Best European winter breaks
From the snowy peaks of Sölden to the glitz of St Moritz and the Teutonic treats of Lübeck, these European breaks will help you work up an appetite.
Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice at gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for the country they are travelling to.
All recommendations have been reviewed and approved as of December 2019 and will be checked and updated annually. If you think there is any incorrect or out-of-date information in this guide please email us at email@example.com.
Looking for a holiday to suit the whole family? Find Christmas markets filled with tasty treats, luxurious skiing getaways with top-notch restaurants and snowy city breaks with picture-perfect backdrops. Perk up the cold winter months with one of our incredible trips and try a new snowy skill at the same time.
Take your tastebuds around with world with our city guides, family-friendly breaks and fun foodie holiday ideas.
Best for... locally sourced ingredients
Land of fire and ice, home to active volcanoes, Europe’s largest glacier, ice caves and a firm local faith in legends of trolls and elves; Iceland is a truly striking Nordic island. With a modest population of just under 340,000 who experience only a few hours of sunlight on winter days, arriving here can feel like you’ve travelled to the ends of the earth. Yet it’s just a short flight from the UK to Reykjavik, and a cheap one, too, if booked early enough.Eating well in Iceland, however, is expensive, but many restaurants champion quality and locally sourced ingredients. The family-run Efstidalur is a farm-to-table outfit with excellent homemade skyr (Icelandic-style yogurt) served as a sauce in their beef skyrburger with feta (mains from £13). The restaurant sits in the middle of the Golden Circle – so named because of its circular 140-milelong route passing popular attractions, including Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser, hot springs and Kerid Crater – offering respite from winter treks.Enjoy the Circle’s wilderness from your very own transparent igloo-style ‘bubble’. Set in secluded snowy woodland, these hotel rooms have spectacular views of the aurora-illuminated sky, and share sparkling clean bathroom facilities, and a kitchen. Iceland offers countless sightseeing tours, but don’t miss the chance to travel independently by car, stopping to take in the island’s traditional turf-roofed houses and other photo opportunities.
After a bracing puffin spotting walk, Restaurant Suður-Vík is a welcoming spot in the village. It has a varied menu, from lamb fillet with hasselback potatoes to spicy Panang curry, and proves popular with families, too (mains from around £10). An old, scrap-built warehouse overlooking the harbour is home to Pakkhús Restaurant. You may have to wait for a table, but the food and warm service are worth it. Try a substantial plate of fresh langoustine tails with spiced garlic butter (£45), and the ‘skyr volcano’: a sophisticated, Icelandic twist on Eton mess with black ‘ash’ meringue, vanilla skyr mousse and popping candy rocks (£11).Soaking in the natural thermal pools at the Blue Lagoon with herbal face masks offers rejuvenation before the flight home. Float to the water bar for a drink before drying off and dining at Lava, serving fish from nearby Grindavik harbour (mains from £30). Moss, The Retreat at Blue Lagoon’s evening restaurant, also has a five-course vegan tasting menu.How to do it: Bubbles cost from £385 per person, per night, including a guided Golden Circle tour taking in various national parks, geyser, Gullfoss, Secret Lagoon, and Reykjavik.
Best for... viewing the Nothern Lights
Celebrated for its spectacular frozen landscapes and snowy activities, Swedish Lapland’s best-kept secret is its cuisine. Delicious Arctic ingredients come from pristine rivers, forests and pastures where grass grows day and night under a summer sun that almost never sets.There’s plenty of reindeer on the menu, but also moose, fresh fish and roe, wild foraged berries, mushrooms, herbs and more. Intrepid food lovers can feast on traditional dishes of the Sámi, the indigenous reindeer-herding people, between icy adventures. Guesthouses, nature camps and hotels – there’s accommodation to suit everyone.The Kukkolaforsen Hotel in the Torne Valley has rooms and cabins overlooking the river, and a restaurant serving an array of local seasonal produce, from reindeer to lamprey (an eel-like prehistoric fish). Book an evening in the smokehouse and cook whole whitefish over a birch-wood fire, along with Sámi flatbread scented with fennel and anise, slathered in garlic butter (an hour’s cooking with dinner costs around £30).
