Visit these 9 magical European places for a winter getaway
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With Christmas markets in full swing and most of Europe in the midst of chilly or outright freezing weather, it’s time to embrace the cold and enjoy a winter weekend getaway. If you’re really lusting after the sunshine, there’s always the Canary Islands, but pre-Christmas is always a fun time to welcome the cold weather and get into the holiday spirit.
Even if many of these spots don’t have the popular, largest or even any Christmas markets, a number of European cities are decorated with lights and ice rinks, have traditional holiday food offerings or simply provide what you may need the most: warming fireplaces, spiced wine and steaming hot chocolate. Here are some of the best destinations to visit for a magical winter weekend escape, from whimsical small towns to expansive regions to regal capital cities.
This city is the capital of Lapland, but if you’ve heard of it, it may be because it’s known as the home of Santa Claus. Located on the edge of the Arctic Circle, activities include visiting reindeer and husky farms, seeing polar bears at Ranua Wildlife Park and going to Santa’s home and many of his daily haunts, like his workshop and post office. And considering you may only have a few hours of sunlight each day, you’ll be more than likely to be able to catch the northern lights during the extended periods of darkness.
TPG U.K. tip: Rovaniemi is filled with unique lodging possibilities. Stay in the Arctic SnowHotel & Glass Igloos Rovaniemi, where you can sleep in glass pods and rooms made of snow and ice, or the Arctic Treehouse Hotel, which features standalone suites set in the woods — some even come with private saunas. Families will enjoy Santa’s Igloos Arctic Circle, where all the glass igloos are right inside Santa’s Village.
You can start by visiting Munich International Airport’s (MUN) very own Christmas market from 15 November to 29 December as soon as you land, where you can ice skate, listen to live Christmas music or enjoy a pretzel or two. Then head out of the city to try one of Bavaria’s most unique winter adventures: tobogganing on the Wallberg Mountain in Rottach-Egernn near Tegernsee. Home to Germany’s longest toboggan run, the mountain is reachable by tram or by foot (plan to hike for over two hours), and you can rent a sled and prepare for a wild, 30-minute ride down the mountain. If this seems like a little too adventurous, you can simply relax in a cozy cabin amid the towering Bavarian Alps.
TPG U.K. tip: British Airways offers off-peak Avios redemptions in Euro Traveller for 8,000 Avios return or 15,500 in Club Europe between London (LHR) and Munich.
While it’s unlikely you’ll catch any snow in the Spanish capital, you can still catch holiday vibes as the city decks itself out with glittering lights and decor all through Christian feast of Epiphany on 6 January, when the three kings who visited the infant Jesus parade through Madrid tossing sweeties out to excited children and other parade watchers. Small Christmas markets take place in Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Jacinto Benavente, and a special lights exhibition at the Madrid Botanical Garden runs until 6 January too. The Naviluz Christmas Bus is also in full swing, a special bus that drives both locals and visitors through the most decorated areas of town to see all the holiday sparkle (it’s best to buy tickets in advance).
TPG U.K. tip: Remember, you can transfer Iberia Avios and British Airways Avios to one another, and each airline has its own off-peak dates, so look into both options before purchasing your ticket.
Further reading: What to know about Iberia Avios
Though many associate this southern French region with summer fun, it’s the perfect place to visit during the winter months, too. Reap the benefits of a freshly completed harvest season with wine, truffle and olive tastings throughout the region. Ski in the French Alps near smaller villages like Ancelle or Serre Eyraud for added charm, or go to larger ski areas like Vars or Val d’Allos. Don’t miss the Christmas market in Aix-en-Provence, featuring 50 wooden chalets selling typical French holiday treats and goods along the Cours Mirabeau. The city will host its Three Wise Men Parade on 12 January 2020.
TPG U.K. tip: Although Avignon has a small regional airport (AVN), you’ll have more flight options if you fly into Marseille (MRS) with British Airways, Ryanair or easyJet.
