The Best Winter City Breaks Europe has to Offer

The Best Winter City Breaks Europe has to Offer

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Winter can seem like the time of year to hunker down, give the passport a break and hold off on travels – but it’s NOT. In fact, winter is a great time for a city break in Europe. Winter city breaks are perfect because the short days and colder weather mean you can find great travel deals. When it comes to winter city breaks, Europe serves up Christmas markets, mulled wine, ice skating and more. European cities a winter wonderland and you can do a lot of activities that aren’t available in the summer months.

 

There’s more than just Christmas time and new year travel too, the winter months are incredible for traveling and enjoying the other side of some favorite destinations. Some holiday destinations in Europe even offer winter sun! Here’s a breakdown of Europe’s top winter holiday destinations that are just waiting for you to plan a city break. We asked top travel influencers from around the world to share their favorite getaway spots in Europe during the winter season – and it’s a great list! So check it out, get inspired and don’t let the cold or snow stop you from planning a few winter city break holidays.

Stephanie from Sofia Adventures

If you’re looking for a great place to get out and explore, make sure to add Athens, Greece to your list! The city has been one of the world’s most important cultural centers for millennia. That means Athens it is jam-packed with tourists in the middle of the high season. Instead, book a city break to Athens in winter!

You can enjoy visiting the city’s most important sites without having to fight the crowds. Visit the Acropolis, Karameikos Cemetery, and Syntagma Square at your own pace. Athens‘s winter weather is warmer than the rest of the continent, but there are still occasional bouts of snow. If you do need to escape the cold while here, you can duck into one of the city’s world-class museums. Start with the Acropolis Museum, which offers fabulous views of the Acropolis from inside the warm museum.

Other fabulous Athens winter activities include visiting the nearby islands of Hydra and Aegina. You’ll also love enjoying the sunset at Mount Lycabettus, and sipping Greek wine on a wine tour. If you visit during December, you can stop by the Athens Christmas Market. You can also see some of the city’s charming cafes decorated for Christmas.

Belfast, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

winter city breaks europe belfast

Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor

In the past Belfast was one of those cities to avoid with the past troubles and uncertainty in the city. These days it has come on leaps and bounds. It’s a new and exciting city break with the rejuvenation of the city’s main tourist sites. I always find Belfast at its best in the winter months when the city comes to life. It’s the festive period in the city when it’s dressed with lights and holiday baubles. Much of the excitement in the city is found around the central city hall, which plays host to the Belfast Christmas Market. It makes the perfect backdrop to the city at that time.

Belfast is also a city with contrasts, where the Lagan riverside remains serene through the winter months. It’s perfect for a romantic stroll, while other parts of the city centre are bustling with nightlife. The famous Irish Bars of the city are the perfect places to escape the cold. The traditional Irish bars are found around Saint Anne’s Cathedral and the entertainment areas of the Cathedral Quarter. There is a lively student scene around the Botanic area of Belfast and the majestic buildings of Queen’s University. There are also vibrant shopping scenes around Donegall Place and the central shops of Victoria Square shopping mall.

Budapest, Hungary

winter city breaks europe budapest chain bridge and parliament

Clyde from What Blogs Her Mind

The first time I visited Budapest, Hungary was in 2017. I loved it. The second time was in 2018 and it was a bit longer than the first time. During that time I saw more of the place and the people. It was a frosty December in Budapest, but I enjoyed the warmth in a place where I least expected it. Forget about the Christmas markets, they are almost everywhere in Berlin, where I live. 

Despite the thick snowy days in Budapest, there are reasons to leave the comfort of your home and explore the neighborhood. The city has been divided by the river Danube into two, Buda and Pest. Buda is the hilly part of the city whereas Pest is the flat part of the Hungarian capital.

 Exploring the city square, the Széll Kálmán Tér, didn’t seem like a bad idea at all. It was so refreshing to explore the Buda side of the city. There, you have a spectacular view of the city. The best part of cold weather is indulging yourself with a cup of coffee afterwards. Hungarians are known to be coffee lovers and you shouldn’t be surprised to see plenty of cafés in the city. 

Copenhagen, Denmark

winter city breaks europe copenhagen

Our Destination Site – Everything Copenhagen

Copenhagen is a fantastic destination for a winter city break. When you’re there, you’ll be surprised at the number of things to do in Copenhagen in winter. For most of the winter in Copenhagen, you’ll find early sunsets and windy, gray weather. The temperatures are colder than the summer months, but there isn’t often measurable snow. 

