1. Prague, Czech Republic
With its snow-capped spires and cobbled, winding streets, Prague is a fairytale city that remains relatively tourist-free in winter.
The stunning architecture looks even prettier under a sheet of snow, with one of the most beautiful areas being the old town, with its turrets and Romanesque vaults. Gas street lamps have been reinstalled throughout the city center, adding a romantic hue to evenings. Cafes here are ideal for escaping the bitter cold.
Where to sleep: The Alchymist Grand Hotel & Spa is a five-star, fairytale-like hotel in the middle of the city’s old town.
Where to eat: Lokál Dlouhá. This restaurant is known for its svíčková na smetaně (beef tenderloin and cream sauce).
What to do: After the Christmas markets (which run from early December to early January), the fascinating Estates Theatre (or Stavovské Divadlo) is where Mozart conducted the world premiere of “Don Giovanni” in 1787.
2. Salzburg, Austria
Christmas carol “Silent Night” was first performed outside a small chapel juts outside Salzburg.
Courtesy Salzburg Tourist Board
Where to sleep: The Stadtkrug. A beautiful four-star Austrian hotel with one of the city’s best roof terraces.
Where to eat: Goldener Hirsch on Getreidegasse. This beautiful restaurant is located within the old stables of an historic townhouse. The food is traditional Austrian with a modern twist.
And you can never go wrong with a visit to the impressive Salzburg Cathedral, consecrated in 1628. Remains of the two predecessor structures are in the crypt.
3. Tromsø, Norway
Tromso: One of the world’s best spots for northern lights.
Courtesy Gaute Bruvik/Visitnorway.com
There are several reasons Tromsø, known as the capital of the Arctic, is great in winter. It’s widely regarded as Norway’s most beautiful city and is a base for spotting the northern lights.
Where to sleep: Scandic Ishavshotel. Set right on the water, this hotel with a stylish, modern look offers memorable views.
Where to eat: Arcantandria is popular for its shellfish.
What to do: The Perspektivet Museum on Storgata offers fascinating insight into Norwegian art.
4. Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Dutch capital is far less crowded in the winter season.
Jannes Glas/Flickr,Creative Commons
Where to sleep: The beautiful five-star Seven one Seven boutique hotel on Prinsengracht is housed inside a former sugar trader’s residence.
Where to eat: The cozy Restaurant Greetje has traditional Dutch food.
5. Nagano, Japan
Where to sleep: Hotel JAL City on Toigosyo-mashi is a short walk from both the train station and one of Japan’s largest wooden temples. In winter, the views over snowy Nagano are breathtaking.
Where to eat: Fujiki-an on Daimonkikyocho is famous for its soba noodles, which they’ve been making since 1827. A picture menu makes ordering easy.
Fujiki-an, 67 Daimonkikyocho, Nagano, +81 26 232 2531
What to do: The Zenkō-ji temple, built in the 7th century, ranks as the third-largest wooden temple in Japan.
6. Reykjavík, Iceland
Hiding within — great geothermal pools.
Although Iceland’s capital city is one of Europe’s coldest spots, it has plenty of natural hot springs to warm up in (some of the best can be found in the Nauthólsvík area of the city). The annual Winter Lights Festival, which takes place in February, is a spectacular celebration.
Visitors can try their hand at a range of winter sports or skate on the city’s Tjörnin pond. Many cozy coffee houses sell rúgbrauð — locally made, dark, sweet bread.
Where to sleep: Owned by Icelandair, Hotel Marina is a quirky, colorful hotel located in one of the city’s trendiest districts.
Where to eat: Dill Restaurant in the Nordic House cultural center. Chef Gunnar Karl Gíslason is passionate about local produce and the food here is some of the freshest in Iceland.
What to do: Harpa, the city’s concert hall, was designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson to reflect Iceland’s geology. It’s constructed from more than a thousand glass blocks.
7. Berlin, Germany
From its pop-up ice skating rinks and sledding hills, to the outdoor concerts and markets, Berlin is buzzing with activity in the winter season.
Where to sleep: Hotel Otto on Knesebeckstrasse is located in one of Berlin’s quieter neighborhoods. Extras include a “surprise” button in the lift.
Where to eat: Die Berliner Republik on Schiffbauerdamm is famous for both its food (currywurst is a specialty) and its beer, thanks to a stock exchange-style system that allows drinkers to purchase their favorite beer at rock bottom prices — if they order at the right time.
What to do: Instead of hiding from Berlin’s cold winter, meet the weather head-on at the Tiergarten, a large public park close to major attractions. You can go curling and then warm up with some hot chocolate or hot mulled wine. This photogenic landscape, especially in winter, could prove to be a big Instagram hit.
8. Ottawa, Canada
Where to sleep: The Arc Hotel is a warm winter retreat, with a fire in the lobby and complimentary champagne for guests.
Where to eat: Restaurant 18 on York Street serves traditional Canadian cuisine with a modern twist.
What to do: From January to February visitors can take a spin on the world’s largest natural ice rink — the Rideau Canal.
9. Washington D.C., United States
Lighting up a white Christmas every year in Washington D.C.
Astrid Riecken/Getty Images
Where to sleep: The Palomar is a small, vibrant hotel just a short walk from the White House, the National Mall and the Smithsonian.
Where to eat: Equinox Restaurant specializes in what its head chef refers to as “organic, Mid-Atlantic cuisine.” He basically means fish, and lots of it.
What to do: ZooLights at the National Zoo kicks off on November 29 and lasts until January 1. Half a million individual LEDS turn the popular attraction into a veritable winter wonderland.
10. Edinburgh, Scotland
Cobbled streets, a beautiful castle and lovely public gardens make Edinburgh a beautiful city any time of year, but in winter it’s breathtaking.
Where to sleep: Jurys Inn is a short walk from the main attractions and offers a warm Scottish welcome.
Where to eat: Edinburgh isn’t just about haggis and tatties. For fine dining, One Square restaurant and bar at the Sheraton Grand on Festival Square is the place to go. The drinks menu is impressive — there are more than 100 types of gin from which to choose.