28th November 2018

Best Winter City Breaks in Europe

Looking for a winter city break in Europe this Christmas?

I’m lucky enough to live on the doorstep of a continent full of culture and history. Europe has pretty much everything you could wish for, with exotic beaches and high-class cities, but what better time to visit than when everything (or there abouts) is covered in snow?!

With so many destinations at our fingertips just a couple of hours by plane, discovering Europe is a must for us Brits. If you’re from the US, London is just a 6 hour flight from New York, so you can still have a decent getaway of a few days without using up all your annual leave! Search for cheap deals with Skyscanner here.

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Riga, Latvia’s capital, is the perfect place to visit in the winter

Here are some of the best winter city breaks in Europe for 2018-19!


A winter city break in London, England

Let’s start with the closest to home (for me) first!

“London is perfect for a winter break in Europe. The city is gorgeous during the Christmas period: shops are decorated, the streets are lit up, and you can’t go anywhere without hearing a Christmas song playing.

There are also several Christmas markets you can visit. Winter Wonderland is the biggest and has attractions such as circus performances, comedy shows, live music and fairground rides – thrill-seekers can choose from 9 roller coasters!

Pop-up ice rinks are common around the city at Christmas. The Hampton Court Palace, Natural History Museum, Somerset House and Tower of London all serve as a great background while ice skating.

Be sure to visit Kew if you are visiting London in the winter; visitors can walk along a 1-mile trail that is decorated in many unique ways. At the end, there is a beautiful light show.

All these events are great to get into the Christmas spirit. However, as you can imagine, they attract lots of people; expect crowds and high prices. January and February are less busy and more affordable than before Christmas. ”

Eniko writes at Travel Hacker Girl. Read her post on spending Christmas in London here.
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London is a gorgeous city to visit in winter [Source: Flickr]


Tallinn, Estonia

The Estonian capital is like something out of a fairytale. With sloped roofs, church spires, and (most likely) a sprinkling of snow, you could be walking down the streets of a storybook.

The Christmas tree which dominates the Town Square is a focal point – from here you can spend a morning wandering the streets of the old town, stopping in the boutiques and cafes for a bite to eat.

Then head to Telliskivi and the Creative City; it’ll feel a world away from the Old Town when in fact it’s only about half an hour walk.

Top tip – head to Lounge 24 Bar for beautiful views of the city – and a great cocktail or two!

See my post about visiting Tallinn in winter here

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\ Tallinn is a cool, quirky city with so much to explore


Riga, Latvia

As the birthplace of the Christmas tree, where could feel more festive than Riga, the capital city of Latvia?

“When I stepped off the plane in Riga, I might as well have stepped right onto the front of a Christmas card. Snow was falling gently around me, and the twinkle of lights from the distant city centre really gave me that cosy winter feeling.

Despite short winter days and freezing temperatures, there are so many things to do in Riga that you definitely won’t get bored, no matter how long you stay!

Some of the most famous sights in Riga are the House of the Blackheads, the Freedom Monument and St Peter’s Church – where you can see beautiful views of the city from the tower. During winter Riga also has a great selection of Christmas markets. One of the best souvenirs to take home are traditional Latvian mittens – and don’t forget to try the traditional Latvian liquor, black balsam – it’ll certainly warm you up!

A trip to Riga will really get you into the Christmas spirit; just the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale-style buildings topped with snow are enough to get you feeling festive!”

Rhiannon writes at Wales to Wherever – read her post on what to do in Riga here and my own post about visiting Riga in winter here.

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The view from St Peter’s Church in Riga is beautiful in winter


A winter break in Prague, Czechia

“If you’re considering visiting Prague, you should absolutely do so in winter!  There are 3 reasons for that:

Christmas

Prague’s Christmas atmosphere is out of this world. Numerous Christmas markets including the one at the Prague Castle or smaller local ones, Christmas trees and the holiday cheer…

Snow

If you’re lucky, Prague will be beautifully covered with snow. When Prague’s roofs and spires get the white sprinkling, you find yourself in a fairytale.

Smaller crowds

Especially in January & February! In case you don’t enjoy crowded places, the beginning of the year is the best time to come to Prague. Even the Charles Bridge often gets half-empty!

