Last Updated on November 25, 2021 by Nellie Huang
From the Swedish Lapland to mystical Transylvania, here is a round-up of the best winter destinations in Europe for those who want to frolic in snow!
For me, a winter without snow is a winter wasted. Snow just adds a touch of magic to an otherwise dreary and cold season. Having spent most of my life in the tropics, I’ve always had a thing for snowy, fairy-tale winter wonderland. Anywhere that has white powdery snow gets me squealing like a girl in a candy store.
I have lived in Europe for over 10 years now and have traveled far and wide in search of Narnia land. For those who love snow as much as I do, here is a list of the best winter destinations in Europe for you to feel the magic of winter.
Table of Contents
Best Winter Destinations in Europe
1. Rovaniemi, Finland
Lapland is a Narnia-like winter fantasy world, where forests are blanketed in layers of fresh sparkling snow, and cosy wooden cabins dot the pristine white landscape. Santas and elves are just part of life here and reindeers act as Lapland’s angels.
Located close to the Arctic Circle, the region spans across fours countries – Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. Lapland is so accessible from other parts of Europe that it’s easy to visit on a weekend trip.
The Finnish Lapland is the most visited part and also the cheapest and most accessible area. Rovaniemi is the capital of Finnish Lapland, and the official hometown of Santa Claus. It’s quite a big town, with lots of whimsical sights, good restaurants and comfortable hotels. There are plenty of things to do in Lapland: Visit Father Christmas, go snowmobiling, ice fishing, reindeer herding — great for those who want to get active in the snow!
How to Get there: You’ll have to transit in Helsinki when flying to Rovaniemi but flights are less than 100 euros return. Search for flights to Rovaniemi.
2. Abisko, Sweden
Entrenched within the U-shaped Lapporten Valley of the Swedish Lapland, Abisko is one of the best spots in the world to see the Northern Lights. With its location 200km north of the Arctic Circle, this wilderness area lies close to the Aurora Oval, the hub for the formation of the Aurora Borealis.
At the Aurora Sky Station, I finally fulfilled my dreams of seeing the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Swathes of green lights danced and shimmered across the sky, almost like electronic curtains flapping before us. It was such a magical experience, one that would stay with me for a long, long time. We also did plenty of winter activities in Abisko: including dogsledding, snowmobiling, snowshoeing and staying at the Ice Hotel. Most lodges will be able to organize all the activities for you.
How to Get there: The nearest airport to Abisko are in Kiruna and Lulea. Both are just an hour or so by train from Abisko. Norwegian and SAS fly from Stockholm Arlanda to Kiruna for around 100 euros return and Lulea for 80 euros return. Search for flights to Rovaniemi.
3. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard is as far north as you can get in Europe. The archipelago, also known as Spitsbergen, is located in the Arctic Ocean, halfway between Norway and the North Pole. The Arctic landscapes are extremely dramatic: aqua blue icebergs floating on crystal water, massive glaciers crackling in the background towered by snow mountains. One of Europe’s last great wildernesses, this is also the domain of more polar bears than people.
I went on an expedition cruise in Svalbard and it was a truly epic adventure. Each day of our Arctic expedition was exciting and filled with adventure: from hiking up glaciers to watching whales swim next to us. On one of our daily excursions, we found a group of 11 polar bears feeding savagely on a whale carcass that had drifted up to shore. We went out on a zodiac to see them from the water and they were SO close I felt like I could smell their breathes.
But be warned: winter in Svalbard is brutal. Besides the sub-zero temperatures, it’s pitch-dark 24/7. It’s dark around the clock. So unless you are used to not seeing the sun, I would advise spending just a few days here if you’re visiting in winter.
How to Get there: You’ll have to fly to Oslo then onwards to Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard. Flights to Oslo to Longyearbyen usually cost around 300euros return and take 3 hours. Search for flights to Longyearbyen.
4. Golden Circle, Iceland
Iceland is one of my favorite travel destinations in the world. Its coastlines are fringed with ragged fjords, and its interior is speckled with lava fields and active volcanoes. Intense, dramatic and colossal: this country is strikingly beautiful and packed with an endless list of natural attractions. But is winter a good time to travel Iceland?
