Three European
Cities to Visit
This Winter—and
What to Wear
When You Do

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“Summer” and “Europe” always seem like a natural fit. But locals will tell you that to experience their city the way it really is, come in the winter. The tourist crowds are (mostly) gone, the locals are feeling especially festive, and you can book a table at restaurants you actually want to go to. Our recommendation: Hit up one of our favorite southern European cities, where the temperatures are still warm enough to leave your heavy coat at home, and where you can still walk everywhere. We’ve highlighted a few of our favorite places to visit in Lisbon, Madrid, and Rome—including, of course, what to wear when you do.


  • Lisbon, Portugal

    Located inside a fifteenth-century castle in the historic Alfama District, Palacio Belmonte is one of Lisbon’s hidden gems. Its eleven private rooms are infused with a sense of Portuguese history, decorated with blue-and-white seventeenth-century tiles and antiques throughout, with views of the city’s rooftops and the Tagus River. A fifteen-minute walk from the main square, it’s at once secluded yet central—an ideal respite for those looking to escape the bustle of the city. And the property has its own idyllic outdoor café and patio, as well as a private restaurant; a library, ballroom, music room, garden, and pool round out the experience. Another excellent option is Santa Clara 1728, near the Fiera da Ladra, Lisbon’s flea market. It’s a renovated eighteenth-century palace transformed into a quiet, romantic sanctuary. Reminiscent of a chic, upscale bed-and-breakfast, this hotel has six spacious suites and a dining room where the owners (a family who also call the space home) host delicious dinners open to all guests. Limestone staircases, minimalist wood furniture, and impressive artwork all complement the beauty of the building itself. Bonus: heated bedroom floors, along with views of the Tagus River and National Pantheon.


    Henrique Sá Pessoa first opened Alma in 2009—it was his first restaurant, and it catalyzed his career as one of Portugal’s few celebrity chefs, opening more restaurants and starring in several cooking shows. Though Alma remained a coveted reservation, Pessoa made the decision to close and relocate the restaurant in 2014, switching up the décor (it’s now got a warm, mid-century modern vibe, as though the Eames decorated an old Portuguese chapel) and recommitting himself to the innovation for which he’s known. The gamble paid off—shortly after it reopened, the restaurant earned Pessoa his first Michelin star. There are several fixed menus to choose from, although the food can also be ordered à la carte. Either way, have cameras ready—Pessoa’s food is as much art as sustenance. For something brand-new and buzzy, check out Prado, a soaring, beautifully designed space occupying a former candied fruit factory in the Baixa neighborhood. Light-filled, modern, and bright, it’s a departure from so many of Lisbon’s small, darkly atmospheric dining rooms that seem straight out of the nineteenth century. Seasonal, fresh, Portuguese-inspired dishes are the backbone of the menu. And though it changes constantly, you might find one of our favorites—a bowl of cockles, spinach, coriander, and fried bread—along with some unusual desserts (mushroom or acorn ice cream or a sweet potato with smoked-milk ice cream and honey).


    The hill town of Sintra was a royal vacation destination for centuries—with the castles to prove it. The Pena Palace (which has a German vibe, architecturally) gets a lot of attention for its bright pink-and-yellow exterior and hilltop location, but it’s worth going inside, as the interior is equally (if not more) dramatic. It’s also worth buying a ticket to the National Palace—style-wise it’s a hodgepodge, since it was inhabited by so many different royals over the years, but the intricate tile work on the walls is like nothing else. Sintra is only a forty-minute drive from Lisbon, so it’s an easy day trip, but there are more than a few hotels that are worth checking out if you want to spend the night. Lawrence’s Hotel is a darling bed-and-breakfast with incredible views from each room, and Tivoli Palacio is a full-fledged palace that’s been renovated into a luxury hotel, complete with a dream-worthy pool deck. Whether you come for the day or make a weekend out of it, buy the bus pass that takes you around to each castle—it’s a hop-on, hop-off shuttle that makes the entire experience incredibly easy.



  • Madrid

    If you book a room at Hotel Urso, consider carving out a day to explore this (five-star) property. Start with breakfast in bed—or if you splurge on the terrace room, on your private balcony—then head down to the Natura Bissé spa for the kind of treatments (magnet-assisted massages, diamond-dust facials) one wouldn’t normally find at a hotel spa. For dinner, the Table is a revolving pop-up experience that invites chefs from various world-class restaurants around Spain to take over both the kitchen and dining room. The menu, vibe, and décor change monthly (reserve your spot as early as possible). Meanwhile, the Conservatory is ideal for a more traditional meal, and the Urso Bar, downstairs, is the perfect spot for a nightcap. And until the Ritz reopens next winter after a long-overdue renovation, you can book a room at the Westin Palace to fulfill your grandest hotel dreams in the city (it was commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912). Aside from its perfect location directly across the Prado (and a few blocks from Parque de Retiro), the place exudes stately opulence and got an extensive refresh two years ago. The frescoed marble lobby is still there, and the dark wood furnishings, porcelain Chinoiserie lamps, and silk wallpaper in the guest rooms would make a royal feel right at home.


