European winter city breaks recommended by travel experts ❄️

By Julian Canlas - 9 MIN READ

It’s January, and you’re longing for winter city breaks, but don’t know where to go. You have a weekend, and you’re willing to take some days off of work.

I hear you! So, here, in this article, I had the help of great travel experts to recommend to you amazing cities to have a winter city break! Enjoy 💙.

Top Europe Winter City Breaks

Vienna, Austria 🇦🇹

It’s hard to find a city that looks as pretty as Vienna in winter. The old-world charm of the streets, the imperial architecture basked in twinkling lights and the city’s coffee culture make for the perfect winter break.

Veronika, Founder, Veronika’s Adventure

Inside the beautiful Café Royal in Edinburgh Scotland

Inside the beautiful Café Royal in Edinburgh Scotland

With Christmas markets, quaint little cafés and historic architecture, Vienna is also one of my favorite places in Europe to take a winter city break. It’s close enough from Geneva (where I live) that I can hop on a plane and take a therapeutic weekend to sightsee and then go to a café to work at.

Great Viennese cafés

Firmly embedded within the city’s history, Vienna has a vibrant culture of traditional cafés. These are three of my favorite cafés.

Café Hawelka

Cafe Hawelka in Vienna, Austria

Moody lighting for a nice atmosphere

Café Hawelka is a very well-known traditional Viennese café with a rich history in Innere Stadt. A step inside the café feels like a step back in time, and the atmosphere is warm and cozy.

When I was visiting, I had a Wiener Mélange, alongside a slice of peach cake, which was delicious. And the friend who I was with tried a slice of sachertorte, a type of chocolate cake. Under the chocolate icing of the sachertorte, there’s a layer of fruit jam, which added a fruity flavor to the cocoa!

Suffice to say, if you want to see a traditional Viennese café in a historical setting, this is it.

Café Central

How Café Central looks like from the outside in Vienna, Austria

How Café Central looks like from the outside in Vienna, Austria

Another Viennese spot with great historical roots is the Café Central at the Innere Stadt. It opened in 1876 and was also a key meeting place for many intellectuals and politicians, including Sigmund Freud, Leon Trostky and even Adolf Hitler 😨.

One of the main reasons I visited this café was for its history. But upon entering the café, I was surprised to see that the owners haven’t capitalized on its (in)famous clientele of the past.

The only prominent figure proudly displayed was the life-sized mannequin of Peter Altenberg – a famous Viennese poet known to frequent many of the city’s cafés.

Slightly creepy mannequin of Mr. Peter Altenberg in Café Central

Slightly creepy mannequin of Mr. Peter Altenberg in Café Central

But my goodness, the café is beautiful! It’s located in a fairly-big building, and the dome-shaped ceiling is worth a look at!

Magnificent interior of Café Central in Vienna, Austria

Magnificent interior of Café Central in Vienna, Austria

When I went, there was a piano player which made everything feel atmospheric. I highly recommend the schnitzel alongside red wine if you’re there for lunch!

Nice inside of Café Schwarzenberg

Nice inside of Café Schwarzenberg in Vienna, Austria

Unlike the first two cafés, Café Schwarzenberg did not cater to intellectuals, politicians and artists. The oldest café in the Ringstrasse, it was well-known within entrepreneurial and financial circles.

Like in Café Central, when I went there on a Sunday, there was live piano. I ordered a piece of Mozart Bombe, a delicious type of chocolate cherry bombe, and the cream strudel in vanilla sauce. Both were very delicious with a cup (or three) of coffee!

Budapest, Hungary 🇭🇺

Budapest is a great city for a winter vacation. Coming to Budapest around the Holiday season gives you a great opportunity to explore the culinary traditions.

So here is a quick list of foods that you should try while in Budapest: fisherman’s soup, fried fish, potato salad in vinegar, stuffed cabbage, beigli (traditional Christmas pastry with walnut or poppy seeds), pork and cooked sausage on New Year’s Eve, and lentil soup on New Year’s Day – the latter is supposed to bring your great wealth in the new year.

From Budapest Local

With its winter markets, legendary coffee houses and secret baths, Budapest is a great city to visit during winter. But I’ll get into something more exciting: ruin bars! They’re unique to Hungarian history, and I think that they’re great to visit during winter!

