Christmas in Europe

European White Christmas and Winter Itineraries by car and train

May 16, 2016 (Last Updated: November 5, 2021)
by Carolyn
Swiss train in snow

Many Australians dream of experiencing a white Christmas or a winter holiday in Europe but don’t know where to start when looking for options, particularly those who prefer to travel independently. 

That’s where I can help.

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There are lots of tour companies that offer coach and rail tours over the European winter and Christmas/New Year period and these are a great option to consider as everything is organised for you. 

You can sit back and enjoy the scenery and the amazing experiences without having to worry about the logistical side of your trip.

Organised tours don’t appeal to everyone, though.  If you’re someone who prefers to go it alone and make your own travel arrangements to your own schedule, how do you know where to visit? 

And what do you need to know if you plan on driving in Europe during winter?

In this article I’ve shared my tips for travelling to Europe in winter, including some need-to-know info about driving and using the rail network, so now that you’ve decided an independent European winter holiday is for you, the suggested itineraries below might be helpful.

Alpine village in winter A typical Alpine village scene in winter. Image © lena_serditova / Adobe Stock Photo

Depending on how long you can spend in Europe, you may choose to add extra destinations or skip one or two that I’ve included, but these itineraries will be a good starting point. 

To help you even further, I’ve included the travelling time between destinations by both car and train (or bus, when it’s a better option).

Both of these itineraries give you the opportunity to experience the wonderful Christmas markets, visit famous cities, stay in a typical alpine town with plenty of winter sports on offer and see some of Europe’s most stunning scenery.

Of course, just like anywhere in the world, snow isn’t guaranteed but the destinations I’ve suggested will give you a fairly high chance of experiencing snowy postcard scenes anytime from Christmas to late February.

Christmas market at Strasbourg The popular Christmas market at Strasbourg. Image Alexi Tauzin / © Adobe Stock Photo

European White Christmas and Winter Itineraries by car and train

Germany – France – Austria – Switzerland

Arrive in Frankfurt (Germany)

Frankfurt to Strasbourg (France)

By Car: 218 km / 2h:20 | By Train: 2h:15

Strasbourg to Munich (Germany)

By Car: 364 km / 4h | By Train: 3h:30

Munich Christmas market Like all the Christmas markets, Munich’s is a great place to by gifts and souvenirs.

Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany)

Car: 89 km / 1h:15 | Train: 1h:30

Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Innsbruck (Austria)

By Car: 61 km / 1h   | By Train: 1h:20

Innsbruck to Lucerne (Switzerland)

By Car: 306 km / 3h:30  | By Train: 4h:40

Option: add Lauterbrunnen or Grindelwald
By Car: approx. 80 km / 1h:20 | By Train: 2h:20 (distances and travel times from Lucerne)

Chapel Bridge Lucerne with snow Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge is always lovely but with snow atop, it has a real fairytale feel to it.

Lucerne to Zurich (Switzerland)

By Car: 52 km / 0:40 | By Train: 0:50

Zurich to Paris (France)

By Train: 4h

Tip: If you are planning on being in Paris on New Year’s Eve, the best place to watch the amazing fireworks display at midnight is from the top of the Arc de Triomphe – but you’ll have to arrive early to get a good viewing spot.

Salzburg at dusk Salzburg at dusk. Image © JFL Photography / Adobe Stock Photo

Italy – Slovenia – Austria

Arrive Venice (Italy)

Venice to Bled (Slovenia)

By Car: 285 km / 3h | By Bus (Flixbus): Venice to Trieste 2h, then Trieste to Ljubljana 1h:35,  private transfer from Ljubljana to Bled 0:40 (pre-booking recommended)

Bled Slovenia in winter Bled island adorned in snow. Image © Kavita / Dollar Photo Club

Bled to Zell am See (Austria)

By Car:  230 km / 2h:45 | By Train: 3h:15

Zell am See to Salzburg (Austria)

By Car: 97km / 1h:25 | By Train: 1h:30

Tip: Enjoy a Horse-Drawn sleigh ride in the Austrian countryside just outside Salzburg if you visit around Christmas Day.

Salzburg to Vienna (Austria)

By Car:  299 km / 3h | By Train: 2h:30

Cars with snow in Switzerland If you plan on driving in Europe during winter, finding accommodation with undercover parking is a good idea!

Things to remember when travelling to Europe in winter

If you plan on driving in winter, most car hire companies require you to have winter tyres fitted. You should check that these are included in your rental cost.

My comprehensive guide on Driving in Europe in winter explains further.