I must admit I’m a sucker for city breaks and I would jump to the occasion whenever it occurs. And the fact that I’ve lived in Europe, with extremely low-cost flights, made things even “worse” because I used to be in a new place every month. And because I strongly believe we’ll still love to explore, I’ve asked other travel bloggers to share their favorite winter city breaks in Europe.
From gorgeous Christmas Markets to alluring natural landscapes or grand iconic landmarks, you’ll find it all here! All you’ll have to do next is to choose your next Winter escape and enjoy every moment of it.
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Helpful tools I use to find the best combination of flights and accommodation:
- Booking.com for great accommodation prices when you book in advance and for a minimum of 2 stays;
- Skyscanner.com for finding the cheapest flight prices and car rentals;
- TourRadar for organized trips to most of the places mentioned on this list;
- Airbnb when you want to live the local life and are looking for hidden gems;
- Check out this useful post on how to save money for and on travel for more tips and tricks and useful tools!
The winter city breaks in Europe list you’ll need!
Annecy, France by Leyla at Offbeat France
Annecy, in the foothills of the Savoy Alps in southeastern France, has often been called France’s prettiest town.
In summer, a crystal lake surrounded by mountains is the perfect backdrop for the boaters, cyclists, and hikers who revel in its beauty. But in winter, the city is, if possible, even more fun and attractive.
There’s a Christmas market, of course, but the French brave the cold to sit at outside terraces the second the sun peeks through the clouds – and here, it does so often. Some restaurants even have outdoor heaters and blankets, just in case.
Annecy is the perfect strolling city, with little snow but plenty of attractions. Within a 45 minute drive, you’ll reach some world-class ski resorts, easy to drive up for the day and back.
Once in Annecy, a string of popular restaurants cap the day with the perfect winter food: cheese, in all its forms, the best-know which include fondue, raclette (slices of melted cheese), or tartiflette, an unctuous oven-baked mix of cheese, potatoes, bacon, and onions.
Annecy is easy to reach – it is an hour by train from Lyon, or a half-hour drive from Geneva, in nearby Switzerland. Check out train timetables and prices here!
See Annecy as a day trip from Geneva and taste some local cheese and wine.
Sierra Nevada National Park, Spain by Joanna at The World in My Pocket
Sierra Nevada National Park, located in Andalucia – South of Spain, is a fantastic destination to visit in winter because it offers so many opportunities for tourists.
Firstly, Sierra Nevada is a popular place for winter sports lovers, with a ski resort on the third highest peak (3400 meters high) in peninsular Spain. Fun fact, Sierra Nevada Ski Station is the most southern European ski resort.
The ski season in the Sierra Nevada starts in November and lasts until May. There are 105 kilometers of pistes, including an ice rink, toboggans, and ski bikes.
What makes Sierra Nevada special though is the proximity to Granada and to the sea. Practically, one can ski in the morning, have lunch, drive for one hour and spend the afternoon on the beach, in one of the towns on Costa Tropical.
The average temperature on Costa Tropical in winter are around 12-15 degrees, mostly sunny.
Another great activity that you can do in winter is go hiking on the lower altitude trails of Sierra Nevada. Hikes such as Ruta de los Cahorros are so much pleasure in winter when it is still sunny, but the temperatures don’t go 30+ degrees crazy, like in summer.
Granada is another great city to visit whilst on a ski trip to the Sierra Nevada. Located only 27 kilometers away from the ski resort, Granada is much less popular with tourists during the winter months.
Zagreb, Croatia by Mayuri at ToSomePlaceNew
Zagreb is one of the underrated capital cities in Europe. Often overlooked by the fantastic Dalmatian coast, you must add Zagreb to your itinerary in the winters. It is also one of the most affordable and historically rich cities in Europe to spend your winters in.
Winters kick in the city in December, and it snows and gets chilly. And when that happens, bundle up and warm up with a cup of mulled wine and enjoy true Christmas spirit in the capital of Croatia.
Zagreb Advent is the prime festive event in Croatia and it is slowly taking over the Christmas markets from popular destinations like Prague and Vienna. Advent event runs for a full month (December).
You can expect plenty of fun and unique events, plus tons of excellent Balkan food and drinks.
Almost all of the sightseeing attractions are open in the winter, with festive decorations and seasonal offerings.
As part of your Zagreb itinerary, don’t forget to visit the iconic landmarks like the St Mark’s Church, Zagreb Cathedral, Dolac markets, and Ban Jelačić Square.
