bucket list tag categories cover photo the northern lights

Traveling Europe during the winter months is a truly special experience. As cold air sweeps across the continent, travelers discover enchanting snow-capped cities, postcard perfect landscapes, and plenty of fun things to do! Taking advantage of this season means less crowded attractions and the opportunity to immerse in local winter traditions. It is magical and there’s no better time to visit!!

In the colder months, from around November through March, European destinations offer an array of delightful winter season activities.

Ultimate Europe winter bucket list

Creating a winter travel bucket list for Europe is about embracing the frosty beauty of nature and the warmth of cultural experiences. It’s a chance to skate across frozen canals, explore historic sites without the queues, and witness landscapes transformed by a dusting of snow. Use this list to plan the ultimate Europe winter bucket list trip!

Nature and Natural Phenomenon

The Northern Lights

If there were ever a bucket list experience it would, without a doubt, be the aurora borealis, better known as the Northern lights. Winter is the perfect time to see these mystical lights dance across the sky, a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ideal time to see them is in winter, when nights are longest and when light pollution is low. Hire a guide for your best chance at seeing this fascinating awe inspiring natural phenomenon.

Book a tour: The easy way to see the lights is to book a tour. Tour operators have expert insight into predicting the auroras, know the best places to see them, and include transportation.

best places to see the Northern Lights in Europe are the Arctic Regions / Arctic Circle:

  • Norway: Norway stands out as one of the premier places to witness the Northern Lights. The Arctic city of Tromsø is a particularly popular destination.
  • Iceland: Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland, linked culturally and politically to Europe, is a remarkable experience. Popular viewing spots include Thingvellir National Park, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and the Westfjords.
  • Sweden: Viewing the Northern Lights in Sweden is a captivating experience, especially in the northernmost regions such as Swedish Lapland. Abisko National Park, Kiruna, Jokkmokk, and the Torneträsk Lake are popular destinations for aurora enthusiasts.
  • Finland: The northern regions of Finland, such as Lapland, offer excellent opportunities to see the Northern Lights.
bucket list tag categories cover photo the northern lights
The Northern Lights

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

In winter, Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia transforms into a serene and enchanting wonderland. The park, known for its stunning frozen crystalline lakes and cascading waterfalls, takes on a new allure under a blanket of snow and ice. Wooden walkways afford visitors views of frozen turquoise lakes against the snow-covered landscape.

Black Forest, Germany

Winter is a great time to visit The Black Forest, or Schwarzwald. It’s captivating in winter! The region, known for its dense forests and woodlands, charming villages, and rolling hills, takes on a magical quality when blanketed in snow. Trees are often laden with heavy snow and frozen waterways and waterfalls, like the famous Triberg Waterfall, create an enchanting picture. Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market is certainly a bucket list worthy destination!

Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market in the Black Forest Germany
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market in the Black Forest Germany

Ice Caves

Europe’s ice caves are mesmerizing natural wonders with breathtaking and otherworldly chambers. Explore the tunnels and chambers of one of these expansive ice caves and wonder at the intricate ice formations, translucent blue hues, and frozen waterfalls.

Magical underground ice kingdoms that are accessible in the winter months include:

  • Vatnajokull Ice Cave, Iceland
  • Langjokull Ice Cave, Iceland
  • Breidamerkurjokull Ice Cave, Iceland
  • Scarisoara Ice Cave, Romania
  • Mer de Glace, Mont Blanc France
Ice Caves, Winter bucket list Europe
ice caves
ice caves, Europe Winter Bucket list
ice caves

Mountain Landscapes

Europe’s mountain landscapes take on a whole new feel in the winter months, and are a perfect place to spend winter holidays! Frozen lakes and dense snow-crowned forests against the backdrop of snow-covered peaks create a truly enchanting picture. Spend some quality time in the mountains! Ski resorts offer opportunities like downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubbing, snowshoeing, and winter hiking.

Not into winter sport? There really is something for everyone! Make snow angels, have a snowball fight, or simply cozy up to a crackling fire and sip a hot beverage like hot chocolate or spiced wine. Mountain resorts offer the opportunity to relax with a plethora of spa services.

