Winter vacations in Europe

Winter is a magical time of year for a vacation in Europe. France, Italy, and Switzerland are ideal for skiing and other winter sports, while sightseeing in popular summer destinations is quieter, calmer, and more relaxed in the colder months. Spanish islands and the South of France harbor pockets of warmth for winter sun vacations, while other regions sparkle under blankets of snow. In short, there’s something for everyone during winter in Europe. Here’s our guide to the best places to travel in Europe in winter.

When is winter in Europe?

Winter in Europe officially begins in November. The clocks go back one hour at the end of October, which means that there are fewer hours of daylight and longer nights. The winter lasts for three months, until the end of January, but the weather remains chilly, and most places won’t see signs of Spring until March at the earliest. 

What’s the weather like in Europe in winter?

Europe is a pretty vast continent, so, naturally, there’s quite a diverse range of weather and temperature conditions. Enjoying your winter vacation in Europe depends greatly on being prepared for the weather, so we’ve put together a handy table to help you plan your trip.

DestinationMax temperature (F)Min temperature (F)Rainy daysDays of snowfall
Northern Spain5743160
Southern Spain5946130
Northern France4737202
Southern France5444140
Italy5644180
Switzerland4132165
Germany3931165
Croatia4333134
Greece5747160
Malta6457190
UK4740210

All data is calculated based on averages recorded in December

Packing tips for a winter vacation in Europe

As you can see from the table, the weather in Europe is a mixed bag during the winter. The key to comfort during travel at any time of year is to pack layers. That way, you can be prepared for outdoor adventures and explore indoor attractions such as museums. Wherever you go, a good waterproof coat is a must, as European destinations get a little soggy at this time of year. Opt for one with a hood, as it’s easier than battling with an umbrella. Some European destinations can get pretty windy! Sturdy shoes are also a good bet. If you’re heading somewhere where snow is a likely companion, make sure that you take gloves, hats, scarves, and other warming accessories. When you factor in the wind chill, minus temperatures are not uncommon in some European locations. 

A lady wheeling her luggage through Warsaw Old Town Square in winter

The best winter destinations in Europe for sun

Perhaps all that snow and cold isn’t your idea of fun, and you’d prefer somewhere a little warmer for your European vacation. While winter temperatures in the region are not as balmy as you get in say, Florida, there are still places you can go to get a bit of late Mediterranean sunshine. 

The Spanish islands are a safe bet for warm weather throughout the year. Spain’s winter weather is mild and spring-like on the Balearic and Canary Islands. The Canary Islands are far south off of the coast of Africa, and so enjoy warm sunshine all year round. The Balearics, Mallorca, and Menorca, enjoy spring-like weather in winter, with plenty of sunny days and pleasant temperatures. They are also much quieter during the winter months, so it is the ideal time to enjoy popular attractions such as Palma Cathedral, without the crowds. These are some of the best places to stay in Spain in winter for great weather and fewer crowds. It’s places like these that make Spain the best European country for winter sun.

While we’re on the subject of islands, Malta is a fantastic one for winter sun vacations. It’s a far sleepier destination in the winter, whereas in the summer it’s overrun with tourists, so if you’re looking for somewhere totally relaxing, Malta might be the place for you. Temperatures stay mild and comfortable during the winter. There is a fair bit of rain, but there are plenty of indoor attractions to keep you entertained.

Palma harbor at sunset

The best cities to visit in Europe in winter

A European city break is quite understandably high on many travelers’ bucket lists. Some are ancient and full of history, others are modern and gleaming, but each is unique and fascinating. In the winter, a European city feels much more accessible. Gone are the heavy heat and thronging crowds of the summer, replaced instead with a quiet, still, and enigmatic atmosphere. Winter is the perfect time to visit capital cities such as Rome, Paris, and London. You can explore the delights of Covent Garden, marvel at the Eiffel Tower, and enjoy the Colosseum in a relaxed, and often a cheap way. 

