Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Want to spend Christmas far away from home this year? Europe offers a wealth of fantastic Christmas destinations to spend the holiday, including these.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Prague is a fairy-tale city that only becomes more spectacular at Christmastime when a winter wonderland overtakes the streets. The city’s magnificent architecture provides a stunning backdrop for its famous Christmas markets where visitors can savor mulled wine and delicacies like trdelník, a traditional hot sugar-coated pastry, as well as spit-roasted hams. The Old Town Square hosts the most impressive Christmas market of all, complete with a stable full of donkeys, goats and sheep, dazzling holiday lights and music. The charming wooden huts are filled with all types of festive delights, from craft gifts to beautiful Christmas tree ornaments. Christmas markets can be found in the Old Square, Wenceslas Square, and Náměstí Míru (Peace Square).
There is no Christmas without Santa Claus, and if you don’t want to wait for him to come to you, why not go to his house instead? His official hometown is Rovaniemi, located just north of the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. It’s a fantastic destination for people of all ages, and you’ll be able to enjoy meeting the man himself in this spectacular winter wonderland of deep snow and pine forests, while children can make gingerbread cookies with Mrs. Claus, enroll in Elf School or take a calligraphy class to compose their Christmas wish lists with a traditional quill. There are husky-dog rides and reindeer safaris, and you can even stay the night in an ice hotel. Made entirely of snow and ice, hot tubs and saunas help to offset the frigid temperatures.
Set at the foot of two dramatic peaks of the Swiss Alps, Grindelwald is a village so lovely that it’s been used as the setting of a number of films, including many scenes in the documentary “The Alps” and “The Golden Compass,” while the surrounding mountains were used as the basis for the view of Alderaan in “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.” Grindelwald particularly stands out at Christmas, with gorgeous decorations lining the streets and soaring Christmas trees packed with twinkling lights around nearly every corner. Of course, it also includes plenty of mulled wine and handcrafted goods at its holiday market stands too.
Innsbruck is a top destination in Austria surrounded by dramatic, snow-covered mountains, offering one of the most ideal settings for a Christmas market, each with its own unique vibe, from the traditional Christmas market in the Old Town to the modern Christmas market at Maria-Theresia-Strasse. The Old Town Market features numerous stalls overflowing with gingerbread, delicate ornaments made of hand-blown glass, candles, wooden toys, delectable pastries and lots of handmade arts and crafts. Sample traditional dishes such as Kiachl and a mug of Glühwein (mulled wine).
Colmar is a well-preserved 13th-century village, often referred to as “Little Venice,” for its waterways that wind through medieval streets. Here, the magic of Christmas can be experienced in its purest form. Illuminations linking the city’s multiple Christmas markets will light your way through the labyrinth of narrow streets lined with century-old half-timbered houses. Nestled in the town squares, each with its own distinct architectural features, the markets within are like mini villages, where you’ll find a multitude of passionate and enthusiastic craftsmen, chosen for the quality and the uniqueness of their products. There are also guided tours, wine tastings, traditional toy exhibitions and a host of concerts and other performances.
The Dutch center for Christmas festivities, Valkenburg sits near the German border and hosts its Christmas market in a cave. It is the oldest and largest subterranean Christmas market in all of Europe, set up in a labyrinth of cave passages that lie underneath the town. It also serves as the residence for Santa Claus, where visitors can check out his reindeer sleigh, and a room full of presents. There are all sorts of one-of-a-kind gifts, like Marlstone products and traditional Polish handicrafts, as well as sculptures, an 18th-century chapel, and preserved mural drawings that date back to Roman times.
Christmas in Bruges is truly an unforgettable experience. While this medieval town is breathtaking year-round, it really comes to life in the wintertime, when the center is transformed for its Christmas festival, Winter Glow. The city comes alive with light trails, a winter bar, holiday markets, and even an ice skating rink. Gliding across the ice is an ideal way to work up an appetite for those delectable warm Belgian waffles and rich hot chocolate, fueling energy to visit some of the other smaller holiday markets that are held across the city.
The Nuremberg Christmas market is a long-time German institution, attracting over two million visitors each year with its 200 vendors showcasing amazing displays. And, unlike “fake” Christmas markets that have been on the rise in the region in recent years, this one is serious about making sure only traditional handmade toys and holiday goods are sold, which means you won’t find any of those mass-produced, plastic decorations, but you will discover lots of tempting aromas of mulled wine, gingerbread, sausage and sweet roasted almonds, all in an unforgettable holiday atmosphere in the Old Town. Other highlights include a steam train, a two-tiered carousel based on old originals – complete with reindeer and Father Christmas sleighs, and a giant carved wooden Ferris wheel.
If you want to experience an especially unique Christmas, head to Iceland, where 13 “Yuletide Lads,” or scruffy Santas, bring gifts to kids who’ve been good for the 13 nights leading up to the big day. A visit here also brings the opportunity to see a breathtaking natural light show, with the brilliant aurora borealis flashing across the dark night’s sky and a city covered with dazzling holiday lights and snow. Reykjavik also hosts the Yule Town Christmas market on Ingolfstorg, with rows of tiny, picturesque huts filled with holiday decorations, gifts and treats – and, something new to discover for each visit, with a number of craftsmen and designers setting their stalls up just for a single day. While you’re here, you can also go on fabulous excursions, like taking an ice cave tour or even going whale watching. The quiet fishing village of Grundarfjordur is renowned for the opportunity to watch orcas, who pursue the large numbers of herring that have been coming into its sheltered waters in the winter season.
If you’d like a unique holiday away from the crowds and high prices of Western Europe, consider heading to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. One of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe, sometimes referred to as a “diamond in the rough,” it looks as if it’s been taken from the pages of a children’s fairy-tale, causing one to gaze in awe at its picturesque cobblestoned streets, castles and cathedrals when stepping inside. At Christmas, the medieval old town is dusted in snow, while lanterns lending an atmospheric glow to the cobblestone streets. It was here, back in 1441, that the world’s first Christmas tree was erected and holiday traditions still include the legendary tree in Town Hall Square. Tallinn also hosts classical concerts, a Christmas market, an outdoor ice rink and an elaborate Christmas Village.