Europe is a fantastic place for a winter holiday. In December, the villages and cities light up with charming Christmas markets
, and once the festive season is done and dusted the ski slopes begin to pick up for the season. Scattered across France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and other countries (even the UK!) are a huge number of mountain resorts of varying sizes, terrain and altitude, so any ski bunny or snowboarder can find their ideal getaway.
We’ve put together a quick guide to some of the biggest, cheapest and otherwise best ski destinations across Europe, and the nearby airports where you can pick up a rental car to get you there. Start planning your European ski holiday!
1 . Les Trois Vallées (Three Valleys), France
This mega-resort in the Haute-Savoie region of France, near the borders with both Italy and Switzerland, is in fact four - extended from the original three - different valleys which together (they are all accessible with one lift pass) make up the world’s largest ski area. Ski resorts included in Les Trois Vallées are Courchevel, La Tania, Méribel, Brides-les-Bains, Val Thorens, Les Menuires, Saint-Martin-de-Belleville and Orelle.
The appeal of this enormous ski destination is that there is something for everyone - and you needn’t get bored with the terrain on offer in one particular spot. Your lift pass will work across 183 lifts covering 600 kilometres of pistes! A rental car is a very handy asset for a holiday in Les Trois Vallées, so that you can make your way from one resort to the next. Lyon, and Geneva have the closest major international airports
From Lyon (Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport): 2 hours
The drive to Les Trois Vallées with a rental car from Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport
will take around three hours, depending on traffic conditions and your intended destination within the area. From the airport, head south (sud) and follow the signs for the A43 and Chambéry. At Chambéry, follow the A43 towards Albertville. Just before reaching it, the road becomes the N90 which will get you to Moutiers, a town which serves as a gateway to the different resorts.
It’s a drive with a lot of mountain scenery, so enjoy the journey!
From Geneva, Switzerland (Geneva Airport): 2-2.5 hours
If you choose to fly in to Switzerland, remember that you might need two different currencies - the Swiss Franc and the Euro! Also be aware that although both countries are part of the Schengen area, Frontier Guards may ask customs-related questions.
Once you have your Geneva Airport car rental
, take the A1 through Geneva and across the border where it becomes the A41 in France. Follow the road to Annecy, and take a break to enjoy this gorgeous place. From there, take the Route d’Annecy Albertville (D1508, D1212) to Albertville and proceed towards Moutiers as above. The journey should take 2.5-3 hours.
2 . Zermatt, Switzerland
In the German-speaking south of Switzerland, not too far from Les Trois Vallées, is Zermatt. Popular with families and all kinds of holidaymakers thanks to its great après-ski facilities and atmosphere, it opens early in the season and closes late, so you can plan your ski trip anywhere from November to April. There are 360 kilometres of pistes over four different areas: Sunnegga, Gornergrat, Klein Matterhorn and Schwarzsee - all overlooked by the famous Matterhorn.
There’s is no driving in the village itself, which adds to the charming and scenic nature of it. You can park a short shuttle ride away in the village of Täsch, so your car is easily accessible when you want to move on or explore the area further.
From Geneva, Switzerland (Geneva Airport): 3-3.5 hours
Geneva is a common entry point for those heading to Zermatt, as a hub airport - although Bern is closer, you are much less likely to get a direct flight there from outside Europe. Pick up a Geneva Airport car rental
and head out on the A1 towards Lausanne, skirting the lovely Lac Leman. At Lausanne, take the A9 through Vevey, Montreux, Martigny, Sion and Sierre, then turn off right at Visp onto the Talstrasse towards Täsch. The journey should take around 3 hours, traffic dependent.
From Zürich, Switzerland (Zurich Airport): 4-5 hours
A car rental from Zurich Airport
, the biggest in Switzerland, is another popular way to get to Zermatt. It is a good day’s drive, at least four hours, but you won’t run out of lovely places to stop - you’re in Switzerland, after all.
