Our favorite time of the year to travel in Europe is during the winter. As the weather gets colder, the Christmas markets come to life, snow begins to fall, and it’s the perfect time to throw on cozy sweaters, puffy coats, and winter boots and wander through cobblestoned back alleys. With just two weeks of travel time, you can fully experience and immerse yourself in some of the best winter destinations in Europe. It’s developed into a bit of a habit, actually: after just a few trips, the idea of Christmas without Christmas Markets just feels empty, meaningless, and devoid of calories.
Europe in the winter isn’t high season, which means fewer crowds and cheaper prices. But it’s also not low season, so you can expect most tourist attractions to remain open to visitors. Plus, you’ll get to try activities that the summer crowds won’t get to experience, like Christmas markets, holiday decorations, traditional winter foods, and ice skating!
There are SO many countries in Europe and can be overwhelming to try and come up with an itinerary. So in this post, we’ve compiled not one, but TWO detailed 2-week itineraries so you can make the most of your winter holidays in Europe. Just call us Itinerary Santa. Blog Santa? Ooh, Santa Blogs! Get it? Cuz it rhymes with Santa Clause! … I’ll stop.
Fair warning: This is a MASSIVE post. We just want you to be prepared. So grab a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or whatever your preferred in-depth-travel-research beverage of choice is, and settle in! Here’s what we’re covering in this our winter Europe itinerary:
Table of Contents
Psst: Looking for even more resources for planning your trip to Europe in the winter? We link to a bunch of our related posts throughout this one, but here are some of the most popular ones:
- Europe in Winter Packing List: 32 Backpacking Essentials for Him & Her
- 12 Charming Things to Do in Copenhagen in Winter
- 12 Delightful Things to Do in Prague in December & January
- 35 Photos of Norway in the Winter to Inspire your Wanderlust
- The Perfect 7-Day Norway Itinerary for an Epic Winter Trip
Oh hey, guess what? We’ve created a printable e-book version of this post available fo’ free! It’s a solid 30 pages of travel tips, printable packing lists, and all the itinerary details you need to plan your Europe in winter trip. Sign up below & we’ll send it straight to your inbox:
Europe in Winter Travel Tips
Never visited Europe in the winter before? Relax, we gotcha covered. Here’s what you need to know, so you can spend less time stressing and more time drinking gluhwein and eating Christmas Market bratwursts.
- How to get around Europe in winter: Getting around Europe is a breeze and you have plenty of options. For overland travel, intercity bus lines like FlixBus are the cheapest way to get from one place to another. If you’re planning to go to several different locations over the course of a week or two and prefer to take the scenic route, book a Eurail pass, which lets you take the train as many times as you like over a set period of time. It’s not necessarily the cheapest option, but it’s definitely the most enjoyable. For longer distances, you can take budget airlines like RyanAir – sometimes the prices on these airlines are as low as just a few Euros! We’ve included some tips to help you get from place to place in our 2-week Europe itineraries.
- Pack everything into a carry-on: When you’re moving around from city to city in Europe, you won’t want to lug around a bunch of heavy bags with you. Avoid surprise baggage fees and spare yourself the misery of lugging your heavy bag up 5 floors of rickety staircases (because everywhere we’ve ever stayed in Europe is somehow always on the 5th floor and there is never an elevator). If you’re the rolling bag type, Away Suitcases are as beautiful as they are functional. If you prefer to carry your belongings on your back, we swear by this roomy carry-on backpack!
- Prepare yourself for the long flight. If you’re flying into Europe from the US, you’ll be taking a long-haul flight. If you’re on a budget, you’ll be taking a long-haul flight without most of the amenities that make flights enjoyable, like free water (yep, that’s … a thing). Make the whole flight less miserable and uncomfortable by bringing a few must-have supplies, like a portable travel pillow, dramamine, a portable charger, baby wipes, etc. We’ve got a whole guide to surviving long haul flights right here!
- Most places in Europe do speak enough English for you to get by. That said, it’s polite to learn a few basic phrases, like please, thank you, hello, and goodbye. Do a little prep before your trip – your effort will go a long way and be much appreciated.
- Take precautions to prevent theft, and buy travel insurance. Opportunity theft is common in Europe, and you’ll want to take some precautions to prevent theft. It’s important to always be aware of your surroundings and store your valuables on your body to guard them. Tuck your money into a money belt or bra pocket to make yourself an obnoxiously difficult target for pickpockets. We also always recommend getting travel insurance if you’re traveling internationally, and our favorite provider is World Nomads – they have saved our butts multiple times with everything from sickness abroad to cancelled and delayed trips. For more information about staying safe while traveling, read our travel safety post.
- Bring warm layers – This should be pretty obvious, but Europe is COLD in the winter. Read on for a list of things to pack for your winter holidays in Europe.
What to Pack for Europe in Winter
Packing light for winter travel sounds like an oxymoron – cuz you know, winter clothing is heavy – but actually, it’s totally possible to stuff everything you need into a carry-on! The beauty of winter travel is that 99% of the time, all anyone is going to see is the very outer layer of your clothing. So as long as you’ve got clothes that can withstand being worn over and over again, you really don’t actually need to bring very many items (ssh, we won’t tell anyone that you’re rewearing the same sweater for 2 weeks straight).
To further maximize our packing efficiency, we’ve learned to be really selective about our textiles. For example, merino wool is super warm and cozy and much more lightweight than other synthetic fabrics, plus it’s naturally antibacterial, which means you can re-wear it for 2 weeks straight without it that 2-week-straight travel smell.
Here are our tried and true travel essentials for winter Europe travel.
- Warm Walking Boots: Do not skimp on your shoes for Europe! We recommend boots that can withstand ice or snow, are totally waterproof, and are comfortable enough to walk in for HOURS, especially on uneven cobblestone. Sounds darn near impossible, right? Well, it’s not. We’ve found the best boots for European winter, and we’re OBSESSED with them (and yes, we both have the same ones. Because we’re kinda gross like that). They’re cute, they’re insanely comfortable, they’re waterproof leather and lined with shearling to keep your toes toasty warm, and they’re extremely lightweight and foldable so you can stuff them in your bag when you travel. Oh, and they have thin and flexible soles that let your feet function as if you were walking around in the cold completely barefoot! Note: you might find yourself in need of some calf strengthening if you’re not used to barefoot-style soles. We can’t recommend these boots enough. They’re made to last and they’re worth every cent – we wore them for 2 months straight in frigid wintry Europe. Here are my boots and Jeremy’s boots. You can read more about them in our round-up of our favorite travel shoes for women or for men.
