BEST EUROPEAN CITIES TO VISIT IN THE WINTER
Just because the beams of the hot sun give way to the winter’s chill, it doesn’t mean that we should pack away our suitcases and hibernate until next summer comes.
The best thing about Europe is that adventure can be found all year round. Sure, some cities like London and Berlin are admittedly much more appealing during summer, but Europe is kind of a huge place (if you hadn’t noticed) and there are many cities within it that only become more vibrant and exciting, as they become colder and blanketed in snow. So, dig out your hats, scarves and gloves, and read our round-up of the best European cities to visit during winter.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg is known for its long, harsh winters – and that’s exactly why it’s the best time of year to visit! And yes, the city’s brutalist Soviet architecture may add to the chill, but there’s so much more to the city than its icy facade.
It is scattered with jaw-droppingly intricate and ornate palaces to take shelter in, just like Russia’s infamous Tzars did before they were (awkwardly) overthrown. The most stunning of them all are Catherine Palace, Peterhof Grand Palace, or the aptly named Winter Palace, which holds one of the largest, and certainly most magnificent art collections in the world.
You can also take a scenic stroll along Neva River, watch the unmatchable Russian ballet at the incredible Mariinsky Theatre, and see the majestic colours of the Church of Spilled Blood pop as the rest of the city is blanketed in snow.
Prague, Czeck Republic
The sugary pastel-coloured baroque buildings of Prague’s Old Town Square make it feel like a jolly winter’s dream, especially with the enticing lights, sounds and smells of the yearly Christmas market.
Spirits are lifted even higher as the Astronomical Clock (the world’s oldest working clock) chimes and puts on a mechanical puppet show for spectators every hour; but if that doesn’t do the trick, a warm bowl of goulash (Czech beef stew) from the market certainly will. If it gets too chilly outside, you can take shelter by going to see one of the city’s famous intimate underground jazz shows.
Prague is also known for its elaborate gothic architecture, and there are no better examples of it than the great Charles Bridge, lined with the emboldened statues of 30 patron saints of Czechia, and of course, Prague Castle, from which you are able to see breathtaking views of the snow-capped city.
It’s easy to assume Iceland would be too cold to visit during winter (for obvious reasons), but the temperature actually rarely dips below freezing, making it warmer than some US states! Who knew?!
Although the city itself is pretty small, its gastronomy, art, shopping and social scenes bring it to life. You can spend the day perusing around intriguing Icelandic art galleries and museums, and then fill up on fresh Arctic seafood for dinner at the nearby harbour, passing the city’s famous street murals along the way.
However, the best thing about Reykjavik is that you’re surrounded by astonishing scenes of nature which you can immerse in with a simple day trip from the city. The most popular trip is the Blue Lagoon, a strikingly blue thermal pool surrounded by snow. But from dodging icebergs to spotting whales, and finding frozen waterfalls to hiking around glaciers, there is so much more in this winter wonderland to keep you on your toes.
Bath is the picture-postcard of traditional England. Nowhere else will you find so many quaint cobbled streets, grand limestone buildings, perfectly pruned parks and 19th century corner pubs dimly lit by a crackling open fire. And where else would you possibly rather be during the cold winter months than beside an open fire after Jack Front has nipped at your nose on a fresh countryside walk? Nowhere.
Especially as each year the city hosts a German Christmas market, which is often voted the best in England, as the stalls and chalets sprinkled with fairy lights surround the famous Roman Baths and the beautiful Bath Abbey, allowing them to glow in all their glory.
The city is also filled with the best high-end and high street stores, as well as quirky independent boutiques, so you can shop ‘til you drop, and perhaps even find the perfect Christmas gifts for your loved ones back home.
READ MORE: EUROPE’S MOST CHARMING CITIES
This mountain-circled city allows you go from the shops to the slopes in just 20 minutes; perfect for those who just can’t decide between a city break and an outdoor adventure.
Having hosted the Winter Olympics multiple times, and the Winter World Master Games in January 2020, Innsbruck is well-known and highly praised for its range and quality of snow sporting activities, including skiing, cross-country skiing, ski-jumping, snowboarding, mountaineering, and ice-skating. In fact, there are nine ski resorts surrounding the city, so there’s no shortage of trails to explore.
Meanwhile, the Tyrolean city centre itself is a treasure trove of European history, as it was centre stage to the rise and fall of many empires over the years. The splendour of the Imperial Palace will sweep you off your feet, while the Golden Roof will have you gasping at its beauty, and Kaufhaus Tyrol retail complex will have you whipping out your wallets.
Surrounded by snowy mountains and laced with frozen rivers, Stockholm is a fantastic place to soak up some magnificent winter scenery. Built upon an archipelago, the city actually encompasses 14 islands connected by a total of 57 bridges, and while you can easily navigate them on foot, the cityscape is even more spectacular when viewed by boat.
There are daily boat tours that take you to all the important landmarks in the city, such as the Royal Palace, the Modern Art Museum, Södermalm, a hip modern neighbourhood with cool Scandi vibes, and Gamla Stan, the largest remaining medieval centre in Europe.
But if you want to feel more like a local, you can stroll through the markets, go sledding in the parks, plunge in the freezing rivers and warm up again in one of the many traditional Swedish saunas throughout the city.
Since being released from the tight grasps of Soviet control only 30 years ago, Tallinn has become one of Europe’s most alluring destinations to visit. Composed of 15th century architecture, a strong communist influence, and a new-found modernity, the city is full of surprises.
Many of them in the fortified walls of the Old Town, the entrance of which is characterised by the impressive Viru Gate, with tall whimsical watch towers built on either side. Stepping through this gate is like stepping into a fairy-tale, as cobblestone streets lined with ethereal pastel-coloured houses lead up to the Town Hall Square.
In winter, it’s filled with market stalls and heated outdoor restaurants where you can snuggle under a blanket to eat as you are taken back in time by the medieval maidens and squires who wander the square. But if you’d prefer the company of medieval royalty, head to Toompea Castle, Tallinn’s impressive 800-year-old fortress.
Ok, so Hallstatt might not technically be a city, but there is no destination more visually spectacular, or more peaceful, to visit in Europe during winter.
The former salt-mining alpine village skirts along a steep mountainside, overlooking a vast lake surrounded on all sides by towering mountains. The pinch-me views can be seen from everywhere in the village and when the snow falls, it’s as if you are in a real-life snow globe!
Hallstatt may be small, but in just a few minutes, you can reach Dachstein Mountain where you can ski, hike, paraglide, ice-climb and best of all, admire the incredible views of the lake from the 5 Fingers Viewing Platform.
If you’d prefer to relax and enjoy the simplicity of alpine life though, you can simply wander through the quiet streets of Hallstatt Old Town, find yourself at Market Square, and soak up the winter festivities you’re bound to find.
About the Author: Emily Draper
Originally from the UK, Emily Draper has lived in Chile,with an Amazonian tribe in Peru, in a Wisconsin trailer park, and on a boat in the Mediterranean Sea. Considering herself, and the rest of us, as global citizens, Emily’s mission as a writer and journalist is to expand global consciousness of the fundamental importance of travel, culture, and diversity.