Looking for a memorable way to mark the year’s end, or celebrate the start of 2024? A holiday in Europe is certain to fit the bill, whether you want to stroll city streets or experience thrilling sports in the snow.
Discover the six special reasons to visit Europe this winter, from awe-inspiring natural phenomena to enticing Christmas markets. Visiting at this time of year means your money goes further, too.
See the cities without the crowds
Europe is an enduringly popular tourist destination for travellers across the globe. In fact, Europe inbound tourist arrivals totalled 595 million in 2022 despite worldwide tourist numbers averaging at below pre-pandemic levels.
The region’s cities are one of the major draws. This is mainly thanks to their long history and wealth of well-preserved heritage sites. The major European capitals also offer world-class museums, exceptional arts experiences, and a myriad of mouthwatering cuisine.
Spring and summer are the most popular seasons to visit Europe because this is when the continent sees warm temperatures and drier weather. This means that the cities are often very busy at peak times which can feel overwhelming and lead to frustrating queues at attractions and tourist hotspots.
Exploring European cities in winter gives you the chance to take in the highlights without the crowds. Take your time strolling around the museums and historic buildings and have your pick of accommodation and restaurants.
Make your money go further
As it is the less popular time to travel to the region, visiting Europe in winter is a great way to make your money go further.
Firstly, transport can be significantly cheaper at this time of year. Outside of the Christmas and new year period, flights in particular see dramatic discounts and you can grab some great last-minute deals in the January sales.
Hotels also have substantially lower room rates between January and March. You can go for the cheapest option available and save your money for sightseeing or splash out on an indulgent stay at a fraction of the usual price.
Wander Christmas markets
One of the most beloved aspects of a winter city break in Europe is the iconic Christmas markets which date back centuries.
These pop-up outdoor ‘villages’ are a festive fiesta with stalls selling local arts and crafts and traditional food and drink. The larger markets in key capitals like Vienna and Berlin also have funfair rides and ice-skating rinks. Visit at night to see colourful illuminations and even firework displays.
You can keep up the Christmas spirit during the day in these cities, too. Take a horse-and-carriage ride along the wide boulevards and go skating at outdoor rinks. You also have the chance to see the beautiful buildings and picturesque parks bedecked with glittering frost or pristine snow.
Discover the Northern Lights
Are you seeking a unique travel experience this winter? Visit Northern Europe between October and February and you have the opportunity to discover the Northern Lights, officially known as the Aurora Borealis.
The Northern Lights is a natural phenomenon that has captivated humans for millennia. It is a colourful dancing night-sky display that occurs when solar storm electricity enters the Earth’s atmosphere and accelerates to the north and south poles.
Norway is one of the best places to see the Northern Lights as the country stretches into the Arctic Circle. To maximise your chances, stay in Svalbard, the northernmost permanently inhabited settlement in the world which is in constant darkness between November and February.
Reykjavik, capital of Iceland, is another fantastic location for seeing this magical spectacle. Lapland in Sweden is another prime destination, or you can head to the country’s Aurora Sky Station in Abisko National Park.
Indulge in exciting winter sports
Away from the cities, the northern side of the European mainland is a winter sports playground between December and March. Skiing and snowboarding are the main activities on offer, but tourists can also find tobogganing runs, skating rinks, ice hockey, and snow hikes.
France is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for skiing holidays. It has a wide range of resorts nestled within the Alps, with Italy and Switzerland boasting their own selection on the other side of the mountains.
While some ski resorts are very remote, there are plenty within easy reach of international airports that are perfect for families with small children or travellers just visiting for the weekend. You can book private airport transfers ahead of arrival to ensure that your journey to and from the resort is as smooth as the snow on the slopes.
For those looking for rest and relaxation rather than exhilaration, these winter sports resorts offer plenty of attractive facilities. Swim in an indoor pool, indulge in spa treatments, and sit in the high-altitude cafés to take in the panoramic views.
Experience thermal spas
Another outdoor activity that is special to European winter holidays is the thermal spa experience.
Europe is known for its wide range of natural hot springs which were historically believed to have healing powers. The therapeutic benefits certainly can’t be denied, with relaxed muscles, better blood circulation, and improved mental wellbeing being just the tip of the iceberg.
Hungary, despite being landlocked, is nicknamed ‘the land of thermal spas’ due to its astonishing 1,300 thermal water springs. A visit to Szechenyi Baths is rated one of the best things to do in Budapest, beloved for its sheer size and combination of open-air pools and indoor and saunas.
For an authentic experience in a natural setting, nothing beats the Blue Lagoons in Iceland. Tourists can choose between the coveted Blue Lagoon just an hour’s drive south from Reykjavik or its lesser-visited twin at Myvatn in the north.