Although European summer is great, there’s nothing quite as magical as exploring the cosy European old towns and cute cobbled streets with a warm cup of coffee or glogi and perhaps even a dusting of snow.
Every year I try to travel somewhere new in Europe during the winter, you can find some of the best winter weekend getaways when you search for off-season prices especially during November and January around the Christmas Market dates. But even if you do travel in December on a weekend, you can still find cheap European Christmas destinations with some great flight deals if you book ahead. Plus travelling to some of these lesser known destinations will guarantee cheaper prices and these are definitely some of the best European cities to visit in winter!
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The best winter weekend getaways
1. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn is the capital city of Estonia, a country located on the Baltic sea in the north east of Europe. Although Tallinn is no double beautiful all year round, in the winter months you are basically guaranteed snow! So this beautiful old town becomes even more magical with a dusting of snow on the city walls and terracotta roofs.
Tallinn is one of the best european cities to visit in winter, not only because it really feels like a magical winter wonderland, but also because it is a very small, walkable city. Temperatures dropped below -10C frequently when I visited Tallinn for a long weekend, so I very much appreciated the short walking distances between places!
Flights to Tallinn are getting more popular from the UK and all over Europe, particularly with budget airlines. Check out my guide for the best hotels and places to stay in Tallinn.
Things to do in Tallinn in winter:
Go to the Patkuli viewing platform and Kohtuotsa viewing platform for amazing views over the snow covered turrets and spires of the city.
See the annual Gingerbread Mania, a design contest where everything must be made from gingerbread! It runs each year in the run up to Christmas and some of the designs really are extravagant!
Visit the KGB Museum for a fascinating insight into the covert world of the Soviet era.
Head to the Masters’ Courtyard for a cute and quirky outdoor space and grab some of the best cake in town at Pierre’s Chocolaterie.
If you do visit in December, do not miss the Christmas Market, it was voted the best European Christmas Market in 2019 and for good reason and is without a doubt one of the best European cities to visit in December!
Where to stay in Tallinn
Hestia Hotel Ilmarine has all the budget benefits of being outside the Old Town, but being just a 10 minute walk from the old city walls, the location is perfect. Rooms are modern and comfortable and a full breakfast is included in the price!
2. Riga, Latvia
I would say that Riga is one of the cheapest places to visit in Europe in November. When I visited Riga for two days in mid-November, the town was so quiet and peaceful, almost no tourists around, Christmas markets hadn’t started setting up yet and the prices for everything from beer to accommodation were incredibly cheap.
Riga is the capital of Latvia, a neighbour of Estonia and also located on the Baltic sea. There are daily flights from several London airports, Wizz Air from Luton is usually the cheapest and they have great weekend flight times, so if you’re looking to visit eastern Europe in winter, I highly recommend Riga.
The Old Town is incredibly walkable with plenty of cheap accommodation options right in the Old Town centre. I love Riga because it also has so many fascinating neighbourhoods to explore and the colourful buildings and architecture really is a photographer’s dream!
Things to do in Riga in winter:
Climb St. Peter’s Church Tower. The tower is located in the Old Town and gives incredible views across the rooftops of the city. With a sprinkling of snow, this view is even more magical. Tickets to climb the tower cost 9 euros and you can pay on arrival.
Warm yourself up with a dining experience at an authentic Latvian restaurant like Pētergailis, restorāns or Rozengrāls - an authentic medieval dining experience.
Visit the huge National Library of Latvia, which is located just across the bridge over the river from the Old Town. This building is any book lover’s dream, with huge glass display cabinets spanning several floors. You can get a visitor’s pass to enter for free, you will need to leave your bags and belongings in a secure locker by the front desk.
3. Salzburg, Austria
Home of Mozart and the Sound of Music, Salzburg is a captivating city which I didn’t expect to love as much as I did! From its classical architecture, fascinating history and stunning views to its cultural museums, galleries, churches and attractions everywhere you look, Salzburg is a joy to explore and is one of the best winter breaks in Europe.
During the winter months, the city comes alive with carol singers and instrumental bands playing in the street, the city seems wrapped in a warm glow of cosy yellow lighting and a dusting of snow. The Christmas market is huge and definitely an incredible experience, but even if you visit in the winter months outside of December, there is always something going on in the main squares of Domplatz and Residenzplatz, whether it’s a performance, an ice rink, a public show or market stalls.
