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Europe is probably on every traveler’s bucket list. It has an endless list of places that satisfy every kind of traveler.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for flight tickets that are on sale because a bulk of your trip cost will go toward these! So, cheap flights can be a big deal, especially when you’re traveling on a budget.
You can check out my full review of the various booking channels I use to score myself some cheap tickets.
So, here are my top 10 cheap Europe winter destinations that will warm your heart and not burn a hole in your pocket (see what I did there?!).
I’ve highlighted them on the map to make it easier for you to pinpoint their locations.
For all you ladies traveling solo, you can check out the winter packing list I made to help you pack for your next trip.
This new popular kid on the block has gained traction in recent years due to it being one of the filming locations of the Game of Thrones.
So, prices have been steadily hiking. But the winter brings in the off-season so, the cost of accommodations and transport drop to make it a country worth visiting.
Croatia has been one of the prime jewels of the Adriatic, and it is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world.
Sights to See
Old Town and Dubrovnik
You can explore the history and architecture of the Old Town which features on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The capital city of Dubrovnik has well-preserved buildings and is encircled with stone walls dating back to the 16th century. The best way to explore this coastal city is by walking around.
A fortress that has stood the test of time since the 13th century, it was originally built as a Romanesque fortress before undergoing renovations and finally adopting the current Neo-Gothic style since the 19th century.
For the price of HRK 40 or $6, you get to visit the castle and the park surrounding it. A guided tour for a group costs more at HRK 200 or $30. Apart from the park, there’s also an artificial lake on campus.
Plitvice Lakes and Plitvice National Park
This is one place I think everyone is going to love, having visited it myself. It is located in one of the oldest national parks in the area.
It looks like a page taken out of a winter fairy tale with the turquoise pools encircled by white snow-covered paths, waterfalls that are frozen over and perfectly-sculpted stalactites.
It is one of the most beautiful natural spots. So, a winter city break here is a great idea!
You can get an entry ticket for HRK 60 or $9.
Students can get tickets for a dollar cheaper or with 50% concession depending on the age.
On rare occasions, during heavy snowfall, there are chances that the National Park might be shut so make sure to find out the opening hours, which are reduced, to begin with, considering the season.
Krka National Park
The Krka National Park is often overshadowed by its Plitvice counterpart, but it is just as lovely and far less crowded than the latter. So, you can have the Park all to yourself. They even have a winter programme with reduced ticket prices of HRK 30 or $4.
Christmas Market alert!
The Advent in Zagreb was voted in the past as the best Christmas market for two years running. It takes place at the Jelacic Square and much like one of the Budapest fairs features an ice rink and takes place from the end of November to the start of January. It also has street food stalls, live ice sculpture carvings and live music.
Here are the top 5 dishes you must try in Croatia:
- Peka or ispod čripnje is strictly not a dish. It is a traditional process of slow cooking tender meat usually under a terracotta or iron lid. It can include lamb, veal, chicken or octopus accompanied by potatoes. It is the national “dish” of Croatia.
- Crni Rizot or Cuttlefish Black Risotto is a popular seafood dish available throughout Croatia. Sometimes it is prepared with squids or other seafood as well.
- Zagorski štrukli is a delicious, traditional Croatian pastry filled with cottage cheese and sour cream.
- Istria’s forests contain high concentrations of black truffles, which have a strong aroma. Dishes that incorporate them cost almost half of what they would in Italy. They are rich, nutty, musk-flavoured and are used as ingredients in risottos, pasta and pesto.
- Another “dish” that is famous from the Istria region is their olive oil which has won several World’s Best Olive Oil awards. They are hand-picked and pressed and have a peppery taste.
#2 Czech Republic
Prague is one of the best places to visit during the winter as it becomes a Winter Wonderland.
Despite the freezing temperatures you will love the city for its romantic vibe, fewer crowds and cheaper accommodation so grab your partner and head there this winter.
Sights to See
The capital city and its cobbled streets are best explored on foot which is good news for your wallet. There are several informative and affordable walking tours, some even free, to take you around.
Local transport is cheap. A pass for the same costs about $1-$2 for an hour and about $6-$7 for the entire day. Even the local trains are affordable at 110 CZK or $5. Children get almost 50% concessions.
