15 European Cities Perfect for a Winter Weekend Break

With snowy days fast approaching, Halloween behind us and the feeling of Christmas very much in the air, we’re ready for some cosy, hyper-wintry weekends away. Check out our list of the very best European cities to visit this winter.

With the holiday spirit very much in the air, we're ready for some cosy, hyper-wintry weekends away. When you don't have time (or perhaps funds) for a full-on ski trip or winter sun escape, a city break is just the ticket for a seasonal boost. We've picked out some of the less obvious options for a long weekend.

Cagliari

Sardinia

It's no secret that some hotspots are better visited outside of peak season: step forward, Cagliari. Drawing in a huge summer crowd for its postcard-pretty beaches, the city falls off the tourist radar come winter. But, with its slower pace of life and milder temperatures than most of the rest of Europe, there's a lot more to this destination than sunbathing. Stroll through the narrow stone streets of the historic quarter, checking off some of the city's impressive archaeological sites (including its Roman theatre) along the way, then either hightail it to one of the prime vantage points from which to catch a wintry sunset, or make a beeline for the bustling Christmas markets.

Where to stay: Hotel Mira Mare

Chur

Switzerland

The oldest city in Switzerland, Chur makes our books for its magical snowcapped surrounds, chocolate-box pretty buildings and twisting, car-free alleys. Roam the historic Old Town for a trip back in time: Chur was once an important trade route for Celts, Romans and Franks, and much can still be seen from its 5,000-year history. Venture beyond its cobbled streets and back into the modern day for quirky boutiques, arty restaurants and a handful of busy bars.

Sofia

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's capital has all the ingredients for an all-star winter getaway: one of the biggest open-air ice rinks in Europe, a skiable mountain within easy reach and enough museums and markets to throw a stocking at. Days are best spent whistling through the city's iconic landmarks - Independence Square, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the National Palace of Culture, for starters - or snowshoeing it up to Vitosha Mountain for sensational views of the city's twinkling Christmas lights. After dark, Sofia transforms into an unexpectedly wild party town: night owls will find everything from jazz clubs to techno warehouses, with a heavy handful of rakia (grape brandy) bars in between.

Where to stay: Grand Hotel Sofia

Bergen

Norway

Anyone looking for a bona fide wintry experience, look no further than Bergen. Norway's second-largest city (despite a petite population of 271,000), it has a small-town feel and is a picture of coastal architecture with brightly painted red and orange houses lighting up the harbour. It's fabulous if you want to get away from it all without feeling totally isolated. Jet off to explore the nearby fjords or hike the surrounding mountains for a few hours, then come back to wander the streets and enjoy an early evening pint by the fire in a seaside pub. One of our favourite things to do is check out KODE, a group of seven museums and composers' homes, which house one of Scandinavia's largest collections of art, music and design. The exhibitions include artists ranging from Edvard Munch and Paul Klee to Joan Miro and Picasso.

Where to Stay: Family-run hotel Hotel Park stands proudly on a corner of a historic Bergen neighbourhood.

Salzburg

Austria

For a city break that will make you feel like you're inside a snow globe, put Salzburg on your calendar. Not only is it home to the stunning Von Trapp villa from The Sound of Music, but there are also Baroque-style castles scattered across this hilly city. As if it couldn't get any more elegant, Salzburg is also Mozart's birthplace, and his childhood home is open to the public at No. 9 Getreidegasse. For the very ambitious, you can even squeeze some skiing into a long weekend trip here, as Kitzbuhel, Flachau and Zell am See are all driving distance away.

Where to Stay: ArtHOTEL Blaue Gans is a boutique hotel set inside a 14th-century building in Salzburg's old town.

