Looking for the best European cities to visit in winter or inspiration on the best Europe in Winter destinations?
Do you LOVE travelling in winter? We definitely do- although we argue over whether we need sunshine, snow or Northern Lights! Our favourite time for winter travel is January/ February after the Christmas excitement has faded and we need a little something to look forward to!
So we’ve compiled a selection of our favourite European cities to visit in Winter- we hope you find something to tempt you for a winter break!
What are the best European City breaks in Winter?
Truth be told, there are a LOAD of options for winter city breaks in Europe– and the perfect option for you will depend on what sort of city break you want to experience.
If you want a Winter European weekend city break, the best option is going to be a city with an airport which offers direct connection near you- otherwise you’ll lose half of your weekend travelling!
If you have a little longer, look for something which fulfils a dream or need- do you want Winter sunshine (think countries near the Equator or in the Southern Hemisphere), Northern Lights (go closer to the pole) or skiing/ snow- Europe has LOTS of mountains!
Here are some of our favourite European cities to visit in winter for all tastes! We’ll start with my personal favourite- winter Sunshine!
Europe in Winter- 7 Best European cities to visit in Winter for sunshine & culture
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but not many places in Europe are warm during Winter, especially January- March. Sure, you might get sunny days, but there are a LOT of cold winds which brings the average temperature down significantly.
HOWEVER, travelling Europe in winter can be the perfect time to see some of the busiest and more congested cities in Europe. Places where you normally can’t move for bodies or get close to the magnificent attractions are PERFECT places to visit in winter.
You may wander around wearing a warm coat instead of shorts, but don’t let that put you off- there are some of the best winter city breaks in Europe. Even better, flights and accommodation are often half the price- so you can see more for less!
While the Greek Islands are quiet in the winter, Athens is buzzing year-round. The city is a tourist hotspot due to the year-round Mediterranean cruise ships which dock nearby.
Winter is the perfect time to visit Athens since the city boasts sunny days and mild temperatures. It’s tied with Madrid for sunniest city in Europe, boasting a dazzling 350 days of sunshine annually.
This is the perfect time to visit the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum where centuries of history and priceless artefacts are displayed.
There’s also a free walking tour on the Rick Steves app to help you get acquainted with monuments you’ll see throughout the neighbourhoods — history is everywhere.
If you want to experience a taste of island life in the city then visit Anafiotika, a residential neighbourhood with whitewashed walls and scenic alleyways that is a hidden oasis.
Athens makes the perfect base for day trips or winter weekend escapes. You could take a train to the Oracle of Delphi or wander north to Meteora, a UNESCO World Heritage Sore and Game of Thrones location. See them all on this 2-day Athens itinerary.
Winter may be dreary in other places, but in Athens it’s eventful and lively. Take advantage of the off-season prices and reduced crowds to come and explore this historic city.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: The average highs are 14-15 celsius (57f) but it can often be even warmer.
TOP TIP for Winter city breaks: Finally, no visit to Athens is complete without trying some of the delicious food- and always say yes when offered baklava.
The difference in the volume of people was amazing- there were no queues for the Vatican or the Colosseum and you could get fantastic photos of the major sites without crowds in the way.
True, you couldn’t sit by the Trevi fountain enjoying an ice cream, but you COULD sit there and enjoy a nice hot chocolate while watching the world go by.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: The average highs are 13 celsius (55f)
Why is it one of the best European cities to visit in Winter? The history! You could walk around this city for days and still not see everything!
TOP TIP for Winter City Break: The Horse-drawn carriage may look cute, but AGREE a price before you start the ride… or it can be an expensive mistake!
Featuring bright sunshine, terracotta rooftops, epic Adriatic views, and all the Game of Thrones filming locations you could hope for, it’s hard to argue that there’s a better place to seek out winter sunshine in Europe than Dubrovnik.
It’s no secret that Dubrovnik has problems with overtourism–the small, walled city simply isn’t big enough to hold all the people who want to visit it, but an easy solution to this problem is to visit in winter!
Sure, you’ll need to leave your swimsuit at home, but with winter temperatures averaging no less than 48 degrees Fahrenheit/9 degrees Celsius in the coldest months of the year, it’s not like you’ll freeze during a winter trip, either.