Europe winter destinations with mountain views:

  • The Carpathian Mountains, Romania: In winter, the Carpathian Mountains are a picturesque wonderland of snow-covered wildernesses and serene mountain valleys. The region’s national parks provide a pristine winter landscape. Cozy guesthouses and mountain lodges provide a warm and inviting atmosphere, the ideal setting for a winter retreat. The famous Bran Castle, commonly referred to as Dracula’s Castle, is open to guests in winter.
  • The Swiss Alps, Switzerland: The Swiss Alps are one of the most scenic places in the world, and simply remarkable in winter. The Swiss Alps are home to the Matterhorn, one of the highest summits in Europe and winter sports enthusiasts flock to these mountains in winter. Idyllic Mountain villages like Zermatt and Lauterbrunnen are a big draw as well.
  • The French Alps: France: France’s Alpine region boasts some of the best skiing destinations in the world. Chamonix, nestled at the foot of Mont Blanc offers a diverse range of activities including winter sports and winter hiking opportunities. Visitors can take a train to the summit for panoramic views or ride a gondola across a vast glacier to Italy.
  • Bavarian Alps (Germany) and Tyrolean Alps (Austrian): The Bavarian Alps are home to Zigspitze, the highest mountain in Germany, and emerald green alpine lakes like Königssee. The Tyrolean Alps provide an idyllic setting where one can traverse nature’s beauty in relative solitude. You’ll find the fantastic historic towns of Salzburg and Vienna nestled in these mountains.
  • the Pyrenees Mountains, France and Spain: This mountain range stretches along the border between France and Spain, and provides a picturesque and snow-covered landscape that is perfect for outdoor adventures and relaxation. Go there for winter sports, charming mountain villages, cozy accommodations, and stunning mountain views. The region’s national parks and nature reserves provide a pristine setting for exploring the snow-covered wilderness.
snowy mountain tops along the Ebenalp trail
snowy mountain tops!

Horse Drawn Sleigh
The snowy mountain regions are a great place to take a scenic horse drawn sleigh ride through mountain valleys, it’s one of the best ways to spend a winter afternoon!
Popular choices include:

Horse drawn sleigh ride Europe Winter bucket list
magical horse drawn sleigh ride, a great way to spend a snowy afternoon!

wildlife and animal experiences

Polar bears

When you think of winter wildlife chances are one of your first things that come to mind are adorable polar bears. Polar bears are not typically found in the wild in Europe. If you are interested in seeing polar bears in the wild you’ll need to travel to Svalbard, an archipelago that is part of Norway. However, winter is NOT the best time to see polar bears in Svalbard. Your best chance of actually seeing them is in Finland at a sanctuary: Ranua Wildlife Park

polar bears, Europe winter bucket list
polar bears

Whale watching

Go on a winter whale watching tour in Iceland or Norway. While there are fewer whale sightings in winter it’s still possible to see them. Locate a whale watching tour on Get Your Guide.

Humpback Whale Watching, fall travel bucket list
Humpback Whale Watching

Reindeer sleigh ride

Enjoy a reindeer sleigh ride in Rovaniemi, Finland. ” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener nofollow”>Search for reindeer sleigh excursions here.

Reindeer sleigh ride Europe Winter bucket list
Reindeer sleigh ride Europe Winter bucket list

Dog Sledding in Finland

Experience the thrill of dog sledding. Tours are led by experienced guides through the snowy forests and across frozen lakes and offer unforgettable memories for the whole family on a winter family vacation! Search for dog sledding tours here on Get Your Guide.

dog sledding excursion Europe Winter Bucket list
dog sledding excursion

Winter Festivals and Events

European Christmas Markets

Surely Europe’s Christmas markets are the single most Christmassy places on earth during the holiday season! Christmas lights, fresh greenery, snow dusted villages, and smells that delight the senses! Tantalizing smells of gingerbread and cinnamon roasted nuts intermingle with those of spiced mulled wine and roasting meats.

Top Christmas market destinations include:

  • Germany: It all started in Germany. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt old town market was Europe’s first Christmas Market. With Dresden’s Baroque architecture in the background, it’s still one of Europe’s best markets. Germany’s beautiful medieval towns are something straight out of the pages of a storybook, their markets cozy and quaint. Check out this Germany Christmas Market itinerary that includes some of the very best medieval markets. The Raveena Gorge market is certainly a bucket list worthy destination. First time visiting Germany in winter? Ultimate Germany Winter guide.
  • Austria: Both Vienna and Salzburg have great markets. This is Krampus land so check event calendars for Krampus events in the coming months.
  • France: If you plan to be in France during the Christmas market season head straight to the Alsace region! This wine growing region has the cutest towns and the best Christmas markets. With its over the top Christmas decorations, I like to say it’s like Christmas blew up…but in a good way! Strasbourg rightfully calls itself the Capital of Christmas (Capitale de Noël), Colmar gives it a run for its money, and the area is home to several too cute for words medieval villages! Get my Alsace Christmas Market itinerary!
  • Other prime Christmas market destinations include: Budapest Hungary, Tallinn, Estonia, Prague, Czech Republic (Prague Castle plus Christmas Markets, fantastic!)
Striezelmarkt Christmas Market Dresden Germany, oldest Christmas Market
Striezelmarkt Christmas Market Dresden

