Snow-decked roofs, beautiful decorations and the smell of mulled wine in the air – winter isn’t always doom and gloom you know! In fact I couldn’t think of a better time of year to explore a completely new city. And even if you’ve been to a destination before, it’s worth coming back in winter to discover the incredible atmosphere. Here are some of my favourite major European cities for a super cosy winter break!
Many cities are brimming with tourists from April to September when the weather is at its best. But have you ever considered going on a city break outside of the main season? The winter months bring with them a feeling of cosiness and warmth that is nothing of magical. You might even learn more about Christmas traditions in other countries and sample something completely new. But best of all, you’ll be saving money too – hotels and flights in the low season are mostly a lot cheaper! I’ve put together some of my favourite destinations for the best winter city breaks to help leave you feeling inspired!
First on the list of the best winter city breaks is Salzburg! A visit to this majestic city in winter is just as beautiful as in summer! Awesome sights such as Castle Mirabell, Fort Hohensalzburg and the cosy Old Town are just waiting to be explored and discovered. You’ll love wandering along the narrow streets and browsing through all the traditional shops. The Christmas market is sure to get you in a festive mood no matter what! It’s also your chance to get stuck into some Austrian specialities too. How about some delicious Sachertorte cake? Or do as the Austrians do and enjoy some Kaiserschmarrn with a Wiener Melange… Or in other words, shredded pancakes with icing sugar along with a cup of seriously lush Austrian coffee. With food as good as this, you’ll soon be forgetting about the cold weather outside. Here’s a little tip: if you want to bring back something typically local from Salzburg, then bring back some Mozartkugeln. These are little chocolate pralines containing marzipan or nougat, named after one of the city’s most famous residents, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The Estonian capital is small in size, but it’s perfect for a short little break where you have the chance to soak up culture without having to put up with heaving crowds of tourists. The Baltic region is still overlooked by tourists, but if you take the time to come here then you’ll soon realise that it’s well worth the effort! Tallinn features a beautiful Old Town that’s characterised by all sorts of quirky, pastel-coloured houses lining narrow, winding streets. Distinctive turrets and city walls surround Toompea Castle, now the seat of the Estonian government. There are lots of view points where you can enjoy beautiful views of the snow-decked rooftops. This is one of the best-preserved city centres in Europe, so if you really want to add that charm factor to your winter getaway, this is really one of my top recommendations!
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, is one of the top city break destinations no matter what time of year. But there’s no denying the fact that any visitor to Amsterdam in winter will be met with a show of beautiful light and an incredible atmosphere. Stroll along the canals as you feast on typically wintry treats such as sugar roasted almonds or candy apples. Across the city you’ll find all sorts of Christmas markets and flea markets where you can pick up some lovely gifts for the folks back home. Keep your eyes peeled for the many installations and art pieces that are part of the Amsterdam Light Festival – it takes place from the 1st December – 22nd January. Be sure to go for a little cruise along the canals towards as it’s the best way to admire the lights!
Most might be migrating south for the winter to soak up an extra bit of Mediterranean sun, but if it’s true winter vibes you’re after, then head North! The Icelandic capital is perfect for a winter city break that perfectly encapsulates that feeling of cosiness. The city’s small size and cute little wooden houses keep everything feeling nice and intimate and there’s just something about knowing you’re so far up north… it’s pretty magical! If the bitter weather gets too much, then warm yourselves up in the Blue Lagoon, or feast on some super hearty dishes such as smoked lamb, traditional cookies and leaf bread. But that’s not all. With nights at their longest during the winter months, your chances of seeing the Northern Lights are greatly improved! You might have to drive a little bit out of the city to ensure the best conditions, but if you’re lucky enough you might even be able to see the lights as you’re walking through the city. It’s an experience of a lifetime!
The city that’s said to have invented the Christmas tree… Ain’t that a top choice for a winter break! Another destination that’s well worth checking out, Riga’s winding narrow streets and medieval architecture is a joy to explore and you just can’t help but feel super snug once snow starts dusting the rooftops. Pubs and restaurants offer cosy and historic settings to enjoy delicious meals, and the many bars and cultural hubs will be a welcome shelter from the chilly weather. It does get pretty cold in the Baltic at this time of year (even the river totally freezes over!), but you’ll never be too far away from a warm meal and an open fire! At Christmas time you’ll find a beautiful market situated by the cathedral, offering a fantastic chance to see local traditions and handicrafts. Architecture nerds will adore the Art Nouveau quarter too. Be sure to head to the top of the cathedral for a bird’s eye view of the centre!
Even the approach to the airport as you land is enough to get you absolutely buzzing. Seeing all of the tiny little islands decked with snow is just a delight to see! Stockholm always gets a nice bit of snowfall each year, so it’s a great choice if you want to maximise those wintry, festive vibes. Take your time to explore all of the little streets and alleyways of Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s Old Town – the little cobblestone paths and medieval architecture will see you fall head-over-heels in love. At Christmas time, expect to see decorations everywhere, whether it’s wreaths and garlands or romantic stars and candles in all the little windows. If you feel the cold starting to set in, then just pop into one of the many cafés for some fika – or coffee and cake as we’d say (a very Swedish thing to do!)
Prague, Czech Republic
How about a winter break to the magical Czech capital? The heaving numbers of tourists that come during the summer will mostly be gone, so it’s your chance to enjoy the sights of the Old Town without having to jostle with the crowds. One of the best views in Prague is along Charles’ Bridge towards Mala Strana. To see the rooftops and spires decked in snow with the castle looming above in the distance, you just can’t help but feel the magic! If you miss the Christmas market, then don’t worry – come in January and you’ll find lots of little wooden huts selling handicrafts and tasty treats. Be sure to try some trdelnik while you’re here – these little pastries are made with hazelnuts and icing sugar and they’re seriously moreish… Believe me! ;)
I know we had one Austrian city on the list already, but I just couldn’t not mention Vienna too! Considered by many to be one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, the Austrian capital is blessed with a multitude of palaces and stately buildings such as the Hofburg Palace and the Opera House. Come winter time, the city is a delight to explore as the smell of mulled wine is in the air and the markets are in full swing. I mentioned coffee and cake before in the Salzburg section, but if you go to Vienna this is seriously one thing you cannot afford to miss. Imagine sitting in a beautiful café watching the world go by and the snowflakes slowly fluttering down… It’s these old traditions that really add to the city’s character and it combines with the festive atmosphere so well that you’ll find it difficult to want to get back on that flight home!
One to not be missed off the list of best winter city breaks is Bergen. The Scandinavian countries perfectly capture the spirit of Christmas and yuletide, and this couldn’t be more true when it comes to the city of Bergen. Nestled amongst the mountains on the west Norwegian coast, the views of the colourful medieval Bryggen pier and the snow-decked pine forests are seriously awesome! Take the funicular railway up to the top of Fløyen mountain for sweeping views of the city centre far below, wander the winding streets and discover all sorts of little cafés tucked away, or head to the main shopping streets and see all the beautiful decorations at their very best! Bergen even has a shop dedicated to Christmas too. Called the Julehuset, you’ll find it in one of the medieval houses along the Bryggen pier and it’s open all year round, even during the summer!