Winter in Europe means snow-capped mountains, comfort food, mulled wine, and Christmas markets. Locals in these regions don’t hide from the cold but fully embrace it with festivals, outdoor markets, and snow-based sports. The lead-up to Christmas in small and large towns alike is the stuff of storybooks – twinkling markets full of Yuletide delights and towering Christmas trees. Enter the realm of gingerbread, Glühwein, carol singers, and timbered fairy-tale buildings. Soak up the friendly Yuletide atmosphere in our top European countries to visit in winter.
Iceland: Best Things to Do in Winter
Iceland is an earthly paradise with slow-moving glaciers, milky blue thermal pools, basalt volcanic cliffs, 10,000 waterfalls, and, of course, the spellbinding Northern Lights. Visit the northern capital of the world, Reykjavik, for unique art and culinary scenes that embrace the Nordic culture and the avant-garde, all set amidst storybook gabled houses, jagged basalt rock, and the sea.
The Northern Lights in Iceland
Caused by solar wind disturbances in the magnetosphere, the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, are most likely encountered October through to April, making Iceland the perfect winter destination. The bright hues of illuminated lights dancing across Iceland’s sky is a show you don't want to miss. When you see it in person, the natural phenomenon will stir you to the very core.
Waterfalls in Iceland
Of the 10,000 plus waterfalls you'll want to see in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss are two major standouts. At Seljalandsfoss, water cascades off a cliff once part of Iceland’s coastline, flowing into pools surrounding lush green fields. At Skógafoss, you will find an old-world majesty, mythology speaking of trolls, elves, and hidden pots of gold.
Germany: Best Things to Do in Winter
Germany embraces the holiday season with a particular zeal, so feel free to enjoy (with glee) the vibrant and festive Christmas markets. Organ music and carols ring out from the ancient churches on crisp winter days in Munich. If snow has fallen, the vast English Garden provides lovely winter vistas. Journey to Marienplatz with its soaring Gothic Town Hall and colorful Glockenspiel, breathtaking under a snowy blanket.
Germany's Christmas Markets
Soak up Christmas magic at Weihnachtszauber, Berlin’s most luxurious market full of gourmet food and handmade goods, framed by the Concert Hall and the near-identical French and German cathedrals. Seek out the delicious Christstollen in Dresden, a Christmas cake recipe dating back to medieval times, at Germany’s oldest Christmas Market. Take some time to admire the record-breaking Christmas pyramid, then search among the stalls for one of your own, sure to delight your friends and family back home for the holiday seasons to come.
Europe's Christmas Markets
Winter is a magical time across Europe as the Christmas Markets come alive
Switzerland: Best Things to Do in Winter
Switzerland becomes an enchanting winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls, peaceful, cozy villages with chalet-style houses, snow-laden forests, and imposing mountain ranges crowned by famous peaks. Go “dashing through the snow” and marvel at Engadin's glittering forests and glaciers, all from the comfort of a horse-drawn sleigh.
The Swiss Alps
Stay in the fashionable ski resort of St. Moritz, set in the sparkling Engadine Valley nestled below the awe-inspiring, majestic Grisons Alps. Take a ride on the world-famous Glacier Express through the heart of the Swiss Alps, meandering beside rock-strewn rivers and climbing through snowy pastures and woodlands.
Switzerland's Holiday Scene
Experience Europe’s biggest indoor Christmas extravaganza held in the main railway station in Zürich, which houses over 160 wooden chalets and a three-story Christmas tree draped with Swarovski crystals. Visit Lucerne’s Christmas market at Franziskanerplatz, in the heart of the city’s Old Town. Ramble past traditional wooden stalls, a warm mug of ‘Glühwein’ in hand, and admire the swirling Christmas carousel with the joyful sounds of happy children.
France: Best Things to Do in Winter
Visit the City of Love during one of the most romantic times of the year. Explore the region of Alsace wedged between the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains and spend time in cozy neighborhoods of timbered fairy-tale buildings, with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery, warm with fragrant promise. Make sure to visit Strasbourg, the City at the Crossroads, where the Christmas Market is the oldest and one of the largest in France.
Paris Is Gorgeous Year-Round
Is there a time of year that Paris isn't magical? We think not, and winter in the City of Love certainly leaves us with cozy feelings. There's nothing like exploring snow-lined avenues, practically empty of tourists and popping into a cafe to warm up with a perfect cup of coffee. The city is hushed and busy with holiday shopping, and snow blankets the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, making it seem even more romantic than usual (if that's possible?).
