The Best Places to Visit in Europe in the Winter

The 15 Best Places to Visit in Europe in the Winter

From skiing and snowboarding to surfing and spas, the best places to visit in Europe in winter range from world-class ski resorts in Switzerland to the sunny Portuguese coastline. 

In Europe, there’s something for everyone in the winter months. You’ll find snow sports galore in the Alps and Pyrenees, while in northern Europe, it’s the perfect time of year to hunt down the Northern Lights

Get festive in Germany’s Christmas markets, enjoy the thermal spas of Budapest or Reykjavik, and visit Santa Claus himself in Finnish Lapland. And if you need some winter sun, there’s plenty to be had in the Algarve or in the south of Spain (where you can even ski in the morning and sunbathe in the afternoon).

With so many places to travel in Europe in winter, you might not know where to begin. That’s why we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best winter destinations for you. Stick to these fun and unique European getaways, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this beautiful part of the world!

Don’t forget to check out our web story: The 15 Best Places to Visit in Europe in the Winter

The 15 Best Places to Visit in Europe in the Winter

1. Tallinn, Estonia

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: Tallinn, Estonia

With a long history dating back to the 13th century, Tallinn has managed to conserve its magnificent medieval Old Town masterfully. And while temperatures regularly drop to below freezing in the winter, the Estonian capital’s cobblestone streets, romantic ramparts, and dreamy towers are transformed into a snow-clad wonderland. 

You’ll need to pop on your thermals and wrap up warm, as the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Old Town becomes the fairytale backdrop to one of Europe’s best Christmas markets. The streets are filled with wooden market stalls and carol singers, and you can sip on mulled wine and enjoy Estonian festive treats like blood sausage and gingerbread (not together!) as you countdown to Christmas. 

Estonians embrace a harsh winter on the Baltic Sea, and if the cold gets too much, you can always shelter in a cozy cafe or bar with a hot chocolate or a craft beer. If you start to embrace the cold weather yourself, then why not strap on your skates and hit up the Uisupark Ice Rink in the Old Town, which is lit up by the dazzling Christmas lights of the St. Nicholas Church? 

2. Dresden, Germany

What Places to Visit in Europe during Winter: Dresden, Germany

Germany is always one of the best places to travel in Europe in winter, and if you love a good old-fashioned Christmas market, you’re going to love Dresden.

The capital of Saxony is no stranger to the Germanic Christmas market tradition, having hosted their own almost every year without fail (a few wars aside) since the year 1434 AD. That makes Dresden’s historic Striezelmarkt the oldest Christmas market in Europe, although it’s come a long way since the medieval city first hosted a single-day celebration so many centuries ago.

Now Dresden’s Striezelmarkt – thought to be named for the specific type of stollen cake that’s sold here – is a sprawling affair that lasts not just one day but for the entire Advent period. From late November until Christmas Eve, Dresden’s Altmarkt and the surrounding streets and squares of the Old Town are thrown over to all things festive.

Enjoy the dulcet tones of Dresden’s best carol singers, sink a pint or two of local beer, and, of course, indulge in a few slices of stollen and as much Gluhwein as you can handle!

3. Rovaniemi, Finland 

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: Rovaniemi, Finland

In winter, where better to be than the home of Santa Claus? The savvy Laplanders have long claimed that the icy arctic tundra of northern Finland is the domain of Father Christmas himself, and in the 1980s, they went so far as to construct a mammoth Santa Claus Village and amusement park to stake their claim on the winter legend. 

All year round, Rovaniemi dedicates itself to Christmas, but visit from November onwards and you can immerse yourself in a true winter wonderland. The city itself is a 1.5-hour flight from Helsinki, and although the days are impossibly short and the weather frighteningly chilly, you can still explore unique attractions like Arktikum, a museum that is dedicated to Lapland’s history and Arctic research.

Not far from the city, and the Arctic Circle runs through Santa Claus Village. Sure, it’s cheesy as hell, but you can meet the big man himself, send your loved ones Christmas cards from Santa’s very own home, and ride a genuine reindeer sled in the snow.

One of the best European cities in winter, it’s a guaranteed white winter in Rovaniemi, and you’ll have a huge chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis in the night sky above. You can stay in ice hotels, learn about the Sami reindeer herders, and try your hand at all manner of winter sports, including dog sledding and snowmobiling. 

