Europe is dazzling all year round but come winter, the continent gets covered in thick blankets of white snow and glitters in the lights of Christmas decorations. Charming cities transform into winter wonderlands, every street leads to a winter market, ski slopes are open to visitors from all over the world, the smell of mulled wine perpetually wafts through the air, and all of Europe pulses in the jolly spirit of Christmas.
Winter is, without a doubt, one of the best times to visit European cities, but Europe is infamous for being an extremely expensive holiday destination. If you’d like to travel to Europe without blowing away all your savings, however, these are the most budget-friendly cities that are still abundant in beauty.
10/10 Tallinn, Estonia
The capital city of Estonia sees throngs of tourists during the summer because it’s a popular beachside stop for cruise ships. Winter, on the other hand, marks the beginning of the off-peak season. For those looking for a quiet winter holiday in a picturesque European city that looks like it belongs in a fairytale movie, Tallinn is an excellent place to book a holiday at. When not ice skating or strolling around Christmas markets, visitors may often find that they have entire museums and restaurants all to themselves.
9/10 Berlin, Germany
A survey revealed that Berlin is the third cheapest city in Europe to travel to, costing just over $100 a day, including accommodation, bus fare, entry to key attractions, and even a cheeky glass of wine. While a winter holiday in Berlin will no doubt be budget-friendly, there’s no sugar-coating the fact that winters in the city are known to be brutally cold. Luckily, a Christmas market selling hot glühwein (German mulled wine) is never too far away. There’s also the option of coinciding the holiday with the Berlin Film Festival, which takes place towards the end of winter in February each year.
8/10 Dubrovnik, Croatia
The blue waters of Croatia attract thousands each summer, but most leave town without experiencing the stunning beauty of the city of Dubrovnik in winter. Dubrovnik is one of the rare European destinations where snow is rare, and al-fresco dining is still in full swing during the colder months. Terraces are open for glasses of wine, and the historical streets of Dubrovnik are lined with cafes serving hot espressos on open-air patios. It will almost feel like a less crowded and less expensive summer holiday in the Mediterranean, except for winter markets and colder temperatures.
7/10 Athens, Greece
For those who’ve always dreamt of a trip to Athens to see the great Parthenon, winter marks the beginning of the off-peak season in the island-studded country of Greece. Winters in Athens are relatively mild, and the pleasant temperature is ideal for outdoor hikes to Mt Lycabettus. The best part? Greek cuisine is known to change with the seasons, and even those who have visited Athens in the summer will be surprised to find entirely different feasts waiting for them in the winter, especially closer to Christmas.
6/10 Vilnius, Lithuania
Vilnius is a treat for those who love architecture as the east European city was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its stunning buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture. Winter’s freezing temperatures and thick dustings of snow make the stunning city of Vilnius even more breathtaking. Besides its old-world architecture, Vilnius is famous for cross-country skiing, and frozen lakes that are open for skating, husky sledding, and horse racing events on the ice. Vilnius also has plenty of frozen lakes open for daring visitors to bathe in, followed by a steaming bath in a nearby spa.
5/10 Porto, Portugal
Not a fan of cold winters? Portugal’s second-largest city Porto is another European city where even the coldest months of the year rarely ever go below the double digits in temperature. Instead, winters in Porto are still filled with plenty of port and vinho, pastel de nata, and even a bit of surfing. Without the crowds, hotels are cheaper, beaches are less crowded, and wine tastings have smaller groups. While there are plenty of summer activities to do in Porto during the winter, the city doesn’t skimp out on winter celebrations. Extravagant decorations line the streets, markets pop up each night, and there are plenty of traditional Portuguese Christmas delicacies to enjoy.
4/10 Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after winter destinations in Europe for its postcard-worthy Christmas markets, twinkling light shows, ice skating rinks in the city center, trams studded with thousands of lights, top-notch holiday-themed plays at the Hungarian State Opera House, and of course, the city’s iconic thermal spas. So it may come as a surprise that the city famed for its Christmas celebrations is also relatively easy on the wallet. An analysis by Discover Cars found that the average cost for a week-long stay in Budapest is just over $800, and the city is home to at least 800 affordable restaurants.
3/10 Interlaken, Switzerland
Switzerland is known to be one of the most expensive countries in the world, let alone Europe. But there are pockets of Switzerland that can be explored on a budget, especially if it’s in the winter, which marks the off-season for tourists in the country. The resort town of Interlaken, for one, is a wonderful place to hunker down for snow sports and visits to the Swiss Alps. In fact, tourists in Interlaken during the winter are so few that it’s not uncommon for certain trams, hotels, and restaurants to be closed off for the season, and those that are still operational often have attractive packages for visitors.
2/10 Istanbul, Turkey
While Istanbul is the cheapest European city to travel to, those traveling to the Turkish capital over December must bear in mind that it’s not going to be a typical winter break. For one, Istanbul isn’t big on Christmas, meaning there won’t be any festive markets or skating rings around. That being said, Istanbul is fairly warm even during its coldest months and is an ideal getaway for those who’d like to escape both heavy snow and cold temperatures. The city is also sparse on tourists at this time of the year, which means fewer crowds in the bazaars, hammams all to yourself, and dinners at open-air wine bars that don’t require reservations weeks in advance.
1/10 Krakow, Poland
Krakow is rarely a destination that comes to mind when thinking of a winter holiday in Europe filled with striking beauty, but that’s a shame. Temperatures in December can go in the negatives, the Christmas lights keep the city glowing even in the dark, and if you’re lucky, you’ll see the old city of Krakow covered in dustings of fresh snow. Besides, Krakow was voted the cheapest city to visit in Europe in 2019, winning a total of five stars in value for money. Come January, as crowds dwindle, prices of hotels drop even further, and the ski slopes around the city are relatively sparse on visitors.