Europe winter destinations: Magical fairylands, city breaks, winter sun spots and more

Thinking of a winter destination in Europe for a family trip? Now, all of us might have different ideas on this. Some want a winter holiday in Europe with a pristine backdrop, fun in the snow and once-in-a-lifetime experience chasing the Northern Lights. Others are looking for winter city breaks in Europe – for Christmas cheer and other winter activities. And yet others are looking for winter sun destinations in Europe. There may be some interested in budget ideas, spending winter holidays in Eastern Europe. This post covers it all!

Pristine Nordic winterland & chasing Northern Lights

Tromso, Norway

Tromso in Norway is without a doubt one of the best Europe winter destinations I have visited. It’s a real winter wonderland with stunning landscapes and so many fun things to do for the whole family. On top of that, it’s one of the best places to see the Northern Lights in Europe, if not in the world.

Tromso offers a big variety of family-friendly winter activities. Reindeer rides and ice igloos will make you think you are in a real-life fairytale of the movie ‘Frozen’. The whole family will be excited to try dog sledding or catching a fish on a polar cruise. And what can be more special than toasting marshmallows on a bonfire while waiting for the Green Lady to show up and light up the sky every night.

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Tromso, Norway. Photo credit: Full Suitcase

What makes Tromso especially suitable for families who want to experience a true Arctic winter with kids is its mild climate. It’s much warmer in Tromso in winter than you’d expect. In addition, all tours offer thermal suits in all sizes (also for kids), so you can truly enjoy being outside and not have to worry about you or your kids freezing to death.

If you are looking for a somewhat different winter break than a regular ski holiday this winter, then you cannot go wrong with visiting Tromso in Northern Norway. Here you can find more ideas for the best winter activities in Tromso.

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Kemi, Finland

We would definitely say Kemi, Finland is one of the most magical places we have ever been.  If you’re headed to Rovaniemi, Finland for a visit to see Santa, it is worth the hour or so drive to stay here for a few nights. Kemi is right on the frozen Baltic Sea, where you can take a ride on the world famous Sampo IceBreaker, a huge ship that was used to crush the ice to allow other water vessels to get through the icy waters.  

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Kemi, finaland. Photo credit: Our Kind of Crazy

Every winter, Kemi has a huge ice castle that is completely made up of ice and snow.  We had a fabulous dinner in the Ice Restaurant and then we actually slept in one of the castle rooms which is completely made of ice! The next couple of nights, you can stay in the SeaSide Glass Villas, which have 2 glass walls and a glass ceiling, that allows you to have the perfect view of the Northern Lights over the frozen sea.

Kemi offers all the winter activities you can imagine from dog sledding, cross-country skiing, or snowmobiling, to visiting Santa at his Seaside office, meeting an elf, or chasing the Northern Lights.  Kemi is definitely the hidden gem in Finland, and could be one of the best winter holidays in Europe you take with your family!

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Rovaniemi, Finland

The best time to visit Rovaniemi is the magical winter. The city and the surrounding forest lands are covered with clean white snow that puts you in the perfect holiday mood. The Number 1 highlight of the city is the Santa Clause Village. Santa prepares here whole year round for the busy holiday season, and you can visit him and his elves with your family any day. It is guaranteed fun for all kids.

The city lays on the Arctic Circle which makes it a perfect location to hunt for Northern Lights! You can check out the numerous tours that take you to one of the perfect spots outside the city, or just try your luck observing the night sky. We sometimes go to our garden and stare at the sky mesmerized by the slowly moving colorful lights.

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Rovaniemi, Finland. Photo credit: Our Life, Our Travel

If you are still up for more outdoors adventure, visit a reindeer farm and learn about the indigenous Sami culture or meet with huskies. Older kids will also enjoy snowmobile riding across the snowy forest,  or ice fishing on frozen lakes and prepare the catch on fire. Snowshoeing and winter hiking are also possible in the nearby national parks.

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Magical Switzerland for a fairytale winter holiday

Gruyere and other Swiss magic

If you’d like to visit a winter wonderland and take in all the feel of a fairytale destination, Switzerland is an excellent choice to travel to. From beautiful Christmas markets to fun activities like sledging, learning how to ski, taking in snow-covered panoramic views, some of the most beautiful train journeys in the world and delicious Swiss cheese, you will have a lot of activities to choose from! 

