Snow-topped chalets, medieval Christmas markets and icy rivers and lakes – winter in Europe is truly beautiful...

Head to one of these pretty European cities in winter for a spectacular weekend break.

For romance and rosy cheeks: St Petersburg, Russia

With elegant, ornate architecture and canals to rival Venice, St Petersburg is a picture of grace and beauty. In winter, scenes get even more romantic: its residents are often rosy-cheeked and snuggled in fabulous furs, shuffling about the streets, which – for the most part – are dusted with snow. When the long nights draw in, lighting on St Petersburg’s buildings and stunning cathedral offer a dramatic view, and the waters in the canals occasionally freeze over to create swirling patterns on their surface.

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

You don’t have to stay cold if you visit St Peterburg in winter, though. A Russian banya (sauna) is an essential experience for anyone visiting the city during the colder months, so get your kit off and join the locals in a soothing, steaming room. Banya experiences are often paired with a dip in an ice-cold pool or lake, too, so if you’re feeling brave, dive in!

Book it: Riviera Travel run tours that include St Petersburg from just £1,189 per person.

For unusual winter activities: Copenhagen, Denmark

Don’t let long nights (as long as 16 hours!) and low temperatures put you off: the Danish capital is well worth a visit in winter. This might not be the obvious time of year for exploring gardens, but during the cooler months, the city’s famous Tivoli Gardens are dressed in snow and fairy lights making the already romantic experience even more special (there’s a great Christmas market here over the festive season too).

More like this: The best places to visit in January

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You can get out on the water with CopenHot, which involves cruising through the harbour in a floating hot tub and roasting marshmallows over an open fire, and on land there are views over Copenhagen from one of the many panoramic saunas. February brings the Copenhagen Light Festival, and all winter hot chocolates are served to chilly passers-by at Conditori La Glace, where you can gather around marble tables in an elegant setting.

Book it: Find stunning hotels in Copenhagen

For the northern lights: Tromsø, Norway

Sitting above the Arctic Circle in northern Norway, the historic island city of Tromsø is the perfect setting for a memorable winter break. Known as the ‘Gateway to the Arctic’, it’s a truly spectacular area of fjords and mountains, and – in winter – it’s all covered in bright white snow.

(Image credit: Alamy Stock Photo)

The city has all the cosy escapes you’d hope for – classic Scandi saunas and plenty of cafes for warming hot chocolates. But the draw is beyond the urban borders where a wilderness of mountains and forest begin. It’s out there you can experience some of the best activities Norway has to offer, from husky sledding to northern lights spotting.

Book it: Inntravel offers a Tromsø Northern Lights Break from £890pp per person based on two people sharing, including three nights’ B&B accommodation, evening buffet each night, afternoon tea and cakes, a guided trip in search of the Northern Lights, notes for a self-guided city tour and return flights from Heathrow (via Oslo).

For Christmas chic: Kitzbühel, Austria

OK, it’s not technically a city but it really doesn’t get much more Austrian than Kitzbühel. A pretty church, houses with gabled rooftops and some spectacular mountains in the distance, this little town in Tyrol is gorgeous. In winter, though, there’s a whole new edge to its appeal. Come Christmas time, it’s caked in snow, fairy lights and decorations to create a medieval winter wonderland.

Book it: Find beautiful hotels in Kitzbuhel

(Image credit: Michael Werlberger)

A traditional Christmas market takes place in the centre (starting late November), and the town’s Stadtpark is turned into a petting zoo where the kids can meet llamas, donkeys and sheep as well as ride ponies. And, of course, there’s skiing. This little resort town has access to some excellent slopes, so whether you’re a beginner or a long-time skier, you’ll love a winter break in pretty Kitzbühel.

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For winter sun: Santa Cruz de la Palma

Not everyone wants a wintry escape, so if you’re after some winter sun instead head to the Canary Islands where La Palma offers a spectacular break in an unusual landscape. The volcanic isle has black beaches, lush green palms and succulents and cacti growing out of its dark grey soil. The capital, Santa Cruz de la Palma, is a pretty, hilly city with excellent bars and cafes, some gorgeous old Spanish churches and cobbled squares and courtyards.

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While away a few hours browsing the shops or wandering along the seafront, then settle in for a sea view with the region’s famous barraquito drink – a short layered tipple of coffee, Licor 43, condensed milk and milk froth. Come February, the island celebrates a very unusual festival: Los Indianos. This wild carnival is one big street party in which everyone wears white and throws talcum powder at one another.

Book it: Find beautiful hotels in La Palma

It’s the perfect, warmer alternative to a white winter in Europe…

Lottie Gross

Lottie is an NCTJ-trained journalist, an experienced travel writer and an expert in creating compelling digital content. 

Lottie has been in the travel writing business for nearly a decade and has writing and photography bylines at The Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, the i and National Geographic Traveller. She's done broadcast work for BBC Radio 4 and have contributed to a number of guidebooks and coffee table titles during her career.