5 spectacular winter trips that just got cheaper

Thinking about an end-of-year break? We’ve got a deal (or two) for you!

As the days get shorter and nights get colder in the northern hemisphere, your first thought might be to chase the winter sun. But we reckon you should look slightly further north. Not only do France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands turn into a magical winter wonderland at this time of year, but both Eurostar and Thalys have released end-of-year promotions with cheap-as-chips fares.

If that’s not enough to inspire you, we’ve picked 5 of our favourite winter destinations, all easily accessible by rail from London or Paris. Book quickly; these tickets won’t last long.


Festive market in Antwerp
Festive market in Antwerp (Credit: Noortje Palmers)

1) Antwerp: Festive fun and cultural charm

As the world’s diamond capital, this historic Belgium city sparkles brightly at any time of year. Antwerp’s rich history is intertwined with a sharply progressive edge; you’ll find medieval architecture juxtaposed with gleaming modern skyscrapers, and Old Masters museums near fashion-forward boutiques. But Antwerp’s winter game is especially strong – so much so, that during this time of year it transforms itself into a self-proclaimed winter wonderland.

When should I go?

From 8 Dec–6 Jan, ‘Winter in Antwerp’ offers mistletoe to kiss under, a giant Ferris wheel, festive markets and even a singing Christmas tree. Whizz down the tubing slide or try curling on the ice skating rink. The crisp, cool months of Jan and Feb are better suited to the Grinch-like among us, when you can enjoy a hefty helping of culture and culinary delights without the crowds. Immerse yourself in the sweet stuff at Chocolate Nation, a brand-new experience centre celebrating the Belgian sweet stuff, or escape the rain in Antwerp’s theatres and concert halls. Art lovers rejoice: The Massacre of the Innocents, the most expensive Rubens painting ever, will be on display at Rubens House until 4 March.

What mustn’t I miss?

If you’re in Antwerp around Christmas, head to the Plantin-Moretus Museum. Not only is the UNESCO site home to the world’s best-preserved printing press, it also goes all out for the festival season, with a spectacular 18th-century Neapolitan nativity scene among other décor and events.

How do I get there?

London to Antwerp via Eurostar | route map and prices (2h 50mins)
Paris to Antwerp via Thalys | route map and prices (2h 02 mins)

Side trip?

We can’t let you go to Belgium in winter without a trip to Bruges. This fairy-tale medieval city is epically beautiful – and even more so when dusted with a sprinkle of snow.
How to get from Antwerp to Bruges | route map and prices

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Trumpeter musicians at Cologne Carnival Germany
Musicians at Cologne’s Carnival (Credit: Wuestenigel/Foter)

2) Cologne: Where Carnival goes crazy

You might be surprised to hear that Cologne is Germany’s fourth largest city, as it doesn’t usually come to mind as a hot spot when visiting the country. However, what’s most fascinating about this city is not its towering Gothic cathedral, rich history or imposing position on the bank of the Rhine – but its residents, who are known throughout the country for their liberalism and love for life. Join them celebrating during the festive season – whether that’s in the beer halls, during Carnival or at the city’s multiple Christmas markets – when locals truly bring their A-game to any party.

When should I go?

Christmas markets galore (the city has multiple ones, including a gay-lesbian market) and 100+ Nativity scenes bring a festive vibe to the city from the end of November to Christmas Eve. Quieter January is a great time of year to ensconce yourself in the beer halls of the Altstadt, while February or March (depending when Easter falls) is the climax of the city’s beloved Carnival, a crazy days-long affair that will blow your mind.

What shouldn’t I miss?

If you love a party, make sure you’re in Cologne from 28 Feb–5 March for the epic 2019 Carnival celebrations.

How do I get there?

London to Cologne via Brussls on Eurostar | route map and prices (4h 38 mins)
London to Cologne via Paris on Eurostar/Thalys (5h 30 mins)
Paris to Cologne via Thalys | route map and prices (3h 14 mins)

Side trip?

Visit the dreamy (and UNESCO-listed) castles of Augustusburg and Falkenlust in Brühl.
How to get from Cologne to Brühl | route map and prices

Lake Annecy, France, in winter
Lake Annecy in winter (Credit: Lake Annecy Tourist Office)

3) Annecy: Spectacular scenery and family-friendly skiing

Often described as France’s prettiest town, Annecy in the French Alps is located on the tip of the picturesque Lake Annecy and overlooks snow-capped mountains. It’s a fantastic alternative to trendier (and pricier) Alpine resorts such as Chamonix or Courchevel, and a great base for snow lovers with five ski slopes within an hour’s drive. The less adventurous can wander the winding cobblestone streets of Annecy’s Old Town, which is infused with medieval charm, breathing in the pure mountain air and feasting on local specialities like fondue Savoyarde and raclette.

When should I go?

In the last few weeks of the year, Annecy parades her holiday finery with Christmas markets, nativity scenes and a tourist train with breath-taking views over the lake and mountains. January and February are perfect months for skiing and snowshoeing, while March brings the awe-inspiring Venetian Carnival when the medieval city is taken over by people in beautiful costumes and mysterious masks.

What shouldn’t I miss?

