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Summer has officially ended and colder weather is slowly making its way across Europe. Even though many people are bound to go on holiday during the summer, winter is a perfect time to explore some of Europe’s best highlights. It’s usually cheaper, less crowded and it gives you a unique experience. (Think Prague with snowy rooftops, the Northern Lights, or chasing the winter sun on the Canary Island’s beaches). It’s time to start thinking about the best European destinations this winter.
And who’d be better to ask for the best winter destinations than travel bloggers? For this post, I’ve asked some fellow travel bloggers to share their all-time favourite winter destinations in Europe with me – giving you the ultimate guide to some of the best highlights and hidden gems in Europe this winter!
Best Winter Destinations in Europe
Prague, Czech Republic
Veronika from Travel Geekery recommended Prague for a magical trip this winter. According to her, Prague is an amazing destination to visit year-round but once it’s covered in snow, it becomes one from a fairy tale.
Prague is famous for its many Christmas markets. They open every year on December 1st and the bigger ones stay open until January 6th. The Czechs celebrate Christmas on the evening of December 24th but the 25th and the 26th are also public holidays. Many restaurants in the city centre and the Christmas markets stay open during those days. Spending New Year’s in Prague can also be recommended, but I strongly advise you not to hang out in the city centre (near Wenceslas Square and the Charles Bridge) when midnight gets closer. It’s better to watch the festivities from one of Prague’s parks, either Letná or Riegrovy Sady.
The magic of Prague in winter is no longer a secret, so you have to expect crowds (particularly before Christmas). It helps to be more strategic about when to go to the historical centre (early morning) and deciding to explore Prague’s neighbourhoods instead, with beautiful small Christmas markets, especially in Vinohrady. You can find the best two at Náměstí míru and Náměstí Jiřího z Poděbrad squares.
If you’d like to come at a quieter time when the crowds wind down, visit at the end of January or in February. The snow can never be guaranteed but you stand a high chance if you visit at this time. The temperatures can be anywhere between -10 degrees to about +5 degrees (Celsius). Prague has plenty of cute and cosy cafés to warm up in between sightseeing, as well as good saunas if you need that extra heat. If you prefer winter activities, you can ice skate or go for a skiing trip outside of the city.
The traditional German Christmas Markets are always a hit when travelling through Europe during Christmas season. Smita Bhattacharya tells us why Berlin should be in your winter destination list:
The Christmas markets in Germany are quite something else. No other country compares. The best place to start is in Berlin. The city is absolutely magical in winter. Yes, it is freezing cold, but it bursts with Christmas spirit like no other. The Gluhwein flowing endlessly on every street corner helps, of course.
One of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin is the WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt. There is a small charge to get inside. Once in, the revelry is infectious. Start with a glass or two of Glühwein or Eierpunsch; the colourful cups they come in can be kept as souvenirs. Maybe pick up a currywurst or bratwurst to go with it because we don’t want to get too giddy too soon, do we?
Now that you have tried some of the amazing drinks and snacks, it’s time to get into merrymaking. Join the choir singing melodiously on the stage! Or after an hour or two, join the group of people dancing madly below. If not into dancing or singing, roam around the market and buy handmade goodies from shops that look straight out of a fairy tale. When you leave the market a few hours later, you would’ve totally and fully imbibed the Christmas spirit. Please note that there are only a few of the good Christmas markets are open after the 25th of December in Berlin, so make sure to catch them early.
If you are bored of the Christmas Markets (as if!), explore Berlin’s quirky neighbourhoods: Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg. In between these two lies the 1.3 km long East Side Gallery along the Spree River. Admire over 100 murals on the wall created by 118 artists from 21 countries. On Sunday, head over to the flea market at Mauerpark and take part in the Bearpit Karaoke. There’s plenty to do in Berlin, and the winter cold will not stop you
Hot waffles, Belgium fries and a tasty beer while wandering through Brussels’ Christmas Market. Doesn’t that sound like winter heaven? Sophie from Bitten By The Bug agrees:
Brussels, like much of Europe, becomes a whole new world in winter. Christmas decorations adorn the streets, shop displays are at their best, and (if you’re lucky) a thin white layer of snow might even cover the streets. Although we don’t often have a white Christmas anymore, it’s still very interesting to visit Brussels in winter. It might be cold, but as long as it doesn’t rain too much, it’s still very enjoyable to walk through the city centre and explore its countless beautiful sights.
