Sweden’s capital is one of the chicest minibreak destinations that comes into its own during the winter months. Expect a world-class restaurant scene, unique shopping spots, attractions and contemporary hotels, all set around postcard-picturesque lakes and rivers. While a festive break is best spent soaking up as much of the culture as possible, visitors often stay for a whole week to ensure they explore everything on offer. Make your way around the many Christmas markets, including Gamla Stan, the city’s oldest and most famous, then go to Bar-Agrikultur on Skånegatan, which serves some of the best local fish and cocktails in the city. For a culture hit, visit Nationalmuseum, The Royal Palace, or Fotografiska (the world's largest contemporary photography gallery).
Where To Stay: Berns Hotel
For a luxury stay, book a room at Berns Hotel next to Nybrokajen Harbour in central Stockholm. This boutique hotel oozes style and the grand interiors are seriously impressive. Each of the generously sized 82 rooms has a distinct Scandinavian style and stunning riverside vistas. The Rooftop Terrace Room, located on the top floor of the hotel, is a particular SL favourite thanks to its huge windows, balcony terrace and harbourside views. Berns is also renowned for its Asian restaurant, Isaan, which serves Bangkok street food-inspired dishes with a contemporary twist.
Rooms from £173 per night.
Aside from being the birthplace of Mozart, Salzburg is steeped in history. Today, much of the baroque architecture remains intact and its streets are filled with festive markets during the winter months. Walk to the city centre and meander around the backstreets to smell cinnamon on nearly every corner, and look out for horse-drawn carriages transporting people from town to town. The 17th-century castle Schloss Hellbrunn looks particularly beautiful topped with snow, as does Festung Hohensalzburg – a 900-year-old clifftop fortress. Lovely souvenirs can be found at the traditional chocolate and nougat shop of Fürst, while Spirituosen Sporer has an excellent range of local wines and spirits. If you go to one restaurant, book a table at Michelin-starred Esszimmer which serves traditional French dishes in its cosy dimly-lit dining room.
Where To Stay: Hotel Sacher Salzburg
Easily one of the most luxury properties on this list, bookmark Hotel Sacher Salzburg for a special trip. Best appreciated without little ones in tow, the hotel overlooks Salzburg’s old town, next to the Salzach River. Rooms have recently been updated with opulent furnishings and plush decorative accessories – opt for a room towards the top of the hotel for the best views. Zirbelzimmer serves traditional Austrian food, the Roter Salon is a little more relaxed with its pan-European style menu, and the atmospheric bar is a great spot for evening cocktails.
Rooms from £240 per night.
If you want to travel solo, Hungary’s capital is one of the best European cities to explore on your own. A festive minibreak can be spent visiting the city’s unique architecture, healing thermal waters and diverse food scene. Budapest is easy to navigate, especially the centre which is best explored on foot, while a well-connected tramline and metro system will take you to some of the best sights. Go to the historic buildings and art galleries dotted around Budapest – Fisherman’s Bastion, St Stephen’s Basilica and Buda Castle are the must-see buildings, then make a beeline for Budapest’s Christmas fair, Advent Basilica – one of the best in Europe. Don’t forget to have a soak in Lukács Baths where you can swim in one of the thermal pools.
Where To Stay: Brody House
The centrally located Brody House is a great option, especially if you’re travelling alone. Set in a beautiful building dating back to the 1850s, this boutique hotel has ten simple yet stylish rooms, each filled with original artwork from artists who lived in the house during the 19th century. The rooms also come with freestanding roll-top baths, or a walk-in rain shower, and the original features add to the cosy ambience. After a busy day of exploring, head to the bar for Hungarian wine, craft beer, and a selection of signature Brody House cocktails – the perfect place to relax or mingle (safely) with fellow travellers.
Rooms from £53 per night.
Copenhagen is a great city break at any time of the year but the city looks particularly beautiful during the winter months, when Christmas lights are switched on, carollers sing in the streets and ice rinks pop up. Visit one of the city’s Christmas markets (known locally as Julemarkeds), explore the cobbled streets to see interesting light displays, try a glass of gløgg (Denmark’s version of spiced mulled wine) and see the Royal Danish Ballet perform The Nutcracker at The Royal Danish Theatre. Taking a walk down Nyhaven Canal is also a must, as is visiting exhibition space Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and Rosenberg Castle. For a special treat, dine at the three-Michelin-starred Noma which showcases the best of Copenhagen’s game at this time of the year.