From the airport, take the A1 and follow signs towards Bern. From there, get on the A6 to Spiez (you might want to detour here to see Interlaken). From Spiez, take the Spiezwiler Tunnel and emerge onto the Frutigenstrasse. This road goes by many other names as it winds towards the alps, but stay on it until Kandersteg where you can get on the car transport train through a tunnel which runs under the peaks - a safe way to cross the alps! Bookings are not necessary. Once you come out of the other side, it’s a short drive with one more tunnel to Steg, where you can turn left onto the A9 towards Visp, and from there into Täsch on the Talstrasse.
From Milan, Italy (Milan Malpensa Airport): 3-4 hours
Milan is a central point for a number of ski resorts in Italy and Switzerland, and you can drive to Zermatt with a Milan Malpensa car rental
in three hours or so. From the airport take the SP52 to nearby Case Nuove, and there get onto the SS336 (Via Giuseppe Giusti) and continue until you can link up with the E62 (also SS33) heading through Domodossola and the border. Once in Switzerland, the same road is marked 9, and it heads right into Visp, where you can turn left onto the Talstrasse and towards Täsch.
3 . SkiWelt, Austria
This is the largest interconnected ski area in beautiful Austria, stretching over a huge area in the Tyrol region. You will have many options here, with more than 250 kilometres of piste linked by a staggering series of lifts, not unlike Les Trois Vallées. You don’t need to be an expert to enjoy the SkiWelt slopes - 90% are colour coded blue and red (half each), meaning novice/intermediate and intermediate respectively.
The traditional villages are a high point of any Austrian ski holiday, and there are several servicing the SkiWelt area. Some of the major ones are Westendorf, Ellmau, Brixen im Thale, Söll and Hopfgarten, all fairytale places to stay which offer an Austrian winter wonderland.
From Salzburg. Austria (Salzburg Airport): 1-2 hours
The easiest way to get to SkiWelt is to pick up your car rental at Salzburg Airport
and cut through Germany to Söll. From the terminals, get on the B1 which crosses the border to become Germany’s B21/Reichenhaller Strasse. Continue through Bad Reichenhall until you re-cross the border into Austria onto the B178, and follow it as it runs west beside the Saalach River through Lofer and Sankt Johann to Söll, one of the primary SkiWelt villages. The trip should take less than 2 hours, dependent on traffic.
From Munich, Germany (Munich Airport): 1-2 hours
A car rental from Munich Airport
in Germany is another option for those SkiWelt-bound, and as a major hub airport is a convenient place to fly to. From the airport, take the A92 to get on the A9 and then A99, skirting Munich itself until you can get on the A8 towards Rosenheim. Before reaching the Rosenheim exit, exit right onto the A93 which will get you across the border. Shortly after the border crossing, exit onto Austria’s B173 which connects up to the B178 near Söll, from where the SkiWelt area is your oyster.
4 . Cervinia, Italy
At a high altitude in the border mountains near the Matterhorn, Cervinia (once known as Breuil) is a fantastic Italian ski resort. It’s possible to buy a joint Cervinia and Zermatt ski pass and cross the lofty ridges separating the two resorts (and countries) via linked-up lifts, should you want more of a challenge or some variety in your slopes. However you won’t get bored easily on the Italian side, which boasts 150 kilometres of slopes, 24 lifts and an excellent Snowpark called “IndianPark” which feature rails, kickers and plenty of space for thrill seeking skiers and snowboarders.
Cervinia’s high position means that it has a very long season, and there is summer glacier skiing and snowboarding available here too! The resort town itself is a pretty spot, especially when dusted with snow, and it has a decent après-ski scene too, although it’s no huge party town.
From Milan, Italy (Milan Malpensa Airport): 2-2.5 hours
One of the easiest ways to get to Cervinia is to fly in and pick up a Milan Airport car rental
- you’ll get some lovely North Italian mountain scenery along the way! The trip should take less than three hours.