The picturesque family-run Lapland Guesthouse in Kangos is set 150km north of the Arctic Circle. When you’re not snowmobiling, dogsledding, snowshoeing or watching for the Northern Lights in this remote, light-pollution-free wilderness, you can fuel up with home-cooked local produce. Dishes might include moose burgers with lingonberry relish, or desserts made from cloudberries, the highly prized golden fruit (two-course meal, £30, three courses, £38).Sápmi Nature Camp in the Laponia World Heritage Area offers an unbeatable back-tonature experience. Glamping is in traditional Sámi lavvu tents, fitted with double beds and wood burners. Spend the day snowshoeing or ice fishing then gather around the fire to hear host and reindeer herder Lennart Pittja talk about growing up in the Sámi community. Authentic dishes include reindeer sausage, reindeer blood pancakes, and smoked Arctic char (a type of cold-water fish).How to do it: Double rooms at Lapland Guesthouse start at £260 including breakfast and use of the saunas. Double tents at Sapmi Nature Camp with breakfast, dinner and activities cost from £700. Luleå or Kiruna are the main gateways to Swedish Lapland, connected to the UK via Stockholm with the likes of SAS and Norwegian.
Best for... wine tasting & Bond scenes
A contender for the world’s most dramatic restaurant setting, Sölden’s Ice Q can be reached by futuristic gondola. The building’s modern steel structure and floor-to-ceiling windows offer awe-inspiring valley views from the summit of the Gaislachkogl mountain. It’s also home to the new 007 Elements experience, where visitors can immerse themselves in all things Bond.More importantly for food lovers, Sölden hosts the Wein am Berg food festival (25-28 April 2019) every year, which sees world-renowned chefs create dishes to complement high-end Austrian and German wines. Local grape varieties such as grüner veltliner and riesling are ubiquitous but you’ll also discover more unusual wines, including sparkling whites and rich reds.The three-day celebration of food, wine and snow kicks off with a traditional Alpine dinner at Das Central, the luxurious hotel at the heart of Sölden, whose team is behind the annual festivities. Designed for ski-loving foodies, the festival offers buffet breakfasts, mountaintop wine tasting, local cheese and ham samplings and cosy chalet suppers. Insulated gear and snow boots are essential, but spring sunshine means you’re also likely to eat lunch in a T-shirt. Das Central’s comfortable rooms, generous bathrooms and spa are the perfect retreat after a day on the slopes.How to do it: Das Central has double rooms from £175 per person per night, based on two sharing on a half-board basis. During the Wein am Berg festival, packages start from £1,355 per person for three nights in a double room, including access to the three-day Wein am Berg festival and a two-day ski pass. The closest airport is Innsbruck (just over an hour by car). Transfer can be arranged through Das Central. For more information, visit weinamberg.at and oetztal.com.
Best for... marzipan & Christmas markets
If marzipan is your idea of festive indulgence, a trip to Lübeck – home to the famous Niederegger brand – is a must. Even if this sweet treat isn’t your preferred stocking filler, Lübeck’s UNESCO-listed old town is a winning winter destination. Here, in a gorgeous setting encircled by the Trave river, stick-to-your-ribs comfort food reigns supreme.Lübeck bills itself as the Christmas capital of northern Germany and, from 26 November, you’ll find city-centre fir tree ‘forests’, craft markets and traditional food stalls all over town. To get to know the city, join the two-hour guided tour that departs from the tourist information office on Holstentorplatz at 11.30am every Saturday in December (£8.75 per person; tours given in English). Visit H7, a tiny bar/takeaway majoring in hot dogs. There’s an extensive beer list, champagne is considered a good accompaniment to a dog and the team serve a mean Hamburg gin and tonic. The accompaniments to all are seasonal and made in-house (hot dogs from £2.50).To the north of the old town lies the wooden-beamed Schiffergesellschaft restaurant, the historic guildhall for seafarers. Giant-portioned northern German food is the order of the day here, with dishes such as herring (£10), traditional lobscouse made with brisket, beetroot and onions (£16) and zander fillet in riesling (£22). For dessert, try rumtopf (£8): berries and sugar topped with rum, served over hazelnut ice cream. Less sweet, and classiffed PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status, is Lübeck’s marzipan, which is nothing like the stiff paste you find hidden under a layer of icing on your Christmas cake. At Niederegger, its constituent almonds are crushed, roasted and mixed with sugar to make a marzipan that has an open, almost cakey texture. In Germany, ‘loaves’ of chocolate-covered marzipan are eaten in slices.Lübeck is also known for rotspon, a red wine imported young from Bordeaux and aged in barrels. Visit wine merchants H. F. von Melle or Carl Tesdorpf to try a glass – and stock up on a few bottles to take home.
How to do it: The waterside Radisson Blu Senator Hotel, located next to the Holsten Gate and walking distance from most attractions, offers double rooms from £105. Fly to Hamburg, then travel by train to Lübeck (an hour and 25 minutes from £12.85 one way).