While some businesses do close during the offseason, you’ll find Dubrovnik far from deserted even in the depths of winter. Popular tour options like Game of Thrones tours and day trips to nearby areas run all year, and you won’t have any problems finding a cup of coffee or a tasty meal.
Winter City Break- Cheap accommodation & tours!
The benefits of visiting Dubrovnik in winter are overwhelming. The prices alone are a marvel, with accommodations often listed at around 75% LESS than their going rate in high summer!
Many of the best things to do in Dubrovnik, including visiting Lovrijenac Fortress, admiring the view from Minčeta Fortress, watching the sunset at a cliff bar, and walking its famous city walls, are all available in winter.
But instead of battling crowds to get a view on the city walls at sunset, you may just find yourself standing completely alone while overlooking the Adriatic Sea.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: The average highs are 12 celsius (54f)
Why is it one of the best European cities to visit in Winter? The Game of Thrones locations! You’ll actually be able to see them at this time of year!!
TOP TIP for Winter City Break: Take the wind chill into account- those winds can be chilly.
When seeking European sunshine in the winter, Lisbon is an easy option. A visit here during the depths of winter in December and January will see average highs of 15 degrees and lows of 8 degrees.
Pair this with 9-10 hours of sunlight each day, and you’ve got a genuine winter sunshine destination.
In many ways, hiking Lisbon’s hills may be better in winter than summer. You’ll still feel the lactic acid burning in your calves, but the more pleasant temperatures will certainly make it easier.
At sunset, head up to St George’s Castle for some unforgettable views over the city. Of all the things to do in Lisbon, this is not to be missed.
You’re well perched here to take in the colourful architecture, the bustling hum of the city and the cool sea breeze.
Europe in Winter- Travelling around Lisbon
If you’re looking for the quickest tour of Lisbon available, there is no better option than the #28 tram. And with less tourists than the crowded summer months, the wait time for this tram is likely to be a lot less than those poor souls waiting in the scorching sun.
The #28 tram takes you on a surreal, winding journey of Lisbon’s streets. Watch as the driver winds the incredibly manual tram around 90-degree bends and the tram feels like it’s going to scrape the walls. Grab it anywhere along its route and enjoy this nostalgic ride.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: The average highs are 15 celsius (59f)
The French Riviera is a great place to visit when you are looking for sunshine to chase the doldrums of winter in Europe. I came to Nice in January for a couple of days and ended up staying a whole week because of the wonderful weather.
With its own microclimate, Nice tends to stay warmer than the rest of the South of France due to its location surrounded by mountains. Nice is also a prime spot to stay in the French Riviera as it is convenient to travel to many other towns along the Mediterranean.
Day trips to Èze village, Saint-Paul de Vence, and Monaco are quick and easy on public transportation. If you want to stay in town there is plenty of things to do such as: walk along the Promenade des Anglais, explore the old quarter, or even see a movie at the cinema.
Best thing to do in Nice in Winter
The best thing to do is to eat and there are so many choices for you to pick from. You can sit outside of a cafe, munch on a croissant and drink espresso while watching the people walk by or you can dine on French cuisine in any of the excellent restaurants.
In January average temperatures range in the mid-50s, but with the sun shining down it feels like it is in the 60s. With so many things to do and the fabulous climate during the winter, Nice should be on the top of your list to visit when the rest of Europe is covered in snow.
Most people consider Naples the gateway to Southern Italy—the city where Southern culture, cuisine, and yes, weather, truly begin!
My favourite winter months to visit Naples are February and March. There isn’t normally much rain, and the hours of sunshine per day are climbing quickly, particularly in March. Average temperatures are in the early teens (c) (50+F)
Naples is already a wonderfully authentic destination with a much more local feel to it than cities like Rome or Florence, and in the winter this is all the more true. You’ll be surrounded by locals, rather than tourists.
Europe in Winter- Outdoor activities in Naples
While you won’t want to go swimming, the weather is lovely for a hike. You can spend at least a day exploring the ruins of Pompeii, which you may have all to yourself!
Mt. Vesuvius should be open to hikers by February as well, unless the winter ice went particularly late. It’s a really doable day hike with insane views of the entire city, plus who doesn’t want to hike a famous volcano?!
Within the city itself, be sure to eat some Neapolitan pizza. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve sat outside pizzerias, people-watching with a glass of wine or Peroni beer.
