By Caitlin Morton | Posted to Condé Nast Traveler
There are devotees of warm-weather vacations among us, who refuse to look north until May rolls around. But there’s something to be said for embracing the season and following the deep freeze. In fact, a 20-degree-Fahrenheit day in Europe can be—dare we say it—blissful. The continent’s best cities are refreshingly crowd-free and inexpensive during the colder months, and they offer some seriously cozy experiences that will make you forget about the beach altogether. Whether you’re shopping a holiday market or sipping hot chocolate in a riverside cafe, you’ll be happy you’re in one of these 11 European cities when the temperature drops.
Vienna was voted the best city in Europe in last year’s Readers’ Choice Awards—a title that holds true no matter the season. But we’re particularly fond of the Austrian capital in the winter, when you can double down on hot chocolate and Sacher torte, watch free outdoor simulcasts of the opera (loads of people attend, even when it’s freezing), listen to classical holiday concerts, and Instagram Schönbrunn Palace and St. Charles Church (pictured) covered in snow.
Slovenia’s capital city is a real-life fairytale setting, come sunshine or snow flurries. Visit during December to see the Baroque architecture surrounded by Christmas lights; or dodge the crowds and book a trip after the holidays, when you’ll have tons of room to stroll the pedestrian-only Old Town and sip coffee by the riverside cafes. You can also add Lake Bled and the Julian Alps to your itinerary, as Ljubljana makes the perfect base for Slovenian day trips.
Recently, Venice has become notoriously overrun during peak season—just see the its recent attempts to limit tourist numbers for proof. But come wintertime, the city actually lives up to its La Serenissima (“The Serene”) nickname. The canals are quiet and shrouded in mist, hotels give discounted rates, and you can actually visit St. Mark’s Basilica without a stranger’s selfie stick poking you in the eye.
Germany is known around the world for its Christmas markets—its capital city alone has more than 60 of them, including the incredibly picturesque WeihnachtsZauber, which is surrounded by such landmarks as Französischer Dom and the Konzerthaus. But don’t think the Berlin’s wintery appeal starts and ends with the holidays. Travelers can enjoy the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants, buzzing nightclubs, and edgy museums well into the early months of 2018.
Visiting Switzerland during ski season is a no-brainer, but most snow bunnies won’t venture outside their respective resort towns. This year, make your Swiss vacation more unique and book a trip to Lucerne. The gorgeous city features activities you won’t find on the slopes—like museum tours and ferry rides on Lake Lucerne—while still offering travelers easy access (via train and bus) to 24 winter sport resorts.