Some of the must-sees in this city include the famous Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, Old Town Square, the Dancing House and the Lennon wall.
The Karlštejn Castle is a lovely Gothic castle founded in the 13th century and served as a safekeeping place for the Imperial Regalia and other precious jewels. Tickets to the castle will cost you about $6-$7.
Sapa or Little Hanoi
Haven’t visited Vietnam and want to kill two birds with one stone? Visit Sapa in Prague, also known as Little Hanoi. It is a giant Vietnamese market complex with a multitude of shops and eateries.
Last but not least, Prague is another city that is famous for its Christmas markets. You’ll find two of these in Prague – one at Old Town, which transforms into Christmas Central, and the other at Wenceslas Square. They are five minutes apart by foot so don’t miss these if you plan on travelling in December.
- Mulled wine, also known as spiced wine, is made with red wine along with various mulling spices and served warm or hot, especially around Christmas. So, it makes for the perfect winter drink. You can try some of this at Café No. 3.
- Trdelník is a hot, rolled pastry topped with sugar and cinnamon cooked over a grill. Sounds heavenly, right? It is available in stands throughout the Old Town area and is a tourist favourite.
- Řízek (schnitzel) is unique because it is made with several different types of meats, covered in flour, beaten eggs and breadcrumbs before frying and served with a side of potato salad.
- Guláš (goulash) is a pork or beef stew with lots of onions and served with bread dumplings or slices of bread. It is one of the cheapest Czech dishes you can try and very common during European winters.
- Vepřo knedlo zelo (roasted pork) is the most traditional Czech dish you can try. It is, as the name suggests, a roasted pork dish served with dumplings and pickled cabbage.
The Baltic states are known for their historic centres or Old Towns, as they are popularly called, all of which feature on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Sights to See
Tallinn and the Old Town
This Baltic country’s capital, Tallinn, turns into a beautiful, picturesque city in the winter. The cobbled streets, archaic-walled Old Town makes you feel like you walked into a fairy tale.
Ice Rinks and Ice Skating
Among the many ice rinks in Estonia, you’ll find a unique, outdoor pop-up rink on Harju Street in the heart of the capital from December to March. You can enjoy a lovely one-hour ice skating experience for around $7-$8. There are discounted prices for students and senior citizens.
Aurora or The Northern Lights
Estonia being close to the Lapland region also experiences a dazzling display of aurora borealis, popularly known as The Northern Lights.
Christmas Market alert!
Christmas time is one of the best in Tallinn.
Add the Tallinn Christmas market to your list if you fancy an OTT Christmas experience because you’ll get to witness a Santa who arrives by a reindeer-pulled sleigh and a Christmas tree that has been put up since 1441 making it the first-ever Christmas tree on display.
There’s also a winter grotto (cave) that you can visit apart from the stalls and huts.
Estonians primarily feast on meat, potatoes and fish. Here are the top 5 dishes you have to try:
- Räim or Baltic herring is one of the national dishes of Estonia.
- Sprats are a type of fish that can be found in abundance in the Baltic sea. Many dishes are prepared with this as the main ingredient, the most famous being Kiluvõileib, or the sprat sandwich. It can also be had as a standalone dish smoked in oil.
- Rosolje is an Estonian signature salad made of potatoes and beetroot. It is a popular party food. Optionally, you can opt for the version with herring in it.
- Rye bread is not really a dish by itself, but the locals prefer homemade bread, hence it is used as an accompaniment for most dishes had here.
- Vastlakukkel is a special sweet eaten on Shrove Tuesday (the day preceding Ash Wednesday). It is a pastry made of a wheat bun and stuffed with whipped cream. If you happen to be in Estonia in February, you should definitely try this out.
Bonus Tip: Kalev is the oldest and longest-running factory in Estonia, and their high-quality chocolate is quite popular.
Winter is probably the best time to visit Budapest.
Cue Budapest by George Ezra, while you walk around the capital checking out its Gothic architecture or along the Danube watching the ice drifts flow by.
Sights to See
Tip-> Budapest Travel Card
To explore Budapest here’s the one thing that will be most helpful – a Budapest Card or Travel Pass.
