11 cities and towns in Europe to visit in winter

Dec 5, 2021

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Europe is the ideal destination for a winter holiday whether you’re in the market for a sunny escape or a wintery adventure. Those desperate to warm up are in luck, as Europe has many cities that are sunny and pleasant during the winter months. On the other end of the spectrum, for the traditionalists, many of the continent’s Baltic and Nordic towns also offer more traditional winter trips for those wanting to indulge in typical winter city delights such as snow-covered tourist attractions, mulled wine, warming cuisine and more.

Here are some of the best cities and towns to consider visiting in Europe during the winter months.

Balos Beach near Chania on the Greek Island of Crete. (Photo by tobiasjo/Getty)

Stay tuned for coming articles on European winter sun holidays and ski and snow holidays.

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For a little sunshine

1. Seville, Spain

Plaza España in Seville, Spain. (Photo by Sylvain Sonnet/Getty)

The Andalusian sunshine in Seville is the perfect setting to defrost travellers suffering from the winter blues. Although it may not be sunbathing weather, months like February see average temperatures around 17°C. And there’s plenty to see in the city, from the charming gardens of the Royal Alcázar Palace (this may look familiar to Game of Thrones fans) to the magnificent Plaza España, which is best viewed at sunset.

2. Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Palermo, Sicily, Italy. (Photo by Holger Leue/Getty)

One of Italy’s warmest spots in winter, the island of Sicily is the ideal spot to visit for the Italian sun. Although it can occasionally rain in winter, cities like Palermo see little tourism in the winter months, meaning you can visit places like the Palermo Cathedral, the Antonino Salinas Regional Archeological Museum or one of Palermo’s many food markets with just the locals and minus the distraction of other travellers.

3. Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria, Spain. (Photo by Nizam Ergil / EyeEm/ Getty)

If you want winter sunshine warm enough for beach sunbathing, the capital of Gran Canaria, one of Spain’s seven Canary Islands is your spot. Las Palmas has much more than just its golden sandy beach, Las Canteras, which runs for just over two miles. The old historic city centre, La Vegueta, is best explored on foot, checking out the Santa Ana Square, the cathedral and the Casa de Colón Museum House.

4. Valletta, Malta

Valletta, Malta. (Photo by ewg3D/Getty)

The capital of Malta is Valletta, a sunshine-filled Mediterranean paradise with plenty to see and do. The entire city is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site with over 300 historical monuments and attractions. With temperatures up to 17°C or 18°C in winter, you’ll love exploring the sites under the sunshine. And, if you’d prefer to stay even longer, Malta’s Nomad Residence Permit allows digital nomads to work remotely on the island for a year.

5. Chania, Crete, Greece

Venetian old lighthouse at sunrise, Chania, Crete, Greece. (Photo by Roberto Moiola / Sysaworld / Getty)

Crete is Greece’s largest island, and we suggest starting in Chania. The town is the perfect base to explore nearby beaches such as the breathtaking sands of Balos or hike the towering Samaria Gorge. In the Chania town centre, visitors can admire the ivy-covered Ottoman architecture while strolling the pedestrian streets. And the colourful sunsets viewed from the town’s Venetian Harbour are nothing short of magical.

6. Split, Croatia

Split is a town on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. (Photo by Sasipa Muennuch/Getty)

This Croatian city isn’t warm enough in winter for swimming or even sunbathing, but you can explore some of the best tourist attractions during sunny, cool winter days without an excess of tourists. Split’s Christmas market, Advent in Split, runs straight through to early January. From visiting the Game of Thrones filming locations like the 4th-century Diocletian’s Palace to taking in the views after climbing the Saint Domnius Cathedral, there’s plenty to explore under the sun in this beautiful seaside city.

For a winter wonderland

7. Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland. (Photo by © Marco Bottigelli/Getty)

Surrounded by the Swiss Alps and bordering Lake Lucerne, this city seems even more quaint during the winter months, especially if you can make it to the Lilu Light Festival (6-16 January 2022). If you’re lucky, you can enjoy Lucerne beneath a blanket of snow, but even if not, the city’s inviting charm captivates visitors thanks to its beautifully painted houses and wooden chapel bridge. And if the city itself isn’t snowy, you’ll definitely find plenty of the white stuff on Mount Pilatus, where you can ski, snowboard, and even sled or snowshoe.

8. Lyon, France

Lyon, France. (Photo by ventdusud/Getty)

The city of Lyon is often overlooked in favour of the more glamourous and accessible city of Paris. But Leon is worth visiting, with attractions like Roman ruins and Le Marché aux Bouquinistes’ bookseller stands that line the Saone River. Stay warm by walking uphill to the Notre-Dame de Fourvière church, which offers expansive views of the city below and a colourful interior featuring two churches, eight chapels, dazzling mosaics and stained glass. Each December, the city lights up with the Fête des Lumières (8-11 December 2021), and the city also has a renowned Christmas market.

9. Tromso, Norway

Tromso, Norway. (Photo by Posnov/Getty)

Winter in Tromso is chilly, but not quite as cold as other destinations of the same latitude thanks to its coastal climate. Venturing out into the wild is the best way to see the Northern Lights, but on clear nights, you can often spot them from the heart of the city centre, too. Tromso’s surrounding nature makes for unique winter activities like dog sledging, fjord hiking and even spotting humpback whales. Back in the city itself, dedicated holiday runners can check out the PolarNight Half Marathon (8 January 2022).

10. Tallin, Estonia

The famous Viru Gate in Tallin on a snowy evening. (Photo by joe daniel price/Getty).

Tallin’s historic centre is one of the best-preserved in Europe. With towers and turrets on practically every corner (there are 46), visitors can wander the cobbled streets, (bring snowboots!) admiring Tallin’s Town Hall and its fortified walls. Check out the bird’s eye view of the city from the Patkuli viewing platform, or visit Tallin’s famous Christmas Markets. And for a little nature, head over to the frosty Jägala Waterfall, which is just as striking in winter thanks to its frozen icicles.

11. Turin, Italy

The Italian Alps hover overTurin, Italy. (Photo by Tim E White/Getty)

Foodies wanting to warm up with hearty Italian cuisine and underrated wines should head straight to Turin. Its location southeast of the Italian Alps makes it a prime hub for ski buffs — the snowcapped peaks are visible from most points in the city. Sample wine at local cellars around town, and make sure to visit the Bersano Museum and the Casa Martini, both dedicated to local wine and spirits. The non-alcoholic beverage of choice in Turin is Bicerin, an espresso coffee with delicious layers of chocolate and milk.

Bottom line

Frozen Jägala waterfall near Tallin. (Photo by HansKass/Getty)

Whether it’s a sunny winter escape or a snowy adventure, there are many towns and cities in Europe that are best visited in winter. Some destinations look more picturesque with a dusting of snow; others offer warmth for those hoping to exchange dreary weather for bright sunshine. Either way, travelling throughout Europe during winter can offer a tourist-free, tranquil and enjoyable travel experience — just be sure to check local COVID-19 guidelines ahead of travelling and stay aware of any restrictions before and during your stay.

(Featured image of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria by Juergen Sack/Getty)

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