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14 European Cities That Are Even Better in Winter
There are devotees of warm-weather vacations among us, who refuse to look north until May rolls around. But there's something to be said for embracing the season and following the deep freezefor as long as it lasts (if climate change has anything to say about it). A 20-degree-Fahrenheit day in Europe can be—dare we say it?—blissful. Some cities, beyond the Christmas market rush, are refreshingly crowd-free and inexpensive during the colder months, and they offer some seriously cozy experiences—how good does a real hot chocolate in a riverside cafe sound? You'll be happy you're in one of these 14 European cities—and a few villages, if we're getting technical—when the temperature drops.
When you visit the birthplace of hygge (basically the Danish concept of "coziness"), you better believe your winter vacation is going to be aces. That feeling can be found throughout Copenhagen, from pastry shops to inviting hotels. Don't feel like you have to stay indoors to enjoy the season, though. Those Michelin-starred restaurants, Tivoli Gardens, and canal views are certainly worth bundling up for. And is it just us, or do the buildings of Nyhavn look even more colorful against a snowy background?
Stay here: Originally built as a castle in 1909, Nimb Hotel overlooks the Tivoli Gardens and has warm touches like birch wood-burning fireplaces and antique furniture.
Yes, it's technically a village, but perhaps none other fits the phrase "storybook setting" better than Hallstätt, which sits pretty on the shores of Austria's Hallstätter See (about an hour's drive east of Salzburg). The town's 12th-century churches, candlelit restaurants, and market square only become more charming during the winter months, especially when the already-scenic Dachstein Mountains are capped with snow. As with most Austrian towns, Hallstätt does winter activities well; go skiing, snowshoe hiking, or take a horse-drawn carriage ride.
Stay here: The four-star Seehotel Grüner Baum offers panoramic views of both the lake and Market Square, plus has saunas and steam rooms to heat up in after a day of skiing.
Europe’s best-preserved medieval city is also one of its most charming, especially during the holiday season. Let's start with its light displays—every tree and storefront seems ablaze with twinkle lights; just look up as you wander the cobblestone streets. When you're frozen, warm up with mugs of Belgian hot chocolate in historic Craenenburg Cafe.
Stay here: The exposed wood beams and wine-colored walls of La Suite's rooms make for an extremely inviting winter hideaway.
Ireland's capital is one of our favorite places to visit in winter—and not just because of all those cozy little pubs. For the past nine years, the city has hosted the magical Smashing Times City of Dublin Parade, a colorful festival that honors the Winter Solstice (Dec. 21) with céilí dancing, traditional storytelling, and a fire ceremony. Dublin also gets #lit around New Year's Eve, with events like Luminosity and the world's largest Celtic Drum session set around town. And then there is the pure beauty of the season. James Joyce summed up snowy Ireland (cemeteries and all) best in his short story "The Dead," writing, "His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."
Stay here: The Westbury is unbridled Irish luxury at its finest—and those heated bathroom floors certainly don't hurt.
Paris is always a good idea. During the winter, it's a great idea—especially when you see how Parisians enjoy a snow day. (Just wear your finest winter coat—it gets cold.) The City of Light becomes even more dazzling with its twinkle lights on the Champs-Elysées and over-the-top Christmas displays at Galeries Lafayette. Most magical of all? The notorious lines to get into Notre-Dame and the Eiffel Tower shrink to a fraction of their usual lengths.
Stay here: The Peninsula Paris is pure Belle Époque luxury, and it even has its own upscale Christmas Market selling everything from roasted chestnuts to smoked salmon and caviar.
Venice has become notoriously overrun during peak season—just see the its recent attempts to limit tourist numbers for proof. But come wintertime, the city actually lives up to its La Serenissima ("The Serene") nickname. The canals are quiet and shrouded in mist, hotels give discounted rates, and you can actually visit St. Mark’s Basilica without a stranger's selfie stick poking you in the eye.
Stay here: Private and luxurious Palazzo Venart makes you feel like you've entered a secret Venetian world (hello, in-room chandeliers), and even has its own Michelin-starred restaurant.
Edinburgh's Hogmanay Festival—a three-day bacchanal celebrating the New Year, with outdoor concerts, fireworks, and dancing Scots—is reason enough to book a trip to the city. Not much of a partier? Shop for some cashmere, then curl up with your new scarf on and whisky in hand at the speakeasy-style Panda and Sons. You can also work up a sweat skiing in Pentland Hills Regional Park or walking among the winter-flowering plants at the Royal Botanic Garden.