- Wool Socks: Make sure you don’t just have run-of-the-mill acrylic socks for Europe. They won’t keep your feet warm while you’re exploring! Instead, bring socks that are primarily made of soft, heat-regulating wool, like these or these.
- Travel Jeans: Unlike regular jeans, travel jeans are designed specifically to solve travel-related woes. One of my personal woes is the lack of pockets on women’s jeans. My favorite travel jeans have 6 POCKETS. 6!! And 2 of them are zipped and hidden inside other pockets, for extra pickpocket protection – crucial in any European country. Plus, they’re super stretchy and buttery soft, dry quickly in the rain or when wet, and keep our legs warm when it’s cold out. They’re cozy enough to wear on a plane, stretchy enough to accommodate that 5 extra pounds of holiday weight I always seem to bring back home with me, and they’re super cute! We’re both obsessed. You can get a pair of men’s or women’s jeans on the Aviator USA website.
- Merino Wool Base Layer Leggings: These super comfy 100% wool leggings function just like long underwear. They’re made of soft, super-luxurious wool and make your legs feel like they’re being hugged by an extremely soft sheep. I wore a pair of these under my pants on extra-cold days and they kept me toasty warm (without being too hot)! Jeremy has this pair.
- Warm Flannel Shirt: I’m in LOVE with the MerinoLux flannel button-down from Royal Robbins. It’s stretchy, it’s cozy, it’s blended with merino wool (yassss) and most importantly, it’s warm AF and super breathable. It’s also wrinkle resistant, odor resistant, and moisture wicking, and has a hidden zip pocket – so basically everything you could ever ask for in a flannel shirt. I’ve been searching for the perfect flannel for YEARS (you know, like one that didn’t give me that annoying button-down boob gap and allowed me to actually cross my arms) and this is The One. I love it! Here’s mine and Jeremy’s.
- Wool Undershirt: Laying is crucial when it’s this cold. My favorite way to make sure I stay warm all day is to put a warm layer of wool on before everything else. This is the wool cami I wear, and this is the wool undershirt Jeremy wears.
- Day Bag: You’ll want a bag with you to store things like extra layers, your camera, a phone charger, weird European snacks, and trinkets you pick up at the Christmas Markets – you know, the essentials. I carried this day bag with me every single day packed with my packable down jacket, an extra pair of gloves, and anything else I needed for the day. We also have this theft-resistant camera bag specifically for our camera gear, because we’re
extra AFprofessional bloggers or whatever. If you don’t have like … camera gear, you probably don’t need it, but if you do, it’s REALLY nice.
- Warm Hat: A warm hat is an absolute necessity for chilly Europe in the winter. It also doubles as a super cute accessory! You want a hat that will stay on your head even in blustery gusts of wind and keep your ears nice and warm, so stay away from those brimmed ~travel girl types of hats and stick with reliable beanies instead. Personally I’m a fan of the ones with poofs on top, like this or this. Jeremy is more of a purist, and likes to wear beanies like this one, which is made from earth-friendly recycled wool and nylon. To keep your head AND your face warm (and also ensure that nobody will ever talk to you) get this Cthulu Hat. And then send me pictures of you wearing it, please.
- Warm Coat: Your jacket is arguably the most important thing you’ll bring to Europe other than your shoes. It has a big job – namely, keeping you warm but not sweaty, allowing you to actually move your arms, and letting you explore for hours without feeling heavy or restrictive. Plus, it’s gonna be in almost all of your photos. I recommend splurging on a coat made with real wool – no synthetic material comes close to the warmth of real wool! As you can see in 99% of my photos, I brought a beautiful camel-colored A-line wool coat like this one that kept me incredibly warm and looks amazing in all of my pictures. Jeremy wears a wool-blend coat similar to this one and this one.
- Packable Down Jacket: Jeremy and I each bring two jackets each to Europe: our heavy wool coats, and a lightweight, travel-friendly packable down jacket. It’s perfect for those days when I want the freedom of not wearing a big heavy coat, and it’s also a fantastic added layer of warmth on super cold days. Here’s my down jacket and Jeremy’s down jacket.
- Scarves: I LOVE a chunky scarf. They’re my favorite accessory! And you will absolutely need a good scarf in Europe. I love this super soft scarf from Royal Robbins, which is blended with wool and turns into a cute shawl or infinity scarf with a few well-placed buttons. I’m also a big fan of scarves that are big enough to double as blankets, like this one or this one.
- Gloves: Don’t go outside in Europe in the winter without gloves on! You will regret it. I love these wool gloves that work with touchscreens, because let’s face it, I have a hard enough time using my phone without wearing gloves.
- Plug Adapters: Yep, these are important. Don’t forget them! And don’t make the same mistake we did and buy a giant, clunky 5-in-1 adapter brick: you don’t need it. 99% of Europe uses just one plug: this one. If you don’t have a 3-prong laptop charger in your luggage, all you’ll need is this tiny little inexpensive adapter. And by the way, the outlets are all round, so our stupid brick-shaped adapter didn’t even work anyway. We binned it.
Need more suggestions on what to pack for Europe in the winter? We have a whole guide! Check it out below. Just click the big, bright, beautiful button. Go on, then.
2 Week Northwestern Europe Itinerary for Winter
This itinerary takes you through some of the best European cities to visit in winter, with a nice balance of smaller Medieval towns – both of which are stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites. You’ll get a quite a bang for your buck with this trip: within 2 weeks, you’ll hit 5 different destinations in 4 countries! But don’t worry, they’re all located close together so you don’t have to spend hours on a bus or blow your bratwurst budget on train tickets.
The Christmas Markets in most of these destinations don’t stay open after New Years, so you’ll want to visit earlier rather than later. We think the best time to do this itinerary is in early to mid December (which is, incidentally, when we did it).
