Christmas lights in street in Dubrovnik — Getty Images

The best last-minute winter breaks and vacations

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Festive city breaks, a spot of winter sun, hidden-gem Christmas markets, or simply an escape somewhere new — our list of top winter holiday destinations is full of inspiration and ideas

Find cheap flight deals to these cities around Europe with Kiwi.com — after you’ve read about why you should go, of course! From festive favorites to places to escape the weather, we’ve got something for everyone this winter.

Wrocław, Poland

Bridge and church lit up in Wrocław on snowy night — Getty ImagesWrocław has a real fairytale air to it, especially when it snows — Getty Images

Poland does city breaks well. It also does Christmas well, so if you’re looking for a combination of the two, you’ve got options. Things like food and drink are relatively cheap, flights aren’t particularly expensive with most main cities being well-served by airports, and internal travel is easy.

You could try Warsaw, the capital, brave the crowds in Kraków, wrap up against the Baltic winds of Gdańsk, or for somewhere lesser-known but equally cool, head to Wrocław. Built on the meandering Oder river, it’s a city of fine, 18th-century squares and solid brick churches; a city that was historically rich and now knows how to let its hair down.

You’ll have to wrap up warm, of course, with temperatures hovering around freezing in winter and snow a not-uncommon sight. But hey, that just makes it all the more fairytale, with the Old Town sparkling with light, and the views from the bridge between the towers of the Mary Magdalene Church or from the Polinka cable car that crosses the river being simply lovely. Explore the Japanese Garden, the National Museum, the Afrykarium, and much more in this varied and interesting getaway destination. You’ll be glad you did.

Naples, Italy

Traditional hand-crafted Neapolitan nativity scene — Getty ImagesA traditional hand-crafted Neapolitan nativity scene — Getty Images

As if Naples wasn’t enough of a party city, December is yet another excuse to really let go. The cool, wet weather lends itself perfectly to strolling the atmospheric streets and alleyways, stopping for hot chocolate or panettone and breathing in the smells of roasting chestnuts and mulled wine. Almost every square will boast a nativity scene, and at night, the whole city is lit up with fairy lights. If you’d like your own souvenir, head to San Gregorio Armeno where master carvers sell their hand-made nativity figures.

Via Chiaia, which connects the seafront to the city center, is a very Neapolitan confusion of light, noise and bustle as people finish their Christmas shopping; while for something quieter, the 14th-century cloisters of Santa Chiara host a wonderful nativity scene, backed by the intricate decoration of the buildings themselves. Buy yourself a cuoppo (a cone of fried prawns and squid) to fit right in with the locals and, of course, football season is still on with games running throughout December and January, so experiencing this football-mad city on a matchday could be an added bonus.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

December means fewer tourists in one of the Adriatic’s tourist hotspots. Not none, but certainly fewer, as the summer heat turns to cool winter and the cruise ships stop visiting for the season. Stradun, the main drag, is the place for all your Christmas market needs, with the classic mulled-wine-and-cake options as well as, possibly, varenik – a hot wine with honey and pepper, and fritule — a type of small cake with raisins.

Come Christmas Eve it’s time for kolendavanje, the Dubrovnik version of Christmas caroling. Dating to the 13th century, groups of people — friends, families — will walk from house to house and sing as doors are thrown open to them and cakes, candy and sometimes even money donated. If you’d like to see Dubrovnik in a different light from the summertime tourist trap, this might just be the right time for a last-minute trip.

Madeira, Portugal

 

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Madeira goes all-in on seasonal sights and things to do, including the biggest New Year’s fireworks display in Europe, and if you prepare (by booking, probably not a particularly last-minute thing to do, but hey, you might get lucky), you can watch them from a boat in Funchal harbor.

It’s warm as well, even in January, with temperatures hovering around a pleasant 18°C. That means it’s perfect weather for a spot of hiking in the dramatic hills. The island is basically the top of a huge, six-kilometer-high underwater volcano, meaning that everywhere you go you’ll be greeted with breathtaking views — literally, if you choose some of the harder trails.

The city of Funchal itself is home to just over 100,000 people and is packed with museums, churches, and art, particularly due to the ArT of opEN doors in Rua de Santa Maria, a clumsily-named project established in 2011 that repurposes doors, walls and empty space as a public art gallery.

Nice, France

At this time of year, the French Riviera can give you the kind of bright, wintry sun and clear blue skies that mean you’re not bothered if it’s cold — it’s just pretty. Without the crowds of summer, Nice is undoubtedly pretty, and Christmas trees and palm trees look oddly good together.

The Nice Christmas Village serves up all manner of regional delicacies, from cheese and beer to chocolate and waffles, while the Ferris wheel on the Place Masséna will give you a wonderful view of the gardens below, as well as the cathedral, castle, and out to sea. As with the rest of the year, there’s shopping to be done on Avenue Jean Médecin (also the focal point of December 10’s Christmas parade), while the Promenade des Anglais and the beach make for a glamorous, fin-de-siècle stroll.

Turku, Finland

 

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Finland’s self-styled “Christmas City” is normally a lively, student-filled sort of place. You won’t find as many students in December, but the city remains a vibrant location with a lot going for it.

The Christmas Path is a seasonal range of events including music, decoration, talks and shows that aim to keep the city lively, exciting and colorful, even as the weather draws in. When the weather does draw in, you’ll also find a bunch of excellent cafés, restaurants and pubs, including the excellent, unfussy Niska by the riverside, and a quirky brewpub in an old school house (Panimoravintola Koulu). I’d personally recommend Panimoravintola Koulu for its weird but comforting, no-typical-clientele vibes. (Office workers, students, groups of old women, a writers’ meeting, and a bunch of craft-brew hipsters were all present when I was there.)

Otherwise, brave the cold and take a ferry trip out past the islands for a few hours. There are pretty much daily sailings out to Mariehamn and back, all featuring Finns stocking up on duty-free and getting increasingly sing-song in the ferry’s bars, as well as an all-you-can-eat buffet option and a variety of other on-board amusements. All in all, Turku is well worth a visit, even in winter.

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