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Switzerland winter. Photo credit: Pixabay

If you or your kids love chocolate, do visit the Cailler Chocolate Factory and sample different kinds of chocolates while learning about how they are made. Curious about Swiss cheese? A visit to a Cheese Factory will be an enriching experience for the kids and a great way to get familiarized with the country better. You can combine the visit to chocolate and cheese factories in Gruyere in one day.  While in Gruyere, you can also combine the local food experience while commuting – by taking the Fondue train! The Fondue Train basically takes you around the Gruyere region for 3 hours, starting from Bulle, and the ticket includes a fondue meal plus meringue dessert. Remember to book the tickets in advance and you can choose to either aboard the train at 11:20 am or at 7:20 pm. 

For anyone enthusiastic about wildlife, you might be able to spot some mountain goats or ‘Ibex‘ if you stay in a ski resort or an accommodation in the mountains. Switzerland has thousands of cable cars and hiking trails, which guarantees panoramic views. On some peaks like Titlis and Glacier3000, you can also go for the Cliff Walk and take part in other snow activities. However, keep in mind that on snowy days, the visibility might be poor from the top of mountain peaks. So, it’s a good idea to ask about the visibility while buying tickets for any cable car ride. No matter where you go in Switzerland, you are bound to have a magical winter experience!

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Montreux, Switzerland

Montreux is the perfect winter destination in Europe for families. If you have ever wanted a picture-perfect Christmas destination and activities, then this is your spot. Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, Montreux is a pretty destination home to the UNESCO listed Chillon Castle. It’s also just a short train ride from the snow at Rochers-de-Naye.

In December, it truly comes alive thanks to Montreux Noel, it’s one-month Christmas celebration. The festival takes place in Montreux and its surrounds. You can easily spend a couple of days visiting all the attractions and soaking up the Christmas cheer.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Montreux, Switzerland. Photo credit: Simpler & Smarter

One of our favourite parts was visiting Santa Claus’ House at the top of Rochers-de-Naye. Here you can play in the snow and meet the big red man himself. There is also face painting and some other activities. The train ride itself is also spectacular. Back in town, the Christmas market is a must visit especially in the evening. With Christmas music playing, tons of stalls, hot drinks and even Santa Claus regularly flying over Lake Geneva, it really is the perfect way to enjoy Switzerland at this time of year.

In addition to these attractions, there is a medieval Christmas celebration at Chillon Castle which includes many activities where you can learn about old Christmas celebrations as well as medieval times in general. Our kids especially enjoyed this. You can also visit the Elves Village to learn new crafts (like chocolate making), eat lots of food at the Lumberjack Village and see a stunning light show in the evenings at Fairmont le Montreux Palace. If you are visiting Europe in December, this really has to be top of your list.

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Jungfrau, Switzerland

If you’re looking for a winter destination the whole family will love, Switzerland’s Jungfrau region is sure to deliver. With plenty of activities for both skiers and non-skiers, your biggest problem will be finding the time to do everything!

The region’s main town, Interlaken, is transformed into a winter wonderland from mid-December until mid-February when the ICE MAGIC skating experience is set up in town. Various ice rinks are connected by a 450-metre long ice runway, giving everyone the chance to pull on some skates. Beside the ice runway, a winter market sells tempting Swiss treats.

It wouldn’t be winter in Switzerland without there being plenty of snow sports on offer and the Jungfrau region has all bases covered. At Grindelwald First, the First Flyer zip line provides plenty of fun for all ages. Strapped into a harness, you’ll be whisked 800 metres along a wire cable at speeds of up to 80 kilometres per hour. Skiers and snowboarders of all levels have plenty of runs to choose from, whilst tobogganing, snow tubing and curling are other popular winter activities.

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Schilthorn, Switzerland. Photo credit: Pixabay

For something a little more relaxing, why not enjoy a trip to either the Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn? Train enthusiasts will love the ride to the Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest railway station. Here, at 3,454 metres above sea level, you can visit an ice sculpture display and get amazing views of the Aletsch Glacier from the Sphinx Observatory. If you’re more into cable cars – and James Bond – head to the Schilthorn where the Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed.  A revolving restaurant, James Bond exhibition and superb 360-degree views of the Swiss Alps are just some of the attractions.

A number of festivals and world class events are held in the region during winter, too.  There’s the annual Lauberhorn World Cup downhill ski race, the World Snow Festival, and the International Inferno Ski Races to name a few. One thing’s for sure: you won’t run out of things to do if you visit the Jungfrau region in winter.