Here is the full itinerary. We’ve included 13 days in total, which gives you an extra day to play with or spend adjusting from jet lag.
- 3 days in Copenhagen
- 2 Days in Bremen
- 3 Days in Amsterdam
- 2 days in Bruges
- 3 days in Brussels
Let’s get into the details!
We started this itinerary in Copenhagen for a few reasons. First and foremost, it’s easy to find budget-friendly flights to Copenhagen from the USA, thanks to a plethora of budget airlines flying to and from like WOW, Ryanair, and Norwegian Airlines. Chances are you’ll need to fly to the east coast first, but from there, you should be able to find a cheap non-stop flight all the way into CPH – which is, by the way, one of the prettiest airports we’ve ever seen.
But we also started here because Copenhagen is one of the best European cities to visit in winter. Copenhagen during the winter is a magical Christmas fairyland, brimming with holiday cheer and hygge. In the winter it’s brisk and cold, with short days – the better for sleeping in and going to bed early, we say.
The Best Things to Do in Copenhagen
The reason why Copenhagen is one of the best winter travel destinations in Europe (in our opinion) is because there are soooo many things to do there. We spent forever wandering the picturesque streets, getting googly-eyed at the Christmas Markets, and exploring some of the city’s main attractions. Here are some can’t-miss highlights.
- Visit the World’s 2nd Oldest Theme Park: Tivoli Gardens opened in 1843 and is located smack dab in the middle of Copenhagen. In the winter, they really “deck the halls” in seasonal decor (ba dum ssh) and half of the park turns into a beautiful Christmas Market. For faster access to the park and its attractions, we recommend buying a skip the line ticket!
- Copenhagen’s Christmas Markets: Copenhagen is full of Christmas markets, which means you’ll be full of gløgg and Christmas cheer! The iconic Nyhavn canal is home a beautiful Christmas Market, and stunning Kongens Nytorv has a big, sprawling market AND an ice skating rink. Copenhagen, you are a winter wonderland.
- Visit a Warm, Steamy Sauna: There are few things more relaxing (or Nordic!) than a steamy sauna to escape the cold winter weather. The adorably named CopenHot, located right on Copenhagen’s waterfront, offers scenic spas with panoramic water views, giant wooden tubs of hot water, and even sailing spas. Yeah, like a spa, but a boat, that’s also a spa. HOW AWESOME IS THAT.
- Visit Copenhagen’s Fairytale Castles: There are 2 castles right nearby Copenhagen: Frederiksborg and Kronborg. And yes, they are opulent and princessy AF. You can easily get there by train with a DIY tour of Copenhagen’s castles or book a tour.
- Stuff Your Face: Denmark has DELICIOUS holiday foods, and you’ll find loads of them served in the Christmas Markets and food halls like Torvehallarne. Be sure to try Gløgg, Danish mulled wine with almonds and raisins that smells like Christmas and tastes like happiness. Pair it with some Æbleskiver, adorable little holiday pancake puffs. And even though it isn’t specific to winter, you can’t leave Copenhagen without trying Smørrebrød: an open faced sandwich on hearty Danish rye bread topped with lard or butter (it’s yummier than it sounds) and a pile of perfectly paired toppings. We’ve got a whole guide to Danish holiday food and where to eat them in Copenhagen right here.
- Drink Specialty Coffee: Copenhagen has amazing specialty coffee served in adorable, hipster AF boujie coffee shops. Our favorite was Democratic Coffee, located in what we first believed to be a high-end bookstore but turned out to be the Copenhagen Library (color us impressed). Get a cappuccino and an almond croissant and soak up the Hygge. We’ve got a list of more of the best specialty coffee shops in Copenhagen right here.
Where to Stay in Copenhagen
- Mid-Range Hotel: The Hotel Skt. Petri is super centrally located (right next to Torvehallerne!) and has fantastic amenities. Plus, you can score some great deals if you know where to look – we always use HotelsCombined to find them!
- Budget Hostel: Touted as a “luxury hostel,” Generator Hostel Copenhagen is an excellent budget accommodation option located off of Kongens Nytorv. It’s a conveniently located, clean, and comfortable choice for winter travel.
We recommend 3 full days in Copenhagen – there are LOADS of things to do. Read about the rest of our recommendations for Copenhagen in the winter in our travel guide!
After Copenhagen, you’ll head south to our favorite destination for Christmas Markets: Germany! Bremen, Germany was our very first German Christmas Market experience, and it blew our minds.
Bremen is an off-the-beaten-path German fairytale town we’d actually never heard of before we began planning our trip to Europe. We literally decided to visit Bremen based on beautiful photos of the town and rumors of charming German Christmas Markets (confession: we actually plan quite a lot of our travels based on photos and food…).
Bremen is a short hour and a half bus or train ride away from much larger Hamburg, Germany, making it a perfect day trip from Hamburg. However, we recommend staying a few days in Bremen so you can experience all of the wonderful winter delights the town has to offer.
How to Get to Bremen from Copenhagen
Bremen is quite far from Copenhagen, so to save on time, we recommend either flying or taking a ferry. You’ll actually be heading to Hamburg first, which is much larger than Bremen but quite close by.
- By Airplane: There are two daily direct flights to Hamburg (HAM) from Copenhagen on SAS (whose hub is in Copenhagen). The flight only takes 50 minutes and should be quite inexpensive – we recommend using Skyscanner to find the best flight deal.
- By Train/Ferry: The route we chose was via train and ferry – definitely the longer, more scenic route. You’ll take a train for 4:45 from København H to Hamburg Hbf. The coolest part of this journey is that at one point, your train will literally board a ferry and cross a sea. Crazy!
Once you arrive in Hamburg, you’ll take a 1.5-hour train from Hamburg’s central train station to Bremen’s city center. To figure out which train to take and the train schedule, we recommend using Rome2Rio.
The Best Things to Do in Bremen
- Bremen Old Town: Bremen’s charming Old Town is an awe-inspiring experience. Standing in Bremen’s 1,200 year-old Old Town, on ancient cobblestones among buildings which have withstood centuries, is a humbling experience. While you’re in the Old Town, be sure to stop by the Rathaus, the stunning town hall and UNESCO World Heritage Site – the restaurant in the cellar is freakin’ incredible.
