The globe-trotters at TourRadar know what’s up when it comes to finding getaways and escapes. We’ve handpicked each country on this list based on what we know makes for a fantastic winter holiday. Whether it’s the warming food in Ireland, Christmas vibes in London, speeding down snowy slopes in Austria, or catching a bit of sun in Spain, we’ve got something for you. So without further ado, here are the best European winter destinations that our travel pros say are well worth scoping out for a vacation or tour!
In colder months, Austria is the quintessential European winter fairytale, but there are two sides to every story. In this instance, one is of culture, and the other is of adventure. In Vienna, seasonal markets, palaces, boisterous watering holes, artsy coffee houses, and cobbled streets teem with storybook glamour, but you could also experience the picturesque mountain hut edition of Netflix and chill, eating fondue, wrapped up in a blanket with a stunning view of the scenery.
Or if you prefer, ski across said scenery. Along with France and Switzerland, Austria has some fantastic skiing spots. Albach is excellent for beginners and amateurs, or there’s Axamer Lizum in Tyrol, Innsbruck; it’s got 30-kilometres of slopes, and Innsbruck’s Old Town has lots of things to see and do.
I did a ski season in a village in the Tirolean Alps. The skiing region of Wilder Kaiser comprises the beautiful mountain range of the Wilder Kaiser-Brixental SkiWelt, Austria’s largest skiing area, in the Northern Kitzbühel Alps. If you’re not into skiing, you can still go and experience the après-ski and gentler winter sports and activities like snowshoeing. I also recommend visiting the museums in and around Innsbruck. – Carly Hulls, Head of Global Customer Support
There’s plenty to do throughout France during the winter, from skiing in the Alps to gazing at Paris’ twinkling lights. However, one of the best reasons to visit France in the winter, as savvy shoppers know, is for the amazing government-controlled sales that kick off in January and last almost a month. Sales in France are a proper affair, so you’ll bag some amazing deals! But remember: for quality clothes at a steal, you’ll have to venture out of Paris.
For an alternative to Iceland, think Norway. Sure, the country is spectacular in the summer, but in the winter it is majestic. It may come as a surprise, but not all of Norway is freezing cold, and even in the icier regions, word on the street is the snow is like fairy dust. In the coastal towns, temperatures are relatively mild. While ski resorts are an obvious choice for winter sports, in places like Oslo it’s possible to ski on the roof of the opera house. The days will be short and the nights will be long, which increases your chances of seeing the spectacular northern lights. Throw Scandinavian cuisine into the mix (anyone for all you can eat king crab?), fjords galore, thermal baths, and exhilarating outdoor activities: Norway is tailormade for a winter holiday.
See Also: How to Enjoy Norway on a Budget
Brussels is one of those cities that’s often overlooked in Europe, but that’s what makes it so lovely. Small and compact, the city centre is walkable and full of the kind of beautiful buildings and structures that make wandering while on vacation so pleasurable. If you love visiting Europe but are wary of crowds, Brussels offers chilled-out respite. The city will be full of winter wonders like festive markets, New Year’s parties, parades, and lights, and the air will smell of waffles and melting chocolate.
Some of my favourite things are the craft beer and chocolate and the activities and markets at Grand Place, the central square in Brussels. – Ramon Bez, Marketing
One word: Hogmanay. The Scots always end the year with one of the best celebrations in the world. If you’re thinking about heading to Scotland for a winter getaway, then time it with the last day of the year. Major cities like Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Aberdeen hold festivities all night long, although Edinburgh has some of the biggest crowds. The long nights and chilly days will be supplemented by festive tartan, frosted lochs and glens, and enchanting cityscapes. So if you want the hustle and bustle or a secluded escape in the highlands, you can do either or enjoy the best of both.
See Also: Best Castles You Can Stay at in Scotland
For winter sun, sand, and sea, southern Spain is the best bet. Andalucía and the Canary Islands have mild temperatures, and you’ll pay less for accommodation. Star attractions that are overrun during peak seasons have thinner crowds, so it’s a great time to see places like Alhambra.
I’ve been going to Spain most of my life over summer, but recently went over the winter and it’s spectacular. In southern Spain, you won’t even need a jacket. I also found that a lot of the smaller local restaurants that are often shut over the summer holidays were open, as opposed to just the larger ones that cater to tourists. I love going to Fuengirola just outside of Malaga! It was warm enough for some Brits to go tanning on the beach. – Melissa Lopez, Assistant Team Lead North America
For an alternative winter getaway laden with the best kind of warmth (food and people-wise), vibrant city breaks and small towns with all the charm, buzzing pubs, and breathtaking scenery, go to Ireland! It may be cold, but you’ll still get to vacay below Irish blue skies and wrap up in cozy layers while you dash in and out of traditional pubs serving hearty grub. Sipping on Guinness by the fire at an unassuming watering hole is a real cultural experience. If the cold doesn’t put you off an adventure, Ireland’s dramatic coastline is a sight for sore eyes. There are also lots of seasonal activities around the holidays, Christmas markets, street parties, and the ever-contagious festive Irish spirit.
Around the holidays is one of the better times to be in Ireland. Even though it can be rainy on some days, you won’t mind because there’s a warm, soothing fire in every pub and bar. The buildup to Christmas is fantastic. If you want to party with the locals, then head to Galway or Killarney. – Katie Brereton, Customer Support
Like Spain and many other popular countries in Europe, Italy gets packed during their sweltering summers with droves of tourists. While the mountains will be filled with locals and visitors taking advantage of the incredible skiing, winter is one of the most romantic times to visit Itay’s cities. Hotels are much cheaper, and it’s possible to enjoy attractions like the Colosseum in Rome without the crowds, so you can take your time exploring them. Venice is one of the best places to visit in cooler months; imagine floating along the canals in a gondola enveloped in the mist! As well as the usual Italian activities, there will be seasonal festivities. Around Christmas, you can see Nativity scenes and Christmas markets, and tuck into winter comfort food.
Celebrate New Year’s at Piazza del Popolo in Rome. There are fireworks all around, an energetic atmosphere on the streets, and good times for free. There’s also a chance to see the Pope’s New Year address the following morning. – Michael Pötscher, Chief Marketing Officer
London is lit during the festive period; literally. The city embraces the holiday spirit with vigour and comes to life with seasonal activities. You’ll see decked out Christmas trees all over town, and every year in a tradition that has been going on since 1947, Norway gifts the capital a Christmas tree, displayed in Trafalgar Square. You’ll find Chrismas markets galore, as well as ice skating and heated rooftops where you can sip on mulled wine and hot cider. During this time, window shopping also takes on a new meaning, as famous shopping centres put up magnificent Christmas window displays for everyone to enjoy. Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, and Hamleys are known to have some of the best. There’s also beautiful lighting all over London, but if you want to be genuinely dazzled then head to The Royal Botanical Gardens, where over a million bulbs illuminate the trees.
Go to Harrods for Christmas shopping and visit Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park, it’s a huge Christmas market and one of the seasonal highlights. – Yvonne Chaloupka, SEO
What are your favourite European winter getaways? We want to know so share them below in the comments!