Central Europe in Winter: Our Top 4 Cities
Days may be shorter and temperatures much lower, but winter is a great time to travel around Europe to beat the crowds and feel the holiday spirit. Many cities in Western Europe have become famous for their Christmas markets and winter offerings. However, if you wander a little “off the beaten path”, you’ll find similar charm and cheaper prices. Discover Central Europe in winter.
Central Europe in winter
1. Prague, Czech Republic
Tourists have been flooding into Prague over the past several years, and most choose to visit during the warmer months. This makes winter the perfect time to experience the enchanting side of this city.
Whether covered in snow or the glittering lights of its old-style Christmas Market, the cozy winter atmosphere of the Czech capital will leave nothing but the warmest impression. Stroll around the Old Town or across the Charles Bridge towards Prague Castle, and simply enjoy the city’s beauty without the usual masses.
Insider tip: Don’t miss Bohemian Carnevale, Prague’s version of Mardi Gras. From the end of February to the beginning of March, festivities dating back to the Middle Ages take place throughout the city. It’s all to say spohem (“goodbye”) to winter.
How to get there by train: There are direct train connections to Prague from Slovakia, Poland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Hungary.
2. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest blanketed in snow is a sight to see. Its world-famous thermal baths are a perfect escape from the chills of winter. You can also find Europe’s largest outdoor skating rink from mid-November to February beside Vajdahunyad Castle in City Park. Later, head off to admire the fantastic collection of Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Gothic architecture.
On the other side of the icy Danube in Buda you’ll find all of the attractions of Castle Hill. This includes Fisherman’s Bastion, Trinity Square, the Royal Palace).
Insider tip: Duck into one of Budapest’s legendary ornate coffee houses or alternative “ruin bars” in Pest for a cozy pick-me-up. The go-to ruin bar, Szimpla Kert, can be found in the 7th District. Here you’ll also find Cafe New York, named one of the most beautiful coffee houses in the world.
How to get there by train: Direct train connections to Budapest arrive from all surrounding countries.
3. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is geographically more western than Vienna. But as part of the former Yugoslavia, it’s made its way onto this list anyway. During “Happy December”, every building in the city center, as well as the trees and bridges along the Ljubljanica River, are illuminated. The Presernov Trg Christmas market is also in full effect.
For the remaining winter months, Ljubljana is an excellent starting point for a slightly more affordable ski holiday in the nearby the Julian Alps. Krvavec is the closest resort at just 27 miles (43 km) away.
Insider tip: Another special spot to visit on a day trip from Ljubljana is insanely gorgeous Lake Bled. During the snowy winter months it transforms into a true winter wonderland. It also becomes far less crowded than during the busy summer months. It’s just 35 miles (55 km) away from the capital, with five trains running daily to Bled-Jezero station.
How to get there by train: There are direct train connections to Ljubljana from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Croatia, Hungary, and Serbia.
4. Krakow, Poland
Krakow just might be the winter capital of Central Europe with its ridiculously rich Christmastime traditions. It’s also in close proximity to the Tatra Mountains, where you can find Zakopane, Europe’s most popular (and cheap) mountain resort north of the Alps.
From the start of December to the first week in January, Rynek Główny, one of the largest squares on the continent, hosts the main Christmas Market of the city. There are grzaniec barrel stands (their special variation of mulled wine), as well as the annual szopki competition (“Christmas cribs” resembling foiled gingerbread houses with a nativity scene). You couldn’t escape the holiday spirit in this southern Polish town even if you tried.
Insider tip: If you happen to be in Krakow on January 6, don’t miss Dzień Trzech Króli (Three Kings’ Day). It’s the official closing ceremony of Krakow’s Christmas market, and features a special procession and carol festival.
How to get there by train: There are direct trains to Krakow from nearby capitals Prague, Budapest, and Vienna.
You can easily reach these amazing cities with a Eurail Global Pass. Are you excited about seeing Central Europe in winter?