- Visit the Christmas Markets: Tiny little Bremen is home to two incredible Christmas Markets! The Weihnachtsmarkt is a traditional German Christmas Market spread out across the 1,200 year old Old Town market plaza, at the foot of the historic Rathaus. The Schlachte-Zauber is a Medieval themed Christmas Market along the waterfront complete with pirate shipwrecks, employees dressed in period-appropriate costumes, and kitschy booths selling spells and potions ingredients. You can see both in one day on your own, or you can book a one-hour guided Christmas Market Tour to learn about the history of Bremen (and sample all the best treats).
- Wander through Bremen’s Charming Streets: Check out the Schnoor, which is a scenic, well preserved section of the old Medieval quarter of Bremen. You can wander around on your own or do a guided walking tour like this one.
- Stuff Your Face: German food is heart, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food at its finest. Be sure to try gruenkohl, which tastes infinitely better than you’d expect considering it’s made from kale and sausage. Pick up some Bratwurst and Reibekuchen, crunchy potato fritters, at the Christmas Markets, along with a streaming mug of Eierpunsch – the German version of Eggnog – or Feuerzangenbowle, mulled wine topped off with flaming sugar that tastes like smokey caramelized heaven.
Where to Stay in Bremen
- Mid-Range Hotel: Sleep steps away from the Bremen Town Musicians statue and the Marketplatz Christmas Market at the Boutique Hotel Classico Bremen. With insanely beautiful views of the Rathaus and the town square, this is one of the best located boutique hotels in Bremen!
- Budget Hostel: We stayed in Townside Hostel during our visit to Bremen. It’s cozy and affordable, and is within walking distance of Old Town and all the popular attractions in Bremen.
We recommend 2 full days in Bremen. The town is quite small and you can easily explore it all on foot in 2 days. Read about the rest of our recommendations for Bremen in the winter in our travel guide!
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
If you need a short break from cold weather, Amsterdam in the winter is pleasantly mild. It’s not quite as Christmassy as the rest of the cities we’ve included in our winter itinerary, but hello – it’s Amsterdam! Amsterdam is gorgeous any time of the year, and there’s plenty to do during the winter, when the entire city is less crowded with tourists.
How to Get to Amsterdam from Bremen
Amsterdam is a leisurely 4 hour train ride from Bremen, or slightly less on a bus. You can take both trains and buses to Amsterdam from Bremen’s central train station. You can also fly directly from Bremen’s airport (BRE) to Amsterdam (AMS) in less than one hour.
What to Do in Amsterdam
- Explore the Museums: Amsterdam is home to TONS of museums that you can visit. Museums are one of Amsterdam’s best attractions, so we recommend buying your tickets online in advance to avoid waiting in long lines. Some of the most fantastic museums in the city include the Rijksmuseum, the Anne Frank House (book early or you won’t be able to visit at all), the Van Gogh Museum, and FOAM, a stunning photography museum.
- Marvel at the Amsterdam Light Festival: In the winter months, the city of Amsterdam comes to life at night with the Amsterdam Light Festival. Colorful light displays from local artists shimmer around the city center when the sun sets. Put on your winter boots and walk the streets to see some of the dazzling works of art. Or, you can take a boat tour through the canal to see these spectacular light displays.
- Take a Walking Tour: On this winter walking tour, you’ll learn about the best sights in Amsterdam from a local’s perspective, admire the city’s famed canals, and sample some yummy local street eats.
- Eat all the Dutch food: There are a few things you cannot leave Amsterdam without trying. One of them is a fresh, warm Stroopwafel. You’ll find delicious caramel-filled Stroopwafel everywhere in Amsterdam, but at Albert Cuyp, an outdoor food market, you can buy them made to order. Hit up a Coffeeshop (wink wink. I’m winking because Coffeeshops sell weed – not to be confused with coffee shops, which sell coffee) and then make your way to some hole-in-the-wall Indonesian place (or Blauw, if you fancy) for dinner. Amsterdam has the best Indonesian food outside of Indonesia, thanks to its depressing history of Dutch colonization (womp, womp). After stuffing yourself with Indonesian food and being respectfully sad about its origin story, head to Winkel 43 for a massive slice of out-of-this-world apple pie, with extra schlag (JUST TRUST US). Tip: to combine stuffing your face with exploring the most beautiful neighborhood in Amsterdam, book a Jordaan food tour!
Where to Stay in Amsterdam
Amsterdam has plenty of centrally-located accommodation options at any price point. Before you book, one thing to note is that Amsterdam is pretty space-constricted and generally has smaller guest rooms than other European locations, both in hostels and hotels. Here are a couple of places we’d recommend:
- Budget-Friendly Hotel: Hotel Mr. Jordaan is a charming, centrally-located boutique hotel. Located in Amsterdam’s prettiest neighborhood near the Anne Frank House and the Leidesplein, the location doesn’t get any better than this.
- Budget Hostel: Generator Hostel in Amsterdam is the perfect balance between a boutique hotel and a high-end hostel (yes, it’s a thing!). The rooms vary from hostel-style dorms to beautiful private ensuite rooms.
Bruges was a major highlight of our trip. It’s incredibly romantic, from the resident swans to the insanely good chocolate to the “Lake of Love.” We visited Bruges on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Why? Because Jeremy saw the movie “In Bruges” and based our entire itinerary off of it. But it actually ended up being a great choice, which he’ll never let me live down.
Even though just about everything is closed on Christmas Day, the town is small and beautiful enough to explore on foot, even when everyone but the swans have gone home to celebrate Christmas. Plus, the Christmas Markets in Bruges stay open until just after New Years, which is perfect for us because we have an insatiable love for Christmas Markets.
How to Get to Bruges from Amsterdam
Buses and trains to Bruges leave from Amsterdam’s city center throughout the day and take just under 3 hours to arrive at Brugge Central Station.