The rate differs depending on the duration you want the card for ranging from 24 to 120 hours.
The 24-hour card costs $25 while the 120-hours or the 5-day one will set you back by $72. It consists of free transport, free entries to 6 major museums, free entry to a thermal bath, 2 free guided tours lasting 2 hours each and multiple other discounts.
If you’re the kind who wants to explore on your own read on…
The Hungarian capital has a picturesque central park that turns into a huge ice-skating rink in late November or early December.
It is located in the shadow of the Vajdahunyad Castle hence aptly named Városligeti Műjégpálya. It is the largest of its kind and one of the oldest in Europe too.
An adult ticket costs 2000 HUF or roughly $6-$7. There are student and family discounts as well. You can rent skates for $8-$9, but there’s a $6-$7 deposit charged over and above the rental.
Tip: To avoid crowds, visit on a weekday morning.
A definite must try in the cold weather post the cold ice rink experience – THE THERMAL BATH in Széchenyi!
It is a thermal, mineral-rich medicinal bath, the largest of its kind in Europe, with two thermal springs supplying water to it. Imagine sinking yourself into this steamy delight and you can thank me later. Their prices start from $17 and they have a couple of spa facilities as well.
The Hungarian parliament with its Gothic architecture and the 13th century Matthias Church is something the history and architecture lovers will enjoy taking a look at.
Danube Palace Theatre (Duna Palota)
For the art and culture enthusiasts, you can catch the Hungarian Folk Dance Show at this historical theatre to explore the rich Hungarian folk culture. It roughly costs $25 per person. Group and student discounts available.
For the pub-hoppers and party-goers, check out one of the many ruin pubs or romkocsma in Budapest’s seventh district behind the Great Synagogue. These are all housed in renovated abandoned buildings with the ruin pub Szimpla Kert being the oldest of the lot.
Christmas Market alert!
Budapest is host to two Christmas themed fairs/festivals. One is more of a pre-Christmas festival or December festival called the Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival that lights up Budapest from December 1st to December 23rd.
This is the bigger of the two in terms of number of stalls as this has 100 plus stands where you can pick up Christmas gifts from.
There’s also plenty of entertainment – live music, folk dances and light shows. Catch the display at the famous Gerbeaud Coffee House on Vörösmarty Square because it is converted into a giant advent calendar with a new magical display opening every day.
The other charming fair goes on for a longer duration of five weeks from 27th November to January 2nd at Szent István Square, around one of its landmarks, the St. Stephen’s Basilica. It hosts 80 stalls, weekend folk dance shows and even an ice-skating rink around the Christmas tree!
Here are the top 5 dishes to try out:
- Gulyás or Goulash, a stew of meat and vegetables seasoned with spices, is the national dish of Hungary. A warm bowl of this should warm you up instantly. For the best version of this dish, head to Budapest Bisztró, located at Kossuth Square.
- Lencseleves or lentil soup is a delicacy traditionally made on New Year’s Day, i.e. January 1st. So stop by for some hot soup to ensure a lucky year ahead.
- Lángos, a savoury deep-fried pastry topped with savoury ingredients like sour cream and cheese, is a Hungarian speciality and a very popular street food dish.
- Somlói Galuska is known as Hungary’s favourite cake. It is a delicious dessert made from sponge cake layered with chocolate cream, walnuts, rum and topped with whipped cream. The classic version of this is prepared by Gundel Restaurant, which might set you back quite a bit so you can head to Pörc & Prézli where it’ll cost you about 1500 FT or $5.
- Paprikás Csirke (Chicken paprikash) is a flavourful chicken stew in a sweet, creamy paprika sauce, sometimes topped with sour cream and served with noodles or nokedli (Hungarian dumplings).
Lithuania is one of the cheapest places in Europe that you can visit, winter or any other season. It makes up one third of the Baltic States.
Sights to See
Lithuania’s capital is one of Europe’s lesser known capitals but this lively centre’s Old Town features on the UNESCO World Heritage list and has a rich archaeological heritage.
The Curonian Spit and the Hill of Witches
The Curonian Spit is a long, curved, sand-dune spit that separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea coast.