You might also like Alternative European Christmas Market destinations.
Flights to Austria in general seem to be a bit more pricey and it’s harder to get a last minute deal, but booking 3-4 months in advance, I was able to get a £60 return flight over the weekend two weeks before Christmas! (I booked in late August/early September).
Things to do in Salzburg in winter:
Enjoy all the incredible viewpoints in Salzburg! Salzburg is a city full of fortresses, castles and clifftops which provide several opportunities for rooftop views over the city.
Take a day trip to Hallstatt in Austria. This fairytale village is even more magical in the winter and it’s possible to see it on a day trip. While hiring a car is the quickest way to get there, it’s also possible to take the bus.
- Visit Mozart’s birthplace and museum. This house located in the centre of the city is an eye-opening inside into the life of the famous Austrian music composer. I’m not always a fan of museums but this one was fascinating. Tickets cost is 12 euros per person, you can buy a combi ticket for 18.50 euros to see his residence too.
Where to stay in Salzburg:
I stayed at MEININGER Hotel Salzburg City Center which I personally think has an option for everyone who is looking for a cheap winter weekend getaway. They have a range of rooms from doubles, twins, family rooms and dorms so you can find something to suit your style and budget. Private double rooms with an ensuite are roughly £45 per night or £50 with breakfast included. Dorms are just £14 per night. The hotel is within easy walking distance of the city centre.
For other accommodation options in Salzburg, check here.
4. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is one of the best winter weekend getaways because you can really maximise your time there thanks to its proximity to the UK. There are also so many transport options including bus, train, plane and you could even drive! I flew into Brussels and took the train to Bruges but then took the bus from Bruges to London to get home because it was significantly cheaper!
Bruges is such a quaint town, I love the gingerbread style houses and tiny cobbled streets you can spend hours exploring. The canals winding through the city also reminds me a bit of a Belgian version of Venice!
Bruges combines great attractions and things to do, with great food and drink, in a beautiful city full of interesting architecture.
My flight to Bruges in early December on a weekend was £69 which was a bit steep for a one way flight, but it was my own fault as I only booked it just over a month before. But that’s also why I chose to take the bus back to the UK, which only cost me £13!! But if you book 3-4 months in advance, there are return flights for just £66.
Things to do in Bruges in winter:
Try all the Belgian foods! By that I mean, Belgian waffles, Belgian chocolate, Belgian beer. There is so much great food in Belgium and a weekend away is the perfect excuse to sample them all!
Do a river cruise through Bruges. Seeing Bruges from the water is a great way to explore the city and there are 5 landing stages throughout the city, so you can board at any point or disembark to explore for as long as you like. Tickets cost 10 euros.
5. Stockholm, Sweden
You’ve probably heard me talking before about how much I love Stockholm, but it is such a beautiful city and although I’ve visited Stockholm for a weekend during summer and winter, I preferred visiting in winter with a chill in the air and the vibrant sunsets, plus the cold weather is the perfect excuse for hopping in and out of cosy cafes for some hygge in the Swedish capital.
The old town of Gamla Stan is full of vibrant yellow and orange buildings and cobbled alleyways to explore. You could spend hours checking out local businesses and cafes but there’s also so many museums and attractions to see too, including the ABBA museum!
My trick for Stockholm is to take the 6am flight from London on a Saturday morning. I’ve got this flight for just £20 return!! This is with hand luggage only though so make sure to wear all your chunky winter coats and boots on the plane!
Things to do in Stockholm in winter:
Take the water bus from the Gamla Stan stop so you can hop over to Södermalm and Kungsholmen islands. If you have the Stockholm travelcard, the water bus is included so you don’t need to pay anymore but it’s nowhere near as expensive as a river cruise. My top tip is to get on the water bus at sunset to enjoy the vibrant sky from the water.
Visit the Vasa Museum. While I don’t have a particular interest in maritime history, the Vasa ship sank on her maiden voyage in 1628 and has a fascinating history. The Vasa ship was not raised from the water until 1961 and has been incredibly preserved here in this museum.
Walk up to the Skinnarviksberget viewpoint on Södermalm for incredible views and photo opportunities over the city and the spires of and Gamla Stan.