The Best Things to Do in Bruges
- Go Ice Skating in Markt Plaza: Imagine ice skating in a romantic, picturesque European market square in front of a towering ancient building. Yep, that’s exactly what ice skating in Bruges’ Markt Plaza is like. The Bruges Ice Skating Rink is the perfect place to soak in the winter holiday cheer and stays open until just after New Years.
- Cruise the Canals: Old Bruges is intersected at regular intervals by cute little canals, and the best way to appreciate them is to cruise through them on a jaunty little skipper. A canal cruise through Bruges is one of the most popular things to do even during the winter season – you’ll see little boats full of bundled up tourists cruising by even on the coldest days of the year. You can find canal cruises all over town, but the most popular one is off of Burg Central Plaza.
- Visit Minnewater Park & the Lover’s Bridge: There’s nothing more romantic than strolling hand in hand over the Lover’s Bridge on the Lake of Love in Minnewater Park. The park has a tragic back-story, but today it’s romantic AF (and there’s like, a thousand swans, because Bruges is a romance novel that just writes itself).
- Bruges Walking Tour: By now you should know that we’re huge fans of walking tours, and the magical streets of Bruges are no exception. A walking tour of Bruges (either by yourself or with a guided group tour) will take you to some of the most fascinating historical sites and landmarks in the city. You can also take a Christmas-themed city tour that will take you to all of Bruges’ seasonal delights (and tasty traditional bites).
- Eat All the Things: You have to try Belgian chocolate in Belgium, and Bruges has plenty of excellent chocolate. Pop into the little chocolate shops lining the Breidelstraat, or go for a fancy chocolate high tea at the Old Chocolate House. Other than chocolate, nothing screams Belgian food like waffles, and the homemade waffles at Chez Albert are out of this world. You can also find good ones at the Bruges Christmas Market or at a truck parked in the Burg Central Plaza (very specific, I know).
- Drink Belgian Beer: Belgian beer is the best beer in the world. There, I said it, and I stand by it. Order a delicious locally brewed Belgian beer and sip it by a warm, roaring fire at Half Man Brewery in Bruges. You can learn all about Belgian beer in our complete guide.
Where to Stay in Bruges
- Budget-Friendly Hotel: With its super central location and spacious rooms, Hotel Aragon is the perfect budget-friendly hotel. Located just a few steps away from Markt Square, you can literally leave the hotel and be in the middle of Bruges’ Historic Center.
- Budget Hostel: Located in a spacious building a few minutes’ walk from Bruges’ main attractions, the adorable Snuffel Hostel is a fantastic choice for travelers on a budget, offering both private rooms and dormitories. There is a bar on the ground floor, so if you’re especially sensitive to noise, be sure to request a higher floor.
Are you loading up In Bruges on Netflix and dreaming of swans and chocolate? Head over to our Bruges winter travel guide for everything you need to know!
Brussels is the bustling capital of Belgium and is the final stop for our Europe in winter itinerary. Home to a gorgeous central plaza, incredible food options, a famous statue of a boy peeing (yes, they think it’s weird too), and a bunch of incredibly strange museums (108 to be exact), Brussels has no shortage of things to do. And most of them are super weird and totally quirky. Which we LOVE.
We chose to celebrate New Years Eve in Brussels and if you’re looking for a giant party in an amazing city, Brussels is a great place to ring in the new year! Spoilers: we were too tired to stay outside all night in the crowd. We are olds.
How to Get to Brussels from Bruges
Luckily, your last inter-city hop is a pretty short one, at just over one hour by train/bus. You can take a train or bus directly from Bruges to Brussels’ city center, which will drop you off at the Brussels central station. From there, you can walk to the Main Square area and several other city attractions.
The Best Things to Do in Brussels
- Visit the Grand Place: This is literally the most beautiful Main Square in all of Europe. Like, there was a vote, and it won. The buildings and architecture surrounding this massive pedestrian square are incredibly intricate and regal, but also, they don’t match at all – there are literally 4 distinct architectural styles, one per side – and several of the buildings are just really, really poorly constructed thanks to Brussels’ colorful history. Like you can look at this opulent building draped in gold and see where some poor guy was commissioned to build something, the King had him murdered halfway through, and the guy ordered to finish it didn’t bother to match his half up to the other guy’s half. It is FASCINATING. To appreciate the weirdness and details of this gorgeous place and hear the crazy legends and stories (plus find some hidden spots – like REALLY literally hidden, not just ~hidden gems~), we recommend taking this tour.
- Tour Brussels’ Strange Museums: If museums are your thing, get ready to GEEK OUT in Brussels. The city is home to over 100 museums, and a bunch of them are like … really weird. Like the International Puppet Museum, the Spontaneous Art Museum, The Museum of Fantastic Art, the Sewers Museum, the Freemason Museum…there are a lot, you guys, and I didn’t even get to the Erotic Art Museum yet. Belgium is kinda weird, and we totally dig it. Read our full guide to all the weird museums in Brussels.
- Beer & Chocolate Tour: If you like beer and chocolate (two of the best things in the world, which also happen to be Belgian specialties), the Brussels Beer & Chocolate Tour is the perfect way to spend a day. You can also try a Belgian chocolate making class and visit our favorite places to drink beer in Brussels – all listed in our Belgian beer guide. Either way, your taste buds will thank you.
- Stuff Your Face: One of our favorite things about Belgium, other than all the weirdness, is its abundance of insanely yummy food. Don’t miss trying Belgian Frites, the thicker, crispier, double-fried cousin to the American french fry (yes, they’re better). Oddly enough, they’re traditionally paired with mussels in a dish called Moules-Frites. We don’t get the pairing, but they’re both delicious. Warm up with a comforting Flemish Stew, a rich and hearty stew made from beef, onions, and dark Belgian beer. And snag a chewy Liege Waffle from a stand anywhere in the city. Looking to check them all off your list in one day? We recommend taking a Brussels Food Tour – you can read our full review here.
Where to Stay in Brussels
- Mid-Range Hotel: The Boutique Hotel Saint-Gery is located in the middle of it all, just steps from the Grand Place. Trendy bedrooms feature exposed brick walls, wooden floors, and big, bright windows.