Delft

Netherlands

Another home to an iconic artist is Delft, a gorgeous city that Vermeer called home and that is often overshadowed by neighbouring Rotterdam and The Hague. It's smack in the middle of both, so easy to combine on a longer trip, but we'd recommend luxuriating in the pace of small-town life during a weekend here and focusing on the adorable local shops and cafes. When not making the obvious stops at the Vermeer Centre and picking up Delftware (the blue- and white-painted pottery invented here) for your mum's Christmas gift, cosy into a corner at hip "pure food cafe" Hills & Mills. For vegetarian fare, The Living deli is a must thanks to its hand-scrawled chalkboard menu and hanging copper lamps. The cosy chairs and abundance of plants will make you feel as though you're in an actual design-savvy Scandinavian living room in an instant.

Where to Stay: Brick walls and red- and white-striped awnings drawn you inside Hotel de Emauspoort, a cosy hotel in Nieuwe Kerk.

Strasbourg

France

The fact that Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, where Beauty and the Beast is set, comes as no surprise. The wooden Medieval houses lining the Rhine River and Gothic cathedral make for a madly romantic atmosphere in the wintertime, so all you'll want to do is wrap yourself in your fluffiest coat and wander hand-in-hand through the snow with a lover. Not to mention, Strasbourg is known as a "Christmas Capital" thanks to its massive holiday market, so head here just in time to get in the spirit with gallons of mulled wine, sweet gift stalls and evening concerts (where you'll manage to stay warm by stomping your feet to the music). For a no-expenses-spared evening out, reserve a table at Brasserie Las Haras, which is set in an 18th-century horse stable that Alain Ducasse's design team Jouin Manku has magically spun into an haute modern eatery. Try each course with a different Alsatian wine pairing for the full experience.

Where to Stay: At Regent Contades, relax at the hotel spa before heading to the Regency Bar for cocktails and nibbles.

Gothenburg

Sweden

If you're on the hunt for a hip of weekend away, we've found your destination. A hotbed for creatives, you'll have no trouble stumbling upon avant-garde art galleries, grungy music venues full of beautiful people and boutiques stocked with clothing you'd see on Scandi Instagrammers like Josefine H. J. in on-trend Gothenburg. When not browsing record stores or dining at a former-theatre-turned-restaurant, pop into a brewery, a city staple since the 17th century. Hops and Brewers Beer Bar is one of the best for its wide selection of craft beers and knowledgeable staff. The one thing we can't stress enough on a trip here? Only pack your half-full - the rest will be filled with modish Swedish wares you've bought to renew your winter closet by the time the weekend is up (we blame Heyday).

Where to Stay: Enter the bubblegum-pink exteriors of Hotel Flora to find quirky design and colourful bedrooms.

Turin

Italy

The fact that Turin was home to the 2006 Winter Olympics certainly doesn't hurt its reputation as a go-to for a wintertime experience, but that's not all that's drawing us in. We're gushing over the proud allure of the facades of grand apartment buildings surrounding the main squares, and can only imagine the gorgeous Italian Christmas scenes going on within their thick stone walls. Despite its uniform stateliness, Turin draws in an outlandish number of art lovers from all over. While Artissima (the city's answer to Frieze) was at the beginning of November, the ultra-modern Fondazione Merz defies all expectations for such a classical city with its disruptive art pieces in a minimalist space. With a flurry of independent art exhibitions passing through the city, as well as picture-perfect Italian architecture capped by a dusting of snow to drool over, this one is high on our list for a winter escapade.

Where to Stay: Suitably regal, Turin Palace offers pastel-hued rooms and a rooftop overlooking the city.

Stuttgart

Germany

Stuttgart manages to fuse classicism and modernity in a way that most other cities can't manage quite so seamlessly. Built in swathes of gothic and baroque architecture while simultaneously housing Porsche and Mercedes (both of which have state-of-the-art museums in the city), it's a wonderland for those interested in all things design. Visit with an architecture student or Frank Lloyd Wright admirer and set out on a walking tour of the city, interjected by pit stops for warming bowls of spätzle and pints of local beer.

Where to Stay: Dine at Der Zauberlehrling's Michelin-starred restaurant before retiring to its opulent, design-led rooms.