For some serious hygge, the feeling of cozy comfort, head to Copenhagen. Start by wandering through the Tivoli Gardens, which will be artfully adorned with Christmas lights and decorations — complete with a large ice rink. For those wanting a more traditional Christmas market experience, there are several throughout the city, but the German-inspired market at Højbro Plads may be the best. The Hans Christian Andersen Market is another one to visit, where you can meet both Hans Christian Andersen (well, an actor) and Santa. And Copenhagen’s canals are beautifully decorated for the holidays, with the Nyhavn Christmas market lining the canal. But hurry over, as many of Copenhagen’s holiday markets finish toward the end of December.
TPG U.K. tip: Take advantage of the additional routes Ryanair launched in 2019 from U.K. hubs such as Liverpool (LPL) and London Southend (SEN) to Copenhagen (CPH) — with prices as low as £30 return on select dates.
A pre or post-Christmas Scottish adventure may be just what you need, though as you get deeper into winter, expect snow. Christmas celebrations include Santa Land in the Princes Street Gardens, which has rides and a children’s market, including an elf workshop, Santa train and Christmas tree maze. An ice rink is set up in St Andrews Square and Christmas markets can be found along George Street and the Mound Precinct. Celebrate with the locals with a torchlit procession on 30 December in honour of Hogmanay (this is what the Scottish call the final days of the year). Concerts and street parties will also be held to mark the occasion.
TPG U.K. tip: The Market Street Hotel, a member of Design Hotels that opened in August 2019, has serious local charm. From plaid embellishments to a rooftop champagne lounge overlooking Edinburgh’s UNESCO World Heritage skyline (don’t worry — it’s indoors), it’s the ideal spot to warm up after a long, winter day exploring the city.
From the Market Square ice rink and charming traditional Christmas market to a modern Christmas concept including a winter bar and ice skating on the Lakes of Love, Bruges is decidedly romantic in winter. A special lights festival gives visitors the chance to walk two illuminated journeys, both starting at Stationsplein, until 5 January. Canal strolls and carriage rides are a must for couples exploring the city. Plus, with the chocolate, local beer and waffles you have plenty of hearty food and drinks to warm you up after a cold day out and about.
TPG U.K. tip: Although you can fly to Brussels (BRU) and then hop over to Bruges (OST), the easiest option is to take the Eurostar to Brussels then change trains at the Brussels Zuid station and head to Bruges on an SNCB train.
Further Reading: London may soon be connected by high-speed train to more cities
Not your typical holiday getaway, Bucharest may just surprise you. Start with the Christmas market in Constitution Square featuring traditional foods and products, an ice rink, a carousel, Santa’s house and entertainment like concerts and shows until 26 December. If you can squeeze in a slightly longer trip, excellent skiing is a mere drive or easy train ride away in spots like Sinaia, Predeal and Azuga. Peles Castle and Bran Castle follow the same route (the DN1/E60) as the aforementioned ski resorts, so you can add both snowy castle exploring and skiing to your list.
TPG U.K. tip: Wizz Air has just launched London Southend (SEN) routes five days a week to Bucharest (OTP). And Ryanair, determined to match Wizz Air’s offering, is also operating the same route on the same five days. You can also get to the Romanian capital on Ryanair from London Stansted (STN) and Bristol (BRS) and on Blue Air from London Luton (LTN) and Liverpool (LPL).
For a serene fairy-tale getaway, head to Hallstatt, Austria — one of the most picturesque towns in Europe. Snow-capped mountains perched above a quaint town next to the frozen, crystalline Lake Hallstatt. While not all of the restaurants and businesses may be open during winter, the ones that are have a warm, cosy atmosphere — think fireplaces, mugs of steaming tea and hot wine. Skiing at Dachstein Krippenstein is a short drive away, and don’t forget to check out the Dachstein Giant Ice Cave, too.
TPG U.K. tip: Hallstatt is just over a one-hour drive from Salzburg (SZG), which offers a number of flights on various airlines (like British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair) from the U.K. When booking your hotel, make sure to book one with a steam room or sauna so you can warm up after a day of exploring or skiing.
Featured image by Achim Thomae/Getty Images
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