St Moritz, Switzerland
Best for... five-star foodie families
St Moritz’s five-star facilities can be surprisingly family-friendly, certainly for those who don’t want to commit solely to downhill skiing. The frozen lakes and rivers of this high-plateau Swiss resort host a dizzying range of winter activities, from the Snow Polo World Cup to cross-country skiing, ice-skating, horse-drawn sleigh rides, kite-skiing and the infamous male-only St Moritz Tobogganing Club Cresta Run.There’s also a very respectable 350km of easy-access slopes, mostly blues and reds, for those who must ski or snowboard. The welcome – and the food – reflects St Moritz’s sunny location near the Italian border. Kulm Hotel St Moritz is the place for foodie families, with a half-board dine-around programme that lets you choose from a whopping 17 restaurants. Yes, there’s plenty of rösti and fondue to be found – brilliantly executed at annex restaurant, Chesa Al Parc – but the cuisine is far from just old-school mountain fare.Amid this palace-like hotel’s grand old dining halls, there’s the sleek Norman Foster-designed Kulm Country Club (all aged meat and peaty whiskys) and The K by Tim Raue, which serves up creative Asian fare. At the hotel’s elegant-yet-informal The Pizzeria, crispy wood-red pizza, delicate pasta and classic veal roasts were solid wins for all the family. The real standout, however, was the laid-back Sunny Bar. Here, cool Peruvian chef Claudia Canessa serves up Latino-Japanese fusion, including fresh, citrussy ceviche, seared tuna maki salad and a baked Thai tuna with vegetable spaghetti that left adults and children feeling happily, healthily sated.Hip and healthy, too, is Kulm Hotel’s sprawling spa, complete with a swim-out pool, large indoor pool, saunas, steam rooms and ice baths. The buzziest for family groups has to be Salastrains, with its terrace of cheery yellow-and-white striped deckchairs and army of lightning-quick waiters. You can get everything from truffles to oysters here, but a warming onion soup (£13) and homemade venison sausage with polenta and red cabbage (£30) are exemplary, and won’t totally break the bank. On the homeward slope, just before you reach the Chantarella funicular station, the fun little Alto Bar is set in a retired cable car and serves tempting hot chocolate, mulled wine and more.
How to do it: Double rooms at Kulm Hotel St Moritz cost £500 per night (extra beds for £80), including the half-board dine-around package (valid at 17 restaurants), ice skating options, daily group ski/snowboard lessons for children and VIP early-morning, night-time and full-moon skiing sessions. Entrance to the kids’ club, children’s drinks and laundry service are also included. Half-price lift passes (£30) are available for guests staying for two nights or more. Travel from Zurich airport to St Moritz by rail (3-4 hrs, from £20 one way) for a scenic treat of lakes, mountains and glaciers. Flights from the UK to Zurich cost from £58 one way. For more information on St Moritz, visit myswitzerland.com.
Alta Badia, Italy
Best for... Michelin stars and local wines
Visit A Taste for Skiing, which brings Michelin-star food to the slopes of the Dolomites. The Alta Badia valley boasts six Michelin stars within 15km2: three for St Hubertus, two for La Siriola and one for La Stüa de Michil. Each ski season (December-April), chefs from these restaurants and other Michelin-starred venues select dishes to be served at a host of mountain refugio (wood cabins). Skiiers can set off on a Gourmet Skisafari (£44), stopping to sample the chefs’ fare and perfectly paired wines. Lavish versions of Ladin favourites include veal cheeks with gremolata and roasted prunes, and warming pasta broths. The wines alone are worth the piste pilgrimage; try more than 20 local varieties at the Wine Skisafari (24 March 2019, £25) or join a ski guide sommelier for monthly tours (select dates, prices vary).How to do it: Las Vegas Lodge is a mountainside hotel with sun deck and barrel sauna. Double rooms from £132 per person on a half-board basis. To find out about events, ski passes and more, visit altabadia.org.
Best for... Scandi style and sweet treats
Visit Norway for a gourmet winter getaway with Scandi facilities, that make a family ski trip child’s play. Trysil’s gentle slopes and ski-in, ski-out accommodation make this small resort a hit with families. Its 30 ski-accessible restaurants are reasonable by pricey Norwegian standards and dishes draw on local produce, such as rich smör (butter), creamy goat’s cheese and gamey moose, lamb and elk, usually served with more types of berries than there are English names for. Top family favourites: the moose burger at Knettsetra (£20) and the sourdoughs, ryes and cinnamon buns at Kort & Godt.
How to do it: A week’s stay at Trysil Panorama – a ski-in, ski-out four-bedroom self-catering chalet with sauna, sun deck, barbecue and eco-friendly grass roof – costs from £480. To book accommodation, ski passes, kit hire, transport and more, visit skistar.com/en/ski-destinations/trysil.
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Travellers are advised to read the FCO travel advice for the country they are travelling to.