Ban Jelačić Square is the central square in Zagreb, and a huge Christmas tree is set up by the fountain. The tree is transformed into a light display, with a cozy, heated space serving food and drinks. Exploring the square is completely free.
Both St Mark’s Church and Zagreb Cathedral showcase seasonal choirs and mass. Dolac market lives to its tradition, with tons of locally made Christmas decorations and food to take back home!
Short tour options including Zagreb you might want to check out:
Zagreb, City Break – 4 days 3 nights
Balkan Experience – Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park Ljubljana and Lake Bled
Kiruna, Sweden by Kat at Wandering Bird
If you’re looking for an amazing winter city break or wondering where you can see the Northern Lights in Europe, consider Kiruna in Sweden.
This beautiful town has everything you are looking for- snow, views and it’s officially one of the best places to see the Aurora Borealis during the winter months.
Despite the snowfall, Kiruna has a surprisingly high number of clear nights. This means you have a great chance of seeing the Northern lights should they appear during your stay.
While you’re waiting for the Aurora, there’s plenty of other things to do in Kiruna. Heard of the world-famous Ice hotel? Yep, an entire hotel built completely from ice-walls, reception, beds – everything. Kiruna is the closest town to the Ice Hotel. It’s built differently each year and you can visit just for a drink in the bar and experience it for yourself- even if you don’t like the idea of staying overnight!
You can also go dog-sledding with a team of huskies, hiking, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, take part in wildlife viewing and photography tours or just relax and enjoy the incredible views across the mountains and winter landscape. If you’ve chosen a good hotel, you could even relax in your very own hot tub!
One of our favorite activities is a trip to the nearby Sky Station, where a cable car will take you up a (very high!) mountain to a restaurant at the top, where you can relax and enjoy the fabulous views.
Check out the Northern Lights and wildlife in Sweden Lapland tour!
Helsinki, Finland by Cath at Passports and Adventures
One of the best destinations in Europe for a winter city break is Helsinki.
The Finnish capital has so much on offer, your trouble will be narrowing it all down in one visit.
Winter in Finland is cold, and Helsinki is often blanketed in a layer of snow, especially in December and January but that only adds to the magic of the city.
We visited Helsinki with kids after a visit to see Santa in Lapland and we had (mistakenly) been told there wasn’t much to the city. Well, I can safely say we were proved wrong. We spent two full days in the city and didn’t touch the surface.
In December, you will find Christmas markets dotted around the city. Enjoy a warm glass of glogi (mulled wine), local foods, and pick up a souvenir or two.
A must-visit in Helsinki is the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. Accessible by ferry, this inhabited sea fortress as built as a navy base and maritime fortress and is an amazing place to visit. As well as wandering around the main island, you can visit the six museums located on the island.
The Suomenlinna museum details the history of the sea fortress and should be visited along with the Military Museum and the Toy Museum. Enjoy a glass of glogi and ginger biscuits in the little café inside the Toy Museum.
There is a wealth of other museums and art galleries to visit in the city, as well as the ice-skating rink in the center of the city beside the main train station.
And if time allows, why not take a day trip to discover the Christmas markets in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. You can get a ferry across which takes less than two hours and it is another great place to visit while enjoying Helsinki.
Short tour options including Helsinki you might want to check out:
Exclusive Lapland Experiences with Glass Igloo
New Year on the Baltic Sea – 4 days in Stockholm and Helsinki
Oslo, Norway by Aga at Worldering Around
Thinking of visiting Norway next winter? Don’t miss the capital. There are a ton of cool (literally) things to do in Oslo in winter. From trying the variety of winter sports to chilling in the sauna to getting cozy in a pub, there is something for everyone.
If you like to spend your time in an active way, you can try the kilometers of cross country skiing tracks around the city. There are also 14 slopes in Oslo winter park to test your alpine skills.
For the ones without the skis, there is an option to sled down on the 2-kilometre sledge run. You won’t even get too tired, as instead of climbing the hill, you can go up with the metro.
Other fun activities involve skating on the lakes or walking on the frozen sea (yes, really, but follow the rules and be careful). One of my favorite things to do is to chill in the sauna and then swim in the cold waters of Oslofjord. Nothing wakes you up better than this!
When you come to Oslo around Christmas time, you’d also have the opportunity to check out all the magical Christmas markets. Norwegians really know how to do “cozy”. They even have a special word for it.
In winter, despite the dark days and lower temperatures, the towns and cities in Norway are full of light. Fairy lights shine bright, the crackling fire dances in the wooden cabins.