In the village of Juodkrante, on the Curonian Spit, is the Hill of Witches (Raganu Kalnas) is a naturally forested area filled with carved wooden sculptures. It was carved by Samogitian folk artists and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site illustrating Lithuanian folklore (that’s a story for another day).
Here are top 5 dishes to eat in Lithuania:
- Cepelinai or potato dumplings is the national dish of Lithuania. They are usually stuffed with curd cheese, ground meat or mushrooms as per preference, and served with sour cream or bacon.
- Varškės apkepas (fried curd cheese cakes) is a staple in Lithuanian households. These small deep fried cakes are made with traditional Lithuanian curd cheese coated with a mixture of flour, eggs and sugar.
- Kabinai are handmade pies that are a national dish of the Karaite people, an ethnic minority of Turkic origin, but residing in Lithuania for centuries. They contain meat, vegetables and cheese curd and are wrapped in a soft, pastry crust.
- Grybukai (Mushroom Cookies) which, contrary to the name, aren’t made of mushrooms. They are just cute cookies shaped like mushrooms, made of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, flour, sugar and butter and glazed with either a black or white cap.
- Spurgos (Lithuanian doughnuts) are small, round, deep fried doughnuts filled with pastry cream and poppy seed, dusted off with icing sugar. They’re popularly served on Shrove Tuesday.
Portugal is known for its architecture, culture and laid-back atmosphere. Here’s a mini guide to this culturally-rich, coastal country. Watch the pace of the capital city slow down during the winter and enjoy it while saving money.
Sights to See
The capital city draws a lot of crowds for its multitude of experiences – be it architecture, art and culture, or even Portuguese cuisine.
The Belém Tower is a popular tourist attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its architecture features Gothic and Manueline styles. A ticket to visit this marvel would cost you €6 or $6-$7, while students and senior citizens get a 50% discount.
Just off the coast of Portugal is an autonomous region called Madeira. This archipelago, comprising four islands, is most famous for being the birthplace of one of the World’s best footballers, Cristiano Ronaldo.
For the non-sporty people like me, this name might ring a bell when you go to pick up a bottle of wine the next time and find this region’s namesake in the display. This region follows its own weather cycle different from the mainland – think warm, subtropical climate, volcanic islands and large New Year’s fireworks show.
Being on the coast, Portugal’s national dishes are salt cod and grilled sardines. Here are the top 5 dishes to try here:
- Bacalhau which is the salted codfish is a national favourite. The most popular variant of this dish is the bacalhau à brás.
- Pastéis de nata, a puff pastry stuffed with yellow custard, is a baked delight. Try this dish out at the famous Pastéis de Belém, one of the oldest and most popular bakeries that has been in operation since 1837 in Lisbon.
- Feijoada is a bean stew tossed with beef and pork. This dish is for the meat lovers.
- Peixinhos da horta is a colourful, vegetarian dish made with vegetables from the garden, ground and fried until crispy.
- Açorda is made of mashed bread with olive oil, vinegar, poached eggs and salt. Along the coast, codfish or shrimp is also added to it.
Romania is known for its medieval towns, fortified churches and castles. The country’s capital, Bucharest.
Sights to See
The winter season provides the best atmosphere to visit Dracula’s lair. Grey skies, the occasional snowfall, cold and gloomy weather and a spooky atmosphere sounds like a recipe for a haunted movie, doesn’t it?
Visit the medieval town of Braşov in central Romania and visit the nearby Bran Castle to check out this eerie attraction.
A ticket to this fortress will cost you 40 LEI or $9, students can get in for about $6. Students and senior citizens get a discount on producing a valid ID.
You can also check out this medieval town which is two hours away from Braşov by rail.
Don’t let the pastel-coloured buildings and medieval splendour take your attention away from the history of Vlad Ţepeş, a bloodthirsty 15th century prince, who was allegedly born here. You may remember him as Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula.
Pestera Muierii/Muierilor (The Woman’s/Women’s Cave)
Taking your attention away from Dracula, is this wonder located in Gorj. It is known for its stalagmites and stalactites formations and karstic landforms. Inside it you will find the Stoned Falls, a Santa Claus, even a Church as well.
Here are the top 5 dishes:
- Sarmale or cabbage rolls, stuffed with spiced pork and rice.