Venice Carnival

The Venice Carnival is an opulent celebration famed for its elaborate masks and costumes. It typically runs for two weeks, creating a vibrant atmosphere with its grand balls, parades, and entertainment.

Venice Carnival, Winter Bucket list Europe
Carnival in Venice

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay is Scotland’s world-renowned New Year’s festival. The city buzzes with excitement, hosting a torchlight procession, outdoor concerts, and the famous “Loony Dook” where brave individuals take a dip in the freezing waters of the Firth of Forth and get a truly fresh start of a New Year!

Fête de la Saint-Sylvestre in France

Celebrate the New Year In France with gusto at the Fête de la Saint-Sylvestre. Streets come alive with parties, special feasts, and the popping of champagne corks. Traditionally, people exchange cheek kisses at midnight and enjoy the réveillon, a late-night festive meal.

Up Helly Aa, Scotland

Up Helly Aa marks a spectacular Viking fire festival in Lerwick, Shetland, occurring on the last Tuesday of January. Participants, known as ‘guizers’, don ornate costumes and march through the town wielding torches, culminating in the burning of a Viking Longship. Watch this video and see why this is at the top of my bucket list!

Shetland Viking Fire Festival

White Turf Racing Days, Switzerland

This annual event takes place on the frozen lake of St. Moritz. Witness the unique experience of the world’s top Jockeys racing thoroughbred horses on the snow and ice. It’s a thrilling experience!

Snowboxx Snow Festival in Avoriaz, France

This crazy fun festival includes music, skiing, hilarious downhill inflatable races, heated snowball fights, a heated water park, spas, massive amounts of food and wine and a whole lot of fun! – Mid March.

Ice Music Festival, Norway

Experience the unique and ethereal sounds of Ice Music. Concert goers are treated to music from glacial Instruments (instruments made of ice!)

Ice Music Festival, Norway

Rest, Relax and Rejuvenate!

Finnish sauna experience

A traditional sauna experience in Finland offers a unique and relaxing way to unwind. Take a break between sessions to cool off, perhaps by taking a dip in a nearby lake or rolling in the snow. The Finnish sauna is the perfect place for both physical and mental rejuvenation and provides the opportunity for relaxation, socializing, and a sense of well-being.

Thermal baths and hot springs

Looking for therapeutic relaxation? Healing waters contain rich minerals, and are purported to be effective for medical and relaxation purposes…and it’s good for the soul! Plan to spend a lot of time RELAXING!

popular locations to enjoy thermal baths and hot springs include:

  • Budapest is hailed as the “city of spas.” The city’s thermal baths date back to Roman times and are an integral part of Hungarian wellness. Budapest’s baths vary from ornate historic establishments to modern facilities. The most famous of them are the Gellért Baths, Széchenyi, and Rudas.
  • Iceland is known for its geothermal activity, which has given rise to a number of thermal baths and hot springs. Some of the most famous thermal baths in Iceland include the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa located in a lava field, and the Secret Lagoon, which is one of the oldest natural geothermal pools in Iceland. Experience the unique sensation of soaking in warm water while surrounded by Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes.
  • Pamukkale in Turkey is known for its stunning terraces of white carbonate mineral deposits left by flowing thermal waters. The hot springs at Pamukkale have been used as a spa since the 2nd century BC. Visitors to Pamukkale can walk barefoot on Pamukkale’s otherworldly terraces and wade in the mineral-rich waters.
Pamukkale hot springs in Turkey, Europe Winter Bucket list
Pamukkale hot springs in Turkey

soak up the summer sun in the canary islands

Winter bucket list ideas don’t have to be all snow, ice, and freezing temperatures. I don’t know about you but pristine beaches and winter sun sound like the perfect place to be this time of year. The Canary islands are an archipelago located off the coast of Spain. In winter you’ll find a pleasantly mild subtropical climate, it’s a great place to escape the frigid temps of the northern parts of Europe.