It’s also a perfect time to try some of the traditional Norwegian comfort food. Waffles with brown cheese and mulled wine in front of the fire after the skiing trip? Yes, please.
Short tour options including Oslo you might want to check out:
Pearls of Northern Europe – 4 days in Stockholm and Oslo
The Northern Lights and dog sledding in Tromso
Vienna, Austria by Lyubomira at Bulgarian On The Go
Vienna is one of the most magical cities in Europe to visit during the wintertime. The city is known as the ‘capital of music’, and for its rich history and culture, impressive architecture, beautiful landmarks, and high quality of life. But there is more to it than you might think.
The Austrian capital turns into a winter wonderland in the colder months, quite literally. The outdoor ice skating rinks open (the biggest and most magical of which in front of the city hall), fairy lights light up the trees, decorations and ornaments hang over the central streets and buildings.
Apart from the fairytale atmosphere, Vienna offers so many things to do in the winter – from doing a Christmas Market marathon and drinking some punch on one of the punch terraces to seeing a classical concert or going ice skating. This is the type of city you could never get bored in because it has so much to offer!
At the end of November, Christmas markets start popping up around every corner, like literally. There are over 20 ‘Christkindlmärkte’ here, each being prettier and prettier. The biggest and most popular ones are located at the City Hall, in front of the Schönbrunn Palace and at Karlsplatz.
Make sure to try some local mulled wine, and beware that you always need to pay a few euros as a deposit for the cup, which you’d then get back when returning it.
These cups are different at every market and actually make for an amazing souvenir you can take home, so you can always keep it for yourself as a memory of your wintertime in Vienna.
Short tour options including Vienna you might want to check out:
Budapest – Vienna – Salzburg
Vienna and Budapest
Krakow, Poland by Jaquie at Flashpacking Family
Krakow is a beautiful medieval city in the south of Poland and is a lovely place to visit at any time of year. It can get very cold in winter but don’t let that put you off. You really can’t beat visiting Krakow during the winter months, particularly around Christmas.
The Krakow Christmas market is one of Europe’s best Christmas markets and in our personal opinion it’s worth coming to Krakow just to experience it.
From the end of November into January, the Main Square (the largest medieval square in Europe) transforms into a Christmas wonderland, made all the more special if there’s been a dusting of snow.
Make sure to fill up on the traditional, hearty Polish food from the market and a hot mulled wine (Grzaniec).
But there is so much more to Krakow than just the Christmas market. It’s a relatively small city and it’s easy to get around on foot.
Before you head off on a walking tour, head to Bistro Charlotte just off the Main Square for one of the best breakfast experiences in town.
The highlights for us were the iconic St Mary’s Basilica (make sure to pop inside), the Cloth Hall on the main square and Wawel Royal Castle. If you don’t want to walk, there’s an excellent tram system or you could even snuggle up under a blanket on a horse and cart tour.
The other reason it’s a great place to visit in winter is that it’s very close to one of the most budget-friendly ski resorts in Europe. If you have a little longer than a weekend, you could combine your city break with a quick ski break in Zakopane, around 110 km south of Krakow.
Budapest, Hungary by Marie at A life without borders
With a relatively mild winter climate and lack of tourist crowds, Budapest in winter is one of my favorite times of the year.
From strolls along the river Danube, soaking in the hot waters of a healing thermal spring, to skating outdoors with a fairytale castle as a backdrop, Budapest is always enchanting.
Gaze at the stunning winter views over Hungary’s capital by heading to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Fisherman’s Bastion or the Citadel on top of Gellert Hill.
Stroll along the beautiful Andrassy Avenue or Vaci Utca in the city center before warming up in one of Budapest’s many historic cafes. With no shortage of coffee houses, you can’t go wrong at Ruswurm, Gerbaud, or the opulent New York Café.
Keep the cold at bay by luxuriating in one of Budapest’s famous hot thermal baths. I recommend Szechenyi Bath for its central location and large outdoor space, while Rudas Bath is hard to beat for its rooftop jacuzzi with amazing views overlooking the Danube.
Hop on tram number two for a scenic ride along the Danube River where you can enjoy gorgeous views of the river and city center.
Ice-skate in City Park with stunning fairy-tale architecture all around, before hitting up one of Budapest’s quirky ruin pubs.
If you’re traveling to Budapest from late November until early January, make sure to visit one of the charming Budapest Christmas markets.
