There's more to Europe than Paris, Madrid and Rome. Forget the usual tourist hotspots and explore a little further afield with our guide to some of the best alternative European city breaks for winter...
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Prague may be the country's number-one destination for tourists, but the spa city of Karlovy Vary makes a great alternative – especially if you're visiting in winter. Located in the north-west of the Czech Republic, the city is famous for its medicinal hot springs and boasts many 'clinic spas' offering a range of treatments (and for a fraction of the cost of other major cities). Once you've warmed up with a mineral bath and massage, take some time out to tour the Moser museum, where you can see traditional glassmakers at work, and visit the Diana Lookout Tower (take the funicular up and walk back) for fantastic views of the city.While the Christmas market in Prague is considered the best in the country, Loket Castle near Karlovy Vary, runs an advent fair in December, where you can enjoy live theatre performances and buy Christmas gifts.
If you're planning a get-away to celebrate a special occasion, Reims makes a welcome change. Located in the north-east of France, just 45 minutes from Paris, this charming city is the champagne head quarters of the world (what better place to toast the festive season with a glass of the bubbly stuff?) and home to some of the most beautiful gothic buildings in Europe. Tour one of the many champagne producing houses in the city (plan ahead as most are open by appointment only) and marvel at the Notre-Dame de Reims Cathedral, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where 25 French kings have been crowned since 1223. For shopping and cafes head to the vibrant Place Drouet d'Erlon, where you'll also find the wonderfully atmospheric Christmas Fair each year, worth a visit in itself.
Located on the river Neckar in south-west Germany (80km to the south of Frankfurt), Heidelberg is a great European city for a short getaway. Home to the oldest university in the country, it was spared the bombing that devastated other cities during WWII, which means its narrow streets, historic buildings and castle ruins have remained much intact. No trip to Heidelberg is complete without a visit to the castle ruins (Schloss). Make the journey up the hillside and be rewarded with stunning views of the old town, the Neckar River Bridge and the Heiliggeistkirche church. Go during the festive season and enjoy a trip to Heidelberg's Christmas market. Spread over five different beautiful and historic market squares, you'll find more than 140 different stalls and yuletide atmosphere in abundance.
Lviv, in Western Ukraine, is widely celebrated as the cultural heart of the country. The historic city centre is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and thanks to its rich and varied past, boats a mix of neoclassical architecture in rococo, baroque, renaissance and gothic styles, making it one of the most unique and beautiful cities in Eastern Europe. And unlike Kiev, Krakow or Prague, Lviv doesn't attract the same number of tourists and so has retained more of an authentic appeal. Most sites can be found in the Old Town and it is compact enough to get around on foot. Worth seeing is the Lviv Opera House, the main square with its legendary coffee houses and the Town Hall – which offers great views of the city. Go in December, and enjoy Lviv's European style Christmas fair.
Located on the Rhine in the north-western corner of Switzerland - where the Swiss, French and German borders meet - Basel is bursting with culture and an art lover's dream. The city boasts a beautiful medieval old town, a large number of theatres and opera houses, not to mention more than two dozen museums - most celebrated of which is the Museum of Fine Arts, home to the world's oldest art collection. Opening on 26 November, Basel's Christmas market at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz is one of the prettiest in Switzerland. Wander the festively decorated Old Town and browse hundreds of small, rustic wooden chalets offering festive goods.
Are you planning a winter city break in Europe this year? Leave your recommendations below...