Winter in Europe...the air is crisp and clean, the local food is warm and filling and most importantly, the cities are a lot less crowded. There’s a certain charm to travelling around Europe this time of year, whether you’re in the mild south or the brisk east. Put on your favourite scarf and be inspired to escape to these captivating destinations.
Prague can be incredibly crowded in the summer, and though the city never totally empties out, there’s so much more breathing room in the winter—not to mention the charming, picturesque view of this beautiful city’s traditional red rooftops lightly dusted in snow. The atmosphere of this romantic medieval city really comes to life at this time of year. On the 26/27 January, Prague hosts their annual Winter Festival, with gourmet dinners, tours, fine wines, ballet and opera at the National Theatre, Prague State Opera and the National Museum.
But no matter the date, you can munch on freshly-made, cinnamon-dusted trdelnik pastries from street vendors while strolling around Mala Strana, Hradcany, Old Town Square and the Old Jewish Quarter. In fact, Prague has a number of very tempting patisseries, not to mention the strong Czech beers and hot mulled wines. It’s a winter food paradise. Meat lovers in particular should go for a lively dinner at Středověká Krčma, a medieval tavern with live shows, belly dancers, in-character staff and cavernous décor.
Winter weather in Prague generally hovers right around the freezing mark but it rarely snows much, so it’s easy to walk up to the castle and enjoy the city centre. If you do want snow, Jested ski resort is only a couple hours’ drive away, in Liberec. Bring winter boots and warm gloves!
The Mad House Prague get consistently high ratings from our guests, probably because of their very friendly atmosphere and great location near Old Town. They have daily events, communal dinners, amazing murals and free Wi-Fi throughout the building.
In the dark of winter, the City of Lights shines even brighter. Imagine lingering in the Louvre or savouring the opulence of Chateau de Versailles instead of standing in the long queues of summer and jostling other visitors to get a glimpse of the Mona Lisa. Paris in the winter is a more leisurely city, but no less packed with things to see and do. Currently the Musée D’Orsay is running an Impressionism and Fashion exhibition until 20 January. Over at the Grand-Palais you can discover classic Bohemian Parisian life through art, poetry, music and more at the Bohémes exhibit from now until 28 January. In fact, with all the museums, there’s plenty to do indoors. And for the fashion-conscious, don’t forget the legendary seasonal sales in Paris’ best shops, like Au Bon Marche.
The weather this time of year is cold but not bitter, and there will probably be no snow. In fact, the weather is perfect for enjoying Paris’ rich café culture. It does rain a bit though, so bring a warm coat and water-resistant shoes; however, with the extensive Paris Metro you never have to walk for long.
St Christopher’s Paris was rated the Most Popular Hostel in Paris at the 2011 Hoscars and features a lot of handy little extras, such as privacy curtains, personal power sockets and reading lights and even free earplugs. This large, stylish hostel has its own bar which hosts several weekly parties.
This is a great time of year to visit London – not only is the weather mild and generally dry, but there’s less tourists and prices have dropped considerably after the Olympics. Here you can get a glimpse of the London of old, particularly in Hyde Park, where until 6 January you can skate around a Victorian bandstand on the city’s largest open-air ice rink.
Other events currently happening in London include A Bigger Splash: Painting After Performance, an exhibit in the Tate Modern running until 1 April. It explores the relationship between performance and painting, with pieces by Jackson Pollock, David Hockney, Cindy Sherman and more. Over in the West End, London’s legendary theatres are currently running Cabaret, Billy Elliot and a plethora of other highly praised must-see performances.
Want to take it easy? Head over to the Cafe in the Gardens at Russell Square, where you can warm your hands on a steaming cup of tea while looking out over the frosty gardens and fountains through their glass walls. If you fancy a pint, London’s many cosy pubs are the perfect place to get warm and meet the locals.
Palmer’s Lodge – Swiss Cottage is a friendly hostel set in a quirky, beautiful Victorian mansion. Most of their bunk beds have privacy curtains, creating a cosy, private space to sleep. There’s also an onsite pub, free Wi-Fi, free breakfast and more.
You probably think of hot summer beaches when you think of Barcelona, right? Well in winter, the city doesn’t stop – it just gets reclaimed by the locals. With fewer visitors in the cooler months, this is the ideal time to explore the narrow, winding streets of Barri Gòtico and to take your time admiring Gaudi’s famous architecture up close.
The local food is also perfect for winter, with steaming dishes of squid, meatballs, stews and casseroles. Make sure to pick up seasonal foods at La Boqueria market while you’re there. Also head over to the Museu de la Xocolata; whether you’re stocking up for Christmas or you’re on a post-holiday cleanse, you won’t be able to resist a delicious hot chocolate there.
Winter in Barcelona generally means mild days with bright blue skies, making for some surprisingly warm afternoons. It’s perfect for walking up Mount Tibadado; in fact, we think it's nicer to hike when it’s not super-hot outside. You can also get stunning views over the city from Montjuic Castle.
If you’re in the city in mid-January, head to the neighbourhood of Sant Antoni on 17 January for the Festa dels Tres Tombs, featuring horse riders, fire-breathing dragons and even a giant fibreglass pig.
Hostel One Paralelo is a sociable hostel located within walking distance of most of the city’s best sights and features a Jacuzzi, BBQ and free nightly dinners. It’s a great place to stay if you want to make new friends while you explore the city.
With very mild winters and a pedestrian-friendly city centre, Dublin is an essential stop on any visit to Europe. From the Book of Kells to the cobbled streets of Temple Bar, this charming city offers a never-ending list of stuff to do. And now that it’s the low season, it’s easier to settle down with a pint of Guinness and get to know the locals. In fact, if you wander around the Stephen’s Green area you will find a number of warm, traditional pubs to dip into, as well as giant bookshops and swanky old-style hotels serving high tea. Fancy an Irish whiskey? Head across the river to the northside and spend an afternoon sampling the range at the Jameson Distillery.
Dublin is no slouch when it comes to art, either; one of the best annual events in Dublin is the exhibition of JMW Turner’s watercolours at the National Gallery, displayed every January for the duration of the month. It draws tourists and locals alike, year after year, and—best of all—it’s totally free. And if you’re heading to Dublin a little later rather than sooner, the Temple Bar TradFest runs from 22 to 27 January, during which the entire city fills up with traditional Irish music, dance and culture.
Of course, it’s not all about the great indoors – head out to Glendalough in the stunning Wicklow Mountains for an unsurpassed view of snow-dusted hills, ruins and lakes.
Barnacles Temple Bar House offers both private rooms and dorms right in the heart of Temple Bar at the centre of Dublin. This lively, clean hostel puts on free pub crawls and walking tours and is well known for their friendly, helpful staff.
Got itchy feet yet? No matter where you decide to go, we’ve got great accommodation for you.
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