Inspiration Destinations Where To Have the Ultimate European Winter City Escape

Where To Have the Ultimate European Winter City Escape

Snowy scene in London, one of the top places to enjoy winter in Europe.

The weather outside is frightful, but the best Europe winter holidays are delightful.

The European summer gets a lot of airtime, but the colder months are actually some of the most magical, offering a whole new perspective on its storied cities. Parisian bistros are cosy and candlelit, the medieval architecture of Edinburgh is ethereal in the winter mist, Berlin buzzes with festive markets and Amsterdam’s canals glitter in the frost. And of course, there’s the added perk of fewer crowds than high season. 

So, rug up and step out: these are Europe’s ultimate winter city escapes. 


The Big Smoke’s never better than when it’s frosty and fabulous, with ice skating at Somerset House, Christmas lights across the West End and red-nosed shoppers bustling for space on the Tube. Of course, one simply cannot visit London and not shop: Covent Garden’s Apple Market is particularly charming at this time of year, while the legendary Harrods is a glittering beacon of festivity. If you’re in the market for some kitsch Christmas fun, look no further than Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, where an ice rink, traditional fairground rides and a Swiss chalet-style market await to inject a hearty dose of merriment. Looking to warm up? Head into one of the city’s world-class museums or theatres or curl up at a good old English pub for wholesome bangers’n’mash. Bonus points for a roaring fire. 


Haggis, neeps and tatties, Hogmanay and cockle-warming whisky: Scotland’s capital was practically designed with winter in mind. Edinburgh Castle looks more Hogwarts-esque than ever lit up against the crisp winter night, towering over the city as it has done since the Iron Age. There’s a spark in the air, literally and figuratively: festive excitement and fireworks fizzle from Bonfire Night to New Year’s Eve, with a Christmas market and one of Britain’s largest ice rinks. The charming boutiques that line the winding, cobbled streets are welcome respites from the cold, selling everything from designer clothing to antique books. 


Budapest in the snow, one of the best cities to enjoy winter in Europe.
Budapest, Hungary.

With its bountiful ruin bars to hole up in and steaming thermal spas, winter could very well be the most rewarding time to visit the Hungarian capital. Crisp riverside walks along the Danube take on a new magic in winter’s dusk, as the lights of the gothic Hungarian Parliament Building twinkle in the inky waters. Get into the festive spirit by hopping on a fényvillamos Christmas tram illuminated with more than 35,000 LED bulbs, or heading to a Christmas market: Vörösmarty Square for one of the oldest in Hungary, or St. Stephen’s Basilica for local folk crafts, an ice rink and an accompanying light show. Arrive hungry for winter warmers like steaming sausages, flaky strudel, mulled wine and chimney cake – a cinnamon-dusted, doughnut-like cone stuffed with ice cream, cookie dough or chocolate spread. 


As the spiritual home of Christmas markets, Germany knows how to do winter with a warm heart. Its artsy capital, Berlin, is no exception, with the markets at Gendarmenmarkt and Schloss Charlottenburg the most impressive. The city’s Botanic Garden is transformed into a winter wonderland from November to January, with an illuminated light trail that stretches for two kilometres. You can even go tobogganing in the heart of the city: head to Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz, where a 70-metre-long track lit with disco lights offers icy thrills and spills with views of the Brandenburg Gate. Beat the chill in one of the city’s museums or seek out traditional, hearty German food, like bratwurst, veal in gravy and doughy pretzels. 


Once a bucks party go-to for its cheap flights and even cheaper beer, Prague is shaking off its perhaps unfair party reputation and emerging as Europe’s go-to for history and culture – especially in the winter months when it’s quieter. The City of a Hundred Spires offers endless intrigue with its impeccably preserved Gothic and baroque architecture, and a warm hug for chilly explorers in the form of traditional goulash and dumplings and Czech beer. It offers all the traditional trappings of the festive season with ice skating, an annual ‘Three Kings Procession’ and a Christmas market in Prague Old Town Square, best navigated with a svařené víno (mulled wine) in one hand and trdelník (a cinnamon pastry cooked over charcoal) in the other.  


Paris in winter, one of the best places to enjoy winter in Europe.
Paris, France.

The romance of Paris goes stratospheric in winter beneath a blanket of stars, with misty breath on the air and lamps glowing over the Seine. Lean into the magic of it all with ice skating beside Hôtel de Ville (City Hall), mulled wine and roasted chestnuts at La Magie de Noël Christmas fair at Tuileries Garden and a stroll beneath the twinkling Eiffel Tower. If your love’s still not enough to keep you warm, plentiful cosy patisseries await, sweet with the scent of cinnamon-dusted pastries and bûche de Noël. You can also hit attractions like Disneyland Paris and the Louvre Museum, minus the crowds. 


No prizes for guessing why this Swiss city makes an excellent winter escape. With the Alps of Megève and Verbier nearby, Geneva invites you to play in the powder before returning for fondue and vin chaud (mulled wine) in the medieval Old Town. Those with the courage can plunge, teeth gritted, into the icy-cold waters of Lake Geneva, before emerging victorious for a replenishing sauna (Bains des Pâquis, overlooking the lake, is popular). Then there’s its watchmaking heritage. The Patek Philippe Museum feels like Santa’s workshop with its benches of antique tools and horological treasures spanning 500 years. 


There’s a special joy in strolling Amsterdam’s canals in winter, wrapped up against the chill with a tray of hot, fluffy poffertjes (Dutch pancakes) in one hand, and a cup of bisschpswijn (mulled wine) in the other. And cold it does get: every few years the canals freeze over entirely, with locals donning their skates to take full advantage of nature’s spectacle. Looking for a cosy corner to retreat to? Head to one of the city’s famous ‘brown cafes’ (pubs, so-called for their dark wood interiors), or museums (the Van Gogh Museum is a highlight). If you’re in town in January, you’ll catch the annual tulip festival, ushering in the new season of the iconic Dutch flower. 

Looking for more inspiration? Check out The Prettiest Ports on Europe’s Danube River.

About Rebecca Ellwood
An English girl in Melbourne, Rebecca's exploring and tasting her way around Australia and beyond – and she does love a little luxury (who doesn't, darling?)

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