Six of the best winter experiences in Europe

ICE AND HOT WATER, BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Gliding alongside hundreds of other rugged-up folk in City Park's open-air ice rink – touted as one of Europe's largest ice rinks – will take your breath away … in more ways than one. The grand Vajdahunyad Castle makes for a spectacular backdrop, and come nightfall it's sprinkled with lights. Top off the experience with a soak in one of Budapest's many thermal pools. Szechenyi Baths, with its maze-like layout, is a good choice if you only visit one, even if just to watch the locals playing chess in the large outdoor bath. See budapestinfo.hu

SNOWY STREETS, ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA

Winter in St Petersburg is an assault on the senses. Breath turns into steam. Eyes water continuously. The waft of piroshki brings real tears to already-wet eyes, which pirouette watching locals who look like marshmallows hobble along the snow-doused streets. Buildings, too, are covered in snow, with the cupolas of the city's churches left exposed and standing proud against the bleached backdrop. A traditional banya (steam bath) is a great way to end the experience. See visit-petersburg.ru

SNOW SPORTS, VAL D'ISèRE, FRANCE

There are plenty of ski resorts in Europe, but if you were to pick one, Val d'Isère should be it. Combined with nearby Tignes, there are 300 kilometres of ski runs and 75 lifts, making it one of the continent's largest ski zones. There are plenty of other things to do beyond skiing and snowboarding. Try your hand at BMW ice driving, book a micro flight or just kick back in your luxury chalet. See valdisere.com

CHRISTMAS MARKETS, BASEL, SWITZERLAND

The sweet aroma of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts drifts through the crisp air and the angelic sound of a children's choir can be heard in the distance. It's Christmas market season. There are many markets scattered around Switzerland, but the two in Basel – one in the Barfüsserplatz and one in the Münsterplatz – are considered the prettiest. Barfüsserplatz's "Christmas Street" features stalls flanked by 100 illuminated pine trees. Münsterplatz is Basel's most famous square and the market here comes with the backdrop of the prized Basler Münster (cathedral), although at Christmas time, most eyes are focused on the brilliantly-bedecked Christmas tree. See myswitzerland.com

COSY CAFES, VIENNA, AUSTRIA

There's no better place to watch the world go by than a historical Viennese coffee house in the middle of winter. Some of the city's coffee houses were once the regular haunts of creatives such as Trotsky, Mozart and Beethoven, and many retain their old world looks. Cafe Central is perhaps the most famous of Vienna's cafes. Cafe Frauenhuber is the city's oldest and Cafe Landtmann oozes old-world charm. Stay warm inside and bask in the nostalgic glow of yesteryear. See cafecentral.wien, cafefrauenhuber.at, landtmann.at

MEETING SANTA, LAPLAND, FINLAND

The cheery man with the big white beard lives in Lapland and as Christmas draws near the children come knocking. You can find him in Rovaniemi's Santa Claus Village every day of the year. Alternatively, various companies can organise visits. Tour operator 50 Degrees North has a charming option near Ranua (about an hour's drive south of Rovaniemi), where you are whisked away to a cabin deep in the forest for your own intimate meeting with the man himself. Bring your wish list. See visitfinland.com; fiftydegreesnorth.com

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