Unless you’re dead-set on skiing in the Bavarian alps of immersing yourself in the frozen wonders of Iceland, chances are the European vacation of your dreams has some serious summer vibes. Cruising Amsterdam or Sweden by bike. Kicking back with a spritz on the French Riviera or ouzo on a Greek island. Train hopping between medieval villages and eye-dropping vistas. Overpaying for hotels and meals. Waiting in line to see iconic paintings at a museum as crowded as Disneyland. You know… the quintessential European Summer kind of experience.
It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re willing to sacrifice some beach time and your sun-soaked picnic, many of Europe’s coolest destinations are equally enchanting during the winter. To experience Europe in the winter months is to fully embrace its cozy cafes, homey taverns, peaceful museums, festive holiday markets, and, crucially, affordable hotel rates. And thanks to the wonders of efficient train travel, many of Europe’s urban wonderlands are just a few hours from adorable mountain villages and some of the world’s best skiing.
Grab your chicest warm coat and a comfy pair of walking boots—here are the best destinations for a winter escape in Europe.
True, the weather in London in the winter isn’t exactly great. But here’s the thing: It’s not great in the summer, either. And while a rainy summer day might ruin your plans of a picnic in Hyde Park or a bike ride through Hackney, a rainy winter day just provides a great excuse to cozy up and enjoy London’s greatest asset: its pubs—er, museums, we mean.
Work up an appetite by strolling through some of the city’s most famous cultural institutions like the Natural History Museum or the British Museum, or choose a more niche experience, like discovering contemporary art at Tate Modern or finding your way through the maze of art- and sculpture-stuffed rooms at Sir John Soane’s Museum. Afterwards, you can reward yourself with a pint at a famous spot like the Churchill Arms or at a Victorian-era pub like the Princess Louise in Holborn.Don’t miss out on high tea, a decadent afternoon snack of finger sandwiches, petit fours, and scones, washed down with champagne (or tea, if you must) at the recently relaunched Dorchester, one of the grandest hotels in London. Spend the night next door at the swank and intimate 45 Park Lane, or hop over to Chiltern Firehouse to sleep at one of the hippest hotels in town.
Contemporary art lovers will want to venture out to see the private collection of the Beyeler family at Fondation Beyeler. And if the art there isn’t unsettling enough for you, there’s always the toy museum, where the eyes of ancient puppets seem to follow you around the room.
In winter, the quaint old town feels like a movie set, with cobblestoned streets lined with bakeries, galleries, and chocolate shops. The most famous hotel in town, Les Trois Rois, has more affordable rates in winter—plus, you’ll probably even be able to score a reservation at the hotel’s three-Michelin-star restaurant, Cheval Blanc.
Of all the cities on this list, Athens is where you’re most likely to see some winter sun. With temperatures reaching the low 60s, it’s actually perfect weather for exploring the extensive network of ancient ruins strewn throughout the city. Absolutely jam-packed with tourists and beastly hot in the summer, the Acropolis is the most famous attraction in pretty much all of Greece, perched on the top of a hill in the middle of the city. Climb to the top to explore the Parthenon with 360-degree views of the city uninterrupted by fellow tourists, and don’t miss out on the informative museum, along with other ancient sites like the Temple of Hephaestus, Hadrian’s Library, and the Ancient Agora, all located right in center of the action.
But while Athens is most famous for its ancient icons, it’s also a hip and modern city with an active nightlife scene, home to bars like The Clumsies (ranked among the world’s 50 best bars) and s.i.x. Dogs, which serves expertly crafted cocktails in an underground rock pit. You can eat at a classic taverna like Yiasemi, hidden away on the steps leading up to the picturesque Anafiotika neighborhood, or opt for modern Greek-Japanese fusion at the Michelin-recommended Nolan.Winter is also a great time to visit Athens for affordable hotel rates, so spend the night at the swank Lighthouse Athens, where you can book a suite with a bar, a writing desk, and a bathtub in the middle of the room for under $300 per night.
