5 Best Cities for Winter Attractions
Looking for the perfect winter city break? We’ve listed the 5 best cities for winter attractions below – many of them free! From ice-skating in Berlin, to ringing in the New Year in Amsterdam or spotting Old St Nick in Prague – winter is a special time of year to explore these magical urban landscapes…
An enchanting city in winter time, when open spaces are blanketed in snow and festive markets are in full swing, we found a number of fantastic winter attractions to visit on a Berlin city break:
Stroll the Tiergarten & Café am Neuen See
In winter, a stroll through this famous Berlin park is magical when the ground is covered in snow. Stop off for a slice of warm apple pie in the romantic Café am Neuen See. You can also add a little cultural stop at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (National Centre for Contemporary Art).
Classical music at Piano Salon Christophori
The Piano Salon Christophori is in an industrial building in the up-and-coming working-class neighbourhood of Berlin Wedding. The studio is a charming and romantic venue, where you can enjoy classical music and a glass of wine, surrounded by a strange assortment of discarded tools and piano parts. While the entrance is free, you can donate whatever you feel is appropriate.
Winter Wonderland at Potsdamer Platz
In early November, Potsdamer Platz, right in the heart of the city, is transformed into a gigantic winter wonderland. A toboggan run with views of the Brandenburg Gate, an outdoor skating rink and wooden huts offering seasonal goodies get the festive season going. Ride down Europe’s largest mobile toboggan run with the city’s beautiful skyline as a backdrop.
The beautiful city of Rome has unmissable winter attractions & events surrounding its Christmas festivities. As a world capital for food and drink, foodies will be warmed by the seasonal Italian cuisine on offer throughout the colder months.
Drink Italian hot chocolate
At Cioccolata e Vino in Trastevere, drink steaming glasses of cocoa topped with whipped cream (and shots of strong liqueur for those who want something stronger) in this tiny cafe, while browsing the collection of books and wine for sale.
Epiphany feast – La Befana
The Epiphany feast on January 6th, known as La Befana, is an important part of the Christmas festivities in Italy. Originating from a fairytale, Italian children receive gifts and sweets from La Befana – a good witch who flies around on her broomstick. If you want to buy a Befana doll, head to Piazza Navona Christmas market, where you’ll see lots of them on display. In Vatican City, a procession of hundreds of people dressed in medieval costume proceeds along the wide avenue leading up to the Vatican, carrying symbolic gifts for the Pope who says a morning mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Carnevale and the beginning of Lent
Carnevale and Lent are the most exciting times to be in Rome, as both the pre-Lenten festivities (Carnevale) and the religious processions, which begin on Ash Wednesday, are a huge Italian tradition in both the capital and Vatican City. Carnevale events in Rome start 10 days before the actual Carnevale date, with many events taking place in Piazza del Popol. (Begins as early as February 3rd)
Amsterdam has a huge number of traditions and events held during the winter months. From ice-skating along the canals to New Year fireworks displays, the winter attractions are endless:
Warm up in a traditional ‘brown cafe’ (Bruin Café)
The Dutch equivalent of a British pub named after the wood-panelled interiors and cosy living-room look. Once inside, you can browse the selection of beer, sip a jenever (a gin-like spirit) and snack on bar food. Dating from the 17th century, check out the Café de Sluyswacht – an atmospheric old townhouse which tilts just a little.
Get your skates on
One of the famous winter attractions in the Dutch capital is ice skating at Keizersgracht. Not a traditional rink, Amsterdammers take to the canals on ice skates. The council even stops traffic at certain points so the boats don’t crack the ice!
Experience the illuminating Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights is fast becoming a firm favourite in the calendar, with the canals lit up from the end of November to the middle of January. They have two main routes to admire the different installations, one by boat and the other on foot – with historic Dutch buildings used as a dramatic backdrop for projections or trees in the parks used for new light displays.
Ring in the New Year
As the Dutch really like to party, there is no better city than Amsterdam to say farewell to the old year and hello to the new – Gezondheid! The official fireworks show takes place in the Oosterdok (close to the central train station), and the Scheepvaartmuseum (National Maritime Museum) and the VOC Ship, The Amsterdam, provide a nautical backdrop for the pyrotechnics. Visit one of the festive stalls and pick up a tasty oliebollen (doughnut) or appelflappen (kind of apple-flavoured fritter) to warm your cockles while enjoying the festive atmosphere.
Explore the magic of Prague in winter, when the fairytale backdrop of Prague castle, Christmas markets and activities tied to the festive season make it a memorable city break. For fun winter activities we suggest:
Bohemian Carnevale and Masopust
Masopust, the Czech’s farewell to winter, occurs at the end of February or beginning of March. More lavish is Bohemian Carnevale, the Prague-style Mardi Gras celebrations, complete with a masked open-air party. These two events welcome locals and visitors alike, so grab your mask and join the fun!
See the animals at the Prague Zoo
The Zoo is managed incredibly well and there are loads of events held for the public throughout the year. In winter, the Zoo features a special Christmas program that is fun even without kids (on Christmas Eve, you can even bring little gifts to the animals and see what they’re getting for Christmas).
Visit the Mikulas
If you’re in Prague on December 5th, don’t miss out on seeing the famous Mikuláš (St. Nicholas) in the main town squares. He’s usually accompanied by devils and angels looking for children who’ve been misbehaving throughout the year or who deserve a treat. Look out for groups of devils and angels roaming the streets as well.
Renowned for a tradition of classical music, opera and winter sports, Vienna is a fun winter city to visit and partake in many of the seasonal activities including:
Ice Skating outside the Konzerthaus
The Viennese love ice skating in wintertime. There are ice rinks set up across the city during the winter months including in the gardens of the Wilhelminenberg Palace, in front of the Rathaus as part of the ‘Ice Dream’ event made up of skating and curling, and a 6,000 metre rink between the Vienna Konzerthaus and the Inter-Continental Hotel. You can hire ice-skates for a few euros and pay for lessons if you really want to skate like a pro!
Advent Concert at St Stephansdom
Every few nights during the Advent period (until December 21st), enjoy a beautiful concert in the magnificent setting of St Stephen’s Cathedral. The music is provided by the Wiener Kammer Orchester and includes music by Mozart, Bach, Schubert and Haydn as well as popular Christmas carols. The cathedral is centrally located at Stephansplatz, easily reached on the U-Bahn.
Winter in the Museum Quarter
Museumsquartier is one of the great marvels of Vienna – the area is packed with leading art galleries and museums. Served by its own U-Bahn station, each Christmas the Museums Quartier hosts an outdoor extravaganza of events. This year, the ‘Winter im MQ’ event will include the erection of ice pavilions in the Museums Quartier, spectacular light shows and video projections broadcast onto the building sides, DJs and live music, as well as an ice rink where visitors can try curling. There will also be stalls serving traditional punch to keep visitors warm and merry!
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