Where To Stay: Hotel Sanders
Loved by travel insiders and those in the know, Hotel Sanders has some of the most luxe interiors on this list. Located just behind Nyhavn Canal, there are 54 rooms to choose from, ranging from single rooms for solo travellers, to suites which feel particularly homely thanks to cosy fireplaces and free-standing baths. Guests can take advantage of all-day dining in Sanders Kitchen, or head to the impressive Roof Terrace for light dishes and cocktails with a view. Drinks at the award-winning cocktail bar TATA are also a must.
Rooms from £265 per night.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a chic winter hotspot, and early December is a great time to visit, when Christmas markets are brimming with festive treats and the main attractions aren’t overrun with tourists. During a long weekend, visit Prague Castle, a beautiful 9th-century building which hosts two Christmas markets, then walk over Charles Bridge to see the Vltava river illuminated by streetlamps. If travelling with grandchildren, little ones will love The Tower Ice Park, while adults will appreciate the beautiful baroque architecture around the city. Go all out and see a ballet or opera performance at The State Opera House, part of the city’s famous National Theatre.
Where To Stay: Boho Hotel
This boutique hotel set in a former art deco post office has been given a slick makeover in recent years. Just a five-minute walk from Prague’s Old Town, guests will appreciate the cleverly designed rooms and modern interiors. Book a spacious suite for a weekend trip, all of which have eye-catching marble bathrooms with fluffy towels and robes, and make your way around the local cafés and bars to sample local produce. The hotel also has an impressive spa, gym and library, as well as a modern restaurant and bar which hosts regular jazz nights.
Rooms from £128 per night.
For something a little different, head to the historical city of Talinn, which is lined with medieval buildings and beautiful churches. Often overlooked in favour of Sweden or Germany, Estonia’s cities are incredibly photogenic and have a vibrant, modern culture. Visit the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site where you’ll find the Town Hall (the only surviving Gothic town hall in northern Europe), and Niguliste Museum, a 13th-century church and home to an extensive selection of medieval artwork. Kadriorg Art Museum just outside the city centre is also worth a visit, as is the Estonian Open-Air Museum. From late November to December, the city hosts its annual Christmas market where visitors can shop hundreds of boutique stalls and little ones can visit Santa Claus’ workshop.
Where To Stay: Schlössle Hotel
Schlössle Hotel is set in one of the city’s most historic buildings on a cobblestoned street on Pühavaimu. Dating back to the 13th century, the building itself has retained many original features and has been given a contemporary update with rooms full of charm and character – we love the Deluxe Double Room which overlooks the hotel’s pretty courtyard. Their restaurant Stenhus serves traditional Estonian fare made with seasonal ingredients, while the Cigar Lounge is an ideal snug in which to relax after a day of exploring.
Rooms from £130 per night.
Christmas markets originated in Germany, so a weekend at one its most vibrant cities is a no-brainer. Known for its beautiful gothic cathedral, interesting architecture and traditional beer halls, Cologne has plenty to offer during a festive break. The city centre is where you’ll find the best museums and attractions, including Museum Ludwig, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum (one of Germany’s finest art galleries), and the Schokoladenmuseum where visitors walk through its tropical forest to learn about the art of German chocolate making. Make a beeline for the Cologne Cathedral Christmas market to sample delicious German produce, or take the grandchildren to The House Elves’ Winter Fairytale market by Heumarkt where little ones can ride carousels, watch puppet shows, ice skate and visit Santa Claus’ grotto.
Where To Stay: Ruby Ella
Ruby Ella has everything you need for a comfortable stay, from spacious rooms to a cinema room where you can watch festive favourites on a big screen. Located opposite Friesenplatz Station, just a three-minute tram ride from central Cologne, rooms are spacious, with floor-to-ceiling windows, rainfalls showers in the en-suite bathrooms and fluffy robes to make guests feel at home. If you want extra space, book the Loft Room. The hotel also has a 50s-style 24-hour bar where you can relax in an armchair with a book and glass of wine. Several Michelin-starred restaurants are within walking distance, and guests can hire Ruby bicycles to explore the city.
Rooms from £90 per night.
*DISCLAIMER: Travel restrictions are changing daily, so please check the latest government advice and entry requirements before you book anything. Visit Gov.uk for more information.