5 Beautiful Cities To Visit For A European Winter Wonderland Experience
There’s something truly magical about being in Europe during the holidays. The weather may be chilly but the cities will envelope you in the warmth of a hot mug of gluhwein, kinderpunsch, glogg, and all manner of ciders, both apple or otherwise. The Christmas markets in these cities will draw you in with their delicious aromas, both sweet and savoury, and the general feel of these places will lift your spirits even in the coldest and nastiest of climates.
Because we love European winter holidays so much we decided to share our favourite destinations with you. Here you can find all manner of winter wonders, including—but not limited to—Christmas markets and their associated festivities. There are so many interesting and unique things to see and do in Europe other than visiting museums and churches, so if you find yourself in any of these gorgeous cities over the holidays, make sure you take a peak at the spots below and bask in their wintery bliss.
Vienna—or Wien as the locals pronounce it—has everything you could hope for to cure your winter blues. Take a stroll through the Museums Quarter for some of the more intimate and personalized Christmas markets. Spend some time cozying up with a book in the Museum’s Library. Catch an old movie at the Haydn English Cinema (popcorn not included, but necessary).
Listen to a Strauss & Mozart concert played by live orchestra complete with opera singers and ballet dancers, Go for brunch in one of the many trendy cafes just off Mariahilfer Straße (try the breakfast bowl at Figar 1070 on Kirchengasse). And of course, enjoy a tasty pretzel and wash it down with a hot mug of gluhwein.
Spend your day wandering through the side streets leading to the Old Square for you’re sure find curios wherever you turn. As you make your way to the Old Square, stop for a while to admire the city’s Astronomical clock perched on the side of Town Hall. Listen to a live organ and opera concert in the old cathedral off the city square and be enveloped in the sounds of Bach, Vivaldi, and Beethoven.
Take a spray can and leave some love on the John Lennon Wall just across the Charles Bridge. One unique Christmas market item you’ll find? Puppets. Prague has a long standing history of storytelling by way of Puppetiers, and its Puppet Theatre Museum hosts shows on a regular basis; an unusual but entertaining way to spend afternoon. In the evening, head to Hemingway bar for cocktail or two, or check out the Prague Beer Museum and brew your own beer!
See more on Prague in our weekly Culture Hunter Guide.
Arguably the most beautiful city in Poland (and certainly the most intact from pre-WWII), Krakow is a great place to visit during the holidays. A quick walk through Old Town will have you stumble upon the leaning Town Hall Tower (move over Pisa! You’re not the only leaning tower in Europe) which, if you climb to the top will give you an amazing view of the city and only costs 4 euros. You’ll also find a lovely row of Christmas markets selling hand-crafted jewelry, ornaments and other adorable knick-knacks, then take in some salty and delicious history with a tour of the Salt Mine (opt for the miner’s tour for a more hands-on and unique experience).
Beer lovers? Spend some time at the House of Beer. 12 local craft beers on tap and hundreds more in bottles, this gastro-pub is a hoppy, malty paradise for you (try the Raciborskie—it’s our favourite!). After all that sight-seeing and beer-drinking you’ll be in need of some tasty eats, so head over to Smakolyki and try their potato pancakes with homemade goulash and sourcream (we’re already drooling just thinking about it!).
This cozy little town is all things artsy and eclectic. The Neustadt area in particular is chock full of awesome things to see. Start off by heading in the direction of Old Town and you’ll come across the alternative Christmas market full of vegan-friendly, eco-friendly, handmade socks and bags, jewelry, and funky works of art. Grab yourself a delightful haloumi and falafel sandwich from their food truck and hang out with Robot Santa while admiring the street art decorating the walls, benches, and bus stops all around you.
Make your way down to the city centre and pass through the Augustusmarkt and stop for a gluhwein before stepping back in time and admiring the palace grounds, opera house, and churches in Old Town. As you make your way back through history, take a pause in the Baroque period and stop at the Cosel Palais. Order yourself a fancy cake and coffee to enjoy while being surrounded by their lush Baroque-style decor (don’t worry, the prices aren’t as lush, just the setting). From there, your last stop needs to be the Streizelmarkt, Germany’s old Christmas Market (circa 1434). See Santa change over the giant advent calendar, listen to carollers singing near the giant Christmas tree, and end your evening dining on a tasty bratwurst with mustard and of course, another gluhwein.
It’s shame that 80% of the city was bombed during WWII because the few buildings that were rebuilt in their original style were absolutely stunning, and it would’ve been amazing to see the whole city in its original form. But, since the past is the past, we can only appreciate it now through our own sense of imagination. This awesome city in Bavaria, home to Oktoberfest, the Glockenspiel, the English gardens and Maypole ceremonies, is a great place to stop on your winter wonderland tour.
Take a free walking tour to get a better feel for what Munich was like back in the day. As you walk through the city, take some time to watch the Glockenspiel in the Town Hall in Marienplatz before making your way to the Victoria Market for lunch the local way (think more bratwurst and sauerkraut—YUM!). LGBTQ friends, make your way to Stephensplatz and enjoy the Pink Christmas market and surrounding bars for a great night out (Munich’s LGTBQ scene may be small, but you know what they say; ‘Quality over Quantity’), or treat yourself to an all-organic eco-conscious meal at Hostaria Ro e Buni (their vegan artichoke, spinach and peperoncino pasta is to die for!) in the Schwabing District.
Have any other favourite cities you like to visit in the winter? Tell us about them in the comments below!
All images: Rose-Marie Huet