Europe is something else during winter. To be fair, it’s astonishing all year round, but when the snow covers the peaks of towering European mountains and entire medieval towns and castles, the real adventure begins. Indeed, Europe wears winter better than most other destinations in the world. Must-see places in Europe in winter include ski resorts, alpine towns, and incredible national parks among others, so take your pick.
You don’t have to get too creative if you don’t want to – in fact, you could visit all the same places that you’ve always wanted to visit! That’s the great part about Europe – you can still see everything you want, even if it’s just capital cities, only they’d be more festive and way colder. Take a look at some of the options that are available to you!
For some people, the ideal winter destination in Europe is one of its picturesque remote alpine towns like Hallstatt in Austria.
Tucked away in Upper Austria is a small village called Hallstatt in a mountainous region of Salzkammergut. Located not too far from the city of Salzburg, getting to Hallstatt is fairly easy – take the Austrian National OBB train to Attnang-Puchheim, where you’ll transfer to the local REX train heading to Hallstatt. The ticket for a single adult is usually $34.50 (€31) for about a two-and-a-half-hour ride.
Read more: Where to Travel in Europe in December
Not only is this town exceedingly beautiful, but it looks right at home during winter. This little gem is quite literally hidden away from the world, surrounded by the nearby Alps on all sides with a lake to boast. It’s precisely this unique and otherworldly landscape that attracts tourists from all over the world every single winter. The alpine houses of this quaint little town look like something out of fairy tales and give away a warm and homely vibe, a real contrast to all the cold outside.
Walking along the Hallstatt Lake is strolling through the fairy tale itself, so we advise this activity at least a couple of times a day – the magic of the place is simply staggering. The lake freezes over very rarely, so you could go on a boat ride even during the winter! The price of the boat ride depends on how much you’d like to see and ranges from $3.34 (€3) to $24.50 (€22).
Another great activity in Hallstatt is visiting the Bone House beneath Saint Michael’s Chapel. There, you’ll learn about the most unusual tradition of painting human skulls, and you’ll see more than 600 skulls decorated this way. It is considered that the skulls hosted in the charnel house are there since there was no room for them in the churchyard. This strange tradition is characteristic of the Eastern Alps region.
Unfortunately, the Salt Mine and Dachstein Ice Cave are closed down during the winter. That’s a great reason to revisit Hallstatt again during summer! The latter harbors stalactites of all colors and sounds most eerie – a guided tour through this cave is a reason alone to return to Hallstatt. Don’t forget to wear extra layers in there!
Where to Stay in Hallstatt, Austria
How cold is it?
32°F (0°C) is the average winter temperature in Hallstatt. Be prepared for very cold weather!
|December||37.4°F (3°C)||26.6°F (-3°C)|
|January||35.6°F (2°C)||24.8°F (-4°C)|
|February||41°F (5°C)||24.8°F (-4°C)|
We know that visitors from the US are proud of their own ski resorts, especially the ones in Aspen and rustic Vermont. However, if you really do consider yourself to be a true skiing connoisseur, one of the must-see places in Europe in winter is Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the region of Tirol.
Since the city has an airport of its own, it’s easy to simply fly in and then travel to the city about 3 miles (5 kilometers) to the east. A taxi from the airport will usually cost you about $22.27 (€20) while taking a ride on Bus F is the much cheaper option – $3.23 (€2.90), or totally free with the Innsbruck Card.
Innsbruck has winter written all over it – it’s been a host of the Winter Olympics two times already thanks to the most challenging of slopes. But, there’s more to it than that. You will find some of the most amazing and world-renowned alpine resorts right here, in the ski and snowboard capital of the world. It’s quite obviously a must-have destination on your winter itinerary.
Innsbruck is far more than just its slopes though. Sometimes, it may appear that the only reason that people come here is to go skiing, but the truth is the furthest thing from. From wandering the streets of Altstadt von Innsbruck and enjoying its medieval architecture, to visiting the Ambras Castle, the home of Archduke Ferdinand II – Innsbruck is teeming with history! You can catch this landmark as a part of the Sightseer tour – for more information, check out their website.
Altstadt von Innsbruck (the old town) is more than just pretty facades and lines of cafes and restaurants. The historic value of this quaint part of Innsbruck is immense – Goldenes Dachl, or the Golden Roof, is tiled with 2,657 fire-gilded copper shingles. It covered a balcony from which Emperor Maximilian I would observe festivals, tournaments, and his subjects going about their daily lives. You can pay $5.57 (€5) to enter the museum located here. Visits are from Tuesday to Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm.
