Europe in winter is a snow-clad playground with almost unlimited opportunities for adventures and unique experiences. You can drive into the north of Sweden to see the Northern Lights in the 24-hour nights of the Arctic Circle or wander along glittering, frosty streets in some of Europe’s ancient capital cities. If the downhill activities fascinate you, Europe has some of the best skiing and snowboarding resorts. You can also escape the winter cold on a shimmering, tourist-free beach in Southern France or the Adriatic.
Depending on where you decide to go, the weather plays a big part in your adventures. For instance, in the Scandinavian countries, winter begins in late September and brings sub-zero temperatures accompanied by lots of snow until May. In central Europe, cities such as Amsterdam experience a temperature range of 6℃—1℃ with abundant downpours and occasional snow storms. While Prague sees the temperatures plummet to -10℃ in January. The Austrian Alps experience lots of snow in winter, with average temperatures from 5℃—0℃. Further south, the French city of Marseille has temperatures from 12℃—5℃ in January, with around six rainy days per month. Spain in winter sees plenty of rain, with temperatures ranging between 3℃ to 10℃ in most parts of the country.
A road trip is a classic way to explore Europe. Even though winter brings a whole new set of driving conditions to the continent, a road trip is an excellent way to explore some of the best winter destinations in Europe. To help you decide where to go and what to do, we have put together a set of eight epic road trips to the best winter destinations in Europe.
The Abisko National Park in the north of Sweden is ground zero for seeing the Aurora Borealis. The drive from Stockholm to Abisko via Kiruna will take you along the eastern edge of the Gulf of Bothnia, and you can break the journey into two with an overnight stop in Härnösand. In Abisko, as well as viewing the northern lights, you can go dog-sledding, ice-fishing, and ice-skating on frozen lakes. You can also take a day trip across the border to the Finnish town of Narvik amid a landscape of fjords and mountains.
The Finnish town of Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa Claus. So, a winter road trip to Lapland is a perfect way to spend Christmas. Located just four kilometers outside the Arctic Circle, Rovaniemi is a 10-hour drive north of Helsinki via the spectacular E75 Highway. Enjoy the Santa’s Village theme park featuring an assortment of Christmas activities, warming drinks, and comfort food in any of the many cozy restaurants in Rovaniemi.
Winter is a perfect time to drive through the Scottish highlands and around the island-filled western coast. From Inverness, drive north along the North Sea coast through quaint fishing villages to John-o-Grotes, the northernmost tip of mainland Britain. Thurso, the northernmost town on the British mainland, is ideal for a first overnight stop. Here, you can sample the whisky produced at the Wolfburn distillery. As you continue west, the landscape becomes wilder and more remote. You will find tiny whisky distilleries hidden away in highland valleys and herds of shaggy Highland cattle on the hillsides. Ullapool is a beautiful fishing town situated on the edge of gleaming Loch Broom, with fishing boats drawn up on the beach and a colourful array of craggy locks in the pubs. The Isle of Skye lies off the coast from Dornie, and you could spend a day or two there before circling back to Inverness.
If sliding down snowy slopes fascinates you, set off from Geneva on an epic ski- or snowboard roadie. Chamonix is your first stop. You can find runs suitable for all abilities in the Chamonix-Mont Blanc area. Most ski resorts have a base of mountain parking, and you can stay and eat on the mountain to maximise your time en piste. From Chamonix, loop south through Northern Italy via Pré-Saint-Didier and La Thuile. Crossing back into France, continue south through Bourg-Saint-Maurice to Val d’Isère, where you can ski or snowboard your heart out during the day and party hard at night. Most local ski lifts terminate in the center of town. You can ski right up to the door of your favourite restaurant or bar.
Winter in the Italian province of Umbria is a pleasure. The roads are uncrowded, and you will encounter very few tourists or tour buses. From Florence, head south to Orvieto. This charming walled town is filled with cozy cafes, lit fireplaces, and rich food. The locals are unstressed in winter, and you will find it easy to find accommodation. From Ovieto, head northeast across the rolling plains of Umbria to the medieval hilltop village of Nocera Umbra. Wander around the cobbled streets to cozy ristorantes and cafes full of locals who will entertain you in front of roaring fires while the night draws in.
The mountains around the Austrian cities of Innsbruck and Salzburg are one of the best winter destinations in Europe. Innsbruck in winter has snow-dusted Baroque churches and medieval architecture framed by a backdrop of glittering peaks. You can zoom down bob-sled tracks, and ski pristine snow during the day then recline in charming cafés in the Old Town at night, sipping mulled wine and devouring cheese dumplings. From Innsbruck, it is a 2-hour drive east to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart and the location of The Sound of Music. The colourful Christkindlmarkt is a place to clasp a mug of hot wine in your mittened fingers as you shop for traditional Christmas gifts. During the day you can explore the crypts of Salzburg Cathedral then repair to Café Tomaselli for coffee and a Sacher-Torte. Deep in the nearby Salzkammergut mountains, the lakeside hamlet of Hallstatt offers picture-postcard perfection of icicle-clad wooden houses, smoke rising into the still air and the surrounding forests dusted with snow.
The castles of Bavaria draw thousands of tourists in summer. But in winter, you can travel around this part of Europe without any crowds at all. You can begin your road trip in Munich, where the iconic glockenspiel rings out in the cold air of Marienplatz, then head east to see the fairytale-inspiring castle at Neuschwanstein. Nearby Berchtesgaden was the location of Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” and in winter the forests here are draped with snow and the rivers rimed with ice. The town of Regensburg features one of the world’s oldest Christmas Markets and you can loop back through Munich for a climb to the top of the spire of Peter’s Church followed by some Bavarian cuisine and German beer at a cozy brewery.
November in Spain is generally a month of rain. Nevertheless, you can plan an epic road trip that takes you through some of the country’s best scenery. From Madrid, drive south to the UNESCO-listed city of Toledo. The El Alcazar citadel saw one of the most iconic battles of the Spanish Civil war. Now, the site is a museum. The superb El Greco museum houses work by the famed artist who lived much of his life in Toledo, and the surrounding Jewish Quarter is also a fascinating place to wander even on rainy winter days. From Toledo, you can head south to the Costa del Sol - almost deserted in winter - or east to Valencia and Barcelona to see Gaudi's masterpiece: the Basílíca La Sagrada Familia.
Winter in Europe offers an opportunity to experience some of the best destinations without the crowds and costs that characterise summer travel. Although the roads can be a little trickier to drive on, the shorter days mean you have to break your journeys into shorter sections. Traveling by road during winter in Europe is a great way to meet the locals as they relax in warm cafés and celebrate the festivals of winter in their traditional ways.
Guest post submitted by Bookmundi.
Bookmundi is a Denmark-based, but global travel booking portal where you can effortlessly book day tours, fixed group departures, holidays, and vacation packages in 130+ countries around the world.
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