I love Christmas. The hype, the music, the parties, the markets, the mulled wine, the smell of log fires and cinnamon, the pop-up ice skating rinks… What’s not to love about the festive season?! Travelling South America currently means that this year I’ll be missing some of the Christmas build-up but there’s no reason why you should too!
Therefore I’ve asked some of my travel writing colleagues to tell you about their favourite festive getaways in Europe. The result was this list of the 10 best Christmas destinations in Europe perfect for a winter holiday. So what are you waiting for?! Dust off your snow boots or book that last-minute Christmas market trip and get in the festive mood!
What you can expect from this article...
- 2 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Megan Starr: Oslo
- 3 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Cristina Puscas: Vienna
- 4 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Amanda William: Cologne, Germany.
- 5 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Allison Green: Stockholm, Sweden
- 7 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Hannah Lukaszewicz: Nuremberg, Germany
- 8 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Christina Saull; Budapest
- 9 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Don: Berlin
- 10 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Anuradha Srinath: Edinburgh
- 11 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Jennifer Dombrowski: Paris
- 12 Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Hadas Aharon: London
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Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Megan Starr: Oslo
Oslo, Norway is an ideal winter destination for Christmas lovers, adventurers, and outdoor enthusiasts. I lived in the city for four years and whilst the days are short during the winter months, Norwegians really know how to get down with the lack of daylight.
During December, the days are the shortest, but the anticipation of Christmas takes over the minds of the locals and the city becomes as happy as it does when the days are warm and sunny.
Oslo has small and cozy Christmas markets in the main area of the city by Karl Johans Gate where you can find local delicacies, festive music, and a seasonal ice-skating rink.
Whilst I love checking this out during that time of year, what I love most about winter in Oslo is the ability to head to the mountains via the subway (yep, that’s right!) and go sledging or cross-country skiing. While I never actually put on a pair of cross-country skis, I did love taking my dog up the mountain to the snow-covered forest and walking him around for hours during the week when no one was up there.
You will be completely stunned by the natural beauty that is accessible in Oslo just by hopping on the subway (t-bane, as Norwegians call it.)
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Cristina Puscas: Vienna
Every year, Vienna turns into a magical place right before Christmas. There will be as many as six main Christmas Markets open in 2017 (and five smaller ones). The two most popular ones – Viennese Christmas Market in front of the City Hall and Christmas and New Year’s Market at Schonbrunn Palace- open as early as Nov 18. Vienna has a long history of being home to Christmas Markets. The first day markets opened in 1298 and was called “December Market”.
The Viennese Christmas Market is the one that most visitors know about and plan to explore. So it is packed. All the time. I planned my trip for early December 2013 and, during the evening, it was always busy. If you want to just take photos of the stalls and decoration, you can visit during day.
Christmas Markets in Europe are famous for the mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, and a variety of Christmas decorations. In Vienna, make sure to also taste the punch. Or mulled cider. And you can pay (2 euros, back in 2013) to keep those wonderful mugs (each market has its own design). As for the food, carnivores will be delighted with the many options, whereas vegans will have a bit of a hard time.
Over the weekends, there are also free concerts taking place, so make sure to check the schedule. For these events, Vienna is an amazing short break (weekend) choice for visiting the Christmas Markets.
If you travel with kids, they won’t get bored either, as there are special activities available for them.
Winter in Vienna can be brutal so pack accordingly. On a windy evening, I had to go with leggings under my trousers and multiple layers of blouses! And don’t forget your mittens!
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Amanda William: Cologne, Germany.
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Allison Green: Stockholm, Sweden
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Hannah Lukaszewicz: Nuremberg, Germany
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Christina Saull; Budapest
Festive Budapest is home to ten Advent Markets, with six of them easily accessible in the city center. The Advent Feast at St. Stephen’s Basilica is located a block off the main avenue and is complete with a towering holiday tree and ice skating rink. Tucked in the shadow of the towering Basilica, it’s definitely one of the most festive and local of the holiday markets. The Christmas Fair at Liszt Ferenc Square was perhaps the quaintest of all the markets we visited, with giant pillar candles providing heat to freezing cold hands whilst shopping for handmade holiday items.
