While we all know that an ideal vacation would include warm weather and sunny skies, we also know that summer is one of the busiest and most expensive times of the year to travel. With families trying to maximize their time while their kids are out of school, travelling in the summer can be downright stressful at times.

January typically would not be at the top of my list to book a trip to Europe (let’s be real, this is the time of the year when I want to escape the cold weather!), but when a round-trip ticket to Paris popped up for a long-weekend last year for $300, I couldn’t resist.

Despite wearing multiple coats to the airport to avoid checking a bag, a week in Paris and Amsterdam in January turned out to be one of the best international adventures I’ve experienced. Let’s talk about five places in Europe to visit this winter, I promise you won’t regret it!

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Spending a few days in Amsterdam in January was what really sold me on visiting Europe in the winter. With cozy cafes, hearty snacks, warm bars, and a city that just twinkles at night, this quaint city in the Netherlands has so much to offer. While you can expect it to be chilly, it rarely snows in Amsterdam, so you won’t need your winter boots. However, the majority of my trip was spent in a steady drizzle, so definitely bring an umbrella and multiple pairs of warm socks!

There are cold weather activities a plenty – you can pop in and out of museums, indulge in the Heineken Experience, visit Anne Frank’s home, and eat as much bitterballen as possible. If you happen to find yourself in this city between November 29 – January 20 this year, be sure to check out Amsterdam’s Light Festival when homes, canals, parks, and bridges are colorfully illuminated by local and international artists.

Paris, France

Visiting Paris in the winter offers a major perk – the low season. Most vacationers visit this city during the warmer months, making the city a dream to explore. Wander the streets with mulled wine in hand to keep you warm and snag some amazing photos of all the major sites without worrying about getting thousands of other travelers in your shots. The holiday season lends itself to decor throughout the city along with traditional French Christmas Markets filled with authentic holiday gifts for family and friends back home.

Perhaps the best part of visiting when it’s cold? Short lines and eating outside! Most (if not all) restaurants continue to offer outdoor seating with blankets and heat lamps in the midst of the winter.

Photo via Flickr

Zürich, Switzerland

A country known as a winter destination, Switzerland is a great place to visit at any time of year. With Zürich’s vibrant Old Town cityscape brightening up any cloudy sky, you’ll want to wander throughout the streets despite the cold temperatures. Zürich has something to offer for every traveler from Christmas markets and handmade candle dipping at the beginning of the season to skiing, ice skating, and toboggan runs.

If you need to warm up from the cold, pop into one of the many cafes throughout the city or follow your scent of roasting chestnuts found on a street corner. The one thing that should be at the top of any winter trip to Zürich? Fondue. Is there anything better than decadent melty cheese and bread to warm you up on a cold day?

Photo via Guide to Iceland

Reykjavik, Iceland

A city with a reputation for being perpetually chilly, Reykjavik is incredibly charming in the winter months. With daylight hours limited and streets lined with snow, the twinkle of Christmas lights throughout the city make it sparkle. A perk of short daylight? A greater opportunity to see the Aurora Borealis! If this is on your bucket list, a trip to Iceland from September – March might be the best time to catch the Northern Lights.

Reykjavik is also home to the Winter Lights Festival held during the first week of February. This festival celebrates winter as well as the beginning of growing daylight for Icelanders. If you’re feeling adventurous, be sure to rent a car and drive to some of the beautiful landscapes that Iceland has to offer. You can see a majority of this country in just a few days!

Photo via Dreamstime by Marcin Jucha

San Sebastián, Spain

This year-round foodie destination is the perfect place for travelers who can’t take the cold, but still want to take advantage of generally lower prices and less travelers. With mild temperatures in January, you’ll be set to explore this Spanish city with just a scarf and light coat.

With 17 Michelin stars throughout the city and a tapas culture that encourages snacking, San Sebastián is a destination for those looking to experience some of the best eats in Europe. Chefs cater to the season, offering heartier dishes, and the lower temperatures make it a perfect time to taste Basque ciders throughout the city.

Have you taken an amazing trip to Europe in the middle of winter? What’s your favorite destination?

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