Naples has Southern Italy’s characteristic slow-moving, relaxing, laid back vibe to it. I can think of no better city to enjoy some peaceful winter sun, outdoor adventures, and ridiculously tasty food.
BONUS! If you want a little more warmth in winter, head over the border into Asia and enjoy some of these incredible Winter City Breaks:
Baku is a perfect destination to visit in winter. Even though it does get cold, its location on the coast makes for a milder climate than elsewhere in Azerbaijan.
Snow is rare and the average temperature is around 10 degrees Celsius. Most of the time the weather will be sunny. This makes winter a great time to explore the city while escaping the summer heat.
Baku is a city at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and it is actually a bit of both. While Baku’s modern shopping street looks typical European, its old town brings you straight to the Middle East with ancient caravanserais, mosques and palaces.
In fact, the city has a long history of influences from different empires like The Persians, the Ottomans and the Russians.
Baku is also a cosmopolitan city with a lot of new futuristic buildings like the flame towers. They are a symbol for the country’s vast reserves of oil and gas.
Most of its wealth is concentrated in Baku. That doesn’t mean Baku needs to be expensive. For a Capital city, it is still very budget-friendly.
Among the top things to do in Baku is wandering around the old town that is beautifully renovated. Don’t miss the palace of the Shirvanshah.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: 13c/ 54F
TOP TIP for a winter city break: To see Baku’s futuristic architecture walk along the sea boulevard and then take the funicular up to the flame towers for a beautiful view over the city.
Turkey is an incredible country to visit for winter sunshine and one of the best areas to enjoy at this time of year is the port city of Kusadasi.
Situated on Turkey’s western coast, in the summer months, Kusadasi is well and truly alive with visitors coming to land from the many giant cruise ships that dock here.
Things get quieter in the winter, but with temperatures averaging 16c across these months, there’s still plenty of sunshine-filled fun to be had. For the warmest temperatures, head to Kusadasi in October or November to enjoy the heat in the early ’20s.
Winter City Break- things to do in Kusadasi
During your trip, start by exploring the city of Kusadasi itself, rambling through its many colourful medinas. These markets delight the senses, with the waft of strong spices filling the air as the energetic sounds of bartering can be heard all around.
Here you can pick up a Turkish eye, a traditional symbol said to ward off bad spirits and keep its owner protected.
Next walk up to the Güvercinada peninsular, which literally translates to mean Pigeon Island. The castle on the Island was commissioned by an Ottoman admiral, but nowadays it is a relaxing place to walk and explore.
After seeing Kusadasi, a trip to the historic ancient city of Ephesus is a must! This city was an important metropolis in both Greek and Roman times and offers visitors a spectacular insight into ancient life.
One of the highlights found at Ephesus is the incredible Celsus library, which was once the third largest library of the ancient world, housing over 12,000 scrolls.
Taking a tour of Ephesus from Kusadasi is the best way to see these incredible ruins. Enjoy the insight offered by a knowledgeable guide, with transport that easily takes you to the sight in just 30 minutes.
Average Winter Sunshine Temperature in January: 16c/ 61F
TOP TIP for a winter city break: An experience not to be missed is a visit to Pamukkale’s mineral-rich thermal waters. These gorgeous UNESCO status baths are warm cascading pools that offer visitors the perfect place to relax, in a setting the easily teleports you to another planet.
Entry to Pamukkale costs just £6 and is one of the most visited sights in Turkey.
Europe in Winter- 5 Best European cities to visit in winter to see the Northern Lights
It’s one of the most common questions- WHERE can you see the Northern Lights in Europe? The short answer is north of the Arctic Circle and ideally not near the sea (although I’ve seen them twice from a boat!)
Of course, doing that only INCREASES your chances of seeing the Northern Lights- it doesn’t guarantee a sighting sadly.
Still, these 5 European cities are widely regarded as the BEST European cities to visit in winter to see the Northern Lights. The Aurora can most often be seen between October- March
I’m going to add to this frustration and remind you that these are the best European cities to visit … but you really need to leave them at night-time and get away from the light pollution to get the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights. Many of these cities offer evening/ overnight tours to make it easier for you.
Abisko in Sweden is fast becoming one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights! The mountains and local climate create perfect conditions, with a surprisingly high number of clear night skies.
Temperatures in Sweden are often milder than you expect, thanks to the Gulf stream. This seems to have a good effect on the Aurora- Abisko has one of the highest ‘sighting ratios’ in the world.
