking part in. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, Tromsø is also known as the gateway to the Arctic, so bundle up and join an expedition. If that’s a little too intimidating, the fjords and mountains scattered around the town are just waiting for snowshoers and skiers.
Enjoy Budapest’s frigid days by participating in classic winter activities, like ice skating and sledding. Or, warm up by going to the ballet or relaxing in one of the city’s bathhouses. There’s nothing like relaxing in a 100 ° Fahrenheit hot tub surrounded by Hungarian locals on an icy cold afternoon. Evenings should be spent at a ruin bar in the old Jewish quarter. Ruin bars are abandoned factories or buildings that have been taken over to provide a hip, eclectic environment for both locals and tourists to have drinks, hear live music and dance the night away.
St. Mortiz, Switzerland
If you’re looking for a bougie place to ski, or even to sip a hot chocolate and a have massage at the spa, St. Mortiz, Switzerland is your destination. With miles upon miles of ski runs, there’s hills for families, intermediate and advanced skiers. But you can still enjoy this winter wonderland if you aren’t into skiing, taking part in activities such as winter walking/hiking, luxury shopping, ice cricket, bobsleigh, sledding or cross-country skiing. You can even kite sail, where you’ll be pulled along a frozen lake on a snowboard or skis by a giant kite.
While winter in Vienna is glorious, there’s something special about winter in Salzburg. Besides the city’s bustling Christmas markets (don’t worry, we’ll be detailing those out for you in a separate article), following in Mozart’s footsteps is an enlightening way to spend a day. Warm up after a day out and about with Lebkuchen and Glühwein, cookies and mulled wine sold at markets and bakeries around Salzburg. If you really want to dig into the local culture, head up to the mountains to experience Perchtenlauf, pre-Christian Alpine Pagan Celtic rituals common around Advent.
Winter brings Munich’s longest curling track when the Nymphenburg Palace canal (1/3 of a mile long) freezes over. Nearby, the beer garden is frozen into two ice rinks, just a few of many around the city. Tobogganing is also available down Munich’s hills. If it gets too chilly, you can sit inside the Christmas Tram, which circles around the city center. Children can enjoy dedicated activities on the tram while the adults sip mulled wine.
The city of light is spellbinding year-round — and winter is no exception. There’s something especially romantic about traipsing around Paris, wrapped in a warm scarf and long pea coat, stopping to warm up in hidden wine bars of the Marais. It’s so very Hemingway! Plus, during inclement weather, you can also visit one of the 73 museums in Paris. Skip the long lines at the Louvre, and instead head to the Rodin Museum, located in sculptor Auguste Rodin’s old villa, or the Museum of Perfume, which will invigorate your senses.
Ljubljana, the capital city of Slovenia, exudes an old-world charm that comes alive with a layer of snow. The triple bridge, framed by the city’s distinctive architecture and a blanket of frost, is a sight to behold. What makes winter in Ljubljana unique is the Christmas Market along the Ljubljanica River. Lit with thousands of twinkling lights, it’s like walking through a winter wonderland. The aroma of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fills the air, adding an authentic touch to your winter experience.
Slovenia is also known for its wine culture, which takes a different dimension in winter with a range of warming reds. For the adventurous, a short drive takes you to the Slovenian Alps, where ski resorts offer a less crowded alternative to more well-known European slopes. Cultural enthusiasts will appreciate that Ljubljana was the birthplace of Slavoj Žižek, one of the most influential philosophers of our time. The city offers an intriguing mix of intellectual engagement, outdoor adventure, and culinary delights.
If you’ve ever dreamed of meeting Santa Claus, Rovaniemi in Finnish Lapland is where those dreams come to life. Considered the official hometown of Santa, it offers the once-in-a-lifetime experience of visiting Santa Claus Village. Yes, you can actually cross the Arctic Circle and receive a certificate to prove it! But Rovaniemi is more than just Santa Claus; it’s a haven for winter sports such as husky sledding and snowmobiling.
The most awe-striking experience you could hope for in Rovaniemi is catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights. Did you know that the Northern Lights have various forms like arcs, waves, and even coronal mass ejections, each with their unique pattern and color? If you’re fortunate, you might witness the rare “fire rainbow,” a horizontal streak of colors that resembles a summer rainbow. For the foodies, try a dish of sautéed reindeer, which is a local delicacy usually accompanied by mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce.
If you love Europe in winter, read our article on the best Christmas markets to visit in Europe this year.
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