Discover the Best European Christmas Destinations: From Festive Markets to Winter Wonderlands
Are you ready to immerse yourself in the magic and splendor of the holiday season? Look no further, as we present to you the ultimate guide to the best European Christmas destinations! From picturesque markets to enchanting snow-covered landscapes, this article will take you on a journey through the most festive and captivating cities across Europe. Whether you dream of sipping mulled wine at a Christmas market in Germany, exploring the charming streets of Prague adorned with twinkling lights, or visiting Santa's hometown in Finland, we have got you covered. Get ready to experience the most memorable and whimsical Christmas of your life as we delve into the wonders of Europe's holiday traditions.
How to Celebrate a European Christmas (By Region)
When it comes to celebrating Christmas in Europe, traditions vary greatly from region to region. Each place has its own unique customs, some of which are deeply rooted in specific villages.
If you choose to celebrate Christmas in London or Bavaria, for example, you'll find distinctly different experiences that are equally delightful.
However, on a very general level, here's what you can expect if you plan a Christmas trip across Europe.
Central Europe: Best for Christmas Markets
While Christmas markets can now be found in most European countries, the tradition originated in Germany and spread from there. The world's first-ever Christmas market, Dresden's Striezelmarkt, dates back to 1434.
Today, the most immersive markets with elaborate decorations, thematic elements, and great food can still be found in Germany. Other popular destinations for Christmas markets, such as Austria, northeastern France (including Strasbourg and Colmar), Switzerland, and the Czech Republic, are all nearby and radiate out from the original German market.
While there are numerous incredible places to celebrate a European Christmas, Central Europe is the go-to destination if you're looking for the most legendary markets.
Christmas in Southern Europe
In southern Europe, such as Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal, you'll find some markets and plenty of decorative lights. However, the overall Christmas atmosphere is slightly less pronounced compared to Central Europe. This can be attributed to both climate and cultural factors.
Christmas markets in this part of the continent often exist more as an economic response to their popularity elsewhere rather than a deeply ingrained tradition. However, there are exceptions, such as northern Italy. South Tyrol, for example, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918, still retains a Central European feel.
The Christmas festivities in Obidos, Portugal, are quite delightful, though!
Christmas in Northern Europe
If you're looking for a picturesque region to celebrate Christmas in Europe, northern Europe is a top choice. With enchanting Christmas markets that showcase their own regional charm and an abundance of dazzling lights (necessary when daylight is scarce), Christmas in northern Europe is synonymous with coziness.
Places like Scotland, Sweden, and Denmark experience long winters, and the locals have perfected the art of bringing cheer to the cold and dark season, both before and after Christmas.
Another advantage of celebrating in northern Europe is the higher likelihood of encountering snowy landscapes.
Essential Tips for Celebrating Christmas in Europe
Consider the Season, Not Just the Day
When we talk about celebrating Christmas in Europe, we're referring to the entire season, not just the specific day itself.
Check out our detailed guide to winter in SalzburgIn most parts of Europe, Christmas is a time for families to be together at home, and many establishments like stores and restaurants may be closed. This can be inconvenient for travelers staying in hotels.
Have you already planned your trip on the 24th and 25th?
Make sure to stock up on groceries in advance and plan to spend the day resting and exploring places that are always open, like parks and outdoor monuments.
Remember, Christmas Extends Beyond the 25th
Depending on the location you visit, there are other important dates to consider during the Christmas season. These include Saint Nicholas Day (December 5/6), Christmas Eve, Boxing Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and the Epiphany/Three Kings Day (January 6). On these days, some places may have limited hours or closures, especially small family-run businesses.
Plan Your Itinerary with Geography in Mind
This tip applies to trips to Europe in general, but it's especially important during Christmas. The smaller the area you focus on, the more rewarding your European Christmas adventure will be.
Check out our epic travel guide to Colmar in winter and Christmas marketsWhile Christmas in European cities is incredibly festive and not to be missed, exploring nearby small towns with their own traditions is one of the best parts of traveling in Europe during December.
Eguisheim, France is a fantastic side trip in Alsace!
Consider Non-Peak Times to Avoid Crowds
If you're concerned about the high prices and crowds, consider planning your Christmas vacation for late November or early January. This can help you avoid the busiest periods and potentially save some money.
Don't forget to check hotel dates on Booking.com before booking your flights. Prices can vary greatly, and you may find better deals by adjusting your travel dates.
Check Event Opening Dates
The opening dates for Christmas markets and other winter festival events can vary from place to place and from year to year. It's important to double-check the dates for the events you plan to visit.
Discover why Rome is a great destination in winterMost destinations announce their opening dates well in advance, so it's recommended to start planning months ahead. You can easily find this information by searching for the specific destination's Christmas market opening dates.
If you're not traveling during the very beginning or end of the season, you can assume that popular markets like Munich's are open by December 15.
A simple internet search for "(Destination Name) Christmas market opening dates" will provide updated and reliable information. Towns often publish their dates on their local websites, although these websites may be smaller and less known.
Can you spot us in this photo from a Vienna Christmas market?
Book Accommodation Early
Once you have confirmed your travel dates for your European Christmas trip, it's important to book your accommodation as soon as possible. This is especially crucial for popular holiday cities like Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Rovaniemi, and Salzburg, as the best hotels tend to fill up quickly. Additionally, prices during this time can be higher than usual.
Learn everything you need to know about traveling to Europe for the first timeWe recommend booking hotels and short-term apartments through Booking.com for our European travels. They offer a wide selection of options, and their cancellation policies are often flexible, which is beneficial for planning a holiday trip in advance.
Explore Smaller Cities in Your Christmas Itinerary
While Paris, London, Munich, and Amsterdam are fantastic cities to visit, don't forget to include smaller cities in your European Christmas itinerary. To truly experience the best of European Christmas traditions, you need to explore beyond the major cities.
Discover the best things to do in Český Krumlov in winterSmall towns can be incredibly delightful during Christmas, although their markets may have shorter opening dates compared to larger cities. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Medium-sized cities like Nuremberg, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Salzburg, and Basel offer a perfect balance of festive celebrations and opportunities to experience European Christmas traditions.
