Summer seems long gone, autumn leaves are on the trees and winter is fast approaching. If you’re anything like me, your last holiday is a fading memory and the daily grind at home is well-established. Now is the perfect time to organise a winter city break before the rain, cold and short days get you down.
Best Winter City Breaks in Europe
Any of these 12 destinations from across Europe would make a brilliant weekend getaway or longer holiday.
1. Venice, Italy
Venice is the most unique city in the world. It’s an incredible place worth visiting at least once in your life if you can. Walking along the canals, across the famous bridges and squares or cruising on a water taxi will take you past some of the most unforgettable views.
Of course, I’m not the only person to feel this way. Venice is crowded beyond belief. As someone who is strongly crowd-averse, Venice is best visited in winter when crowds are at their lowest, but the city is still beautiful.
2. Zagreb, Croatia
For the last three years, Zagreb’s Christmas Market has been voted the best in Europe. Having been twice, I have to agree it’s pretty great and as a small city, it’s the perfect size for a Christmas city break.
Zagreb is a compact city split into an Upper and Lower Town. Both have interesting sights and attractions, with the Upper Town being a little more medieval and the Lower Town more baroque.
Croatia’s cafe culture is unhindered by the cold. Take a seat under a sidewalk heater and spend a few hours sipping coffee like the locals.
If it’s snowing and you want to see something really special, take a day trip to Plitvice Lakes and walk by the icy waterfalls.
3. Ohrid, North Macedonia
A weekend away on Lake Ohrid sounds like heaven right now. The first time I visited Ohrid was in the off-season. The majority of the tourists had returned home and many locals were closing their businesses for the winter. The result was pure bliss.
Peaceful, lakeside accommodation on the cheap, quiet restaurants happy to let you linger and the occasional fishing boat puttering by on the lake. Unlike in summer, when all you can hear is blasting music and party boats, during winter, Ohrid is as peaceful as it gets.
On a weekend break, you can take your time to visit the historic sights around the lake or relax inside your room with a good book to pass the time. North Macedonia is a cheap winter city break, especially in January and February 2022.
4. Timisoara, Romania
Timisoara was the biggest surprise of my Romania road trip a few years back. I’d read so much about the Revolutions of 1989 and how the Romanian Revolution started in Timisoara. I wanted a visual of the locations I’d read about and expected a rather gloomy atmosphere to match the difficult history.
But Timisoara is an amazing city with more than its history as an attraction. It’s nicknamed Little Vienna, I presume for the abundance of art nouveau architecture lining the streets, like in Vienna.
The city has the most vibrant tech community in the region and is the centre of medical tourism in Romania. If you want to add a trip to the dentist while on holiday, Timisoara is a great place to do so and as a bonus, Romania is generally very cheap for tourists.
5. Prague, Czechia
Prague is a classic European city break destination. Prague never gets old; you can visit multiple times and still not see everything. There are excellent museums to entertain you when the weather turns bad and the city has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Many of the attractions are just as good in winter as in the warmer months, especially Prague Castle. There are museums and churches within the castle complex and if you time your visit right, you can watch the changing of the guard.
If you want to start your day in Prague with a relaxing coffee and brunch, plan your mornings with the help of my Prague coffee shop guide.
6. Bled, Slovenia
Head to Ljubljana and spend an afternoon visiting the Christmas markets and Ljubljana Castle. Then drive to beautiful Bled for one of Europe’s most romantic winter breaks.
Lake Bled is a fairytale destination. In winter, the lake is often shrouded in fog, with Bled Island occasionally peeking through in the distance.
You can stay in Tito’s former summer residence to experience a little Yugo luxury, ordering room service to enjoy a hearty Slovenian meal.
Put your coat on to walk a lap of the lake, stopping to visit clifftop Bled Castle and see the views of the lake and Julien Alps.
Take the cable car to Vogel if you fancy some skiing or a hot chocolate with mountain views. Even if you don’t stay long, it’s worth it for the views over the Alps.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
The Danes know how to do winter. They even have a word encapsulating the feeling of cosiness, warmth and contentment, hygge.
The bestselling book, The Little Book of Hygge (ad), explains this Danish way of living, a lifestyle where you pursue everyday pleasures to create happiness and wellness.
With a city break in Copenhagen, a destination that becomes a winter wonderland in December and January, you’ll have the perfect opportunity to experience a little bit of hygge for yourself.
