Looking for a festive break? We share the best destinations to celebrate Christmas in Europe, so you can enjoy a special festive trip.
Christmas is my favourite time of the year and Christmas in Europe – no matter which city you visit is simply magical. That being said, I have asked expert travellers what their favourite European Christmas destination is and these are their favourites.
What follows is a guide to some of the best Christmas destinations in Europe, why you should plan your next trip here and a few bits of helpful information too! Looking to fully immerse yourself in Christmas markets, hot apple cider and cinnamon waffles? Why not follow these Winter Europe Itineraries and visit one of these UK Winter breaks.
I want to say a massive thank you to these amazing travellers and travel bloggers who have collaborated with Creative Travel Guide (that’s us!) in this post, I am now frantically trying to work out how I can visit all of these destinations on our Christmas trip home to the UK.
CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE DESTINATIONS
Rhine Valley, Germany
The Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany (also known as the Rhine Gorge) is a brilliant place to visit around Christmas. This 65 km stretch is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with steep banks that are dotted with vineyards, attractive old towns and romantic castles.
During summer, cruise ships ply the waters, full of people enjoying the views. Around Christmas, it’s much quieter. Visit gems such as Rudesheim and you’ll find warm shops with carefully arranged Christmas shop windows and traditional markets where you can sip gluhwein, eat sticky stollen bread and buy beautifully crafted trinkets for your Christmas tree. No matter what time of the year you visit, Rhine Valley is one of the best places to visit in Germany.
Clare from Epic road rides
Things to do: The Many Museums of Mainz, Worms Cathedral, Mannheim, The Palatinate Forest, River cruise.
Festive fun: Sunday brunch Christmas Cruise, Düsseldorf Christmas Market, Harbour Christmas Market (Cologne), Koblenz Christmas Market, historical Old Town in Rudesheim.
In my honest opinion, Milan looks like a paradise on Earth, especially in the magical time of Christmas! The Italian city where style is born with enigma, Christmas is celebrated with lights and love! Tall trees are erect right in the middle of the streets. They are connected with wires studded with thousands of Swarovski stars, garlands of lights and intricate ornaments.
Cafes are decked up with revamped menu where tea, hot chocolate and specially crafted cocktails find a place! Bagni Misteriosi of Milan turns into a fairytale land where ice skating is done. With a free entry and only 3 euro for skating, this is one major attraction of Milan. I also love the illuminated rooftop of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II during Christmas season. Reminds me that good times are coming as I get busy shopping for the loved ones!
Madhurima from Orange Wayfarer
Things to do: Sforzesco Castle, Duomo Cathedral, Museo del Novecento and eat!
Festive fun: Milan Christmas Markets, Swiss Alps Express, Christmas Afternoon Tea at The Four Seasons, Gae Aulenti Christmas Village and the Village of wonders at The Indro Montanelli Gardens of Porta Venezia.
Our favourite place in Europe for Christmas is definitely the city of Strasbourg in Alsace, France. Why ? Because Strasbourg is home to the largest and oldest Christmas Market in France – and probably of Europe – dating back to 1570. Imagine strolling around more than 300 snow-covered wooden chalets scattered all over the city, while sipping on a cup of mulled wine and watching the charming half-timbered houses lit up with thousands of magical winter lights. And when it gets too cold, you can go to one of the many traditional Alsatian Winstubs to feast on a yummy choucroute, flammeküche or bäckeoffe… what a delight! Mei and Kerstin from Travel with Mia and Kerstin
Things to do: Petite France, Notre Dame Cathedral, walk the canals, the Alsace food and Alsace houses. Note, the Strasbourg Pass can save you money on attractions.
Festive fun: Christmas markets, also known as Christkindelsmärik – can be found in Place de la Cathédrale, Place Kléber, Place Gutenberg, Place Broglie and Place du Château.
When you think of Christmas in Europe, Bucharest may not be the first destination to come to mind. But, I assure you, Romania’s capital is definitely worth considering. For a few years now, we have a big market – the Bucharest Christmas Market – where more than 100 small cottages await for you with handmade traditional products, Christmas decorations, paintings, traditional food, ice skating, and more. There’s also a Santa’s house where children can actually meet Santa – and there are concerts at this market. And don’t even get me started about the wonderful Christmas lights decorating the city. It’s a pleasure to stroll the streets and admire the different lights (each year we have new ones, and each area has different decorations). In 2018 we celebrate 100 years since Romania was founded, so that’s an extra reason to visit Bucharest. Plus, all the malls and shops are decorated for Christmas! Lori from Travel – Moments in Time
Things to do: Old Town, Walking tour of Bucharest (FREE), Food Hood Bucuresti and Arcul de Triumf.
Festive fun: Bucharest Christmas Market, Prahova Valley mountain resorts, the medieval city of Brasov and Santa’s Cottage.
