From festive holiday markets in Germany to shorter lines at the Louvre, here’s our guide to the European cities that are worth visiting (and maybe even better) in winter.
There’s no better time to cozy up in an Irish pub that the cold winter months. Come for the Smashing Times City of Dublin Parade honoring the Winter Solstice, then stick around for New Year’s Eve and the Luminosity light festival and the world’s largest Celtic drum session.
St. Petersburg, Russia
Gilded churches and ornate government buildings are draped in crisp, white snow come wintertime in St. Petersburg. Come prepared for frigid temperatures, but warm up as you revel in local festivals and holidays, including Orthodox Christmas, Russian New Year and the Big Neva Cup (where brave swimmers face icy waters, and you get to stand by all bundled up with a warm drink and cheer them on).
The colorful architecture of Vienna pops against the white snowfall. Take a stroll through this urban winter wonderland, snapping photos of Schonbrunn Palace and St. Charles Church, in their ivory blankets. Then head inside for hot chocolate and traditional sacher torte (chocolate cake) or enjoy a holiday classical concert.
Those in the know in celebrate New Year’s in Edinburgh, where the Hogmanay Festival goes on for three days – there’s dancing, outdoor concerts, fireworks and much more. Or, hide away in a cute café or convivial pub, enjoying a dram of whisky while wearing your new cashmere scarf, picked up a local shop. Feel like breaking a sweat? Bundle up and go cross-country skiing at Pentland Hills Regional Park.
Romance is in the air in Paris, despite the cold temperatures. Don your chicest coat and boots, then find your way through the snow-covered alleyways to quaint cafes for a mug of chocolat chaud. Shop for gifts amidst the incredible holiday displays at the Galeries Lafayette or along the Champs-Elysees. The City of Light shine even brighter during this festive season – and the lines to popular attractions, like the Louvre, are much shorter than usual.
Prague, Czech Republic
Beneath a thin dusting of snow, the red roofs of Prague look especially Christmasy. Traipse through the city, across St. Charles Bridge and through Old Town, to some of Europe’s best Christmas markets. Don’t miss out on the traditional trdelnik (fried dough) and mulled wine. The city’s fantastic restaurants offer hearty sustenance to keep you warm, including filling sops and nourishing dumplings.
Like a fairytale come to life, Strasbourg – with its French and German influences – is simply magical in the winter. The Christmas markets – dating back to the 16th century – are known around the world (follow the scent of freshly baked bredele cookies). Walk along La Petite Venise on a snowy day and be sure to see the lights that showcase the Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg.
Go back in time in ancient Tallinn, visited turreted castles draped in snow and medieval churches where candles burn brightly in the night. Be sure to visit the immaculately preserved old town – much of the architecture here is protected by UNESCO. The city center views from Toompea Castle are the best in town.
Budapest brightens in the winter, as the streets disappear under thick blankets of snow and church spires sparkle with frost that will have you replaying scenes from Frozen. Explore the museums, shops and ornate cafes, then warm up in the thermal baths at Szechenyi, one of Europe’s largest hot springs spas with indoor and outdoor pools.
Embrace the concept of hygge where it was born and delight in the coziness Copenhagen exudes in the wintertime. Head outside to enjoy the brightly colored architecture, Michelin-starred restaurants, Tivoli Gardens and canals, then hunker down in an intimate hotel or enticing pastry shop. Be sure to visit the charming Nyhayn waterfront, former home to author Hans Christian Andersen.
The Icelandic capital – the northernmost capital in the world – is tailormade for winter. Buy a traditional wool sweater upon arrival, then wear it out as you explore the Kolaportid Flea Market, tour the country’s iconic landscapes and visit Viking sculptures. Then, warm up in the famous Blue Lagoon, a short drive outside the city.
Wander along snowy cobblestone streets, delight in the festivities happening in the market squares and photograph the ubiquitous light displays of this well-preserved medieval city. It’s particularly pretty in the winter – and what better place than to sample rich Belgian hot chocolate, decadent mayonnaise-covered fries or warm waffles. The famous Christmas market happens in late November through December.
If it’s Christmas markets you seek, come to Berlin. From gluhwein to currywurst to handcarved ornaments, the city’s more than 60 markets will woo you with their festive flair. Perhaps the prettiest is the WeihnachtsZauber, surrounded by the Franzosischer Dom and Konzerthaus, but don’t stop there. There are hundreds of market stalls awaiting your discovery. If you’re a museum lover, winter is a great time to visit without the maddening crowds of summer.
With its lovely lake and island castle, Ljubljana and its Baroque style is postcard-perfect in the colder months. Shop on the snow-covered streets of Old Town and pop into riverside cafes for warm coffee. Plus, if you can’t resist the mountains, the Julian Alps are just a snowy day trip away.
Sip mulled wine straight from the barrel at Krakow’s Christmas market in Rynek Gowny (Main Square). After ice skating at Galeria Krakowska or Blonia Park, or escaping the cold with an indoor tour of the Wawel castle, make your way to Plac Nowy (New Square) for a warm beer with raspberry or ginger juice (a local tradition).
OK, so you don’t like the cold. Come wintertime, Funchal on the Portuguese island of Madeira is downright dreamy. The subtropical climate ensures your comfort (not chills!), warm enough for a dip in the pool and wandering through the picturesque gardens and narrow streets of the city.