Leave Space in Your Luggage for Souvenirs
This point may seem obvious, but it's worth mentioning in a guide to planning a trip to Europe during Christmas. The shopping opportunities during this time are exceptional, and you'll likely want to bring back more than you initially packed.
Check out our bucket list of the best cities to visit in EuropeFrom small trinkets like ornaments to delicious treats like chocolate, and from cozy sweaters to unique souvenirs like cuckoo clocks (which you may want to ship home), the holiday season is the perfect time for souvenir shopping in Europe.
Make sure to pack accordingly and leave enough space in your luggage for your Christmas finds!
Avoid Driving Whenever Possible
While we love traveling by train in Europe year-round, it's especially advantageous during Christmas.
Discover the best itineraries, market tips, and travel guide for Christmas in BavariaUnless you plan to visit remote areas without train stations, it's much simpler and cozier to avoid driving during your European Christmas trip.
The snowy scenery outside will look even more magical when you don't have to worry about driving or finding parking in wintry conditions!
Try Ice Skating During Your European Christmas Trip
No matter when you last went ice skating, we highly recommend giving it a try during your trip to Europe this Christmas. You'll find ice skating rinks throughout Europe during this time, usually located next to a Christmas market and boasting views of major landmarks like the Eiffel Tower.
It's a fun activity that's worth a few moments of awkwardness. And remember, you can always hold onto the edge of the rink for as long as you need!
Mix Seasonal Attractions With Regular Ones
While Christmas markets are undoubtedly delightful, spending an entire week or longer solely visiting markets can become repetitive. Make sure to sprinkle your itinerary with other attractions like museums, neighborhood walks, and scenic viewpoints.
Optimize Day Trips to Maximize Market Experiences
Moving between cities, checking in and out of hotels, and transporting your luggage can consume a significant amount of time that could be spent exploring Christmas markets. To minimize this, take advantage of day trips from your base city. This allows you to experience a wide variety of markets without the hassle of constant packing and moving.
Look for Advent Concerts
Music is an integral part of European Christmas celebrations, and attending Advent concerts can be a magical experience. Choirs often perform in historic venues, creating a festive atmosphere.
Prague or Budapest? Choose your next destinationYou can find Advent concerts in many locations across Europe, as well as other classical music concerts specifically designed to add a festive touch to the holiday season.
For example, Mozart concerts performed at the Mirabell Palace in Salzburg are very popular!
Renting a Car
I suggest using budget websites like Priceline or Hotwire to find a rental car. However, I would avoid car rental places like Thrifty and Budget! My experience with Sixt's customer service was excellent.
Once we landed in Frankfurt, I was able to pick up the rental car at the airport and use it for the duration of our trip. At the end of our 11 days, I returned the car to the airport in Frankfurt.
Occasionally, you can drop off your rental car at a different location, but usually it needs to be within the same country. Keep this in mind when renting.
I usually don't opt for car rental insurance since I already have insurance.
In total, I paid around 0, including taxes and fees, for the car rental.
Now, let's embark on our road trip to the Christmas markets in Europe!
Our European Christmas Market Road Trip Itinerary
Here's a brief overview of our stops during our 10-day trip.
If it seems like a lot, it's because it is! With a car, a can-do attitude, and a well-planned itinerary, you can see and experience a lot. Personally, it didn't feel rushed to me. I traveled with my mom, and she kept up with the pace as well. I tend to pack a lot into my travels, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Although there are 14 cities listed, some of them are quite small, allowing us to visit multiple in a day. Here is our detailed trip itinerary:
Day 1: Flew into Frankfurt and explored Cologne (2-hour drive from Frankfurt to Cologne)
Day 2: Cologne, drove to Aachen (1-hour drive from Cologne to Aachen)
Day 3: Aachen
Day 4: Aachen, drove to Monschau (45-minute drive) and explored Monschau, drove to Trier, visited the Christmas Market in Trier at night (about an hour and a half drive from Monschau to Trier)
Day 5: Trier, drove to Metz, visited the Christmas markets in Metz at night (1 hour and 15 minutes drive from Trier to Metz)
Day 6: Metz, drove to Ribeauvillé, explored Ribeauvillé (Our longest drive of the trip, 2 hours and 18 minutes from Metz to Ribeauvillé, as it takes you through the Vosges mountains)
Day 7: Explored Kayersberg, Eguisheim, Riquewihr, drove to Colmar (all of these towns are within 30 minutes of each other!)
Day 8: Colmar, drove to Strasbourg (1-hour drive from Colmar to Strasbourg)
Day 9: Strasbourg, drove to Baden-Baden (45-minute drive from Strasbourg to Baden-Baden)
Day 10: Baden-Baden, made a stop in the Black Forest, drove to Heidelberg (an hour's drive from Baden-Baden to Heidelberg)
Day 11: Explored Heidelberg and drove back to Frankfurt (1-hour drive from Heidelberg to Frankfurt)
Throughout the 11 days, we spent approximately 14 hours driving. To me, this was ideal and it never felt like we were spending too much time in the car.
How to Get Around During Your Christmas Trip in Europe
While your specific Christmas itinerary will determine the best way to get around, we highly recommend using trains for traveling between destinations during the holiday season in Europe.
How to Plan a Festive Austria Christmas Market TripThey are much less hassle than driving (no need to worry about bad weather or finding parking spaces), more comfortable than buses, and more convenient than flights.
We absolutely love traveling Europe by train throughout the year, and this is especially true during the winter months.
There's something incredibly cozy and satisfying about watching the wintry landscape pass by from the warmth and comfort of a train.
And when you arrive, most likely, you'll be dropped off right in the heart of your next destination!
Train stations are usually located in or near the historic center of major European cities, making it incredibly simple to change destinations.
High-speed trains, which are often used to connect major cities, can get quite expensive, especially as the dates get closer.
For this reason, we recommend booking your tickets in advance whenever possible!
