The year 2020 has been one to forget for most of us. Coronavirus has hampered travel plans across the world, and many plans have had to go on hold. That said, a carefully-planned European winter break is still possible, and it may just be the best time to visit these places.
If cobbled streets, cold weather and a Christmas market sound like your thing, keep reading to find out the perfect destinations in Europe to visit in winter.
Advantages of Winter Breaks in Europe
- Travel and accommodation can be much cheaper to obtain, due to lower demand, including boutique hotels
- Attractions and facilities are often considerably less crowded. In some cities, it is normal to be one of just a handful of visitors to a restaurant, museum, or other attraction during the cold winter months
- Many Central European cities have a particular charm during the winter. Some are covered in snow, and even a light dusting of the white stuff can transform city centres into winter wonderlands
Disadvantages of Winter Travel:
- Local weather conditions in the UK can disrupt or delay flight plans. Thankfully, even the heaviest of snowfall in-destination in Central Europe rarely interrupts travel itineraries
- If you’re looking for booming nightlife or a thriving cultural scene, these may be more toned down during the winter months. This is not to say that you can’t still find excellent nightlife – you just may need to look harder for it
- When we say ‘cold’, in some instances this can mean really cold. The average January temperature in Prague – one of our article picks – is -1 degree Celsius.
The Best European Winter Destinations
It has been tough, but we have narrowed it down to our absolute favourite places for winter holidays in Europe. We’ve focussed primarily on central Europe holidays for this one.
Krakow is splendid year-round, but there are a few main reasons as to why a winter visit may offer more than you think. January sales on already-cheap (by UK standards) clothing and electronics can mean extremely deep discounts can be had. The modern Galeria Krakowska and Galeria Kazimierz both sit just outside of the historical old town, and contain a variety of national and international brand-name shops.
Tickets for day trips to the Salt Mine and/or Auschwitz can be particularly good value. As two of Krakow’s main attractions, you can also benefit from fewer crowds. Auschwitz is a must-do, and the sobering witness of the horrors that unfolded here during world war 2 is best appreciated without the bustle of busy summer crowds.
As one of the most popular winter destinations in Europe, Prague can be exceptionally crowded in its peak months. Although nothing can take away from the city’s overall charm and beauty, a visit during the summer months may mean you have to endure a sea of selfie sticks whilst trying to cross the Charles Bridge.
Instead, enjoy spectacles such as the mesmerising movements of the Astronomical Clock (old Town Square, on the hour, 9 am-11 pm) pretty much by yourself. On our visit during January, we had the magnificent Wenceslas Square all to ourselves. In peak season, you’re unlikely to get close to the ‘Good Old King’ without capturing crowds of other tourists into your photos.
One thing to note about Budapest is that it is a large city. Without plenty of tourists, the many – and equally important – districts of this grand city become easier to navigate. The excellent metro system is much less crowded, and can have you zipping between District V (for the River Danube, Parliament Buildings and Budapest’s impressive bridges); District VI (for the imposing and swish Andrássy Avenue); District VII (for the Jewish Quarter and famed Ruin Pubs); and District VIII (Palace Quarter).
However, our favourite district for a special winter-only visit is the Buda side of Buda-Pest. Here, you will have the majestic and oldy-worldly Fisherman’s Bastion almost to yourself, which looks even more impressive after a snowfall. Head there in December and you will also see some pretty amazing Christmas lights.
Modest little Bratislava is overlooked any time of year, as it sits in the shadow of its mighty neighbour Vienna (Austria), which is just 34 miles away. Sleepy at the best of times, Bratislava turns chocolate-box perfect during its colder months – especially after a dusting of snow – and is one place you really will have to yourself. This might just be one of the best places in central Europe, and we highly recommend visiting.
For an unforgettable experience, trip up to Bratislava Castle for majestic winter-time views of this compact city. As Bratislava is very small, when you’re done exploring, hop on a 50-minute train to Vienna.
Vienna trips were made with winter in mind. Although this powerhouse of a city is also spectacular during high-season, there’s something in the air and atmosphere that keeps drawing us back for our European winter holidays.
Viennese coffee culture is world-famous, yet unlike its warmer southern European counterparts, Vienna coffee is best enjoyed within a steamy coffee house, sheltering from the cold and putting your feet up. Then head back out to explore more of this vast city, steeped in history and culture. Whether you prefer architecture, an art gallery or museums, you can get it all here.
Inspiration for Central European Winter Trips
We hope that we have given you some fresh new ideas when it comes to picking your next European city break, and perhaps even suggested places that may never have crossed your mind.
All cities mentioned in this blog have been visited by us, several times, and come recommended based on our own personal experiences. We’re confident that you will love them and all that they have to offer as much as we do, so why not give them a go?