Europe’s cosiest winter cities
When temperatures plunge and rooftops are dusted in snow, get snug indoors – especially in these European cities. Whether you’re seeking a coddling spa, a wood-lined pub or a chic hotel to curl up in over a romantic Valentine’s weekend à deux, here’s where to head for the ultimate winter warmers
Plan a trip to Budapest
Flurries dancing over the Danube, golden lights bathing Buda Castle each evening – Budapest is at its prettiest in the depths of winter. But the colder it gets outside, the cosier it gets inside the Széchenyi Baths, the city’s famed thermal spa. With opulent, columned façades the colour of butter, this vast indoor-outdoor complex is the ultimate afternoon warmer-upper. Hop between saunas, then plunge into the outdoor pools, where steam unfurls atmospherically into the crisp winter air. Built in 1913, it might be Budapest’s most famous spa but it’s not its only one – you can also gently poach in the Ottoman-era Király Baths or Art Nouveau Gellert Spa. Fancy something truly decadent? Book a stay at the Corinthia Hotel. Its grand pool is crowned by a viewing gallery and flanked by a frothing Jacuzzi. After a muscle-melting hot stone massage scented with aromatherapy oil, you’ll feel snugglier than ever.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
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Many tourists flock to Amsterdam in summer, but they’re missing out. It’s when the days shorten and the canals and cobbled streets glisten with rain – or, if you’re lucky, a dusting of snow – that the Dutch capital really comes into its own. Gezelligheid, the local concept of cosy contentment, oozes from the city’s bustling pubs, called ‘brown cafés’: all roaring fires, wood panelling and draft pours of knee-wobbling dubbel and tripel beers. Drop your bags at Hotel Pulitzer, a series of interconnected old canal houses, then start your bar hopping, stopping at Café Papeneiland for a freshly baked apple pie smothered in cream and De Wetering for a tête-à-tête by a roaring fire. Finish at Wynand Fockink, Amsterdam’s oldest proeflokaal (tasting room) for a snifter of fruit liqueur, chased with a small beer – a serve known as a kopstootje (little head-butt). You’re guaranteed to leave rosy-cheeked, warm and cheery.
From wanders through a regal riverside palace – stuffed with museums – to zips around rambling Kungsträdgården ice-skating rink, Stockholm has plenty of ways to keep warm in winter. But arguably the best way to heat up is with a shopping trip, stocking up on famous Scandi homewares, chunky knit jumpers and moreish salty liquorice. In between spending sprees along rambling Götgatan (good for trendy togs) and Bondegatan (for homewares and vintage), pop into cafés for steaming coffees and freshly baked cinnamon buns – the energy you need to find everything on your wish list. If you require some interiors inspiration, check in to Ett Hem, a stylish stay with a library and a roaring fire and its own signature scent – a blend of inviting cedar and pepper. Or make straight for opulent Nordiska Kompaniet, a grand department store with all the high-end fashion, beauty and home kit you could ever want.
Head to Innsbruck
Winter cities don’t get much more picturesque than Innsbruck. Rows of pastel-hued houses are fringed by the luminous river Inn and backed by powder-topped peaks. Nine surrounding Tyrol ski resorts with challenging off-piste and swooping jumps – including the Zaha Hadid-designed Bergisel – will keep keen skiers busy. For everyone else, there’s tobogganing, bobsledding on the Olympic track at Igls and cable cars with soaring mountain views. In fact, in Innsbruck, you could spend all day outside under the crisp blue skies and tumbling snowflakes. Of course, do that and you’ll miss out on the cosiness found within its atmospheric mediaeval buildings. Bauerngröstl (meat, onion and potatoes) or Wiener schnitzel await with crisp glasses of Grüner Veltliner white wine after a hard day on the slopes – find them in wood-lined taverns in the old town centre. Afterwards, swap classic Tyrolean for slick and contemporary at Stage 12 Hotel. It has velvet chairs, metallics and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the mountains.
Plan a holiday to Turin
Even when the air turns frosty and snow quiets the streets, Turin’s aperitivo hour ticks along like clockwork. Bitter vermouths, fizzing Proseccos, crafted cocktails – come six o’clock, alongside buffets of canapés, drinks pour forth in opulent city restaurants strung with chandeliers. Elegant Turin is often compared to Paris or Vienna, but partake in this pre-dinner ritual and you’ll know that there’s nowhere you could be but in Italy. Especially when aperitivo is followed by a full northern Italian winter feast. Truffle-laced pasta or beef cooked in Barolo wine are the perfect antidote to the icy outdoors. Work off calories touring one of Turin’s many museums, such as the Museo Egizio, home to an exceptional collection of Egyptian artefacts. Or curl up in a hotel and snooze everything off instead. There are few better places in town to do so than the central Turin Palace, home to a romantic restaurant serving braised venison.
Two more to try… for culture vultures
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is the go-to capital for architecture geeks – its old town alone is like a living museum, with mediaeval Charles Bridge, Baroque Prague Castle and Gothic St Vitus Cathedral. But it has a thrilling art scene, too, and even more so from this February. Kunsthalle Praha (above), a new exhibition space, will launch in a former electrical station, displaying 20th-century pieces by Czech and international artists including performance art, music and moving pictures. While the weather is cool, add it to your tour of local contemporary galleries. The list should also include the eclectic DSC Gallery and Museum Kampa, with its abstract paintings by František Kupka.
Book a flight to Basel
From its dramatic ski hills with wood-lined chalets to its gooey cheese fondues, Switzerland feels made for winter. But as the host of the internationally acclaimed Art Basel Fair, it is also a haven for culture fans. When winter drizzle forces you indoors, explore one of its 40-odd museums. For the latest work, visit the Fondation Beyeler, one of the city’s most prestigious galleries, this February or March. Here, American artist Sondra Perry has created an exhibition themed on dreams for the start of the year (Lineage for a Phantom Zone, pictured). And if you want the classics? Make a beeline for the cavernous Kunstmuseum to take in the Holbeins and Monets.