We personally use and recommend Omio to plan our train and bus routes throughout much of Europe and to purchase tickets.
Check train schedules and purchase tickets for your European journey today!
Festive Christmas Itineraries in Europe
There are countless ideas for Europe Christmas itineraries that are both festive and enjoyable. It would be impossible to list them all here!
To give you an idea of what you can do with around 10 days to 2 weeks to celebrate Christmas in Europe, we have created these sample vacation ideas.
It was difficult to narrow down these ideas, and we could easily add another 15 Christmas itineraries to this list.
To keep things (somewhat) simple, we focused on the most popular places for first-time Christmas visitors in December. However, we also included a few surprises.
While the itineraries are named after the main cities to base yourself in, visiting Europe's Christmas markets often involves day trips to the surrounding areas. So when we mention a city, we are also referring to its immediate surroundings.
For example, when you visit Strasbourg, you must see towns like Eguisheim and Colmar.
When in Basel, make sure you don't miss the opportunity to go to Bern.
In Nuremberg, both Bamberg and Rothenburg ob der Tauber are conveniently close.
And the list goes on.
Dresden - Prague - Nuremberg
Start your journey with a visit to the market that started it all – Dresden, which hosts the oldest Christmas market in the world and is still a delightful place to explore.
Afterwards, head to Prague, where you can sip glühwein in the shadow of the Astronomical Clock.
Next, venture into Bavaria and discover charming Nuremberg, home to one of the most famous Christmas markets on the planet.
Munich - Salzburg - Bolzano
As the capital of Bavaria, Munich is the quintessential image of a classic Christmas market that many of us have in mind when thinking of Europe.
Munich is also surrounded by delightful small towns that are perfect for day trips through the Bavarian countryside.
Also, within easy reach of Munich is Salzburg, which is not only one of the best places to spend Christmas in Europe but is also just a 90-minute train ride away.
After experiencing Germany and Austria, head south to Bolzano, home to some of the best Christmas markets in Italy.
Strasbourg - Heidelberg - Basel
This itinerary takes you through France, Germany, and Switzerland, allowing you to visit several legendary destinations for the holiday season without traveling long distances.
Strasbourg, Heidelberg, and Basel are popular cities in their respective countries, but they are often overshadowed by larger cities like Paris and Lucerne. However, during Christmas, these picturesque cities and their surrounding areas shine brightly.
Paris - Bruges - Cologne
If you can't imagine a Christmas vacation in Europe without visiting the City of Light, this itinerary is perfect for you.
Start in Paris, where you can ice skate with a view of the Eiffel Tower and indulge in raclette at the markets.
Next, head to Bruges for a Belgian take on the holiday season, complete with beautiful decorations and delicious waffles.
Finally, wrap up your trip in Cologne, which is known for having some of the most elaborately decorated Christmas markets in Germany and the world.
Vienna - Prague - Budapest
This classic Central European itinerary is a fantastic route year-round, with easy train connections and a wide variety of attractions to see.
Adding Christmas cheer to this itinerary allows you to experience the markets in three cities famous for their holiday celebrations.
Don't forget to visit the incredible, opulent cafes in Vienna and Budapest, as they shine even brighter during the holiday season.
Tallinn - Helsinki - Rovaniemi
This holiday itinerary takes you to northern Europe, promising snow and magical experiences, especially in Rovaniemi.
Tallinn's old town hosts a picturesque Christmas market and is one of the most charming in Eastern Europe.
From Tallinn, take a ferry to Helsinki and enjoy a Nordic take on the holiday season with markets, ice skating, and Christmas cheer.
Lastly, visit Rovaniemi, the self-proclaimed Hometown of Santa Claus, where you can explore the Santa Claus village and enjoy the best of Lapland at Christmas. You may even have a chance to see the northern lights.
Where to Stay
We chose to stay mostly at budget properties, all priced around $100 or less per night. These accommodations offer easy access to parking and city centers.
Cologne – I highly recommend staying at Lowenbrau Cologne. It's located right in the heart of the old town and offers beautiful views, a great restaurant, and surprisingly affordable rates.
Aachen – Consider B&B Hotel Aachen-City if you're looking for a simple, budget-friendly, and practical option.
Trier – Another great choice is the Holiday Inn Express in Trier. It's a simple yet good hotel.
Metz – Stay at Campanile Metz Centre Gare for easy exploration of Metz and free street parking.
Colmar – The most budget-friendly option in Colmar is Hotel Ibis.
Strasbourg – Consider staying at Holiday Inn Express Strasbourg in Strasbourg.
Baden-Baden – If you're looking for a luxurious option, I recommend Aparthotel Volgergasse. It offers a full apartment, fireplace, beautiful views, and two full bedrooms.
Heidelberg – For a great hotel at the top of the Hauptstrasse, consider staying at Hotel Panorama.
Frankfurt – If you have an early morning flight, Moxy Airport Hotel is a great budget spot.
Read All the Christmas Market Guides!
Best Christmas Markets in Europe
I hope this European Christmas Market Road Trip itinerary will help you plan your next trip! From Strasbourg to Metz and Cologne, you really can't go wrong exploring these beautiful cities with their festive lights and bustling streets full of vendors selling all sorts of goodies!
What a fantastic trip! If you're looking for a festive and charming European adventure, be sure to check out these amazing cities during Christmas.
What to Pack for Celebrating Christmas in Europe
We have a full suggested winter packing list for Europe here. However, here are some essentials to get you started on your Christmas trip to Europe!
Travel Insurance – We highly recommend traveling with travel insurance. It's better to be safe than sorry when traveling abroad.
Check inclusions and prices with Safety Wing for Christmas trips to Europe!
Travel Adaptors for Europe – Make sure to bring adaptors for your electronics if you're coming from outside of Europe.
The United Kingdom, for example, uses different plugs than most of the continent.
Comfortable Day Bag – Bring a bag for carrying your Christmas market purchases.
We recommend Pacsafe's sleek anti-theft backpack, but any comfortable and medium-sized bag will do.
Hand Sanitizer – Keep some hand sanitizer handy for snacking at European Christmas markets.