Surrounded by the town hall, the City Museum of Brussels and countless guild houses, the Grand Place is one of the most beautiful spots of Brussels and serves as a perfect starting point to explore the city. From there, most of the other sights are within walking distance: Manneken Pis, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine, Galeries Royales, Saint-Hubert, Mont des Arts, Royal Palace…
If you happen to visit in December, you should also plan a visit to the Brussels Christmas Market! Whenever you’re feeling cold, you’ll always have innumerable options to warm you up. Try a strong Belgian beer in one of Brussels’ authentic bars like Toone, Poeschenellenkelder or Bizon… Or warm up your belly with a hot waffle or Belgian fries. Although the latter are usually bought from street stalls and therefore only bring temporary warmth, you could also head to one of Brussels’ best restaurants at the end of a cold day outside, defrost and share some quality time with your travel partner.
Disneyland Paris, France
Paris in winter may seem a little overdone, right? So why not head to one of Europe’s most loved theme parks instead? Shar from Life Of Shar recommends Disneyland Paris during the winter months:
If you are a Disney lover, heading to Disneyland Paris during the colder months is a must! The romantic city of Paris has its charms but when you’re feeling like having a bit more fun and letting out your inner child, head to Disneyland Paris. Not only will the park be decorated in the loveliest
Christmas decorations, but the characters will be dressed in the cutest Christmas outfits. You will be able to see your favourite characters during the parades and Santa Clause himself will also make an appearance. The Disneyland Parades are breath-taking anyway but around Christmas time, the festival themed floats really are something else and the Christmas songs are so catchy! I enjoyed the parade much more at night as the sky was dark, so the parade lit up the whole park, making the atmosphere so much more festive.
Make sure you wrap up when visiting during the Festive season as it will be cold, but there are plenty of food stalls and restaurants around selling tasty food to keep you warm. There are also plenty of merchandise shops all over the park so do not worry if you forget your scarf or gloves as you will be able to purchase some very cute Disney themed items. The Christmas period at Disneyland Paris lasts throughout winter so you have plenty of time to plan your trip. Going before is sure to get you into the Christmas Spirit and visiting after Christmas means that you do not have to let go of the Holiday Spirit straight away.
London, England’s capital, acts as another lovely European winter destination. Nabiha from Verses By A Voyager shares her recommendations:
London, the capital city of the UK is a perfect winter destination to be explored. Despite being a metropolitan city, London is also one of the greenest capitals in the world. There are numerous activities to be done during the winter season in London. London has some incredible outdoor locations including the parks in the heart of the city, including Hyde Park, Reed Park, Reagent Park and the Holland Park. Despite the lack of leaves, these parks are perfect for a stroll around during winter. It won’t be as busy and if you’re lucky, you catch the snowfall on the trees.
During the winter season, London hosts some of the best ice rinks in the country including the one at the National History Museum and the Tower of London. During winter, London has numerous Christmas markets including the market at South Bank, Greenwich, London Bridge and Leceister square. Few of the Christmas markets in London are among the best and the most loved in Europe. When it snows in London, a trip on the London Eye is a must to opt for the beautiful panoramic location of the city.
Kew Gardens in London have a wonderful display of lights during the winter season and it’s a must-see. If you’re planning to celebrate New Years’ Eve in London, you’ll be happy to find out that the city hosts an incredible fireworks display. What an amazing way to start the New Year!
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Winter in Games of Thrones Winterfell? Belfast might be the perfect destination for you this winter. Ellie from Family Travel Pro tells us more:
Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a superb city-break destination all year round, but with many of the city’s top attractions being indoors, it really is a perfect winter break. Served by two airports, with connections across Europe and beyond, Belfast is very accessible and is compact and walkable for visitors.
As the city that famously built the Titanic, a must-see is the visitor attraction ‘Titanic Belfast’. Voted the World’s Leading Tourist Attraction in 2016, this superb attraction has 9 interactive galleries charting the birth and sinking of the famous Titanic ship. Family visitors will particularly enjoy the journey through the shipyards, showing her construction and the shipbuilding process. Visitors to Belfast are often interested in learning more about the period of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland and taking a ‘black taxi tour’ of Belfast can be a great way to learn more about this period of the city’s history. Visitors will learn first-hand about the history and conflict in the city and will visit key sites and view the famous murals.