Coastal cities such as Marbella, Barcelona, and Dubrovnik are also much more subdued during the winter. If you’re hoping for wild parties and all-night events, winter isn’t the best time for a European vacation. But if you want to explore and feel the history and culture of these beautiful locations, then winter is perfect.  

Winter is an amazing time to check off some amazing Italian cities. Winter in Italy is a magical time when the already incredible city sights such as the Duomo in Florence and the Trevi Fountain in Rome are illuminated with twinkling festive lights. Outside of the peak Christmas season, the cities are much cheaper to visit in the winter than they are in the summer. Italy winter weather is varied, ranging from mild and sunny along the coast to cold and snowy in the north and the Dolomites Mountains.

The Colosseum in Rome at winter

The best ski resorts in Europe

European skiing is some of the best in the world. People come from far and wide to practice their skills on the slopes of iconic resorts in The Alps and The Pyrenees. Here’s our breakdown of some of the best skiing in Europe.

Skiing in France

France is the creme de la creme of ski destinations in Europe. The southeast of the country is home to some of the most glamorous and most well-known resorts in the world. If you’re looking for a luxury ski resort, France is the place for you. Boasting honors such as the highest ski resort in Europe at Val Thorens, stunning Alpine vistas at Chamonix, and legendary parties at Meribel, there’s an amazing ski resort in France for every type of winter sports fan. Winter is the best time for skiing in France, when high mountain resorts get thick, powdery blankets of snow and clear, crisp days.

Italian ski resorts

Italy in winter is an absolutely fabulous destination for skiers. The north of the country offers gorgeous resorts in the Dolomites Mountains, and it’s also easy to pop over the border into Switzerland to enjoy the fantastic skiing on offer there. Courmayeur and Cortina d’Ampezzo are a couple of highlights of the Italian ski scene, but wherever you choose to go, you’re guaranteed amazing views to accompany your winter sports session. 

Skiing in Switzerland

This is the big one when it comes to skiing in Europe. Although it’s technically not a part of the European Union, it would be remiss of us not to include Swiss resorts in this overview of the best ski destinations on the continent. Switzerland is home to one of the most iconic mountains in the world, the Matterhorn. Zermatt is the place to go skiing in the shadow of this majestic mountain. The resort is also a great one for charming traditional alpine chalets and trying traditional Swiss fondue. If you’re looking for something glamorous, St Moritz is one of the most luxurious ski spots in the world.

4 yellow gondolas against a snowy mountain backdrop

Winter events in Europe

Europeans love an event. Winter is a great time to witness some fun, fancy, weird, and wonderful festivals. Some of our favorite winter festivals in Europe are;

Ljubljana Dragon Carnival – Slovenia

The capital of Slovenia pays homage to its mascot in the annual Dragon Carnival, held every year on Shrovetide Saturday. Parades and performers march through the city streets, with the highlight being one of Europe’s biggest mascots, the enormous float of the dragon of Ljubljana. This city loves its dragons (check out the Dragon Bridge for more of the mythological lizards), and this family-friendly event is how Ljubljanans show their appreciation for the city’s protector.

Nice Carnival, France 

Sunny southern France in winter is festival central! Along with the aforementioned Fete du Citron, it is the setting for the vibrant Nice Carnival, which takes place every year in February. It is the biggest carnival in France and is famous worldwide for its incredible costumes, epic parades, and party atmosphere. Parades are themed around different things. Starting in Le Place Massena floats decorated with flowers, costumed attendees and huge models make their way through Nice, accompanied by music, dance, and performers. When night falls, the fun doesn’t stop, as more floats emerge, illuminated by fantastic light effects. If you want to attend Nice carnival, book your flights and accommodation well in advance; this is a seriously popular event and is one of the best things to do in France in winter.

