K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Charity De Souza is a Florida native and travel enthusiast. Traveling to over 50 countries abroad and residing in 6, she has a passion for exploring new cultures. While Central Florida is where she calls home, her favorite travel memories include skydiving in Switzerland and watching the sunset in Morocco.
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Want to spend Christmas far away from home this year? From cobbled streets to mulled wine and festive fairs, it’s hard to resist the charm of Christmas in Europe. This holiday season, pack your bags and festive spirit and enjoy a cheery holiday at one of these top destinations in Europe for Christmas. There is a long list of fantastic European destinations to choose from, but these are the best.
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).
Located in France’s Alsace region, Strasbourg boasts the oldest Christmas market in the country and is well-known as a top Christmas town across the globe. It’s got everything you need for a charming holiday destination, from a beautiful Gothic cathedral to a UNESCO-listed Old Town and elaborate displays that adorn the city’s half-timbered houses. Head to the Main Square to see it packed full of wooden huts selling Nativity figurines and tree ornaments, then simply stroll through the picturesque cobbled streets to see traditional boutiques and restaurants serving hearty traditional meals.
The Nuremberg Christmas market is a long-time institution and one of the best places in Germany to celebrate Christmas, 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.
Vienna is an alluring destination throughout the year with its legendary cafe culture and old-world charm, but during the holidays it shines bright with its array of elegant Christmas markets. Head to a Viennese Christkindlmarkts to smell the scent of sausages and hot chestnuts that mark the season. Alt Wiener Weihnachtsmarkt is a favorite for its handcrafted ceramics and toys, the Snow Globe Museum is a hit for all ages and the Rathausplatz is perfect for ice skating, while those looking for a dose of culture can snag tickets to a classical opera.
Tallin’s Christmas Market is said to be one of Europe’s most charming and authentic, as you’ll find a collection of stalls selling woolly hats and hand-carved wooden ornaments. One of Europe’s most underrated destinations, you can explore the UNESCO-protected medieval Old Town to soak up the fairytale atmosphere that is especially charming in the winter, then visit the Town Hall Square. Snap photos of the pastel-colored facades and old-world street lamps, then sit back and admire the towering Christmas tree sitting against a backdrop of fresh snow.
One of the most magical Christmas towns in the world, 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.
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).
Cologne is a 2,000-year-old city nestled around the River Rhine in Germany that boasts plenty of Christmas charm, as it’s known for having one of the best Christmas markets in Germany. Famous for its spectacular Gothic cathedral that dominates the city, it appeals to holiday enthusiasts with its large market held in the cathedral square. Spend an evening sampling the regional specialties and festive pastries, then pick up toys, glass ornaments and wood carvings. Visit Angel’s Market, one of the city’s oldest, to browse the stalls and enjoy a cup of eggnog.
Vilnius is one of the best-kept secrets in Europe, featuring a UNESCO-listed Old Town and cobblestone streets that lead to beautiful churches, monasteries, and palaces. It’s also one of the best places to visit in Europe for Christmas, where you can marvel at festive window displays and pick up locally made gifts at its fairytale-like Christmas market. Its photogenic Christmas tree set in Cathedral Square is usually a complex design rather than a traditional ornament, while an ice rink will be set up in Lukiškės Prison 2.0, which was the yard of a prison turned cultural hub. Active travelers can dress up and join the annual Christmas Run, while all travelers can delight in the city’s thriving food scene that offers everything from Michelin-star dining to traditional cuisines.
An exciting destination during the holidays, London is known for shining brightly during Christmastime. Walk down Oxford Street for any last-minute shopping, visit the ice rinks at Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, then visit Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland with its Bavarian-style village serving gluhwein. If you want to pick up handmade wooden toys and enjoy festive gingerbread, head to the Christmas Market at Tate Modern. Just make sure to drop by Harrods to see its Christmas lights and over-the-top window displays.
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.
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.
Transforming into a beautiful winter wonderland at Christmastime, Stockholm offers you the chance to learn about Swedish Santa. You can also sample some of the region’s most beloved delicacies, such as traditional julbord, which is the Yuletide version of a smorgasbord. Make sure to put a trip to Stortorget Square on your itinerary, where you can find glogg, smoked reindeer and a variety of holiday handicrafts at the Old Town Market.
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.
A colorful city throughout the year, Copenhagen boasts a festive atmosphere with its shining lights and hyggelige cafes. Soak up the scenery and explore the city’s Christmas markets, then visit the world-famous Tivoli Gardens. This famous amusement park transforms over the holidays into a winter wonderland full of light displays, rides and stalls selling traditional goods. After enjoying all the Christmas excitement, take a stroll along the waterfront district of Nyhavn or take part in Royal Copenhagen, a 50-year-old Christmas table tradition.
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.
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.