Get on the SS336 heading south (sud), then make an exit onto the A4 heading west (ovest), in the direction of Turin - although you’re not going that far. Exit right onto the E25/A5 which will take you through Ivrea and towards Châtillon, where you exit, pass through town on the Via Emilio Chanoux and then out of town on the SR46 into the mountains beside the Marmore River. Continue through Champlong, Antey-Saint-André, Pecou and Valtournenche (you may notice the place names are becoming very gallic) and a few more villages until you reach Breuil-Cervinia.
From Geneva, Switzerland (Geneva Airport): 3-3.5 hours
Driving from Geneva to Cervinia does require a border crossing - but many flights to Europe land here, and it may be easier than getting a connecting flight into Italy. The journey isn’t too long - and it allows you to tick three countries off your bucket list if you include some stops along the way! Just be prepared for a currency change and border crossing.
From the terminals, head out on the E62/A1 and across the border. Soon after crossing, exit onto France’s A40 heading towards Annemasse and Bonneville. Pass through these and stay on the road when it becomes the N205 after Passy. Enter the Mont Blanc Tunnel and emerge across the border in Italy, in the town of Entrèves and on the E25. Follow it to Châtillon, where you will have to head across town to get on the SR46 into the mountains, passing by a series of towns with very french-sounding names until you reach Breuil-Cervinia.
5 . St Moritz, Switzerland
The famous St Moritz makes our top ten list in part because of the possibility that someone might ask you where you spent your winter holiday. To be able to casually say, “oh, St Moritz,” is reason enough to go there. It is also a top-quality resort, with excellent runs for intermediate-level skiers and snowboarders especially over 350 kilometres of pistes. The three towns which are a part of the resort are Dorf, St Moritz-Bad and Celerina, each offering varying levels of bustle, glitz and glamour. The area centres around gorgeous St Moritz Lake which freezes over in the winter and becomes a venue for skating, curling, polo and even cricket.
Its location in the southeast of Switzerland means that a visit to St Moritz can be combined with trips to North Italian ski resorts or the beautiful Lake Como.
From Zürich, Switzerland (Zurich Airport): 3-4 hours
It’s easy to pick up a Zurich Airport car rental and drive across Switzerland to St Moritz - extend it over a few days for a lovely winter road trip! Navigate your way into the city and follow signs to get on the A3 towards Altendorf, Flums, Mels and Sargans. It becomes the E43, and at Thusis you should exit to take the Albula Pass road and Passmal tunnel across the Albula Alps, then hook up with the Julierstrasse (A3) heading south (sud) towards Savognin, Bivio and eventually Silvaplana. Once through this beautiful lakeside town, turn left onto the Via Chantunela/Via San GIan, skirt the Champfèrersee and finish the scenic journey alongside the River Inn to St Moritz.
From Milan, Italy (Milan Bergamo Airport): 3-4 hours
This airport, home to many low-cost carriers, is nearly an hour’s drive from Milan itself, but a lot closer to St Moritz, making it a good starting point. Pick up your Bergamo Airport car rental
and get on the SS671 at Orio Al Serio. Follow that road until you can go left onto the SS342 heading towards Cisano Bergamasco. There, veer right at a roundabout onto the Via Giuseppe Mazzini, which goes by several other names as you pass through lakeside communities along Garlate Lake. At Chiavenna, turn right onto the SS37 which snakes across the border, becoming Switzerland’s Route 3 which leads directly through the mountains and valleys to St Moritz.
6 . Åre, Sweden
If you want a bit of Scandinavian style with your ski holiday, Åre is a good place to go. Although this northern region can’t match the alps for downhill pistes, there are plenty of good intermediate trails in Åre and a good collection of more advanced runs. There are also plenty of nice tree runs which are very scenic. Located in central Sweden, it’s not too far from some other great destinations, including the Norwegian fjords.
The Åre village is lakeside, with the lifts and runs extending up the southern slopes of the Åreskutan mountain. The ski area is extensive and offers children’s slopes, night skiing, snowmobile safaris, dog sleigh tours and more. Take time to enjoy all of what the region has to offer as a winter wonderland!
