Europe during December offers an unparalleled travel experience. Distinct from other seasons, winter metamorphoses destinations, providing a visiting ambiance unattainable at other times. While the temperatures are chilly, December seldom plunges to the year’s coldest, making it conducive for exploratory walks.
The winter months present an opportune moment to explore magnificent cities and quaint villages, primarily due to the diminished crowds and reduced off-season lodging rates. This affordability extends from November through February. Let us delve into the prime winter destinations in Europe and discern what sets them apart.
12 Best European Cities to Visit in Winter
The following are some suggestions for the best European cities to visit in December.
1. Palermo, Italy
Seeking a winter retreat in the sun, while staying tethered to European charm? Palermo, the radiant capital of Sicily, stands out as a premier winter destination in Europe. As Italy’s fifth-largest city, it’s celebrated for its rich cultural tapestry and culinary delights.
In Palermo, winter is marked by gentle climes, occasionally touching a pleasant 20°C, courtesy of the Sirocco winds originating from Africa. This temperate climate ensures that from delectable street food and exquisite wines to the captivating azure coastline, every experience is accessible throughout the year.
Should the sun choose to remain elusive, fret not. Palermo boasts an abundant treasure trove of culture, fashion, history, and art awaiting exploration.
The region’s seasonal flora and fauna shimmer with a distinct winter allure, and the magnificent ancient Roman edifices and Greek temples stand relatively undisturbed by throngs of tourists.
2. Lapland, Finland
Undoubtedly, Lapland stands as a premier destination in Europe come December. This region entices with a plethora of activities, from chasing the mesmerizing aurora borealis to snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice fishing, and a myriad of other exhilarating pursuits.
Lapland’s charm doesn’t stop with its activities. It’s renowned for its hospitable inhabitants, particularly the indigenous Sámi people, and its enchanting, snow-blanketed landscapes.
For those venturing into the depths of the Arctic Circle, an indelible experience awaits. Traveling with young ones? Lapland plays host to vast reindeer populations and the famed Santa Claus village in Rovaniemi.
Lapland, situated in Finland, also beckons those wishing to detach from the urban hustle. Here, in this secluded corner of the globe, the only encounters one can anticipate are with cheerful souls and potential new acquaintances.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague stands as one of Europe’s most exquisite cities, making it no wonder that it teems with tourists during the summer. Yet, what many might not realize is that its allure remains undiminished in winter, albeit with notably fewer visitors. Blanketed with a delicate layer of snow, the city’s rich architectural heritage and cultural grandeur take on an even more captivating ambiance.
Beyond its artistic and historic attractions, Prague is also celebrated for its vibrant nightlife and deep-seated beer culture. Regardless of the season, indulging in the diverse array of local beers at the city’s myriad pubs is a must. For those looking to infuse warmth into their beer experience, Prague offers unique beer spas, allowing visitors to truly immerse themselves in the local brewing tradition.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is the quintessential destination for those seeking to experience the Danish ethos of ‘hygge’, particularly in December. Central to the idea of hygge is the warmth and comfort found in snug cafes, where one can savor hot mulled wine, delightful mini pancakes, and the pleasure of good company. This, of course, is after indulging in festive shopping at the Nyhavn Christmas market and admiring the intricate decorations at Kongens Nytorv market.
For families, notable landmarks such as The Round Tower, Rosenborg Castle, the National Museum of Denmark, and Christiansborg Palace offer intimate tours. And as snow frequently graces the city, children can delight in snowball skirmishes along the pier, while adults partake in festive treats and leisurely peruse holiday storefronts.
5. Berlin, Germany
Berlin stands out as a sought-after European destination in December, celebrated for its extensive collection of over 70 Christmas markets. The city is adorned with inviting indoor markets, vibrant outdoor festivals replete with rides, quaint nostalgic shops, and an abundance of festive spirit.
The expansive market situated in Spandau’s historic town is notable, while the renowned Gendarmenmarkt captivates visitors with unique stalls, spotlighting artisans like glassblowers and origami masters. As you revel in the atmosphere, savor the aroma of freshly roasted almonds and explore the Opernpalais, showcasing global arts and crafts.
Extend your stay over a leisurely weekend to partake in Berlin’s winter recreational activities. While ice skating has its charm, tobogganing steals the limelight, especially on Teufelsberg, one of the city’s eminent hills.
6. Zermatt, Switzerland
For most of the year, Zermatt remains a tranquil village. However, come winter, it springs to life as skiing enthusiasts of every level are drawn to its extensive 200-kilometer piste network. With advanced off-piste terrains and top stations elevating to almost 4,000 meters, Zermatt is truly a paradise for seasoned skiers.
Yet, Zermatt doesn’t just cater to skiers. The village is bathed in sunlight even during the chillier months, beckoning non-skiers for snowshoeing, winter hiking, and leisurely strolls amidst pristine landscapes. Activities like tobogganing, sledding, and curated treks unveil lesser-known terrains.
One particularly delightful trail stretches 2.2 kilometers from Blauherd to Fluhalp, offering vistas of the native chamois grazing and the majestic Matterhorn looming in the backdrop.