Fantastic ruin bars

What is a ruin bar? A ruin bar is exactly what it sounds like. It is a bar that’s located in a ruined or dilapidated area, which can be an abandoned apartment or office building, or even a warehouse.

Ruin bars were made after the Second World War when Hungary didn’t have a lot of money, but still wanted to have a thriving nightlife. So they would create bars in ruined places and use whatever materials they could salvage.

Szimpla Kert

Car-as-furniture in Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary

Car-as-furniture in Szimpla Kert in Budapest, Hungary

Szimpla Kert is a huge ruin bar, and it’s known for its wild decoration that really hones in on the idea of scrappiness: car scraps serving as tables and seats, graffitied walls and plants galore! Everything looks quite surreal and extra cool, especially once you have a few sips of alcohol.

While you might have to queue for around 20 minutes before getting in, this ruin bar is one of my favorite nightlife experiences ever. It’s the perfect place to meet people, and the alcohol is quite cheap. If you love alternative, artsy places, this is the place to go.

 

Mazel Tov

Located in the Jewish quarter, Mazel Tov is a nice ruin bar, if you’re looking for Mediterranean, Israeli and Lebanese food. Try to reserve a table before coming, as the waiting time can get long. But there’s live music, which complemented the atmosphere. I ordered a homemade kebab and a nice glass of red wine. Delicious!

Mazel Tov's beautiful green interior in Budapest, Hungary

Mazel Tov’s beautiful green interior in Budapest, Hungary

Csendes Letterem

Szimpla Kert has an awesome, expansive space that’s perfect for a great night out. But if you’re looking for something quieter and more quaint, Csendes Letterem might be for you.

Its ceiling and walls are covered with vintage and very unique artefacts, like an old bathtub that’s been cut in half. While there is some food, this place is more suited for drinks.

I can spend a whole afternoon in this place just looking at its décor, though, and I wouldn’t be surprised if you do the same!

Paris, France 🇫🇷

Paris in winter is pure magic. For most of December, the holiday markets are in full swing, department stores like the Galeries Lafayette put on the most gorgeous seasonal displays, and Christmas trees are everywhere.

The ones lining the Champs-Élysées are dressed with over 150,000 lights! With most of the tourists back home, the city takes on a relaxed, unhurried rhythm. Shopkeepers and waiters are less frazzled; more likely to treat you like a guest than a customer. Cozy bistros serve classic comfort foods – like cassoulet and croque monsieur – to keep you warm and satisfied.

There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Laura Goyer, Digital Content Creator, The Culinary Travel Guide

Winter City Break, Paris, France

Amazing places to visit

Shakespeare and Co.

Book heaven at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, France

Book heaven at Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, France

Ah, the iconic Shakespeare and Co. is a library with a café next to it. It’s known for having been a literary hangout for the Beatnik generation, and today many travellers and literary-lovers still visit the place to experience it firsthand. Some are allowed to do volunteer work and stay in the library.

The café is also the perfect spot to hang out during a drab weekend in Paris to read a book. Of course, if you’re travelling in Paris, why just stay idle and read a book? Good question…

Pharamond

Pharamond in Paris, France

Pharamond in Paris, France

An artefact of the Belle-Epoque period, the Pharamond is an amazing bistro that’s been around since 1832. Housed in a historical building, the architecture has a mix of wood, painted mirrors and molten glass.

Famous figures such as Clemenceau and Hemingway used to frequent the place. I love going to bistros, and this is no exception. They uphold the tradition of serving “home-made” French food.

Various markets and tourist areas

All right, I’m cheating. There are so many great places to visit in Paris that I couldn’t decide which to choose. In any case, we have comprehensive articles on Paris that you can read in your travels, including touristy and nontouristy places, its beautiful markets and cultural museums.

London, United Kingdom 🇬🇧

Think that London only comes to life in the summertime? You’re wrong.

London in the summer has its obvious charms – festivals, picnics in the park, pub gardens… but dig a little and you will find that there’s plenty to keep your calendar packed when the temperatures drop and the days shorten.

As a born-and-bred Londoner, I’ve pretty much made exploring the best things to do in London during winter a fine art. From huddling around a pub fire to drinks in a riverside igloo, don’t miss these fabulous activities during your trip.

