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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You can have it both ways in Europe during winter. Sun lovers can find warmth in abundance when escaping to the islands in the south, skiing aficionados will be spoiled for choice in the numerous mountain ranges and ski resorts across the continent, and the romance of Christmas markets will be present in postcard-perfect cities. And you can easily travel to multiple destinations too – the flights are frequent, and the trains are quick and efficient. Here are the best European cities to visit in December, so start planning your next trip.
You can’t go wrong with coming to Salzburg during winter – it’s among the best European cities to visit in December. Christmas Market here is as charming as they get, with vendors selling local foods and sweets, kids ice skating on a picturesque rink, and the beautiful Baroque buildings calling for admiration. Birthplace of Mozart and the filming location for Sounds of Music, Salzburg is an expert in providing breathtaking mountainous scenery and awe-inspiring, golden-clad interiors of churches and palaces.
Picturesque half-timbered houses stand next to the peaceful canals, pretty cobblestone streets are drowning in festive decorations, and the Christmas Market is filled with life. The border town of Strasbourg is among your best picks for a European city to visit in December. Here, everywhere you look is photogenic, as Strasbourg is one of the most magical Christmas towns in the world. The Grande Île historic part is a gem for romance-seekers – this city with rich Franco-German cultural heritage is ideal for a romantic winter break.
There’s a feeling of being in a fairy tale when you come to Bruges. Canals cut through the old part, the intricate architecture of numerous cathedrals sets the gorgeous scene, and the colorful gingerbread burgher houses of the central Grote Markt are immensely pretty. It will certainly be cold in December here, but that’s part of the allure. Grab a mulled wine from a Christmas Market stand to get warm, have a bite of obligatory Belgian fries, and try the local sweet superstar speculoos cookie.
Yes, Prague is a well-known destination that is sure to get crowded in December. But there’s quite nothing like it – the beauty of this city is exceptional, and it’s during the winter that the Czech capital truly stuns. Christmas Market here is fantastic too. Expect lots of grilled meat, obligatory mulled wine, and, of course, plenty of Czech beer. Book accommodation outside of the busy tourist areas and be sure to check out the less-frequented neighborhoods like Malá Strana, Vyšehrad, and Žižkov to escape the crowds.
Where else to go during winter than to the country of Santa himself? Days are super short in Helsinki in December – the temperature is at its lowest, but that’s the whole point. Here winter is at its most classic and Finnish people definitely know how to enjoy it to the fullest. Christmas Market underneath the imposing neoclassical Cathedral is a joy to be at – you’ll find many stalls selling homemade gingerbread cookies, mulled wines, and local sweets. But how about a sauna? Helsinki is the world’s capital of this hot activity and you’ve got a wide choice of public facilities to get sweaty. While in Finland, don’t miss a chance to travel all the way up to Rovaniemi, Lapland to meet Santa, an ultimate December thing to do.
You can forget about the cold – Málaga enjoys a comfortable 62 degrees in December, and the rainy days are few and far between. That’s perfect weather to explore the pretty streets of the old town, get to the top of the medieval Moorish Alcazaba palace, and take long walks on the lengthy Meditteranean promenade. That’s an oranges and tangerines season too, and the streets will be filled with trees growing these photogenic fruits. A part of Costa del Sol, Málaga also gives you a chance to comfortably visit the neighboring resort towns of Benalmádena, Torremolinos, and Fuengirola for more seaside bliss.
A pearl of grand European historic cities, Dresden is also known for being a place where the Christmas Market tradition arguably started. It was in the distant 1434 that vendors came to the wide Altmarkt square to sell goodies before the beloved holiday. Today, the market here is an experience in itself, with hundreds of stalls, magnificent decorations, a Christmas tree, and twinkling lights. Even if you’re not that high on festivities, Dresden is among the best German cities to visit in December for its striking old town situated on the banks of the Elbe River that was famously restored after WW2 bombings.
The Dolomites are the most phantasmagoric, most dreamy part of the grandiose Alpes. Winter is the place to be here, and Bolzano is your Italian getaway to this wonderful mountainous world. Boasting the most picturesque Christmas Market in Italy, this historic town is the capital of the South Tyrol region and a perfect base to explore the skiing resorts, crystal-clear lakes, and quaint towns of the Dolomites. It’s surrounded by the peaks, so you’re guaranteed to have a stunning backdrop to your visit here.
Malta is a year-round destination with its sublime azure beaches, rich traditions, and beautiful historic towns. Valletta is gorgeous on the eve of Christmas, with festive decorations put up, myriads of lights shining through the night, and numerous cafes and restaurants buzzing with life. Also, winter sees the prices drop across the island, so you can find awesome deals to duly enjoy the mild Mediterranean climate, outdoor activities, and the stunning architecture of the medieval cities.
There’s no bad time to visit Budapest, but December is one of the best months for sure. On one hand, you have several Christmas Markets taking over the picturesque squares and streets of this epic-looking city on the Danube. But then, let’s not forget that the Hungarian capital is among the top destinations for hot springs. Head to the palatial Széchenyi Baths for an unparalleled experience of open-air swimming, enjoy the river panoramas from the scenic rooftop of Rudas Baths and be amazed by the colorful Art Nouveau tiled interiors at Gellert. To end the day, have a hearty Hungarian dinner at a traditional restaurant.
One of the best destinations in the UK, Bath is picture-perfect during the festive season. The ancient city known for its spas and the Georgian architecture sparkles with a thousand lights. You will love strolling from stall to stall at the local Christmas Market, which is considered to be one of the best and most atmospheric ones in the whole country. Top your visit with thermal relaxation at the city’s iconic Roman Baths, a truly magical winter experience.