7. Bruges, Belgium
Winter in Bruges is nothing short of enchanting. While early December offers relatively mild temperatures compared to the mid-winter chill that flirts with freezing points, any winter visit to Bruges promises an array of sensory delights. As November transitions to December, the city’s Christmas market emerges as its centerpiece, filling the air of the Old Town with irresistible aromas of fresh waffles, aromatic hot chocolate, spiced mulled wine, and fries generously drizzled with mayonnaise. This setting transforms Bruges into a mesmerizing winter tableau, effortlessly invoking festive sentiments.
Bruges, with its storied Old Town, idyllic canals, medieval architectural marvels, and countless inviting breweries, positions itself as a romantic sanctuary. Ascend the Belfry Tower for a panoramic view, treat your palate to delectable waffles at the House of Waffles on Wollestraat, and meander through the city’s frosty streets at dusk for unparalleled photographic opportunities.
8. Canary Islands, Spain
Not all winter getaways need to embrace the chill. Escaping the cold to bask in warmer climes is an equally enticing proposition. In this regard, the Canary Islands stand out as an exemplary choice. Situated off the western coast of Africa, these Spanish islands offer a respite with their consistently sunny disposition while much of Europe is blanketed in frost. And, unlike some island destinations that shutter in the winter, the Canaries always welcome visitors.
The Canary Islands present a wealth of activities and sights. Whether you’re inclined to unwind on sandy shores, plunge into aquatic adventures such as diving and surfing, or traverse the islands’ distinct topographies, there’s something for every traveler. The volcanic origins of these islands have sculpted diverse landscapes, from vast craters and expansive sand dunes to haunting ash fields, ensuring a plethora of outdoor engagements.
9. Vienna, Austria
Vienna, nestled at the heart of Europe, serves as a prime launchpad for excursions to neighboring nations or other Austrian locales. As Austria’s capital, Vienna boasts a rich tapestry of experiences, from its revered coffee culture and resplendent architecture to its vibrant Carnival and melodious offerings, ensuring every visitor finds their niche.
The Schönbrunn Palace, an architectural marvel from the 1700s and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands as a testament to the grandeur of the Habsburg era. For those traveling with family, the Prater amusement park promises a day of delightful escapades. Moreover, an evening at the Vienna State Opera, esteemed as one of the foremost opera houses globally, is a quintessential Viennese experience not to be missed.
10. Geneva, Switzerland
Geneva, a jewel amongst European cities, is captivating throughout the year, with the majestic Lake Geneva and the encompassing Alps amplifying its allure. Yet, it’s in winter that the city truly sparkles. After braving the frosty outdoors, the comforting embrace of Swiss hot chocolate feels nothing short of magical.
A mere hour’s drive from Geneva lies the renowned ski haven, Chamonix, boasting some of the world’s premier skiing terrains. With a plethora of exquisite restaurants and cafes both in the city and its vicinity, one is spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting ski resorts and indulging in rich, soul-satisfying cuisine. Geneva’s unique blend of impeccable dining, exceptional skiing, and hospitable residents renders it an unparalleled winter getaway in Europe.
11. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest, during December, stands as one of Europe’s most enchanting destinations, replete with its therapeutic thermal baths, picturesque boat cruises, and streets aglow with festive lights. Merely wandering through its historic center evokes romance, heightened by the multitude of ambient restaurants, bars, and cafes offering fine champagne and sumptuous Hungarian delicacies.
Come winter, even the city’s trams don a luminous charm, ensuring every journey feels like a passage through a storybook. For those with a penchant for shopping, the city’s bustling markets and renowned shopping streets promise endless exploration.
Vörösmarty Square boasts the city’s most illustrious Christmas market, where one can find artisanal crafts, savory goulash, grilled sausages, and the irresistible Chimney Cake, all complemented perfectly with warm, spiced beverages. Contemplating a European honeymoon in December? A voyage along the Danube in Budapest is the epitome of romance.
12. Rome, Italy
Rome, renowned as one of Europe’s premier destinations, stands as a living testament to history, much akin to an open-air museum. Visiting in December is particularly enticing due to the plethora of Christmas markets dotted throughout the city. Additionally, traveling outside the bustling summer season offers the advantage of reduced prices and fewer crowds at iconic landmarks like the Colosseum and Pantheon.
The city’s diverse range of museums offers a warm refuge during the cooler months, and the Vatican City remains a focal point for many during the festive season. Naturally, your visit would be incomplete without indulging in the exquisite Italian cuisine that awaits at every turn.
Should you extend your stay, the city’s efficient train network facilitates exploration of Italy’s diverse regions. It would be advantageous to allocate a few days to the balmy southern parts, perhaps even journeying to cities of note such as Florence.
In our considered judgment, the aforementioned destinations rank among the finest places to explore in Europe during December. Europe, with its rich tapestry of countries and cities, offers a veritable cultural smorgasbord for discerning winter voyagers.
It’s imperative to clarify that this summation is crafted for those specifically looking to traverse Europe in December. While it doesn’t encompass every possible destination for the month, it highlights some of the most exemplary locations to consider.