One of the best times to visit Europe is during the winter. The sun starts to fade, the temperatures begin to drop, the hoards of tourists head south for the winter, Christmas markets begin to spring up in town squares and the snow flakes dust the landscape. There is something so romantic about strolling down cobblestone streets with a hot chocolate (or mulled wine) keeping you warm. Winter city breaks Europe need to be high on your bucket list.
Pull on a few layers, grab a cute jacket, scarf and beanie and get ready for some sightseeing in some of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
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Planning your Winter City Breaks in Europe? Check out some of the other posts
The Ultimate Guide to the Best Christmas Markets
The Best European Christmas Markets
10 Delightful things to do in Copenhagen in Winter
The best place to experience Christmas: Tivoli Gardens Christmas Market
- 1 What to wear in Europe during winter
- 2 The Best Winter City Breaks Europe
- 3 My BEST Travel Resources
What to wear in Europe during winter
Whilst Europe is a great place to take a winter city break, winter in Europe is also very cold. Make sure you are warm and comfortable.
I always make sure I wear layers, its easier to take off a jacket if you get too warm walking around than it is to try and get warmer.
Don’t let the weather get you down. Remember, it is likely to snow in Europe in winter and with lots of people walking on the snow it can make the ground slippery so make sure you have sturdy shoes on.
Beanie – make sure it is a double lined beanie. This will keep you warmer than a single lined beanie
Scarf – a huge scarf is a great option, you can use it as a scarf, an extra layer, or to put over your head if your beanie isn’t warm enough
Jacket – a good quality down jacket is a must for those cold European nights
Boots – you need to make sure your boots are comfortable and you have worn them in before your trip! There is nothing worse than having uncomfortable shoes.
Waterproof boots are also recommended, if you are visiting Europe in winter, you are likely to endure a lot of rain and snow!!
Download your free winter packing list
The Best Winter City Breaks Europe
The Hills are alive with the sound of …… snow! Salzburg is the home of The Sound of Music but if you ask almost any local, they will tell you they haven’t seen it, the prefer their version which was based on the book.
Salzburg is surrounded by beautiful rolling hills which provide gorgeous views of the quaint Austrian city. The streets all intertwine with each other and can keep you entertained for hours. Part of the charm is getting lost in the lane ways and ending up somewhere unexpected.
During winter, the Christmas markets pop up all over the city, there is nothing cuter than walking down of the winding streets into a tiny courtyard and into the middle of a Christmas market.
Salzburg is a very walk able city, so grab a cup of mulled wine or hot chocolate and spend the day wandering around this delightful city.
While you are in Sazlburg you need check out Mozart’s home, St Peter’s cemetery, the castle and if you like a little bit of creepiness to break up all the cuteness, head to the catacombs.
Nonnberg Abbey is a nice peaceful place above Salzburg, if you are up bright and early, you can hear the nuns singing at 6:45 am. If you are visiting Nonnberg Abbey, please be respectful, there are nuns who live and work here.
If you are in Salzburg for a couple days you have to take one of the Sound of Music tours. Yes, it is touristy but heading out of Salzburg into the hills to the town of Mondsee is a must (not to mention the Sound of Music singalong!) While you are in Mondsee do not forget to have some strudel with Vanilla sauce. You won’t regret it!
Best places to stay in Salzburg, Austria:
Hotels: Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Salzburg, ACHAT Hotel Salzburg Zum Hirschen, Star Inn Hotel Salzburg Zentrum
Airbnbs: Altstadt Apartment, Arenbergstraße Apartment
Home to one of the oldest salt mines (there is a tiny museum to explain the history) is Hallstatt! This town has to be straight out of a fairy tale book, especially in the winter. The roofs are dusted with snow and surrounded by gorgeous snow capped mountains.
From the moment you arrive at Hallstatt train station and board the ferry to cross the the town of Hallstatt you can see why this is the perfect winter city break in Europe – even though it’s definitely not a city!
Hallstatt is the perfect place to wander around and absorb the fairy tale land and soaking in the stunning mountain views.
If wandering around for a day or two sounds a little too slow for you, you can always visit Dachstein Krippenstein and try some snow sports such as skiing, snowshoeing, snowboarding or even visiting the giant ice cave!
Best Tours in Hallstatt, Austria: Photography Tour
Austria is filled with beautiful mountains and fairy tale cities. Innsbruck is another must-see winter city break in Europe. Like Salzburg, it has some of the most adorable buildings you will ever see. The bright colours pop against the grey wintery sky.
Take the funicular to the top of the mountain and absorb the nature and the views. Make sure when you are on the funicular you must stop at the zoo! This is a small zoo but you can get up close with animals that you may not see in your zoos, such a moose!!
The Christmas markets that surround Innsbruck are adorable. There is live music from the Golden Roof and so much food. Make sure you move away from the main square to the markets along the river. The mountain back drop makes these markets even prettier.
If you are looking for the Ultimate Winter Wonderland you cannot go passed Lapland in Finland.
It is, of course, the home of Santa Claus and one of the most magical places in the world. Lapland is filled with snow, fairy lights, warm food, igloos, tree houses, husky sleds and snowball fights.
Lapland is located in northern Finland and is a perfect viewing place for the Northern Lights. Make sure you take a “hunting the northern lights” tour while you are in Lapland, you take a bus, horses or snow mobiles away from light pollution and into the “wilderness” to see the Northern Lights.
Of course, you need to fulfill every child’s dream and visit Santa Claus in his village. Stop by the post office and see all the letters that posted to Santa from around the world and post yourself a letter to be delivered next Christmas.