4. Gudauri, Georgia

Must See Places in Europe during Winter: Gudauri, Georgia

Gudauri is one of the most unsung ski resort towns in Europe, and if you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track winter sports getaway, this is one of the best cities to visit in Europe in winter.

Gudauri is located in Georgia‘s Caucasus mountain range. During the Soviet era, this was one of the most popular ski resorts in the entire USSR, but things changed drastically when the country gained independence in 1991. Things are changing yet again, though, and Gudauri’s slopes are busy with Georgian, Middle Eastern, and, increasingly, European skiers during the winter season. 

The resort itself is home to all the lifts, runs, and chalets an experienced skier could ever need, but at a fraction of the price of European ski hotspots in the Alps. Increasing numbers of English-speaking instructors also make Gudauri the perfect place to learn to ski or snowboard (and again, at a budget price). 

Georgia’s already well-known for its gorgeous mountain scenery and ancient wine-making traditions, so you can expect the après ski (with virtually unlimited Georgian wine and plate after plate of khinkali) to be absolutely amazing!

5. Val d’Aran, Spain

Places to Visit in Europe in Winter: Heliskiing

Val d’Aran is one of the best European winter destinations, but it’s little-known outside of Spain and France. Visit this little mountain valley in the Pyrenees, and you’ll not only find an exciting winter paradise, but a unique region that’s home to a fusion of French and Spanish language, culture, and cuisine. 

Take a look at a map of the Pyrenees – the mountain range that divides Spain from France – and you’ll see that Val d’Aran sits on the northern slopes. This means that technically, this beautiful Pyrenean valley should be in France, but due to a quirk of medieval history, it’s actually in Spain. Until 1948, when a long tunnel was carved through the mountain, the entire region would be cut off in the winter.

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: Heliskiing

Learn more about the history with a visit to the Museum of Val d’Aran in Vielha, Val d’Aran’s erstwhile capital city. Tall stone churches rise across the valley, where you can hike or snowshoe to hilltop towns in search of local eats like the famous Aranese stew. Val d’Aran is also famous for its hot springs, and in Arties, you can spend an afternoon soaking up the thermal water after plunging into an ice bath. 

But Val d’Aran is best known for its skiing. The slopes of Baqueira are perfect for all abilities, while those with a wilder side can even attempt a spot of heliskiing in the winter.

6. Budapest, Hungary

What Places to Visit in Europe during Winter: Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is a city break destination that needs very little introduction, and it’s easily one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.

We love Budapest for an incredible number of reasons. First off, the Hungarian capital has a fascinating history stretching back to the Romans, while its unusual mix of Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, and socialist architecture speaks of its often turbulent location at the crossroads of Central Europe.

Cross the mighty River Danube and you can take the funicular to Buda Castle, where royal palaces and the iconic Fisherman’s Bastion are resplendent in the cold winter air. Down in Pest, you’ll find that from November to January, places like Vorosmarty Square and St. Stephen’s Basilica are all dedicated to festive markets, where you can warm up with a big bread bowl of goulash or a mug of mulled wine. 

Escape the chill weather of a Budapest winter with a trip to the city’s museums, including the Hungarian National Museum or the dark but fascinating House of Terror, which tells the story of Hungary’s descent into totalitarianism in the 20th century. 

And, of course, there’s no chance you’re visiting Budapest in the winter without experiencing the city’s famed thermal spas, including Gellert Thermal Bath and Szechenyi Thermal Bath, where you can warm up after a cold day’s sightseeing. 

7. Bergen, Norway

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: Bergen, Norway

Bergen might be Norway‘s second city (after Oslo, of course), but in winter, we think it’s one of the best places to visit in Europe. 

Legend has it that Bergen, which is located on the west coast of Norway, was founded on Seven Mountains (just like ancient Rome was founded on Seven Hills) by a once bloodthirsty Viking who’d had enough of war. 

It was indeed founded by a Viking king, and for many years, was even the capital of a Norwegian kingdom, but as you count the snowcapped mountain peaks, you’ll realize there are many more than seven surrounding the city!

Places to Visit in Europe in Winter: Bergen, Norway

In winter, Bergen’s mountainous scenery is glorious. Take the funicular up to Mount Floyen, and you’ll see the city’s colorful architecture arrayed before you like a Christmas painting. 

If it’s not too windy, then the cable car can whisk you upwards to Mount Ulriken, where you can dine in the Skyskraperen restaurant high above Bergen. And if the weather isn’t cooperating, just hop into the Hanseatic Museum, the Bryggens Museum, or the Bergen Maritime Museum to learn more about the city’s history and culture. 