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Best for skiing (besides Switzerland)

Innsbruck, Austria

Innsbruck, Austria is one of the best cities in the world to visit in the winter. Its nickname is “The Capital of the Alps” and to see the mountains in the winter is an exceptional experience. Once you arrive to the city you’ll notice, it is encompassed by the impressive Nordkette mountain range. That mountain range provides families some of the best things to do in Innsbruck in the winter. 

If you’re a skier or a snowboarder, the first thing you should do is head up the Nordkettenbahnen lifts to enjoy the mountain. When we were there it was covered in fresh powder and there were hardly any visitors. Pure bliss! Another great thing to do with families is see the world-class ski jump, Bergisel Ski Jump (Bergiselschanze). The venue has been used in two Olympic games (1964 and 1976) and is still used every year for various events. It’s open every day of the year to visit. You can easily take the elevator up and enjoy the cafe at the top.

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Innsbruck, Austria. Photo credit: The World Pursuit

If you are more into history and culture there is plenty of that in Innsbruck too! One of our favorite things to do in Innsbruck is visiting the Hofkirche. This is one of those grand European Gothic churches that was built in the 1500’s. It’s built in the center of Innsbruck and is almost impossible to miss on the outside, however I would recommend heading inside to be truly impressed. Nearby is the Imperial Palace, or Hofburg. This one was finished in 1500 under Emperor Maximilian I. It is now the third most important historic building in Austria so well worth a visit inside!

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Ponte di Legno, Italy

Let me tell you why Ponte di Legno is a ideal destination for a family vacation. Ponte di Legno is a small cute mountain town in the Italian Alps in the province of Brescia.

I am so in love with this mountain destination because it has it all. I used to go there every winter since I was a teenager, when my parents bought a little apartment. Every weekend I would drive all the way just to try and improve my snowboard skills, either alone, with family or friends.

It’s known mainly to be quite a posh town, with expensive shops and restaurants, but there is much more to it and the infrastructure keep improving as well. There is an ice-skating platform where kids and adults love to try their skating abilities after skiing time. There are easy ski-lifts for beginners – kids who are learning how to ski or snowboard – and of course certified ski instructors to school them. Those same fields would turn into biking training camps for kids in summer.

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Tonale, Italy. Photo credit: Boundless Roads

But that’s not all. Ponte di Legno is also connected to the biggest skiing resort Tonale by a brand-new cable way from where you can also enjoy stunning views of the valley while getting to your ski destination. At Tonale you have slopes for every length and difficulties level. Also, you have school facilities for kids, besides restaurants and bars to rest from your adventure activities.

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Tyrol, Austria

The Austrian Tyrol is an incredibly versatile destination for families in winter. There’s the capital of Innsbruck, with all its city comforts but with a picture-perfect historic old town against a mountain backdrop. However, the best family winter holidays in Tyrol are spent in the small towns in one of the many valleys branching off from the Inn Valley.

Family-friendly ski resorts, indoor swimming complexes with spa areas, trails for sledding, ice rinks, and authentic Christmas markets all contribute to a relaxed holiday for every member of the family. A bonus is that Tyrolean winter vacations are generally more affordable compared to similar Swiss or French holidays in the Alps. Many hotels let children stay for free while ski resorts, such as the Stubai Glacier ski resort, even let the kids ski for free. And when they get tired of skiing, there is an ice cave to visit or a kindergarten to keep them occupied while mom and dad conquer the slopes.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Tyrol, Austria. Photo credit: Travel Tyrol

Renting a sled and dashing through the snow on a well-groomed sled track is another favourite family activity in the Tyrol. Stopping at a rustic Alpine hut to enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and traditional Austrian dessert such as Apfelstrudel or Kaiserschmarrn is the stuff memories are made of. Families who don’t like spending every day in the mountains, can visit Swarovski Crystal Worlds in Wattens or Haus Steht Kopf, an upside-down house in Terfens.

Flying into the Tyrol in winter is easy with regular flights to Innsbruck from London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Vienna. The region is also very well connected by train and bus. Travelling on ski buses is even free in many areas.

