11 Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe

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The winter months don’t mean you have to be bundled up inside in front of the tv. Instead, it’s the perfect time to explore winter destinations in Eastern Europe.

You’re able to explore with far fewer tourists to bother you and the winter can give a completely different perspective to both the sights and the cities themselves.

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 turned over hot coals. Once baked it’s dusted with sugar and sometimes walnut or cinnamon, delicious!

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.

Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe - Szecheyni Baths Budapest Winter
The Szechenyi Baths at night, Budapest
Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe - 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.

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.

As well as all of the delicious things to eat traditional warm drinks like mulled wine, mead, and grog are available, as well as a honey liquor.

If the Christmas market wasn’t enough Prague offers all the usual delights during the winter months, from the Charles Bridge lined with statues of 30 saints to the Prague astronomical clock, the oldest working clock of its kind in the world.

There are so many wonderful things to see in Prague Old Town!

If you visit outside of the Christmas Market season you can still expect to warm up with delicious dumplings and stew in many of the restaurants, a traditional dish and one that is well worth trying.

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

Winter Destinations in Eastern 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 one of the best cities in Romania.

Gone is the outdoor furniture from the streets, replaced by piles of snow instead! During the winter everything slows down in Bucharest, and while it’s definitely cold, there are plenty of wonderful places to warm up.

Try one of the cosy tea houses, or Carturesti Carusel, a huge bookstore with an excellent cafe. Cismigiu Park is like a winter wonderland, covered in snow, and, for those wanting to brave the cold, 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 its spectacular regeneration after the devastation of WWII bombing raids. The epitome of this can be found at the centre of the city.

The Frauenkirche, a stunning baroque style church which you would never know had been reconstructed, but for some of the bricks being slightly blackened by fire.

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

The market can be found in the main square and 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 that I couldn’t choose a favourite, although the one outside the Rathaus had the most delicious filled doughnuts 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

Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe - 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 sledging down LauluvΓ€ljak!

Tallinn in Winter
Snowy rooftops of Tallinn in winter

7. Bratislava, Slovakia

The charming city of Bratislava, like Budapest, is found on the banks of the Danube river. The old town has been pedestrianised and has a number of unique and lively bars and cafes. A short walk up a hill nearby is the castle of Bratislava dominates the city and is a must visit.

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 your visit is doesn’t fall when the market is open 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, exciting city life and the stunning outdoors. Vitosha mountain is located just 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 easily 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.

Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe - 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 winter destinations in Eastern Europe 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
Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe - East Side Gallery Berlin Winter
East Side Gallery in winter, Berlin. Cold but worth it!

11. Lviv, Ukraine

After much debate, 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 found in Lviv 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 an excellent 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.

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

Planning your next winter trip? Check out these posts:

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

34 thoughts on “11 Winter Destinations in Eastern Europe

  1. Yvonne says:

    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.

  2. Katie says:

    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!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

  3. Maya says:

    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 πŸ˜‰ I’m missing the atmosphere..I live in Canada now. Thanks for reminding of good times in Europe!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

  4. Alja says:

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

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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!

  5. Rafael Miyamoto says:

    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!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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 :).

    • Migrating Miss says:

      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 πŸ™‚

      Sonja x

  6. guy says:

    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

  7. Laura says:

    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 πŸ™‚

  8. James Horner says:

    Great article Sonja.
    I have been to half of these places as you mentioned in this article along with my family.
    I had never thought to visit in winter but now I have changed my mind and craving to visit all of them even in winter. Especially am looking forward to visit Budapest- feel like a great city for winter vacation. Even I read it is popular for its great baths, outdoor concerts, festivals and ice rink in a beautiful park. Sounds like a fairytale.
    Thanks a lot for letting us know.

  9. Tapan says:

    Hi sonja found your article really interesting. We four friend from India planning to visit East Europe in November but worried a little about rain, are most of the attractions closed during this time of year? you have not included croatia in your blog is it good idea to travel there in november?

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Hi Tapan,

      I don’t remember a lot of rain although of course that’s always a possibility, it was more about the cold. The key thing is to make sure you have the right clothes because it’s not very pleasant otherwise! Get a good coat (waterproof as well if you’re worried) hat, gloves, and underclothes as well. I haven’t personally travelled to Croatia in November so I’m not sure. To me it is more of a summery destination, but if you travel then it’s likely to be a lot quieter and cheaper, and you can enjoy it without the crowds! Of course you may not be able to do the outdoor activities as much but it’s a beautiful place anyway!

  10. Jake says:

    A few questions for you. We will be in either Zagreb or Budapest for New year’s. Do you have a preference on which is better? Also, we then have time from Jan 1- about Jan 5 to go wherever we want before going back to Amsterdam to fly home. We are from Canada, btw. What cities would we recommend during that time? We were thinking we would do 2 but we could do up to 3. We are fine to drive (rent a car) or fly. When do the Christmas markets close? I know some stay open later due to orthodox Christmas. Thanks!

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Hi Jake! I haven’t personally been to Zagreb so I can’t really help you there sorry. I did love Budapest however and the markets were great. I probably wouldn’t try and do more than 2 cities in that time due to travel time between them either. Or would even just pick one! You could try Prague on your way back to Amsterdam, and even do a day trip from there to Dresden as well. Just check the Christmas market dates. Or try Vienna and Bratislava (the cheaper of the two and they are very close together). If you try to do too much you’ll just be travelling the whole time rather than seeing anything! Each market has different closing times so I would check each one based on the city you decide.

  11. Sierra McCormick says:

    I just bought a ticket to fly to Germany for Christmas and New Years so finding this list of other great places to go while I am there for 3 weeks. I look forward to go to some of these places. I will only be there for about a week before the Christmas Markets close unfortunately but I still know there is plenty other things to see because of thia list. Thank you.

    • Migrating Miss says:

      Exciting! I loved being over there for the Christmas Markets but there are definitely lots of other nice things to do and I actually really enjoy the winter atmosphere and wrapping up warm to explore. Hope you have a great time!

  12. emma says:

    I actually love travelling in winter. I would love to go Eastern Europe this time.I’m missing the atmosphere.I think these are all still great places to visit.i want to see snow and different culture.

  13. Nuoma says:

    Thanks for your article, but why there is nothing about Lithuania! Vilnius might be not that fabulous as Tallin for example, but its worth attention as well. Many travelers skips that country, but if you try it out, visiting right places, you wont regret it!

    • Sonja - Migrating Miss says:

      Thanks for reading! No reason in particular, it wasn’t left out on purpose, more that I haven’t been there! I’m happy to add extra additions and it’s definitely somewhere I want to go in future πŸ™‚

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