Portable USB Charger – Make sure to bring a portable USB charger for your phone, as cold weather can drain the battery quickly.
Montreux on Lake Geneva, Switzerland
By: Maureen of So Many Places So Little Time
When it comes to Christmas ambiance, Montreux has it all! This picturesque town is nestled at the foot of the Alps and located along the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
During the Christmas season, Montreux transforms into a fairytale wonderland and becomes home to Switzerland's largest Christmas market. The market features 170 beautifully decorated stalls lining the lake promenade, offering a variety of Christmas goodies to enjoy.
If you're looking for things to do in Montreux, don't miss the sight of Santa Claus soaring above the lake on his flying sleigh. Visit the Loggers Village for delicious mulled wine and freshly baked pizza. You can also take a ride on the Big Wheel, which provides stunning views of Montreux and the twinkling Christmas lights.
Make sure to explore the nearby Elves' Square, where an interactive light display illuminates fir trees surrounded by giant reindeer. The lights are powered by nearby bicycles, so the more you pedal, the more impressive the display becomes.
If you have extra time, consider visiting Chillon Castle, which is adorned with pine cones and hosts an annual medieval festival. You can also take a scenic ride on the Santa Train, which climbs the nearby mountains to Les Rochers de Naye and concludes with a visit to Santa in his mountain-top grotto.
Christmas is truly a magical time in Montreux, making it one of the best European Christmas destinations out there.
Edinburgh is a breathtaking and magical destination during the Christmas season. The city transforms into a winter wonderland, with its church spires, Edinburgh Castle, and Royal Mile adorned in festive decorations. The enchanting light displays and beautifully decorated Christmas trees illuminate the dark nights, creating a truly spectacular sight. Don't forget to indulge in a wee dram of whisky or a warm pint of ale to add to the festive cheer. There's no doubt that Edinburgh offers one of the best Christmas vacations in Europe.
During your Christmas weekend escape in Edinburgh, there's a multitude of activities to engage in. The city boasts Christmas markets in various locations such as East Princes Street Garden, Grassmarket, and Leith, where you can explore and find unique gifts. Additionally, you can even attend hymns inside the Greyfriars Kirk or St. Giles Cathedral, adding a touch of spirituality to your festive experience.
If the chilly weather becomes too much for you, don't fret. Edinburgh offers indoor attractions such as the National Museum of Scotland, where you can delve into the country's rich history. You can also enjoy a visit to the Scotch Whisky Experience, where you can sample local tipples, or explore Holyrood Palace's stately rooms. If the weather permits, embark on a hike to Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano that provides stunning panoramic views of the city.
Extend your stay beyond Christmas, and you'll be treated to the vibrant celebrations of Hogmanay, the Scottish New Year. Edinburgh hosts spectacular fireworks displays, concerts, and countdowns to welcome the new year in style.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
By: Emer of Let’s Go Ireland
Discover the wonders of Christmas in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This charming city is a top European destination for the holiday season, offering a perfect blend of indoor and outdoor experiences.
One of the must-visit attractions in Belfast is the Titanic Belfast, located in the historic Harland & Wolff shipyard. This interactive museum provides insights into the fascinating story behind the construction of the RMS Titanic, making it a remarkable experience for history enthusiasts.
If you prefer outdoor activities, make sure to explore the Christmas Market located near City Hall. This market dazzles with its enchanting light displays, and you can browse through a plethora of stalls offering children's entertainment, a variety of tasty foods, and a delightful festive atmosphere.
As the weather in Ireland can be unpredictable, don't forget to bring waterproof gear or an umbrella during your market stroll.
Literature enthusiasts shouldn't miss the chance to visit C. S. Lewis Square, where sculptures inspired by characters from the Narnia series await. While there, make sure to stop by the Lamppost Cafe, known for serving delicious lunch and scrumptious scones.
After a long day, unwind at the Crown Liquor Saloon, a perfectly preserved Victorian-style pub. Sit back, relax, and treat yourself to a delightful Christmassy mulled wine.
The capital of the UK, London, is undeniably one of the best European destinations to experience the magic of Christmas. The cozy cafes, illuminated streets, and enchanting Christmas trees scattered throughout the city create a warm and inviting atmosphere. The 45 angels adorning Regent Street alone are a sight to behold.
One of the favorite local attractions during the Christmas season is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. This family-friendly event offers a range of activities, including ice skating, souvenir shopping, and even circus performances.
London truly shines during the festive season, and it's highly recommended to book your tickets in advance due to its popularity.
By: Cristina of My Little World of Travelling
Experience the magic of Christmas in the cozy city of Leeds, England. Unlike larger cities like London, Leeds offers a more intimate and less crowded setting, making it a perfect choice for a festive getaway.
Start your Christmas exploration at the German Christmas market in Millennium Square. The beautifully decorated stalls offer a wide variety of personalized gifts and Christmas decorations. Don't miss the opportunity to try the market's famous Frankfurt hot dogs, Spanish churros, Greek delicacies, and delicious mulled wine served in traditional Christmas cups.
Apart from the Christmas market, Leeds is home to popular shopping centers like Trinity and Victoria Leeds. These venues boast impressive decorations and host over 120 shops, perfect for your Christmas shopping needs. Additionally, they organize delightful events, such as the lighting of Europe's biggest Christmas Kissing Tree.
For a touch of culture, take a stroll through C. S. Lewis Square, where intriguing sculptures inspired by the iconic Narnia series await you. While there, make a stop at the Lamppost Cafe, renowned for its delectable lunch options and mouthwatering scones.
When it's time to relax, head to the Crown Liquor Saloon. After a day of exploring the city, this Victorian-style pub is the perfect place to unwind. Treat yourself to a delightful beverage, such as a Christmassy mulled wine.
Leeds offers a range of affordable hotels to accommodate your stay. If you prefer a centrally located hotel at a reasonable price, consider Easyhotel. For a slightly more luxurious option, Dakota Leeds or The Queens are excellent choices.