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Best winter city breaks in Europe

Antwerp, Belgium

Snug. That’s the word that best describes how you’ll feel after a winter trip to Antwerp spent with family.  Visit when the Kerstmarkt is in full swing and you’ll find the streets full of excited chatter among stalls packed with tasty treats and plenty of gifts. Don’t forget you’re in Belgium, the home of crispy fries, chocolate, waffles and pancakes.  Little biscuits and chocolates in the shape of a hand are the sign of the city of Antwerp.

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Antwerp, Belgium. Photo credit: A Packed Life

The Fun Fair swings, literally into action, with many rides and a chance to see the city from high up via the big wheel.  There’s a band playing classics like the Bear Necessities, and you’ll certainly be feeling neither worries nor strife in Antwerp.  The Christmas market lines the bank of the mighty river Scheldt.  Everywhere is magical with lights, including Het Steen, a castle that will make you think you’re in a real-life film.  Don’t forget to steal a kiss under the mistletoe sculpture to make a wish.

Wander a short distance into the centre of Antwerp, and you’ll find the ice rink, with small children being pushed in little sledges and everyone pink-cheeked with laughter and excitement.  There’s hot chocolate aplenty, and other treats to warm you from within.  Take time to explore the Plantin-Moretus Museum, home to the oldest printing press in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Check out Rubens’ House, where he created most of his art.  And marvel at the sheer beauty of Antwerp, where even the station is a work of art.  Belgium is a place to make memories in winter.

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Berlin, Germany

I think Berlin is definitely one of the best cities in Europe to visit in winter, especially for families with little ones. The weather is often cold, so why do I recommend Berlin, you may wonder? Because there are so many cool hands-on museums that are ideal to entertain children on a cold and rainy day, and are fun for grown-ups too. There’s the DDR Museum, detailing the history of the East German republic with lots of hands-on exhibits, including a real Trabant with a simulator. Another option in the center of Berlin is the Currywurst Museum, dedicated to Germany’s favourite snack, with the opportunity to try a currywurst at the end. Yet, the coolest Berlin thing to do in winter for young and older people alike is in my opinion the Computerspielemuseum – a museum where you can learn about computer games and play retro videogames as long as you wish! 

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Berlin, Germany. Photo credit: Pixabay

Another wonderful reason to visit Berlin in winter is heading to the Christmas Markets found all over town. There are so many that you can choose what to visit depending on what vibe you’re after. The Winter World on Potsdamer Platz is the largest in town and includes some rides, making it especially fun for children. Another good idea in the centre of Berlin is the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market, under the iconic TV tower, with stalls from all over the world. If you prefer something cosier and with a ‘neighbourhood’ atmosphere, opt for Nikolaiviertel, a cute and cozy Christmas Market with an open air cinema. Finally, Berlin is one of the most eco friendly cities in the world, so it comes as no surprise that there is also an eco market – the Berlin Environmental Christmas Market near Alexanderplatz, selling creative eco friendly gifts. If you want to know more, check out my Berlin in winter post with lots of ideas for families!

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Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, is an incredible place to visit during winter with kids. We loved it to bits! It wasn’t as crowded as it is during summer, which is a bonus. It doesn’t really get cheaper for accommodation as you’ll need the heating for sure, but it’s worth it.

Visiting all the Harry Potter sites was one of my kids’ favorite things. Victoria Street is said to have been the inspiration to Diagon Alley; Greyfriar’s Kirkyard has many of the names in the series; and there’s The Elephant House, where JK Rowling started writing the books.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo credit: World Trip Diaries

The weekend markets were also a lot of fun, and they had the best Scotch Eggs in town; the Old Town is beautiful and you MUST walk the Royal Mile, as touristic as it is. Carlton Hill is an incredible place to have the best view of the city and it was all white and snowy when we were there. The Castle of Edinburgh is one of the most important castles in the UK, so do visit. Holyrood Palace is also a great place to see when it’s not in use.

You can also visit other locations around Edinburgh. Loch Ness, for instance, can be done in a day trip. It’ll be a long drive, but it’s so beautiful and worth it. Though my kids were very disappointed we didn’t get to see Nessie. There is Glasgow, only 40 minutes away (by train!), and a great day out. If you want to see more castles, you can visit the stunning ruins of Linlithgow or have a full day at Stirling Castle, another very important site in Scottish history! Yes, you could do all that during summer BUT during winter it’s less crowded and entry to the paid attractions is cheaper. Plus, it’s so much prettier when there’s a bit of snow involved.