- Budget Hostel: Situated next to the botanic gardens, the Sleephere Hostel is located in a grand estate. It’s a quiet and comfortable home away from home that only takes a handful of guests at a time, so be sure to book in advance to secure your reservation!
Central Europe Itinerary (2 Weeks)
Yep, that’s right: we created TWO full 2 week Europe in winter itineraries. Hello, we’re Lia and Jeremy and we’re over-achievers. We’ve visited Europe in the winter a few times, so we figured we’d include a couple of options to let you you plan your own trip. We’re like a choose-your-own-Europe-in-winter-adventure blog.
To decide whether this is the itinerary for you, ask yourself the following questions: Do you like mountains? How about medieval towns? Beautiful scenery? Alpine villages? If your answer is “yes, duh,” you’re gonna love this itinerary.
This central Europe winter itinerary is also perfect for folks who don’t get much time off before Christmas but still want to visit Christmas Markets: in central Europe, some Christmas Markets stay open late, even into Advent Week (the first week of January, and also my birthday week – so yes, I pretended that they were staying open specifically for me).
We also recommend this one for folks who prefer slower travel even if it means visiting fewer destinations.
Here is the full 2 week Europe itinerary. We’ve included 11 days of exploring in total, which gives you some flexibility – you could even add in another destination. Because there are a few hours of travel in between each spot, we used the extra days to get to and from each destination.
- 3 days in Vienna
- 2 Days in Hallstatt
- 3 Days in Cesky Krumlov
- 3 days in Prague
Let’s get into the details!
When we decided to visit Vienna, Austria for Christmas last year, we had one thing in mind: Christmas Markets! In between stuffing our faces at Christmas Markets, we also discovered loads of other things to do in Vienna. There’s SO much history and beauty to take in here, and the musical legacy is unlike anywhere else in the world.
We spent 3 full days exploring Vienna in the winter, falling in love with the winding alleys in Old Town, the delicious Viennese coffee, the glittering palaces, and of course, the food!
How to Get to Vienna
Vienna has an international airport that services many major international carriers. It’s pretty easy to find flights from most major cities (like New York, Chicago, and LA) in the United States. From inside the airport, it’s easy to take a train right into Vienna’s central station.
The Best Things to Do in Vienna
- Experience Viennese coffee culture: Vienna is famous for its coffee shops that dot the city, and we highly recommend you try at least one while you’re there. Vienna has a long history of inventing unique coffee drinks and pioneering coffee shop culture – they can even pinpoint the exact year that coffee was introduced in Austria: 1683. Coffee houses in Vienna have a unique atmosphere that’s different than many other places, with beautifully designed, luxurious interiors and sit down waitservice. Try a Melange, which is a typical Viennese coffee. It’s basically the Austrian cousin of the cappuccino.
- Stroll Through Vienna’s Christmas Markets: Christmas Markets are an old tradition in Vienna: the first ever Christmas Market was held in 1294. These days, Vienna has several Christmas Markets, which boast different vibes and personalities. Two of the most popular include the Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz and the Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg.
- Schoenbrunn Castle: Get your nerd on at the Schönbrunn Palace, a beautiful palace and estate on the outskirts of Vienna that was once home to tons of Habsburg family drama. You can wander through the castle by yourself, but to fully experience it, we recommend getting a guided tour like this one to learn allll about the stories behind the castle.
- Take a Walking Tour: Vienna is a very walkable city, and for everything else, there’s fantastic public transportation. On foot, you can wander through opulent theaters, beautiful squares, and regal cathedrals. Choose a self-guided walking tour itinerary or book a guided tour like this one.
- Watch a Musical Performance: Vienna is known as the musical capital of the world, and for good reason: more famous composers have lived in Vienna than any other city. One of the best ways to experience Vienna in the winter is by attending an orchestral concert in a world-class concert hall. Be sure to check schedules, do a little quality research, and book in advance. We put Lia’s 26 years of classical music training to work and found a few concerts online that we recommend, like this Mozart & Strauss concert and this Vivaldi, Mozart and Bach concert.
- Eat ALL the Viennese Food: Welcome to the land of Schnitzel and Strudel! Viennese food is bomb and perfectly suited for frigid winter days. While you’re here, you gotta try legit Wiener Schnitzel, Apple Strudel and/or Curd (Cheese) Strudel. But there’s so much more to be enjoyed in Vienna’s many Christmas Markets, like Krapfen – giant stuffed donuts filled with apricot jam or chocolate – or Kaiserschmarrn – a fluffy pancake topped with powdered sugar. Or dumplings. Or Spatzle. Or Bratkartoffel potatoes. Look, we’ve got a whole list in our Vienna winter guide – just bring roomy pants, OK?
Where to Stay in Vienna
- Mid-Range Hotel: We spend Christmas in Vienna and wanted to splurge a little on a boutique hotel: 25 Hours Hotel was perfect! It’s a quirky, weird, off-beat hotel with a bomb breakfast buffet – our favorite kind of hotel, in a nutshell. We’ve got a full review of 25 Hours that you can read right here, or go ahead and check room prices.
- Budget Hostel: After our Christmas splurge, we moved to Hostel Ruthensteiner, one of the oldest hostels in Vienna and still one of the best. I was delighted to find out just before our trip that my dad stayed here during a visit to Vienna over 50 years ago. Crazy! You can read our full hostel review right here, or check room prices.
Are you loading up Amadeus and the Sound of Music and making a mug full of Gluhwein yet? Check our complete winter travel guide to Vienna for everything you need to know about visiting this amazing city.
Hallstatt, Austria is a town straight out of a fairytale. I’d been dreaming of visiting this magical village ever since I first saw a picture of it in winter.
You know how sometimes you visit a bucket-list destination and it’s not what you imagined? Well, this was like that, in that it was SO MUCH MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN I IMAGINED. Hallstatt is a LIVING Christmas village, like the kind of fairytale town that your grandmother builds each year, complete with teeny trains and fluffy cotton snow. There are even swans. SWANS!