As a compact and accessible region, visitors to Belfast can also enjoy the many filming sites of the highly acclaimed tv show ‘Game of Thrones’ which was filmed in Northern Ireland. Locations such as the Dark Hedges and Castle Ward (‘Winterfell’) are only a short drive from the city. More than anything though, visitors to Belfast will be wowed by the friendliness of the locals, their chat and the famous Northern Irish ‘craic’ (fun). The winter may be cold, but the welcome in Belfast couldn’t be warmer!
Naomi from Probe Around The Globe visited Dublin in December and fell in love with its pubs, its atmosphere and its people. That’s why she recommends Dublin this winter:
Dublin is one of the best European winter destinations you can explore in the cold winter months. Why? Because the capital of Ireland has something truly unique: its pub culture. No matter how cold or dark the days are outside, there is always a local pub to warm you and smother you with Craig, pub grub and live music.
I explored Dublin on a December get-a-way and it was magical. The streets of Dublin are festively decorated from mid-November onward and we found loads of indoor activities like Trinity Library and cool museums to visit. And let’s not forget the Dublin drinking culture! Explore where Guinness beer is made, at the Guinness Storehouse or go on a whiskey tasting adventure. All indoors and it certainly will warm your body and spirit!
But what I loved most about Dublin were her friendly and warm local people. It doesn’t matter if you ask for directions or listen to some impromptu music ensemble on the street: the people of Dublin will put a smile on your face and warm your heart. Something that is very welcome in those dark European winters.
So if you wonder what the best winter destination in Europe is: think outside the box and steer away from the German Christmas markets. Explore something new but still familiar in Dublin! Read all about my time in Dublin in December here.
Val Lumnezia, Switzerland
Switzerland is popular all year round. Beautiful hikes during the summer and popular for skiing in the winter. But where in Switzerland should you go? Eniko from Travel Hacker Girl picked Val Lumnezia as their favourite winter destination:
A sunny alpine valley in Switzerland’s Graubünden canton, which is the reason who it’s also known as the “Valley of Light”. You can expect glorious sunshine even in the winter months. It is well worth a visit because of its stunning scenery. There are several recreational activities you can do in the region. If you want to experience a magical white Christmas, Val Lumnezia can definitely provide that. Winter is a great time to visit the region. It is covered in snow, but there’s no need to worry as the Swiss have great infrastructure to deal with it.
Skiing is probably the most popular activity in the winter months. There are several modern ski resorts with thousands of kilometres of pistes. Many of these resorts have ski lifts operated by solar power, which is a great green initiative.
If you’re not into skiing, Val Lumnezia can still be the perfect winter destination in Europe for you. As well as the pistes, you can find many well-maintained and well-signposted winter hiking trails in Val Lumnezia. This is another great way to explore the area. Of course, snow-shoeing and cross country skiing are also a possibility. Children will be pleased to know that most ski resorts have many sledge routes. Take the sledge on the lift and enjoy the ride down!
Even though Venice is especially popular in spring and summer, winter gives you the opportunity to see this wonderful city without the crazy tourist crowds! Chris from More Life In Your Days shares his tips:
Venice is an incredible city that is known throughout the world for its unique beauty. For good reason, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. But most people visit in the summer, which makes Venice a great choice for a winter travel destination. You will get the chance to explore this spectacular city without quite so many crowds. The low light of winter makes Venice even more atmospheric than it is in the summertime and you’ll get to enjoy Venice in the dark when it arguably looks its best.
We love Venice because everything is just that bit different, there are canals instead of roads and boats instead of cars and this is what makes it one of the world’s great travel destinations. The architecture must be some of the best in the world and the whole city is incredible, be sure to explore away from the most popular spots and you are sure to fall in love with Venice.
Venice is easy to get to. You can fly to Venice Marco Polo airport and then travel on to the old city by bus or water bus. If you really want to arrive in style, take a water taxi across the lagoon and feel like James Bond. The airport at Venice Treviso is mainly used by budget airlines and is another option that is not too far away. Alternatively, you can arrive by train. Stepping out of the station is an experience in itself as you are immediately beside the grand canal. The views are amazing and, for me, it was one of the most memorable parts of our visit. However you arrive, we are sure that you will enjoy your days in Venice.
