11 Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe

Updated November 10, 2017

Winter doesn’t mean you have to be bundled inside and not go anywhere. Instead, it’s the perfect time to explore destinations while fewer tourists are about, and winter can give a whole different perspective to a place. Eastern Europe with its beautiful cities and plentiful Christmas markets are the perfect choice for a winter trip. These cities located in the eastern and central, or even northern part of Europe, according to the UN, but they’re a great starting point for exploring more of Eastern Europe in winter. Sure it’s cold, but pack your coat, hat, and scarf, and consider some of the following as travel destinations this winter!

1. Budapest, Hungary

The capital city of Hungary straddles the Danube River. The hilly Buda side gives beautiful views over the flat side of Pest, dominated by the enormous Parliament Building.

Budapest in winter still provides a chance to see the main sites of the city and experience the Ruins Pubs at night, quirky bars set up in abandoned buildings across the city.

A trip to one of the numerous Roman Baths is a Budapest must do. There is nothing quite like tiptoeing over the freezing tiles to take a dip in the thermal outdoor pool at the Szechenyi Baths as the sun goes down.

Not to mention the Chimney Cake, or Kurtoskalacs, cake wound around a cylinder and baked over hot coals, before being dusted with sugar and sometimes walnut or cinnamon! I’ve stuffed my face with this in a few places now, but the best was the genuine article from the Christmas Markets in Budapest.

Szecheyni Baths Budapest Winter

The Szechenyi Baths at night, Budapest

Views over Budapest from Fishermans Bastion

Views over Budapest from Fishermans Bastion

2. Prague, Czech Republic

The colourful Baroque Buildings of Prague’s Old Town Square are worth the visit at any time of year, but during the early winter months, they surround one of the best Christmas Markets in Europe.

Traditional warm drinks like mulled wine, mead, and grog are available, as well as a honey liquor.

There are all sorts of different food options to try, from the more traditional Prague Ham smoked over an open flame, and grilled cheese with jam and bread, to the newer influences like Langos, a Hungarian flatbread topped with cheese and sauce, and a Czech version of crepes.

Added to this are all the usual delights of Prague, from the Charles Bridge lined with statutes of 30 saints to the Prague astronomical clock, the oldest working clock of its kind in the world. If you visit outside of the Christmas Market season you can still expect to warm up with delicious dumpligs and stew in many of the restaurants. There are so many wonderful things to see in Prague Old Town!

Read More: Why Off Season is the Best Time to Travel Europe

Prague Christmas Market Winter Travel

Prague Christmas Market and Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

3. Bucharest, Romania

The snow transforms Bucharest in winter and allows you to see a completely different side of the city. Gone is the outdoor furniture from the streets, replaced by piles of snow instead! Everything slows down in Bucharest in winter, and while it’s definitely cold, there are plenty of wonderful places to warm up. Try a one of the cosy tea houses, or Carturesti Carusel, a huge bookstore. Cismigiu Park is like a winter wonderland, covered in snow, and it has an ice-skating rink in the middle of it too!

If you want to explore further, consider the Palace of Parliament, which is the second biggest building in the world after the Pentagon, or visit one of the charming churches during the day or night.

Bucharest in winter

Snow falling in Bucharest

4. Dresden, Germany

Dresden is usually known for the spectacular rebuild after the devastation of WWII. The Frauenkirche, a baroque style church which you would never know had been reconstructed, but for some of the bricks being slightly blackened by fire, is at the centre of this city.

The Dresdener Striezelmarkt lays claim to being the oldest Christmas market in Germany and is one of the most traditional.

The main square holds stalls filled with real traditional handmade Christmas gifts like candleholders, glass blown decorations, lace, textiles and pottery, much of it from the local area, and the stalls themselves are brilliantly decorated.

Dresden Christollen is the main food to try, a traditional German bread originally made here.

It’s also worth noting Dresden can be visited on a day trip from Prague by train!

Dresden Cathedral Christmas Market

Dresden Cathedral and one of the Christmas Markets

5. Vienna, Austria

Vienna, home of artists like Mozart and Beethoven, palaces, museums, and amazing historic and contemporary buildings.

