We recently published an article on the best winter sun destinations in Europe for those looking to escape the cold (me). But believe it or not, there are some people (Nathan), who actually embrace the cold and enjoy the snowy winter destinations in Europe.
While I personally chose warm over chilly any day I have to admit that Europe can be just as beautiful in the winter. Imagine fairy tale castles, historic cities and quaint towns covered in a layer of powdery-white snow. If you’re an adventure seeker or nature lover there are also mountains and countryside full of opportunities to ski, skate, toboggan, and snowshoe followed by a hot drink in a cozy chalet.
If you love winter sports and bundling up to explore the quieter streets of the city then you’ll love this list complied from top travelers of best places to visit in Europe in winter.
Best Snowy Winter Destinations in Europe
One of the best winter destinations in Europe is the Swiss alpine village of Grindelwald. Located in the Bernese Alps, and at the foot of the Eiger, Jungfrau and Monch, Grindelwald is a popular ski resort but also offers plenty to do for non-skiers.
Grindelwald’s main street is lined with chalet-style hotels, restaurants and shops, and with snow dusting the rooftops, it’s just like a scene from a Christmas card. Hot chocolate at one of the many eateries is the perfect way to warm up – or fuel up in preparation for the many outdoor activities on offer.
Skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and sledging are all popular and there are numerous winter hiking trails to enjoy, too. For something a bit different, why not head to Mt. First where you can enjoy a ride on the First Flyer zip-line to get the most amazing views of the Alps? Or
hop aboard the Jungfrau train for a ride to Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe. The 360° panorama from the summit is breathtaking.
Whether you are looking for an action-packed vacation or one where you can recharge your batteries whilst enjoying stunning alpine scenery, Grindelwald leads my list of best Europe winter destinations.
Read more from Carolyn at Holidays to Switzerland
A post about the best winter destinations without Zermatt in it? Impossible. Zermatt is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Switzerland in winter – and actually, in all of Europe.
This small town in the French-speaking part has been known as a luxury ski resort but it is so much more. But let’s start with all the fun winter activities: of course, it is a ski and snowboard paradise but it is also fun for snowshoe hiking, sledding to tobogganing. But you can also do ice sports, like ice-skating or play hockey, etc- there is no shortage of fun winter activities.
However, if you are not that much into winter sports Zermatt is still worth a visit. Stroll the beautiful, though tiny, town center of Zermatt, enjoy nice walks while heading to the stunning Matterhorn mountain or head to mountain peaks like Klein Matterhorn. Book a cozy hotel so you can end your day in front of the chimney fire and enjoy some Swiss food!
Read more from Arzo at Arzo Travels
Romania is quickly gaining in popularity as a great winter destination for anyone looking to embrace the season in all its chilly glory. From mid-November to early January the cities of Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu hold fabulous Christmas Fairs and beyond that are full of cafes, bars and shops to warm up in.
If winter sports are your thing there are ski resorts like Poiana that offer a great day of skiing for all levels at a very reasonable cost. Plus, Poiana is a hot spot for spas so you can ease those aching muscles after a day on the slopes, or if you’re like me, skip the skiing altogether in favor of a winter spa vacation.
What about castles? Romania is full of them and they’re even more beautiful and mysterious under a layer of powdery white. Bran and Peles are the most beautiful and popular but there are others, like Rasnov Fortress, that are also worth a visit.
Romania also offers some more unique winter experiences. How about spending the night in an ice hotel on the banks of Lake Bâlea? Or maybe a day at Therme Bucharest, Europe’s largest spa complex. You can even tour a salt mine which will magically clear your sinuses and stuffy nose!
Trust us when we say you will not regret visiting beautiful Romania in the winter, and that’s coming from a sun worshiper.
Read more from Sarah at Live Dream Discover
Val Lumnezia, Switzerland
I was a little apprehensive to go to Tromso, Norway the first time around. I’m a warm-weather kind of girl after all and it is in the Arctic Circle, making it one of the coldest places one can choose to visit during winter. However, I went prepared with many layers of winter attire and set on seeing the Northern Lights. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on, nevermind during winter. Yet winter is when Tromso really shines.