We also highly advise visiting Hofburg and the five themed museums within this great palace! Keep in mind that it will be closed from January 13th to February 9th.
While Innsbruck is amazing to visit during winter for all the outdoor activities, it doesn’t hurt to get a bit of culture along the way.
Where to Stay in Innsbruck, Austria
Altstadthotel Weisses Kreuz is located in the very heart of Altstadt von Innsbruck – perfect for exploring the old town and the Christmas market. Hotel Schwarzer Adler Innsbruck is the place to be for relaxing spas and steam baths!
How cold is it?
33.8°F (1°C) is cold enough and you should pack properly and wear layers. But, if you forget your gloves, it won’t be that scary.
|December||39.2°F (4°C)||26.6°F (-3°C)|
|January||39.2°F (4°C)||24.8°F (-4°C)|
|February||42.8°F (6°C)||26.6°F (-3°C)|
Winter is the time of shorter days and cold weather, and it’s something a lot of people know how to appreciate.
If you’re one of those who simply enjoy winter for being what it is, head out to Abisko in the Lapland region of Sweden. Despite having become a more prominent travel destination in the last couple of years, reaching Abisko is still not as straightforward as you might have hoped, but not impossible either.
If you want to avoid the steep prices of travel agencies and have a go at it on your own, you’ll need to get to Kiruna first. It’s the nearest airport to Abisko, but you can only fly in via SAS or Norwegian Airlines from Stockholm. After that, book a coach with Lights over Lapland, or get a taxi or a bus to the train station, and then take the train to Abisko the rest of the way.
Read more: Visiting the Gorgeous Places in Norway
December and January are the months when the sun doesn’t even rise! If you’ve never experienced a perpetual night before, visiting Abisko will introduce you to this unusual yet (at least for night owls) beautiful phenomenon. It’s definitely a change of pace for most people and quite a unique way of spending a winter in Europe.
And we’re sure you know what it means to be spending time in darkness in a country up north – the majestic aurora borealis. Abisko is probably one of the best places in the world to experience this occurrence and by far one of the most beautiful places to visit if you love the winter season.
Read more: Greenland’s Winter Season
For those who’d love to spice things up a bit more, there’s the arctic reindeer sledding – talk about unusual! A more common version of the pastime – dog sledding – is also a possibility. Make yourself comfortable on the sled while one of the skilled guides takes you on a doggy back adventure across snow-covered landscapes. The price of this adventure starts at $170 (SEK 1,595) and you can book your ride here.
Where to Stay in Abisko, Sweden
To put the icing on the cake, and we mean this quite literally, stay at the famous ICEHOTEL. It’s an experience that you’re not likely to forget anytime soon.
How cold is it?
The average 14°F (-10°C) temperature is not to be taken lightly. Make sure to pack well and wear layers – several of them if possible!
|December||24.8°F (-4°C)||10.4°F (-12°C)|
|January||21.2°F (-6°C)||5°F (-15°C)|
|February||21.2°F (-6°C)||5°F (-15°C)|
Tallinn is the perfect example of capital that’s simply one of the must-see places in Europe in winter. Not that it isn’t great the rest of the year, but it’s winter that makes Tallinn truly stand out from the crowd.
Unlike some of the places we’ve mentioned previously, getting to Tallinn is a real triviality. After landing at Tallinn Airport, get a taxi to the city center (usually €5 to €10, but always ask the driver first). Bus No. 2 will take you to the city center for $2.23 (€2), and you buy the ticket on the bus.
While visiting the capital of Estonia during the summer ensures you’ll be warmer and thus able to explore for a longer time, it’s winter that makes it twice as charming than it usually is. We simply had to include it on our list as the picturesque old town and the Christmas market make Tallinn so dreamy and surreal that a visit to the city is an experience worth having.
Start by visiting the old town hall square and taking a picture or two of the Old Thomas, a statue sitting at the top of this gothic town hall. Vana Toomas is also known as the guardian of the city and is said to be dedicated to a man who spent his entire life in the service of the city.
The rest of the old town is just as magical as the town hall itself, with cobblestone streets and walled areas so reminiscent of the medieval era. Catherine’s Passage, Toompea Castle, the Danish King’s Garden, and Neitsitorn Tower are all located in the old town, and all are impressive landmarks.