In the winter these sites can all still be enjoyed, and viewed from one of the many horse-drawn carriages dotting the streets.

Once again there are numerous Christmas markets if you go in the 6 weeks before the event, so many so I couldn’t choose a favourite, although the one outside the Rathaus had the most delicious filled donuts the size of my head!

I visited on a cold and rainy day, but the grand buildings and the atmosphere were not diminished by the grey and as the lights came on early in the evening the city lit up magically.

Vienna is only a 2-hour train ride from the next destination, so both could easily be visited together.

Read More: How to Pack for Winter Travel with Carry On Only Luggage

Vienna Rathaus Christmas Market

Rathaus Christmas Market, Vienna

6. Tallinn, Estonia

Although the UN declared Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia northern European countries, I had to at least include one of them as a winter destination, since it’s close to the others on the list! Winter is when Tallinn is at it’s most charming, with snow sprinkling the rooftops of the Old Town. Throughout most of the winter, Estonia will be relatively quiet, and you can wander many of the eerily quiet streets almost alone. Listen to the church bells and explore the small alleyways. Just be sure to pack for the winter!

If you visit in December then you’ll see a few more people, thanks to the Christmas holidays. Marzipan is a popular treat at the Christmas markets, and of course, you’ll need a mug or two of mulled wine to warm up! You can also try numerous other Estonian winter foods (many involving blood, like blood sausages or blood pancakes!). Work it all off ice-skating on Harju Street or sledding down Lauluväljak!

Tallinn in Winter

Snowy rooftops of Tallinn in winter

7. Bratislava, Slovakia

The charming city of Bratislava is also found on the banks of the Danube river. The old town is pedestrian only and has a number of unique and lively bars and cafes. A short walk up a hill nearby is the castle of Bratislava.

There might be a bit of theme here, but once again there is a great Christmas Market in the Old Town square. This market is especially fun at night when it becomes crowded with revellers enjoying the entertainment while they crowd around heaters and drink a number of varieties of mulled wine to keep warm. The food and drink are also fairly cheap, making it a great budget winter destination.

If eating and drinking outdoors in winter isn’t really your thing, or you visit outside the market time then the numerous eateries in the old town will have something for everyone. My favourite was the sweet or savoury crepes from a little hole in the wall cafe!

Bratislava Christmas Market

Christmas Market in Old Town Square, Bratislava

8. Sofia, Bulgaria

If you’re shivering just thinking about visiting Bulgaria in winter, then consider this: Bulgaria has some of the most affordable skiing and snowboarding there is! It’s well worth visiting Sofia in winter, where you can get the best of both worlds, the city life and the outdoors that it. Vitosha mountain is located 20 minutes from the city centre, and you’ll find smaller and less crowded ski resorts close by as well.

When you’ve had enough of the slopes, you can return to Sofia and warm up with some delicious Bulgarian food, or with Rakiya (brandy) or mulled wine at the Christmas market (yes… I have mentioned this everywhere, but it’s so good!). Visiting in winter means there’s no need to feel guilty about spending some of your time indoors, exploring Bulgaria’s 8000-year history in the museums or go to the board games bar that has over 150 board games.

Sofia in winter

Ski field near Sofia

9. Krakow, Poland

Krakow has so many sites to offer, whether you visit in summer or winter. Visit Wawel Castle and the Old Town, or head to the Jewish Quarter (Kazimierz) to explore and see what was once Oskar Schindler’s Factory, and is now a really great museum about Krakow in the lead up to and during the war.

If you have the time there are day tours to the Wieliczka Salt Mine with its amazing carved paintings made from salt, and an entire salt chapel underground, complete with salt chandelier.

Don’t miss trying the Pierogi! We found a 24-hour pierogi place not far from the Old Town Square, with the menu consisting of colour paper hung on clipboards strung along the wall. They had both savoury and sweet options, and I could easily eat every meal there without complaint.

Nearby to Krakow is Auschwitz, which can be visited on a tour or is easy to get to on your own. Going to a place like this can be very difficult, and visiting in winter really brings out the horror of the conditions the people held there had to endure.

