Looking for the top winter city breaks in Europe? In this post, we have compiled for you this list with the best winter destinations in Europe for you to visit.
While Europe is a fantastic continent to visit any time of the year, there are some destinations which are simply magical during winter. Whether it is because of the amazing Christmas markets and New Year celebrations, the stunning natural scenery, the pretty buildings lit up with twinkling fairy lights, or just the wonderful atmosphere which fills the air, there are lots of places in Europe which make great winter city breaks.
In fact, there are so many to select from that it can be difficult making the decision on where to go. If you are wondering where to book your next short trip during this season, here is a list of the best winter weekend getaways in Europe.
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Winter Breaks Europe Edition: Best European cities to visit in winter
Vilnius has been steadily receiving more and more visitors over the last few years and it is not hard to see why.
This delightful city is filled with beautiful architecture and winding streets which are particularly picturesque when blanketed in snow.
But Vilnius is not just pretty to look at. If you enjoy getting active during the colder season, you can sled down the slopes of Vingis Park or hike to the Hill of Three Crosses.
When the cold gets too much for you, you can make your way to one of the many traditional restaurants and pubs to partake of some delicious Lithuanian dishes and beer.
Music is also a popular aspect of the winter season, so you will find many concerts taking place throughout the city. There are also a number of really interesting museums to visit, such as the Museum of Occupations and Freedom and the Vilnius Museum of Illusions.
While most travelers tend to stick to the old town – and there is certainly a lot here to keep you occupied for a weekend – it is also worth making a trip out to Uzupis, the autonomous district similar to Christiania in Copenhagen.
Uzupis has a distinctly bohemian atmosphere and feels completely different from the old town, so you may feel that you have visited two cities during your winter weekend getaway.
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You’d be forgiven for never having heard of Aalborg, but this lovely city in the north of Denmark is definitely worth adding to your list of places to visit during winter.
It has a wonderful mix of old and modern architecture, and a ton of historical sights and interesting museums.
A must-see sight on a weekend in Aalborg is Lindholm Hoje, an exceptionally well-preserved Viking burial ground dating back over 1,000 years with a number of Viking graves and a top-class museum, showcasing lots of fascinating artifacts discovered in the area.
The castle is also worth a visit. Aalborg is also well-known as a top foodie destination in Denmark. Here you will find a great mix of tasty food to-go and gourmet restaurants!
I would also recommend popping into the Wharf, a British pub which has been awarded the prestigious Cask Marque prize, one of only two pubs outside of England to have been given one.
While it may not have the sophisticated feel of Copenhagen or Aarhus, what Aalborg does have is one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. It is just a small market, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in a festive atmosphere.
After you have strolled around the wooden stalls selling all kinds of tasty treats and local handicrafts, you can take a ride on the Ferris wheel, for the best panoramic views of the city.
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Recommended: The perfect one-week itinerary for Denmark
While many people will swear up and down that Norway’s second city, Bergen, or the far northern destinations, like Tromso and Lofoten, are the best places in the country to visit for a winter weekend getaway, for me that prize goes to Oslo.
One of the great things about a visit to Oslo is that there’s lots of stuff to do here for free, which is fantastic when you consider that it is one of the more expensive cities in Europe.
You can visit top attractions such as Vigeland Sculpture Park, the City Hall, the Norwegian Parliament, and Opera House, all without spending a penny. But the thing I love most about Oslo is its cool cafe and bar culture, a fantastic way to snuggle up in the warmth if it gets a bit too chilly outside.
Like Reykjavik, Oslo also has amazing nature right on its doorstep. All kinds of winter activities are on offer, including skiing, sledding, and tobogganing, and they are all just a metro ride away.
If you do not fancy trekking out of the city but still want to be active, there are lots of ice rinks in the city center itself – the most popular ones being Spikersuppa and Frogner Stadium, where you can go skating.
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Find the top things to do in Oslo here
Iceland is a dream winter destination for many people due to its breathtaking natural landscapes, and the chance to see the Northern Lights. But many of the country’s most beautiful spots are easily accessible from the capital, Reykjavik.
Within easy reach of the city are waterfalls, geysers, volcanoes, rock formations, and, of course, the famous Blue Lagoon – and what could be better than relaxing in warm water when the temperatures outside are well into the minuses?
Another top thing to do in winter here is taking a whale watching tour.
These tours leave from Reykjavik throughout the whole year, and while the summer months are considered the best for this kind of activity, the likelihood of you spotting some of the world’s most magnificent creatures is still really high.
However, a visit to Reykjavik is not just about the natural scenery and wildlife, even though that is reason enough to go.
For such a small city, Reykjavik has an astounding array of museums, such as the Viking Maritime Museum and the Art Museum, plus some really cool festivals take place in winter, including the Winter Lights Festival.
Make sure you also visit Magic Ice Reykjavik, an ice bar and art gallery featuring sculptures inspired by Icelandic sagas and Viking history and folklore.
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Must-read: The best Iceland itinerary for 3 days!
It might not seem like the most obvious destination for a winter weekend getaway, but Athens is a great place to visit off season.
For starters, tourist numbers drop dramatically, meaning you get the epic historical sights pretty much to yourself and you can take great photos without hordes of people blocking the view.
If history is not your thing or you simply fancy doing something different, there are lots of opportunities to go skiing in and around Athens, offering slopes for all levels of ability.
You will also find that prices drop significantly during the colder part of the year, meaning that a winter weekend getaway in Athens can be significantly cheaper than in cities where larger numbers of winter tourists congregate.
Visiting Athens during winter also has the advantage of being in a city which does not slow down over the winter months.
