Winter is a unique time to visit the European continent. Crowds are usually thinner, train rides take on a whole new atmosphere, and there’s also a palpable feeling of festivity floating throughout the continent. The winter weather is also not as scripted as you might think. While the northern reaches are certainly frigid, countries around the Mediterranean maintain a temperate climate. If you’re considering exploring Europe this winter, here are 8 countries worth including in your itinerary.
Winter destinations in Europe
Finland’s frigid winter climate may have you reconsidering a trip to Europe’s North Eastern corner. It’s quite common for winter temperatures not to rise above freezing. But if you’re looking for a full winter experience, complete with an infectious Christmas spirit, then Finland is definitely worth considering. You’ll find snow, reindeers, and even father Christmas himself if you venture up towards the arctic circle.
Finland has both long distance and regional trains that will connect you to most of the country’s key destinations. There are also ferries to Finland from Germany, Denmark, and Sweden that can circumvent long rail journeys. Eurail Pass holders receive up to 50% discount on most ferry lines in the region.
If you do one thing in winter: Cross the arctic circle and head to Santa Claus Village.
Germany is one of the best winter destinations in Europe. The primary reason to visit Germany in the winter is to soak up the festive atmosphere. Few people know how to do the pre-Christmas buildup as well as the Germans. Even the most unexpected towns and villages erect tress and put together cosy markets. You’ll be able to pick up all the Christmas clichés imaginable, from sleigh bells to gingerbread cookies, all while sipping on a steaming glass of glühwein.
If you’re looking for snow and skiing, hop aboard a train heading south. The Bavarian Alps are a popular skiing destination during the colder winter months.
If you do one thing in winter: Head to a Christmas market — you’ll find them in most big cities, as well as a surprising number in smaller towns and villages along the way.
Austria is a true winter playground. The country’s varied landscapes make it perfect for various winter sports regardless of your ability. Even if you don’t ski, most of the country’s ski regions also know how to through a good opening party. There are also are dozens of winter-related activities, such as tobogganing, horse and carriage rides and schnapps tastings, making Austria one of the most appealing winter destinations in Europe.
You also won’t have to work hard to find a winter market that rivals their German neighbours up north. Restaurants, bars and coffee shops make for cosy reprieves. And the capital Vienna is packed full of incredible museums that offer shelter from the icy temperatures outside.
If you do one thing in winter: Wrap up warm and walk the capital’s Ringstrasse until the cold weather forces you indoors for a hot chocolate.
Don’t overlook Greece in winter simply because it’s one of the continent’s most revered summer destinations. The warmer months may bring weather perfect for lounging about on idyllic beaches, but with it comes the crowds, inflated prices, and often unbearable heat.
Many travellers swear by visiting Athens in the winter. This is primarily to escape the tourists and to have the capital city’s iconic structures almost all to yourself. You don’t have to stay inland either. You can still access some of the famous Greek Islands, but keep in mind ferries run on limited schedules and many islands essentially close down over winter.
If you do one thing in winter: Visit the Parthenon to experience it without the tourists.
There are few destinations in the world as quaint and beautifully cliched as Denmark in the winter. The capital Copenhagen is a charming city at the best of times, but throw in some wintery weather and you’ll feel as if you’d stepped into a fairytale.
Snowfall in Denmark is common throughout the winter. Most towns and cities geared are up for it, making it a pleasure rather than a hassle. When the outside temperatures dip a bit too low for your liking, head indoors. There are few experiences as pleasurable as watching the snow fall from inside a warm cafe. Train rides through Denmark’s winter scenery are also incredible.
If you do one thing in winter: Head to Tivoli Park in the capital for a magical winter experience.
Slovakia is one of the more off the beaten track winter destinations in Europe. The country has produced an impressive number of global skiing champions over the years. A visit here in the winter will reveal just why. The mountainous terrain is perfect for some of the most dramatic skiing terrain. Slovakian ski resorts are also significantly more affordable than those further west, and many claim that the atmosphere is more welcoming than the more exclusive Alpine resorts.
Even if skiing isn’t your thing, the stunning Slovakian countryside is even more beautiful covered in a blanket of snow. The capital Bratislava is a charming place to visit in the buildup to Christmas, and you’re a convenient train ride away from many other popular winter destinations such as Prague, Budapest, and Vienna.
If you do one thing in winter: Take the train to Jasná ski resort. It’s set in the spectacular High Tatras, and is easy to reach from the capital by rail with just a short bus connection from Liptovsky Mikulas required.
If all this talk of frigid winter conditions is making you shiver, head to the warmer climes of Spain. Though it’s by no means representative of its full summer self, Spain in winter means cooler weather, fewer crowds, and better prices. While summery beach visits may be out of the question, cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia are still temperate enough to explore on foot. And when the temperatures dip a bit low, there are museums, coffee shops, bars and restaurants, making Spain one of the more pleasant winter destinations in Europe.
If you’re in need of a winter fix you could visit the Sierra Nevada mountains, but most winter visitors to Spain head south to Andalucía to experience the region’s famous sights without the heat or crowds of summer.
If you do one thing in winter: Head to Granada — the famous Alhambra is blissfully tourist free compared to the peak seasons.
Winter travel in Europe is a unique experience. Though it can get brutally cold, the benefits of winter scenery, fewer crowds, and competitive prices make it an ideal time to go. And if you pick up a Eurail Global Pass, there’s no reason why you can’t get the best of winter in several countries.
Looking for more winter destinations in Europe?
The Ultimate Eurail Winter Itinerary
Traveling In Winter: The Pros And Cons
Winter In Europe By Train: The Ultimate Adventure [Video]