There are a ton of winter activities in Tromso, Norway, including polar boat rides on the fjords, snowshoeing, tours to see the Northern Lights (which we highly recommend as you’ll increase your chances of seeing them with a guided tour) and reindeer feeding with the Sami people, the native culture of Lapland.
It’s also breathtakingly gorgeous during winter and beautiful scenery abounds with pretty sunsets, dancing Aurora Borealis, snowfall fluttering through the sky and frost covering sculptures. Visit Tromso during winter for your European getaway. You won’t be disappointed!
Read more from Mikkel at Sometimes Home
Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland, lies at the base of the Tatra Mountains, making it the perfect place to find a White Christmas. Filled with eye-popping natural landscapes, exciting outdoor activities and delicious food, Zakopane has a lot to offer without breaking your budget.
A Mecca for skiers and snowboarders, Zakopane has plenty of low-budget accommodation to offer. A bed at a hostel can cost as low as 7EU and double at a 2-star hotel can set you back 13EU. A long line of wood panelled eateries in Krupowki offers amazing local delights that are sure to warm you up before you set out into the mountains. Here, tuck into a portion of steaming goulash in a bread bowl for just 3EU.
There are many things to do in Zakopane including: skiing on the slopes of Bialka Tatrazanska or Kasprowy and relaxing at the thermal spas scattered all over the region. There are also several museums that showcase the city’s colourful local arts and crafts.
Read more from Karolina at Lazy Travel Blog
Samedan & St Moritz, Switzerland
Exploring the Alps during winter is, of course, an iconic trip and one very popular with many tourists around Europe. However, whilst for many hitting the slopes on skis or a snowboard is the main draw, this isn’t all there is to do in the region.
One of the best ways to see the Alps is by train and none is better than the beautiful Bernina Express. Now, one of your key stops will be the glitzy and affluent towns of Samedan and St Moritz. Another favourite of snow and adventure sportspeople, the towns have a splendid selection of hotels and restaurants.
Across the valley from the towns, you will find Muottas Muragl, a Romantik branded hotel located 2,456m above sea level. Once you reach the hotel, you will find the incredible views that make this such a wonderful place to visit. With sweeping vistas down across St Moritz and beyond, on a clear day, it will be one of the finest in the Alps. The hotel is also home to one of the best sledging routes in the area, allowing you to suit up and take a thrill ride back down into the valley.
Read more from Laura at The Travelling Stomach
Considering its name, it’s hardly surprising that Iceland is one of the best winter destinations in Europe! The longer nights in winter mean that it’s the best time of year to see the northern lights, weather permitting.
Although some days in winter have as few as 4 hours of light, it’s still possible to visit the top attractions in South Iceland at the very least! There are stunning waterfalls to visit, including Gulfoss, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss, as well as glaciers, geysers and more!
Another lovely spot to visit during winter is the Kerid crater lake. If it’s cold enough, this stunning blue lake completely freezes over during the winter months, which makes for a truly special sight!
The chance to see spectacular natural attractions and the country’s incredible landscape during the winter months is an amazing experience. Snowy weather just adds to the charm, but be prepared to wrap up to stay warm! Combine all this with the chance to see the northern lights and it’s easy to see why Iceland is a great winter destination!
Read more from Sam at Something of Freedom
Kiev (Kyiv), Ukraine
If you are looking for a winter vacation in Europe, why not consider the capital of Ukraine, Kyiv? Ukraine had a very rough history but right now it is starting to stand on its feet again. Many people still think Ukraine is this dangerous place and not worth visiting. Exactly for that reason, when you visit Kyiv, you will not encounter many tourists. Your travel experience will be much more authentic.