Porto

Portugal

While Porto might not normally be the first thing to pop into your mind when thinking of a wintry weekend away, it can be a fantastic place to visit off season. Not only will you miss the waves of summertime crowds, but it's also a place where lots can be done indoors. Schedule a full-on tour and tasting with a few of the local port houses that sit atop the hill overlooking Porto's city skyline. It's a perfect time of year to spend a few hours deep in the houses' cellars without feeling guilty about missing out on sun time, and there's nothing better than warming up with a sampling of port before stepping back out into the chill. Our favourites to visit are Graham's Port Louse, which has stunning facilities and a glassed-in restaurant for a luxe lunch overlooking the town and its multiple famous bridges. Cálem and Sandeman are also well worth a visit. Make sure to have dinner at Chef Rui Paula's famed restaurant DOP one of the nights you're there.

Where to Stay: Book into Rosa Et Al Townhouse for character-filled interiors, a courtyard garden and home-grown food.

Hamburg

Germany

Nothing screams wintertime like a city connected to the North Sea; Hamburg is criss-crossed by canals and the city's harbour is its central hub. The maritime atmosphere is deep in this town's roots, so much so that it inspired Hamburg-born Karl Lagerfeld's sailing-themed 2017/18 Métiers d'Art Chanel show. Take a cue from his outfits and embrace your inner seafarer, while also paying a visit to the modern Elbphilharmonie, where Lagerfeld's presentation was held. The glassy concert hall sits atop an old warehouse, and houses one of the world's most superb acoustic spaces. Make the most of your time in one of Germany's cultural nuclei and get dressed up to see the local philharmonic orchestra perform here on one of your evenings in the city. For something a little grungier, spend Sunday morning checking out the UNESCO centre of Speicherstadt, which is the largest district of warehouses on earth, and pop into Kaffeerösterei, an old coffee warehouse, for a pick-me-up from the night before that you can select from over 70 type of bean.

Where to Stay: Among Hamburg's charming canals and historic churches, Sir Nikolai offers sleek design, art-covered walls and a bar with a balcony.

Grenoble

France

Surrounded by the Alps, Grenoble is a natural (yet surprisingly underrated) choice for a winter weekend away. If you don't have the time to book a proper ski holiday, this is the next best thing in terms of getting close to nature. There are parks surrounding the city on all sides, and the views of the mountains are spectacular. If you love travelling by train, Grenoble is one of the easiest destinations to get to from London; hop on the Eurostar to Paris and then zip across the country on the TGV, which will have you there under three hours. A classically French city, you'll get everything you want form a trip to France (mainly excellent food) without the stresses of navigating Paris.

Where to Stay: For views over Hoche Park, head straight to the terrace of Okko Hotels Grenoble, or spend an afternoon cosied up in the hotel's library.

Warsaw

Poland

Warsaw is a cultural haven packed with far too many things to see during a single weekend away. While both can be overwhelming, we nevertheless wholeheartedly recommend it for a winter weekend break. Why? The jigsaw of influences literally protruding from the city's walls - there is everything from skyscrapers and soviet facades to castles and clock towers - means that many of the different facets of the city's history are within walking distance from one another. You'll get a hefty serving of insight into Polish culture by simply taking a stroll to get your morning coffee and rogalik (a sweet and buttery croissant-style roll). To enjoy a local specialty come sundown, pop into Klar vodka bar for infused vodkas and creative cocktails.

Where to Stay: With decor referencing its past as a Soviet embassy, H15 Boutique Hotel pairs historic architecture with carefully curated artwork and modern flourishes.

Reykjavík

Iceland

A rugged terrain punctuated with ancient volcanoes, majestic peaks and glacier-fed waterfalls, Iceland has a pervasive beauty. Though there's no bad time of year to visit, late September to late March is prime time for viewing the elusive Northern Lights thanks to dark winter nights. Uniquely placed close to some of nature's great wonders - including the mighty Gullfoss waterfall and the Blue Lagoon (best experienced sans tourists at neighbouring The Retreat Hotel) - Reykjavík is an ideal weekend escape for nature enthusiasts.

Where to Stay: Antique furnishings, earth-toned interiors and artwork by Icelandic artists - 101 Hotel is a contemporary haven in Iceland's capital.

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