There’s truly nothing quite like seeing Prague Castle covered in snow. While the Czech capital is one of the most beautiful cities on this list, it’s also one of the coldest. But beautiful architecture, fascinating history, and a rich cultural heritage make up for the short days and low temps.
Spend your time popping into cafes and shops in Old Town square (don’t miss the astronomical clock) or touring the many rooms and museums of Prague Castle before a ballet or opera performance at the National Theater. If you come for the holidays, the city’s legendary Christmas Market runs into January and transforms the iconic Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square into a full-blown holly-jolly fantasia.After dark, experience Prague’s legendary nightlife scene, kicking things off with craft cocktails at the Alchemist, a bar that plays homage to Prague’s past as a hotspot for alchemy. For hotels, you can go modern with the design-y Hotel Boho, or keep it classic with a stay at the Grand Mark.
The incredibly stylish Palazzo Experimental is the hottest hotel in town with a restaurant and bar that are worth visiting even if you’re not staying there. If you time your trip right, you might even get to enjoy some carnival theatrics; in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, revelers don elaborate masks and capes in festivals and events throughout the city.
Visiting Vienna feels like something out of a fairytale, where twinkling lights lend a festive glow to the city’s incredible architecture, even in the dead of winter (especially during the Weihnachtsmarkt Christmas Market). Keep the fairytale theme going with a visit to Hofburg Palace (once home to the Hapsburg dynasty) and the dazzling Opera House, before discovering paintings by Klimt, Schiele, Van Gogh, and others at the extensive Belvedere collection. Spend a cozy afternoon at one of the city’s famous cafes like Cafe Landtmann, where you can people-watch over coffee and sachertorte.Winter is also ball season in Vienna, and even tourists can score tickets to black-tie events put on by various guilds throughout the city, from the Confectioner’s Guild to the Philharmonic Orchestra, which takes place in the Golden Hall of the Musikverein. Once you’ve waltzed the night away, book a night at the new Rosewood Vienna, where the impeccably designed rooms overlook the spires of old town.
You’ll be grateful for the cooler weather when you’re hoofing it up Lisbon’s famously steep hills. Plus, the city’s cafes and wine bars along the winding cobblestone streets don’t get any less hip during the winter—there just aren’t as many tourists scrambling for tables. And without throngs of visitors, you can easily explore the stunning National Tile Museum or the massive LX factory, full of shops, restaurants, and more.
Save at least one day to visit nearby Sintra, where a collection of jaw-dropping palaces, parks, and castles will delight and surprise you (and definitely don’t miss the Initiation Well at Quinta da Regaleira). And if you’re a surfer, you can find waves just 30 minutes from the city at Praia do Guincho.With so many streets and alleyways to explore, it’s tempting to stick to the city center, but venturing a bit further out—either by car or tuk tuk—can be even more rewarding. Go for inventive—but not gimmicky—cuisine at Michelin-starred Ron Gastrobar or interesting natural wines at Glou Glou. Lower winter rates might mean a stay at the glamorous Palacio Santa Catarina is in the cards. If that’s out of your budget, opt for The Vintage, complete with spacious rooms and an underground spa with a heated pool.
The bridges and canals of Amsterdam are especially romantic in winter, especially if you’re snuggled up inside an antique boat sipping a hot toddy. As the sun sets in the early afternoon, the whole city turns into a movie set.
The city’s cafes and coffee shops are extra cozy in winter. Try the famous apple tart at Winkel 43, grab a pint at Cafe de Druif, or get weird at the quirky Cafe Pollux. You can easily spend the day cafe-hopping, but winter is a great time to visit the popular Rijksmuseum, where you can have the place to yourself.With so many streets and alleyways to explore, it’s tempting to stick to the city center, but venturing a bit further out can be even more rewarding. Go for inventive—but not gimmicky—cuisine at Michelin-starred Ron Gastrobar or interesting natural wines at Glou Glou. For the ultimate winter getaway, book a room at the Pulitzer, a five-star hotel occupying a row of townhouses in the chic Jordaan neighborhood.
