Pavlo has been working as a travel writer for more than 8 years, and his work has been featured in CNN Travel, BBC Travel, Time Out and Fodor's, among others. Changing cities and continents is a lifestyle for Pavlo, he has been to more than 40 countries across the globe. He can’t get enough of exploring the world and loves to share this passion through travel writing.
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There are just so many fantastic Christmas destinations in Europe to choose from. From the dramatic landscapes of Scandinavia to the picture-perfect alpine resorts, from the magical medieval towns of Central Europe to the traditions-filled festive markets of Germany. The proximity of countries and the easy transport connections allow you to visit several countries at once and it will be wallet-friendly too. We’ve selected the top 20 Christmas destinations in Europe to explore this year for you to have an unforgettable holiday in 2023.
December sees Copenhagen at its most hygge. The latter is a philosophy of coziness and warmth that Denmark preaches, and you will find plenty of those on the streets of the country’s capital. Tivoli Gardens, an 1843-founded amusement park in the center, becomes the epicenter of the festive action with 70,000 Christmas baubles lit up, 1000 Christmas trees, a Santa Claus residence, and artisanal stalls. For more atmosphere, visit the fairytale castles of Rosenborg and Christiansborg within the city limits, try the special Christmas beer on the street market, and savor the legendary Danish pastry at one of the many cozy bakeries.
One of the best places to visit in Eastern Europe, Tallinn is an expert in organizing the best Christmas markets on the continent; the tradition has been running strong here for almost 600 years. This year won’t be an exception. Postcard-perfect Town Hall Square is the venue, and you can expect a top-notch display of local foods, artisanal objects, and twinkling lights. Mulled wine is an obligatory drink, black pudding with pickled pumpkin is a typical Estonian dish to try, and gingerbread cookies paired with hot chocolate can’t be missed.
For having one of the most impressive natural settings in the world, the west coast-located Norwegian Ålesund is still very much an open secret. Why not uncover it this Christmas? Come here (the local airport has good links to other Norwegian and European cities) and you’ll be rewarded by a wonderful Art Nouveau-filled city center, an abundance of quaint cafes, and the unforgettable vistas of the Atlantic coast that look as if Rio de Janeiro’s island-dotted landscape was transported to the North. You will find a cute Christmas market on Bypatrioten. It’s the best place to try Norwegian festive specials like ribbe (roasted pork belly), lutefisk (stockfish cured in lye), and gløgg (mulled wine).
With 150+ stalls, a concert program, an impressive variety of local delights, and a neverending supply of warm drinks, the Christmas market in Gdansk may feel like a festival. Colorful burgher houses of the Old Town create a special background, and you’ve got many fascinating things to do in Poland’s treasured Baltic port city. Kids will have a blast riding carousels, visiting Santa, and partaking in various activities around the fair, while adults will enjoy the mulled wine and local strong superstars like tea with rum, hot Aperol, and mead (drinkable honey).
In 2023, Gothenborg is among the best Christmas destinations in Europe. Sweden’s second-largest city celebrates its 400th anniversary and puts on an amazing winter show. Liseberg theme park is your go-to spot for festivities. One of the country’s top attractions will have wonderful illumination, more than 80 artisanal stalls with food and souvenirs, and, of course, the iconic rides too. Culinary-wise, order a julbord (seafood-heavy Christmas menu) at the restaurants, have a bite of gravad lax (cured salmon) at one of the Christmas markets, and indulge in fika (a typical Swedish concept of coffee and a bun break). Don’t forget to try pepparkakor (gingerbread) and lussekatter (saffron bun); they are delicious here.
There’s never a bad time to visit Iceland. Book a trip to Reykjavik for December and you’ll have an outstanding city break. Christmas looks magical in the Icelandic capital. The gargantuan Christmas Cat (one of the local symbols) is placed at Lækjartorg, the central Oslo Christmas tree is lit up, the ice-skating rink occupies the Ingolfstorg Square, and Christmas markets pop up around the city. Winter is a perfect time to soak in the many hot springs in Reykjavik and take a dip in the phantasmagoric Blue Lagoon located nearby.
Fans of slow travel and underrated European destinations will be delighted to visit Turku. Finland’s oldest city is full of charm and has the unofficial status of the “Christmas city of the country.” Come here for the simple and cozy festive atmosphere. Old Great Square is where you want to be. The market features wooden stalls of artisans, traditional food vendors, and a pretty nativity scene. Don’t miss the imposing local Cathedral, the 13th-century austere Turku Castle, and the interactive Aboa Vetus Ars Nova museum.
Germany is notoriously famous for its Christmas markets, and Heidelberg is famous for being the country’s most beautiful town—a perfect combination for a Christmas visit. The romantic medieval city with a towering Castle on the banks of river Neckar becomes a dreamy destination in winter. Lights decorate the streets, the Old Town turns into one big Christmas village, and the traditional wooden Weihnachtspyramide (German nativity pyramid) is placed on the Universitätsplatz. Don’t miss the 120,000-liter wine barrel, one of the city’s symbols, at the Marktplatz, and definitely pay a visit to the spectacular castle.
Ghent, one of Belgium’s most beautiful towns, is high on the list of the best Christmas destinations in Europe. It’s medieval grandeur at its finest, with striking architecture reflecting in the waters of the Leie River and the numerous canals. The Christmas market, featuring more than 100 stalls, kicks off next to the imposing 13th-century Saint Nicholas Church. While in Belgium, you will have some of the best chocolate and waffles in the world, along with mulled wine, pine raisins, and handcrafted souvenirs.
