8 cool European destinations for last-minute winter city breaks

Where has 2018 gone?!  Whether you have to use up remaining holiday at work or you just fancy getting away, here are my top 8 European destinations for last-minute winter city break

1. Florence

Visiting Florence in the winter months is perfect for a last-minute getaway. Having been there during the summer with temperatures reaching the mid 30’s, going in December is refreshing! Less busy with tourists, wandering around is made a little easier too, although don’t be fooled, it can still be crowded with as many queues! Not only will you have the likes of the Duomo, Uffizi and Academia to visit, you’ll also have the Santa Croce Christmas market* as the city becomes slowly enveloped in holiday festivities.

Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market
Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market - Florence, Italy

Located in Piazza Santa Croce, it’s one of the biggest Christmas markets in Florence.  It has lots of festive décor and gifts to purchase, an array of different foods to eat and plenty of treats to keep you occupied.

Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market, Dec 2018
Sweet treats at Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market, Dec 2018
Gifts at Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market, Dec 2018
Gifts at Florence Santa Croce Christmas Market
Florence Christmas 2018
Florence Christmas decorations 2018
Outside the Duomo Florence Dec 2018
Outside the Duomo - Florence, Italy

If you can – this winter or next – try to take a trip to Florence. While you’re there, here are the main things I think you need to make time for, especially if it’s your first visit:

Things to see and do
  • Duomo – Florence Cathedral
  • San Lorenzo Market (Mercato Centrale)
  • The Uffizi Gallery
  • Santa Croce Christmas Market
  • Academia
  • Tower of Palazzo Vecchio
  • Try Bistecca alla Fiorentina
  • Piazza Michelangelo

*The Santa Croce Christmas market closes on 20 December in 2018.  

2. Rome

Next up is the city bursting with ancient monuments, architecture, art and landmarks you’ve surely heard people talking about. Rome’s a cool place to spend a long weekend in winter. It’s easy to get around the city and there’s so many things to see.

St Peters Basilica Rome - Italy_RiA Vistas
St Peters Basilica Rome - Italy
Colosseum Rome - Italy_RiA Vistas
Colosseum Rome - Italy
St Peter's Square - Rome, Italy
St Peter's Square_Rome, Italy
Things to do
  • St Peter’s Basilica
  • The Vatican
  • The Colosseum
  • Pincio Terrace
  • Villa Borghese
  • The Forum
  • Castel Sant’Angelo
  • Eat out at a traditional trattoria – try Da Tonino

There are other places you can attempt to visit on your trip such as Giardino degli Aranci, the Orange Garden on Aventine Hill with amazing views of the city or Terme di Caracalla, the Roman bath ruins that were a key meeting point long ago.

They’re a little out of the main tourist areas but both are still pretty easy to get to.  To find out why I think you should visit those two places in particular, check out my post on 7 of the best things to see and do in Rome. If you decide on Rome for a winter break and need somewhere to stay, read my review of Allogio touristico. It’s a lovely place and minutes away from the Colosseum.

3. Prague

Prague in the Czech Republic is amazing. When it snows, it creates a magical feeling. If you’re able to visit Prague Castle during your trip (it should be on your list for sure), you’ll have fantastic views across the city as snow glistens on rooftops and city lights twinkle down below.

View from Prague Castle
View from Prague Castle

With very cold temperatures you’ll need to wrap up warm, and when I say you’ll need a few layers – it’s no joke! When I was there, real feel temperatures were -17°!  I had three layers of clothing and was still freezing!

A beautiful mix of old and new, the city is delightful to wander through. If you’re up for a real wintery break, then you’ll love the whimsical city of Prague.

Old Town Square Prague 2017
Old Town Square Prague
Jazz Republic Prague
Jazz Republic, Prague

With very cold temperatures you’ll need to wrap up warm, and when I say you’ll need a few layers – it’s no joke! When I was there, real feel The city has popular Christmas markets either in the Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square if you want to get in the festive spirit.  

Things to see and do
  • Prague Castle
  • Charles Bridge
  • Old Town Square
  • Astronomical Clock
  • Take a tram ride
  • Visit a Jazz Republic

4. Berlin

Home of the famous Berlin Wall, built during the Cold War and which divided Germany’s East and West sides for more than 20 years, Berlin now buzzes with cool vibes.

Berlin Wall
Berlin Wall

The town is very pretty and was bustling. There are plenty of shops, restaurants and cafes along the river once you cross over the You still feel the history. The wall, part of which is now dubbed the East Side Gallery – a now preserved section – has great meaning.  Once deep in suppression, the city is now full of character, culture and a lot of cool graffiti!  

Graffiti at Hackeschermark
Graffiti at Hackeschermarkt, Berlin

Spend time wandering the likes of Friedrichshain, Dircksenstrasse and Hackeschermarkt where you’ll see all different types of street art gracing some of Berlin’s walls.   In winter, Berlin becomes a festive hub. Some of the main places to visit, once snow ‘hits’ the landscape changes dramatically.