Mike from Pulped Travel thinks Copenhagen is the destination you should check out this winter. And here’s why:
Copenhagen offers so much to visitors at any time of the year. Yet, during the winter months; as the nights draw in and the temperatures drop, the Danish capital comes into its own. Cosy cafes will fill you with top quality coffee and beautiful brunches. Bike rides, along with the city’s excellent network of cycle paths, will feel that much fresher thanks to the bracing Baltic winds that funnel through the streets of the city and the winter light will bring the city’s architectural beauty into sharp relief. Topped off with walks through the parklands of Kongens Have and the adjacent Rosenborg Slot (the magnificent home to the Danish Crown Jewels), views from the quirky Rundetaarn, some contemporary art in the beautiful coastal setting of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and a trip to the world-famous Tivoli Gardens; Copenhagen has all the makings of a fantastic winter wonder!
Lofoten Islands, Norway
Snowy mountains, the iconic red cosy cabins and a chance to see the Northern Light? The Lofoten Island in Norway might be the perfect winter destination for you. Susan from This Big Wild World couldn’t agree more:
Winter isn’t new to me. I’ve lived most of my life in snowy places but winter was always something I tolerated. Then I visited the Lofoten Islands in Norway and my entire perspective shifted.
The fjords of Norway are dramatic. The jet black rock formations shoot straight up out of the bright blue water. Now imagine that landscape coated in a layer of white snow. It’s literally a landscape straight from your dreams. Now add in the quintessential bright red and yellow Norwegian cabins dotted along the countryside and that is Lofoten in a nutshell. What’s the best way to enjoy this snow-dusted landscape? Winter hiking! Seriously, bundle up and get your heart rate pumping by exploring the fjords of the Lofoten Islands by foot. Two of my favourite hikes were Mt Ryten and Mannen. Bring your crampons, though, because the trails will be icy!
After a day of hiking, spend your nights in the Lofoten Islands chasing the northern lights. I stayed up till 3 SM watching them dance above my cabin! It was a truly magical experience that I’ll never forget. For the best chance to see the northern lights, visit the Lofoten Islands between late September and late March. Download an app, like My Aurora Forecast, to help you track the visibility of the northern lights during your visit so you don’t miss out on the action. As I said, I wasn’t a winter person, so I had no idea what to expect from the Lofoten Islands in March. As it turns out, it’s not just the cold that took my breath away!
What could be a more iconic European winter destination than crossing into the Arctic Circle and the Northern Lights? Laura from Adrift Aesthetic shares her favourite things about Abisko in Sweden:
It may sound daunting and frigid, but the experience is 100% worth it. For your next winter trip, consider heading north to Abisko, a small, remote town in the tip-top of Sweden. Easily accessible by an 18-hour overnight train from Stockholm or via plane to the nearby town of Kiruna, Abisko is the place to be in the winter. The best part? The almost 80% guarantee that you’ll see the Northern Lights if you stay for three or more days. Being surrounded by mountains, the weather in Abisko is often clear, giving you a front-row seat to the Aurora Borealis almost every night. Guided tours after the sun goes down into Abisko National Park will shield you from any light pollution and provide the most pristine viewing experience.
When you’re not out hunting for the lights, there is still plenty to explore during the day. Trying ice climbing up a frozen waterfall or dog sledding for the first time, or go hiking and ice fishing along frozen lakes. You can also take day trips to the world-famous Swedish Ice Hotel or head to nearby Narvik, Norway to experience a Norwegian fjord town. All of these trips can be scheduled with local tour companies that will pick you up directly from your hotel or hostel. With the fresh mountain air and perfect white blanket of snow outside, you’ll quickly forget how cold it is and will realize what makes travelling to the Arctic Circle so special.
Another must-visit in Scandinavia is Finland’s capital, Helsinki. Laura from A Finn On The Loose shares why you should consider visiting her home country this winter:
Although Helsinki is located on the opposite side of Finland from Santa Claus’ home, it sustains the same great elements that make Northern European cities amazing to visit in the wintertime. Helsinki promises you a gorgeous and romantic snowy backdrop, with warmer temperatures in comparison to Northern Finland’s destinations.
The absolute best time to visit Helsinki is right before Christmas, when the city lights up in anticipation of Christmas, including a gorgeous Christmas Market – complete with a carousel – in front of the Helsinki Cathedral. In general, while Helsinki may be livelier and crowded in the summertime, it is incredibly gorgeous to see when it’s covered in snow, under all of the winter lights set up around the city centre. One particularly beautiful spot in Helsinki to visit in the wintertime is “Suomenlinna”, an island fortress on Helsinki’s archipelago, which you can easily reach by ferry departing from the Market Square. In the summertime, Suomenlinna is a popular picnic destination, but it’s at its most beautiful when there’s snow everywhere.