Krakow Old Town Square Christmas

Krakow Old Town Square in winter

10. Berlin, Germany

Berlin is geographically in the east of Europe so I’m including it on this list, although technically it’s more central and now it may be more associated with the west!

I’ve heard fantastic things about Berlin in the summer, but when I had the chance to visit last winter I wasn’t about to say no because of the season. There are fewer tourists at that time, probably because it was at times freezing, but the numerous free museums offer an excellent refuge from the elements! They are also some of the best museums I’ve been to.

Of special note is the Tranenpalast or Palace of Tears, a museum made at Friedrichstrasse Station, the former border crossing between East and West Germany.

Other Berlin sites include Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag Building, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Potsdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz (both of which have great Christmas Markets!) and of course the Berlin Wall, found at different places all over the city.

The East Side Gallery is where the wall has been painted with stunning art and messages by artists from around the world. I’d really recommend a visit to Bernauer Strasse, where you can see how the wall literally divided streets and families, and the Berlin Wall Memorial where you can view a preserved slice of no man’s land.

Brandenburg Gate Berlin Christmas

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin

East Side Gallery Berlin Winter

East Side Gallery in winter, Berlin. Cold but worth it!

11. Lviv, Ukraine

I’ve opted for Lviv over Kiev, just by a smidge! It’s closer to the other cities on this Eastern Europe in winter list, and it’s well-known for it’s Christmas atmosphere, with numerous folk festivals and nativity shows. The distinctive churches and squares become home to numerous charming scenes and the city is like a fairytale come to life. Lviv is home to many different architectural styles and many different religious buildings. It’s truly a multinational city in the west of Ukraine.

Also, Lviv is known as the chocolate capital of Ukraine. Need I say more? Maybe that it’s also the coffee capital, so you’ll be able to warm up with almost any style of coffee you can imagine in one of its many cafes. And of course, there’s a Christmas market…

Ukraine in winter

Lviv from above

I’ve purposely stuck to mostly capital cities that will give you a proper wintery feeling, but there are so many opportunities to explore outside of these too! The ski fields in many of these countries are extremely well priced, and mountain villages are sure to give you the real charm of visiting Eastern Europe in winter. Then there’s always the option to head south where it’s a little warmer, and experience somewhere like Dubrovnik or Kotor in the quieter winter season.

Just don’t think winter in Europe means you need to stay inside and not travel, especially when there are so many places to get great mulled wine to warm up. Just remember to pack your winter travel gear!!!

Have you visited Eastern Europe in winter? Is there somewhere I’ve missed or somewhere you like to travel in winter? 

Sonja x

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Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe

Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe

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22 Comments

  • Reply Yvonne December 1, 2015 at 10:02 pm

    Loved reading this blog as it brought back memories of 6 of these 7 places I vistited especially for the Christmas Market season. Living in the Southern hemisphere, I just love to go to Europe to get my winter Christmas fix, complete contrast to a summer one.

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 2, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks! I love winter Christmas too it’s nice to have something to look forward to in the cold months 🙂

  • Reply Ardjette Boixaderas December 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

    We have missed Amsterdam on your list! 😉

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 3, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      I focused on Eastern Europe this time :D. But might have to do one about the west!

  • Reply Katie December 7, 2015 at 10:59 am

    I’m one of those travellers who chases the sun and lives for summer, so I’ve been a little worried about my timing visiting Germany early next spring. Happy to see you included both Dresden and Berlin as prime winter destinations — feeling a little more reassured that I’ll love it, cold or no!

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 8, 2015 at 11:28 am

      I’m so glad! When I moved to Canada to study abroad in winter I got used to travelling in the cold and I’ve come to really enjoy it now! It’s usually quieter too. Having said that though, a beach holiday is amazing!

  • Reply Maya December 10, 2015 at 6:10 am

    Although I used to live in Bratislava during studies, my favourite Christmas market is in Vienna. Nice atmosphere, lights, ginger bread and wine with fruit 😉 I’m missing the atmosphere..I live in Canada now. Thanks for reminding of good times in Europe!

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 10, 2015 at 12:43 pm

      You’re welcome! I loved the Christmas Markets in Vienna too, although the mulled wine in Bratislava was definitely stronger haha. Hope you are able to find somewhere in Canada that might be similar!