Add snow and cold on top of it and you get a really breathtaking spectacle! Suffice it to say that colorful lights and decorations that adorn Tallinn in winter make everything even more astonishing.
Kadriorg Palace, Tsar Peter’s gift to his beloved Catherine, is simply breathtaking when covered in snow. It takes you back to a different time and to an empire now long gone, only succeeded by majestic wonders of architecture such as this one. Today, it serves as an art museum, and you can buy a joint ticket for $8.91 (€8) to visit both Kadriorg Palace and Mikkel Museum.
Read more: Less Touristy Destinations in Europe
Explore the city as much as the weather allows it and you’ll find ice-skating rinks, bustling Christmas market, and unbelievable viewpoints! We suggest Patkuli and Kohtuotsa viewing platforms for the best experience of Tallinn hemmed in winter.
Where to Stay in Tallinn, Estonia
Hotel Telegraaf is located just off the old town square, making it a great starting point for your visit to this winter city. It’s also equipped with a relaxing spa for those days when you’re too cold to leave. The Three Sisters Hotel is a romantic and stylish spot right in the old town, best for couples.
How cold is it?
24.8°F (-4°C) average temp means you better pack well. You need the full attire, you don’t want to forget your gloves nor scarves.
|December||33.8°F (1°C)||23°F (-5°C)|
|January||30.2°F (-1°C)||19.4°F (-7°C)|
|February||28.4°F (-2°C)||17.6°F (-8°C)|
Prague, Czech Republic
Some would say we saved best for last, others that there are many more interesting places to visit in Europe in winter. But, we feel that Prague is an exquisite addition to a list such as this one, and we can’t stress enough how beautiful this city is in winter.
Visiting a capital city is easy enough – Prague’s Vaclav Airport will welcome you to your destination. There are about 10 miles (almost 17 kilometers) to cover to get to the city center, and there’s no more convenient way of doing so than by having a private transport waiting for you. Welcome Pickups will get you to the city for the same price as a taxi would, which is $30 (€27), but it is much more convenient and comfortable than a taxi.
Now, what’s so special about Prague in winter? Isn’t it an unbearably touristy place for the rest of the year? Well, during the winter season, all that changes, and Prague becomes evermore charming!
Snow-capped roofs, warm light emanating from the street lamps, and rows upon rows of lovely cobblestone streets all line the city of Prague. If you’ve ever been to this European city, you know what we’re talking about – just add snow to the picture and you’ve got yourself the most magical place in winter-bound Europe. If you haven’t seen this city before – now’s the best time!
Read more: Cheap Destinations to Visit in December
Why is it the best time? Because it’s finally free for the taking (of photographs). With not as many people around, you’ll finally be able to snap the photos from the famous Charles Bridge, or marvel at the Baroque statues along the way. Commissioned by Charles IV, this Gothic bridge used to be known simply as Stone Bridge (Kamenný most).
Then, take a walk to Letná Park across the snow and you’ll get to one of the best viewpoints, revealing the snow-bound Prague.
Visit the Vysehrad Castle, one of the most important National Cultural Monuments in all of the Czech Republic. Also, there’s a fair share of legends tied to this place, such as the one from Chronica Boëmorum, citing what seems to be an uprising of women against men. You can visit it from 9:30 am to 5 pm from November to March, and exhibitions cost no more than $3 per person to see.
Take a couple of photos of the Lennon Wall, the memorial of freedom that was not so easily achievable under the communist regime. Prague is almost a limitless source of inspiration and all that winter does is accentuate this fact even further.
Where to Stay in Prague, Czech Republic
Three Storks is quite a unique place to stay. What used to be an Augustinian brewery back in the day has been refurbished to serve as a hotel. You can still see the wooden beams that give it a Renaissance feel! The Gothic cellar has also been preserved, so make sure to sneak a peek.
How cold is it?
Usually about 37.4°F (3°C). It’s cold, but it is not unbearable at all.
|December||39.2°F (4°C)||32°F (0°C)|
|January||37.4°F (3°C)||30.2°F (-1°C)|
|February||41°F (5°C)||30.2°F (-1°C)|
Most of Europe is, in fact, gorgeous during the winter. All of the same places that you once visited or plan on visiting are still there, just wearing a new coat of white. And believe us when we say that most destinations in Europe wear this coat with style. Spend at least one winter in Europe and you’ll know what raw beauty and charm really are!