On your way to or back from Suomenlinna, do not forget to browse around the Market Square as well, as it boasts several stalls selling winter season souvenirs and some delicious local dishes, in addition to the hot coffee, tea and glug beverage options that are perfect for warming up. As the locals are accustomed to long, and often snowy, winters, you are guaranteed to be in good hands if you choose to visit Helsinki during its winter months!
What better place to spend some time this winter than one of Europe’s best medieval cities, Krakow? The Globe Trotter share their tips:
Krakow is considered as one of Europe’s most beautiful medieval cities. Small, compact and tourist-friendly. The whole city is like a museum. Krakow’s Old Town is on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list and with its cobbled streets, stunning architecture and buildings, bars and lovely cafes, it is not surprising why.
Krakow is one of Poland’s most popular and most visited cities and while it is fantastic to visit all year round, winter is a special time to visit this city. Yes, it is very cold but with proper clothing, you can protect yourself from the winter conditions. Krakow’s Christmas market, which usually runs from the last week of November to the last week of December, is a big draw. The festivities add to the city’s unique atmosphere. With hundreds of stalls to visit, visitors can shop and eat until their heart’s content. In addition to souvenirs and gifts, the market stalls sell a variety of local sweets like Polish cookies, cream fudge and Christmas themed candies. Winter season is also the perfect time to sample local mulled wine which is called “Grzaniec Galicyjski” or sample some Polish hot beer!
Most of Krakow’s tourist attractions remain open in the colder months although some of them do close a little earlier than normal. The advantage of visiting in winter is that you will avoid the peak tourist crowds. Krakow is as beautiful during winter as it is during other seasons of the year and works amazingly well as a winter destination.
Travelling a little bit away from Krakow, you can find another perfect European winter destination in Poland: Zakopane. Holly from Four Around The World shows us why you should consider visiting this storybook-like destination this winter:
When planning a winter break with our family, Zakopane in Poland is always the first place we think of! This beautiful town not too far from Krakow is surrounded by the Tatra Mountains which are snow-capped during winter.
Zakopane looks like the pages of a children’s storybook during winter, with wooden houses and sloped roofs, surrounded by a layer of snow. Best of all is when the town is decorated ready for Christmas. There is plenty to do for the whole family in Zakopane. Start with a wander down the main street and end up at the market where you can find unique gifts and souvenirs.
Take the funicular up Mt Gubawoka for incredible views. There are often stalls up the top where you can enjoy delicious traditional Polish food. This is also a great place for beginner ski lessons too.
Being at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, do not miss the chance to go up Kasprowy Wierch. There is a cable car that will take you to the top where you can enjoy incredible views and walks, or if you are competent at skiing or snowboarding, this is one to conquer as one of the largest Tatra Mountains. There is also a restaurant to warm up afterwards.
Another great thing to do is visit the Chocholow Thermal Baths, with 30 different pools and mountain views while you soak in the heated thermal water. Otherwise, make the most of the snow sport opportunities with skiing and snowboarding, or tobogganing fun for all ages
Dagney from Cultura Obscura recommends the snowy capital of Estonia on the Baltic Sea, Tallinn. The cobblestoned Old Town’s atmosphere only gets amplified by the layer of snow. A lovely destination for a getaway this winter.
Visiting Tallinn in winter is hands down the best time to go! The beautiful old town, which is often swarming in the summers, becomes relatively quiet and devoid of people. When it snows or mists over, the views from the Patkuli viewing platform are absolutely enchanting.
Since it will feel like you have the old town to yourself, make sure to wander through the ancient walls. It’s small, but you can spend a few hours admiring the architecture and the many colourful doors. During December, a Christmas market is set up in the old town square and it comes to life with lights and festivities. Although it gets pretty chilly, you can easily warm up over a cup of glögg.
Of course, the old town isn’t the only place worth visiting. Be sure to head to the alternative district of Kalamaja for street art, wonderful independent cafes and the Telliskivi Creative City. Tallinn also has over 40 museums throughout the city. They range in topic from local history and the KGB to modern art, photography and film. A real highlight is the KGB Museum located in the Hotel Viru.
If you’re more into winter-specific activities or looking to enjoy nature, you will need to get outside of Tallinn. Some of the unique winter activities available include dog sledding, bog skating and winter kitesurfing.