From Trondheim, Norway (Trondheim Airport): 2-2.5 hours
Neighbouring Norway is a good place to pick up a Trondheim Airport car rental
and get in a little peek at the fjords before or after your skiing getaway in Åre. From the terminals, head north on the E6 until you can turn right to begin the journey east (øst) on the E14. This will take you alongside the Stjørdal River and through some small Norwegian towns to cross the border into Sweden, from where it is a shortish drive past several lakes to Åre.
From Östersund, Sweden (Åre Östersund Airport): 1-1.5 hours
This is the closest airport to the village, and a car rental from Åre Östersund Airport
is a convenient way to get straight to the slopes. From the terminals, get on the Rödövägen, across the bridge onto the mainland and continue straight until the road meets the E14, where you should join the highway heading west (väster). That will take you straight to Åre, passing some lovely waterways on the journey.
7 . Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria
This ski area in Austria, now part of a wider resort called Skicircus, is made up of the two villages. Saalbach has a bit of a reputation as a party town, perfect for those who like a lot of “après” with their “ski.” 4 kilometres away, Hinterglemm is a little more low-key, offering a different experience - with a car, you could try both and see which suits! Lifts link the two so you can enjoy the slopes above both villages, along with more pistes as part of the SkiCircus area.
The lift system at Saalbach-Hinterglemm is impressive, as the company is progressing in its mission to abolish all slow lifts. Snow is best during the very wintery months, as the south-facing slopes mean pleasant sunniness but poorer snow outside the main season.
From Salzburg, Austria (Salzburg Airport): 1-2 hours
After picking up your Salzburg Airport Car Rental
, get on the B1 highway and cross the border into Germany, where you’ll pass through Bad Reichenhall and take ST2101 and B305 to cross back into Austria near Melleck and Niederland. Fromt here, take the B178 towards Lofer/Schneffsnoth/Gumping and get on the B311 through Saalfelden to Maishofen, where you will exit right and head into the mountains on the Glemmerstraße which leads straight to Saalbach.
From Munich, Germany (Munich International Airport): 3-3.5 hours
A car rental from Munich Airport
will get you to Saalbach-Hinterglemm in an easy morning or afternoon’s drive. From the airport, take Zentralallee and the A92 to get on the A9 and then the A99 and skirt central Munich. Exit and get on the A8 heading towards Salzburg, then the A93 towards Oberaudorf where you will cross the Inn River and the border on Tiroler Straße. Once across, the B172, B178 and B311 in Austria will take you to the Glemmerstraße and Saalbach - follow signs towards and through Saalfden.
8 . Jasná Nizke Tatry, Slovakia
Although you won't find Jasná on a list of the most glamorous or popular European ski resorts, it is a great option for those budget-conscious skiers and is Slovakia’s leading ski destination. Slovakia is an affordable place to holiday in both summer and winter, and with much smaller crowds it’s no bother that the skiing area isn’t as huge as others in France, Switzerland, Italy and Austria.
Thirty lifts in total and a vertical drop of around 1 kilometre will keep any snow bunny busy, offering nearly 50 kilometres of trails with lots of scenic tree runs. Around half of these are intermediate level, with the rest split between beginner and advanced, and there is a terrain park and night skiing on offer. The resort has invested in great lift and cable car systems.
From Košice, Slovakia (Košice International Airport): 2-3 hours
This Slovakian city has the closest sizeable airport, and a Košice Airport car rental
is a fast way to get to Jasná. From the terminals, make your way to the E58 and follow it around the outskirts of Košice until you can merge onto the E50 just after the suburb of Vyšné Opátske. Follow it through Prešov and past Poprad to Liptovský Mikuláš. From here, Route 584 will take you into the mountains to Jasná.
From Bratislava, Slovakia (M. R. Štefánik/Bratislava Airport): 3-4 hours
As Slovakia’s main international airport, a rental car from Bratislava Airport
is a convenient option for many travellers heading to Jasná. From the airport it’s a short hop to get on the E58/D1, continuing straight as it becomes the E75/D1. Before entering Považká Bystrica it changes designation again, to E50/D1 - stick to it past Ružomberok and the Liptovska Mara reservoir until the turnoff towards Jasná at Liptovský Mikuláš.