By: Sinead of Best in York Guide
Experience the vibrant Christmas atmosphere in the historic city of York, England. York at Christmas truly captivates visitors with its magical ambiance.
Venture into the six-week-long St. Nicholas Fair, featuring an award-winning Christmas market. Over 100 wooden chalets form this enchanting market, offering unique locally made arts, crafts, and delicious local delicacies like Yorkshire wine, pies, cakes, and gin. As you navigate the bustling shopping area, you'll be treated to beautiful music by carol singers, choirs, and buskers.
After immersing yourself in the market, take a break at Thor's Tipi, where you can relax on blanket-covered benches near an open fire, savoring craft ales, mulled wine, and hot chocolate.
Explore York's grand Victorian and Georgian buildings, adorned with festive decorations and illuminations. Many historic homes in the area showcase themed festive displays, creating a truly enchanting experience. Don't miss the delightful window display at Betty's Tea Rooms, a century-old establishment that never fails to impress.
Attend a carol concert at York Minster, a remarkable gothic cathedral boasting the largest expanse of stained glass in the world.
For breathtaking views of the festive city, visit the medieval city walls or ascend Clifford's Tower, which features the remains of a Norman keep. You can also enjoy a lively Christmas pantomime at one of York's three theaters.
For an unforgettable stay in York, consider booking a room at the Dean's Court Hotel, located opposite York Minster. This charming boutique hotel serves a hearty highland breakfast and mouthwatering traditional steak pie. Other excellent accommodations in the area include Comrie Croft, a quaint farm just outside the village, or the grand Crieff Hydro Hotel in neighboring Crieff.
Remember to arrive early when visiting Comrie during Hogmanay, as the village is small and the celebrations are popular. Dress warmly in waterproof clothing, as temperatures can drop as low as -10°C (14°F). If you choose to sample some local spirits, make sure not to drive, as Scotland's drinking and driving laws are strict.
By: Pauline of Beeloved City
Manchester, located in Northwest England, is an energetic city that transforms into a winter wonderland throughout November and December. Its incredible Christmas markets are a major highlight, with a total of nine markets spread across the city. Indulge in traditional delights like mulled wine, German bratwurst, and meet Santa himself at these markets.
Mancunians flock to the Christmas markets, enjoying the festive atmosphere and the numerous German bars that offer both indoor and outdoor seating. Whether you're craving mulled wine, mulled cider, hot chocolate, or beer, you'll have plenty of delightful options to choose from.
Despite being a smaller city compared to London, Manchester boasts an array of attractions. Enjoy a leisurely stroll through Piccadilly Gardens, the Printworks, Royal Exchange, St Peter Square, Town Hall, or the vibrant Gay Village. Don't miss the chance to visit the stunning John Rylands Library, known for its resemblance to Hogwarts and its collection of fascinating books.
When it comes to delicious food, head to the Northern Quarter, where you'll find a variety of restaurants and bars serving diverse cuisines. For a traditional English meal, TROF near Shudehill offers a delightful Sunday roast. While in the area, admire the captivating street art murals that adorn the city.
By: Katy of The Balkans and Beyond
Immerse yourself in the joyous celebrations of Hogmanay in the quaint Scottish village of Comrie. Every year on December 31st, the village comes alive with lights and vibrant festivities. One of the most remarkable events is The Flambeaux, an ancient tradition believed to have originated in Pagan times.
The Flambeaux is a fire cleansing ritual that involves ten birch poles topped with tar-covered rags. At midnight, these poles are set alight and paraded through the town, accompanied by a local pipe band and elegantly dressed citizens. The ritual symbolizes the banishment of bad spirits and the ushering in of good luck for the upcoming year.
After the procession, join the outdoor ceilidh (Scottish dancing) held in the village Square, where locals and visitors celebrate in the lively atmosphere.
To fully experience these unique festivities, consider staying at the Royal Hotel, conveniently located near the outdoor ceilidh and torch lighting area. This boutique hotel treats guests to a delicious highland breakfast and serves a fantastic traditional steak pie.
Other accommodation options include Comrie Croft, a charming farm just outside the village, or the grand Crieff Hydro Hotel in the nearby town of Crieff.
Remember a few tips to make the most of your evening: arrive early as Comrie is a small village and Hogmanay is a popular event, dress warmly in waterproof clothing as all festivities are outdoors, and if you choose to consume alcohol, do not drive, as Scottish laws regarding drinking and driving are strict.
For an unforgettable Christmas experience in Europe, venture to Rovaniemi, a remote Finnish town located on the Arctic Circle. Rovaniemi proudly claims to be the hometown of Santa Claus, making it a perfect destination for the holiday season.
At Santa Claus Village, immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit as you explore museums, restaurants, and cafes dedicated to the joyous holiday. Here, you can even mail a Christmas card from the Arctic Circle, ensuring a truly unique keepsake. Additionally, expect an abundance of snow, adding to the magical atmosphere.
While Rovaniemi is renowned for its Santa-themed attractions, the town itself offers captivating winter experiences. Discover the local Sami indigenous culture, visit reindeer farms, and enjoy sleigh rides in the beautiful snow-covered landscapes. Embark on snowshoeing trips or snowmobile adventures to explore the tundra, and if luck is on your side, catch a glimpse of the mesmerizing Northern Lights dancing across the night sky.
If you can't get enough of those winter vibes, then check out Tromsø in Norway. Located deep in the Arctic, this small city is home to around 70,000 adventure-loving residents. During winter, Tromsø experiences the Polar Night, with the sun not rising above the horizon for six weeks and temperatures staying well below freezing. Bundle up and prepare for a unique winter escape like no other. Tromsø offers plenty of activities to enjoy, such as visiting the Arctic Cathedral, the Polar Museum, and the Troll Museum. You even have a great chance of seeing the Northern Lights, especially if you join a Northern Lights tour into the wilderness. Discover Sami culture at the nearby reindeer farms, indulge in cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling. Or simply relax in one of the cozy cafes or bars and soak in the Arctic Circle experience.
