When you think of the usual European vacation, it’s typically associated with summer. Packed beaches, crowded alleys and long lines also commonly plague the summer traveler. If you’re willing to brave cooler temperatures, winter is really a wonderful time to visit many European cities. From cozy ski destinations to sunny cities in the Mediterranean, there is somewhere in Europe with your name on it.
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If you’ve been following along for a while, you might remember when I went to Venice last January and would not shut up on Instagram about how amazing it was in winter. The canals were quiet and there was a calming stillness throughout the city. We caught the city in the midst of a brief calm between NYE and Carnival. Lights still twinkled from Christmas and idled gondola drivers lingered in bars. I can’t imagine being packed in the narrow passage ways with thousands of other people.
There were zero lines for gondola rides, museums were almost empty, and the restaurants were just full enough to be cozy.
Where to Stay in Venice: We checked into Hotel Bisanzio and enjoyed every minute. Visiting Venice in the winter also means booking hotels at a fraction of the usual cost in summer. We stayed in a room with a small patio and charming views of Venetian rooftops.
I have zero outdoor winter sporting skills (unless you count going to Christmas markets). So, Switzerland is the only snowy wonderland that made my cut of top European destinations to visit in winter. While the snow is not my natural habitat, Lucerne was magical in winter. You can’t miss the Chapel Bridge in the middle of town. Eating Swiss chocolate and taking the trip up to Mount Pilatus also make the short list of things to do in Lucerne in winter.
Where to Stay in Lucerne: Altstadt Hotel Krone Luzern was a reasonably priced option right in the center of town (have I mentioned how expensive Switzerland is?). Not only did we get a room with a charming view of the courtyard below, but we were lucky enough to see a parade. The hotel also provided complimentary lift and transit passes as a winter promotion. Seriously, these saved us about $400 on lift tickets.
Hotel Château Gütsch for a luxury stay with gorgeous views of the snowy city.
Further Reading: A Winter Weekend in Lucerne
You might know of Malta from its stunning beaches and pristine aqua water. When a cheap flight came up on Skyscanner in February, we had to roll the dice and hope Malta didn’t close up like other warm weather destinations. With the average highs in the 60s during winter, we left our bulky coats at home.
Between visiting the Blue Grotto, the Mdina, Valletta and Gozo, there is plenty to see and do in Malta that doesn’t involve swimming or the beach.
Where to Stay in Malta: This Airbnb located in Valletta was perfect for a weekend trip for two. The apartment has a balcony, complete kitchen and a wonderful host.
Also read: A Weekend Guide to Malta
We spent a long weekend in February hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar, wandering the gardens of the Real Alcázar and visiting famous cathedrals. I only needed a sweater, and that wasn’t the sangria talking. It was warm enough for people to eat outside, drink in a piazza at night and get ice cream.
Almost everything I read about Seville said the summers are sweltering. Having lived in a similarly humid climate in Naples, I can completely relate. So, visit Seville in winter. Problem solved. Plus, oranges are in season.
Where to Stay in Seville: Choosing where to stay in Seville was tough. So many properties have charming courtyards and impeccable decor. I ultimately went with Hotel Casa de Colón for its stylish interior, central location and rooftop terrace with a view.
For luxury (and a pool!), choose the historical landmark Hotel Alfonso XIII.
Further Reading: Seville Travel Guide
Of course, no list of mine would be complete without Paris. It truly is beautiful in winter, spring, summer and fall. You might not be able to have a picnic in the park by the Eiffel Tower or bask in the sun along the Seine, but Paris is still a great choice for a European city to visit in winter. I’ve been in late December and March, so it wasn’t exactly the dead of winter.
Hotels are less expensive and lines are shorter at all the museums. There’s something so romantic about warming up in a cozy restaurant (I love Crêperie Little Breizh) with a hot coffee or red wine. In late winter, you might even get lucky like I did and see a few blossoms around the city.
Where to Stay in Paris: I stayed at Hôtel Marais Paris Caron de Beaumarchais with my mom and it was perfect for our stay. It’s quaint hotel in Le Marais and decorated in traditional French style. I’ve also stayed at a few Airbnbs and those are perfect for a longer stay. Of course, The Hoxton is absolutely dreamy and has a beautiful bar.