Hallstatt has a fascinating history and is home to the oldest salt mines in the world, which you can learn all about in the tiny town museum. But apart from a couple of activities, Hallstatt is primarily a spot to just … be. Just exist. Look around. Gaze at mountains.Eat dumplings. Name the swans (we named most of them Sven Svan and Steven Svan). There’s not much in the way of like, ~activities in Hallstatt in the winter, but that just made us appreciate our short time there even more.
We recommend spending 2 full days in Hallstatt: certainly enough to see everything and truly relax in alpine bliss, but not too much to get bored. Honestly, we’d recommend spending even more time there, but hotels are pricey – it’s definitely a (well worth-it) splurge!
How to Get to Hallstatt from Vienna
We recommend taking a train or bus from Vienna to Hallstatt. The 3.5-4 hour ride will take you through the beautiful Austrian countryside, so be ready to gaze out the window dreamily at the (hopefully) snow-covered landscapes passing you by.
Most buses and trains will drop you off at the main station across the lake, where you can catch a ferry – the ferry is named Stefanie, because everything in Hallstatt is adorable – across the alpine lake and into town.
What to Do in Hallstatt
- Gawk at Majestic Alpine Beauty: We couldn’t believe our eyes when we arrived in Hallstatt: the mountains are just that stunning. We spent most of our time in Hallstatt simply walking around open-mouths, gazing out at the snow swirling around the rocky peaks. It literally looks like something out of a fairytale. Be sure to climb up some of the many wooden staircases to take in the views from up above, sans tourists (just be careful – they’re icy).
- Go Snowboarding or Skiing: Bundle up and visit Dachstein Krippenstein just across the lake for a day of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, or exploring the Giant Ice Cave.
- Visit Tiny Local Shops: One thing to know about Hallstatt is that, in true tiny mountain town fashion, there are a ton of cute, locally-owned boutique shops. They’re perfect for escaping the cold and purchasing local gifts like handmade wooden Christmas ornaments and locally mined bath salts.
- Eat Christmassy Austrian Food: Hallstatt is a Christmas dream, so in between schnitzel and dumplings, you gotta try some Austrian Christmas treats. Lebkuchen is a gingerbread cookie with a delicious sugary glaze. Zirbenschnapps is a local Schnapps made from pinecones. It tastes like mountain air and Christmas and evergreen forests, and I regret not taking a bottle back with us so much.
Where to Stay in Hallstatt
- Mid-Range Hotel: We highly recommend staying at the Bräu-Gasthof during your trip to Hallstatt. The location is excellent, the food is delicious, the room is comfortable, and the views are to die for! Our room had two beautiful, big windows with crazy beautiful views and an ancient, wood burning fireplace (though we opted for the modern-day heating).
- Budget Hostel: Unfortunately, there are no backpacker hostels within Hallstatt itself. The closest you can get is the Jutel Hostel in Obertraun, just 10 minutes away from Hallstatt.
Ready to be bowled over with alpine beauty? Head over to our Hallstatt in winter photo diary, which has a TON of jaw-dropping photos complete with mountains, lakes, swans, and snow.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic is a medieval town located in Bohemia, which is actually a region, we learned. It’s also UNESCO World Heritage site dating back to the 1200’s. The town is built around a windy river at the foot of a giant castle, exactly like the cover of every fairytale book ever written.
Its history is fascinating: as the town evolved through the centuries, it added modern-day upgrades (modern in terms of like, 500 years ago) like shops and breweries, while preserving its historic beauty. In fact, Český Krumlov is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe thanks to never experiencing any destructive events like a battle or a natural disaster. Most of what you’ll see in the town today is centuries old, and has been well preserved and restored to this day.
Český Krumlov, much like Hallstatt, is a very small town with little in the way of “activities.” We recommend spending 2-3 days here, exploring on foot and learning about Czech culture (and food, and beer). It’s possible to score a pretty cheap place to stay, so this is a good spot to spend an extra day immersed in wintry European beauty.
We chose to spend New Years Eve here, which was a BLAST. The Town Square was just the right amount of crowded, there was a bunch of weird polka music and cheerful dancing and drinking, and they started blasting “My Heart Will Go On” at 12am while a zillion fireworks went off. It was one of the most memorable and magical New Years Eves we’ve ever had!
How to Get to Český Krumlov from Hallstatt
You can take a train between Hallstatt, Austria and Český Krumlov, but you’ll need to take a couple of transfers. If that sounds like a hassle, the easiest and fastest way to get to Cesky Krumlov from Hallstatt is by private shuttle, although you’ll pay a bit more for the convenience.
The Best Things to Do in Český Krumlov
- Czech out Svornosti Square: The central square in Český Krumlov is the heartbeat of the little town and dates back to its Medieval founding. The square is adorable and there’s a Christmas Market, but that’s not the only reason we love it. Many of the buildings lining the square feature weird family crests, like the Schwarzenberg Coat of Arms, which features the severed head of a Turk getting its eyes plucked out by crows (cheerful!). There’s also a giant Plague Column dominating one side of the square, built in the 1700’s to commemorate a particularly nasty bout of plague. The only thing we enjoy more than a cute town square is a cute town square with weird, creepy history!
- Explore the Český Krumlov Castle: The Český Krumlov castle is the 2nd largest in the Czech Republic, second only to the castle complex in Prague. During the winter the interior of the Český Krumlov castle is closed, but the grounds offer stunning views and you can still visit the Castle Museum which is open year round.
- Learn about Cesky Krumlov’s fascinating history: There’s a lot to learn about the history of Cesky Krumlov, including lots of rich people drama and literal backstabbing. To get all the gory details, we highly recommend taking a guided tour like this one or this one, or picking up a self-guided Audio Tour from the Tourism Office.
- Stuff Your Face with Czech Food: Start at the Christmas Market and try Svarak, Czech mulled wine, and Trdelnik, a crunchy cinnamon-dusted pastry. Goulash is one of the culinary specialties of the Czech Republic, and it’s hearty AF. Smažený sýr is a deep fried cheese that’s breaded and fried for the perfect crispy, gooey, golden goodness. We ate both, plus hella Czech dumplings, multiple times at our favorite local restaurant, Depo – along with some incredibly inexpensive Czech beer (pivo).