By: Andrea of Our Beautahful World
For a memorable Christmas vacation, consider visiting Abisko, Sweden. This lesser-known town is renowned for its fantastic Northern Lights viewing opportunities, thanks to its unique microclimate and protection from harsh weather by nearby mountains. In Abisko, you can also enjoy other winter activities like dogsledding, exploring the local reindeer population, and skiing. While accommodation options in Abisko are limited, neighboring Kiruna is home to the famous ICEHOTEL, where you can experience a one-of-a-kind (and frigid!) stay. To maximize your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, plan to spend several nights in Abisko. Additionally, joining a tour group like Lights Over Lapland can help you find the best viewing locations and provide instructions on capturing the beauty of the lights with your camera. Just remember to dress appropriately for the Arctic Circle's cold weather conditions.
Located on the beautiful banks of the River Rhine, Cologne in Germany is a fascinating city with a rich history dating back to the Roman Empire. During the Christmas season, the streets come alive with festive decorations and the spires of Cologne Cathedral shine brightly in the winter nights. Don't miss the iconic Christmas market near the cathedral, where you can explore wooden stalls, listen to carol singers, and even climb the cathedral's 533 steps for panoramic views. Cologne offers several other Christmas markets to explore, including Markt der Engel, Nicholas' Village Christmas Market, and The House Elves' Winter Fairytale. Enjoy Advent-themed cruises along the River Rhine, attend festive concerts, and savor the traditional gluhwein and Kolsch-style beer that Cologne is famous for.
Dresden, Germany, is a top choice for a winter getaway, especially during the holiday season. Founded in 1434, the Dresden Striezelmarkt is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe and offers a truly magical experience. Located in the city's main square, the market features over 240 stalls selling everything from gluhwein to Christmas decorations. Immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere as you stroll through the market and indulge in the traditional stollen cake, a local specialty. In addition to the Striezelmarkt, explore the charming medieval street of Böttcherstraße and the Schnoor neighborhood. Don't miss the opportunity to visit Dresden's stunning landmarks, such as the Gothic-style Town Hall, the Roland Statue, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ensemble of the old town. Dresden promises a Christmas experience filled with enchantment and history.
By: Maria and Greg of Europe Up Close
Immerse yourself in the festive atmosphere of Nuremberg, one of the best European Christmas destinations. This charming city in Bavaria is known for its history and allure. A highlight of a visit to Nuremberg is the iconic Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, one of Germany's most famous Christmas markets. With a history dating back to 1628, this market allows you to experience timeless German Christmas traditions, such as the Nürnberger Christkind, a Christmas Angel who brings presents to children on Christmas Eve. Explore the main market as well as the Handwerkermarkt, where you can purchase local handicrafts as souvenirs. Take the time to visit the local castle for panoramic views of the city or explore the intriguing exhibits at the NAZI Rally Grounds and associated museum. Don't forget to indulge in delicious local treats like 3 im Weckla and Nürnberger Lebkuchen. For accommodations, consider staying at the delightful Hotel Elch, which offers a charming, centrally located experience in Nuremberg.
Germany is renowned for its Christmas festivities, and Stuttgart in the Black Forest region is no exception. The city hosts one of the largest Christmas markets in Germany, featuring numerous cabins filled with all things Christmas-related. Indulge in food, decorations, hot chocolate, and unique Christmas goods. Stuttgart also offers plenty of activities for children, including a large Ferris wheel. While it can get chilly, the proximity of other towns with Christmas markets makes Stuttgart an ideal European Christmas destination. Take a short 20-minute drive to Ludwigsburg, known for its Baroque Christmas market. Additionally, you can explore the surrounding areas through short train journeys. The entire region exudes a magical atmosphere, making Stuttgart one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe.
By: Rachel of Celt and Kiwi
Experience the charm of Füssen, a picturesque town located at the end of Bavaria's Romantic Road. This fairytale-like destination is famous for its proximity to Neuschwanstein Castle, the iconic castle that inspired many storybook castles. Visiting Füssen during winter allows you to enjoy the enchantment of Neuschwanstein Castle without the summer crowds. While exploring Füssen, don't miss the Christmas Market in the monastery of St Mang courtyard. If you want a break from traditional German cuisine, try some delicious burgers at M34 Burger Bar. Remember that the town closes up around 6 pm, so finding accommodation in an alpine lodge with a cozy fireplace is recommended. Take a ride on the Tegelberg cable car for breathtaking views of the area, including the ski resort in Tegelberg and the nearby Kristall Therme thermal baths in Schwangau. Time your visit for sunset to witness the magical sight of Neuschwanstein Castle against the setting sun. Don't forget to grab some Berlin souvenirs to accompany your trip to Füssen.
By: Anca of Dream, Book, and Travel
Experience a fairytale-like Christmas in the charming town of Bremen, located in northern Germany. While exploring Bremen, you'll feel like you're stepping into a Brother's Grimm story, as the city comes alive with a festive atmosphere. The main square hosts one of Europe's most magical Christmas markets, and a second market can be found near the river Wesser. Admire the stunning Gothic-style Town Hall, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town, and the beautiful Roland Statue. Explore the medieval street of Böttcherstraße and the Schnoor neighborhood, both filled with unique charm. Bremen offers fantastic shopping opportunities for chocolate, coffee, beer, and more. Enjoy interactive museums like the Übersee Museum and the Universum Science Center. Attend a concert at the Glocke venue with exceptional acoustics. For accommodations, consider the Radisson Blu or the Atlantic Grand Hotel, both offering outstanding services and convenient locations in the city center.
By: Daniel and Ilona of Top Travel Sights
The vibrant Christmas market in the center of Frankfurt, Germany is one of the best European Christmas destinations. It is one of Germany's oldest Christmas markets, dating back to 1393. Today, the Christmas market extends throughout the entire city center, with many smaller weekend Christmas markets in Frankfurt suburbs in December. The highlight of this market is the enormous Christmas tree in front of Frankfurt City Hall. Visitors can enjoy a merry-go-round and choral performances. Frankfurt is also known for its regional Christmas specialties, such as mulled wine (Glühwein), hot apple wine infused with spices, and local almond and marzipan cookies known as Bethmännchen. Visitors can also find Quetschemännchen, iconic figurines made of dried plums and nuts, which were traditionally given by young men to girls they liked.
