Best Places to Visit in Europe This Winter
Unless you’re fortunate enough to live in one of the few European capitals where the mercury regularly plummets below zero, winter is not exactly high season for tourism. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of opportunities to explore Europe this time of year. In fact, some of the most picturesque places become even more enchanting when blanketed in snow. Whether you prefer alpine adventures or cozy cafes with a view, there are plenty of ways to see Europe during its coldest months without abandoning your love of all things local culture. Here are 10 destinations that meet those criteria and then some.
If there’s one place where winter is worth the trek, it’s Switzerland. This mountainous country boasts some of the best skiing in the world, but it’s not just for the adventurous. Even if you know nothing about the sport and have no desire to learn, there are plenty of ways to enjoy the Alpine scenery without donning a pair of skis or a snowboard. From the sledding hills in Interlaken, where you can relive your childhood in the most picturesque way possible, to the famed, boat-shaped gondola in the Swiss Alps, there’s no shortage of ways to experience Switzerland’s winter wonderland with children (or without).
Don’t be misled by the word “Austria,” which is often used to refer to the country’s capital. Vienna is full of charm and culture, but there are plenty of other winter destinations in Austria worth exploring. One of the best is the city of Salzburg, which is home to the famous “Sound of Music” hills, a lovely old town, and the world-famous Salzburg Festival, which runs throughout the winter. The mountains surrounding the city are also a great place to ski, hike, or go spelunking, and the nearby lakes provide a more serene setting for winter activities.
Although it’s famous for its warm, tropical climate, Italy is also a great place to experience winter, especially if you’re interested in architecture or history. Rome, Florence, and Venice, for example, are three of the most beautiful cities in the world, and visiting them during the off-season can ensure you avoid the crowds and get the most out of your trip. Italy is also great place to ski. More than a dozen Alpine resorts operate year-round, and even though they’re smaller than their Swiss counterparts, the prices are much more reasonable.
Paris and the rest of the traditional tourist trail in France are worth a visit any time of year, but winter is the best time to see the countryside. From the dramatic coastline of Normandy to the stunning architecture of southern France, there’s a lot to explore outside of Paris, particularly in the winter. Skiing is also a great option in the colder months, with resorts in the Alps and Pyrenees Mountains open year-round. Another option is to head to the city of Lyon, which hosts the international festival of lights called Fête des Lumières, or Lyon’s Festival of Lights, during the winter.
Spain may be best known for its beaches and weather, but it’s also a great winter destination. There are a number of cities in the country’s central region — including Madrid, Seville, and Granada — that are great to visit in the colder months. Madrid, in particular, is a great option for city lovers thanks to its stunning architecture, world-class art museums, and lively nightlife. And let’s not forget about the local cuisine. It’s no wonder that Madrid is considered a foodie destination — even in the winter.
Amsterdam is a great place to visit year-round, but winter is a particularly good time to go. Why? It’s the beginning of the tulip season! This beautiful flower is a staple of the Dutch landscape and something you should not miss if you’re in the area. The Netherlands is also a great place to explore by bike, both in Amsterdam and the surrounding countryside. There are a variety of routes for all skill levels, including a scenic ride along the coast that makes for a great day trip.
Germany is well known for beer and pretzels, but there’s more to this European destination than the stereotypical drinking and eating. There are a number of great cities to explore in winter, including Berlin, Munich, and Hamburg. Berlin is the most popular destination in Germany, and it’s a great place to visit in the winter thanks to its vast array of museums and indoor attractions. Munich, meanwhile, is famous for Oktoberfest, an annual beer festival that lasts for two weeks in October. And Hamburg is a great option for history lovers thanks to its many architectural landmarks.
Finland may be best known as the home of “Finnish-ness,” but this Nordic nation is worth visiting in the winter as well. Helsinki, the capital and largest city in Finland, is a great option for culture lovers thanks to its many museums and art galleries. It’s also a great place to get outside and explore the vast wilderness surrounding the city. Finland is also home to some of the best ski resorts in Europe, including Lapland, which is perfect for families thanks to its abundance of kid-friendly activities.
If you’re looking for a truly unique winter experience, Iceland may be the place for you. This Nordic island is famous for its otherworldly landscapes, including its many volcanoes, glaciers, and hot springs. In winter, the many tourist destinations (including the capital city of Reykjavik) are void of people, meaning a trip to Iceland is a once in a lifetime adventure. While there is no traditional tourism season in the country, winter is the best time to visit, owing to the fact that it’s typically the least expensive time to go. Plus, you’ll be able to view the “Northern Lights” (Aurora Borealis) thanks to clear skies and fewer tourists in the country at this time of year.
Winter is a great time to visit Europe, particularly if you’re after a more relaxed pace and lower prices. Many destinations become less crowded, and there’s the chance to see the Northern Lights in Iceland. The best time to visit Europe in winter will vary depending on where you go and what activities you want to do. Keep these 10 destinations in mind, and you’ll be guaranteed to see a different side to Europe this winter.