Moldova is probably one of the least visited countries in Europe, but there is so much to do and see! Ellis from Backpack Adventures shares one of her favourite European winter destinations: Chisinau in Moldova.
Chisinau is a wonderful European winter destination. Yes, it will be cold. But also dry and sunny. If you dress appropriately, the weather allows you to do all kinds of activities. The capital of Moldova is also a great base to explore one of the least visited countries in Europe.
The main attraction in winter is Chisinau’s Christmas market that runs well into January. This is because Chisinau celebrates Christmas and new year twice. Those that are closer to the Romanian orthodox church celebrate Christmas on the 24th and 25th of December, but those that follow the Russian orthodox church celebrate Christmas on the 7th of January. For the same reason, there are two New Years Eves.
The Christmas Fair is a lot of fun. You can find carol singers, traditional handcrafts and delicious food. It’s a great place to try some Moldovan specialities. Moldova has a great quality of wine and just outside the city are some of Europe’s oldest and largest wine cellars. Therefore, the mulled wine called “izvar” is not just your regular Christmas market drink. It is the best in Europe. Besides the wine, there are also pastries called “placinta“. These are filled with things like cherries, cheese, potatoes and/or cabbage.
If you are lucky, there will be snow that turns the city and the surrounding countryside into a winter wonderland. The villages are an excellent place to see some of the Christmas traditions like local children going door to door to sing Christmas songs. There are several ancient monasteries and wine cellars just outside of Chisinau that are well worth a visit. Making these day trips are a great way to see more of the village life as well. Find out more things to do in Chisinau in Ellis’ blogpost!
A beautiful hidden gem in Bulgaria acts as the perfect winter destination. Not as crowded as Bansko or Borovets, and therefor even nicer, Pamporovo is recommended by Bistra and Nace from The Magic Of Traveling:
With winter at our doorstep, it’s only natural to start planning your winter escapes. Snowy holidays or just dreaming of nice places we can visit because we can’t afford to go on vacation this winter. Well, we’ve got you covered in any of the above cases – Pamporovo resort in Bulgaria is the perfect winter destination. It is one of the biggest Bulgarian winter resorts, but it’s no so popular with foreign tourists like Bansko and Borovets. You can have some slopes all to yourself, you can hike the amazing Rdohope mountains, you can go for cross-country skiing or just indulge in typical Bulgarian meals to your heart’s content.
But what if you’re out of vacation days? A lovely co-working igloo allows you to combine your remote work with skiing and snowboarding! The igloo is located right at the end of the slope, making it easy to switch from work to hit the slopes! It’s as simple as that. To make your stay even more experiential, you can stay in an igloo as well, or in an old-school caravan.
If you’re looking for a bit off-the-beaten-path destination for your winter holiday or just a place to work from and change the scenery, then visiting Pamporovo is a perfect idea. It combines the beauty of the mountains with some fresh air, the possibility to enjoy winter sports and gastronomy, and the opportunity to work with the most motivation view ever.
What’s the first place that comes to mind when thinking of the perfect winter destination in Europe? Iceland? You’re not alone! Iceland has become more and more popular over the last few years. Victoria from The Tall Wanderer explains why!
In Europe, nowhere screams winter destination more than Iceland… it even has “ice” in its name! This sparsely populated island is known as the “Land of Fire and Ice“. The “Ice” represents its cold climate and the “Fire” its volcanic activity. Geysers, natural hot springs and active volcanoes, can all be found in Iceland, even the hot water smells of sulphur! For me, it’s the natural wonders such as these, often covered in crisp white snow, that are Iceland’s biggest attraction.
Whilst natural attractions from waterfalls and glaciers are scattered right across Iceland, many can be seen in the well-developed and easily accessible South-West of the country. It’s this region that is perfect for first-timers. It’s where one of Iceland’s biggest attractions is located: the Golden Circle. This 230km route can be driven in a day and takes in sites such as Gulfoss waterfall, natural Geysers and Þingvellir National Park. The latter is a filming location for Game of Thrones. Tours operate daily, but if you’re feeling a little more adventurous, I’d recommend hiring a 4×4 and driving the route yourself!
