For a wintry getaway this year, you’ll find a huge range of European vacation spots that will offer you majestic views and delightful entertainment. But if you’re looking for loads of charm and a dusting of magic during your vacation, consider these small towns across the continent. Drink in the utter wonder of remote islands, charming lanes, and dazzling historical sites you would miss out on if you stick strictly to the big cities.
Be sure to bring your camera and pack cozy sweaters and warm coats. You’ll want to experience the wonder of the great outdoors and the comfort of the soft indoors in any — or all — of these amazing spots in Europe.
1. Hallstatt, Austria
A small lakeside town, Hallstatt, Austria, looks like it’s been lifted from the pages of a fairytale kingdom. The town is small in size but giant in charm. Quaint houses grace the edge of the lake with their old architecture. The backdrop of the Alps doesn’t hurt, either, when it comes to the unique beauty of the town. Add in snow, and you’ve got the perfect winter setting for all your cozy dreams. The gorgeous wooded trails and glassy lake surface only add to the wonder whenever a soft snowfall is drifting down.
2. Giethoorn, Netherlands
If you’re looking for a reprieve from the major cities of the Netherlands, you’ll want to venture to the small town of Giethoorn, a beautiful, 100 percent car-free town with very few roads. In fact, to get here, you’ll have to make your way in via boat.
The town is lined with narrow canals, filled with thatched-roof farmhouses and cozy cottages, and edged in lush gardens that are capped with snow in the wintertime. While you explore, you’ll find wooden bridges linking the lots of land together and leading you in and around the canals where you may spot ice skaters taking advantage of the cold.
3. Lofoten Islands, Norway
For an exceptionally beautiful and wild take on the storybook village, visit Lofoten Islands in Norway. The islands are off the country’s northwestern coast. Frozen beaches, glistening fjords, and colorful fishing communities are all within reach on the islands. Reine, on the island of Moskenesoya, in particular, offers some of the most incredible displays of natural splendor you could hope to find worldwide. The town is located above the Arctic Circle, which means snowy landscapes and frosty views with yellow, stilted buildings edging the mountains.
4. Cong, Ireland
You’ve heard of Cork. You may have heard of Wicklow. And both are amazing destinations in Ireland. But Cong looks as though it were plucked from the verse of an Irish tune. The town is located on an island bordering Counties Mayo and Galway. It’s located among lakes, lush green meadows, and those famous Irish glens. The town is dotted with the stone bridges and thatched-roof cottages of olden times, offering visitors a tranquil cold-weather visit to the Emerald Isle. Snuggle up beside a fireplace, drink a cup of tea, and gaze out at the serene beauty of the natural wildlands surrounding you.
5. Bled, Slovenia
Whether you’re taking a second honeymoon, bringing the kids along, or venturing out solo, Bled, Slovenia is one of the most picturesque places you can visit in Europe. Many photos reveal the town’s beauty, but visiting in person reveals Bled really is as charming and delightful as it looks.
You’ll spot a medieval-style castle, gleaming mountain ranges, and a majestic church steeple decorating the skyline. Hike around the lake, drink warm beverages by the fire, or nestle in for a good book. Just don’t expect to read long; the views will captivate your imagination more than any page.
6. Dinan, France
In the south of France, the small town of Dinan welcomes visitors with its picture-perfect aesthetic. The cobblestone streets and beautiful architecture lend a special charm to the wintry months — and especially the holidays. You’ll want to try the cheeses, wine, and other local delicacies, all while breathing in the fresh, crisp winter air as you make your way along the waterfront or meander through the town. This medieval town is filled to the brim with historical sites, beautiful buildings, and even sounds of Breton: a Celtic language that’s still spoken in Dinan and other French towns.
7. Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany
The small town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany, offers you some of the most picture-worthy sights on the continent. Its unique architecture and colorful buildings — with its diverse facades — will have you daydreaming about medieval times in the old town area that’s been preserved for centuries. The town transforms into a winter wonderland in December, with cozy taverns and streets adorned with magical lights, but it’s the glowing fires, beautiful markets, and snow-dusted rooftops that fill this small city with utter beauty all winter long. You’ll feel like you’re in the good parts of the Grimm fairy tales with every step you take.
8. Mostar, Bosnia And Herzegovina
If you want to visit an off-the-beaten path spot in Europe, a trip to the enchanting town of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina is in order. The striking beauty of the Neretva River and the historic Stari Most, or Old Bridge, in town will stop you in your tracks in summer. But in winter, the piercing beauty is almost otherworldly. Make your way through town on some casual strolls, and you’ll find yourself surrounded with historical beauty, stunning sights, and storybook evenings.
Want to celebrate the holidays abroad? Here’s how to plan a Christmas markets road trip in Europe.