The Winter Festival at Vörösmarty Square & nearby Fashion Street Advent are by far the most popular markets, with festive Christmas light displays in the shape of handbags & shoes, endless mugs of mulled wine and wall-to-wall people. Across the river, the Várkert Bazaar Advent Fair offers an amazing view of Pest and a tiny ice skating rink the size of a kiddie swimming pool (and swarming with local kids!).
Perhaps my favourite is the Városháza Square Advent Fair, which was more food than gifts (which is not a bad thing). Grab a steaming hot chimney cake and a sausage as long as your arm, washed down with more mulled wine, and enjoy the local music playing on stage. In the mood to shop after eating? The St. Stephen’s Advent Feast is just a short walk away.
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Don: Berlin
- Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmenmarkt
- Berliner Weihnachtszeit Roten Rathaus
- Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Anuradha Srinath: Edinburgh
Edinburgh equates to festival. It is THE festival city. And when there’s Christmas, they are no less to any other country in the world. Be it the Christmas lights, markets, rides, ice skating, Santa’s grotto or bringing in the festive mood, Edinburgh does it in style. It’s one of the iconic cities one should visit during Christmas. Every year there’s something new to look forward to. And this year the theme is ice Adventure – a journey into Frozen Scotland. Which means plenty of snow and ice sculptures, viking look-alikes, highland cows, Greyfriars bobby and more.
There will also be plenty of shows that run in its famous theatres around this time. Add to it the famous torchlight procession and Hogmanay for New year, you can expect nothing less, it won’t disappoint.
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Jennifer Dombrowski: Paris
Audrey Hepburn famously said: “Paris is always a good idea.” And even more so at Christmas time, when the City of Light truly lives up to its nickname. The Champs Elysees becomes a sea of glittering Christmas lights. The Eiffel Tower seems to sparkle just a bit more as the wooden huts spread out in the Iron Lady’s shadow, scents of roasting chestnuts and mulled wine wafting from them. Galeries Lafayette’s Christmas windows rival those of the famously decorated department stores of New York City. And for a short time each year, you can twirl your way around an ice rink at the Eiffel Tower.
Paris undergoes a magical transformation during the holidays with the city’s various Christmas markets, ice rinks, decorations and merriment in the air. And best of all, the most delicious French desserts pop up during the season when the French consume more butter than any other. Elaborately decorated Bûche de Noël and the beloved La Galette des Rois begin to fill the windows of pâtisserie, just beckoning you to come in out of the cold and indulge in something sweet.
A little something for everyone, Paris at Christmas time is one of the most magical times to visit the French capital.
Best Christmas destination in Europe suggested by Hadas Aharon: London
London is one of the best places to visit in Europe during Christmas time, as the entire city is being decorated with mesmerizing Christmas lights and there are many German Christmas Markets to visit as well as great activities.
When it comes to Christmas fairs, Winter Wonderland is the best place to visit as it is guaranteed to get you into the Christmas spirit. Winter Wonderland hosts Christmas markets and activities such as an ice skating rink, Christmas shows for kids, the giant observation wheel and even a Bavarian tent.
If you’re looking for ice skating rinks you have got the one in Somerset House which is beautifully decorated with a huge Christmas tree, and also the Natural History Museum’s ice rink which is without a doubt is one of the most beautiful scenes.
Another place that is recommended to visit during Christmas is the store Fortum & Mason, since it is beautifully decorated with Christmas trees and decorations and it is there where you can find unique Christmas-themed gifts. In addition, Oxford Street on Christmas is definitely a must-see attraction with its beautiful lights and holiday vibe.
Indeed, London knows how to do Christmas when it comes to Christmas shopping, activities, and decorations and therefore it is very recommendable to visit during the holidays.
So there we have it, 10 top of the best Christmas destinations in Europe for that festive getaway to make the most of all the best Christmas has to offer – mulled wine, ice skating rinks, Christmas markets and snow! Where is your favourite place for a Christmas getaway? I’d love to hear about it so please feel free to comment below!
For more Europe travel inspiration, check out this Europe bucket list.