Where to stay in Stockholm:
I’ve stayed in two unique accommodations in Stockholm, both of which I loved. Stockholm accommodation can be very expensive so my choice is always to get a private room in a hostel to keep costs down but still have privacy.
Stay on a 19th century fully rigged ship docked at Skeppsholmen island. STF Af Chapman and Skeppsholmen is just a short walk to Gamla Stan and 6 minutes from the Modern Museum. They also have an accommodation block on land if you don’t fancy staying on the ship. Rooms are as cheap as £43 per night.
Alternatively, stay in a converted 1800s converted prison on Langsholmen island at the STF Långholmen Hostel. This truly is a unique hostel, you’ll sleep in cosy converted cells with original features like cell doors and walkways throughout the building. A twin room with a private bathroom is £65.
6. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Although Lake Bled in Slovenia is extremely well-known, the capital of Slovenia often gets overlooked. But Ljubljana is a fascinating city with beautiful architecture and history, with plenty to do and Lake Bled is less than 1 hours drive away, so seeing the famous church on the island in the middle of the lake is totally possible as a day trip from Ljubljana.
Flights to Ljubljana are getting more popular, but currently the only direct flights from the UK are departing from London. Flights are as little as £60 return. Even though flights can get more expensive during the winter due to the Slovenia ski season, accommodation is so cheap in Ljubljana that it more than makes up for the price of flights.
Things to do in Ljubljana in winter:
See the historic city centre including the Triple Bridge and the bright pin Fransciscan church, Cerkev Marijinega oznanjenja.
Enjoy a warm coffee or something a bit stronger like mulled wine along the historic riverfront underneath the patio heaters.
Take the funicular up to the castle for incredible views of the city and a fascinating museum inside the fortress.
Where to stay in Ljubljana
I highly recommend staying in an Airbnb in Ljubljana because accommodation is so cheap at anywhere between £50-70 for two nights, for two people, this is as little as £12.50 per night, per person. Definitely making it one of the cheapest winter city breaks in Europe.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen isn’t the cheapest city to visit by any means, but is one of the best European cities to visit in winter thanks to the magical Tivoli Gardens which is open during November and December. With lots of beautiful sights, colourful buildings, great food and attractions, you’re guaranteed to have an action packed winter weekend getaway in Copenhagen, and it really is possible to do it on a budget!
To counteract the higher prices in Copenhagen, flights from the UK to Copenhagen are incredibly cheap with Ryan Air flights from Manchester and London as low as £26 return in November and £34 in December! There are also direct flights from Edinburgh, Birmingham and even Aberdeen.
Things to do in Copenhagen in winter:
- Visit the magical wonderland of Tivoli Gardens. The lights, the amusement park, the decorations and just the completely joyous atmosphere here is enough to make anyone feel festive. Get your fast-track tickets and an optional amusement park ride here.
- Get the Copenhagen Card to make the most of included entry to almost all attractions in the city and get city transport included. Use my Copenhagen tips to help you plan your weekend.
- Head over the bridge at the bottom of Nyhavn to see Freetown Christiania. This unique Danish commune is exempt from the normal laws of Denmark and lives an open, alternative lifestyle where everyone is equal and respected. The town is colourful, vibrant and friendly. Photography isn’t allowed but it is a unique place to experience.
Where to stay in Copenhagen:
Airbnb’s are significantly cheaper here than hotels, especially if there’s 3 or 4 of you or even a larger group. I suggest finding an Airbnb which is in a city suburb but nearby transit so you can easily get into the city for free with your Copenhagen card. I stayed at an Airbnb in the suburb of Frediksberg which was lovely and a perfect location, being nice and quiet but just a short walk from the train station with a direct route into the city centre in 10-15 minutes.
8. Bratislava, Slovakia
Probably the most underrated destination on this list for best winter weekend getaways in Europe. If you’re looking for cheap winter destinations in Europe, it’s here. Bratislava is the capital of Slovakia and has all the charm of historic European cities, with amazingly cheap prices and the best comfort food!
Flights are operated primarily by Wizz Air and Ryan Air from London UK airports and are as cheap as £44 for a weekend in December if you book 3-4 months ahead, making it one of the cheapest trips to Europe in December on this list. There are also cheap flights from Birmingham and Manchester airports to Bratislava with Ryan Air, however they currently only fly on weekdays.