From Kraków, Poland (John Paul II International Airport Kraków-Balice): 3-3.5 hours
You can also head into Jasná from Poland to tick to Eastern European nations of your bucket list. Pick up a Krakow Airport car rental
and make your way east (wschód) on the A4, then get on the S7/E77 past Rabka to the border and across. At Podbiel, turn left onto Route 584 which will head you through Liptovský Mikuláš to Jasná.
9 . Tignes, France (Espace Killy)
Located near the spot where the French, Italian and Swiss borders meet, Tignes is a popular high-altitude resort which offers 300 kilometres of pistes across the Espace Killy ski area which combines Tignes with neighbouring Val d’Isère. The loftiness of the slopes mean that Tignes is open all year except for 2-3 months over the summer.
The five villages which make up Tignes are purpose-built for ski holidays, so although lacking a bit on the history front (you can get plenty in Val d’Isère), they are extremely convenient and functional, perfect for keen skiers and snowboarders. There are trails to suit all levels and the resort is very snowboard friendly.
From Geneva, Switzerland (Geneva International Airport): 3-3.5 hours
Cross the border from Switzerland for one of the shortest trips to Tignes. You may have to pass through customs at the border (although not immigration), but there should be no problems.
Pick up a Geneva Airport car rental
and head south (sud on the A1 which becomes the A41/E712 as you cross into France. Annecy is a pretty place to stop, as you continue to Chambéry. There you can pass through the city on the N201, then get on the A43/E70 towards Châteauneuf. Follow it as it becomes the A30 and then the N90, veering southeast after Albertville. At Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the road becomes the regional D902 and heads into the mountains. Keep on it until Chevril Lake, where you will turn off towards Tignes.
From Lyon, France (Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport): 3 hours
Get your car rental at Lyon Airport
and hit the A432, then the A43/E70 heading towards Chambéry. From there, take the A43 towards Châteauneuf and Albertville, where it becomes the N90. Continue to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, from where the regional road D902 will take you on your way into the mountains beside the Isère River. Arriving on the shores of Chevril Lake, turn off towards Tignes which should be well signposted.
10 . Soldeu (Grandvalira), Andorra
As Andorra’s biggest ski area, Grandvalira includes the linked resort villages of Pas de la Casa, Soldeu and El Tarter. In the middle of the three, Soldeu is a great place to stay to enjoy the more than 200 kilometres of pistes and 66 lifts that stretch over a wide area in eastern Andorra.
The tiny nation between Spain and France has seen some bad press over past decades, becoming known as a magnet for rowdy revellers from the UK and other countries. However, the ski resorts more than cleaned up their act, and now that two ski areas have joined to form the extensive Grandvalira it is well worth a visit as a serious snow sports destination. You’ll find a freeride zone, a European Cup run and a great lift system that makes it easy to enjoy Andorra’s pistes.
From Toulouse, France (Toulouse-Blagnac Airport): 2-3 hours
A car rental from Toulouse Airport
will get you to Soldeu in just a few hours, and you could even take a detour to visit the stunning citadel of Carcassonne along the way. After leaving the airport, take the D901 and A624, A620 and A61, following signs toward Carcassonne and Narbonne (although you’re not going that far unless you choose to). Not long out of Toulouse, exit and turn right onto the A66/E6, which becomes the N20 then the N22 before heading into the mountains before heading across the border and promptly into a tunnel to emerge not far from Soldeu.
From Barcelona (Barcelona El Prat Airport): 3 hours
You can head from sub-tropical Barcelona to the Andorran slopes in a single morning or afternoon. Pick up a Barcelona Airport car rental
and head out on the B-20 towards Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, then exit and go left onto the C-16. Follow this until you can get on the E9 near Riu Cerdanya and head north across the border into France. From there, it becomes the French N20 through Latour-de-Carol. Just after Porta, exit onto the N320 to avoid the Puymorens Tunnel and join up with the N22 headed into Andorra, where you will enter the Envalira Tunnel and emerge with a short drive to the slopes.