Getting there: Abisko is tough to access, with flights going to nearby Kiruna, and then you need train or bus north to Abisko. But this remoteness adds to the increased chance of seeing the lights, so it’s worth the hassle!
Reykjavik in Iceland is very far north, yes, but it’s one of the most popular cities in Europe for Aurora hunters- mainly because there are so many other things to do nearby.
You can enjoy the city of Reykjavik, with its beautiful houses, heritage and cafes, but there are also many famous attractions nearby, such as the Blue Lagoon heated springs, glaciers, waterfalls and more!
We visited Reykjavik for a long weekend in March and we definitely needed warm winter clothing, but it wasn’t so cold that you couldn’t get outside and enjoy the incredible landscapes.
Getting there: Direct flights from London and many major cities in Europe & USA.
We stopped at Tromso for two nights before catching a Hurtigruten cruise ship (which was fantastic!) We sailed the coast all the way up to the Russian border and back, seeing incredible wildlife. There are so many breathtaking places in Norway– it’s impossible to pick a favourite!
We were also lucky enough to see the Northern Lights all 4 nights of our cruise!
Tromso itself has many bars, cafes and hotels, as well as a few winter activities to enjoy. Just beware the prices- Northern Norway is even more expensive than Southern Norway, especially for food & drink!
January is a great time to visit- Tromso holds the Northern Lights Festival every January, which is full of music and entertainment,
Getting there: Direct flights from many places in UK, Europe & US.
Many people know of Rovaniemi, Finland as Santa’s home- and hundreds of over-excited children turn up each year on Santa flights (seriously- that’s what they’re called), so they can eat too much sugar and tell Santa all their secrets.
But Rovaniemi is much more than that. There are hotels for adults to enjoy stargazing and Northern lights watching, as well as photography and wildlife tours.
Autumn and early Spring are best in Finland- clear nights, but not freezing. There are a lot of lakes around Rovaniemi which offer fantastic reflections of the Aurora if it comes out to play!
Getting there: Can be tricky, depending on airlines, despite Rovaniemi airport being ‘Santa’s airport’. You’ll probably need to fly to Helsinki first and then change.
Kiruna is a place many people stop at on the way to Abisko, but it has a lot to offer in its own right. For a start, it’s a lot easier to get to than Abisko, with regular flights.
It also offers tours such as snowmobiling on electric sleds- making them virtually silent- a magical way to enjoy the countryside and, hopefully, the Northern Lights twinkling overhead.
There are plenty of hotels available in the area, at all price ranges.
Getting there: Many direct flights operate during winter months.
5 Best winter city breaks Europe for guaranteed snow
Looking for winter city breaks with a high chance of snow? Whether you enjoy skiing, snowboarding or the drinks in the bar, these European city breaks will give you a taste of European winter mountain life.
There is a lot of talk recently about climate change, global warming and weather shifts, but these places are almost ‘guaranteed’ to have snow.
(I’ll admit, some of them aren’t ‘cities’- there aren’t many cities built up mountains!!)
Chamonix, Mont Blanc, France
We visited Mont Blanc in the summer– and took the cable car up the mountain to enjoy the incredible views.
But Chamonix is a perfect winter city break in Europe. It’s easy (ish) to reach from nearby airports, there are PLENTY of bars, restaurants and places to stay and (apparently) the skiing/ snowboarding is great. (I don’t ski- I’m like a baby giraffe on ice. I’m scared I’ll hurt something. But I’m happy to enjoy the apres-ski. And the hot tubs!)
Chamonix is also called the ‘mountaineering Capital of Europe‘- adventurers travel from all over the world in winter to experience hiking and climbing these slopes in the snow!
If you’re travelling the Alps in a motorhome, there is a great aire near Chamonix to enjoy.
St Moritz, Switzerland
St Moritz is the OLDEST winter holiday resort in the world! It’s famous for having fantastic snow, whilst enjoying around 320 days a year sunshine.
No, I’m not sure how that’s possible either!
This is the place to come if you want to enjoy your winter weekend break with royalty and celebrities. There are world-class hotels, restaurants, shops and bars to enjoy if you don’t fancy getting out on the slopes.
The apres-ski scene is relaxed but posh- there’s a lot of money in this resort. But the skiing is fantastic- there’s a reason it’s survived this long as ‘the’ place in Europe to visit in winter.