    It’s reportedly the world’s oldest restaurant, opened in 1725 (five minutes’ walk from the Plaza Mayor), and in this pork-obsessed country, Sobrino de Botín is revered for the house specialty, cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig). Sure, it’s a bit of a tourist spot, but like so many heavily trod places in Europe, there are compelling reasons for that: Ernest Hemingway was a regular, and Francisco Goya washed dishes here. And the food is traditional Spanish at its best, where even non-meat-eaters appreciate the plentiful plates of white asparagus, artichoke hearts, and grilled garlicky prawns. Directly around the corner, the Mercado de San Miguel is the last of the nineteenth-century iron markets in Madrid, a beautifully preserved monument that operates just as it has for almost two centuries. Because it’s such a fixture on the scene for both foodies and tourists, the prices at some of the stands are a little higher than at other local markets, but the quality and variety are stunning. You’ll find all the classic Spanish pantry necessities, along with international gourmet goods, including fresh pasta and Russian caviar. If you don’t mind the crowds, the best day to go is Sunday, when locals head to the tapas stalls after a day strolling the nearby Rastro flea market.


    Next year, the Prado Museum turns 200, and it is still one of the best museums in Spain—if not the world—reflecting the tastes (and astonishing wealth) of the Spanish court through the centuries. The collection dates back to the sixteenth century and shows off Spain’s world dominance at the time with the sheer value of many of its holdings, including major pieces by Titian, Fra Angelico, Velázquez, and El Greco. The enormity of the place can be somewhat intimidating, so the approachable guide materials—some of them contextualized with music and geared toward a variety of interests, including a few for kids—make the visit all the more manageable.



  • Rome

    On the heels of a seventeen-month-long top-to-bottom renovation, and now under the watchful eye of the Dorchester Collection (Hotel Bel-Air, Hôtel Plaza Athénée), Hotel Eden, which opened in 1889, is now widely considered Rome’s best. Plus, it has the best rooftop view in a city known for rooftop views. The location, between the Spanish Steps and Villa Borghese, means that it’s central but not overly trafficked. Its ninety-eight rooms are comfortable and refined, in a muted palette, with marble bathrooms and Bottega Veneta toiletries. With the revamp also came a new spa, plus a blow-dry bar and mani/pedi salon—hard-to-come-by conveniences in even high-end European hotels. Of the three restaurants on the property, Il Giardino, which serves up Italian-style tapas in addition to pizza and some lighter fare, is the most low-key. Be sure to ask for a table outside on the terrace. On the Via Condotti (aka the street of Prada, Ferragamo, Gucci, et al.), Portrait Roma is the Ferragamo family’s first foray into hotels in Rome. It’s an intimate, fourteen-room property that feels like you’re staying at a rich friend’s sleek apartment. (The discreet entrance is right next to the Salvatore Ferragamo boutique.) The rooms have an air of formality to them—blonde hardwood floors, heavy tapestries, and a proper walk-in closet and dressing area—and the views from the roof terraces stretch as far as the Villa Medici and Vatican City. It’s the kind of spot where you’ll want to make yourself comfortable, with an Campari spritz in hand, and soak it all in. A note: There’s no restaurant on the property; breakfast is served daily in your room or on the roof terrace, but you’ll need to head out for lunch and dinner.


    It’s blasphemous to spend any amount of time in Rome without trying carciofi alla giudia: crispy, crunchy fried artichokes with roots in the Roman-Jewish community. Piperno, founded in the 1860s, does them exceptionally well. It’s a fairly small space, so the white-tableclothed tables spill right out onto the cobblestoned square in the summer months. La Matricianella is a great choice if you’re looking for cucina Romana—traditional, low-key Roman food. It’s the menu you come to Rome for in the first place. The menu at this cozy, family-owned neighborhood spot (checkered tablecloths and all) is full of house-made pastas, and we’re particularly partial to the ones loaded with truffles and the gnocchi. There is also an impressive wine list, which is a rarity at many trattorias here. Whatever you order, make sure to get the cacio e pepe for the table: It’s a hard dish to mess up but they do it somehow…better.


    Maxxi: Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo is an unexpectedly contemporary structure for such an ancient city. Designed by Zaha Hadid, it’s a curvy, hypermodern space that took a decade to construct. The permanent collection galleries have works by Kara Walker, Ed Ruscha, Anish Kapoor, and many more modern art masters; meanwhile, the exhibit calendar is just as impressive. Plan your visit in conjunction with the Auditorium Parco della Musica (a large, modern complex dedicated to music)—they’re both located in the Flamino area and make for a nice change of pace from ancient architecture.


Related: Top International Travel Destinations 2019