Italy: Best Things to Do in Winter
Although Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are most famous for these charming markets, Italy is no slouch! Many cities and towns will have festive markets full of delicious food, local handicrafts, and holiday entertainment throughout December, like carolers and ice skating. Learn about the unique local holiday customs and characters, like “Befana,” the Italian Christmas Witch!
Italy's Winter Weather
Most of Italy is cool but comfortable in the wintertime. Central and Southern Italy, such as around Rome, hover around the mid-high 50s and even into the low 60s. Northern climes can be colder, of course, but as Italy has a Mediterranean climate, still comfortable. Clear skies and bright sunshine are not uncommon in the winter. Unless you live in Florida, California, or Arizona, you’ll probably find Italy much more comfortable than the weather at home.
Explore Italy Without the Crowds!
The biggest and most important reason to travel to Italy in the off-season is the lack of crowds. Italy is one of the most crowded counties to visit in all of Europe. Places like the famous Uffizi museum in Florence can have entrance lines for up to 3 hours in the peak season; in December, you can almost walk right in. You'll be surprised by the nearly empty attractions that normally burst at the seams.
Italians are rightly known for their warmth and welcoming attitude to travelers. But during the busy summer, even the friendliest locals can become tired of navigating the huge crowds of tourists inhabiting their cities. With the lower crowds and festive atmosphere of the wintertime, the hospitality of the Italian people becomes even more evident.
Austria: Best Things to Do in Winter
Austria is a place of nostalgia and romance at this time of year, with concerts, nativity displays, and many official Advent Markets selling a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats. Lose yourself in the festive atmosphere and explore the country's unique Christmas Markets.
Innsbruck’s Magical Christmas Markets
The giant Christmas tree dominates the square, adorned in lights and decorations, and is set in front of the Golden Roof, graced by beautifully preserved medieval facades. Browse the market stalls selling handmade trinkets that make perfect gifts for friends and family, delicious local treats of homemade biscuits, jams, and delicious, soul-warming Glühwein.
Take in the delightful scenery and crisp, fresh air during your horse-drawn carriage ride, known locally as a Fiaker, through the countryside of Tyrol. See incredible Salzburg, where the spires and domes of the Old Town are often draped in snow come December.
Vienna During the Holidays
Travel along the famous Ring Road in Vienna, the grand boulevard built along the lines of the old city walls. The capital’s architectural masterpieces, including the Opera House and Hofburg Imperial Residence, are lit up during the holiday season. You’ll see City Hall and its surrounding parklands, the perfect setting for the Viennese Christmas Market, festively decorated in a sea of lights.
Czech Republic: Best Things to Do in Winter
While the Czech Republic is best known for beautiful Prague, you'll also discover an array of festive holiday markets. Browse the decorative wooden stalls beneath giant Christmas trees draped in a blaze of lights. Meet local stallholders, savor a glass of Svařák, traditional mulled wine, and try the local Trdelník pastry.
Czech Republic Vacations
Prague is Beautiful in Winter
In Prague, discover a treasure-trove of hidden gems, including the Charles Bridge lined with the Baroque statues of saints and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, with its hourly Walk of the Apostles. Prague offers a different look at the Vltava River from the heights of Prague Castle, dominated by the soaring spires of St. Vitus Cathedral. Venture down to Old Town Square, where Prague’s colorful Christmas Market contrasts with the Gothic skyline.
The Fairytale Town of Český Krumlov
A visit to picturesque Český Krumlov promises to delight. This fairy-tale town, straight out of the Middle Ages, invites you to wander through its cobblestone, traffic-free streets, past colorful houses that lead up to one of the finest castles in the land. Not to mention the pristine views of the Vltava River that the town huddles up next to.
Poland: Best Things to Do in Winter
Wrapped in romantic gabled townhouses and Gothic spires, Warsaw and Krakow's festive Christmas Market stalls are a Disneyesque dream, offering all sorts of delicacies and delights—from Highland woolen slippers to amber jewelry from the Baltic. Try the traditional oscypek cheese with cranberries, a delicacy from the Tatra mountains; you won’t be disappointed.
Wrocław Has One of the Best Christmas Markets in Europe
Wrocław, known as the Venice of Poland, comprises five rivers, 12 islands, and over 150 bridges. Rated as one of the finest in Europe, Wrocław’s Christmas Market offers a delightful and fanciful charm. Enjoy a stroll from the market in Rynek to the historic main square, surrounded by Baroque splendor and adorned with thousands of twinkling lights. Spend time exploring the vast array of stalls bursting with local crafts and tasty treats.