You have to visit Santa in his office. I have never felt more like a kid (well maybe when I was a kid) than when I was sitting next to Santa and have my picture taken with him.
You must visit Lapland at least once in your life and it doesn’t have to be super expensive, Airbnb is a great option to lower the cost on accommodation.
Best Tours in Lapland, Finland: Reindeer and Husky Safari, Aurora Ice Floating, Visit to Santa’s Village and snowmobiling to reindeer farm
For some reason, and perhaps it is due to all of those perfect Instagram and pinterest images, but we had huge expectations of what to expect from Copenhagen heading into the Christmas season. Not to mention, the Danes have been ranked as the happiest people in the world
The bright coloured buildings of Nyhavn reflecting off the canal, the smell of mulled wine and cinammon scrolls, the feeling of happiness in the air and Christmas markets on almost every street corner – okay, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but there are a lot of Christmas markets!
If you love Christmas and markets then you are in the right place, Copenhagen is the home to Tivoli Gardens. Tivoli Gardens is a mix between Christmas market and amusement park. It is such a magical experience, especially at Christmas time. The park is beautifully decorated and has an amazing light show on the Tivoli lake every night. I suggest you get to Tivoli Gardens at around 3pm so you can see the park during the day and the night.
Even though Wroclaw is the biggest city in Western Poland, it is filled with small town charm and beautiful architecture. The colours of the old town square and surrounding buildings pop against the grey skies.
Scattered around the city are little Gnomes, keeping an eye out for these cute Gnomes is a great way to forget that it is cold outside.
Wroclaw is a very walk able city and has some of the nicest buildings I have seen in Europe. But, if you want to see all of these buildings and not have to walk everywhere, grab a scooter! They are super fun and the city is flat, so they’re easy to ride (said the clumsiest person ever!)
Where do we start with Brugge? This beautiful town is over flowing with charm, cobblestone streets, amazing hot chocolate and gorgeous buildings.
Brugge is an adorable town any time of year but in the winter it is the perfect place to eat chocolates, waffles and fries whilst wandering the streets.
You have to take boat trip around the canals (make sure you rug up!), the boat trips cost about 10€ for half an hour. It is a great way to learn about the history of the town and see the town from the water, for many of these places you can only access them from the water.
Once you have finished your boat ride, warm up with a hot chocolate and a waffle from The Old Chocolate House, they are said to be the best Chocolate shop in Brugge. Tip: The waffles are HUGE, so if you choose to get a hot chocolate too, I suggest sharing the waffle!!
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
Cesky Krumlov is a small medieval town of roughly 13,000 people in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. The tiny town is swarmed by tourists in the summer and is a relative “ghost town” in the winter, especially once the tourists on a day trip from Prague have headed back on the bus. Which make
In the middle of the town square is a beautiful Christmas markets. Many towns and cities go overboard with Christmas cheer but Cesky Krumlov has the right balance. There is enough to enjoy but not too much that it takes away from the beauty of the town.
Cesky Krumlov is set on a winding river and below a huge medieval Castle. The views over the red terracotta roof tops is beautiful from the castle. I recommend a walk up to the castle at sunrise. Although it is super chilly, the views are stunning and you almost have the whole castle to yourself, something that doesn’t happen very often in Europe.
Heidelberg is located in South West Germany and is such a quaint town. The buildings are mesmerizing and the castle is a must. The views over the city from the castle are indescribable.
During the winter period there are five Christmas markets around the city and an ice skating rink. The gorgeous wooden stalls are typical of your traditional German Christmas markets.
Whilst this is open all year round, I suggest you visit the Student Prison – I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’m not going to explain that further. All I am going to say is, for 3€ you definitely won’t regret it.
Tallinn is an extremely underrated European destination. Tallinn is what you would expect from an old Medieval city. Surrounded by the old city wall, with old carts selling goods and buildings which take you back in time. As soon as you step instead the city walls you truly feel as though time has stood still.
Tallinn is full of culture and historical sites but it has just as many pubs and restaurants.
Take a walk around the medieval walls, you will find some amazing views of the city, St Catherine’s Passage, Town Hall Square, Viru Gates, Patkuli viewing point, Pikk Street (one for the insta), Saiakang (make sure you find Oma Asi shop, it is a super cute shop but its pretty expensive to shop in here) and the old town square.
The Christmas markets are so unique. From the look of the stalls to the goods they sell, they are definitely different to the rest of the markets we saw in Europe.
It is cold in Tallinn in winter but there are so many cute restaurants and breweries to warm up in and to see the inside of the medieval buildings.
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My BEST Travel Resources
Here are my favourite travel resources for planning travel like a pro
Accommodation: I always use booking.com (I love their price match and flexible cancellation policies) or Airbnb (if I want a little more space) to book trip. If you prefer hostels, I suggest Hostelworld.
If you are new to Airbnb you can get an awesome discount using this link
Travel Insurance: After a few hairy moments on my travels, I ALWAYS purchase travel insurance. It may seem like a big cost now, but if the worst happens, it will save you a lot of money and heartache. I personally use World Nomads (and love them!), but I recommend that you do some research to find the insurance company that suits your needs.
Tours: While I prefer to travel independently, I do love doing some tours once I’m in a destination. It is a great way to find out history, hidden gems, taste local food and get a local insight into your destination. I always use Viator to book my tours.
Car Hire: Planning an epic road trip across the US or through Europe, or anywhere! Check out Europcar, they are my go to for car hire all over the world!
Luggage Storage: Some times when we are travelling our check in and check out times don’t match with our departure times so we have to put our luggage into storage. Stasher Luggage Storage is the biggest Luggage Storage Network across the UK, France and Germany