Basing yourself in Reykjavik (Iceland’s capital) is ideal and only a short trip from the International Airport. Reykjavik is a beautiful city and small enough to explore on foot. It’s rich in history but is also a city that has grown a lot in the last decade as tourism has exploded, with shiny new buildings such as the Harpa (Opera House) on the seafront. Icelanders need lots of hot food to get them through the cold days. The food we experienced was VERY tasty, with rich and smokey flavours. A great place to start is Hlemmur mathöll, an old bus station converted into a collection of food stalls, perfect for trying lots of little dishes!
St. Petersburg, Russia
Russian vodka will keep you warm while exploring this beautiful city: Saint Petersburg. Founded in 1703 and home to many historic and cultural highlights. Rai from A Rai Of Light tells us more:
Sure Saint Petersburg is cold and dark in winter. But so is the rest of Europe! What makes this imperial city stand apart is the wonderful atmosphere with many attractions and things to do in St. Petersburg at this time of the year.
Considered the cultural capital of Russia, the historic centre of St. Petersburg and surroundings are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Be seduced by beautiful views of frozen canals and rivers while discovering a city full of unique architectural monuments and sculptures. The city has a long history, dating back to the early 1700s and it has gained a multitude of artistic and architectural treasures. There are also plenty of outdoor activities, cultural events, and Russian celebrations during this time. If it’s too cold to be outside, there’s a lot to keep you busy indoors. No visit to the city is complete without a stop at the Mariinsky Theatre, the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace, housing one of the world’s largest collection of historic items.
While snowy Prague, icy glaciers and the Northern Light may sound like a fairytale come true, Europe also has something for those who’d rather escape the cold! Mario from Rest And Recuperation recommends Valletta, Malta during the winter:
There is only one thing I like more than spending some time at the beach in summer. I am talking about having a walking on the same beach in winter. I cannot say what makes me like so much typically summer destinations with non-normal cold weather. Probably the contradiction between what should be warm and is cold.
One of the best destinations like this is Malta, the little archipelago in the central Mediterranean. From April to October is one of the main tourist destinations in southern Europe and North Africa. In winter it empties and becomes much more liveable. Temperatures are bearable compared to the summer heat.
My favourite spot in Malta is Valletta, the capital city. It is small and occupies a one-kilometre peninsula which creates a safe natural harbour that made of it a very strategic place in history. You can walk all around the town and see the main attractions in just a few hours. After visiting the city, stop at some of its beautiful street bars to enjoy a drink, or head to one of its gardens to read a book with a view on the southern or northern harbour.
The days after, you can have a day-excursion to Gozo or visit other spots of Malta. There is the ancient capital of Mdina, also goes under the name of “Silent City“. The vibrant St. Julian’s and Sliema, ideal for some party and social life. The quiet and beautiful Three Cities south of Valletta. Or you can visit one of its wonderful beaches, including Ghajn Tuffieha, Golden Bay, St. Peter’s Pool, or Ghadira Bay. Malta is always a good choice for summer holidays, but trust me and visit it in winter, you will not regret it!
Although technically being closer to Africa than Europe, the Canary Islands are part of Spain – so it deserves a place in this list! Hannah from Pages Places and Plates tells us why these islands are perfect during the winter months:
The Canary Islands are the perfect winter holiday destination– with African sun and gorgeous beaches, why would you choose anywhere else? My favourite island to visit, Fuerteventura, offers stunning volcanic vistas and some amazing excursions – water sports, dune exploration, and whale watching trips, to name a few. If you want a little more greenery, La Gomera is a perfect choice as it’s covered with luscious laurel forests. For vibrant and busy Spanish culture, Tenerife and Gran Canaria are wonderful options. Both offer so much variety and winter paradise. Or, if you want to experience a truly alien landscape, Lanzarote is fascinating with its volcanic tours and breath-taking lava tubes.
We always choose to visit the Canaries in winter as it’s one of the warmest places to go and brings so much more sunshine and joy than the wet and windy winters of the UK. As neither of us are big on Christmas we love the Canary Islands as their Christmas Day is very different – everything is still open and you can eat whatever you want for dinner (fried goat is my favourite), followed by some Christmas sunbathing on the beach! If you’re a bit more festive then it’s still an excellent choice – spend Christmas at home with family, then visit the Canaries at the start of January to celebrate their other Christmas, Los Reyos Magos, with street processions and even more presents. For a unique holiday filled with summer vibes, the Canary Islands offer everything you need and more. A perfect break away from an otherwise grey winter!
Convinced yet? Are there any European winter destinations that we missed in this post? Share your favourites in the comments!
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