Europe is a great place to visit during the winter if you don’t mind a bit of chill and appreciate the many unique experiences the holiday season offers. Whether it’s enjoying some Christmas spirit, partaking in winter sports, or exploring historic cities with fewer tourists, there are plenty of reasons to consider a winter trip to Europe.
Many European cities including Vienna, Prague, and Strasbourg are of course also famous for their Christmas markets. And if you’re into winter skiing and snowboarding, cities in France, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy have renowned ski resorts.
Here is a sampling of top European cities to visit during the winter months to embrace the snow, holiday festivities, or simply enjoy famous attractions without the normally large summer tourist crowds.
The Best Spots in Europe to Visit This Winter
Winter is a time for Christmas markets and one of the best European cities to enjoy them is Vienna. Vienna is known for its stunning Christmas markets and classical music traditions that truly come alive around the holidays. The city gets all decked out in lights and you can enjoy a cup of Glühwein (hot mulled wine) while exploring the various markets.
You’ll find the most famous Christmas markets at locations like Rathausplatz, Schönbrunn Palace, and Belvedere Palace. The city’s numerous concert halls and opera houses offer plenty of classical music concerts and performances featuring our beloved Christmas songs during the winter months.
Vienna’s famous architecture is especially beautiful against a backdrop of snow and lights. Be sure to visit historic landmarks like St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Schönbrunn Palace, and Hofburg Palace. Vienna also offers several outdoor ice skating rinks during the winter, including the Rathausplatz ice skating rink.
You may also want to consider taking a romantic horse-drawn carriage ride through Vienna’s historic city centre or attend the annual Silvesterpfad (New Year’s Trail) which is held on New Year’s Eve and offers a series of linked open-air venues featuring song and dance.
London is a popular tourist destination any time of year, but much like NYC, London becomes a bit extra special around the holiday season. London comes alive with festive decorations and holiday lights during the winter season. You can enjoy the magic of Christmas markets, dazzling light displays, and beautifully decorated streets, especially in areas like Oxford Street, Regent Street, and Covent Garden.
Numerous ice skating rinks pop up around London during the winter, like those found at Somerset House, the Natural History Museum, and the Tower of London. Christmas markets include Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park and Southbank Centre Winter Market.
London’s West End theatres host numerous holiday-themed shows and musicals during the winter months. It’s a great time to catch a traditional pantomime or a classic play. The day after Christmas is known as Boxing Day and has become a major shopping event in London, with many stores including Harrods and Selfridges offering significant discounts.
Winter is also a great time to pop into London’s famous museums and galleries to warm up or you can rug up and take to the streets to enjoy the city’s historic landmarks such as the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and Westminster Abbey possibly under a blanket of snow.
Another way to warm up, win big, and possibly pay for your entire European winter trip is to pop into one of the many casinos in London like The Hippodrome Casino, Leicester Square’s Empire Casino, or one of the Grosvenor Casinos. Alternatively, simply book a fancy room at The Langham or The Ritz during winter and simply gamble at an online casino where you can play everything from Blackjack to 9 pots of gold.
Budapest’s thermal baths are especially inviting during the winter season. Soaking in the warm, mineral-rich waters of iconic baths like Széchenyi or Gellért will no doubt prove incredibly relaxing and rejuvenating during the colder months.
Or you can simply embrace the cold and visit Europe’s largest outdoor ice rink known as Városligeti Műjégpálya in City Park. Vörösmarty Square is transformed into a festive market with stalls selling handcrafts and traditional Hungarian food during the Christmas season.
Visiting Budapest in the winter also often means fewer tourists, making it easier to explore the city’s many attractions without the normal large crowds. The city is taken over by illuminated Christmas trams come December that traverse the city, offering a unique way to experience the holiday spirit. Then come New Year’s Eve celebrations which include fireworks over the Danube River.
One of the top reasons to visit Reykjavik during winter is the opportunity to witness the northern lights. The longer nights and clearer skies present in the winter months provide excellent conditions for seeing this phenomenal natural light display.
Iceland’s famous natural landscapes surrounding the city also take on a stunning transformation come winter, with snow-covered mountains, glaciers, and lava fields. You also have the opportunity to enjoy a range of outdoor winter activities such as dog sledding, exploring ice caves, and snowmobiling on glaciers.
In and around Reykjavik are geothermal hot springs and natural baths like the Blue Lagoon. You’ll also find a vibrant culinary scene with cosy cafes, bars, and restaurants that are perfect for warming up with traditional Icelandic dishes like lamb stew and fish soup.
Reykjavik surprisingly offers year-round whale watching as well, where during winter you can spot species like orcas, humpbacks, and minke whales.
Edinburgh comes alive in December with its Christmas markets such as the one found at East Princes Street Gardens, and of course Hogmanay which is the city’s famous New Year’s celebration. Hogmanay includes a torchlight procession, street party, and a spectacular fireworks display over Edinburgh Castle.
Celebrate Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns every January 25th which is known as Burns Night where you can enjoy a traditional formal dinner featuring Scottish dishes like haggis accompanied by neeps and tatties, a “Toast to the Lassies” to celebrate women, live music, featuring bagpipes and fiddles, and poetry readings.
Also be sure to head into one of Edinburgh’s whisky bars to warm up with a dram of world famous Scotch whisky.
Experience the magic of Lapland during winter and visit the official hometown of Santa Claus. Rovaniemi is home to the Santa Claus Village where you can meet the big man himself and send postcards from the Arctic Circle.
Rovaniemi is situated in the Arctic Circle, making it another excellent location for viewing the northern lights on clear dark nights. Popular winter activities include snowmobiling, husky dog sledding safaris, reindeer sleigh rides, and cross-country skiing.
Located nearby is the Lainio Snow Village, offering an ice and snow hotel with unique ice sculptures and an ice restaurant. You can even stay overnight in a chilly ice room if you’re feeling a bit adventurous.
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