Alternative winter city breaks:
- Many more
1. Reykjavik, Iceland
Visitors of Iceland rave about the Blue Lagoon, Godafoss and the long volcanic landscapes. What’s often overlooked is Reykjavik’s cultural offerings. You’ve never seen a Cathedral like the Hallgrímskirkja before, and we doubt you’ve had the chance to visit a Phallological Museum… This is also one of the best places to get a sighting of the rare Aurora Borealis: check out our guide to the best places to see the Northern Lights in 2017-2018. Even if you don’t catch them, Reykjavik’s Winter Lights festival takes place in February, coming a close runner up.
Where to stay: Get a city centre location, cosy rooms and great facilities in creatively named City Center Hotel. Closest Airport: Reykjavik
2. Valencia, Spain
Tomatina and Las Fallas take place in Valencia, so it’s no surprise that Christmas and New Year is a jolly affair here too. The Cathedral, supposedly home of the Holy Grail, is a magical place to take midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and if you stay around for New Years’ you’ll see some of the best fireworks in Spain – especially if you view them around the City of Arts and Sciences, where the reflections dance on the water at all hours of the day. There’s still plenty to do during winter here, as the daily highs of 15°C mean it’s still great sightseeing weather. Of course, the beach is open, but the Costa Blanca is reserved for braver swimmers during winter. Check out our top 8 things to do in Valencia – throwing tomatoes at your friends is an odd choice for winter though.
Where to stay: Stay in the centre of town in the Caro Hotel – it’s walking distance to the Cathedral, the Market and the Turia Gardens. Closest Airport: Valencia
3. Trondheim, Norway
Trondheim is Norway’s original capital city, and it carries more rustic charm than Oslo: picture boats knocking together on the docks, bars inside wooden houses with locals supping dark rye beer, and snow-capped houses with smoking chimneys. That’s not to say this city isn’t grand though – Nidaros Cathedral is the second largest church in Northern Europe, and serious Vikings fans need to see the Stiklestad Cultural Center. This is the site of one of Norway’s bloodiest battles, and the one that marked the beginning of the movement from paganism to Christianity. If Norse history isn’t your bag, you’ll still appreciate the scaled models of Viking ships inside.
Where to stay: For Scandi style and full facilities, crash in Scandic Lerkendal.
Closest Airport: Trondheim
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4. Zagreb, Croatia
Lonely Planet has voted Zagreb’s Christmas Markets as the Best in Europe (we’re not sure what the other great European Christmas markets have to say about this), and you’ll think so too after tasting their fritule. These Croatian pastries are a bit like the British jam doughnut, but the pastry is much more Italian than English. Zagreb is often overlooked in favour of Croatia’s highly prized islands, but this kitsch city deserves its own weekend break. The Design District has taken the old Soviet architecture and transformed it into an artists coven, Booksa is ideal for huddling away with a book and a coffee, whereas the Design Superstore is great for picking up last minute gifts – especially if you know someone who’s hard to buy for. The interiors alone make it worth the visit.
Where to stay: Just 5 minutes from Zagreb’s design district, the Esplanade has style in spades. Closest Airport: Zagreb
5. Tallinn, Estonia
Forget the fairytale on the Christmas cards and see it up close in Tallinn’s Old Town. Pack some sturdy shoes for walking in: the Old Town is cobbled, and you can expect snow and ice during a winter trip to Tallinn. Telliskivi Loomelinnak (Creative City) is where you can find the coffee shop culture and flea markets on Saturdays. Meruar is one of the city’s local street artists, and you can find his colourful paintings adorning the centuries old Soviet walls in Loomelinnak. Make sure you head to the Kalev chocolate shop to pick up some souvenirs too – choose between a chocolate or marzipan workshop to indulge that sweet tooth and personalise gifts. Before you go, check out our city guide to Tallinn and make sure you get your weekend city break itinerary sorted.
