From discovering your inner Viking beside an icy Norwegian fjord to playing golf near the Mediterranean, winter in Europe provides a kaleidoscope of picturesque settings and memorable experiences for travellers.
Here we suggest seven great options to avoid the stay-at-home winter blues and begin the new year reinvigorated and inspired…
1. Bergen (Norway) – Viking Season
October to April is popularly known as the Viking season in Norway. It’s a time when visitors have a chance to discover more about the people from the Norwegian fjords, descendants of the Vikings. “It’s raw, rough, and full of contrasts,” notes Visit Norway, when the region “shows its mystical and magical self”.
The landscapes are transformed by the winter weather, highlighted by mist-covered fjords and snow-capped mountains where fun-filled activities include fishing, skiing and snowshoeing, and local dining establishments serve culinary specialities based on exquisite seasonal ingredients.
Bergen, Ålesund, and Stavanger are ideal starting points for exploring Norway’s fjords, according to Visit Norway. They are the largest cities in the region and offer convenient transport links with the main European centres.
2. La Manga (Spain) – Resort Golf
Spain is one of the only countries in Europe where you can play golf just about every day of the year, including during the winter months when courses in other northern climes are under a blanket of snow or drenched with heavy downpours.
Bordered by national parks and beaches in the Murcia region – with excellent European flight connections to the new Corvera-Murcia International Airport – La Manga Club Resort offers top-class accommodation, leisure and sports amenities including three 18-hole championship golf courses – one of them re-modelled by the legendary Arnold Palmer.
3. Kiruna (Sweden) – Dog-Sledding
For an authentic back-to-nature experience, and the opportunity to see the magical Northern Lights, dog-sledding holidays are hard to beat. Trips in the far north of Swedish Lapland take you through snowy forests and across frozen lakes and rivers, with overnight stays in cosy cabins (often with saunas) along the way – resting after a customary journey of 25 to 50 kilometres each day.
“There is quite simply nothing like the sensation of being in control of your own dog-sled and husky team,” says Nature Tours, “putting your trust in your dogs and earning their friendship in return. Huskies are good-natured, full of energy and born to run.”
The company offers tours of varying difficulties, including family-friendly shorter trips of one to four days and more challenging two-week wilderness expeditions, with the option of staying in the renowned Ice Hotel – just 15 minutes from the kennels.
4. Copenhagen (Denmark) – Christmas Markets
The concept of “hygge” has become a global trend in recent years. It essentially translates as “cosiness” and means creating a warm and intimate atmosphere while savouring the finer things in life with people you enjoy being around.
Christmas in Copenhagen embodies the simple joys and tranquil pleasures of hygge like no other place. Friends and family – locals and visitors – gather to chat, wine and dine, while admiring the Christmas lights above Kronprinsensgade and wandering among the popular Christmas markets. The more active can go ice-skating at one of the many rinks or take part in Saint Lucy’s Kayak Parade across the harbour, before adjourning to somewhere warm and cosy for a glass of gløgg (mulled wine).
5. Rovaniemi (Finland) – Santa Claus
An iconic, almost obligatory, destination at this time of the year… especially for parents with young children. Rovaniemi is the capital of Finland’s Lapland area, about six kilometres south of the Arctic Circle – but best known as the home of Santa Claus.
Except for 25 December when he and his reindeers are otherwise occupied, Santa is available every day of the year at his office in Santa Claus Village, taking care of his mission in life: “to enhance the well-being of children and the kindness of grown-ups, as well as spread the message of love and goodwill and the Christmas Spirit across the globe”.
6. Galway (Ireland) – Bohemian Creativity
For our next destination, we defer to Lonely Planet and their long-standing experience seeking out cool options for getaways and holidays. Named as one of their “Best in Travel 2020” destinations, the Galway region was a 2020 European Capital of Culture, with an extensive and diverse programme of live and digital art, street performances, and music, theatre and dance shows, unfortunately, curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Galway in winter. The city has many medieval pubs which provide a flavour of the true Irish pub experience. There’s something for everyone to enjoy in Galway!
“Brilliantly bohemian, Galway is arguably Ireland’s most engaging city,” declares Lonely Planet. “Here brightly painted pubs heave with live music and cafés offer front-row seats to watch buskers perform.”
7. Planica (Slovenia) – Ski-Jumping
Home to the world’s highest ski jumping centre, Planica is located in a stunning alpine valley setting extending from the Rateče border village into the Tamar Valley (a popular national park hiking destination).
The first 100-metre jump was achieved in Planica in 1936 and since then it has been the scene of many successful world record efforts. In addition to a state-of-the-art indoor cross-country ski training centre, Planica also has what is said to be the steepest zip line descent in the world.
If visiting this winter, top International Ski Federation events include the Cross-Country World Cup on 21-22 December and the Sky Flying World Championships from 19 to 22 March.
Dakota Murphey has been lucky enough to travel around the world, exploring numerous cultures and sharing her experiences through her writing. Now with two kids, she looks to keep the focus of travel prominent in her family and is excited to plan her next adventures around Europe in 2019.