There’s something magical about spending winter in Europe. Even if you’ve been to a particular place before, revisiting it in winter feels like seeing it for the first time.
The snow-covered landscapes and short days allow you to enjoy winter sports, chase the Northern Lights, and learn more about local culture and traditions through their Christmas and New Year festivities that you would never experience otherwise. Whether you’re looking for postcard snowscapes, culturally-rich medieval hideaways or Mediterranean escapes, there are plenty of winter destinations in Europe that fit the bill.
If you get giddy about Christmas, Rovaniemi is for you. This small village in the Finnish Lapland is the official home of Santa Claus. Here you can mingle with Saint Nick himself and see real-life reindeers in their natural habitat.
Apart from spending some time with Santa, the village has plenty of other activities to enjoy. For instance, you can learn more about the Arctic Circle and take a deeper look into the region’s nature, culture, and history. Feeling ultra adventurous? Then why not go sledding with husky dogs, or spend the night hunting for the Northern Lights!
It’s no secret that part of what makes Europe so magical in winter are its Christmas markets, and there’s no better place to experience them than in Germany. In particular, Nuremberg’s Christmas market is one not to be missed.
Nuremberg’s Christmas market elevates this medieval town into a dazzling winter wonderland, showcasing more than a hundred stalls offering various meals and drinks to visitors. Make sure to try traditional foods like bratwurst sausage and the local gingerbread known as lebkuchen—they’re delicious! Most of all, no visit to these markets is complete without at least one steaming cup of mulled wine to keep you warm.
Prague, Czech Republic
With its mesmerizing gothic architecture, rich history and stellar arts and culture scene, the Czech capital is a great destination all year round. But in winter, when the city gets a nice dusting of snow, and the scent of chimney cakes whirl through the streets, it’s simply unmatched.
Be sure you get the most out of the city from Christmas markets to the Communist Museum with our Winter Guide to Prague.
Some places look the most natural during the winter season, and this charming alpine town is the best example. Nestled along a lake of the same name, and shadowed by the closeby alps, Hallstatt is known and loved for its stunning scenery and traditional Austrian homes which make it look like a postcard in the winter.
Spend your afternoon strolling the old town square and hike to the Skywalk above the town for an even better view of the sweeping valleys and traditional wooden houses. For a more obscure way to spend the day, head over to the Hallstatt Ossuary, a burial ground of hand painted human skulls adorned with roses. Best part? Hallstatt is also an excellent skiing and winter sport destination for all levels.
For a slightly different festive season, consider the colorful Catalan capital of Barcelona. Winter in Barcelona means fewer tourists, more affordable accommodation, and plenty of holiday spirit, all in a Mediterranean climate.
Our best advice? Visit over the New Year when the city is still in full festive swing – and be ready to eat 12 grapes as part of a long standing Spanish NYE tradition. On New Year’s Day, make the walk up to Guell Park to take the city in from above and contemplate the coming year.
The Estonian capital is one of Europe’s best kept secrets when it comes to winter destinations. From the perfectly preserved medieval old town to the snowy mists that take over the city, Tallinn is nothing short of a fairytale.
Whirl the afternoon away at Uisuplats ice rink, wander the peaceful cobbled streets or curl up with a book in one of the many tiny bookshops. And when you get unbearably cold, do what locals do, and hit up some of its famous saunas and spas.
Not only is Iceland’s capital absolutely stunning in the winter months, but it’s also brought to life with the annual Reykjavik Winter Lights Festival which is held in February. Whether you plan to visit for the festival or to use Reykjavik as a jumping off point for exploring the rest of the country’s wild landscapes, you won’t be disappointed.
Besides, aren’t the Northern Lights on everyone’s bucket list? Head out on a night excursion to hunt them down and spend your days keeping warm in geothermal pools and steamy saunas.
Gudauri, Georgia is the perfect skiing destination to get off the beaten path and explore some of Europe’s most breathtaking mountain landscapes. With around ten slopes of varied difficulties, it’s a perfect ski destination for all skillsets. Not only that, but it’s managed to remain off the radar for Europe’s top ski destinations, meaning fewer crowds and more of the mountains all to yourself.
Keep full and warm with hearty dumplings known as khinkali and warm khachapuri (cheese bread), and be sure to slip away to nearby Kazbegi for more mountainscapes and historic sites such as Gergeti Church.
Looking to map your way across Europe via gingerbread and mulled wine this holiday season? Here are Five Magical Christmas Markets to Visit in Europe.