- Ciorbă de burta (tripe soup) is a traditional soup that has a very strong aroma and a distinct texture which is the result of several hours of work. This dish is usually the first course of every Romanian meal that restaurants serve and it is a crowd favourite. It is also a widely popular hangover remedy. So, the next time you know what to order after a long, hard night of drinking and partying.
- Mici or Mititei is a popular Romanian grilled dish made of minced meat and shaped like rolls. They are served with mustard and bread.
- Papanasi are fried cottage cheese donuts best served hot with sweet and sour cream and topped with jam, usually blueberry or cherry. It is a traditional Romanian dessert.
- Cozonac is a sweet bread filled with Turkish delight, poppy seeds or walnut paste and is a staple at every major Romanian holiday, be it Christmas, New Year’s Day or Easter.
This popular Balkan country is known for its glacial lake, Lake Bled. But it offers so much more in terms of medieval castles, baroque facades and 20th-century architecture.
For the archaeology lovers, here’s a fun fact if you didn’t know it already.
There’s a wooden wheel, the Ljubljana Marshes Wheel, found in the Ljubljana Marshes, some 20 kilometres from the capital, that is said to be approximately 5,150 years old, making it the oldest wheel discovered till date.
Sights to See
This picture-perfect alpine lake, although beautiful all-year round, becomes a winter wonderland at the onset of winter. With the Julian Alps as its backdrop, the fairy-tale postcard is a sight to behold.
Don’t forget to try out the Bled Cream Cake while here. You can walk or drive along the lakefront and sit by the lake’s edge or walk across the lake when it’s completely frozen over (yes, that does happen!) to reach the island Church of the Assumption of Maria.
Ljubljana Dragon Carnival
Each year on Shrove Tuesday, which is the Tuesday in February or March immediately preceding Ash Wednesday, Slovenia witnesses Ljubljana Dragon Carnival.
Opera, Ballet and Philharmonic
Slovenia is very encouraging when it comes to art and cultural events and if this is an area of interest to you, you could consider visiting the Slovenian National Opera and Ballet theatre or catching a performance by the Slovenian Philharmonic.
Tickets for a show at the former cost anywhere upwards of 10,00 € or $11, and for the latter, anywhere upwards of 12,00 € or $13 depending on the seat picked.
Top 5 dishes to try here:
- Kranjska klobasa (Carniolan sausage) is a Slovenian sausage that has been entered into the register of protected geographical indications.
- Potica, a yeast-dough cake with a variety of filling options, is the most typical Slovenian dessert. There are as many as 80 varieties of this delicacy.
- Prekmurska gibanica (Prekmurje layered cake) is a moist dessert consisting of layers of poppy seed, cottage cheese, walnut and apple filling.
Fun fact: This cake is protected under the Traditional Speciality Guaranteed designation and can only be sold under its name when prepared according to the traditional recipe. (Typical of Pannonian Slovenia, the region of Prekmurje.)
- Kraški pršut (Kras prosciutto) is dry-cured pork leg. It goes particularly well with a glass of Kras Teran, a red wine grown in the Kras region.
Fun fact: The prosciutto labelled as Protected Geographical Indication is a top-quality product made on the basis of the centuries-long tradition of salting meat and drying it in bora, a fierce cold north-easterly wind blowing across Kras.
- Prežganka is the Slovenian national soup. It is made of flour, caraway seeds, and beaten eggs.
The Catalonian region is known world over for its lively atmosphere and modern art and architecture.
Its capital, Barcelona, is one of the best European cities to visit during the winters due to fewer queues, cheaper accommodation, and affordable food and drinks.
If possible, head over there for New Year’s Eve as you’ll get to experience it the Spanish way by joining the locals on the streets to watch the fireworks and eat 12 grapes at midnight for luck.
Sights to See
Basilica de la Sagrada Família
Designed by Antoni Gaudi, this large, unfinished Roman Catholic cathedral in Barcelona is a popular architectural wonder of the Catalan region and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It is one of the warmest (yes, I said warm) places in Europe in December. It is a large, autonomous region with Seville as its capital. Visit Seville’s Alcázar castle, Cordoba’s Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral and Granada’s Alhambra palace to find some unique architecture reminiscent of Moorish rule. The daytime ticket at The Alhambra allows you to visit 3-4 places within the complex for about $15.
