Europe is undoubtedly the most magical place in the world to spend Christmas. Christmas brings a fairytale glow to the frozen streets of hundreds of cities and towns all over the continent.
Europe is steeped in history when it comes to the Christmas holidays, this is in fact where all the Christmas traditions began. Ancient buildings, snow, twinkling lights, mulled wine, wreaths and markets are just some of the things that make Christmas in Europe so magical.
Every country in Europe has its own unique Christmas charm so travel to Europe for your next winter Christmas escape. So where you should go for Christmas in Europe?
Here is our pick of 12 of the best places in Europe to spend Christmas this year!
1. London, United Kingdom
London is one of the best major cities in Europe to spend Christmas. While it is rarely a white Christmas in London, it is still one the best times to visit this bustling metropolis.
The city of London really knows how to get into the holiday spirit, with elaborate lights, trees and decorations littering the city. From mid-November, you can’t leave the house without seeing people wearing cheesy Christmas jumpers!
The best places in the city to go and explore the street lights and elaborate Christmas trees include the iconic Oxford Street, the angels of Regent Street, Covent Garden, the quirky Carnaby Street and the quaint Leadenhall Markets. Harrods is also not to be missed at Christmas!
The Columbia Road flower market is the perfect place to pick up beautiful handmade wreaths. There are also backyard cinemas and other pop up Christmas events. Ice skating is another must-do when you are in London for Christmas. The most famous spots include the Natural History Museum, The Tower of London and Somerset house.
Winter Wonderland is a famous Christmas festival in London that should not be missed for fun, games and festivities.
Once you’ve had enough of being in the cold retreat to any cosy London pub to warm up by the fire with a cup of mulled wine or cider. Yum!
2. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is our top pick for cities to visit for Christmas in Austria. Austria's biggest city is home to many different Christmas markets you can explore in some of the most inspiring architecture in Europe. The regal, yet utterly frozen, streets are lined with elaborate lights and trees.
The Christmas Markets at Schonbrunn Palace, the Opera House and Belvedere are some of the most famous Christmas markets that shouldn’t be missed when in Vienna.
There is also a Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien Platz, between the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Art which has the best Vinnesian Christmas snacks!
The weather in Vienna at Christmas time can get well below freezing, so bring plenty of layers. You can always warm up with a market hot chocolate or by ducking into any underground restaurant for a drink.
While you’re there take the time to explore their world-class museums. Vienna is also the home of classical music, so you may want to attend a symphony or opera to get yourself in the festive mood!
3. Bruges, Belgium
The small medieval city of Bruges in Belgium is one of the most charming towns in Europe, making it one of our top picks for Christmas. While Bruges is popular as a day trip in summer it is equally, if not more, stunning in winter.
The iconic buildings are lined with frozen canals, cobbled streets and quaint bridges. During Christmas, Bruges transforms into a winter wonderland. The biggest drawcards to Bruges for Christmas is the Christmas market, which is one of the best in Europe. The market takes place in the beautiful market square which is filled with food, drinks, crafts and even an ice rink.
Bruges is also home to some of the best beer, chocolate, waffles and fries the world has to offer. What more do you want for a perfect Christmas escape!
Bruges is freezing during the time of year so your chances of seeing a white Christmas are high, just make sure you pack appropriately!
While you’re in Bruges don’t miss out on climbing to the iconic Belfry of Bruges on market square for the best views of the city. Don’t forget to watch the film In Bruges before you go either!
4. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is another Eastern European hotspot for a winter Christmas. It has several fairytale Christmas markets open from November to the start of January. The main market is held in the breathtaking and historical town square.
Prague’s old town has a special festive spirit with stalls selling decorations, ornaments and gifts. Plus there are food stalls selling traditional food like beer and sausages. Plus the frozen river and snow-lined cobbled streets of the beautiful old town really add some Christmas magic to Prague.
Prague has so much to see and winter is the perfect time to explore the city. There is the famous astronomical clock, the Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall and the Prague Palace. Taking a guided walking tour of Prague is one of the best ways to soak up the history and to learn a thing or two.
The best part is Prague is one of the most affordable places to visit in Europe so you can have extra cash to splurge on Christmas gifts!
5. Tallinn, Estonia
Tallinn in Estonia is a hidden gem when it comes to Christmas destinations. It epitomises historic Europe but without the mass crowds and exorbitant prices that appear at other top Christmas spots.
Tallinn has some of the best architecture Europe has to offer which gets adorned with traditional festive decor. And of course, Tallinn has its own epic Christmas markets.
Take a walk to the old town to experience the historic vibe and soak in the festivities of the Christmas markets in the Tallinn Town Hall Square. Expect music, mulled wine and of course some Estonian Glögg.
Tallinn is freezing at this time of year so you can expect to enjoy a real winter wonderland. While you’re in Tallinn make sure you visit Toompea, which is a famous hill that gives panoramic views of the city and the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. Tallinn also has a number of historic museums that are well worth a visit.
6. Rovaniemi, Finland
Visiting Santa’s Arctic hometown in the North Pole is a no brainer if you’re into Christmas. Rovaniemi is the “Official Hometown of Santa Claus’. So if you love Santa then this town needs to be on your Christmas bucket list. You can even reach Rovaniemi by the magical Santa Claus night train from Helsinki.
The holidays are definitely the best time to visit Rovaniemi when the festive spirit is in full swing. The Santa Claus village is the most popular hotel choice for Christmas visitors. There are a number of other boutique hotels and even igloos which you can stay in during winter.
If you have children, then taking them to Rovaniemi will be one of the most enchanting and magical experiences for them. It is also perfect for a romantic winter getaway with your significant other.