Do not miss the opportunity to sit in front of a roaring fire and gorge yourself on la cuisine Savoyarde – traditional mountain fare that’s heavy on melted cheese, whether that’s in the form of raclette, fondue or tartiflette.

How do I get there?

Brussels to Chambery via Thalys | route map and prices (4h 22 mins)
Chambery to Annecy via TER | route map and prices (53 mins)

Side trip?

Jump on the train for a day trip in Lyon, France’s gastronomic capital.
How to get from Annecy to Lyon | route map and prices

Rotterdam's Piet Blom-designed cube houses
Rotterdam’s Piet Blom-designed cube houses (Credit: Isaac Mehegan/Unsplash)

4) Rotterdam: For art and architecture lovers

Although Amsterdam is undeniably magical in any season, we’re putting Rotterdam forward as our fave Netherlands winter hot spot. The Netherlands’ second-largest city (and Europe’s biggest port) may well be often overlooked by its bigger-city neighbour, but its star is surely rising as Amsterdam starts to become a victim of its own popularity. Not only is Rotterdam lesser-plagued by tourist crowds and museum queues, but it revels in its vibrant modern architecture scene and cultural cool. Winter brings a plethora of delights to the charming city, when, instead of heading into hibernation, it comes alive.

When should I go?

Come in December for Christmas markets and the country’s biggest NYE firework show (tip: head to the Boompjeskade for the best views – and don’t miss the free Oliebollen being handed out). Movie buffs will feel right at home come January, when the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) screens hundreds of docos, shorts and films over 12 days. And February brings Art Rotterdam Week, when the city becomes the centre of the Dutch contemporary art scene.

What mustn’t I miss?

The Piet Blom-designed cube houses are an Instagrammers dream – but did you know you can also stay in one? 

How do I get there? 

London to Rotterdam via Brussels on Eurostar/Thalys | route map and prices (3h 1 min)
Paris to Rotterdam via Thalys | route map and prices (2h 37 mins)

Side trip?

Don’t miss the chance to visit Gouda, a historic city that’s known worldwide for its cheese.
How to get from Rotterdam to Gouda

Aachen Cathedral Charlemagne burial, Germany
Stunning Aachen Cathedral is the burial place of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne (Credit: Chatchavan/Foter)

5) Aachen: Let the Roman Emperors guide you

If you’re looking for a relaxing break, Aachen, just 75km west of Cologne, is an excellent choice. This ancient spa town, a royal residence of the first Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne, is renowned for the steaming hot waters of its mineral springs, and offers a plethora of pools and treatment rooms that will be sure to delight wellness seekers. When you’re done plunging, soaking and repeating, get into the holiday spirit by feasting on some Aachener Printen, the city’s famous gingerbread-like biscuits.

When should I go?

December brings Aachen’s gorgeous Christmas Market, when the squares and lanes around Aachen Cathedral and the town hall are transformed into a Christmas village. The city’s annual Feast of Charlemagne festival is celebrated on the last day of January in remembrance of the emperor’s death (watch out for the costumed knights). And like other cities in Germany’s Rhineland, Aachen has its own pre-Lent Carnival. Although it’s not as big or crazy as Cologne’s, we love Rosenmontagszug, or Shrove Monday’s carnival procession, when 100+ floats fill the city streets. 

What shouldn’t I miss?

At the first sign of inclement weather, head straight for warm water. We recommend the Carolus-Therme thermal baths and also the Art Nouveau Elisabethhalle pool.

How do I get there?

London to Aachen via Eurostar | route map and prices (3h 59 mins)
Paris to Aachen via Thalys | route map and prices (2h 34 mins)

Side trip?

Aachen is located where the borders of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany converge. If the weather permits, walk to the Three Country Border (Dreiländereck) viewing tower and maze to stand in the spot where the three nations meet.
How to get from Aachen to Dreiländereck | route map and prices 

Promotion details:


Special fares start at €25 in Second Class and €79 in Premium, with tickets on sale from 6–25 November 2018

Valid for travel from 17 December 2018 through 24 February 2019 on the Belgium-Netherlands and Paris-Netherlands routes.

Valid for travel from 17 December 2018 through 6 March 2019 on the Paris-Belgium, Paris-Germany, Belgium-French Alps, and Netherlands-French Alps routes.

Popular routes:
Paris to Brussels (1h 22 mins)
Brussels to Amsterdam (1h 50 mins)
Paris to Rotterdam (2h 37 mins)
Antwerp to Rotterdam (32 mins)
Amsterdam to Paris (3h 18 mins)
Cologne to Paris (3h 21 mins)
Brussels to Chambery (4h 22 mins)
Paris to Dortmund (4h 46 mins)


Special fares: Standard Premier €99 and Standard Class €44

Tickets on sale until 23 November 2018

Valid for travel from 13 November 2018 to 3 April 2019 on Eurostar direct services to or from London St Pancras, Ebbsfleet or Ashford to Paris Gare du Nord, Lille-Europe, Calais-Fréthun and Brussels-Midi.

Popular routes:
London to Paris (2h 16 mins)
London to Lille (1h 22 mins)
London to Brussels (2h 1 min)
Ashford to Lille (1h 5 mins)
Ashford to Brussels (1h 35 mins)
Paris to Ebbsfleet (2h 5 mins)

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