I’ve heard that Riga is a good place for winter holiday even if you are on a budget, there are many hostels in Riga that are budget friendly. I honestly was not expecting a lot but I had so much fun. I’ve found out that there is a big chance that the first Christmas tree was erected in Riga, which is probably the reason why Latvians are excited to celebrate this holiday too. If you plan to go here for this time of the year, make sure to try the Riga Black Balsam and the Hot Laima Chocolate. Mary from A Mary Road
Things to do: St Peter’s Church, Freedom Monument, Riga Central Market, Riga Castle and Riga Cathedral.
Festive fun: Latvian National Opera and Ballet, ice skating in Riga’s Esplanade Park, Riga Christmas Markets (located in the Old Town and the Esplanade Park) and Livu Laukums Christmas Market.
Paris is known as the City of Light and at Christmas time they pull out all the stops to illuminate the streets of Paris. It’s the perfect city to head to for a spot of shopping as the Champs Elysees is decked out with Christmas Lights, the Galerie Lafayette creates an enormous themed Christmas tree under their domed stain glass ceiling and Bon Marché is always extravagantly decorated too. Once you’ve shopped til you’re ready to drop, you can enjoy the culture of Paris and wander peacefully around these 10 unique museums in Paris.
Laura from What’s Hot Blog
Things to do: Eiffel Tower, The Louvre Museum, Notre Dame de Paris, Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Coeus, Palace of Versailles, Musee d’Orsay
Festive fun: Disneyland Paris becomes a hub of festivities including decorations, Christmas-themed treats and Christmas performances. Galeries Lafayette is decked in decorations, Christmas markets spring up over the city and you can enjoy ice skating at the Jardin des Tuileries Christmas Market.
Budapest market is not only one of the cutest in Europe, but also one of the most affordable. It is a great destination for a weekend getaway if you are on a budget. The most popular market in the city is at Vörösmarty Square. There are several stalls selling handmade products, which are perfect as gifts for your loved ones. Food stalls offer delicious Hungarian specialities including sausages, lángos and chimney cake. There are often performances as well when you can watch traditional Hungarian folklore dance. The whole city and even the trams are nicely decorated with lights, so you will definitely get into the Christmas spirit!
Eniko from Travel Hacker Girl
Things to do: Buda Castle, Hungarian Parliament Building, Szechenyi Thermal Bath, Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Chain Bridge, Central Market Hall.
Festive fun: St. Stephen’s Square Christmas Market, City Park Ice Rink, Basilica Light Show, Hungarian State Opera House and the Christmas light tram.
Vienna is absolutely magical at Christmas as the city is covered with decorations and several Christmas markets spring up throughout the city. My favourite is the Viennese Christmas Market at the Rathaus thanks to its gorgeous setting, delicious food, and unique ice skating area. Kids will love the skating and small carnival rides at the market and adults will love the traditional gluhwein or other flavors of hot alcoholic beverages. It’s especially gorgeous at night when the twinkling lights are at their best, so bundle up and brave the cold for the perfect Christmas experience.
Kris from Nomad by Trade
Things to do: Hofburg Palace, Belvedere Palace MuseumsQuartier, Cafe Central, the Jewish Museum, Sigmund Freud Museum.
Festive fun: Decorations and Christmas market at Belvedere Palace, drink Weihnachtspunsch (Christmas punch), advent concerts, ice rink at Mozart Square, Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz.
Belfast is a compact and easy city to navigate and is just ideal for the perfect seasonal weekend away. During Christmas times the highlight of the city would be the Belfast Christmas Market, set beneath the rather magnificent backdrop of Belfast City Hall, and the central landmarks of the city. And while the Christmas Market is perfect for a night out, in the heated beer tents, with mulled wine, the many traditional Belfast pubs are definitely a must for any visit to the city. And the cobbled streets of Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter make the perfect start here.
Allan from It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
The compact medieval city of Ghent sparkles with all things Christmassy during the winter months for the annual Gentse Winterfeesten. This is a Winter Festival with pretty light displays, traditional festive markets selling both local and international foods as well as craft treats, an ice-rink under the City Pavillion, an ice grotto to meet Santa, thrilling fairground rides and a giant Ferris wheel affording panoramic views of the city and beyond.
Take a visit to Gravesteen during the festival and you will see rooms of the medieval castle, which showcases weaponry and torture devices, transformed into a Winter Wonderland with balloons on the ceiling, piles of presents and snow scenes. As you walk around the city centre, pick up a hot chocolate or waffle from a street stall to warm you up. You will smell the waffles before you see them!
Jenny from TraveLynnFamilly
Madeira Island is a very popular destination for Christmas and New Year season. Each year many, mostly European tourists, come to Madeira to escape the cold winter and enjoy the good weather, delicious Christmas dishes, beautiful decorations and special events occurring all around the island. They usually stay until after the New Year, to watch the amazing firework show, which in the past brought Madeira the Guinness World Records title of “Greatest Fireworks Show in the World”. If you like Christmas with sun instead of snow, check my recent post Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Madeira and be sure to book your cruise or plane tickets in advance.
Edyta from Say Yes to Maderia
In the countdown to Christmas, I love embracing all the festive festivities in home city. Edinburgh is enchanting at any time of year, but the festive season brings an extra sprinkling of magic. Running for six weeks from mid-November, ‘Edinburgh’s Christmas’ sees the city come alive with Christmas Markets, twinkling lights, ice-skating, street-food, carol singers, festive shows and fairground rides; you can hear screams from the Star Flyer at quite a distance! It’s no surprise visitors come from all over the world to experience it. You’ll find me sipping mulled wine at the markets, or laughing at the legendary pantomime at the Kings Theatre. There’s no place like home.
Kay from The Chaotic Scot
Have you heard of Vieste? No, then what about Apulia? Glad to get your attention. See, I don’t like cold winters and Southern Italy is the perfect place to escape to a warmer climate.
Home to the longest stretch of beach in Italy, aptly named Lungomare, Vieste enjoys a mild climate during winter and looks gorgeous. There isn’t a lot to do here during winter, though, but if you are lucky you may be able to watch the live nativity scene in the Old Town. It doesn’t happen yearly though.
During summer, Vieste is a popular resort on the Adriatic Coast.
Cris from LooknWalk
The town of Aachen, in northwest Germany close to the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, is one of the most atmospheric destinations in Europe at Christmas. Its Christmas market, held each year from late November until just before Christmas, is a traditional blend of wooden huts, festive lights and mulled wine a-plenty, as well as local specialties such as gingerbread, marzipan bread and potato fritters. The city’s cathedral is beautiful at this time of year; small but magnificent, it is the burial place of the emperor Charlemagne. With beautiful architecture, history and festive spirit, Aachen is well worth a visit in the run-up to the holidays.
Jill from Reading The Book Travel
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a stunning, romantic place to visit all year round but at Christmas, it is truly spectacular. Of course, you can expect Christmas markets full of mulled wine and warm pastries but make sure to visit the Old Town Square for a market like no other – Expect plenty of lights, wooden huts full of festive treats and crafty gift items as well as a stable full of donkeys.
Another favorite has to be Lapland. Known as the home of Santa Claus, visitors can enjoy the cozy wooden lodges, explore the snow-covered pine forests, meet Santa himself and try out some gingerbread cookie decorating with Mrs. Claus. You can also opt for a husky-dog ride or visit the reindeer during your stay.
The magic of Christmas comes alive in Colmar, a well-preserved 13th-century village, known as ‘Little Venice’. Wander through the medieval streets that are covered in Christmas decorations and twinkling lights before exploring the boutique shops and colorful Christmas market. You can also try enjoying wine tasting in the village and even head to a performance or concert.
Christmas in Bruges is perfect. The gorgeous destination transforms into a winter wonderland, complete with a huge ice rink and bustling Christmas market. Keep yourself warm with rich hot chocolate and tasty Belgian waffles or head to one of the many cozy cafes and restaurants around the city.
Looking for a traditional Christmas market? Nuremberg offers just that. The market here offers handmade toys and unique holiday decorations as well as reindeer, a steam train, a two-tiered carousel and a giant wooden Ferris wheel. With mulled wine, gingerbread, sausage and roasted almonds, there is plenty of food to tuck into too.
Every year, Copenhagen is transformed into a Christmas spectacular. With half a million lights and dozens of Christmas trees covering the city, it is hard not to feel merry whilst visiting.
Visit the Christmas markets, sip some Danish mulled wine and enjoy the country’s pork roast snack. For a magical experience, head one of the nearby fairytale-like castles, just make sure to wrap up warm.
Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest amusement park in the world, offers a Winter Wonderland experience, complete with Christmas decorations, festive food and a Christmas market.
Copenhagen is an incredibly romantic experience so is the perfect choice for couples wanting a getaway.
I may be biased by I love Christmas in London. Head to Oxford Street to see the Christmas lights or visit Hyde Park for the magical Winter Wonderland. Winter Wonderland is more than just a Christmas market, you can find ice skating rinks, ice sculptures, rides, bars, food courts and even a circus. Entrance is free and the market runs from December through to the start of January.
Whilst in the UK, why not enjoy a festive Afternoon Tea with notable experiences at the Ritz or try the Christmas Afternoon Tea abroad the B Bus; a red bus that tours you around the capital whilst you munch on festive delights.
Head to Iceland for the perfect white Christmas. Watch the northern lights, see the sites and enjoy the Yule Town Christmas Market in the capital.
If you’re travelling with family, check out the ice skating rink on Reykjavik pond in the city centre or try an Icelandic horse ride over the lava fields. Take a buggy ride tour around the country and learn more about the YuleLads; Iceland’s scruffy Santa.
WOW, these are some awesome choices for Christmas in Europe! Europe is so magical during the Christmas period, especially when you head to a market and it starts to snow – like a real-life Hallmark movie!
Anyway, before I go and watch Love Actually for the millionth time, I wanted to say another massive thank you to all these wonderful writers who contributed to this post – if you like the sound of any of these places, make sure you check the bloggers out, they have some great content about Europe to help you plan your next trip.