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Best European cities in winter | Insight Guides Blog

Best European cities in winter

Winter in Europe comes in many forms. In the freezing north there’s ice and snow, while Mediterranean climes are milder with gentle sunshine. Grand cities offer the chance to either embrace or escape the cold and are less crowded off-season. Here is our guide to the best European cities in winter.
Gondalas and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at winter sunset, Venice. Photo: shekure/Shutterstock
Gondalas and Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute at winter sunset, Venice. Photo: shekure/Shutterstock

The off-season is a great time to travel to cities throughout Europe. With less visitors and smaller queues, it’s more pleasant and you can do more in less time. In addition, there’s the added bonus of off-season accommodation prices making traveling more affordable.


Venice

Venice is a European city that blooms during atmospheric winter weather. Its canals are peaceful and shrouded in mist. Hotel prices drop and the summer crowds have dispersed so you can more easily savor the grandeur of St Mark’s Square. Visit its gilded iconic Basilica and walk across the ornate Rialto footbridge with its views of the palace-lined Grand Canal. In February, the city’s annual, fortnight-long Carnival is one of the most important events on the Venetian calendar. Expect to see numerous revellers wearing Venetian masks, medieval sword-fighting re-enactments and groups of locals sporting striking red silk finery. 

You can take in all the highlights of the magnificent floating city as part of Insight Guides' Romantic Venice trip.

St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace at dusk, Venice. Photo: Hugh O'Connor/Shutterstock


Seville

Seville is one of the best European cities to visit in winter. Temperatures in the Andalusian capital rarely drop below 16 degrees Celsius. On sunny days, you can still dine alfresco at restaurants on plazas and cobbled alleyways. In the heart of the Old Town, the monumental Gothic Catedral de Sevilla is marked by the soaring 12th-century La Giralda minaret, now topped by a baroque bell tower. Nearby, set in palm tree-filled gardens, the Royal Alcázar of Seville complex is embellished with ornate arches and intricate, 16th-century tilework. Also, be sure to visit to some of the city’s acclaimed tapas bars. Las Teresas is a relaxed spot in which to savor slivers of jamón ibérico, rich manchego cheese and succulent chunks of salted tuna, accompanied by a glass or two of crisp dry sherry. 

Experience the best of the city as part of Insight Guides' Simply Seville trip.


Athens

The Greek capital is a year-round destination with temperatures of around 14 degrees Celsius throughout the winter. And without the crowds and blistering heat of the summer, it’s easier to move around and enjoy the city. Take the funicular railway up Mount Lycabettus for sweeping views over the metropolis. Discover the nation’s cultural history in world-class museums such as the Benaki, and walk up to the ancient hilltop citadel of the Acropolis. Spend afternoons exploring the boutiques of the Kolonaki district before relaxing in the charming tavernas of nearby Psirri. 

Discover the city's majestic ancient architecture and superb museums on Insight Guides' City of the Gods trip.

Plaka Old Town, Athens with the Parthenon Temple of the Acropolis. Photo: Sven Hansche/Shutterstock 


Edinburgh

The millions of visitors who travel to Edinburgh each year don’t come for the weather! However, there are far fewer sightseers in the city during the winter. A visit to Edinburgh Castle or a stroll down the Royal Mile is much less crowded. If it’s rainy, head to the National Museum of Scotland for natural history displays. Or for art and sculpture try the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. A bracing walk up Arthur’s Seat hill in the city’s Holyrood Park is rewarded by sweeping views over the capital. On descending, warm yourself up with a whisky or a pint in a cosy, traditional pub like the Baillie or the Halfway House. To really spoil yourself, book a table at the oak-panelled Witchery for a memorable culinary experience dining on seasonal Scottish dishes. The Christmas Market offers traditional seasonal gifts and fare at East Princes St Gardens. The city’s world-famous Hogmanay Festival is a celebratory three days of events welcoming in the New Year.

Edinburgh street on a sunny winter day. Photo: ALbert Pego/Shutterstock


Ljubljana

Slovenia's vibrant capital, Ljubljana, is a compact city with ample green spaces like the expansive City Park Tivoli. Ride the funicular railway up the hill to fortified Ljubljana Castle for panoramic city views. Stroll through the Old Town to discover Prešeren Square at the city’s medieval heart and the Ljubljanica River spanned by the iconic Triple Bridge. Check out the Metelkova Art Center for alternative music and theatre, and the National Gallery which showcases Slovenian art. Winter snow falls each year in Ljubljana and Slovenia’s ski resorts are all within easy reach of the capital. The closest, Krvavec, just a short drive away from Ljubljana Jože Pučnik Airport, has skiing from late December to March.

Enjoy a Ljubljana city tour as part of Insight Guides' Croatia and Slovenia: An Adriatic Adventure trip.

Winter in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Photo: Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock


Budapest

The Hungarian capital is chilly in winter, with temperatures rarely creeping above freezing. However, a dusting of snow enhances the city skyline making it even more beautiful. Wrap up warmly to stroll across the iconic Széchenyi Chain Bridge spanning the Danube. Ride the funicular railway up to the Castle Hill district to explore the Hungarian National Gallery within magnificent Buda Castle. If the cold starts to bite, warm up by visiting one of Budapest’s acclaimed mineral baths. Among the grandest of Budapest’s spas, Széchenyi Thermal Baths offers outdoor pools. Their therapeutic waters, direct from underground thermal springs, are naturally heated to 38 degrees Celsius. Take the opportunity to enjoy a rejuvenating soak underneath the ethereal layer of swirling mist rising off the pools.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest, Hungary. Photo: vitfoto/Shutterstock


Vienna

Vienna is certainly cold during the winter. Temperatures often drop below zero. However, the Austrian capital is arguably at its most attractive covered by a layer of snow, underneath the blue skies of the season’s frequent clear days. Central Vienna, where the city’s major attractions cluster, is relatively compact so you don’t have to walk far. The baroque Hofburg Palace complex, imposing medieval St Stephen’s Cathedral and Vienna State Opera and museum are all within a short walk of each other. While galleries such as the palatial Kunsthistorisches Museum house a wealth of magnificent art collections. When you start to feel the chill, make a beeline to one of the city’s grand coffee houses. Café Central is the perfect spot to indulge in a warming hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, accompanied by pastries or a slice of luscious gateau.

Vienna's city hall and Christmas market. Photo: Muellek Josef/Shutterstock


Ready to take a winter trip?

Our local experts can help you to plan, organise and book fantastic tailor-made trips to European cities. Simply contact us with details of your ideas for the trip and when you would like to visit. We will then will prepare a personalized itinerary based on your personal preferences, which you can amend until you're completely satisfied with every detail before you book. 


Updated 17 October, 2019