I grew up watching the men’s downhill ski racing with my parents every winter. It was SO exciting!
If you’re going to pick the best European city for winter ski racing, this is the place. It’s only two hours from Munich, so you can pop there for the Christmas Market or maybe even go see Neuschwanstein Castle in the snow!
(If you don’t know- Neuschwanstein Castle is the one which inspired Disney’s Cinderella castle. It’s seriously beautiful.)
Kitzbuhel is posh, but not obscenely so. Bars are lively and fun, the village is BEAUTIFUL (cobbled streets and wooden chalets) and the skiing is, as you would expect, pretty demanding.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Believe it or not, Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy is 1000 years old! Just two hours from Venice and surrounded by the awe-inspiring Dolomites, it’s a great choice for a winter break in Europe.
The skiing is good, plus there are over 50 miles of cross-country trails, if that’s your thing. There are also incredible glaciers to enjoy nearby, like the one above.
The vibe at Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy is chilled- not as snobby as many ski resorts, although apparently it’s a favourite haunt of George Clooney!
I kinda didn’t want to include this in the best winter city breaks Europe… but it’s so famous it’s impossible not to!
This is THE place for celebs to come to enjoy skiing, shopping and relaxing. It’s also one of the best places for skiing well into March and sometimes early April- the snow is that good!
People make reservations in Courchevel a year or more in advance, so hotels and chalets book up quickly. Having said that, you can get some FANTASTIC last-minute deals if you keep your eyes and options open- that’s one of our favourite ways to get a winter weekend break in Europe on a budget.
Europe in Winter- 4 best European cities to visit in winter for Christmas Markets
Everyone wants to know the biggest and best Christmas Markets in Europe- and how to visit them. I have an entire post on the Biggest Christmas Markets in Europe, but here’s a quick rundown on 4 of my favourites:
BIGGEST Christmas Market in Europe- Nuremberg Christkindlsmarkt, Germany
Nuremberg is the biggest Christmas market in Europe. It has over 350 stalls- which is HUGE, but that’s what makes it fun!
I love everything about this market. There’s so much to see, do, eat and admire that you’ll want to spend much longer than a weekend here.
Learn the incredible history of Nuremberg Market, (including how the locals pick a ‘Christmas Child’ to be the face of Christmas!) HERE
Winter Break in Europe- the OLDEST Christmas Market- Dresden, Germany
Dresden is the oldest Christmas Market in Europe. It’s beautiful and a perfect place to spend a winter city break. This market is now over 580 years old!!!!!
I’m also a fan of the carousel and the Ferris wheel- just adds to the fun, carnival vibe. As you can see above, Christmas markets in Europe are the ‘real-deal’; the locals take great pride in their markets and the entire city gets involved in the festivities.
OLDEST & biggest Christmas Market in France- Strasbourg
Strasbourg is the oldest Christmas Market in France- and makes the perfect city to visit in winter for a European city break.
It’s another beautiful city to explore, with quaint streets, beautiful architecture and delicious food!
I love the differences between Germany Christmas Markets and French ones- both fun and festive, but subtle differences in culture. If you have time, I recommend a winter weekend break to both!
Perfect Winter City Break- Munich, Germany
Munich was the first Christmas Market in Europe we ever visited- and it was magical. The atmosphere, the friendly people, the beer… I’ve never felt so Christmassy!!
All the locals turned up to the market after work to enjoy the music, beer and atmosphere, the beer halls were packed with men in lederhosen and it was a fantastic weekend break for a very reasonable cost!
If you’re planning to visit a Christmas Market in Europe, here are 9 ESSENTIAL things you need to know before you go!
Europe in Winter- Where is the best place in Europe to spend Christmas?
This is a tough one- and again it probably depends on what you want from your Christmas in Europe. Do you want some winter sun and to spend Christmas Day on the beach with a BBQ? If so, Spain or one of the European Mediterranean Islands is probably a good idea.
Alternatively, do you want to enjoy incredible mountain views, but still want some life and a party to join? Perhaps one of the ski resorts would work for you
But if you want to get away from it all, hide in a log cabin and watch the Northern Lights shimmer overhead, head further north, above the Arctic Circle and enjoy a Christmas Day you’ll never forget!
Have you travelled Europe in Winter? Where did you enjoy?
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