To guarantee winter snow in Copenhagen, you can head to Tivoli Gardens. There you’ll have the beautiful decorations which include artificial snow. It may not be enough to ski on, but Copenhagen can still offer urban skiing. That’s because of Copenhill, the exciting new indoor ski slope in Copenhagen. Copenhagen also offers many places to escape the colder temperatures. Head to the National Museum or book a ticket for the Hop on, Hop off bus in Copenhagen. Both are great options to keep warm and learn more about Copenhagen and Denmark during winter.

Florence, Italy

Richard from Go 4 Travel Blog

The city of Florence, Italy is popular not just during the busy summer period, but also during the chilly winter months.

Thanks to the almost unlimited number of museums and attractions in Florence and surrounds, you can enjoy a number of interesting, educational, social, cultural attractions indoors, or rug up and enjoy the outdoor museum that is Florence! 

Here are just a few of the more popular indoor attractions to explore in Florence during Winter…

  1. Palazzo Vecchio – originally created to house the government organizations of the republic, it was later upgraded and became the home of the wealthy banking family of Florence, the Medici. Nowadays it has returned to its original purpose, housing the offices of local government. It is also a popular tourist attraction for the millions that visit Florence annually. 
  2. Florence Duomo – the city’s centerpiece is the great Cathedral of Florence known as Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. The classic orange dome created by Brunelleschi in 1436 sits atop the cathedral which houses over 750 works of art. Adjacent to the cathedral is Giotto’s bell tower and just 20m away is the Baptistery of Saint John. It has famous Bronze Doors created by Lorenzo Ghiberti which Michelangelo referred to as the Gates of Paradise.
  3. Pitti Palace and Bobili Gardens – the former home of the ruling family of Florence, the Medici. The Pitti Palace is a must-see sight in Florence with hundreds of works of art including paintings and sculptures. See how the Medici lived before you venture out into the stunning Bobili Gardens. That’s where you’ll discover manicured grounds, sculptures and stunning vistas of the city of Florence.

These are just a few of the famous attractions to explore on your winter visit to Florence, Italy. And if you’ve got a day spare, join a tour group and drive out into the Tuscan countryside in an original Fiat in red or yellow to cap off your winter getaway to one of the most beautiful regions in the world!

Kiev, Ukraine

winter city breaks europe kiev

Kyiv (or Kiev) is a perfect winter destination for a fun city break. The city is full of layers of history and you can retrace them by visiting the gorgeous landmarks of Kyiv. Churches, monasteries, palaces and memorials dot the lanscape of the city of Kyiv. You can’t miss the tremendous sight of Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and Saint Andrew’s Church. You’ll be blown away by Mariyinsky Palace, one of the most beautiful structures in all of Ukraine.

Besides the buildings and relics of the past, Kyiv has a vibrant and growing social scene. The city is full of delicious restaurants. They offer traditional Ukrainian culinary experiences as well as tastes of other exotic cuisines. There is also a fantastic cocktail scene in Kyiv where you can enjoy cutting edge mixology while escaping the cold temperatures. 

No matter how cold it may be during the winter months, you’ll be warmed by the hospitality of locals. The young democracy in Eastern Europe is an exciting place to visit any time of the year because of the amazing people of Kyiv..

Lisbon, Portugal

winter city breaks europe lisbon portugal

Cath from Passports and Adventures

If you are looking to escape the depths of winter, then the capital city of Portugal is the place to go. Although Lisbon sits on the Atlantic west coast of Portugal, this vibrant capital city remains warm during the winter days compared to many of its northern counterparts. 

Day time average temperatures are 16C/61F, but you can often get days reaching 20C/68F with plenty of sunshine. That’s not to say you won’t need a pullover or coat, especially in the mornings, and you could encounter some rain. But compared to countries in Europe outside of the Iberian Peninsula, Lisbon is a very pleasant place to be in winter.

Not only is the weather pleasant, but there are also lots of things to do in Lisbon for all types of travelers, be they solo, couples, retired or even if you are visiting Lisbon with kids. And because it is the capital city, tourist attractions, restaurants and cafes remain open, unlike many in the Algarve or other regions of the country which close for winter.