But Bergen is also your gateway to Norway’s western fjords, and in winter, sightseeing cruises are very much still running. You could even take the impressive Flam Railway into the heart of the fjords, with a short but spectacular 12-mile train ride that whisks you through wintery scenery and ends with a local craft beer in Flam’s microbrewery. 

8. Lake Bled, Slovenia 

What Places to Visit in Europe during Winter: Lake Bled, Slovenia

If you’re looking for postcard-perfect winter scenes, then Lake Bled will be love at first sight. Although Lake Bled is seemingly hidden away in the Julian Alps, it’s also just an hour’s drive north of Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. It’s also an even shorter 30-minute drive from Slovenia‘s main international airport, which is increasingly well-connected, even in the winter. 

That makes Lake Bled the perfect winter escape, and you can book yourself into a lakeside hotel overlooking what could be frozen waters. If it’s cold enough, then yes, Lake Bled can freeze, but this only happens in particularly cold winters, every few years.

From November onwards, though, you’re guaranteed to ditch the crowds and have this beautiful place to yourself. From December, the snow starts to cap the surrounding mountain peaks, and by Christmas, the lakeside itself, including the famous cliff-top castle and the church on the lake, are draped in a wintery haze of snow and ice. 

9. Salzburg, Austria 

Places to Visit in Europe in Winter: Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, the home city of Mozart, is a veritable treat for the senses throughout its long winter season. With the Old Town’s medieval streets draped in Christmas lights, you’ll love hearing classic Austrian carols (including “Silent Night,” which was first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 in a church close to the city) and classical music drifting across snowy rooftops.

Salzburg’s historic Christmas market dates back around five centuries, and with iconic sights like the Hohenzollern Castle and the Nonnberg Abbey as the backdrop, you couldn’t ask for a better setting. Grab a mug of Gluhwein, then catch a concert in the lavish Mirabell Palace. 

Visit Mozart’s birthplace all through the winter to learn more about the roots of the famous Austrian composer. In January, you can also celebrate Mozart’s birthday (January 27, 1756) and take part in the musical extravaganza that is Mozart Week! 

Winter sports fans will love a trip to Salzburg as much as the budding musicians because the city is perfectly placed by the Austrian Alps. There are many excellent ski resorts within an hour or so drive of Salzburg, including Bad Gastein, Zell am See, and Kitzbuhel.

10. Andorra 

Must Visit Places in Europe during Winter: Andorra

With an area of just 181 square miles (469 square kilometers), you might be surprised to see the microstate of Andorra making our list of the best destinations to travel to in Europe in winter.

This might be one of the smallest countries on the continent, but in winter, Andorra is an adventure playground for snow sports lovers. What it lacks in size, Andorra more than makes up for with soaring mountain peaks and high-altitude ski runs.

That’s no surprise given the tiny country’s location in the Pyrenees mountains between Spain and France, with the highest point in Andorra reaching 9,652 feet (2,942 meters). Even the capital, Andorra la Vella (population 22,000), is at an altitude well over 3,281 feet (1,000 meters), so you can expect snow and lots of it.

In winter, the country’s hiking trails become cross-country ski routes, and you can traverse the mountain slopes and forests on epic cross-country adventures. Andorran ski resorts like Grandvalira and Ordino Arcalis are some of the best on the continent, while increasingly, other unique winter sports activities like dog sledding and snowmobiling are becoming popular. 

And in case we haven’t sold it to you, Andorra’s après ski is one of the best in Europe – not surprising, really, given that the Principality is duty-free!

11. Bansko, Bulgaria 

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: Bansko, Bulgaria

If you’re a digital nomad, then there’s a high chance you’ve already heard about Bansko. This Bulgarian ski resort town at the base of the Pirin Mountains has been attracting remote workers for years, especially so in the winter.

Digital nomads love the sense of community here, including the many festivals, events, and meetups aimed at remote professions. However, you don’t need to be a digital nomad to enjoy a trip to Bansko. 

Although it used to be firmly off the beaten track, Bulgaria’s budget skiing has really put Bansko on the map. A day pass at Bansko Ski Resort will set you back just a fraction of the cost of a pass in France or Switzerland, while those staying for weeks or even months (as many do!) can score cost-effective season passes. 

Accommodation in Bansko can be found right by the gondolas, the après ski is always fun, and the nearby village of Banya is known for its thermal waters – the perfect antidote to a day in the snow. 