Things to do in Bratislava in winter:
Eat traditional Slovakian dishes like their potato dumplings, the ultimate cosy comfort food for winter! And wash it all down with their incredibly cheap local beers. Sladovňa - House Of Beer in the Old Town was my favourite.
Visit the Bratislava Castle. This incredible baroque castle dates from 907 AD and the history is just unbelievable! There is a great museum here and the castle’s position on the hilltop means amazing views too.
If you have an extra day, consider a day trip to Vienna, Austria. Vienna and Bratislava are the two closest capital cities in the world with only a one hour train journey between the two. You really could visit two countries in a weekend!
9. Colmar, France
Colmar is a fairytale village in the Alsace region of France, famous for its characteristic timber frame architecture, colourful houses, wine region and festivities during the winter period. I actually visited Colmar during February and would say that Colmar is one of the best European cities to visit in February as flights were incredibly cheap post-Christmas season and there were barely any tourists to the town so it was so quiet and fun to explore! However if you want to see the decorations and Christmas markets, you’re better visiting in late November and December. You can read more here about the best time to visit Colmar.
There are a few options for getting to Colmar, but you have options between Basel airport, Strasbourg airport or even getting the train from Paris.
I flew to Basel airport which was £49 return. In November and December, flights are slightly more expensive around £70.
Things to do in Colmar in winter:
Eat traditional Alsace dishes such as beef cheek, with Alsace wines, all locally sourced. I really enjoyed Le Fer Rouge restaurant in the centre.
Soak in the colourful streets such as La Launch or La Petite Venise to see these iconic Alsace houses.
Hire a bike to explore the local area, along the river and even head towards nearby villages such as Eguisheim, which was the fairytale inspiration for Beauty and the Beast!
Where to stay in Colmar:
I stayed at an IBIS Budget and fortunately there are several IBIS hotels in Colmar so you’ll find something perfect to suit if you're on a budget weekend. I stayed at Colmar Budget Centre-Ville for £49 per night for a private room and ensuite. There is also IBIS Colmar Centre and IBIS Styles if you’re looking for a bit more luxury.
10. Cotswolds, England
The Cotswolds are beautiful at any time of year, but there’s nothing more enjoyable than those cosy warm tea rooms or pub log fires in every village which are readily available to duck into out of the cold! The Cotswolds are an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the UK, beautiful villages, rolling hills and country lanes are in every direction you look.
The Cotswolds are a great option for a UK staycation because you can use your own vehicle (which I highly recommend) and it gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace and see as much or as little as you like. If you don’t have a car or you’re coming into the UK from elsewhere, there are great train connections from London, Bath, Oxford, Birmingham and other major cities, to reach main villages in the Cotswolds such as Kingham and Moreton-in-Marsh.
Things to do in the Cotswolds in winter:
Visit the prettiest village in the UK, Castle Combe. This famous village was used in movies sets such as Stardust and Doctor Dolittle! Enjoy the picturesque Cotswold stone houses with smoke rising from chimneys and beautiful christmas decorations if you visit in December. Enjoy a traditional afternoon tea at The Old Rectory Tearooms or The Old Stables.
Stay in the beautiful village of Broadway for some wonderful wintery walks in the countryside. Join the Cotswolds Way walking trail or do the loop walk around the Broadway Tower, a historic Georgian Tower.
Do a tasting experience at the Cotswolds Distillery, the Cotswolds gin is some of my favourite! If you’d prefer not to do an alcohol-related experience, I highly recommend visiting the Daylesford Farm Shop and Cafe, they have all locally sourced products and a lovely cafe.
Plan your trip itinerary with this Cotswolds Weekend Guide.
Where to stay in the Cotswolds:
It depends what activities you want to do and which villages you want to visit. I suggest using this list of Cotswolds villages and looking at the recommended accommodation options. If you want to focus on villages in the south, I suggest staying in Bath, Castle Combe or Stroud. If you’re wanting to stay in the north Cotswolds, look at accommodation in Broadway, Stow-on-the-Wold, Chipping Campden or Moreton-in-Marsh.