Memorial Murdered Jews - Berlin 2017
Memorial Murdered Jews - Berlin
Brandenburg Gate - Berlin 2017
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

There are a couple of things you must see if you visit.  Make sure these make your travel schedule:  

Things to see and do
  • Brandenburg Gate
  • Memorial to the Murdered Jews
  • Alexander Platz
  • The Berliner Dome – Berlin Cathedral
  • Friedrichstraße
  • Potsdamer Platz
  • The Reichstag building and dome
  • Berliner Weinachtszeit – a Christmas market near Alexanderplatz
Berliner Dome - Berlin Germany_RiA Vistas
Berliner Dome - Berlin Germany
Sanssouci Palace -Berlin Jan 2017
Sanssouci Palace, Berlin Jan 2017

If you’re able to, try and visit Sanssouci Palace. Covered in a light dusting of snow, it made this gorgeous building sparkle even more. The whole atmosphere was picture perfect – snowy and icy!

5. Amsterdam

A popular destination in Europe, Amsterdam is great if you want a change of scene. Getting to the country that’s mostly associated with wooden clogs, windmills and tulips from the UK, is pretty quick with most flights get you there in under two hours.

Amsterdam canal
Amsterdam canal
Leidseplein - Amsterdam, The Netherlands_RiA Vistas
Leidseplein - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

With floating flower markets, canals meandering its centre, hidden homes, a bit of Van Gogh and Rembrandt, the Red-Light District and plenty of cheese to taste, Amsterdam’s certainly a great place to visit. There’s always something to do.

Zaanse Schans Amsterdam
Zaanse Schans Amsterdam
Amsterdam Cheese Company
Amsterdam Cheese Company
Things to see and do
  • Ice skate at Rijksmuseum
  • Leidseplein
  • Vondelpark
  • Visit the Red Light District
  • Try some creamy cheese at the Amsterdam Cheese Company
  • Zaanse Schans
  • Van Gogh Museum.
  • A’Dam Lookout – swing over the edge!

6. Budapest

What’s the first image that springs to mind when I say Budapest? For me it’s the amazing architecture of the Hungarian Parliament. Finally getting the chance to visit – and seeing this beautiful structure I’d seen in pictures – was fantastic!

Hungarian Parliament_Fishermans Bastian - Budapest Jan 2018
Hungarian Parliament from Fishermans Bastian - Budapest Jan 2018

A beautiful city to consider if you’ve not been, Budapest is great for a spot of ice skating and a dip in Szechenyi Bath– a very popular thermal spa in the city. Yes, it’s a bit of a contrast in temperature, but a really great experience!

Fisherman's Bastian Budapest
Fisherman's Bastian Budapest

Aside from mixing hot and cold on your trip, here a few of the key things you should see or do on your visit:

Things to see and do
  • The Hungarian Parliament
  • Fisherman’s Bastian
  • Heroes Square
  • Ice skating at Városliget(City Park)
  • Visit a thermal bath
  • Buda Castle

 Why not extend your stay in Budapest by one night, or visit or stay in a nearby city for a combo winter break.  This leads me nicely onto…  

7. Vienna

In under 3 hours by coach or train, you can combine a trip to Budapest with Vienna for under €20 (based on GoEuro prices in Feb 2018) you can be dropped off in Vienna. If your time is limited, you can even make it a day trip like I did.  If you’re up for the early start it’s possible!

Vienna Schönbrunn Palace Feb 2018
Vienna Schönbrunn Palace Feb 2018
Vienna Schönbrunn Palace - Gloriette Feb 2018
Vienna Schönbrunn Palace - Gloriette Feb 2018
Fruit & veg at Naschmarkt, Vienna Feb 2018
Fruit & veg at Naschmarkt, Vienna

Vienna’s an easy city to get around making it almost effortless to see many of the main attractions in a day.  A day trip or one night will give you enough time to explore but to soak it all up, a two-night stay is plenty.  

Things to see
  • Schönbrunn Palace
  • Gloriette
  • Ice skating at Wiener Eistraum
  • St Stephens Cathedral
  • Naschmarkt
  • Hofburg
Vienna Ice skating rink Feb 2018
Vienna Ice skating rink Feb 2018

With Mozart and Beethoven as former residents, Vienna’s a lovely city with a great history of classical musical.

8. Barcelona

The popular Spanish city makes a great getaway in the winter months. You can spend just a night or two and still see a lot of what the city has to offer. On the plus side,it’s slightly warmer even in mid-December, so you’re more likely to get some winter sun too!

Park Guëll Barcelona
Park Guëll - Barcelona, Spain

From getting sky high on the Montjuïc Cable Car or Columbus Monument to embracing the atmosphere in Las Ramblas or seeing the fantastic and colourful water show at Montjuic Fountain, you’ll have a great experience in Barcelona.

Park Guëll Barcelona
Park Guëll - Barcelona, Spain
Majic Fountain Barcelona
Majic Fountain Barcelona
Things to see and do
  • Park Guell
  • Bunkers del Carmel
  • Sagrada Familia
  • Las Ramblas
  • Magic Fountain of Montjuïc
  • Columbus monument
  • Barcelona Beach
Tips
  • If you plan a stay for two nights, take the earliest flight out on your first day to give you more time.
  • Consider travelling the night before to get as many full days as you can
  • Start planning by looking at flights on Kayak. It’s the best way to scan multiple airlines and airports in one go.
  • If time isn’t on your side, use the Triposo app or Inspirock to help you plan your time in your chosen city.

There you have it! A few favourite cities of mine which I think you should visit if you’re looking for a last-minute winter break this year. What are your plans for the winter season – have you been thinking of a last-minute getaway?  

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8 cool European destinations for last-minute winter city breaks

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