Generally speaking, there’s a lot to do in Prague, whether the weather cooperates or not. Even indoor activities abound in Prague and you stand no chance to be bored.

Veronika writes at Travel Geekery – read her post about visiting Prague in winter here and my post on the best viewpoints in Prague here.

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Prague is a beautiful city year round, but great for a winter city break


Budapest, Hungary

“Budapest is amazing to visit during winter, however it can get bitterly cold. I highly recommend layers, thermals, and mittens – then you can enjoy the city to its full potential!

If you plan to save money, some of the sights are free to visit, such as the Fisherman Bastion. If it’s not windy, it offers amazing views across the Danube. And if you decide to stick around for New Year’s Eve, you can join others who celebrate in open (cold) air. Sometimes there are fireworks organised by the municipality, but most of the time they take place in the squares where there are free concerts happening.

The main reason to head to Budapest during winter is to visit one of the Christmas Markets. The most popular one takes place on Vaci utca, the famous pedestrian street. Make sure to try the mulled wine, kurtoskalacs (chimney cake), and other traditional food. If you hold your booze, try mulled palinka.”

Cris writes at Looknwalk. Her post about visiting Budapest in Winter will surely inspire your visit!

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Visiting Budapest in winter is a great time to see the city [Source: Flickr]


Zurich, Switzerland

“Winter is the time to combine outdoor experiences on ice and snow with cultural and culinary delights in the beautiful city of Zürich in Switzerland.

You will find a wealth of traditional, specialist and international restaurants in which to enjoy an evening meal. For a snack, head to the street stalls, which offer gingerbread, roasted almonds and chestnuts, magenta bread, and many other traditional dishes.

In December, countless pretty Christmas markets with cozy fondue chalets and traditional events take place. Ice-skating enthusiasts meet at the huge open-air Dolder ice rink or at the curling hall next door. If you are looking for a challenge, plunge into the ice-cold Lake Zurich after a Sauna at the public bath “Badi Enge”.

To satisfy your cultural appetite, more than 150 museums and galleries offer unique exhibitions. The tropical Masoala hall of international recognition is outstanding. Enjoy the tropical temperature in midst of winter!

Take a hot chocolate or a mulled wine on your evening walk along the shores of Lake Zurich and breathe the crystal clear air while admiring a real life winter wonderland.”

Marcelle writes at Grey World Nomads. Read her post about Zurich here.

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Zurich is a great choice this winter


Sibiu, Romania

“Sibiu is located in the heart of Romania, in the historical province called Transylvania. Tucked at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains, the town has always been a great destination for winter breaks.

The small historic core has a charming medieval atmosphere. A Christmas Fair takes place in the square each year in December. The surrounding villages are scattered over rolling hills, covered with a thin layer of snow.

Păltiniș is a mountain resort that can be easily reached if you drive the 30km serpentine road coming from Sibiu. There are a few ski pistes and a cable car whisks winter lovers atop the mountain. From Păltiniș, you can hike various trails in the Cindrel Mountains and some of them are good for ski touring too.

Mărginimea Sibiului, a rural area around Sibiu, features 18 traditional Romanian villages. Other nearby Saxon villages feature fortified churches dating back to the medieval ages.

Whatever time of the year you choose to go to Sibiu, there are plenty of places to see and things to do. But winter is even more beautiful because you can witness local Christmas traditions, such as baking cozonaci, the traditional Christmas cake.”

Iuliana writes at Traveling Authentic – visit her blog here.

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Sibiu in Romania is the perfect choice for a winter break

Booking.com


Sarajevo, Bosnia

“Sarajevo in Bosnia is another perfect winter break choice. It is not as crowded as some of the other major cities in Europe, but is as equally beautiful.

The charming old town in the city looks even more magical once it is covered in a white blanket of snow. Sarajevo is a multicultural city that is sometimes called the Jerusalem of the Balkans. The city’s past is full of interesting events, some of which determined Europe’s history. For example, it was in Sarajevo that archduke Ferdinand was assassinated, prompting the beginning of the First World War. In the 1990’s, the city suffered the longest siege of history in the Bosnian war.