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German Xmas markets

Germany is one of the best European countries to visit in winter. While some European countries – particularly those that have warm summers – tend to almost shut down if it gets cold or icy, Germany is a country that truly embraces it. Here, the houses are warm and cozy inside as are the cafes and restaurants.

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Christmas market in Germany. Photo credit: Pixabay

Germany is particularly famous for its Christmas markets, a concept that actually originated in Germany, and, unsurprisingly given that fact, it is known for having some of the best Christmas markets in the world. Dortmund and Cologne hold the title for having the Christmas markets with the highest number of visitors, both attracting between 3.5 and 4 million visitors every year. These are two of the largest Christmas markets but you don’t need to travel to either to get the full experience. There are markets in every corner of Germany: in Berlin alone there are more than 70 to choose from.

As well as Glühwein and sausages, there’s plenty here to keep the whole family entertained including shopping for Christmas presents, ice skating, and buying chocolates and biscuits. Then there’s the food. German cuisine may not be world-renowned but, when it comes to hearty winter food, few countries do it better than Germany. Look out for dishes like Sauerbraten, Spätzle, Maultaschen, and of course all the different kinds of sausage like Bratwurst and Currywurst. All of these dishes are warming and filling, and exactly what you’ll be craving on a cold winter’s day.

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Nice, France

One of the best winter destinations in Europe for families is the South of France. Base yourself in Nice where you can easily explore the entire of the Cote d’Azur. It might be cool or cold, but it will definitely be sunny with more than 300 days a year of sun.

The winter season in the French Alps is from November to April, and within 1.5 hours using local transport, you can easily reach three different ski resorts areas where you can ski, toboggan, ice skate and enjoy the fresh, crisp air. The resort of Valberg is one of the most child-friendly resorts with plenty of runs for young skiers and other family activities.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Nice, France. Photo credit: Life on the Mediterranean

Most of the cities along the Cote d’Azur have a Christmas market in December where you can shop, ice skate, get a photo with ‘Babbo Natale’ (Santa Clause) and sample local specialties, like cotton candy, ‘Barba Papa’ or fried Churros that you dip into warmed, melted chocolate. If it’s too cold outside, head to Monaco to the Oceanographic Museum and Aquarium where you can see thousands of fish and corals. The Aquarium is one of the oldest in the world, having opened in 1903! Children and adults love this place and it’s an excellent day out.

Then, in February, you’ll find the Nice Carnival where you can marvel at the amazing handmade floats during the regular parade, or you can attend the ‘Bataille des Fleurs’ (battle of the flowers) and wait along the sidelines hoping that someone on the float will throw you a big bouquet of mimosas. If you are feeling capricious, buy some liquid string in a can and spray the random observer with a ton of thread and run away! We all know it’s coming! Otherwise, enjoy tossing confetti all over everyone. There’s a lot to do along the Cote d’Azur in winter.

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Winter sun destinations in Europe

Algarve, Portugal

The Algarve is one of the sunniest regions in Europe and should be considered if you are looking for a winter sun destination in Europe. During summer the temperatures usually soar above 30°C.  On some days temperatures of 40°C are measured.  This may be fine to take a nap in the shade on the beach but it’s not what you’re looking for if you have a more active vacation in mind.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Algarve, Portugal. Photo credit: Wapiti Travel

Planning your visit in winter gives you many advantages.  With an average temperature of 16-20°C and clear blue skies, the area is much more enjoyable, certainly for an active vacation and it hardly ever rains. We visited all the main tourist attractions along the coast and hiked many kilometers along the coast and in the beautiful natural parks. We encountered a handful of tourists everywhere we went but we heard from locals that these areas are unpleasantly crowded in the summer.  Most streets are narrow and most parkings are small.  This adds to the charm of the area but can turn into a traffic nightmare in peak season.  It is also much more pleasant to wander through the narrow picturesque streets of the charming villages without the hordes of tourists that flood this area in high season.

One more advantage is that you will be able to find some great deals on hotels and other accommodation. It may be not the right time for water sport activities in winter but the boat trips that go along the spectacular rugged coastline and inside the caves go all year round.  Take a boat around 4 PM, dress warmly, and enjoy the warm colors of the sunset being casted on the cliffs during the golden hour.

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Balearic Islands, Spain

I could talk for ages about why Ibiza, Formentera, Mallorca, Menorca, and the smaller Balearic Islands are a great idea for a family-friendly getaway all year round. However, if I had to choose my favorite season to experience all their beauty, that would be winter.

