How to Escape the Cold like a Local

Boost your Vitamin-D like a pro in the best local spots of Europe’s South

Here’s the sad truth: not every place in Europe experiences winter the same way. In the North, winters are long and the cold is biting. Some places on Earth never get frost or snow-ins, but this can certainly not be said about large swathes of the Old Continent.

Then there’s the South. Here, it’s balmier most of the time. In fact, in some places, winter temperatures are often comparable to summer ones up North. Isn’t it great that you can follow the swallows and migrate closer to the Mediterranean, if not for the season, then just for a few days? Here are a few local bone-warming inspirational tips & ideas from cities across the European South to soothe your soul.

Madrid, Spain

Photo © Maria Jose Morr

Crystal Palace reborn

Want to feel the warmth of a greenhouse on your skin? Madrid has its very own Crystal Palace inspired by the famous one in London. Originally intended to be a tropical conservatory, now it’s mostly used as an open art space. You can use it as a deluxe morning sunroom. Prepare to take beautiful pictures.

Photo © Alba Ruiz

A different riverbank

Madríd Río is a huge, beautiful park that’s built along the Manzanares river. It’s full of modern constructions like bridges and giant slides combined with wooden labyrinths… it all feels a bit like being in a playground for adults. A lot of locals come to jog or skate here. You can follow their lead or even combine your adventure with a visit to nearby Cineteca to watch a non-fiction film for cheap when the sun goes down (which is still startlingly early).

Lisbon, Portugal

Photo © Dimitris Hall

An urban hub for all

LxFactory is a creative island in a gigantic once-abandoned manufactory. Its establishment has been an important milestone in Lisbon’s reinvention of itself in the past decade. Full of small trendy restaurants, hipster shops, visual and performing arts, music and a lively vibe, it doesn’t skip a beat even in the dead of winter…

Photo © Susana Soares

Hidden, but gorgeous

This is one of Lisbon’s most surprising spots. Even finding your way up and onto the amazing rooftop is a puzzle all by itself, but working through will reward you many times over. Park Bar is like an oasis garden or a Balinese beach bar, with plants and wooden decks – and what a view! The cool, friendly atmosphere and the DJs music will instantly make you feel like it’s summer again.

Porto, Portugal

Photo © Sofia Kendall

Invernal delights

The roasted chestnuts you can find everywhere in Porto and other cities in the colder months make up a dearly beloved tradition for the Portuguese. Very yellowish and salty, roasted to perfection and always pretty hot, they’re ideal for indulging on a cold, sunny day. Added bonus: you can warm your hands with them!

Photo © Fernando Ribeiro

Stick with the locals

Guindalense FC is a spot that’s a snack-bar and also the head office of a sportive and recreational association, two-in-one. It’s right on the staircase that leads down to Ribeira (follow it and you’ll catch a real glimpse of this side of Porto) and also offers a unique perspective of the landmark Luis I bridge. Catch the sunset, have a quick meal or a glass of (port) wine and wind down either inside or on the terrace outside, together with the locals.

Istanbul, Turkey

Photo © Yücel BabadağYücel Babada

The Golden Horn’s coziest café?

It’s hard to imagine how Cafe Naftalin K. could be more pleasant, cuddly or hygge than it is already. Tiny, warm, with charming decoration, it has an air of sophistication, simplicity and whimsy – the toilet is behind the refrigerator door, for example. If it’s especially cold outside their stove is a lifesaver and you can do much worse than get some fresh Turkish coffee together with some cake made on the spot. Last but not least: we hope you like cats...

Photo © Deniz Dönmez

The tea garden on the Asian side

İskele Çay Bahçesi is in Çengelköy, a small, cozy neighborhood on the Asian side. Tea gardens in Istanbul are very humble, inviting places with the simplest décor, preferably under trees – and this one has it all: age-old plane trees, good tea and a location right next to the water. If it gets too cold you can always sit inside with a nice snack, although you can also bring something to eat from elsewhere to enjoy together with your tea. Worth a ferry ride from across the city.

Athens, Greece

Photo © Marilena Salamanou

Warm your bones

Visiting a Turkish bath is something you can of course also do in Istanbul and there’s no comparison when it comes to breadth of options, but here we present you the alternative of trying a hammam bath in the east-meets-west city of Athens. Although there are plenty of buildings still standing in Greece that were once used for bathing, few hammams serve their original function today. Here you can have the complete traditional experience that’s just right for that extra-cold winter day.

Photo © Bart van Poll

All-year cultural activities

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center or SNFCC is at the forefront of cultural life in Athens and locals are really proud of it. Its huge Mediterranean gardens are perfect for a walk and some time outside in summer as well as winter, and you can get concerts, plays, sports activities like races, ice skating, rowing, yoga, pilates and more any time of year – both indoors and outdoors!

Thessaloniki, Greece

Photo © Pixabay

Strolls by the sea

The “co-capital” of Greece is famous within the country for its seafront promenade – some even call it Greece’s best. This 3.5km-long walk is Thessaloniki’s crown jewel that you can enjoy any time of year and especially at sunset. If you crave being next to the sea in a social setting even in winter, this would be a great starting point. You can even rent a bike, do rowing or SUP classes!

Photo © Cafe Aithrion

An all-year garden cafe

Thessaloniki’s Ano Poli (Upper Town) is, together with the aforementioned seafront, a must-see, and one of its few surviving old neighborhoods. Come up here, enjoy the views and then relax in Cafe Aithrio at Yedikule (close to the old Ottoman fortress & prison). Depending on the weather, you can take a breath in the beautiful leafy garden or huddle up in the warmth inside with a warm rakomelo.