Although the coldest part of the year is rarely seen as the ideal time for a quick getaway, the winter months are often an excellent time to see interesting parts of Europe – the hotels are cheaper and many destinations take on a new other-worldly beauty. For the discerning traveller wanting to escape the Christmas crowds this winter here are some of our favourite European seasonal destinations for travel snobs:
Overseas visitors will travel in their thousands to Germany’s most famous Christmas Market towns this year, but for a quieter alternative winter break try Rudesheim. Located in the heart of romantic Rhineland this historic riverside town is so picturesque it’s been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you visit in December the town is alive with Christmas lights and a Christmas atmosphere permeates the main street of Dosselgasse where music spills out onto the street.
The 15th century cobbled pedestrian street of Dosselgasse is lined with half-timbered medieval houses, small stores, pubs and restaurants. See the Adler Tower, Broemser Castle and enjoy the nearby forests of Rhein-Taunus Nature Park. The famous Siegfried’s Mechanisches Musikkabinett Museum covers 400m² and exhibits rare data-storage musical instruments. Visit the famous Asbach Distillery to see how they produce the delicious Asbach Uralt brandy.
- Rüdesheim is the first stop on most Rhine River trips and is also served by the Rechte Rheinstrecke train line between Neuwied, Koblenz and Wiesbaden and Frankfurt.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Isle of Skye – an island in the Inner Hebrides – was recently voted the 4th best island in the world by National Geographic magazine. It’s blessed with incredible landscapes, wild pristine vistas and a tranquil atmosphere. In winter, you can almost have the place to yourself and the lack of crowds means you are left to enjoy the crisp winter weather, pristine landscape and cosy log fires in peace. The clear night skies will give you a chance of seeing the famous Northern Lights and in the countryside elusive animals come out and roam freely. The unspoilt winter wilderness is perfect for photography enthusiasts and those who love the outdoors.
- To get there you can fly into Glasgow and either catch a bus or hire a car. You can arrive on the island via the Skye Bridge which opened in 1995.
This scenic village in the Swiss Alps offers peaceful and relaxing distractions whether you want to cuddle up in front of a log fire or get out on the slopes to ski. Hikers who wrap up warmly will also find the surroundings very inviting. Wengen is a car-free village surrounded by many hike trails and connected to the mountains by cable cars and the Jungfau railway. The village overlooks the Lauterbrunnen Valley and many of the restaurants have gorgeous views across the valley.
- Wengen can be accessed via train, from Lauterbrunnen or from Grindelwald. Package tours combining skiing and accommodation are also a popular way to travel there.
Ceský Krumlov, Czech Republic
While Prague basks in the spotlight, equally as pretty but still very traditional is the city of Cesky Krumlov. Little has changed here since the 18th century and in winter you can meander through this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site along the winding cobblestone streets. Here you’ll find Baroque buildings, kitsch shops and stalls selling mulled wine and hot punch.
The winter season kicks off with the raising of the city’s Christmas tree then throughout Advent cultural events and traditional Christmas customs like carol singing and a Bohemian Christmas fair take place in this historic town. Advent weekend brings with it a special cultural program on the town square with concerts, dance, song and a real life Bethlehem nativity scene. Taste traditional Christmas cookies, see gingerbread decorating and watch decorations – just some of the Christmas traditions on offer.
- To get to Cesky Krumlov you fly to Prague and get a bus, train or hire car.
Christmas in this beautiful Alpine town is like a fairytale dream. The medieval town is criss-crossed by canals and centered around the 14th century Chateau and is easily one of France’s most photogenic cities. During December visitors to Annecy can enjoy fairy lights, concerts, Nativity scenes, Christmas markets, a skating rink and the local toy-train. In the surrounding areas are beautiful lakes and snow capped Bauges Mountains and Aravis Mountains encircle the town. You can explore the local Palais d’Isle, St. Maurice Church and the Annecy Castle. Nearby the Annecy-LeSemnoz ski resort offers plenty of snow related activities.
- To get there nearby Lyon and Geneva both have international airports both are about a one-hour drive by car or bus.
This gorgeous Belgian town is often overlooked by the crowds in favour of its more famous neighbour Bruges but for a winter escape Ghent is perfect. Visit the Ghent Christmas Market from 23rd November to 6th December to see attractive stalls and sample traditional seasonal food. Also squeeze in a visit to the 13th century Church of St. Nicholas, the beautiful Cathedral of St. Bavo, Graventeen Castle and climb the Belfort Tower for incredible views across the city. Wander alongside the canals and through the cobbled streets to discover cosy restaurants and specialty stores where you can enjoy the delights of the region’s food and drinks, such as chocolate and cookies.
- Trains from Ghent run every half-hour to many Belgium cities including Antwerp, Bruges and Brussels.
This pretty town on the shore of the Danube in the Wacchau Valley is famous for its wine and being a picture-perfect Danube travel destination. In winter you can wander along Krems’ famed cobbled streets in the 18th century Altstadt (Old Town), you should visit the Wine and State Museum, the inner city Gozzoburg Museum and see the 15th century Steiner Tor city gate. Krems has a number of Heurigen or wine bars where you can sample the local wine or try the traditional cuisine in one of the Heuriger eateries. The winter season opens with the “wine baptisms” in November where famous locals baptize the wine. In December you can visit the Christmas Market in the Dominican Monastery.
- The nearest international airport is Vienna and it’s possible to reach Krems by car, train or bus from the capital.
Rattvik is located on the shore of Lake Siljan in the heart of Dalarna Province and tourists can travel around the lake visiting various cute villages along the way. The area is known for its painted red wooden decorative horses, hand-made lace, traditional Swedish clothing and other Scandinavian craft items. The resort’s narrow streets are lined with old-style timber houses and a variety of interesting shops. At Christmas time you can stay in one of the wooden buildings and enjoy the Christmas gingerbread, roaring log fires and lively traditional folk dancing.
- The nearest airport is at Mora but there are buses and trains that operate to Rättvik from Stockholm.