11. Reykjavik, Iceland
Iceland is one of the must see places in Europe in winter. However it is traditionally a very expensive country, but it’s included on this list because of the amazing travel packages that are available to Iceland which makes it one of the easiest, as well as one of the best winter weekend getaways, especially if you’re looking for last minute deals.
I visited Iceland for a long weekend in February which is an ideal time to visit as it avoids the Christmas and New Year peak prices, plus February is great for seeing the northern lights and the country is still covered in snow, so it is a magical winter weekend getaway.
I used Groupon Getaways which often have several options for how many nights you want to do or what tours you’d like to include. Packages usually start from around £149 for direct return flights, 2 nights in a hotel and 1 northern lights tour. I also added the Golden circle tour and a 3rd night to my stay, taking the total cost to around £300 per person in February.
The reason these tours are such great value is they’re an entire day to see the main sights within driving distance of Reykjavik and tours like the Northern Lights will take you on additional tours for free on the following nights if you don’t successfully see the lights on your first tour attempt.
Things to do in Reykjavik in winter:
If you prefer independent travel rather than tours, I would suggest hiring a car to see the Golden Circle Tour sights yourself. You could also drive to Diamond Beach, Black Sand beach, Kvernufoss waterfall not far south of Reykjavik or the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck, not much further along the coast than the waterfall.
Of course, don’t forget to enjoy a soak at the Blue Lagoon thermal hot springs, you can treat yourself to a spa treatment and is there anything better than a hot springs soak while snow falls around you?! If you want to avoid the crowds, there’s also plenty of other hot springs in Iceland to discover and perhaps enjoy all to yourself!
Climb the distinctive tower at Hallgrimskirkja, the church in Reykjavik. From the top you’ll see the vibrant rooftops of the city and the mountain range beyond. The price to climb the tower is just £5 for adults.
Where to stay in Reykjavik:
If you’re doing a package to keep prices down then you most likely will only have a choice between 2 or 3 hotels, but the standard is usually great because of their affiliation with these package holidays.
I stayed at Hotel Vellir which is a great cheap option at just £60 per night. It recommend it whether you're doing your own trip or if it's an option as part of your package. It’s so cheap because it’s out of the city, but being half way between the airport and Reykjavik, it’s easy to get to both.
Although it meant that we had to take a bus to Reykjavik, this was so cheap and only took 20 minutes. The tours pick you up directly from the hotel so we never had to worry about transport. They also have a large car park if you do choose to rent a car and there is a supermarket right next door so you can keep costs low by making your own meals.
These are the best winter weekend getaways I’ve done and it’s possible to do most of them on a budget too. I hope these places help you decide the best winter holiday destinations in europe for you and help you plan your winter getaways from the UK and beyond this year. Let me know if you do go to any of these places!
Flights: I use Expedia to find great flights and the best deals all over the world, they have regular sales and offers so I always check their website. I also check CheapOair to find cheap deals on round trip flights.
Car Rental: I love the customer service I've always gotten and the variety of options with Rental Cars. But for short notice rentals, I've been using Expedia for the last year, they always seem to have great one-day rates or last-minute rates from the main rental companies.
Accommodation: I prefer the flexibility of booking accommodation with Booking.com so I can cancel or change my reservation without a fee or only pay on arrival for most properties. For longer or more unique stays I prefer AirBnB because you can get the long stay discount, you can also find more unique properties and book experiences with talented locals and businesses. For my budget trips, I always stay in hostels and book through Hostelworld because they have great guarantees if anything does go wrong. If you arrive and your booking is not at the property, they refund the full deposit AND give you $50 extra credit.
Tours and organised trips Although I don’t use tours that often, I do like to book local experiences or day trips once I reach my destination. For that I use GetYourGuide because it has the biggest selection and variety of tour and experience options.
Travel Insurance: For all my longer trips and for the entire year I’ve spent in Australia, my partner and I have always used World Nomads. They cover everything I need and I can buy coverage for a year at a time, they also allow you to purchase cover when you’re already outside your home country. Plus my camera gear and equipment is covered and they also have special cover for when I’m scuba diving too.
My camera gear and equipment: I use a Canon 77D with an 18-135mm lens or a 50mm lens. And a DJI Mavic Mini Drone. For all my gear including laptops, tripods and more camera accessories read my travel photography gear guide.