On top of that, Kyiv is a completely safe and cheap city to visit. One of the best times to visit Kyiv is during the winter. During the winter, you will see tremendous snowfall as well as freezing temperatures. The rivers in the area will usually freeze and it’s amazing that you can walk on them. The beautiful architecture in the city such as the St. Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery, St. Andrews Church, and the Lavra Hills contrast with the bleak environment, making them even more glorious than they already are. There are places that still have an old Soviet atmosphere and that feeling is amplified by winter. Kyiv is definitely one of the best winter destinations in Europe, especially if you enjoy the cold.
Read more from Sean at Living Out Lau
Geneva is ideally situated between two spectacular mountain ranges, the Jura and Alps, which makes it an ideal base for all kinds of winter sports activities. For beginner skiers and those with young kids, the nearby Jura range is the best option. The gentle slopes here are ideal for those still learning, and most resorts have plenty of easy green and blue runs. It’s also the place to come for cross-country skiing, and you can find both freestyle and classic trails here. Several low-key resorts in the Jura are easily accessed by train on a day trip from Geneva.
More experienced skiers and snowboarders tend to opt for one of the Alpine resorts, either in Switzerland or neighboring France. In winter, shuttle buses run from Geneva’s airport to the most popular French ski resorts, including Chamonix. The Swiss resorts are best reached by train.
If you can time your visit in mid-December, you’ll get to enjoy Geneva’s most important local festival, the Escalade. Locals dress up in period costumes and celebrate the day in 1602 when the Genevan citizens successfully fended off an attack by the Savoy army. Festivities culminate with a torchlit parade through the Old Town.
Read more from Wendy at Nomadic Vegan
Lake Bled, Slovenia
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Take a look at this photo of Lake Bled taken from the castle high up on a vertical cliff overlooking Lake Bled. Fairytale magic! Lake Bled is beautiful all year round and has been a well-known tourist and health resort destination for centuries and in summer it’s a busy busy place. But in winter it’s a romantic winter wonderland!
On a tour of Croatia, Slovakia, and Slovenia we saw some stunning sights, but one of the sights that wowed us the most was waking up in our lakefront hotel room at Lake Bled on a wintry Sunday morning with the church bells echoing across the lake, opening the curtains and seeing the peaceful calm misty lake, the snow-covered mountains surrounding us, and the magnificent medieval castle high above us. It was like being in a living fairy tale.
On the western side of the lake is a tiny island called Small Bled Island that is only accessible by boat. You can access the island by a pletna (flat bottomed boat) or hire a rowboat and row across. Walk the 99 stone steps up to the charming historic St Mary’s Church, also known as Church of Our Dear Lady, for more stunning views. The church is famous for its bell. It has a fascinating story, and legend has it, that if you ring it, your wishes will come true. Now you can’t get any more fairy tale fantasy than that, can you?
On the north side of the lake is the must-see 12th century classic medieval Bled Castle, perched 130 meters up a vertical cliff directly above the lake. It has an interesting museum and chapel, a print shop with an old printing press, a wine cellar, a restaurant, and souvenir shop and, of course, stunning views out over the lake, island and town.
There is a six-kilometer flat walk around the lake which will take about an hour and a half to two hours and you can take a break at Bar Plaza just after the Lake Bled Rowing Club for a coffee and a piece of the local vanilla and cream Kremsnita Cake. If you’re in luck you may be able to ice skate on Lake Bled. The locals say that the lake freezes over every five to ten years. Or go on a winter biking tour through the valleys of the Julian Alps in Triglav National Park on specially designed winter mountain bikes.
Lake Bled is such a magic place to visit in winter. Add it to your must-visit list now. Another favorite destination of ours in winter is Murren in Switzerland with its Thrill Walk.
Read more from Maureen at So Many Places! So Little Time!
Brasov is one of the lesser-known winter destinations within Europe, but it really shouldn’t be. This city has a lot to offer in the cold winter months and is named one of the best cities in Romania to visit! It’s situated in the heart of Transylvania, a region known for its enchanting castles and cobbled cities.