12. Reykjavik, Iceland

Must See Places in Europe during Winter: Reykjavik, Iceland

Traveling to Iceland in the dead of winter might seem like a crazy plan, but if you’re serious about seeing the Northern Lights, this is one of the best places to visit in Europe in winter.

You’ll need to wrap up warm for this one (don’t forget the thermal underwear!), but brave temperatures of up to 27°F (-3°C) and daytime with as little as 5 hours between sunrise and sunset, and you can have an incredible time in Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital.

Icelanders are used to the short days and cold weather, and you can join Northern Lights tours out into the wilderness in search of the fabled Aurora Borealis. From Reykjavik, you can often see the lights themselves (although they are never as strong), while city-wide attractions like the Saga Museum, the National Museum of Iceland, and the Whales of Iceland are very much open in winter. 

And if the cold gets to be too much, just take a dip in the Blue Lagoon or one of the many thermal baths found in Reykjavik! 

13. The Algarve, Portugal 

Best Europe Destinations to Visit in Winter: The Algarve, Portugal

If you’re looking for a bit of winter sun, then why not book an Algarve getaway? Portugal‘s southern coastline has incredibly mild temperatures, and even in winter, you can expect highs of up to 64°F (18°C).

Although the Atlantic Ocean will be too cold for an enjoyable swim (that doesn’t stop everyone, though), the beaches are still soaked in sunshine while the resorts and hotels offer excellent deals and discounts compared to their summer prices.

Many surfers take advantage of the Algarve’s big winter waves, particularly on the region’s western shore, which bears the brunt of any storms. The southern coast is much more tranquil, and you can still enjoy boat rides to famous spots like the Benagil Caves when the seas are calm.

Winter is the perfect season for walking, too. Take in the historic sights of Lagos or Faro, for example, hike to Ponte de Piedade for stunning cliff-top views, or tackle the beautiful hike into the Seven Hanging Valleys. 

14. Sierra Nevada, Spain 

Must See Places in Europe during Winter: Sierra Nevada, Spain

The Sierra Nevada is a long mountain range cutting across southern Spain, and in winter, it’s home to the most southerly ski resort in Europe.

Head to the slopes of the Sierra Nevada Ski Station, and you’ll find yourself tackling runs that reach a maximum altitude of 11,155 feet (3,400 meters). The ski season here is short but sweet, and you can find runs for almost all abilities. 

You’ll also have views of Veleta, the third-highest mountain in mainland Spain, upon whose slopes you’re skiing. The resort itself is just a 45-minute drive from Granada, the Andalusian city where the Spanish Moors made their last stand in the 15th century. 

Visit the Alhambra (without the summer crowds) and enjoy the famous free tapas that come with every drink purchased in a Granadan bar. You could even head down to the Costa del Sol for some winter sun and a dip in the sea!

15. Switzerland

What Places to Visit in Europe during Winter: Switzerland

It’s impossible to leave Switzerland off any list of the best places to travel to in Europe in winter. Swiss cities like Zurich, Basel, and Geneva are coated in layers of snow throughout much of the winter, and with lively Christmas markets filling Old Town squares, there’s never a better time to visit.

But Switzerland is also home to thousands of miles of ski runs that crisscross its steep mountain slopes. Swiss ski resorts might be notoriously expensive when compared to up-and-coming winter sports destinations in Eastern Europe, but you’ve got guaranteed powder and a rich ski tradition going back centuries. 

Les Portes du Soleil, Grindelwald, and St. Moritz are just a few of the most famous ski resorts in Switzerland. For an authentic winter experience though, we recommend riding the Glacier Express to Zermatt, where you can ski in a fairytale resort town that sits in the shadow of the iconic Matterhorn.

There you have it! The 15 best places to travel in Europe in winter. What’s your favorite European destination to visit in winter?

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  • Richard Collett

    Richard is an award-winning travel writer based in Southwest England who’s addicted to traveling off the beaten track. He’s traveled to 75 countries and counting in search of intriguing stories, unusual destinations, and cultural curiosities.

    Richard loves traveling the long way round over land and sea, and you’ll find him visiting quirky micronations and breakaway territories as often as he’s found lounging on a beach (which is a lot).

    When he’s not writing for BBC Travel, National Geographic, or Lonely Planet, you can find Richard writing for the Wandering Wheatleys or updating his off-beat travel blog, Travel Tramp.

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