I’m not a big fan of winter. As a native of San Diego, it’s not actually the cold that bothers me so much — it’s the darkness that really gets to me. I spent 4 years living in Boston, where the temperature drops to well below freezng, and could never get accustomed to the wind ripping through three layers of clothing nor the fact that by 4 PM it was usually dark.
If you live in a part of the USA that’s especially prone to harsh winters, one of the best cures to the seasonal depression (unless you’re one of those people who loves the endless snow and cold and darkness) is to visit Europe. Because of the Gulf Stream, the southern half of the continent is quite mild, and unless you visit the Arctic (more on that later), it should be much warmer than where you’re used to.
But weather isn’t really the main reason why you should consider visiting Europe during the winter. For me, the best reason is that the cost of travel drops precipitously. In the dead of winter you can easily find a roundtrip flight from New York to London for $400 or less; compared to peak summer fares, you can bet on shaving something like 30-50% off airfare. Hotels and attractions in popular places tend to have discounted rates during the off-peak season. If you’re the kind of tourist that hates seeing other tourists around (I’m guilty of this but you probably are too), you’ll see them — but way less of them — wandering around Paris or Rome in the middle of January as compared to June. Then there’s the possibility that for certain activities, such as watching the Northern Lights, skiing, or seeing waves as tall as 10 story buildings slam into rocks just meters away from you (check out #1 on this list) winter is actually the ideal time to visit Europe.
Without further ado, I present the top 10 best places in Europe to visit during winter time. Don’t forget to subscribe here for free flight deals so you can get there cheap!
10. Paris, France
It’s so clichéd, but Paris in the rain is very, very romantic. If you and your significant other have never been, consider visiting this city in the wintertime. Your money will go farther, so you can splurge for a hotel room that isn’t the size of a closet!
Also, many museums in Paris, London, Rome, and every other major destination city in Europe are free. If you’re the sort of person who loves museum-hopping, you probably won’t mind all the rainy days, because that just means it makes sense to spend more time indoors.
Pssst — I recently found cheap flights to Paris from cities including New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles — check it out.
9. Crete, Greece
Sadly, I’ve never been to any of the Greek islands, but you’ve no doubt seen selfies of some friend of yours on instagram on top of a huge cliff with white-washed houses behind her (that would be Santorini, btw). If you go there in the winter, it might be a litte too cold to swim, but the weather will be mild, unlike in the summer when sweltering heat kills the impulse to explore. I’d venture you’ll see way more of the ancient history and culture of places like Crete or Mykonos if you visit durign the winter.
8. Rhone-Alpes, France
If you’re big on skiing, snowboarding, mountaineering, or pretty much any sport involving copious amounts of snow, check out the Rhone-Alpes on the border between France and Switzerland. Some of the best mountain resorts in the world are in Chamonix, at the foot of Mont Blanc. Just remember to bring the cash, because they’re also some of the most expensive in the world!
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Sarajevo is such a fascinating and beautiful city; I visited two years ago in late December and fell in love with its dramatic mountainous setting, the beautiful Ottoman architecture in the old city, and the many cafes where you can sip good espresso and people watch. The city has its dark side — thousands died during the siege of Sarajevo and the massacre at nearby Srebrenica — and if you visit, you should take time to reflect on what Sarajevo’s recent past says about humanity. Then you should go out and enjoy the nightlife, because it’s got a pretty lively scene of pubs and clubs.
6. Svalbard, Norway
As long as you don’t mind the cold — and potentially warding off polar bears — you will love Svalbard. Located 500 miles north of mainland Norway’s northern-most point (think about how far north that is!), this fantastically desolate and rugged island will take your breath away if you visit in the winter. The Northern Lights, wildlife, and mountans make this a worthwhile destination, so long as you bundle up and have budgeted upwards of $100 per day for the most basic acommadations and food.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
One of the most charming things about Europe during wintertime is how just about every city and town has some sort of Christmas market in the main square. Prague supposedly has one of the best Christmas markets in the city. On its own merit, the city is worth a visit anyways. I’ve never been, but everyone I know who has wouldn’t stop raving about how friendly the locals were, how cheap everything was, how good the beer was, and how pretty the city’s many bridges are.
4. Sicily, Italy
The island of Sicily is at the crossroads of the Mediterranean, which explains why it has been conquered so many times by many different cultures, all of whom left their own mark. The ancient Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Vikings, many Popes, Holy Roman Emperors, and eastern Christians — to name a few — all held control over part or all of the island at various periods. It’s a treasure trove of history. Sicily also is one of the cheapest parts of Italy to visit (as a rule, the farther south from Rome you go, the cheaper things get), the food is spicier and the red wine in particular is bolder than why you get in the north. And if you go in the winter, the temperature will be balmy instead of blisteringly hot like in the summer.
3. Dalmatia, Croatia
One of my favorite, most underrated cities in Europe is Split, pictured above. A couple years ago I spent a month there and loved it. The picturesque towns of Zadar and Sibenik to the north are postcard-perfect, and the national park of Krka is worth a visit to see the spectacular waterfalls there. I’ve been back twice and seen a bit more of Dalmatia, including visits to Dubrovnik and the island of Mljet, but nowhere has my heart like Split. There’s still plenty of sun during the winter, there are way fewer tourists (I was in Dubrovnik this past September and it was horribly crowded), and you might actually make friends with some of the wonderful locals who live there if you stay long enough. Visit Dalmatia in the winter — you won’t be disappointed.
2. Andalucía, Spain
I think everyone should visit Spain’s southern region — it’s just a matter of when. The cities of Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada have UNESCO historical monuments in their respective centers (the Great Mosque of Cordoba will give you chills). Málaga is a trendy city making a name for itself as a place for cutting-edge art, cuisine, and design. Flamenco comes from the south. Spain isn’t a very expensive country, but it’s a well-known fact that you can expect a free plate of tapas for every drink you purchase in a city such as Sevilla, making it incredibly affordable. The mountains of Andalucía are spectacular to hike in and the coastal towns of Cadiz, Tarifa, and Algeciras are worth a visit for the winter carnival (basically Mardi Gras), kite-surfing, and for a great view of Gibraltar, respectively. If you visit Andalucía during the winter, you’ll avoid the sweltering heat of the summer and still have all of the wonderful culture to enjoy.
1. Nazaré, Portugal
If you haven’t heard of Nazaré , you should watch that video. During the winter, storms in the north Atlantic create waves upwards of 30m (100 feet) that rise up out of a deepwater canyon in this small fishing village halfway between the cities of Lisbon and Porto (both of which are worth visiting). You can stand on a clifftop lighthouse and watch these moving mountains of water slowly collapse in a violent avalanche of foam and spray. On a “medium” day, when the waves might be the size of a three or four-story building, you can feel the ground shake every time a wave breaks out there. Visit Nazaré; I promise you’ll never be the same again.
tags: best places to visit in europe during winter, cheapest winter destinations in europe, europe winter travel guide, how to find cheap flights to europe, winter flight deals to europe