We often think of Europe and summer as two co-existing elements – with hot summer days stretching well into the night, lapping up Vitamin D with ocean swims, and never-ending gelato to cool down.
But hang on…what’s not to love about winter time in Europe? Often overlooked, winter time has its own unique set of perks. Popular cities and attractions will have less people (and therefore, queues!), the temperatures and humidity are much more manageable, and local businesses will usually rustle up a deal for you if you ask nicely. Why would you not travel in the cooler months then? Here are 7 European cities that are winter stand outs!
With an average high of 15C° and approximately 5 hours of sunshine per day, you’re onto a winner with a Palermo winter. Snowfall is rare – but not so rare that you can’t ski on the famous Mount Etna – and it’s still tepid enough to swim into early December. Unique flora and fauna show their faces, including full-bodied waterfalls. The weather is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts, providing a much more bearable temperature to go for walks. With less tourists out and about, you can get a real feel of the land. Head to Sant’Ella, just 20 minutes by car from Palermo. Often filled to the brim in summer, the romantic Sicilian seaside village is a dream to explore without the crowds.
While a little (okay, a lot!) cooler than a Sicilian winter, Edinburgh still has plenty of merit during winter. From the end of November, the city comes alive heading into the festive season. Its famed Christmas market combines traditional German aspects with Scottish touches, and magical lights are festooned everywhere you look – in particular, don’t miss the Royal Botanic Gardens.
If you’re planning a visit in January, Burns Night is one occasion you won’t want to miss on the 25th. This celebrates the birth day of Robert Burns, Scotland’s revered poet famous for penning Auld Lang Syne. Tradition dictates that someone will recite ‘Address To A Haggis’ (a Burns poem) before cutting into one for dinner, accompanied by neeps, tatties and a wee dram – turnips, potatoes and whiskey.
Quirky Warsaw can have sub-zero temperatures during winter, but you’ll instantly defrost whenever you make your way inside. There’s a little ‘je ne sais quoi’ about a bracingly cold winter which we think Warsaw wholeheartedly delivers on. There’s still plenty of attractions to suit every budget, too. We would highly recommend visiting the Court of King Jan III on a weekend evening to check out the 3D light, video and sound displays that are splashed across the palace’s walls. You could also lace up your skates for a whirl on one of the city’s many ice rinks, before wandering through the brightly illuminated squares and streets – it’s simply breath taking!
Prague, Czech Republic
We’re big fans of Prague’s winter food specialties! If you’re dining in, zelnacka (sauerkraut soup) or goulash with dumplings are hearty, good-for-the-soul meals, perfectly accompanied by some mulled wine. If you’re after an on the go snack, we can’t look past houska (a sweet, braided bread), klobasnek (pastry-wrapped sausages) or trdelnik (a cylindrical dough with your choice of fillings) – delicious!
One of Prague’s major events takes place on January 5 which signals the wrap up of the city’s Christmas celebrations. The Three Kings Procession is a reenactment of the journey of the Three Wise Men to visit the baby Jesus, complete with camels, drummers and trumpeters. The parade heads over Charles Bridge and finishes at the Old Town Square, a fun sight to watch!
Budapest is home to one of the oldest and largest ice rinks in Europe: the famous City Park Ice Rink, first opened in 1870. Afterwards, you may wish to warm up at the Szechenyi Baths. It offers both indoor and outdoor (heated) pools to soak away any chills you may have. You often see pictures of Budapest’s thermal baths heaving with people in the summer months, but what’s to stop you from enjoying the baths in winter (and with much less people, too)?
Come December, the Buda Castle area has a Christmas advent calendar that showcases local poets, authors, actors and ballet dancers in a myriad of performances. Check out one of its events, followed by nabbing a spot at one of the city’s iconic ruin bars where they often have discounted drinks and food in winter.
Being the sunniest European capital city, Lisbon draws hordes of people in from far and wide mid-year. Yet the sunshine carries on through winter! It’s a hilly city so the milder temperatures make walking the streets less of a sweaty affair. With fewer people around, you can easily nab a seat on one of its funiculars or avoid queuing for one of the miradouro (view point) elevators.
It’s still rather pleasant to sit outside in the sunshine so some pastelerias make the most of this by offering a pastel de nata, bacalhau (salted codfish), espresso and port wine for just four euros – an absolute steal that you’d be hard pressed to come across in summer! On the food front, some winter time favourites are Lisbon’s hot seafood or meat stews, like caldo verde: a tasty ‘green’ soup with chorizo.
Like some of its Mediterranean neighbours, Athens has a fairly mild winter. This makes it ideal for stomping the streets, like hiking to the top of Lycabettus Hill. The panoramic view across Athens is worth every step! With less visitors in winter, it’s really pleasant to explore the sights without the crowds. For the history buffs, most of Athen’s archaeological sites have discounted tickets; for the avid photographer, the historic Plaka neighbourhood can be found almost people-free (if you time it right) so you can get that perfect shot for the ‘gram. After a day of bucket-list ticking, you can settle into a cosy taverna for your choice of winter classics. Don’t miss giouvarlakia (meatballs boiled in a thick egg and lemon sauce), fricassee (meat and lettuce stew) or revithia (chickpea soup).
One of Switzerland’s most-loved foodie delights is well-sought after in the cooler months. Enter, the ultimate cheese fondue weather! But if cheese fondue isn’t up your alley, Zurich also offers a variety of other winter treats. Try a hot pretzel adorned with pumpkin seeds (usually sold as a snack at train stations), opfelchuechli (moreish deep-fried apple rings) or just a soul-warming glass of gluhwein.
Rug up and take a trip to Mount Pilatus. While spectacular all year round, there’s something special about the beloved mountain in winter. Maybe it’s watching the snow-dusted houses fall away as you ascend in the cable car, or the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains at the top…either way, a must-do!
Check out our full range of Escapes by Globus tours, showing you the very best of Europe during winter.