There's something to be said for taking in the winter season and following the cold for as long as it lasts. A chilly day in Europe can be—dare we say it?—magical. Many European cities, beyond the Christmas market rush, are refreshingly cozy and less crowded. These destinations are also much more inexpensive during the colder months offering some seriously snug experiences without breaking the bank. I mean, doesn't a cup of fresh hot chocolate or a warm spiked cider nuzzled up near a riverside café sound pretty enticing? We're breaking down the top 10 European cities and villages that are best to visit when cold.
Winter is, hands down, the best time to visit Budapest. Seeing the Hungarian Parliament surrounded by ice drifts on the Danube River is one of the most specular sights you'll see in all of Europe. And during the winter months, you're sure to discover that all of those lovely Budapest cafes, museums, and thermal baths that are way more alluring after spending a few chilly hours exploring the city.
St, Petersburg, Russia
People are warming up to Russia these days and it comes to no surprise to anyone who has visited this magnificent country. St. Petersburg in particular is a city of full of art, palaces, and poets. That being said, it's the ideal image of a romantic winter. It's Russia at it's most classiest. Think: snow-draped streets and frozen canals next to you as you stroll through the city. To offset the biting cold, a traditional banya (a Russian bathhouse) is where people gather. To find some comfort from the low temperatures of winter, a typical treatment of being beaten with twigs is known to provide soothing. Odd enough, it works. Old vintage stalls, art galleries, and street-food alongside the streets are filled with people huddled up for warmth and social activity.
If you're looking for a real-life fairytale setting, Slovenia's capital city is it. You can see plenty of Baroque architecture that are surrounded by twinkle lights this time of year. Stroll the pedestrian-only Old Town while sipping a hot coffee by the city's riverside cafes. We suggest adding in Lake Bled and the Julian Alps to your itinerary, as Ljubljana makes the perfect base for Slovenian day trips.
Madonna Di Campiglio, Italy
From north to south, mountain lovers have a wealth of choices in Italy; skiing, alpine skiing, trekking, hiking, snowboarding and so on, are all activities that you can accomplish in the more than 400 Italian ski areas throughout the country. In Madonna di Campiglio, a ski resort located in northern Italy, you can find yourself surrounded by the famous Dolomite mountain range. Along with plenty of glaciers, lakes, and hiking trails nearby, there are an endless amount of winter activities to partake in. From the main square, lifts bring you up to ski or snowboard from a selection of impressive slopes. Winter sports enthusiasts can rest assure that they won’t be easily bored here. Book an airplane ticket and get ready to experience Italy at its best.
Visiting Switzerland during ski season is a no-brainer, but most snow bunnies won't venture outside their respective resort towns. This year, make your Swiss vacation more unique and book a trip to Ascona. The gorgeous town features activities you won't find on the slopes—like kayaking on Lake Maggiore and strolling along the lakeside promenade. You'll get a South of France feel here as you pass by street side cafes, and unusual warm breezes from swaying palm trees nearby
We love Vienna anytime of the year but are particularly fond of this Austrian capital in the winter. During the cold months, you can double down on hot chocolate and a Sacher torte at any of the nearby cafes. Everyday you can be sure to find a free outdoor concert outside the opera (loads of people attend, even when it's freezing), and listen to classical holiday shows. If you're seeking total cultural immersion in European art, music, architecture, and literature, Vienna is your answer. From impeccable architecture to a plethora of palatial art museums to warm up in, you'll find no shortage of things to check out in the winter.
This Norwegian destination has all the makings of an idyllic Nordic village. From sweeping views of the sea between rigid cliffs, to the colorful wooden buildings and scenic harbor, the town is awfully beautiful. Even more speculator is that winter provides an opportunity to experience the Northern Lights during their peak season.This UNESCO World Heritage city is also home to bright historic buildings and narrow alleyways – a nod to its history as an important village in the early Middle Ages. It’s a doable city that’s compact enough for visitors to explore its charming cobbled streets peppered with boutiques and cafes.
Winter on an island isn't as crazy as it sounds. In the summer months, Ibiza is overcrowded with hotel rates and restaurant reservations nearly impossible to book without breaking the bank. According to locals, winter is the best time to experience Ibiza as...Ibiza (and not "summer Ibiza"). Beach bars and cafes are more laid back in the colder months, giving way for easy tapas eating and cheap drinks. In the summer, you won't find many bargains in Ibiza, but without the club crowds, business owners are more giving to customers. During winter nights, Ibiza's restaurants participate in something called ‘Gastro Thursdays’ where dishes are offered at half-price. Winter is an amazing time to soak up the quieter side of Ibiza and to see a more authentic side to it.
Another great winter city to consider visiting is Ghent. Long after the Christmas markets have packed up and gone, the scent of pine trees remain with plenty of mulled wine and mouthwatering street food waiting for you to fill up on. Although Ghent draws in visitors for its famously known Christmas spirit, there’s plenty of reason to pay the city a visit after Christmas. In February, the Light Festival illuminates the city, highlighting Ghent’s stunning historic sites in a way that’s more spectacular and memorable than you could imagine. From atmospheric coffeehouses and authentic cuisine, Ghent is a city distinguished by its cultural treasures. Here, you want time to stand still; thankfully, for the most part, it does.
Bulgaria is slowly making its way on the map of places to visit in 2019. Once relatively unknown, the city of Sofia makes for a a wonderful, off-the-beaten-path winter destination in Europe. Winter markets in Sofia such as the Borisova Gradina, serves up delicious German dishes and beverages while open air ice rinks stay open up all over the city. As you'll quickly come to find out, Sofia is a city full of life, culture, and events.