Strasbourg, located on the border between France and Germany, is home to one of Europe's best Christmas markets. This tradition dates back to 1570 and is heavily influenced by the city's close ties with Germany. The Christkindelsmarkt, with over 300 traditional market stalls, takes place in the vast Strasbourg city center. Visitors can enjoy carol singers, mulled wine, and the magnificent Christmas tree. The entire city is beautifully illuminated from November to the New Year. In addition to the Christmas market, visitors can explore the European Parliament, Cathedral Notre Dame de Strasbourg, and the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.
By: Eden of Rock a Little Travel
The Grand Place in Brussels, Belgium is adorned with a beautiful Christmas tree and Christmas lights. Brussels hosts an annual Winter Wonders celebration, featuring an enchanting Christmas Market. The event takes place from late November to early January and offers carnival rides, a light and music show at the historic Grand Place, and an outdoor ice skating rink. With over 200 chalets selling unique Christmas gifts, mulled wine, Belgian beer, and delicious waffles, visitors can immerse themselves in the festive mood. The city's famous Mannekin Pis statue is also dressed up for the occasion. The Brussels Marriott Hotel Grand Place offers a great accommodation option near all the Christmas festivities.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
By: Evelina of Ev Being
Luxembourg City transforms into a fairytale during the holiday season. The city is adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations, including exquisitely decorated Christmas trees. The Christmas markets in Luxembourg City offer a variety of festive treats and delicious food. The market at Place de la Constitution is known for its glass ornaments and snow globes, as well as a 32-meter tall Ferris wheel. At Place Guillaume II, visitors can enjoy mulled wine, ice skating, and local delicacies. Place d'Armes market features festive stalls, Christmas chalets, and live concerts. The Christmas fair in Luxembourg City also hosts the Winterlights Festival, showcasing dazzling lights from November 20th to January 3rd.
Vienna, Austria, known for its cultural heritage, becomes a festive wonderland during Christmas time. The city hosts multiple Christmas markets, with a tradition dating back to the 13th century. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market in front of the City Hall is a must-visit. Visitors can find traditional wooden stalls selling gluhwein, roasted chestnuts, bread dumplings, and potato pancakes. Belvedere Palace offers a Christmas Village for souvenir shopping. Other notable markets include the Christmas Market at Schonbrunn Palace, the historic Christmas Market at Spittelberg, and Art Advent. Vienna also offers the opportunity to explore the rich history of the Habsburgs at the Belvedere Palace and enjoy the festive atmosphere along Maria-Theresien Strasse.
By: Alysa of Voyaging Herbivore
Salzburg, Austria, known as the birthplace of the iconic Christmas song "Silent Night," offers a magical Christmas experience. The historic city is covered in snow, creating a picturesque setting. Visitors can enjoy the beautifully decorated Christmas trees, vibrant Christmas lights, and bustling streets filled with a festive atmosphere. Salzburg hosts several Christmas markets, including the Old Town Christmas Market where visitors can try traditional mulled wine. The city also offers opportunities to explore its rich history, including the Mozart heritage, and provides a variety of accommodation options.
By: Deb of The Visa Project
Innsbruck, Austria, is a must-see Christmas destination. The city offers a variety of attractions during the holiday season. Visitors can admire the beautiful Christmas tree and explore the expansive Christmas Market. Innsbruck is known for its Swarovski crystal decorations and colorful medieval facades. The Old Town Christmas Market offers traditional Austrian food and drinks, including Glühwein. The Panorama Christmas Market, located on Hungerburg Hill, provides breathtaking views of the city and mountains. In addition to the Christmas markets, visitors can explore historic buildings, such as Ambras Castle and St. James' Cathedral. Innsbruck is also a gateway to Zugspitze, the tallest mountain in Germany.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague in winter is a wonderful experience, especially during Christmas. The city is beautifully illuminated, with the castle shining brightly. Prague offers Christmas markets in Wenceslas Square and Castle Square, where visitors can enjoy traditional Czech food, such as goulash and chimney cakes. The Astronomical Clock in the Old Town never stops chiming, adding to the festive atmosphere. Visitors can warm up in microbreweries or traditional Czech pubs, indulging in hearty dishes like roasted pork knuckles and garlic soup. Prague's charm and Christmas markets make it one of the best Christmas towns in Europe.
Budapest, HungaryBudapest is one of our favorite Christmas towns in Europe. Upon arrival, you'll immediately be enchanted by the festive cheer that fills the air. Budapest is renowned for hosting some of the best Christmas markets in Europe. From late November until the New Year, you can indulge in goulash and palinka while exploring the lively markets in downtown Budapest. Icons such as Deak Ferenc Square, Vorosmarty Square, and St. Stephen's Basilica are beautifully adorned with Christmas lights, creating a magical atmosphere. Walking through the streets, you'll be serenaded by impromptu singers and brass bands performing hymns and carols. The aroma of cinnamon-spiced chimney cake will enchant your senses. Don't miss the opportunity to cross the River Danube and visit the top of Castle Hill via the funicular, where you'll be rewarded with a splendid view. You can also explore the small market stalls around Buda Castle and visit the Great Market Hall in Pest for some hearty Christmas eating. Don't forget to keep warm in Budapest's thermal baths, starting with the iconic Szechenyi Thermal Baths.
Krakow, PolandIf you're looking for an affordable Christmas market getaway, Krakow is the place to be. This budget-friendly Polish city is filled with festive spirit during the holiday season. Krakow has a rich history as Poland's one-time capital, and its Old Town is a nod to its royal heritage. Take a walking tour to discover the city's past, including the World War II destruction. The Christmas markets in Krakow are a must-visit, especially the one in the Main Square. Surrounded by 13th-century architecture, the wooden market stalls offer a variety of treats and crafts. You can enjoy a kielbasa sausage and mulled wine while listening to carols. Don't miss the live music events and the chance to explore famous landmarks like the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Wawel Royal Castle.