8. Warsaw, Poland
You might have the impression Warsaw is bleak in winter, but I can assure you it’s not. Warsaw is a fun and lively city with so much to do, from Christmas markets to Cold War museums to underground vodka bars.
Visit the Palace of Culture and Science, a Soviet Cold War gift to Poland, relax listening to a Chopin concert or treat yourself in one of the city’s luxury spa hotels.
If you book a few days in Warsaw, be sure to make time for a day trip to Lublin, a small city with a colourful old town and a pretty white castle.
9. Colmar, France
For a small city of 70,000, Colmar has a lot to offer, especially for foodies or almost exclusively for foodies. As beautiful and walkable as the city is, with its old town canals and pretty buildings, there isn’t much to do but eat and drink in winter. Not that that’s a bad thing. Colmar is a gourmet paradise.
You can eat at historic Michelin star restaurants or charming family-owned establishments. The streets are lined with bakeries and delicatessens where you can buy regional gourmet food to take home or do as I do and create a winter picnic in your room.
If you like to drink, Alsatian wines are some of the best in France, both white wine and sparkling. Have an aperitif in a wine bar before moving on to dinner, or do a little bar hopping to try a number of regional wines and hors d’oeuvres in one evening.
10. Lisbon, Portugal
Lisbon is one of the most affordable warm winter breaks in Europe. The best thing about Lisbon in winter is the weather. There’s a good chance you’ll have blue skies and crisp winter air.
The low probability of rain means you can peacefully walk the bohemian streets of Bairro Alto or head to Cascais to lunch by the beach.
When you want to warm up, Lisbon has a growing hipster cafe scene or stick to the intimate Portuguese restaurants showcasing traditional Fado music.
11. Zurich, Switzerland
The reason I suggest Zurich for a short break is that Switzerland is crazy expensive and most people can’t afford to stay much more than a couple of days!
I do love Switzerland, especially in winter when surrounded by the incredible snow-covered alps, but it really puts a strain on my budget.
That being said, I have been to Zurich on a couple of occasions and enjoy spending time by the lake and window shopping in the fancy boutiques and home design stores.
12. Paris, France
You know how the saying goes, “Paris is never a bad idea”, and they’re not wrong. Each season brings something different to Paris; there is always something to do and the city is constantly changing and moving.
A winter city break is a perfect time to visit the city’s world-class museums like the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Picasso Museum or the Rodin Museum.
Of course, there are countless smaller museums too, covering just about every genre possible.
Or, if you prefer, you can take the opportunity for shopping, visit the Christmas markets or simply pass the time sipping tea or hot chocolate in a classic Parisian cafe.
If you’re in Paris for more than a short break, you might want to include a Paris day trip on your itinerary.
Best Places to Visit in Winter
Those are my suggestions for a winter break in December 2022 and January and February 2023, or read my guide to winter sun holidays if you would prefer a warm-weather break.
For more travel inspiration, read this article on the best places to visit in Europe, which applies to any time of the year, not just winter.
Responsible Travel Tips
Many of us are increasingly concerned about climate change and sustainability. Here are some ideas on how we can reduce our impact when travelling in Europe.
- Stay in a sustainable hotel: Look for hotels that have implemented eco-friendly practices, such as using renewable energy and energy-efficient lighting and appliances, reducing food waste and supporting the local community.
- Use public transportation: Many European cities have efficient and convenient public transportation systems, including buses, trams, and trains. Consider using these instead of driving or taking a taxi to reduce your carbon footprint.
- Walk or bike: If the weather permits, consider walking or biking to your destination instead of driving or taking public transportation.
- Support local businesses: Look for locally-owned restaurants, shops and other businesses to support the local economy.
- Reduce food waste: Choose restaurants that have a commitment to reducing food waste and support local and seasonal food options. Although it can be tempting when in a new city, try not to over-order food.
- Choose a sustainable diet: Look for plant-based options and locally-grown, seasonal produce to minimise the environmental impact of your meals.
- Avoid flying: If possible, consider using alternative modes of transportation, such as trains or buses, to reach your destination. This is generally very easy in Europe thanks to their brilliant train systems. Even longer distances can be reached in reasonable time frames.
- Be aware of over-tourism: Cities like Venice face the negative impacts of over-tourism. Try to be mindful of the local culture and your impact when visiting. Avoid travelling by cruise ship as these cause significant negative environmental impacts.
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