  • Reply Maxim December 15, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    Not east – it’s CENTRAL Europe. East is a Ukraine, Russia, Moldovia, Latvia, Lithuana.

    • Reply Migrating Miss December 16, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Thanks for your comment. There’s no official definition of Eastern Europe so I went with what I have always known it as :).

  • Reply Alja January 9, 2016 at 2:40 am

    There are many definitions of East and Central Europe- it seems nobody here wants to be a part of the Eastern Europe 🙂 I would add my homwtown, Ljubljana (Slovenija) with an authentic decoration and plenty of cosy places for a mulled wine treat 🙂 I like your blog… goos luck with moving to Spain soon! 🙂 Greetings from Slovenija, Alja

    • Reply Migrating Miss January 10, 2016 at 7:52 pm

      Thanks Alja :). Yes it seems there are a lot of different definitions, I didn’t mean to offend anyone! I would love to go to Ljubljana, it is very high on the list for summer, but I might have to add it for winter now too!

  • Reply Ashleigh @ Paws and a Passport February 14, 2016 at 11:31 pm

    Budapest is one of my top places to go this year! That chimney cake sounds sooo heavenly! Some people do prefer to travel in the warmer months than during winter but seeing these places around the holidays would be totally worth the cold in my opinion!

    • Reply Migrating Miss February 15, 2016 at 9:34 am

      I hope you make it I loved it there so much! I ate far too many chimney cakes for my own good while I was there haha. Hopefully they have them at all times of the year! I love how the holiday season is in winter in the northern hemisphere, because then we can have the excuse of experiencing the Christmas Markets and holiday season in another country. I ended up travelling a lot in winter just because if I didn’t I would never have gone, and I loved the experiences I had!

  • Reply Rafael Miyamoto June 21, 2016 at 4:04 am

    Nice work, your post was really helpful!

    I`m from Brazil, and I planning to visit Eastern Europe for 20 days in December and January. I`m looking forward to see snow, and different culture, but I`m a little worried about the cold/winter, I`m Brazilian after all. =)

    How was there when you went to these cities? If you have more tips, places to visit, I will be really grateful.

    Thanks again for you help!

    • Reply Migrating Miss June 21, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Hi Rafael, thanks for your comment! It is definitely a colder time of year to visit, but I still think it’s a great choice. You’ll need to layer up with lots of clothes, and have gloves, a scarf and hat too. Good shoes or boots are important so your feet are warm! In Budapest for example, all of the baths are amazing, as well as visiting the Buda side for great views over the Danube and the city. I loved trying out the different ruins bars too. I’ll be posting more on some of these closer to the winter, since that’s when I did most of my travel there, so stay tuned :).

  • Reply Jac September 19, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Ho, planning to have my honeymoon in February. Is it still good time?:) thank you

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

      Hi Jac!

      Congratulations! It will still be quite cold in February, and there won’t be any Christmas markets (obviously haha) but I think these are all still great places to visit. Just make sure you wrap up!!! There’s plenty to see, and I much prefer travelling in the off season because it’s so much less crowded. I’m about to write a post about great European cities to visit in winter so check back soon if that interests you 🙂

      Sonja x

  • Reply guy July 8, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    have only been to dresden during the winter, have been to krakow during the summer and it was awesome, will need to try to check out the rest

    • Reply Migrating Miss July 17, 2017 at 5:26 pm

      I loved Krakow! Been trying to figure out how to get there again. I’d love to see them all in summer too 🙂

  • Reply Laura August 29, 2017 at 9:04 am

    I would also add another Polish city – Warsaw. It is beautiful during winter and there are tens of amazing place to go to during the entire year, but I find Warsaw the most charming during winter months, even though it is quite cold. I love walking around during quiet, snowy streets and exploring all the cozy spots to hang out in. One of my favorite spots in Warsaw to visit is Bubbles Bar, where I always have the most delicious dinner and great champagne, all in very casual and cozy atmosphere. I just love this place 🙂

    • Reply Migrating Miss September 1, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      It sounds lovely!! I really want to go back to Poland and explore a lot more. It’s a beautiful country 🙂

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