The Canary Islands pristine beaches Europe Winter Bucket list
The Canary Islands

Take a winter train journey

Sit back and enjoy the scenery on a winter train journey through frozen landscapes. Two of the most scenic options can be found in Switzerland. From the warm interior of the train carriage you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the Swiss Alps, picturesque valleys, and charming villages. Savor delicious Swiss cuisine as the train makes its way through the stunning winter scenery.

  • Glacier Express in Switzerland. The route takes passengers through the Swiss Alps from Zermatt to St. Moritz or Davos
  • The Bernina Express crosses the Swiss Engadin Alps and connects the Swiss towns of Chur and Poschiavo to Tirano Italy by crossing the Swiss Engadin Alps.
winter train ride, Europe Winter Bucket List
winter train ride

Book a cozy retreat or spa stay

Why not book yourself a tranquil retreat amidst snow covered forests?! Cozy accommodations amidst serene snowy landscapes are certainly a bucket list worthy experience. Unwind and des-stress with amenities like hot tubs, saunas, steam rooms, crackling fireplaces, aromatherapy, and spa services.

popular places to book mountain retreats complete with alpine charm include:

  • Mountain Chalets in the Swiss Alps
  • Mountain Alms (huts) in the Bavarian Alps of Germany and Austria
  • Mountain Refuges in the French Alps
  • Norway mountainous regions such as Hemsedal, Geilo, and Beitostølen
  • Sweden’s Lapland region, including areas like Åre and Sälen
  • Finland’s Lapland

Where can you find a mountain getaway? Search here on Booking.com or VRBO. With search features like “chalet” “lodge” “cabin” and “resort” you should have no problem finding your cozy retreat!

Ready to book? If you use the links above I’ll make a small commission and you’ll help me fund my website! Need more options? Wikipedia has a list of mountain huts in the Alps.

cozy winter cabin, winter travel bucket list Europe
book a cozy cabin!

Dreamy winter accommodations and ice bars!

ice hotels and ice bars

Ever dreamed of sleeping in a room made entirely of ice and snow? Now’s your chance! but hurry because when spring arrives these frosty ice castles melt away! Ice Bars: Frozen walls, frozen seats, glittering ice everywhere! It’s an fabulously frozen icy dream and a fun place to “chill” on a winter day! Bring your gloves because the glass is frozen too!

ice hotels:

  • The Icehotel in Jukkasjärvi Sweden is a world-famous ice hotel that is rebuilt each year using ice harvested from the nearby Torne River. The hotel features intricately carved ice sculptures and stunning ice architecture.
  • The Arctic SnowHotel in Rovaniemi, Finland is another notable ice hotel. Located on the Arctic Circle, this hotel offers a range of ice and snow accommodations.

Sidle up to a frozen ice bar in these locations:

  • Icebar by ICEHOTELL Stockholm, Sweden
  • Icepub Prague: Prague, Czech Republic.
  • ICEBARCELONAL: Barcelona, Spain
  • Ice Club: Rome, Itlay
ice bars, Europe winter bucket list
ice bars!

glass dome northern lights

Viewing the northern lights from glass igloos or traditional Finnish cabins make this experience extra special and offer a cozy viewing vantage point.

viewing the northern lights from a glass igloo, Europe winter bucket list
viewing the northern lights from a glass igloo

picture perfect villages, famous landmarks, and fairy tale castles

Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Venture to Europe’s most recognizable castle, even more special against the wintery backdrip of the Bavarian Alps. Neuschwanstein is Europe’s quintessential fairytale castle and it’s positively magical in winter! Visitors experience a virtual winter wonderland with snow covered mountains and forests, frozen alpine lakes, and picture-perfect snow globe landscapes.

Get more: Complete Guide to Neuschwanstein Castle in Winter.

Schloss Neuschwanstein castle in winter as seen from Marienbrucke Bridge (marys' brige) best vantage for Neuschwanstein Castle Winter photos
The view from Marienbrucke Bridge (Marys’ Brige) best vantage for Neuschwanstein Castle Winter photos

Hallstatt Austria in winter

The charming small village of Hallstatt sits prettily on the shores of beautiful Lake Hallstatt, surrounded by majestic mountains and lush forests. Colorful Alpine houses are built into the mountainside, each one with views of the swan studded lake, frosty and fabulous in winter! The picturesque area surrounding Hallstatt is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Add it to your “Winter Europe bucket list” itinerary!