There are many reasons why you can’t go wrong with one of these Mediterranean sea-bathed micro-paradises in the low season. The mild weather of these islands makes them a perfect winter sun destination in Europe to be enjoyed once the summer months are gone. They have a couple of great Unesco recognized diving spots and their turquoise waters are always an excellent idea, and one the kids will particularly like! The crazy tourist crowds that populate the main islands in spring and summer are gone, therefore prices are slightly more affordable and you can enjoy them quietly, without the party-goers and queues everywhere.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Ibiza in winter. Photo credit: A World To Travel

If you need some guidance to choose a Balearic Island to be based off for a few days or weeks, here is what the main 4 are known for – Mallorca is a great choice for city people, bikers and people in love with beaches and wine. Menorca is always a good idea if snorkeling is on your list, as well as spending a few quiet days with your family without many distractions, or unnecessary noise. Formentera is the most secluded and difficult to reach, hence its raw nature. Ibiza, once the youngster crowds are gone, is excellent for sunset and hippie culture lovers. Check out my article on Balearic Islands in winter.

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Canary Islands, Spain

If you’re looking for a warm place to go in Europe in winter, the Canary islands in Spain is a great option. Located in the Atlantic ocean south-west from Spanish coast the islands have comfortable climate – warm in winter with average day temperatures between 17°C and 21°C.

There are 7 islands that form the archipelago: Tenerife – the most popular and populated island, Gran Canaria – second most popular island, LanzaroteFuerteventura, La Palma, La Gomera – the greenest island and El Hierro – the smallest island. Despite their proximity, each island has different landscape and vegetation. You can base yourself on one island and explore the nearby islands by doing day trips or move around and stay on several different islands for a couple of days each. The Canary islands have good connection with the mainland; there are several flights from different cities in Spain and Europe. To move between the islands you can use local ferries that connect the nearby islands.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary islands. Photo credit: Stingy Nomads

Tenerife is probably one of the best islands for families with small children – nice sandy beaches, shallow water entrances, sandy bottom and relatively flat sea (at the most popular beaches for swimming). The main attraction to visit with kids on Tenerife is Loro park – a big area divided into several zones where you can see dolphins, orcas, penguins, parrots, seals and other animals and birds. The park is a great place to come with the whole family for a day.

If your kids are old enough and like hiking we’d recommend to spend a couple of days on La Gomera – the greenest island of the archipelago. There are many hiking trails that connect different parts of the island; through banana plantations, National parks and along the sea with some stunning look outs. It’s a real paradise for nature and trekking lovers. If you like adventure – go to Gran Canaria or Lanzarote where you can explore some old volcano craters and admire incredible landscape of the islands. Whatever island you choose there will be plenty of accommodation options and activities to keep busy the whole family.

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Crete, Greece

If your looking for a winter destination away from the crowds but still warm, think about visiting Crete in Greece. A wonderful Mediterranean island with a lot of outdoor activities that you can do year round including spending some time in the beach, Crete offers a lot of fun attractions to visit.

If you want something charming and historic, check out the harbor scene and old town of Chania – with its narrow streets and buildings with Venetian charm – that was established in the early 14th century. For a even more historic touring, visit Knossos – the largest archaeological site with ruins and some reconstructed areas with murals depicting the sophisticated and colorful lifestyle of early Minoan civilization on the island. If you are more of an outdoor adventurer, then you can hike, go canyoning, mountain climbing and even caving in the rugged and gorgeous landscapes and explore fantastic natural environments around the island. Foodies will love the amazing wine grown on the island, amazing seafood, local cheese, olive oil and locally grown produce and meats that inspire regional Greek and Cretan specialties.

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Crete, Greece. Photo credit: Travel Photo Discovery

If outdoor adventure is not enough fun for your kids, then check out Aquaworld in Hersonisos, walk with dinosaurs at Dinosauria Park, explore the underground at Dikteon cave. Or how about a water park fun at Limnoupolis just outside Chania town? These kid friendly venues are perfect to do with children in mind.

Check out my post on 20 pictures of Crete to inspire you to visit this wonderful island and check out all these fun and cool spots around the island to explore.