Brasov boasts some great winter activities including skiing, snowboarding and even relaxing in the thermal pools in nearby Poiana Brasov, which is only a 20-minute drive from the centre. If you’re not into winter sports then catch the cable car, which leaves from Brasov castle, up to the top of the mountain and enjoy the views from above.
Another reason why Brasov is not to be missed in the winter is that you get to enjoy the city without hordes of tourists. You see the city from a more local perspective, making it a more authentic experience than in the summer.
If you need to warm up make sure you duck into La Ceaun and try a traditional hearty Romania meal like cabbage rolls with polenta, a firm favourite of mine! Also don’t forget to check out the nearby castle of Rasnov. It’s one of the most underrated castles within the area and is absolutely magical in the winter.
Read more at Travelling Balkans
Gstaad is an amazing place to spend a few days in winter in a mountain village. It is also known as skier’s paradise and located one and a half hours driving distance away from Interlaken.
One of the best places to start your adventure in Gstaad is Mount Eggli where you get a mesmerizing view from the top. This beautiful place turns into a snowy wonderland in winter and attracts skiers from around the world. The mountain has different levels of slopes for beginner level skiers as well as for intermediate and experienced skiers.
Another must-try adventure in this car-free zone is Fat Biking which is also getting popular among adventure seekers. Fat biking is an ideal choice for those who are not so confident in skiing and want to explore a new area by own. For couples and honeymooners, The Classic Lake Lauenen Tour is a must in Winter. This tour is a romantic and cozy trip through the natural reserve up to Lake Lauenen.
Overall, you can enjoy your Winter holidays with several adventure activities, traditional Swiss food in a chalet-style hotel in Gstaad that makes your winter trip a memorable one.
Read more from Trijit at Budget Travel Buff
Zell am See, Austria
The pretty Austrian town of Zell am See stands by the shore of Lake Zell in Salzburgerland and is a fun base for winter sports. Approximately 90 minutes’ drive southwest of the city of Salzburg, where the movie The Sound of Music was set, it’s a popular destination throughout the year.
Until just a few years ago skiing was possible on the nearby Kitzsteinhorn glacier, which has an altitude of 3,029 metres, even during summer. At that time of year walkers and mountain bikers are drawn to the region to appreciate the Alpine landscapes.
During wintertime, Zell am See is an attractive base for cruising the slopes. The CityXpress Lift rises away from the picturesque small town, taking skiers and snowboarders up onto the Schmittenhöhe. The mountain peaks at 1,965 metres above sea level. Part of the mountain is floodlit on midweek evenings, extending the snow sports after nightfall.
The gentle slopes of the Maiskogel are ideal for families and people looking to boost their confidence ahead of more challenging pistes. They can be found in the snow park 2,900 metres up, on the Kitzsteinhorn, whose superpipe is a thrilling 160 metres long.
Read more from Stuart at Go Eat Do
Often known as “the town of the Northern Lights”, this small Norwegian city of 20,000 inhabitants is located 70 degrees north latitude and well above the Arctic Circle. Winter is a great time to visit as the Norwegian coast is affected by the Gulf Stream, meaning Alta doesn’t get as cold as other Arctic countries like Canada, Sweden and Finland.
Winter is also the only time to experience the Polar night. This is when the sun doesn’t rise above the horizon, meaning its pitch dark for almost 22 hours a day. The polar night takes some getting used to but the level of darkness does make it perfect for chasing the Northern lights. It is best to join a Northern Lights tour so you have the highest chance of witnessing the eerie beauty of the Aurora Borealis, and give yourself a few nights in Alta to increase your chances.
During the day there are plenty of winter activities to keep you busy, including snowmobiling, snowshoe hiking, dogsledding, cross country skiing, ice fishing and reindeer sledding. If sightseeing is more your thing then the modern Northern Lights cathedral and the unique Sorrisniva Igloo Hotel are definitely worth a visit.