Unlike lots of other destinations in southern Europe whose tourism industries are completely geared towards summer travelers, Athens continues to have a vibrant nightlife, restaurants and cafes stay open, and you will still have plenty of opportunities to purchase souvenirs and local handicrafts.
Another Favorite: Best places for winter sun in Europe
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One of my happiest winter weekend getaways was in Dublin a few years back, and it continues to be a fabulous place to visit during the colder months.
While it may seem like a stereotype, Dubliners really know how to have a good time, making the Irish capital the perfect winter weekend getaway if you like to party.
There are lots of traditional pubs where you can soak up the typical Irish atmosphere and, if you want to learn more about Irish alcohol, you can visit the Guinness Factory or the Jameson Distillery.
In addition to alcohol, Irish cuisine is well-known for being hearty and warming so, no matter how cold it gets outside, it’s almost guaranteed that you will barely feel it after indulging in some Irish stew or Dublin coddle.
Pretty much every city in Europe celebrates the festive season, but not as many hold specific festivities for the Winter Solstice.
For the last decade, the city has hosted the City of Dublin Winter Solstice Celebration Festival with ceili dancing, Celtic drumming, traditional storytelling, along with a fire ceremony, which is an amazing spectacle to behold.
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Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Do not be fooled into thinking that Prague is the only beautiful city in the Czech Republic – it is an absolute certainty that when you arrive in Cesky Krumlov, you will be completely enchanted and will start to wonder how you ever thought there was a more beautiful city in this Slavic nation.
The quintessential fairy tale town, most people tend to visit Cesky Krumlov in summer, but it is winter when the city is utterly charming, especially if you get lucky and visit when it is covered in snow.
As well as its beauty, you will find it much easier to walk around Cesky Krumlov than in Prague, which attracts far more visitors during winter.
If you happen to be traveling to Cesky Krumlov during the festive season, you must visit the cute Christmas market that takes place from November through January.
As well as the usual stalls, a number of cultural events take place throughout the old town, including carol singing and a ‘Living Bethlehem’, a nativity story narrated by local residents through music and dancing.
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Paris is a great choice no matter what time of year it is, but winter is the time when the city really becomes magical. It is this season when Paris lives up to its nickname ‘the City of Lights’, with the already amazing cityscape transformed by the colorful bulbs and twinkling fairy lights.
Do not forget to visit Galeries Lafayette with its giant, glowing Christmas tree and over-the-top decorations. The Christmas markets are also spectacular here, especially if you head to the smaller ones of Montmartre and Notre Dame.
But the best thing about visiting Paris for a winter weekend getaway is the lack of crowds; normally you would be jostling against huge numbers of tourists in this incredibly popular city, but come winter you will find that the queues to enter the major tourist attractions will be significantly shorter.
The only downside of traveling to Paris in winter is the possibility of bad weather; you are far more likely to get grey skies and rain rather than snow. Despite this, it is still an absolutely fabulous city to visit, regardless of the weather!
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Despite its northern location, Edinburgh gets lots of visitors throughout winter, and during one period in particular – New Year.
The Edinburgh Hogmanay Festival is world-famous for being one of the biggest and best celebrations to ring in the new year around the globe, featuring live outdoor concerts, dancing and fireworks, and it certainly is a trip you should do at least once in your lifetime.
If you prefer to celebrate New Year in a quieter fashion, there are plenty of cozy, traditional pubs with a more relaxed atmosphere.
If you have already made plans for New Year, Edinburgh is still an enchanting city to visit during winter.
The colder, moodier weather complements the city’s history and architecture perfectly, and if the skies do turn out to be sunny and clear, it provides a fantastic opportunity to head out into the Scottish highlands; lots of companies offer day trips from the Scottish capital.
If you are visiting towards the end of January, you may even get to witness the Burns Night celebrations, with traditional dinners, poetry readings, ceilidh dancing, and gallons of whisky. And if you are a Whisky fan, you should read this post about the Scotland Whisky regions.
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Suggested reading: Best Christmas Markets in The United Kingdom
In terms of size, Bruges is the best weekend getaway; it is so small that you will easily get to do everything the city has to offer in 48 hours. It is also one of the prettiest cities in the world, never mind just in Europe.
The best-preserved medieval city on the whole continent, Bruges captivates everyone who visits with its chocolate box houses, canals, and cobbled streets, but it is definitely even more charming when all the buildings, shop fronts, and trees are lit up with Christmas lights.
For me, Bruges is definitely the most romantic city on this list, and you can really make the most of the idyllic atmosphere by taking a carriage ride around the old town or cruising down their many canals.
Belgium is world-famous for its high-quality chocolate and, in Bruges, there are lots of places where you can purchase some.
Because of the season, I highly recommend stopping off in the cute cafes in the city to treat yourself to a hot chocolate. The best place to go is the Old Chocolate House, which is both a shop and a cafe.
The menu in the cafe seems to go on forever, with more than 25 types of hot chocolate; when it is brought to your table, you get an enormous mug of hot milk with a cup of chocolate to put inside – and even the cup itself is made of chocolate!
Even if you are not a huge fan of chocolate, you will not be able to resist sampling the hot chocolate here.
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While some people spend their winters waiting for better weather to come, this list shows that taking a winter city break in Europe really is a fabulous idea.
The continent offers so many options, from enjoying major tourist attractions without the usual crowds to exploring the natural landscapes around cities and, you can be sure that, wherever you go on your winter weekend getaway, you will have a special and wonderful time!
I hope that this list of the best winter destinations in Europe has inspired you to book that flight.
Have you ever been to any of these European cities during winter? If yes, share your experience with us. Which one was your favorite from the list?
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