Internationally acclaimed, try the Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market or the Advent Market at St Stephen’s Basilica, for hot mulled wine and a hearty Hungarian meal. You won’t be disappointed!
Short tour options including Budapest you might want to check out:
Budapest – Vienna – Salzburg
Vienna and Budapest
Colmar, France by Luly at Imperfect idealist
Colmar is a fairytale village in France, near the German border in the Alsace region.
The town is best known for its colorful houses, picturesque canals, and its festive Christmas market (though its spring flowers are also stunning).
The Christmas Market is held annually from the end of November until New Year’s Eve. During this time, nearly every building in the old town is covered in decorations, making you feel as if you’re in a gingerbread village.
At the Christmas market, you’ll find artisanal goods and crafts, such as local wines, jewelry, art, candy, and hot foods. A traditional holiday drink is vin chaud, or mulled wine, which is spiced red wine served hot (to keep you warm in the cold winter temperatures).
All hot drinks are served in reusable plastic souvenir cups, which you can rent for a 1 euro deposit that will be returned when you bring the cup back (you can also keep the cup if you want). This is part of a nationwide initiative to reduce waste at large events in France.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, there are also food options for you.
While you’re in Colmar, be sure to visit La Petite Venise and Au Vieux Pignon for the best photo spots.
La Petite Venise (Little Venice) has the prettiest colorful houses along the canal, and Au Vieux Pignon is located along a particularly picturesque cobblestone street lined with local vendors, restaurants, and souvenir shops.
Another popular thing to do is to visit the surrounding fairytale villages in Alsace, such as Eguisheim, Riquewihr, and Ribeauvillé. These villages are known for inspiring the town in Beauty and the Beast and are especially quaint.
Short tour options including Colmar you might want to check out:
Magic of Advent on the Rhine (Strassbourg – Cologne)
A Bountiful Christmas in Alsace
Lucerne, Switzerland by Alyse at The Invisible Tourist
With legends of mountain dragons, medieval architecture lining cobbled streets, and gorgeous natural scenery, a visit to Lucerne is the perfect Europe winter city break and a must to add to any Switzerland itinerary.
While summer is a popular time to visit Lucerne, the colder months should not be overlooked as they create their own unique magic. One of the top benefits of a winter trip is there are fewer tourists in the Old Town – most of the city’s visitors are up in the ski fields allowing you to leisurely discover the countless boutiques, cafes, and even some stunning painted façades that date back to the Middle Ages.
As an Australian (where snow is pretty much non-existent), one of my favorite reasons to explore Lucerne in winter is to pay a visit to nearby Mt Pilatus. It’s unforgettable to watch the hillside greenery transform into a greyscale landscape during the cable car ride to the summit.
The weather can change very rapidly at the summit so don’t let grey cloudy skies at ground level stop you making the trip up.
Despite the moody clouds and snowfall when I first arrived, I was treated to an exquisite view of snowcapped mountains to the horizon as the sun decided to peek out from behind the wintery haze. Witnessing their icy coats glisten in the sunlight was such a spectacular reward!
During the medieval times, it was believed dragons with special healing powers resided in the crevices of Mt Pilatus, and today Pilu the dragon is an unofficial mascot of the city.
With so much fascinating history to uncover, you won’t be bored a moment in Lucerne.
Prague, the Czech Republic by Amanda at Under Dutch Sky
Prague is one of the top cities for winter break in Europe, especially for Christmas and New Year celebrations. In December, Prague is full of Christmas vibes, Christmas markets, and choir singing, it is difficult not to realize that Christmas is just around the corner!
There are at least 4 Christmas markets in Prague city center.
I grew up in Asia and always wanted to enjoy Christmas in Europe. I have visited Christmas Markets in Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium; Prague is by far my favorite European city for Christmas Market.
Apart from that, Prague is a very affordable city to travel to whether you are a student or a young couple. Accommodation is cheap and you have a wide range of options to choose from. The food there is tasty and comes with a good price.
I love Czech Chimney Roll the most and will be great if you also enjoy Czech beer! Most importantly, you cannot miss the world-famous Prague Castle and Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square.
In addition, the attractions in Prague are very close to each other so you don’t need to rush from one attraction to another during your stay here. You can totally enjoy your time in Prague without any stress or worries.
Prague is a city with good food, great attractions, and beautiful city views; anyone can find at least one good reason to enjoy this city!
Short tour options including Helsinki you might want to check out:
Prague in 3 days
Royal Weekend in Prague
Luxury Weekend in Alps: From Prague to Austria
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany by Izzy at The Gap Decaders