Sarajevo is now a safe city that offers plenty of things do, even in winter. In 1984, when Sarajevo was still part of Yugoslavia, they hosted the Winter Olympics. The mountains surrounding the city still offer some great places for winter sports. In the mountain resorts of Bjelasnica and Jahorina you can go skiing, snowboarding and hiking through a true winter wonderland. The views are amazing and the fact that few foreign tourists make it this far in this corner of Europe means prices are low.”

Ellis writes at Backpack Adventures – read her post on what to do in Sarajevo here.

best winter city breaks in europe - spinthewindrose.com

Sarajevo might be the perfect place for you to visit this winter


Reykjavik, Iceland

“Iceland’s capital is a great option for your winter break.

In particular, Reykjavik is an awesome city with heaps to see and do, such as visiting the Hallgrimskirkja Church, the Harpa Concert Hall and the National Museum. There are great places to eat and the nightlife scene is either famous, or infamous, depending on who you talk to.

From Reykjavik, you can easily visit the Golden Circle, either with a guided tour or in your own rental vehicle. If you decide to self-drive, be mindful of icy roads and adhere to local weather warnings.

Most natural wonders like waterfalls, glaciers, geothermal spas are open and accessible. The Northern Lights are a winter speciality here and a must if you do decide to visit Iceland. Geothermal spas, including the famous Blue Lagoon, are a great choice in winter. Imagine lazing around in warm water full of essential minerals – a therapeutic way to unwind and relax your mind and body. It’s particularly strange when the air temperature is so cold in comparison to the water!

Winters in Iceland are not so icy-cold like you might think, but you do need to wrap up warm.  Dress appropriately: wear sturdy shoes, gloves and a warm jacket. You can buy great winter-wear in Iceland but it is a little pricey.”

Mayuri writes at To Someplace New – here is her itinerary for three days in Iceland.

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The Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik is a great experience in winter


Bratislava, Slovakia

“Bratislava, the capital and largest city in Slovakia, is the perfect spot for a magical Winter break in Europe. This lovely little city is located mid-way between Prague in Czechia and Vienna in Austria – it only takes about two hours to get there using the train. So it’s the perfect base for a multi-city break in Europe!

Winter in Bratislava can be pretty cold. Expect lots of snow… which translates in a magical feel during the holidays! If you wear thermal underclothes, you can explore all the Old Town Bratislava on foot.

Bratislava Christmas Market covers a good part of the Old Town and is one of the European Christmas markets where you can find the best and cheapest street food! Try the local’s favorite: Chleba S Mastou A Cibul’ou. It’s a slice of warm bread with lard and onions. Usually the locals eat it with a glass of mulled wine on the side!”

Danila writes at Travelling Dany – check her post about Bratislava here
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Bratislava’s charm is undeniable in winter


Amsterdam, Netherlands

“When you think of Amsterdam, you often think of Tulips, special coffee shops, and springtime sunshine. However, Amsterdam is a great place to visit year-round.

The Dutch know how to travel in any kind of weather and do it efficiently. There are covered bus stops, ponchos, and wind resistant umbrellas (even some for the bikes too).

History, Art, Kinderdijk, Zaanse Schans, Anne Frank Museum, Rijksmuseum, Museum of our Lord in the Attic (in the Red Light District), Edam Cheese samplings, interactive Art Museums in Den Haag and boutique shops are all places that can be visited and have reasonable operating hours or are a short train ride away.

The offseason in Amsterdam (winter) may not give you all the colours of the summer, but you get fewer crowds, more opportunity to take photos, and, if you time it right, you can visit the Light Festival while taking a boat ride in the canals.”

Janiel writes at Culture Trekking – Read her post about the Museum of our Lord in the Attic here and check my post on three days in the Netherlands here.

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Why not visit Amsterdam this winter?


Barcelona, Spain

“Although it’s not necessarily one of the first winter destinations to come to mind, Barcelona is definitely one of the best cities in Europe to spend the holidays. Check out the Christmas markets, sample delicious Catalan food, and marvel at the beauty of Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. You can get a taste of this and more by taking a winter trip to Barcelona!