Santa Park is a must-visit attraction when visiting Rovaniemi at Christmas. This is an underground Christmas Theme park where elves wander and you can even visit Santa at home. Expect dance shows, ice bars and Santa’s mailbox of course.
Rovaniemi truly is a winter wonderland. Other epic attractions include snow sledging with huskies, a Reindeer sleigh rides, ice fishing and gazing at the Northern Lights. You can even take part in the tradition of ice water plunges!
Since Rovaniemi is in the Arctic Circle, you can expect plenty of snow and sub-zero temperatures (and very little daylight), so it is essential you come prepared with appropriate clothing for freezing temperatures.
7. Strasbourg, France
Strasbourg in France is famous at Christmas for being home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in the world, dating back to 1570! This is just one of the reasons Strasbourg is considered one of the best cities in Europe to spend Christmas.
The picturesque French town is dazzling with extravagant Christmas lights and decorations. There is no shortage of delectable French pastries on every corner with a constant irresistible aroma wafting through the streets.
The temperatures are chilly during the day, but usually not too freezing to stop you from enjoying walking around outside. There is plenty of mulled wine available to keep you warm.
There are not 1 but 10 Christmas markets in Strasbourg that sprawl through the streets. These offer beautiful decorations and Christmas gifts, which make the perfect Christmas souvenirs.
Strasbourg is also home to an elaborate Christmas tree which gets decorated with 7km of lights! Don’t miss the cathedral, where you can climb to the tower to admire a beautiful view of Strasbourg.
8. Dresden, Germany
Germany is undoubtedly the most famous country in the world for Christmas markets, making this a must-visit destination for Christmas. The whole country basically turns into one giant Christmas Market, with every city, town and village beaming with holiday cheer.
Dresden is one of the best places in Germany to visit for Christmas as it is home to the oldest Christmas market in the world, Striezelmarkt, dating back to 1434.
The whole city gets seriously into the festive spirit! In addition to the main market, there are other smaller markets and beautiful decorations around the city.
Expect to find unique ornaments, handmade products, entertainment and of course sausages, pretzels and German beer to keep you warm. You can also get a famous collectable Christmas mug from the Striezelmarkt when buying a cup of hot chocolate or the iconic glüwhein (German mulled wine).
9. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is another top Eastern European city to visit for Christmas. There are fewer crowds and relatively mild winter temperatures, making this a great place to visit.
There is so much to do in Budapest during Christmas including outdoor ice skating, festive trams and just strolling through the historic streets admiring the architecture.
Enjoy winter walks across the beautiful bridges and a stroll to see St Stephen's Basilica. You can also warm up by walking to the Fisherman’s Bastion or the Citadel on Gellert Hill to admire some sweeping views of the city.
Ice skating in City Park is the perfect Christmas activity with the fairytale Vajdahunyad castle as a backdrop. The best part about Budapest during Christmas is the iconic thermal baths. Gellert bath and the famous Szechenyi are our top picks.
St Stephens basically boasts an Advent Market. There is also the Vorosmarty Square Christmas market which has delicious Hungarian food on offer.
10. Rome, Italy
Rome is wonderful all year round but has a special festive glow at Christmas. Ancient Catholic Christmas traditions can be mixed with sightseeing of some of the most iconic tourist destinations in the world (minus the summer crowds).
The days are short and brisk but the weather is usually dry and warm enough to enjoy Rome’s attractions like the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Trevi Fountain and numerous elaborate cathedrals. All of the famous history and art museums will be open at this time of year as well (except on Christmas day).
While Rome’s al fresco dining is off the menu, there are plenty of cosy cafes and restaurants to warm up with some Italian wine, pizza and pasta.
The Vatican is a must-visit on Christmas, especially if you are there on Christmas day. St Peter’s square gets decorated with a huge tree and a nativity scene. This is one iconic place to be for Christmas!
11. Moscow, Russia
While Russia is one of the more difficult countries to visit in Europe, it is one of the most magical places to go for Christmas!
Christmas in Russia is celebrated differently than most of the world because they use the Orthodox calendar. Interestingly Christmas was banned in Russia during communist times. However, today it is generally celebrated in January and is a major public holiday.
Most of the major tourist attractions in Moscow will be open during the holidays. The city centre is full of festive lights and awe-inspiring architecture. Christmas markets will be open by December.
The Red Square Christmas market is a favourite, with beautiful decorations and unique Christmas souvenirs and gifts. It is also a Christmas tradition in Russia to have your fortune read (if you dare)!
Moscow is freezing cold and has plenty of snow at this time of year, so if you are after a white Christmas this may be the place for you. The city is well prepared for ice and snow and there are plenty of indoor attractions to keep your warm. Plus there is nothing like a big glass of vodka to warm you up!
So get a visa, buy a fur hat and make your way to Moscow for Christmas!
12. Krakow, Poland
Krakow is one of the best small cities to visit in Poland all year round but is particularly magical at Christmas time. You can easily get around on foot to see all the main attractions which are centrally located. There’s St Mary’s Basilica, The Cloth Market and the Krakow Castle. Krakow also has an amazing public transport system if the weather is a bit nippy to walk.
If you really want to step back in time, there is also the option to get around Krakow on a horse-drawn carriage. Watch the world go by wrapped up in a blanket as you sip on a mug of grzaniec (Polish mulled wine).
During Christmas time, the Christmas market is the top attraction in Krakow. The market is held in Krakow’s main square, which just happens to be the largest medieval square in Europe. The main square is dominated by the St Mary’s Basilica. This is impressive enough without Christmas festivities going on!
Bistro Charlotte in the main square is the best place to stop for a delicious breakfast while exploring the festive delights of Krakow. There is also plenty of traditional Polish food to chow down on at the Christmas market.
There you have our round-up of the 13 best places to visit in Europe for a magical Christmas that you will never forget.
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