Fête du Citron – France 

In February each year, a town called Menton in the South of France celebrates the oncoming spring in a rather quirky way. Enormous models and statues are built, displayed, and paraded through the streets, every one of them made from lemons and oranges. It’s quite the spectacle and highlights the region’s fantastic citrus produce, which is highly sought after by chefs throughout France. The biggest and boldest displays are in the town’s gardens, and it’s recommended to stay for at least one night. After dark, light shows illuminate the fruity structures in unforgettable ways.

An octopus made of oranges and lemons

Sitges Carnival, Spain 

During most times of the year, Sitges is much like any other seaside resort in the south of Spain, but for a week in February, all rules are thrown out of the window in a huge weeklong party. Sitges Carnival is one of the biggest celebrations in the country marking the free-spirited period before the abstinence of Lent. The revelry begins on Fat Thursday when the King of Carnival arrives in town to signal the beginning of a week of hedonism, partying, and fun. Other highlights of the week include the Rua de la Disbauxa, no-holes-barred, risque parade, and the symbolic Burial of the Sardine on Ash Wednesday. On this final day of the festival, an effigy of a sardine is paraded through the town and burned, symbolizing the beginning of Lent. Sitges is one of the LGBTQ+ capitals of Spain, and drag artists and performances feature heavily in the carnival calendar.

Tschäggättä, Switzerland

If you fancy something a little bit frightful, pay a visit to Lötschental valley in central Switzerland. From the day after Candlemas (2nd February) to Shrove Tuesday, the evening hours are filled with monsters. Performers in suits of fur and carved masks stalk the streets of Swiss towns to find and terrorize anyone out after dark. This spooky tradition dates back centuries and is similar to festivals in Germany and Slavic countries featuring the demon, Krampus. Not one to take the kids to, but an unforgettable vacation experience for fans of folklore, mythology, or horror.

Els Enfarinats, Spain 

Every year in December, residents of Ibi, Alicante suit up in military gear and stage a mock coup d’ete to remember the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod. Over the years, this rather somber-sounding affair has developed into some rather more lighthearted; a giant food fight in the streets, where participants hurl eggs and flour at each other. The atmosphere is, as you would expect, rather chaotic, with firecrackers adding to the heady mixture of flour clouds and flying eggs. This is just one of many fun festivals that take place in Spain during winter.

Venice Carnival  – Italy

Italy’s most romantic city turns into a giant, colorful stage during February for the famous Venice Carnival. The festival dates back to as early as 1094 and is as much a symbol of celebration as it was when it first began. Festivities begin with the Flying Angel, a woman who soars from the bell tower of San Marco on a steel rope above the gathered crowds in St Mark’s Square. This heralds the start of an unforgettable party, where masked and decadently costumed attendees saunter through the watery streets of the city.

Venice Carnival

Where to spend Christmas and New Year in Europe 

Spending the festive season in Europe is a vacation experience that you’ll never forget! Whether you’re visiting some incredible European Christmas markets in Germany, exploring the culture of Italian cities, or celebrating New Year’s Eve on the River Thames in London, you’ll experience the special atmosphere of Europe in December. Almost every town and city will be decked out with Christmas trees, lights, and other festive decorations. Florence, Rome, Paris, and London put on particularly impressive light displays for the season. It’s also a great time to visit these grand, popular destinations to experience them in a completely different way from how they are in the summer. Book everything well in advance for Christmas and New Year in any Europe vacation destination; it’s a very popular time to visit.

Big Ben with fireworks

Book villas for winter vacations

Here at Top Villas, we pride ourselves on our beautiful European vacation homes. From Sicily to Santorini, Malta to Marbella, we have gorgeous homes that are just perfect for winter vacations in Europe.  It’s so easy to book. Simply find the home that you want to rent and check the availability calendar on the listing. Once you got your dates, reserve the property. 

Any questions about booking?

Our handy Help Center is full of FAQs and answers about the whole vacation process with Top Villas. You can also contact our awesome team, who are ready to help you with any Travel Extras or booking queries.

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