Read more from Roshni at The Wanderlust Within
Ponte di Legno, Italy
If you love skiing or snowboarding, the Italian Alps should be your next destination. Of course, there are so many beautiful towns and ski resorts to chose from, all offering miles of white slopes to try your skiing skills while enjoying jawdropping views.
My favorite one is Ponte di Legno, a cute little village in the Brescia province approximately in the center of the Italian Alps mountain range. I have been spending most of my winters there at my young age and even now that I don’t live in Italy anymore I still love to go back every time I return home.
The entire sky area includes now the towns of Ponte di Legno, Tonale, Temu and the Presena Glacier with a total of 100 km of slopes all connected by 28 ski lifts with an elevation between 1,121 and 3,000 m. A paradise for snow lovers indeed. And it’s suitable for all kinds of skiers, from the more experts to the newbies, kids included. Two ski and snowboard schools are available with professional teachers to give lessons to the very beginners or those who want to take their skills to a different level.
Also, other outdoor activities are available for those who love the mountain but are not particularly fond of skiing, such as cross-country skiing, on winter hikes, mountain biking and ice skating or it’s also possible to do spectacular night tours on snowmobiles with dinner included.
Scattered around the slopes there are also many restaurant facilities where you can take a break from your activities, use the restrooms and fuel up with some delicious local specialty.
The little town of Ponte di Legno is also a little gem to hang out in the evening in the local pubs and restaurants to wrap up your day with delicious food and great wine.
Read more from Isabella at Boundless Roads
Sarajevo in Bosnia is one of the cheapest capitals in Europe and also one of the best winter destinations. Few people think about Bosnia when it comes to winter sports. However, the mountains around Sarajevo will guarantee you a snowy winter wonderland at a fraction of the cost elsewhere in Europe.
If you are looking for a combination of culture, great food and winter fun on a budget that is not yet overrun by tourists than Sarajevo is the place to go. The ski resorts of Bjeljasnica and Jahorina are within an hour from the city of Sarajevo and are the center for activities like snowshoeing, skiing and snowboarding.
Sarajevo itself sees several festivals in winters such as the Sarajevo winter festival, the Balkan photo festival and the international coffee fest. It’s a great time to explore Sarajevo’s museums, wander through the streets of the old town and warm up in one of its plentiful teahouses. Sarajevo has a great cafe and restaurant scene and there is always a cozy place nearby.
Sarajevo might be cold in winter, but if you dress warmly it’s a rewarding destination that will warm your heart with its delicious food and friendly people.
Read more from Ellis from Backpack Adventures
Lapland is a great place for everyone who wants to enjoy a winter wonderland. With temperatures often going under zero, it is an ideal place for winter enthusiasts. Finland has wonderful nature and simply looks magical. So, what can you do there?
If you are into winter sports, there are a lot of mountains where people go skiing then enjoy the traditional Finnish sauna. For something more unique, you should have a look at winter safaris where you can go out dog sledding in gorgeous nature with huskies or do something similar with reindeers.
If being with animals is not for you there’s also rides in nature on a snowmobile. Or how about an ice-fishing experience? There you would make a whole in the snow and try to catch fish like suomi people from Lapland used to do. Once it gets dark you may even get lucky and witness the beautiful northern lights.
Read more from Albi at Ginger Around the Globe
Liechtenstein is the fourth-smallest country in Europe nestled between Switzerland and Austria in the Alps. Most tourists visit Liechtenstein in the winter to go skiing in the Alps, it has one main resort in Malbun with great slopes for all abilities of skiers and snowboarders. It is said to have some of the best snow in Europe, though it is not as busy as some of the resorts in Switzerland and Austria, making it a great place to visit. The views too from the tops of the mountains are amazing.
If you need some downtime from skiing or are not a skier then there are also a few beautiful castles you can visit around the country as well as museums and art galleries in the main town of Vaduz. If you are planning a trip before Christmas then check out the Christmas markets that are on in the various towns throughout the country with the main one being in the capital Vaduz.
Read more from Clare at I Live 4 Travel
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Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.