Are you thinking of travelling to Europe in winter and being accused of being mad? Well, here’s a little something truly seasoned travellers don’t want you to know – if you travel Eastern Europe in winter you will find yourself up close and personal with the beating hearts of the countries and cities you visit. With fewer crowds around, the locals settle back into their everyday routines, queues are basically nonexistent and accommodation is wonderfully affordable.
Sure, there will be snow, rain and wind to contend with, but you know what they say – there is no such thing as bad weather, only an inadequate wardrobe. If you head to Eastern Europe in winter properly kitted with warm, waterproof clothing and a good attitude, you are bound to find that it’s a truly magical time to experience the cultures that have been forged in the midst of these extreme climates over the course of many centuries; and this is when they really come into their own.
Wondering which cities to include on your winter tour of Europe? No problem! Here is our essential Eastern Europe travel guide for 2020 and beyond:
Situated on the banks of the Danube in the beautiful country of Slovakia, Bratislava is a great place to spend the festive season. There is a wonderful market at the Main Square – a part of the city that is pedestrian-friendly and cordoned off from traffic. Food, drink and accommodation are especially affordable over the winter season, so Bratislava makes for a great budget getaway destination for couples, families and groups of friends.
Must-see attractions in Bratislava include Bratislava Castle, St Martin’s Cathedral, Michael’s Gate, the Presidential Palace, Old Town Hall.
Related: Take a look at our tours that go through Bratislava
A snow-covered Bucharest is a sight to behold. This Romanian city looks very good in white! Winter is a slow time in Bucharest, with most activities conducted indoors in warm, cosy spaces like book stores, art galleries, museums, and excellent eateries. However, if you want to head outdoors, there’s also fun stuff to do – including some skating at the Cismigiu Park ice-skating rink!
Must-see attractions in Bucharest include the Palace of Parliament, Romanian Athenaeum, Dimitrie Gusti National Village and King Michael I Park.
Related: Join our Ukraine, Moldova and Romania tour to explore Bucharest
The capital city of Hungary should be on the top of your list of Eastern Europe holidays if you enjoy a nice, long soak in a thermal spa. Budapest sits atop a wonderful cache of piping hot thermal waters with a variety of purported health benefits. As such, it’s a great place to be over winter – you can simply soak the cold from your bones in between touristy pursuits! PS. Don’t leave the city until you’ve tried Kurtoskalacs from a street vendor or market – wound around a cylinder and baked over hot coals before receiving a thorough dusting of cinnamon, walnut and sugar, this authentic Hungarian treat is just the ticket on a cold winter’s day.
Must-see attractions in Budapest include Buda Castle, the Hungarian parliament building, Fisherman’s Bastion and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge.
Related: Take a look at our tours that visit Budapest
While Berlin may be the most obvious German city to include on a must-visit list, lesser-known Dresden happens to be a gem of a destination offering plenty of wonderful things to see, do and experience. For instance, did you know that the Dresdner Striezelmarkt is said to be the longest established Christmas market in the whole of Germany? This is the ideal place to shop for exquisite local handicrafts like a cuckoo clock, dirndls and lederhosen, porcelain figurines and more. Pro tip: Dresden can be reached by Prague by a train ride, so it makes for a great day trip if you’re based in the Czech Republic during your Eastern Europe tour.
Must-see attractions in Dresden include the Zwinger building, gardens and galleries. the Frauenkirche, Semperoper opera house and Dresden Castle.
Related: Find your ideal tour to visit Dresden
Krakow is a great city to visit in winter since so many of its attractions are undercover, and don’t require queueing outdoors (especially in the low season). If you’re headed to this part of Poland to pay your respects at Auschwitz, the cold weather also really drives home the true horror of confinement at this concentration camp during the war. On a brighter note, Polish cuisine is hearty and warming, perfect wintertime fare. This includes dishes like barszcz (beetroot soup with a dollop of sour cream), pierogi (ravioli-like dumplings stuffed with meat or cheese) and bigos (a hunter’s stew of sauerkraut and pork), to name but a few!
Must-see attractions in Krakow include Wawel Royal Castle, The Cloth Hall (market hall and art museum), Wieliczka Salt Mine and Main Square.
Related: Join a tour that makes a stop in Poland to see Krakow
If you’re headed to Ukraine over the winter holidays, Lviv is the ideal place to immerse yourself in festive cheer. In the leadup to Christmas, the city transforms as churches and squares put up nativity scenes, string up the lights and get ready to celebrate in the true Ukrainian style. Markets abound and Lviv is also known as the chocolate capital of Ukraine, so there will be plenty of tasty treats to sample…
Must-see attractions in Lviv include Lviv Latin Cathedral, Rynok Square, Park high Castle and Lychakiv Cemetery.
The Czech Republic is fast becoming one of the foremost Eastern Europe travel destinations, and with good reason – it’s vastly underrated, very affordable and utterly gorgeous to boot. Prague is yet another city on this list that brings the goods over the festive seasons. Garlands, Christmas lights and warming festive treats like mulled wine and freshly-baked ginger biscuits are front and centre. All you need to do is bundle up warm and soak up the holiday cheer along with the locals who will be out in full force.
Must-see attractions in Prague include Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Prague Castle and the Prague Astronomical Clock.
Related: We’ve got incredible tours that explore Prague
Keen on an affordable ski holiday in Eastern Europe? Book those tickets to Sofia, Bulgaria ASAP. Vitosha mountain is located less than half an hour from the CBD and there are a variety of more intimate, less crowded resorts on offer within striking distance as well.
Must-see attractions in Sofia include the National Historical Museum of Bulgaria, Boyana Church and Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Related: Be sure to add Sofia on your list on these tours
So, technically Tallinn is situated in Northern Europe according to the latest UN boundaries, but it’s so close to the rest of the wonderful destinations on this list that we thought we’d sneak it in. Estonia is the perfect option if you want to see experience a European Christmas holiday like the locals do. The streets are quiet, the buildings dusted in snow, bells toll at leisurely intervals and there is plenty of opportunities to unwind in snug restaurants over mulled wine and hearty local dishes like verivorst (blood sausage), sült (jellied head cheese), hapukapsas (sauerkraut), oven-roasted potatoes and pork.
Must-see attractions in Tallinn include Kadriorg Art Museum, Tallinn Town Hall, Toompea Castle and St Olaf’s Church.
Related: Explore the beauty of Tallinn on one of these tours through Eastern Europe
Ah, Vienna, the jewel in the crown of Austria. This city was made for winter! They still have horse-drawn carriages on the street, for Pete’s sake! Just imagine being bundled up warm on one of these carriages, sipping on a proper hot chocolate (made from scratch from Austrian chocolate) or a deep, dark coffee, while you travel past snow-dusted palaces and stunning contemporary buildings. Then head indoors to watch an opera, peruse wonderful museums, or simply while away your time in bustling Viennese cafes as you watch the world go by – utter bliss.
Must-see attractions in Vienna include Schönbrunn Palace, The Hofburg palace complex and museums, the Vienna State Opera and St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Related: Join one of these incredible tours to see magnificent Vienna
There you have it – ten incredible wintertime destinations throughout Eastern Europe. Keep an eye on the blog for more hot-off-the-presses travel inspiration in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, take a look at our Eastern Europe tours and keep an eye out for the many excellent offers we roll out throughout the year.