Get lost in the winding cobblestone streets, grab a cozy drink at a hidden wine bar, visit one of the world’s oldest pharmacies, or stroll along the old city walls. While some restaurants and bars close in the winter, the city is still full of incredible places to eat, like Bota Sare Oyster and Sushi Bar. And, if you’re up for a delicious day trip, you can visit the oyster farm in Mali Ston where the briney shellfish are raised. Plus, visiting in winter means that rooms at the best accommodation in town—the Hotel Excelsior—cost a fraction of what they might in the high season.
The city is a true treasure during December, when the Disney-inspiring Tivoli Gardens in the city center transforms into one of Europe’s most iconic Christmas markets. The canal-side neighborhood of Nyhavn is lined with vendors handing out warm gløgg, while various squares around town are lit up with fire pits and string lights and thronged with vendors roasting meats over open fires and serving beers from local breweries like the iconic Mikkeller.
Things are a bit more chaotic in December, but come January, those willing to roll the dice on the weather are rewarded handsomely with lower hotel rates and a full immersion into Danish hygge culture. From the famous saunas to cozy bakeries like Hart Bageri or Juno the Bakery and the city’s famously divey “brown bars,” there’s no shortage of places to cozy up You’ll find it easier to score a reservation at world-class fine-dining destinations like Alchemist, too, but don’t sleep on the city’s many food halls for a chance to dine on crispy pork and immaculate seafood to warm your soul.
The Catalonian sun doesn’t pack nearly as much heat in the winter, but Barcelona remains a bright, shining star of the European experience during the winter, when the hotel prices citywide take a serious dip. Take those savings as an excuse to splurge while walking around one of Europe’s funkiest, most singular cities, taking frequent breaks for Iberico ham and cold Estrellas at every opportunity.
You might be sacrificing beach time, but it’s more than worth it to experience this hilly, sprawling city without dripping in sweat, colliding with backpackers in the Gothic Quarter, or being quite as wary of pickpockets in chaotic Las Ramblas (still maybe be a little wary). Start by taking in the greatest hits of Antoni Gaudí, whose psychedelic Park Güell’s steep mosaic landscape is less taxing in temperate winter weather, and whose Sagrada Família cathedral—still in progress 140 years later—remains one of the most puzzlingly stunning pieces of architectural art ever created.Immerse yourself in even more art via Museu Picasso, then prepare to consume your weight in tapas (here’s a handy guide to the less-touristy spots), paella, sangria, vermouth, and cava. You are, after all, in a world-class culinary capital. Don’t worry—you’re not headed to the beach, so go ahead and grab some extra pulpo and hit that bakery on your way back to the hotel… or wherever else the night takes you.
In this surprisingly punk-rock arts hub, you’ll bundle up and stroll the art-lined streets and dip in and out of the halls of the Musé Modern Museum, the Old Masters Museum, and the Royal Museums of Fine Arts. If you’re looking for a divine culinary experience, this is the time to score a res at Michelin-loved spots like Comme Chez Soi or Le Chalet de la Forêt, although the city’s wealth of regional comfort foods—moules frites, waffles, shrimp croquettes, and chocolate primary among them—makes bouncing between cafes a must. And of course, this is perhaps the most famous beer city in the world: Delirium Cafe is one-stop shopping for all your belly-warming trappist and abbey needs, but this is a city that all but demands a brewery hop that doubles as a history lesson.
Definitely make time for a quick trip through the Flemish countryside to Bruges. Yes, the cultishly beloved movie that shares its name has made it a magnet for tourists. But post-Christmas the world’s best-preserved medieval city remains a wonder of labyrinthine alleys, stunning canals, basement pubs, and outstanding cafes… and the view from atop the iconic Belfry Tower is even more surreal when the fairytale streets below are virtually empty on a brisk winter night.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and YouTube.
Teddy Minford is a contributor for Thrillist.2022-11-30T00:27:42Z dg43tfdfdgfd