As great as summer is, there is just something magical about a winter getaway. There is something about these European cities that just brings them alive during the festive season. Wrapped up in your winter best, with a hot chocolate in one hand and a local Christmassy delicacy in the other, exploring the rustic streets and wooden chalets, there really is nothing better.
Thankfully, here in the UK, we are a short flight away from a plethora of wonderful European winter destinations. A flurry of incredible cities to explore with some of the best Christmas markets in the world. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see some snow!
From northern European destinations that practically guarantee snow, to southern destinations that are hanging on to the last bit of summer sun, there is a weekend getaway for everyone.
With much-reduced flight prices and a lot fewer tourists, you’ll truly get to experience the destination like a local. With so many places to choose from it is incredibly hard to narrow them down, but we have, somehow!
Here are our picks for the 10 best winter weekend holidays.
This location often flies under the radar, but it is not to be missed, especially for a winter holiday. It is the perfect size to explore in a weekend and has a few surprises hidden up its sleeve. Quaint cobbled streets, traditional architecture and a river that runs right through the centre of town, Ljubljana is exactly what you want from a European city break. If you get bored of the Christmas market, head half an hour out of the city and you will come to Lake Bled, perhaps one of the most beautiful places in all of Europe. A pristine lake with an island in the middle that looks like a painting from every angle. Take an afternoon to visit a cafe and walk around the lake, you won’t regret it.
Tallinn hosts what is considered as one of the best Christmas markets in Europe, what better place for a winter holiday. This old city is steeped in history everywhere you look. The magical castles and cathedrals are a constant reminder of the long history as you walk through the old town. Be sure to get some hõõgwein while you’re there, a traditional mulled wine that can be found at bars with a lit candle outside.
If one of your favourite things about Christmas is being able to indulge in chocolate for the whole month of December without feeling guilty, then Bruges should be at the top of your list. This historic town transforms into the classic European winter village during the festive period. A ginormous Christmas market takes over the main square, with wooden chalets, lights and of course, chocolate available around every corner. If this doesn’t persuade you, maybe the fact that you can get a train to Bruges from London will. That’s correct, Eurostar runs trains to Bruge from central London that take just over three hours, not bad eh?
Well known for its amazing mountain landscape and great skiing, Austria is often overlooked as a destination for a winter holiday in the city. Famous for being the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg embraces the music as it transforms into a Christmas haven for the winter season. Large traditional Christmas markets take over the city with plenty to see and do. If you fancy a change of scenery, why not join a Mozart tour and explore the historic city through the life and work of one of the world’s most famous composers?
For those of you that are looking to escape Christmas rather than jump headfirst into it, Barcelona might be a good option for you. While it won’t be the warmest place in Europe come December, it definitely won’t be as cold as the UK. The gorgeous Spanish city is filled with some amazing architecture, notably that of Antoni Gaudi. A tour of his work is not to be missed and will take you on a comprehensive tour of the city. Winter is the tourist off-season in Barcelona, which means cheaper flights and hotels. Barcelona is still just as vibrant as it is in the summer, with the locals embracing their fabulous city void of tourists.
If you are looking for a true winter experience, Bergen should be at the top of your list, just be sure to pack some thermals. Rightfully declared a UNESCO World Heritage City, Bergen embraces its traditional beauty and tradition. Classic cobbled streets, colourful buildings and of course, Christmas markets. Bergen is truly the epitome of a European winter holiday in city break form. While you may be in the city, you don’t have to forgo the slopes. Take a cable car up to the top of Mount Fløyen and ski back down!
We know from the famous Oktoberfest celebrations that Germany enjoys a festive occasion, and Christmas is no different. Christmas markets pop up all over Germany in preparation for the winter holidayers searching for some famous Christmas tradition. Aside from the large Christmas markets, Berlin is a huge city with lots to do, from Ice skating rinks, parks, restaurants, to shops and theatres, you could easily occupy a long weekend without having time to sit down. You may also be lucky enough to experience snow while in Berlin!
If you fancy a winter holiday but don’t want to stray too far from familiarity, Dublin might just be for you. The famous Irish charm is truly alive and well during the festive season. Pubs around every corner with open fireplaces and inviting live music welcome you in for a night full of drinks that warm the soul. While it might not be known as the most Christmassy city in Europe, Dublin is the perfect winter weekend getaway for those that want to take in the Christmas atmosphere with a drink in hand in a cosy pub.
This is another suggestion for those that want to take this opportunity to explore a southern European gem rather than frolic in a Christmas wonderland. A big bonus is that it will be considerably warmer than some of the other destinations on the list. Lisbon is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and taking a weekend to explore its beauty and historic sights is a perfect way to spend a winter holiday. See the famous streetcars climb up the steep streets amongst a sea of traditional yellow buildings with the smell of the ocean in the air.
Iceland’s landscape and the scenery is unique, especially compared to the other destinations on this list. The volcanic landscape is a sight to behold, especially when contrasted with the surprisingly cosmopolitan city. While Iceland is a notoriously expensive place to visit, the cost will be well worth it once the city and scenery is experienced first hand.
If you’re searching for the perfect winter holiday, look no further. There is a destination for everyone in the above list, whether you’re looking to indulge in Christmas cheer or escape to a warmer climate. Prices will be inflated for those hoping to experience the traditional Christmas markets, so be sure to book early.