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Winter vacations in Eastern Europe

Krakow, Poland

Krakow is a wonderful city for families to visit in winter. The Old Town centre of the city has stunningly beautiful architecture and is the site of a Christmas market that runs from the end of November. There are beautiful lights and Christmas trees that will delight children as well as stalls with traditional handmade toys and local food like polish dumplings, bagels, grilled cheese, gingerbread and lots of different kinds of sweets. For adults, there’s mulled wine and hot beer! Also consider taking a horse and carriage ride around the main square and through the old town.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Krakow, Poland. Photo credit: Pixabay

Around the rest of the city you have Wawel Castle, including the legend of the Wawel Dragon and the Dragon’s Den. On a particularly cold day, head indoors to one of Krakow’s numerous museums, including the Aviation Museum or the Museum of Municipal Engineering. Either are great for children who love planes and cars as they get to see both old and modern up close. For older children, you could visit the museum in Oskar Schindler’s Factory that tells the history of Krakow throughout the tumultuous World War Two period.

Outside of town you have the Wieliczka Salt Mines, where you can take an underground tour to see the mines and beautiful sculptures made of salt. Keep in mind it can get chilly down there and no strollers are allowed. The tour is also 3 hours with no way to leave early, so you’ll need to consider whether your children are up for it. Visiting Eastern Europe in winter isn’t high on many people’s list, but it’s a quieter time of year and as long as you wrap up warm you’ll all enjoy it!

Contributed by Sonja from Migrating Miss| Follow her on Instagram

Roznov, Czech Republic

Roznov is one of the loveliest places to visit in the Czech Republic, especially for families and even during the winter. This lovely small town is located at around 4 hours drive from Prague, and it is more off-the-beaten path compared to other places in the country. It’s got a nice, local vibe, and it’s a nice change after the busy capital and the international Brno.

One of the nicest places to visit in Roznov is the Wallachian Open Air Museum, founded in 1925 with the intent to move here and thus re-create a perfect Wallachian style village. It is a lovely place to explore to learn more about the history and traditional way of life of the country. Another thing that is nice to do in Roznov is the beer spa. It’s located in a micro brewery (where, by the way, the beer is excellent and there’s a fabulous restaurant and a nice pub, as well as a tiny but delicious chocolaterie), and there are many treatments that are all beer based.

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Roznov, Czech Republic. Photo credit: My Adventures across the World

Finally, Roznov gives easy access to Pustevny, a beautiful mountain station that is pleasant to visit even when covered in snow. It can be reached by cable car from Trojanovice, which is at around 15 minutes drive from Roznov. Once up in Pustevny, there are plenty of lovely cafés to sit around enjoy a traditional meal, and to have a hot drink to keep the cold away. Outside, it is pleasant to take a walk to admire the quirky looking buildings and to reach places of interest such as the statue of Radegast in Radhost, which can be easily reached from the chair lift.

Contributed by Claudia from My Adventures across the World| Follow her on Facebook

Vilnius, Lithuania

For a lesser popular winter destination, I highly suggest Vilnius, Lithuania. What many family travellers don’t know is that this little country – sandwiched between Russia and Poland – is fun and a very affordable place for your next winter trip. In Vilnius, you can take your family to Trakai Castle, a castle that stands in the middle of a lake. During winter, the temperature drops really low that can cause the lake to freeze. Once it’s frozen enough, the staff of the castle will let the tourist know that they can safely walk on the frozen ice and reach the Trakai Castle, which I find very cool!

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Vilnius, Lithuania. Photo credit: A Mary Road

During the day, you can go for a quick bike ride around the city for free. You can rent the city bikes without any charge as long as you register online. Right at the Old Town, you can visit the tower on the top of the hill with an amazing view of the city. A bike station is at the bottom of it which means you can get there fast, easy, and for free.

Lithuania is probably one of the most affordable countries in Europe, you can find private rooms in the hotels or hostels for as low as $30 which is already well-located in the old town. A bus ride is only 1 euro, spend 25 euro in Lithuania to great winter food for a family of 4. If you have more time in Lithuania, you can enjoy the top winter activity for way cheaper than Switzerland, France, or Italy.

Contributed by Mary from A Mary Road| Follow her on Facebook

Warsaw, Poland

If you are looking for a great winter-time destination, we’d suggest checking out Poland. From its rich history to tasty wintertime treats and plenty of activities, we think that Warsaw should absolutely be on a family’s Eastern Europe itinerary in the winter season! 