Among the top places to visit in Lisbon are Belém Tower and the Jerónimos Monastery. The Castelo de São Jorge is a great place to visit with some great views across the city, and one hidden gem of Lisbon visible from the castle, and worth a visit, is the Carmo Convent. This former Catholic convent is hidden off a square in Lisbon and is a magnificent place to visit, if only to wonder at the structure and missing roof. If you want to visit the castle, take the famous Tram 28 from one of its starting points in the city to secure a seat, otherwise, you might not even be able to get on the tram at other stops as it becomes full very quickly.

If you want to venture outside of the city, you can enjoy a day trip to Sintra, including the beautiful Pena Palace. Or venture a bit further afield and take in the three UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Tomar, Batalha, and Alcobaça. You won’t be short of places to visit both within and outside of Lisbon during the winter months.

<<< Check out our Gay Guide to Lisbon HERE

Ljubljana , Slovenia

winter city breaks europe ljubljana

Joanna from The World in My Pocket

Ljubljana is a great place to visit in winter. The small capital of Slovenia transforms into a fairy tale land when it is covered by snow. There are still plenty of things to do and see in Ljubljana in winter, and my favourite includes plenty of hot chocolate.

After visiting Ljubljana castle and taking in the beautiful panoramic views over the city, head over to the cute café inside the courtyard and warm yourself up with a mug of hot chocolate and a homemade cake. One thing I love about Ljubljana is the large number of cafes and cake shops spread around the city.

Even if it’s winter, you can still enjoy a boat ride down the river and admire the city from the water. Ljubljana is also known for its foodie events, so check out what’s on ahead. If you like beer, you can always visit the most famous brewery in the country, Union, where you can enjoy a pint of freshly brewed pivo (as beer is known in Slovenian).

In the evening, head over to one of the underground cosy bars in the city centre and warm up by listening to a live performance. 

From Ljubljana you can always visit Lake Bled in winter, which a merely an hour away and makes a perfect natural escape from the city.

Paris, France

Kate from Our Escape Clause

Visiting Paris in winter may raise your odds of experiencing gray skies and damp weather, but it also boasts an excellent opportunity to experience the city with two of its biggest obstacles significantly lowered: crowds and prices.

There’s no doubt that Paris in winter is a much less crowded city than Paris in the summer, and it the hotel prices are anything to go by, it’s a (comparative) bargain–in fact, you can visit Paris in the winter for a much lower price than you can in August!

Sure, blooming flowers will be a thing of a past, but there are plenty of fun things to do in Paris during the winter that will leave you utterly enchanted with the city: enjoy iconic attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre with a fraction of the crowds, sip a hot chocolate at Angelina’s, sit in a cafe and watch the world go by (they have plenty of heaters outside!), explore Paris’ covered passages, hit the winter sales, and give one of Paris’ ice-skating rinks a try.

Of course, indulging in course after course of delicious French food is a must while in Paris, and warm, hearty dishes like onion soup, confit de canard, and even the omnipresent crepe all taste a bit better when it’s chilly outside.

Riga, Latvia

what to do in Riga - house of the blackheads

Tina from Manhattanite

Art Nouveau architecture, interesting history, great food, shopping, relaxing spas & fun activities. This baltic gem has it all.

If you’ve never visited Riga before you’ve really been missing out. The Latvian capital is nothing less than gorgeous and it’s a great choice for your next winter adventure. Winters can get quite cold in this former Soviet state, but as long as you remember to wear a warm coat and a hat you’ll be fine – you’ll be enjoying yourself too much to care anyways. Experiencing Riga during winter season includes less crowds than during the busy summer months, and you’ll also notice that both flights & accommodation are much more affordable as well.

As Riga offers a lot of various activities it is a suitable destination for a relaxing spa weekend with your better half, a lovely and budget friendly trip with your kids, or an adventurous and fun weekend with a group of friends – the perfect winter break destination no matter what you’re looking for.