Hallstatt Austria in Winter, winter bucket list Europe
Hallstatt Austria in Winter

The Eiffel Tower in Snow, Paris France

Paris takes on a mystical feel when the Eiffel Tower and surrounding gardens are blanketed with snow. It’s a magical experience! Viewing the iconic structure during a winter evening, illuminated against the night sky, is truly bucket list worthy!

snowy Eiffel Tower in winter, European Winter bucket list
snowy Eiffel Tower

Outdoor Winter Activities that belong on your Europe winter bucket list

These unique outdoor activities will make you Insta popular and belong on your winter travel bucket list

scuba diving (Iceland)

If you’re dive certified then exploring underwater Iceland deserves a spot on your list! Not dive certified? Snorkeling tours are available as well. Arctic Adventures offers scuba and diving tours in Iceland year-round.

Ice Skating in the Netherlands

Come winter, the canals of the Netherlands freeze over and are transformed into a fabulous natural ice rink! The Dutch have a deep-rooted passion for ice skating, and when the conditions are right, people of all ages take to the frozen canals to enjoy this timeless winter activity. Strap on a pair of skates as you join in on this nostalgic activity. Transverse the frozen waterway as you glide across the ice with locals and visitors alike!

ice skating canals in Amsterdam Netherlands, Europe travel bucket list, winter
ice skating on the canals, best things to do in Amsterdam in winter!

ice fishing

Ice fishing is a unique time-honored winter activity. When the winter season brings freezing temperatures, holes are drilled into the thick ice and provide the opportunity for ice fishing in regions like Scandinavia and parts of Eastern Europe. Safety precautions are essential when venturing onto frozen water, so book a tour if you want to join in on this enduring tradition. Popular places to ice fish include: Finland, Sweden, Norway. Search for ice fishing tours here on Get Your Guide.

ice fishing, popular winter activity Europe Winter Bucket list
ice fishing

Religious and Cultural Experiences

experience the Sami culture

Sami People are the native people of the northern Scandinavian region. Norway is home to most Sami in the world, a people known for their colorful costume and deer herding skills. Sami Week in Tromsø is held annually in February and celebrates everything Sami. Try your hand at reindeer racing, learn to joik, and enjoy traditional food dishes. Also on tap, live music and the national championship in lasso throwing! Other winter festivals include the Sami Music Week in Alta, Tana Winter Festival, The Sami Easter Festival in Karasjok,, and Festival Skábma in Lebesby.

Religious Observance

A candlelit Christmas Eve mass in one of Europe’s stunning cathedrals is an unforgettable spiritual experience. Some of Europe’s best include: (to name just a few, look for one in a city near you!)

  • The York Minster, England
  • Cologne Cathedral, Germany
  • St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City
  • Cathedral of our Lady, Belgium
  • Chartres Cathedral, France
  • Ulm Minster, Germany

winter travel tips

Winter travel tips when traveling abroad to a European winter destination include:

  • Safety Note: Check Weather Conditions regularly and stay apprised of possible winter weather conditions such as blizzards and avalanche warnings. Be sure to dress for cold weather conditions. Safety should be your top priority. Many of these activities require a knowledgeable guide.
  • consider carrying: 1) an ice scraper to clear car windows 2) a flashlight in case of power outage 3) a portable power bank or charger for you phone 4) an emergency kit if you are planning a road trip (add snow chains or socks on the car when required!)
  • Consider an insurance policy that covers winter sports. Many do not. I shop for insurance policies at IMG Global and Travel Insurance.com.

FAQ

What are some of the best bucket list winter experiences in Europe?
Some of the best experiences discussed in this article include viewing the northern lights, horse drawn and reindeer drawn sleigh rides, staying in glass igloos, cozy cabins, or ice hotels, experiencing magical Christmas Markets, winter sports and festivals, unique cultural experiences and a whole lot more!

Which country in Europe is best to visit in winter? and is it worth visiting Europe in winter?
Yes, it is most certainly worth it! Europe is simply magical in winter with snow-laden landscapes, festive Christmas markets, winter sports opportunities, and there’s no better place to relax and rejuvenate in the winter months! The best place? There’s no easy answer to that. Visit Scandinavia for lots of snow, northern lights, and reindeer! The Alps are stunning in winter, and countries like Germany, Austria and France go all out for Christmas Market season!

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