You might think that the harsh Polish winter puts a damper on activities. In reality, the city comes alive when the snow starts to fall. In Warsaw’s Old Town, you’ll find the Market Square hustling and bustling with life. A signature activity is ice skating at the rink in the middle of the Old Town. Couples, solo skaters, and families lace up their skates for a few laps. Skate rentals are close by for a fee, along with hot beverages like mulled wine and other hot treats.

Europe winter destinations, winter city breaks europe, winter sun destinations europe, winter holidays europe
Warsaw, Poland. Photo credit: Penguin and Pia

Simply walking around the Old Town is a treat in the winter. The alleyways between the colourful buildings echo with accordion players while the cobblestone slowly gets covered in a thin white layer of snow. There are lots of places to stop at for a hot coffee, tea, or a cup of hot chocolate.

If the cold is a little too much, feel free to head back into the modern city to check out the Palace of Culture and Science. Built in 1955, the Palace is the tallest building in Poland and has a variety of fun functions. For families, there are cinema screens, two museums, and a swimming pool inside, among other attractions. 

That said, if you head over to the Palace you might get caught up in the excitement just outside. This is because, in the winter, the Palace grounds are home to the Warsaw Christmas Market. This massive layout of buildings and attractions even has a ferris wheel to ride! From classic Christmas Market treats to art and craft stalls, there is no shortage of entertainment in the Christmas Market for the whole family.

Contributed by Eric and Lisa from Penguin and Pia| Follow them on Youtube

Zakopane, Poland

Winter in Europe is all about snow covered peaks and festive decorations turning grey days into colorful delights. Nevertheless, winter in Europe can also be expensive and crowded, as everyone tends to go to the same well known regions. Zakopane, in the south of Poland, is the perfect destination if you’re looking for a less cliched, yet amazing place to visit with kids.

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Zakopane, Poland. Photo credit: Two Find A Way

Located at the foot of the Tatra mountains, it is a heaven for nature and winter lovers. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful and it is filled to the brim with the season’s best spirit. There are plenty of activities to do with kids: from learning to ski and snowboard, to snow tobogganing and much more. Access to stunning mountain views is easy due to the existence of comfortable and fun cable cars, the most famous are Gubalowka and Kasprowy Wierch. If you are looking for indoor activities you also won’t be disappointed: there’s everything from an Aqua Park to an Upside Down House. If you have more time in the region, there are plenty of day trips to take and nearby wonders to explore.

Even though Zakopane is not one of the best known regions in Europe, it receives quite a lot of tourism from nearby areas, so there are plenty of accommodation options, a diversified set of restaurants, and it is easy to get around. The fact that it is still relatively a well kept secret for the rest of the world means that the town is still very affordable, which is always a plus, and especially when you’re traveling with kids.

Contributed by Maria & Rui from Two Find A Way| Follow them on Instagram


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Thinking of a winter destination in Europe for a family vacation? Read for great ideas, from winter wonderland in Nordic countries, skiing or winter sports destinations, winter city breaks in Europe, winter sun destinations in Europe or some budget ideas in Eastern Europe. #europe #europewinterdestinations #europefamilyholidays      Thinking of a winter destination in Europe for a family vacation? Read for great ideas, from winter wonderland in Nordic countries, skiing or winter sports destinations, winter city breaks in Europe, winter sun destinations in Europe or some budget ideas in Eastern Europe. #europe #europefamilyholidays #europewinterdestinations


Do share your experience of your dream winter family holiday in Europe in the comments below.

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Author: Shweta Singhal

Hi! I am Shweta, the zest behind this blog . I play several roles – parent to a 6-year old, adventure enthusiast, travel blogger, generally open to trying out new things in life. Besides travel, I love books and theatre and art. I would love to hear from you; do drop a comment. Join me on Instagram / Twitter @zestinatote.

2 thoughts

  1. Nice article, I do have a question tho – we often go on winter holidays, and go over the Christmas period, usually to the Canary Islands, but we’ve always opted for all inclusive just so we know there is somewhere we can eat on Christmas day, hence we always end up on a package holiday. We’d love to try Poland/Czeh Republic, and may be a few others but are we going to have trouble finding somewhere open on Christmas (or find it fully booked) if we went on a self catering basis – how do other people do this over the Christmas break

    1. Your concern is valid. I haven’t been to Europe in winters, but I am given to understand that restaurants and cafes are open on Christmas and with the Xmas markets, the city centre is even more lively than usual.

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