While Barcelona isn’t exactly a Christmas market destination in Europe, the city has some of the best markets to visit. For example, the Market of Saint Lucia, located in front of the Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter, is the oldest and most famous Christmas market in Barcelona. The markets are a great way to experience Catalan Christmas traditions including the Christmas log and to check out beautiful nativity scenes.

Be sure to check out Antoni Gaudi’s beautiful architectural sites since they remain open during the Christmas season. Parc Guell is open 365 days of the year, the marvellous La Sagrada Familia and the beautiful Casa Mila La Pedrera may have limited hours but they are still open some days. Casa Mila is usually also decorated in festive Christmas decor.

As you can see, Barcelona is one of the best places to visit during the winter season, but it gets quite chilly there so be sure to bundle up! You’ll also want to grab some hot chocolate at the markets to warm up!”

Constance writes at The Adventures of a Panda Bear – check out her post about Barcelona here.

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The ever-popular Barcelona is beautiful in winter


Bankso, Bulgaria

“Bansko, Bulgaria is great for a winter break in Europe because it combines excellent scenery, superb food options, the cheapest skiing in Europe and natural hot spring baths! Perfectly located at the edge of Pirin National Park, and just 2 hours from Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, this mountain town is easy to get to and great fun to visit.

The skiing might not be extensive, but there are plenty of mountain bars and cafes to explore and enjoy.  The ski run home is easy and perfect for skiers of all levels.  Restaurants or mehanas throughout the town are cosy, with log fires, fresh and great Bulgarian food options and the best of Bulgarian wine to wash it down.

There are snowshoeing tours if skiing isn’t your thing, a vibrant art community and a family atmosphere in the town’s old squares that will make you feel very welcome.  At the end of the day, you can relax in one of the naturally heated hot spring pools found in the area.  Perfect!”

For more on Bankso and Bulgaria, see Sarah and Nigel’s blog asocialnomad.com

best winter city breaks in europe - spinthewindrose.com

Bankso is a less-known destination, but great to visit in winter!


Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen is a vibrant city year-road but it becomes a winter wonderland over the festive season. Visit for culture, history, and a warm sense of hygge.

Aside from Disneyland, where else can you visit the Little Mermaid? Copenhagen of course! The creator of the fairytale, Hans Christian Anderson is still very much present in the city, with statues of himself displayed at the Town Hall and Rosenborg Castle. He used to live in Nyhavn, a beautifully quaint area beside the canal, from which you can take a boat tour of the city.

If you are looking for beautiful views, climb the Town Hall tower, the Round Tower, or the ever impressive tower at Christiansborg Palace. If it’s too cold, visit the SMK Art Gallery or National Museum. If you want fun and laughter, head to Tivoli Gardens, the city’s very own amusement park.

And whatever you do, don’t leave without having a warm glass of glogg!

Read my post about visiting Copenhagen in Winter here

best winter city breaks in europe - spinthewindrose.com

Colourful Copenhagen is a gorgeous winter city break


Vera, Spain

“Vera, an area in Spain on the southern coastline, is the perfect place to visit in winter for a little sunshine. You can rent a condo for dirt cheap – nothing like the prices in summer.

Whilst Vera is known for its nudist beach in summer, these spaces are perfect for playing frisbee in winter – without tripping over a bunch of potentially naked people. 

Every surrounding town has a fabulous weekly market. Go to Villaricos to buy fresh vegetables, but merely for the entertainment of seeing the locals enjoying their weekly social meet up. Closer to Vera is the cute, old fishing town of Garrucha. The beach and the market are in walking distance from each other, and cappuccinos still cost only a euro.

Above all, it is wonderful to spend the winter basking in just not too much sunshine. During these quiet months, it feels low key and you’re surrounded by locals. It is easy to take day-trips to cities like Almeria or visit tourist destinations like the desert by Tabernas. Hike on the edge of the cliffs of Cabo da Gata and take a plunge in hot springs, if you can deal with the mud!”

Chantal writes at Earth Nomads – check out her site here.

-> PLUS:  For more winter sun destinations, read this post!

best winter city breaks in europe - spinthewindrose.com

Vera in Spain offers some winter sun


Where can you recommend to visit in Europe over Christmas? Do any of these winter city breaks take your fancy?

Thanks for reading and happy travels!

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