Whether you’re in search of snow-covered peaks or some late-winter sun, Europe offers everything and more. Between mulled wine-fuelled Christmas markets and sightseeing without the crowds, here are the best winter destinations in Europe.
The Hague, The Netherlands
I first visited The Hague earlier this year and soon grew to love the modern architecture, centuries worth of history, and the fact that it’s perfectly possible to cycle pretty much anywhere! Located in Southern Holland, this Dutch city is best-known for its embassies and political life.
However, should you opt to visit The Hague, you’ll soon discover that the city is so much more than that. Home to its own beach, as well as Vermeer’s masterpiece, Girl with the Pearl Earring, highlights of the Hague in the winter include carol concerts, plenty of decorations, and New Year’s Eve parties.
Also known as Antwerpen in Dutch and as Anvers in French, the busy and bustling port city of Antwerp is the second largest city in Belgium and is stark in contrast to its larger neighbour, the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Birthplace of Rubens, the city is home to countless hidden gems and some breathtaking architecture.
In the winter time, the city truly comes to life with decorations placed around in abundance and plenty of delicious food available at the Christmas Markets. Elsewhere in the city, the promise of snow makes for pretty walks along the water front, while there’s no better time to enjoy a traditional Belgian beer while wrapped up warm in a pub.
Read more: Some incredible secret spots in Antwerp
As the capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is home to plenty of attractions, and even more things to see. Great to visit all year ’round, there are plenty of reasons you might consider a visit in wintertime. For example, the Pentland Hills are often dusted in snow and can be reached easily by bus from the city centre.
Within the confines of Edinburgh itself, there are Christmas markets to explore and shows and events held throughout the city. Hogmanay is the Scottish name for the last day of the year, and it is around this celebration that many of the festivities are concentrated.
Read more: A Harry Potter tour of Edinburgh
The Aegean, Greece
The magical blue of the Aegean Sea is the perfect European winter destination for those looking to soak up some sun (although there is sometimes snow in places like Santorini). This area of Greece is well and truly in low-season, meaning that accommodation and flights are both cheaper at this time of the year.
Although beach bars will be closed and the Mediterranean climate means that the sea is a little too chilly for swimming, you can still see and do plenty of things. For example, it’s still possible to go wine tasting, enjoy the sunset, and experience the best of the islands without the crowds.
Read more: One week island hopping in Greece
French Alps, France
Whether you want to ski or going snowshoeing, few places in Europe are more magical than the French Alps. Significantly cheaper than the Swiss Side, some of the best ski resorts for Christmas in France include Courchevel and Megève.
Read more: Snowshoeing in the French Alps
For snow-capped peaks and castles in abundance, Transylvania makes for the perfect winter escape. Situated in the North of Romania, it’s in this region where you’ll find alpine forests, fairytale towns, and even Bran Castle, reputed to be that of Dracula himself.
Once in Transylvania (which can also be reached as a day trip from Bucharest), I’d recommend dedicating at least a long weekend to exploring the weekend. Stay in the city of Brasov as it’s there where you’ll find the best accommodation and foodie spots. From Brasov, Casteul Bran, Peles Castle, and Sighișoara are all worth visiting.
A glittering lake lies below a fairytale town filled with traditional Swiss Architecture. There’s perhaps no better time to visit French-speaking Lausanne than in the Winter time. Home to a mini Christmas market, some of the best attractions include wandering the streets, stopping by the free museum, and admiring the clock in the main market square.
South West, England
The counties of Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorset, Devon, and Cornwall all make for perfect British escapes from the hustle and bustle of the city. Pretty to visit all year ’round, it’s worth noting that Winter well and truly marks the low season, meaning that there will be fewer tourists at any other time of the year.
Between quaint coastal villages and the ruins of medieval castles, there’s no shortage of things to do once in the South West. Among some of the best things to do include wandering the maze of the streets of Fowey, and visiting the fairytale-like Norman castle of Corfe in Dorset.
Read more: Three days in the South West road trip
Of course, no article about the best winter destinations in Europe would be complete without including the capital of France, Paris. Home to a plethora of Christmas markets, as well as countless other Winter activities, fewer crowds than in the summer months makes winter the perfect time to visit Paris.
Once there, be sure to look out for all the themed store displays (Galeries Lafayette houses a wonderful Christmas tree each year), while Dior always has a beautiful lights display outside their Flagship Store. Elsewhere in the city, in La Defense, the area sparkles with the glow of a million twinkling lights.
Read more: Magical Christmas acticities in Paris
Often overlooked and underrated in favour of other Northern Italian destinations such as Lake Maggiore, Turin is a Northern Italian city famed for its chocolate and Fiat manufacturing. Surrounded by snow-peaked caps, this stunning city is the capital of the Piedmont Region, an area close to the French border and known for its Italian wine production.
Once in Turin, highlights of the city include several imperial palaces (Turin is the only truly royal city in Italy), and a half day trip to the Basilica of Superga. In order to reach the ecclesiastical building and view, you need to take a 1930s tram mid-way up the mountainside!
Read more: A guide to the best things to do in Turin
One of the most magical winter destinations in Europe is Munich thanks to its Christmas market and festive vibe. The Munich Christmas Market is known as the Christkindl Markt and dates all the way back to the 17th-century. Held on Marienplatz, it starts at the end of November and goes on for nearly a month, ending on Christmas Eve.