Julianna Brady, Founder, “The Discoveries Of” Travel Blog

 

Ah, London, the city of my heart. I’ve spent a few winters living in London, and it remains one of my favorite cities in the world. There’s the bustling energy, the great nightlife, and unparalleled culture that makes it an amazing winter city break.

London’s wonderful igloos ☃️

Igloos are a natural occurrence in London during the wintertime… just kidding. But there are some places that have them as outdoor venues during winter, and it’s the best place to drink and eat, while looking futuristic, with a great view of the London skyscape.

And of course, they’re the perfect Instagram spots.

Coppa Club

Coppa Club

Source: coppaclub.co.uk

Coppa Club’s beautiful perspex igloos offer an amazing view of Tower Bridge and the Shard, so naturally, it’s a must visit if you’re choosing London as a winter city break.

⚠️Disclaimer: you need to book these igloos in advance, because they’re almost always fully-booked (no wonder why). Try to book a month in advance.

I ate brunch there at 11 AM and tried eggs Benedict, poached eggs, salmon and avocado – all with some glasses of Mimosas. They were so good. And the whole setting is very Instagrammable.

Aviary London

Aviary London

Source: londonist.com

Located in Finsbury Square, the Aviary London boasts a magnificent view of London that’s even better during winter within their igloos. A nice apéro at the terrace is a great way to spend your evening in the capital of the UK.

The Sipping Room

The Sipping Room

Source: urbanologie.com

Located at a small corner in Canary Wharf, The Sipping Room has a great set of igloos for cocktails. Seville spritz = so good. And the halloumi burger = heaven. Suffice to say, they have great choices in terms of cocktails and burgers.

Edinburgh, Scotland 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

During winter, I was most surprised by how the sunsets in Edinburg still manage to be stunning, with the clouds and mist covering the city… The golden light that shines when the night takes over is so poetic and romantic. It’s not hard to understand how this inspiring place gave birth to so many talented writers!

Sarah Chin A Sen, Travel Content Creator, TWISPER – Social Travel App

Winter City Breaks Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is a perfect winter city break if you’re looking for somewhere quaint and cozy to visit! From Edinburgh Castle to its Old Town with winding cobblestone roads that inspired Hogwarts, there’s something magical about the small city, especially during crisp, sunny days. There’s also a torchlight procession at the end of December that’s always worth a watch!

Sarah’s favorite places to eat

Sarah just came back from her trip from Edinburgh. Naturally I went to her TWISPER profile and looked at her favorite places during her visit.

Café Royal

 

Inside the beautiful Café Royal in Edinburgh Scotland

Inside the beautiful Café Royal in Edinburgh Scotland

Founded in 1826, this affordable pub serves delicious food, with a particular focus on seafood. There’s a nice selection of whiskey and even non-alcoholic drinks. The décor is also really nice. With a mixture of Baroque and Victorian styles, it reminds you of the big Parisian brasseries made in the 19th century. It’s a nice journey back in time in the central part of Edinburgh.

Yummy Haggis

Yummy Haggis

Elephant House

Very red Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

Very red Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

So this is like a pilgrimage spot, if you’re a Potterhead. If not, they also offer nice food and bakeries.

JK Rowling frequented this place when she was writing the Harry Potter series. Since then, this place has become a popular spot for Potterheads from around the world, and people would go to this restaurant.

There are letters of admiration towards JK Rowling stacked in the drawers of some of the tables. Unsurprisingly, many thank JK Rowling for the childhood she gave them. The toilets are also covered with graffiti related to Harry Potter.

Harry Potter scribblings in Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

Harry Potter scribblings in Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

Harry Potter stuff in Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

Harry Potter stuff in Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland

The Guildford Arms

Outside the Guildford Arms in Edinburgh Scotland

Outside the Guildford Arms in Edinburgh Scotland

The Guildford Arms is a very beautiful and grandiose place, with thistle motifs on the wall, the thistle being the national emblem of Scotland. There’s a nice selection of cask and keg beers, too. It’s a great place to relax after the walk up to Carlton Hill.

Final Words

Have you figured out which winter city to visit from the list above? Let me know on social media or on TWISPER.

And as always, download the TWISPER app to discover great restaurants, hotels and bars when you’re in each city!

Julian Canlas
By Julian Canlas

Julian is a 20-something content strategist who loves to travel and write about online culture. Follow his journeys around the world and find more of his recommendations for amazing places to eat, sleep and drink on the TWISPER app.

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