Riga, LatviaRiga, the capital of Latvia, is home to one of Europe's most historic old towns. With its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture, Riga offers a unique Christmas experience. As an emerging European city break destination, Riga is less crowded than other popular destinations. But during the Christmas season, the city comes alive with lights and decorations. Explore the Christmas markets in and around the city center, where you can find warm grilled chestnuts and other delights. Don't miss the chance to visit Riga's famous landmarks, including the castle and the largest market hall in Europe. Experience the traditional Spanish celebration of Reyes on January 6th, when the streets are filled with parades and the three kings distribute sweets to children.
By: Krystianna of Volumes and VoyagesDublin is a fantastic destination for celebrating Christmas in Europe. The city hosts a variety of holiday festivals and markets, including the Dublin Flea Market and the Dun Laoghaire Christmas Festival. Ice skating is a popular activity during this time, and there are several ice skating rinks throughout the city. Don't miss the opportunity to visit the Guinness Storehouse, where you can enjoy panoramic views of Dublin from the Gravity Bar. The Dublin Zoo also offers a special Christmas event with a different theme each year. When choosing accommodations, consider staying downtown near Temple Bar for convenience. There are plenty of dining options, including The Old Mill, Quay's, Bison Bar & BBQ, and Queen of Tarts.
By: Linn of Brainy BackpackersSeville in southern Spain is a wonderful place to spend Christmas in Europe. The city offers pleasant day-time temperatures, making it a comfortable destination. You'll find charming Christmas markets near the cathedral and Plaza Nueva, where you can indulge in warm grilled chestnuts. Seville is known for its architectural treasures, such as the Alcazar, Giralda, and Seville Cathedral. These magnificent structures reflect the city's rich history and are in close proximity to the Christmas market. Take the time to explore Plaza de España, the largest park in the city, and immerse yourself in the unique Spanish Christmas tradition of Reyes, celebrated on January 6th.
Picturesque street in the small ,white-washed village of Mijas, decorated for Christmas in Spain's ... [ ] Andalusia.gettyAndalusia, located in southern Spain, is a captivating region to visit during Christmas in Europe. With its mild weather, beautiful beaches, stunning architecture, and rich cultural heritage, Andalusia offers a memorable experience. The region's Islamic and Catholic influences are visible in architectural wonders such as the Alcázar Palace, the Mezquita-Catedral of Córdoba, and the Alhambra in Granada. Explore the cities of Seville, Córdoba, and Granada to witness the diverse history and architecture that coexist harmoniously. Andalusia is a testament to the lasting impact of different cultures and communities on one another across time and space.
By: Darek of DarekandGosia.com
Lanzarote, located in the Canary Islands, offers a unique Christmas experience for those seeking warm weather. With its diverse landscapes and stunning beaches, Lanzarote is the perfect destination for a holiday getaway. Spend Christmas day sailing, walking along sandy beaches, or exploring the Timanfaya National Park. Don't miss other attractions such as Papagayo Beach, Los Jameos del Agua, and the famous Charco de los Clicos. The Canary Islands' favorable climate makes it an ideal choice for a Christmas celebration.
When you think of a European Christmas, you probably imagine cold weather and snowy landscapes. However, Tenerife offers a different kind of winter experience. With temperatures reaching as high as 18°C even in late November, Tenerife provides a refreshing escape from the colder climate of mainland Europe. Situated in the Atlantic Ocean and a three-hour flight south of Spain, Tenerife and the other Canary Islands, such as Gran Canaria and Fuerteventura, enjoy the best climate in Europe due to their remote location. Despite the warm weather, Tenerife is still very much in festive mode during Christmas season. The streets are adorned with Christmas lights and trees, and there is even a special nativity scene carved from the sand at Las Canteras Beach. Additionally, you can indulge in the joyous atmosphere as musicians serenade the streets with festive songs. For a unique Christmas stargazing experience, head to Mount Teide, the highest peak in Spain, where you can marvel at the super-dark skies. Before you go, don't forget to check out our favorite travel books for more inspiration!
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Novi Sad, Serbia
Experience the first and oldest Christmas Market in Serbia.
Witness the mesmerizing Northern Lights above Festhelltinden peak and Hamnoy in the Lofoten Islands.
Getty's Norway's Northern Lights are a captivating natural phenomenon that illuminates the sky with vibrant colors. These dancing streaks of yellow, pink, purple, and green are created by the interaction of solar gas and Earth's magnetic field. The best places to observe this spectacle are located near the Arctic Circle, approximately 66.5 degrees north of the equator. Alaska, Canada, and Scandinavia are renowned for their prime viewing spots.
If you're in Norway, there are two other winter destinations highly recommended:
For an unforgettable Christmas experience in Europe, head to Rovaniemi, a remote Finnish town situated on the Arctic Circle. Rovaniemi proudly claims to be the hometown of Santa Claus, making it the perfect destination for the holiday season. At Santa Claus Village, you can explore museums, restaurants, and cafes all dedicated to Christmas. Don't forget to send a Christmas card from the Arctic Circle and prepare yourself for plenty of snow. Beyond the Santa-themed attractions, Rovaniemi offers a fascinating winter experience. Immerse yourself in the local Sami indigenous culture, visit reindeer farms, enjoy sleigh rides in the snow, or embark on snowshoeing and snowmobile adventures. Don't miss the opportunity to witness the enchanting Northern Lights dancing across the dark night sky.
Whether you're wandering through the magical Christmas markets of Strasbourg and Prague, or immersing yourself in the enchanting traditions of Salzburg and Vienna, Europe offers an array of captivating destinations to experience the holiday season like never before. From the picturesque landscapes of Switzerland and Norway to the vibrant cities of Spain and Hungary, each region has its own unique charm that will leave you with memories to last a lifetime. So grab your coat, pack your bags, and embark on a European Christmas adventure that will fill your heart with joy and wonder.
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