Some things to do in Riga:

  • Relax at a spa. Riga is famous for it’s many spas and you can find spas in all price ranges
  • Have a walk in Old Town Riga, the historical center of the city. With it’s narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful Medieval buildings it is truly the most charming area of the Latvian capital.
  • Visit St Peter’s Church for the best view of Riga from above. This lovely church from the 1200s has a complicated history and it’s 123 meter high tower has been rebuilt several times.
  • Join the locals and shop at Riga Central Market, Europe’s largest bazaar and market.
  • Shop at one of Riga’s many malls like Galerija Centrs, Alfa Centrs or Stockmann
  • Try some delicious local food at one of Riga’s amazing restaurants like Domini Canes or Lidojosa Varde.
  • Do a group activity like visiting an Escape Room or go to a shooting range.
  • Get a cup of coffee to go and stroll the streets while enjoying the wonderful Art Nouveau architecture. More than a third of the city’s buildings are examples of this beautiful and detailed design form. Check out Alberta Iela, Elizabetes Iela and Strēlnieku Iela for the best views, and visit Rasols for some Soviet dishes when you’re ready for lunch.

<<<Read our City Guide for Riga HERE

<<<Check out our guide of 25 things to do in Riga HERE

Rome, Italy

winter city breaks europe rome

Marta from Mama Loves Rome

Rome is a fantastic destination for a winter city break. With the exception of the Christmas weeks, when tourism is at a peak, the coldest months of the year are low season in the Eternal city. The crowds are gone, the locals come out and the city shows off its true soul: intimate, messy and immensely charming.

If you are visiting Rome between December and March, you will have to wrap up with a winter coat and shoes but you will still be able to go sightseeing. The Colosseum tends to be blissfully quiet in winter and the same can be said for Rome historical piazzas and the Pantheon: even the Vatican museums get quieter at this time, an absolute rarity!

Another reason to love Rome in the winter are the city’s beautiful interiors. Many associate Rome with summer drinks al fresco but the most authentic heart of the city can often be found around the dark wooden tables of its enoteche, wine bars serving earthy Roman food. Enoteche are very popular and the best places to spend an evening in Rome and taste some of Rome’s most delicious winter staples: carbonara (pasta), trippa (meat), tiramisu are delicious in Rome and perfect in cold weather. 

Winter in general and January in particular is also a great time to go shopping. Sales start on the 6th of January and are the best opportunity to load up on Italian designer clothes and high street finds. Head to Via del Corso, in the city center, for the best shops and, should rain catch you out, hop into one of Rome’a many churches: they are a wonderful escape! 

Seville, Spain

winter city breaks europe seville

Michael from The World Was Here First

The city of Seville, located in the Andalucía region of Southern Spain, makes for one of the best winter city breaks in Europe. Not only is the city packed with amazing historical attractions and an unbelievable culinary scene, but the city’s high temperatures stay around 15-20 degrees Celsius, making it one of the warmest places to visit in Europe during winter.

There is plenty to keep you occupied in the city, meaning you can easily spend a few days in Seville and not run out of things to do. Visiting in winter also means you don’t have to deal with extreme heat that you get when coming in summer!

Make sure to take the time to explore the city’s famous historical attractions such as the Seville Cathedral, Alcazar and Plaza de Espana. Enjoy some of the great food markets such as the Mercado de Triana and while you’re on the other side of the river, hop into one of the many fabulous tapas bars or enjoy a flamenco show in the evening.

Seville is also a great base to explore nearby cities such as Cordoba, Cadiz, Jerez or hill towns like Ronda. All in all, Seville is a perfect winter city break due to its mild climate and plethora of things to do!

<<<Read about more destinations in Spain HERE

Valletta. Malta

winter city breaks europe valletta

Tara from Tara’s Travels

Valletta is the perfect winter escape destination. As the capital of Malta, it is the epitome a Mediterranean capital with history, perfect weather, amazing scenery and delicious food. Especially those looking to spend some time outside without getting frostbite, Valletta is best explored by foot, and the rest of the island offers beautiful coastal walks. 

Malta’s history dates back to prehistoric times, and the capital Valletta was at its height during the baroque era of knights and maritime battles. Therefore the city is full of museums with ancient relics documenting these epic events, but much of it is preserved so you can actually take tours that explore the old tunnels, palaces and buildings that were once in use. Valletta as a whole doesn’t look like it has changed much since those times.

If you aren’t a history geek, maybe the mild weather (rarely below 12 degrees) and delicious cuisine will entice you. Valletta is a foodie’s playground and the Maltese cuisine is fresh and plentiful. Add a sunny terrace and live music in a vaulted cellar, and the atmosphere can’t be beat. Otherwise you can enjoy the sunshine and sumptuous cuisine during a walk along the rugged Mediterranean coastline. With easy and scenic hikes that end in beautiful bays and local restaurants. 

