From sleigh rides through the Swiss countryside and skiing the breathtaking Alps to lounging in outdoor thermal pools and raging at ice festivals, Europe has some of the best and most unique places to spend the winter. Whether you have just a weekend or a whole week to blow, there are an unlimited amount of places to explore. To help you narrow it down, we’ve compiled a list of the top ten cities to visit in the winter.
1. Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck is known as the ski and snowboard capital of the world. As the two-time host of the Winter Olympics and covered in internationally recognized alpine resorts, Innsbruck does not disappoint. In addition to tearing up the slopes, visitors can tour the famous Olympic ski jump and other nearby athletic facilities.
Innsbruck was also a seat of power for centuries and history buffs will love visiting the royal Hapsburg home and soaking up the city’s beautiful architecture. As if you needed more of a reason to visit, Innsbruck is the home of Swarovski Crystals, and no visit to this city is complete without a tour of their bizarre but beautiful headquarters.
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2. Abisko, Sweden
If you’re a die-hard winter fan and cold temperatures don’t bother you, Abisko is going to give you some serious bragging rights. Located just about as far north as you can get in Europe (unless you’re a reindeer), this Swedish town is known for its incredible views of the Northern Lights. BUT – this region is not for the faint-hearted, as the sun doesn’t rise for weeks during its coldest time. Not totally a bad thing…it means it will always feel like Saturday night!
Besides gazing at the aurora borealis, visitors can ski, hike, ice skate, go dog sledding, and explore the national parks. Don’t forget to check out the world’s first and most famous ice hotel, conveniently named Icehotel, in nearby Kiruna to really top your visit off.
3. Copenhagen, Denmark
It is no surprise that the home of Hans Christian Andersen ended up on this list, as Copenhagen is one of the most fairytale-like cities in Europe, especially in the winter. The Danish concept of “hygge” (or “coziness”) is at its peak in winter, when locals spend their afternoons and evenings relaxing, drinking hot chocolate, and enjoying their beautiful surroundings. The idea of coziness not just being accepted, but promoted, is enough to make anyone stop here for a few days!
Top sights in Copenhagen include Tivoli Amusement Park, Christiansborg Slot, and Rosenborg Castle, which are all even more charming covered in snow. Don’t miss out on Copenhagen’s winter culture month, Wondercool, which occurs in February and includes concerts in unusual venues, art shows, and culinary events. Yum!
4. Prague, Czech Republic
With its snow-capped spires, cobblestone alleys, and the cozy hue from its old-fashioned street lamps, Prague just screams winter fairytale. It is relatively tourist-free in the winter, which is surprising because the city’s natural beauty really comes to life under a blanket of snow. Stroll through the Prague Castle at your own pace or hit up a local cafe to escape the cold, especially Choco Cafe, which has more than a dozen types of hot chocolate (check out our Prague guide for more cool things to do there, including where to party.)
If you’re in the Czech Republic long enough, be sure to take a day trip to Cesky Krumlov, which is a tiny medieval town known as the “Pearl of Bohemia”. Easy to get to by train and well worth the trip, especially for fans of the movie Hostel, which was filmed here. Nothing like adding a little spook to your winter!
5. Venice, Italy
Hands down one of the top European tourist attractions in winter is the Carnival of Venice. Beautiful, exciting, and definitely a little bizarre, Venice’s February through March celebration is absolutely not to be missed. Be forewarned that costumed events can set you back a hefty penny, but those looking to save a few bucks can get the full effect of the festival by enjoying the many free events around the city – just with a mask purchased at a street market or local shop. Talk about an awesome souvenir!
Carnival aside, traveling to Venice in winter allows visitors to experience the city at a slower pace and really soak up the culture. The city’s canals, unique architecture, and old-fashioned atmosphere become magical in winter, and the lack of crowds don’t hurt, either. A stop in Venice during its colder months is a definite European highlight.