If you’re looking for the most photogenic Christmas destination in Germany, Aachen may well be that. It’s hard to resist an urge to snap a pic of the vista of the illuminated Christmas stalls set against the Aachen Cathedral backdrop. It’s a city that takes your breath away with superb medieval architecture. Winter and the snow make it even more magical. Glühwein (mulled wine) is a staple, but you also should try the eierpunsch (German egg nog variety), Aachener Printen (local sugary gingerbread superstar), and Flammkuchen (pizza-like Alsacian flatbread).
When the Christmas market is called “Royal Christmas Fair,” you know that you’re up to something truly regal. The Hague doesn’t disappoint. It is firmly among the best Christmas destinations in Europe as it treats the quest of bringing festive joy very seriously. The L-shaped Lange Voorhout becomes a heart of festivities with performances organized on a stage, chic chalets inviting for delicious Christmas treats and numerous photo zones ensure you have enough festive content for social media.
It may come as a surprise, but Croatia is much more than the seaside medieval cities and the island beaches in the Adriatic. Its capital, Zagreb, is among the top Christmas destinations in Europe with the awarded market that has few rivals in the region. In fact, this Croatian hidden gem of a city inaugurates multiple markets in different locations, so you will have plenty of things to do. The food proposition is supreme in Zagreb, and you have a chance to try Croatian tasty superstars like sarma (stuffed cabbage leaves), štrukli (pulled pasta-like dough with various fillings), fritule (special Christmas doughnuts), and the apple strudle.
There are Christmas markets. And then there’s the Innsbruck Christmas market with the high alpine peaks in the background. The capital of Tirol and one of Austria’s best places to visit immediately takes your breath away with the epic panoramas. Make your visit even better by coming around Christmastime when the lights are on, more than 200 stalls welcome you in the Old Town, and the snow covers the mountains and the streets. It’s the time of the year to try Kiachln sauerkraut-filled doughnuts, listen to the carols, eat Christstollen fruit bread, and drink Glühwein. Also, you have Nordkette mountain range right in the city with a funicular, skiing pistes, and snowboarding park. It’s going to be fantastic in Innsbruck this winter.
Sure, Switzerland has many amazing Christmas markets, but do any of them have an actual flying Santa? The one in Montreux does. Set against the backdrop of the marvelous Lake Geneva, this resort town is a wonderful European Christmas destination that brings chic and sophistication to the table. The stalls here are chalet-like and serve traditional Swiss melted cheese specialties like fondue and raclette. To make things even more romantic, there’s a Ferris wheel gifting visitors with sublime Alpine views. And the whole market is located along the lakeside promenade, so you always have the best vistas. No wonder Montreux is one of Switzerland’s most beautiful destinations.
The compact and pretty Old Town of Bratislava is a perfect setting for a Christmas market. You’ve got not one but three different ones located in the Main Square, Hviezdoslav Square, and next to the imposing Bratislava Castle. In each case, there are many traditional stalls, joyful decorations, and plenty of handcrafted artisanal objects to browse. Get to the top of the Old Town Hall to capture the Christmas market magic from above, ride the special Christmas tram, and try the sweet lokšas with sugar and poppy seeds.
Český Krumlov may easily be one of the most beautiful small towns in the world and one of the most magical snowy cities. That’s why you absolutely have to come here when the Christmas lights are on, and the aromas of mulled wine and gingerbread cookies fill its historic center. Winter just suits these narrow streets, arcaded medieval passages, and dramatic castle vistas. Český Krumlov annually puts on a great Christmas show, too, with a parade of angels, pompous lighting of the Christmas tree, live nativity scenes, and numerous folk performances.
With its unparalleled Old Town, picturesque waterways known as Little Venice, and sacred devotion to festive traditions, Colmar in Alsace is among the best Christmas destinations in Europe. It’s also one of France’s most storybook towns. You will be mesmerized by the abundance of decorations dotting the streets, iconic medieval timber houses, and trees. Alsacian wine will be flowing, the local cookies such as bredele, mannele, springerle will be widely available at the stalls, and the overall atmosphere will be magical.
The small Piedmontese town of Santa Maria Maggiore becomes a hotspot in winter. It is here among the irresistible beauty of the Lepontine Alps you find one of the most beloved and atmospheric Christmas markets in Italy. Around 200 stalls appear on the Piazza Risorgimento and surrounding narrow medieval streets of the Old Town selling the local festive food specialties. Apart from that, you have a big crafts section with handmade souvenirs and thematic workshops.
The Christmas market is a matter of pride for Augsburg. This spectacular Bavarian city along the country’s Romantic route has one of the oldest (started in the 15th century) and biggest fairs in Germany and Europe. It takes place from November 27 to December 24, and you can expect a packed program of folk performances, angel processions, kid-friendly activities, and concerts of world-renowned artists. Moreover, it’s an event that engulfs the whole city with various markets in different locations. Rathausplatz is the obligatory stop, though. It is here that the fair is at its most photogenic and impressive.
It pays off to be in Ljubljana during Christmas; the Slovenian capital is covered in a thousand lights, and you find one of the most charming markets in Europe here. The castle is glistening above, the Ljubljanica River reflects the decorations of the many bridges, and the streets are filled with joyful celebration. While numerous stalls around the city sell classic mulled wines and gingerbreads, there’s one Slovenian staple you have to try. It’s potica, the heavenly nut roll that is the country’s favorite Christmas food. Another huge advantage of being in one of the best places to visit in the Balkans during winter is the easy day trip access to marvelous Bled and Bohinj Lakes in the heart of the Slovenian Alps.