Compared to the other places on this list, winter in Iceland really isn’t all that bad! The temperatures in Iceland tend to hover around 20-35 deg F (0 to – 5 deg C) even in the coldest winter months. Plus your chances to see the Northern Lights in Iceland are the highest in winter, due to the clear skies and long hours of darkness.
There is SO much to do in Iceland even in winter, you’re really spoiled for choice:Drive the Iceland Ring Road, try ice climbing on a glacier, go whale watching, snorkel between tectonic plates in a glacial lake, or hike an active volcano… the list is endless! Best of all, you won’t find tourist crowds in Iceland during winter. Imagine having all the frozen waterfalls and glaciers to yourself.
How to Get there: It’s relatively cheap to fly to Iceland these days from the US and other parts of Europe. Search for flights to Reykjavik.
5. Zermatt, Switzerland
If you’re looking for a charming fairy-tale ski town, Zermatt is it! An essential stop on every Switzerland itinerary, this car-free village of Zermatt offers lots of mountain romance in winter, perfect for the ‘Frozen’ fans out there. The historical Walser village is dotted with A-roofed wooden houses dating back more than 500 years. Everything is within a walk – including shops, restaurants and quiet corners.
Skiers are spoiled for choice with the kilometers of slopes on offer. A trip up to the Klein Matterhorn or a journey on the train to the Gornergrat is a must for non-skiers. We didn’t ski when we were there and still had plenty to do. There is a lively après-ski scene and it is also a great resort for families visiting Zermatt although it does come with a hefty price tag.
How to Get there: The nearest airport to Zermatt is Zurich and Geneva Airports. They both have twice-hourly train connections to Zermatt from in-airport train stations. It takes 3-4 hours to get from Zurich/Geneva to Zermatt. I recommend booking the Glacier Express to get there, as the scenic journey is well worth it! Search for flights to Zurich.
6. Donovaly, Slovakia
Forget about the same old ski destinations like Austria and France — Slovakia can be a great alternative for several reasons: it’s spectacular, yet to be overrun with tourists, easy to get to and really cheap. A pint of beer just costs €2 in the ski resort, €1 in Kosice town, and a hefty Slavic meal usually cost around €8 to 15 accompanied by live music and plenty of fun.
The Tatras Mountains are absolutely stunning, and surprisingly free of tourists. Skiing Slovakia with kids is also known to be much cheaper than skiing elsewhere. We chose Park Snow Donovaly for Kaleya’s first ski trip, as it’s child-friendly. SkiResort.info awarded Park Snow Donovaly a top ski resort for families. Donovaly has the second largest children’s ski areas in Europe.
Donovaly is an easy 2.5-hour drive away from Košice International Airport. The airport is small but modern, well connected to Košice city and several ski stations in Tatras Mountains. The drive is mostly on a highway, flanked by beautiful snow-covered fields and tall mountains in the distance.
How to Get there: We flew budget airline Wizz Air from Cologne to Košice for a mere €30 round trip. It’s easy to find cheap flights from other cities in Europe. Search for flights to Košice
7. Transylvania, Romania
Lodged in the far corner of eastern Europe, Romania is a long-misunderstood country that suffers from a poor image. Those who have visited know the truth: this is one of Europe’s most unspoiled lands – a time-capsule only now opening up to the outside world. The region of Transylvania makes a great introduction to Romania. It offers a plethora of medieval cities, Saxon villages, and fortified churches.
My absolute favorite place in Transylvania is the Bâlea Lake area. Each November, Bâlea Lake freezes completely and the area becomes a winter park. Next to the Balea Lake stands the Balea Ice Hotel, one of the most unique creations in Romania. Blocks of ice are taken from the glacier lake and then hand carved by local craftsmen using traditional techniques, and transformed into the beautiful igloos.
Everything in the hotel is made of ice: from the tables to the chairs, the bed to the bar counter and even the piano at the entrance. Thankfully, despite the all-ice philosophy in all of these hotels, they provide specialty sleeping bags, thick blankets and reindeer skins to ensure a good night’s sleep.
How to Get there: The international airports are located in Sibiu (100 km away), and Cluj Napoca (150 km away). You can easily find cheap flights to Sibiu from London and other main hubs in Europe. Search for flights to Sibiu.
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