Where to stay: Schlossle Hotel translates as ‘castle hotel’ – it’s located in the Old Town. Closest Airport: Tallinn
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6. Pistoia, Italy
This is tipped as one of the best cities to visit in 2017, offering all the charm and architecture of Florence, packed into a smaller city with none of the queues. You’ll be in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, so pile your plate high with locally produced pasta, meat and red wine. Ski bunnies will be happy to know the ski lifts open in Abetone in January and the daypasses only cost €29*, so it’s an easy weekend activity outside of Florence.
Where to stay: B&B Canto Alla Porto has very beautiful basics. There are only four guestrooms, which makes it feel very homely. Closest Airport: Florence
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7. Freiburg, Germany
The Black Forest should be high on your list when you’re looking for a truly wintery wonderland – and not just for the gateaux. Luckily, it’s on Freiburg’s doorstep, but before you embark on one of many scenic drives to the forests of Schwarzwald, make sure you stick around in this German university town to admire its medieval architecture and babbling brooks, even just for one night. Set out early the next morning and discover 30 foot pine trees, iced with snow and frost throughout the winter months. If you like things a little less rustic then head to Europapark, Germany’s answer to Alton Towers, and enjoy the wooden roller coasters, light shows outside, or the Circus d’Europe, an acrobatic show served alongside a 2* Michelin feast.
Where to stay: The Designhotel is a sleek hotel in the centre of Freiburg, with a bar and café located on the ground floor. Closest Airport: Basel
8. Rabat, Morocco
This is the place to forget about winter for a while. Rabat is a coastal city in Morocco, home to souks trading spices, silverwares and more – it’s definitely a great location for Christmas shopping. The temperature stays in the lower half of the twenties, but you’ll need a cover up for evening strolls. You’ll be able to enjoy the longer days in the ancient ruins of Chellah, a necropolis built in the twelfth Century, or the marble Mausoleum of Mohammed V, built in the traditional Moroccan style. Enjoy evenings wrapped in incense, chewing on sticky dates and watching the city wind down from the top of your own Riad. And yes – this is where Game of Thrones was filmed.
Where to stay: Riad Dar El Kebira will make you forget all about cheesy Christmas music and pub food – they’re swapped for incense, intricate tiles and lucious platters of nuts and fruit. Closest Airport: Rabat
9. Vilnius, Lithuania
On one hand, Vilnius’ thirteenth century Old Town is as charming as any other, but for a a truly alternative winter break seek out the galleries and boutiques inside the city. The Contemporary Art Centre and Lithuanian Art Gallery are caverns of national art, taking you from their days of Soviet Rule to the contemporaries of today (the Juškus Gallery is known for outdoor events and exhibitions across the city). To take a little of the art home with you, meander between the shops on Stikliu Street. This used to be the street for glass blowers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, but nowadays the former emporiums house Lithuanian designers and international brands.
Where to stay: The Shakespeare Boutique is so opulent you’ll feel like royalty: four posters beds and free standing baths are the ultimate winter rescue. Closest Airport: Vilnius
10. Gothenburg, Sweden
Gothenburg is the hipster city adjacent to Stockholm on the western coast of Sweden, dotted with a few tiny islands around the coast. They’ve got the art of fika (taking time with a friend to have coffee, cake and conversation) down. Café Kringlan is the perfect place to pick up a Cinnamon roll that will do you for lunch and dinner. The Stora Saluhallen is the main foodie market in Gothenburg, a place of much merriment, pickled fish and elk meat during the winter months. If you’re with littlies, the Liseberg Amusement Park is a glittering spectacle over Christmas. This year, there will be just under 5 million fairy lights strung between the stalls of the Christmas Market.
Where to stay: Hotel Flora is inside the former fish market in the centre of Gothenburg – and walking distance to the main shopping concourse. Closest Airport: Gothenburg
Looking for more city break inspiration? Let us help you out
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*Published September 2017. Prices correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability