Where to Spend Winter in Europe: 8 Dreamy Trips You’ll Want to Squeeze Into Your Calendar
There's no question that summer in Europe is glorious...if you're not talking about the heat waves and incessant crowds that just seem to be getting worse and worse every year. Winter paints a different but no less beautiful picture: snow-covered landscapes and city rooftops, cozy fireplace nooks and bars, holiday markets and thermal baths, lower rates for both flights and hotels. What's not to love? From the coast of Norway to the streets of Budapest, these are the best winter destinations in Europe to squeeze onto your travel wishlist.
Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland
It takes a brave soul to venture to the far reaches of Iceland once winter settles in, but some would argue there’s no better time to go. Snaefellsness, along the western coast, gets hit with loads of snow but roads are passable with snow tires—and this is one road trip you do not want to miss. As you swing around the peninsula, you’ll pass by iconic, picture-worthy spots like Black Church, the Gerðuberg Cliffs, and Mount Kirkjufell and its waterfall. There are a few lodges close by, but we recommend heading back inland and bedding down at Hotel Husafell, a serene eco-luxury resort in the central highlands close to geothermal springs and a hot spot for covetable viewings of the Northern Lights.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Another destination deserving of a top spot on your winter bucket list? The Swiss Alps. As far as European winters go, it doesn’t get more glamorous than a sojourn to St. Moritz, a jet-set town at the edge of a lake in the heart of the Engadine Valley. The Carlton Hotel St. Moritz, a five-star sleep only open this time of year, makes the most of its short season with show-stopping guest experiences like candlelit dinners, horse-drawn carriage rides through the forest, wine tastings in the cellar, and rooms so vast and sumptuous, you actually feel sad about leaving. But you must: the vast spa replete with steam rooms, saunas, and a steaming pool overlooking the Alps awaits.
Founded in 1628, Nuremberg’s Christmas Market is one of the oldest—and largest—of its kind in the world. Today, over 180 wooden stalls peddle everything your celebratory heart could desire this time of year, from fresh-baked lebkuchen (a gingerbread recipe unique to Nuremberg that hasn’t changed in 600 years) to mulled wine, Franconian beer, finger-sized sausages, and every kind of decoration imaginable—wooden nutcrackers, tinsel angels, you name it. Be sure to leave time to explore the rest of the city, too. We recommend taking a turn through Altstadt (Old Town) for a tour of the castle and the artisan shops lining Handwerkerhof before resting your feet at family-owned Hotel Elch.
If you’re craving a bit of hygge this season, why not spend it where it all began? The capital of Denmark (where “hygge” hails) is set aglow this time of year by the magical lights of Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park first opened in 1843 that delights all ages. From mid-November, you can see rides strung with Christmas lights, snack on hot chocolate and roasted nuts, and purchase colorful Scandinavian knits for yourself or as gifts. Afterwards, warm up in the living-room–like lobby or rooftop conservatory at Sanders, a stylish 54-room retreat near the Royal Danish Theatre.
Winter is also one of the best times to visit Europe’s smaller, more under-the-radar cities like Budapest. Here, you’ll find the same holiday cheer—historic Christmas markets selling mulled wine, traditional treats, and festive souvenirs—without the same exorbitant crowds and prices. What Budapest offers that others don’t, however, is its world-famous Szechenyi Baths, where 28 thermal pools and saunas (both indoor and outdoor) keep you warm all season long. Not ready to toss in the towel just yet? Continue the pampering experience at the Corinthia Hotel Budapest, an old-world beauty whose spa pool sits beneath a double-height ceiling.
Multiple travelers argue that winter is the best season to visit Venice, but for some reason (probably the colder temps), tourists continue to stay away. Good! This is a time when locals—yes, actual Venetians—come out from the woodwork to enjoy their city sans inflated prices and overtourism. You’ll also find a certain magic here that doesn’t happen in the summer: mist hangs over the canals, piazzas are quiet and at times even empty, the seafood you’ll sample is some of the freshest all year, and even the city’s most opulent hotels—Belmond Hotel Cipriani, Gritti Palace—slash their rates as much as a third of what they’d go for in the summer. Right now, all eyes are on the brand-new St. Regis Venice, which debuted right on the Grand Canal.
Edinburgh is beautiful in every season, but once the dark winter months hit, crowds (and lines) disperse—all the better for taking a tour of Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, hiking Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat, and scoring your favorite table at a local pub or one of the city’s hottest restaurants. (The Garden's Cottage and The Table are two favorites.) You’ll feel like you have the city all to yourself. If that’s not your cup of tea, time your visit for New Year’s, also known as Hogmanay around these parts—a three-day celebration when parades march from Parliament Square to Carlton Hill and the streets swell with revelers downing whisky and stepping to ceilidh dances.
This tiny finishing village, hidden away within the fjordlands of southern Norway, is Disney’s Frozen come to life. Rows of colorful homes line the 12th-century wharf of Bryggen, where fishermen haul in their catches to be sold in the historic fish market. The views from on top of Fløyen Mountain (reachable via a funicular) are spectacular, but walking through town is just as fun. Look out for the statues that mark various alleyways and shops peddling authentic Norwegian wares like reindeer skins and hand-knit sweaters. Another can’t-miss experience: sampling a skillingsboller, a type of cinnamon bun famous to Bergen.
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