Skip the popular cities in Spain and take a day trip to the Canary Islands to enjoy some warm weather and amazing Spanish culture.
Travel tip: Fly to Madrid or Barcelona so you catch a cheaper flight to Canary Islands.
Each year in February, the Canary Islands witness extravagant floats and colourful dance parades. This is when Carnival of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, held in the capital of the largest island, and it comes a close second to the famous Rio de Janeiro carnival, at least in Europe.
Top 5 dishes to try here:
- Churros con chocolate: Churros are fried dough choux (pastry) shaped in long strips with distinctive ridges. It is a merienda (snack) you can’t leave Madrid without having! Churros are served with hot chocolate and make for the perfect warm indulgence on a cold winter day. The most famous place serving this delight is also one of the oldest – Chocolatería San Ginés. It opened in 1894, is the city’s most iconic churrería and features at the top in almost every list of the best churros in town.
- Paella, also called Paella de Marisco or seafood rice, is the national dish of Spain, and is not only popular within the country but worldwide too.
- Tortilla de patatas or Tortilla Española or Spanish omelette is a traditional dish and a staple among the locals. It is an omelette made with mainly potatoes and eggs.
- Gazpacho or Andalusian cold tomato soup, gets its name from the region it originated from but is now served everywhere. If you don’t mind having chilled soup in winter go ahead and try this one out.
- Chorizo or Spanish pork sausage is eaten on a regular basis and is common in almost every household. It is often cured, marinated with spices ad eaten just as is or with bread. Alternatively, it is also used in stews alongside other meat and vegetables.
Ukraine has a unique geographical location, with the sea in the south and mountains in the west. With temperatures ranging from 0°C during the day to -20°C when the cold winds of Bora blow by, European winters make the best time to visit the Carpathian Mountains to ski.
Travel tip: Stay in one of the many ski resorts to enjoy skiing down the Carpathians.
Sights to See
Kosino Thermal Spa
While all you can see will be snow, frost and cold, here all you will feel is hot steam at a temperature of around 40°C. This thermal spa complex consists of seven saunas and one ice cave. It costs AUH 300 or $12 for 3.5 hours in the thermal complex.
Travel tip: To get here you can catch a train from Uzhgorod to Kosoni station and then a bus or a taxi. Or you can take a bus directly from Beregovo.
Odessa and Lanzheron beach
This port city located on the Black Sea, turns into a Kingdom of Ice during the winters so if you want to feast your eyes on snow-covered paths, icicles hanging on railings and frigid waves of the Black Sea, take a walk along the promenade at Lanzheron beach. Alternatively, you can sit in one of the many seaside cafes and sip hot, spicy wine to help you feel warm.
The excursion ticket will cost you UAH 55 or approx. $2. Student, group and guideless excursion discounts are available. You can walk around for hours admiring the wooden churches, big windmills, regional farmsteads and snow fields.
Here are the top 5 dishes of Ukraine:
- Borscht, a sour soup made primarily of beetroots, giving it its red colour, is the national dish of Ukraine. It is commonly served with garlic fritters.
- Varenyky is a very popular dish among the Ukrainians. It is a boiled dumpling stuffed with a variety of fillings like potato (most popular), cheese, sauerkraut or even ground meat. (Pierogi is the Polish word for the same)
- Holubtsi are stuffed cabbage rolls wrapped around a variety of fillings. It is another national favourite among the Ukrainians.
- Chicken Kiev (Kotlety Po-Kyivskomy), a fried chicken breast filet with buttery filling. you’ve probably heard of or eaten this before as it’s a dish that has brought fame to Ukraine.
- Deruny or potato pancakes is perfect as a breakfast option or a dinner one. They are freshly baked or fried and can be made with meat, onion slices or mushrooms to add to the taste.
TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
- Skyscanner to find cheap flight deals.
- Rental Cars to hop on your next road trip.
- Booking.com to find a hotel deal.
- Hostel World to find a backpacker hostel.
- World Nomads to insure your travel.
- Viator to find a cool day tour.
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