Valletta is quite small for a capital city, which is why it is perfect for a weekend getaway. While if you are looking for a longer escape from the cold, you can base yourself in Valletta and explore the rest of Malta as the entire island is about the size of London and offers plenty of other winter attractions. The colder months in Valletta are some of the best times to visit as you miss the busy summer crowds and the temperatures incredibly pleasant. 

Venice, Italy

winter city breaks venice italy

David from Delve Into Europe

Venice, Italy in winter is magical. It’s cold, especially if you’re on a boat out in the middle of the lagoon, but in many ways it’s the best time of year to visit Venice and experience it without the mass tourism that spoils it in the warmer months.

Winter – especially January – is low season in Venice. It’s the one time of year when hotel prices plummet. It is a notoriously expensive city, but for these few weeks it becomes relatively affordable. Rooms in the central San Marco district that go for $250-300 a night in spring or summer go for as little as $50-60.

If you visit Venice in winter, you won’t encounter any crowds either. It might get busy around popular spots like Rialto and St Mark’s Square, but the rest of the city is almost empty. You can explore the many backstreets and canals, having much of the city almost to yourself. You get to see why Venice became so popular in the first place – without the people. You can also go straight into museums like the Doge’s Palace and galleries like the Accademia, rather than waste an irksome hour or two queuing to get in.

The winter weather also adds to Venice’s sheen of beauty. If you walk along the Riva degli Schiavoni waterfront you may well get to see one of the magnificent sunsets behind the churches of San Giorgio Maggiore and Santa Maria della Salute. Or head for the Rialto bridge and watch the silhouetted gondolas drift down the Grand Canal, the water lit up by the fiery sky.

Vienna, Austria

winter city breaks europe vienna

Chrysoula from Travel Passionate

It a well-known fact that Vienna makes a perfect destination for December thanks to its incredible Christmas market, but is it a good location for the rest of the winter season? It turns out, yes it is! Vienna is a picture-perfect destination year-round with its classic architecture being even more beautiful in the winter months when it is doused with a light smattering of snow.

Thankfully for us travelers, Vienna has plenty of things to keep us entertained when the weather is chilly, from the plethora of galleries and museums to the alluring coffee shops that not only look beautiful but also serve up some of the world’s best drinks and desserts!

Visitors to Vienna in winter can enjoy the sights of the city from the top of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, take a walk through the snow-kissed grounds of the Schönbrunn Palace and explore the city streets with a walking tour, before warming up with a Viennese coffee or hot chocolate in coffee houses such as Café Sacher or Demel patisserie.

One of the great things about Vienna’s galleries and museums is that they tick more than one box. Not only are they packed with history and culture, but the buildings that house them are an attraction in themselves and they make the ideal destination for warming up when the cold Austrian winter is chilling your bones! Explore The Kunsthistorisches Museum, The Albertina, the Natural History Museum and The Freud Museum for an intriguing mix of art, history and psychology too.

Zadar, Croatia

Diana from The Elusive Family

Zadar is located on the coast of northern Croatia and is one of the best getaways in the winter for anyone looking to experience the Croatian culture with less tourists.  Croatia gets busy in the summer, especially in the major cities like Split and Dubrovnik, made popular by the Game of Thrones series.  Zadar, however, while also one of Croatia’s largest cities, has a unique charm to it unlike the other cities.

One of the most famous and popular things to see in Zadar is the sea organ.  The sea organ is carved into the rock along the sea and the waves lap into it creating an echoing noise that imitates the sound of an organ. Visitors can sit right above it and listen as the sea and rock create a beautiful random melody.  

Zadar also has Roman ruins in the city courtyards which make for a fascinating walk and learning experience. The city’s prime location also provides travelers an opportunity to take a boat to one of the nearby islands.

Zadar is also a perfect base for exploring other parts of Croatia including the famous Plitvice and Krka National Parks, both of which can be an easy day trip from Zadar.  Plitvice is the larger of the two parks and more ell known, while Krka is further south and smaller, and easily accessible as well.

Derek Hartman

Derek Hartman is an American expat from Philadelphia, currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark. His blog, Robe Trotting focuses on travel, expatriation and lifestyle topics.

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