Where to Stay in Český Krumlov
- Mid-Range Hotel: Hotel Old Inn is a comfortable and budget-friendly hotel situated in a prime location in the heart of Český Krumlov. The old-world furnishings are absolutely charming, but the amenities are anything but old-school!
- Budget Hostel: We chose to stay at Hostel 99 due to its convenient location just inside the Old Town. The hostel is more rustic than fancy, but it was cozy, very affordable, and the location was great.
Want to see more of Český Krumlov’s pink and white streets and discover its weird legends and ghosts? Head to our Český Krumlov winter travel guide for all the details!
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is one of the most stunning cities in Europe, with the added bonus of being budget-friendly AND having Christmas Markets that stay open after New Years. Prague is known as the “City of a Thousand Spires” because of its magnificent church steeples that stick out from the otherwise dainty, snow-laden rooftops. You can spend an entire day wandering through the cobblestoned alleys and sidewalks lining the beautiful Vltava River, admiring the views of Prague Castle at the top of the hill (oh, and be sure to climb up there to see it, too).
3 days is enough time to explore Prague’s attractions and learn about its tragic (and very recent) past conflicts and struggles. We visited Prague just after New Years, and were delighted that Christmas Markets were still open. What we didn’t love as much were the crowds: unlike some of the other destinations in this itinerary, Prague is quite popular around this time of the year! Your best bet is to head away from Old Town and start climbing the hills – you’ll lose the crowds in no time.
How to Get to Prague from Český Krumlov
You can get to Prague from Český Krumlov in around 3 hours by bus or train. The bus and train stations are in separate locations, so you’ll arrive at one or the other depending on which method of transportation you decide to take.
However, if you prefer a little added convenience, you can also opt for a private shuttle that will bring you from your hotel in Český Krumlov to your hotel in Prague.
The Best Things to Do in Prague
- Visit Prague’s Christmas Markets: There are a ton of amazing Christmas Markets in Prague – they’re all magical, sparkly, ultra-European slices of fairytale heaven. One major advantage to the Prague Christmas Markets is that they continue into advent season in January. The Old Town Square Christmas Market in the center of Prague is the biggest and most famous of Prague’s Christmas Markets, and the market in Wenceslas Square is smaller, but just as charming and beautiful.
- Czech Out the Charles Bridge: The iconic bridge is one of the most photogenic places in Prague – but it’s also very popular! Arrive early, and if it’s too crowded, head up to the Old Town Bridge Tower for a small entrance fee, fewer crowds, and a great photo op.
- Prague Clock Tower: Take a picture of the iconic clock tower in Prague, and then climb up the tower to admire the bustling square below. This is a popular spot to take photos (for good reason – just czech out that photo above!) so we recommend picking up skip the line tickets.
- Take a Walking Tour: A walking tour of Prague is the best way to immerse yourself in the unique European architecture. These are some self-guided walking tours that we’d recommend for a winter trip to Prague, like the Royal Route, the Little Quarter Walking tour, or this walking tour of Prague which includes several stops to drink beer – enough said. In addition to a “look at all the pretty buildings” style walking tour, we recommend taking a guided tour that will explain the context, history and stories of Prague. Not all of these tours are fun, quirky sight-seeing opportunities – some of them tackle serious, heavy sh*t like Prague’s complicated history with communism & its Jewish population. We think it’s important to learn and face these things head-on. Here are a few we would recommend:
- Eat So Much Food: Find a Christmas Market stall selling authentic Pražská šunka, aka “Prague Ham.” It’s a brined, slow-roasted and crispy ham that falls off the bone, and can only be found in Prague. Head to Cafe Savoy to try the the strawberry and apricot filled dumplings. Pass by the Trdelník stands and try a vetrnik, a vanilla cream choux pastry sandwich. And drink plenty of Czech Beer (pivo). Fun fact: the Czech Republic consumes more beer per capita than anyone else in the world! Take that, Belgium and Germany. Second fun fact: you will too, because Czech beer is insanely cheap. If that wasn’t enough proof of our gluttony, we also took an evening Czech Food Tour led by Eating Prague that we highly recommend!
Where to Stay in Prague
- Mid-Range Hotel: Miss Sophie’s Prague is a boutique hotel in the center of Prague, Miss Sophie’s combines beautiful design with cozy luxury. It’s photogenic (cough, Instagrammable, cough) and affordable, and it’s within walking distance to almost all of the main attractions you’d want to see in Prague.
- Budget Hostel: If you’re looking for affording luxury and hotel names that are also punny, look no further than Czech Inn. The insanely reasonable prices and comfortable amenities caught our eye as we were looking for a place to stay, and we booked it immediately. Although this is a hostel and there are dorms available, there are also lush private rooms boasting ensuite bathrooms with glass-enclosed rain head showers. The hostel is a ways out of the main town, so you’ll be taking transit to get to and from Prague’s attractions.
Ready to Czech out Prague? You’ll find everything you need to know (and even more of the same, terrible pun) in our Prague winter travel guide.
Get the Europe in Winter Travel Guide
We know this is a giant, totally overwhelming post. That’s why we’ve also created a handy-dandy printable e-book version!
The Europe in Winter travel guide is stuffed with 30 pages of travel tips, printable packing lists, and all the itinerary details you need to plan your Europe in winter trip! Sign up below & we’ll send it straight to your inbox, along with a few more handy tips to help you plan your trip!
Oh my goodness. You just read almost 10,000 words. Or skimmed them. But either way, you deserve some kind of award. WHEW, that’s a lot of information! We hope our massively detailed winter Europe itineraries were helpful for you to plan your OWN Europe itinerary! Looking to go during December? Check out the best Christmas markets in Europe. If you have any questions we haven’t addressed, just drop it in a comment below.
Psst: Looking for even more resources for planning your trip to Europe in the winter? Here are some other helpful resources:
- Europe in Winter Packing List: 32 Backpacking Essentials for Him & Her
- How to Plan a Trip: The Ultimate Practical Travel Planning Guide
- 12 Long Haul Flight Essentials & Travel Tips for Economy Fliers
- Travel Safety Tips: How to Protect Yourself and Prevent Theft while Traveling
Hey, did you find this post informative? Save it for later on Pinterest!