Stay here: Le Monde has little touches that make wintertime a little bit warmer, like heated floors, in-room espresso machines, leather loungers, and four hotel bars.
Germany is known around the world for its Christmas markets—its capital city alone has more than 60 of them, including the incredibly picturesque WeihnachtsZauber, which is surrounded by such landmarks as Französischer Dom and the Konzerthaus. But don't think the Berlin's wintery appeal starts and ends with the holidays. Travelers can enjoy the city's Michelin-starred restaurants, buzzing nightclubs, and edgy museums well into the early months of 2019.
Stay here: Hotel Adlon Kempinski Berlin is a Gold List favorite (and arguably the city's best hotel) with traditional wood furnishings and rainforest showers. Splurge for the Imperial Suite for in-room fireplaces and views of a snow-covered Brandenburg Gate.
Winter is, hands down, the best time to visit Budapest. Seeing the Hungarian Parliament surrounded by ice drifts on the Danube could make even the strictest of beach bums embrace the cold. And you're sure to find all of those grand cafes, museums, and thermal baths infinitely more welcoming after spending a few chilly hours exploring the city.
Stay here: Aside from an Art Deco indoor pool and fabulous location (within walking distance of the Opera House), Corinthia Hotel Budapest also offers special dinners on both Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.
Visiting Switzerland during ski season is a no-brainer, but most snow bunnies won't venture outside their respective resort towns. This year, make your Swiss vacation more unique and book a trip to Lucerne. The gorgeous city features activities you won't find on the slopes—like museum tours and ferry rides on Lake Lucerne—while still offering travelers easy access (via train and bus) to dozens of winter sport resorts.
Stay here: Located 1,640 feet above Lake Lucerne, Bürgenstock Hotels & Resort has not one, but three impeccable spas, plus sky-high views that are well-worth the hefty price tag.
Vienna was voted the best city in Europe in this year's Readers' Choice Awards—a title that holds true no matter the season. But we're particularly fond of the Austrian capital in the winter, when you can double down on hot chocolate and Sacher torte, watch free outdoor simulcasts of the opera (loads of people attend, even when it's freezing), listen to classical holiday concerts, and Instagram Schönbrunn Palace and St. Charles Church (pictured) covered in snow.
Stay here: Hotel Sacher sits directly across from the Vienna State Opera, with silk wall coverings in the rooms and some of the best Sacher torte and Wiener schnitzel in town.
Prague, Czech Republic
No city transforms into a winter wonderland quite like Prague, when a dusting of snow coats St. Charles Bridge and Old Town's church spires. Add to that some of Europe's best Christmas markets outside of Germany—where even the most jaded traveler will succumb to the trdelník (fried dough) and mulled wine—and you have yourself a vacation frontrunner.
Stay here: Prague's Four Seasons Hotel offers easy access to Old Town (aka Christmas Central), although those exquisitely decorated suites and hearty Italian dishes downstairs might tempt you to spend at least one night indoors.
Bergen has all the makings of an idyllic Nordic village: colorful wooden buildings, scenic harbor, and sweeping views of the surrounding fjords. The town looks beautiful in the summer, sure, but it's during the winter months that you get to view the Northern Lights during their peak season. If you're going to be freezing up in Scandinavia, you might as well get to cross an astronomical item off your bucket list.
Stay here: Open in June 2018 after a two-year renovation, Hotel Norge is smack dab in Bergen's main square. After exploring the city, escape that Nordic chill in one of the hotel's spacious rooms or lobby bar (because aquavit fixes everything).
Slovenia's capital city is a real-life fairytale setting, come sunshine or snow flurries. Visit during December to see the Baroque architecture surrounded by Christmas lights; or dodge the crowds and book a trip after the holidays, when you'll have tons of room to stroll the pedestrian-only Old Town and sip coffee by the riverside cafes. You can also add Lake Bled and the Julian Alps to your itinerary, as Ljubljana makes the perfect base for Slovenian day trips.
Stay here: Spend your nights at Antiq Palace; its romantic suites, large soaking tubs, and sizable spa are ideal for cozying up.