‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what better place than Europe to spend the Christmas holiday? As December rolls around, villages, towns, and cities come alive with lights, decorations, and a festive spirit. If you haven’t experienced it before, you’re in for a real Christmas treat. But where exactly should you go and what should you do?
We’re going to help you find the best place to spend Christmas in Europe and highlight nine must-visit destinations. Whether you want to see some of the world’s oldest Christmas markets, snowcapped mountains, or brilliant decorations, we’ve got you covered. So, grab your passport, and let’s go!
Over in central Germany, Erfurt is a magical place during the winter season. The medieval town was established in the 12th century and has been well-preserved over the years. Today, the historic architecture creates a perfect atmosphere for the holiday season and Erfurt’s lively Christmas market. The festivities take place in the medieval old town section of the city, right by the Erfurt Cathedral and St. Severi Church.
The market is lit by a magnificent Christmas tree and pyramid, and you can explore the hundreds of vendors that sell traditional handcrafted goods and other knickknacks. For a wonderful view of the decorated city, take the Ferris wheel by the market and soak in the stunning sights–you won’t regret it.
During your trip, don’t miss out on seeing the city’s other attractions, like the 14th-century Merchant’s Bridge (Krämerbrücke), the Old Synagogue, and the city’s excellent museum (Angermuseum)!
Strasbourg, France, has declared itself the Capital of Christmas, and for good reasons! It’s home to the country’s oldest and most vibrant Christmas market, which dates back to 1570. Although Strasbourg gave itself the Capital of Christmas title, the city truly puts on spectacular festivities. There are more than ten markets to visit and over 300 stalls, so don’t worry about filling up your itinerary.
Give your feet a break and take a boat tour down the gorgeous canals, where you’ll get a unique perspective of all the festive decorations and learn a bit about Strasbourg’s history. After you spend just a few moments in the city, you’ll understand why some people consider it the best place to spend Christmas in Europe.
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If you want to transport yourself into a Christmas fairytale, Colmar, France, is the place to be! Colmar is just an hour south of Strasbourg, so squeeze in both locations if you have the time. The city is well known for its dazzling lights that illuminate the city every evening during Christmas. Grab a cup of hot cocoa and get lost weaving through the cobblestone streets observing the quirky and enchanting buildings.
At Place Rapp, nestled in the heart of the city, you can get into the holiday spirit and go ice skating outdoors. When you finish, chow down on mouthwatering crepes and churros or warm up with a glass of hot wine (vin chaud). If ice skating isn’t your thing, don’t worry! You can explore the six individually themed Christmas markets and attend wonderful musical performances at Saint Matthieu’s Church.
Trentino, surrounded by the towering Dolomite Mountains, is a skier’s paradise. The town looks like it was taken straight off a postcard, and it has something for everyone–especially for adventurers. Take a hike over glaciers and around alpine lakes, feast at a Michelin-starred restaurant, or enjoy a glass of wine at a local family-run winery.
During the holiday season, the already picturesque town transforms into a winter wonderland. Visit medieval castles adorned in their Christmas best or stroll through the hamlet of Ossana, where nearly 1,000 nativity scenes are on display. Trentino is decked with sparkling lights, and as you peruse the local handiwork at the market with a cup of mulled wine in hand, you may wonder how you got so lucky as to be in the best place to spend Christmas in Europe.
The de facto capital of Switzerland allows you to enjoy the beauty of the country without the crowds you’d find in the larger cities like Zurich and Geneva. It’s home to the first Lindt chocolate factory–did someone say truffle?–and has been declared a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. The Old Town of Bern has a medieval city center that engulfs you in winding streets and red roofs.
Bern is known for its seemingly endless variety of markets tailored to the Christmas holiday, so you’re sure to find a market or two that tickles your fancy. Sip a hot drink while exploring Berner Sternenmarkt–a trendy market in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas village–or walk the Christmas Trail that takes you through the holiday’s origins.
With so many attractions and activities to experience in Bern, learn how to create the perfect travel itinerary so that you don’t miss a thing!
Wroclaw, although a lesser-known Polish city, is well worth its weight in gnomes–sorry, gold. With over 600 gnomes hidden throughout the city, hunting them (with cameras, that is) has become a fun pastime. When you need a break, take a seat inside Piwnica Świdnicka, a restaurant with roots dating back to 1273–talk about family recipes!
Although Christmas festivities in Poland officially begin on Nicholas Day (December 6th), the Wroclaw Christmas market actually opens in late November. It spans almost the entire Old Town of the city and feels like a dreamland for children and adults alike. Depending on which street you meander down, you might find yourself on the balcony of a mulled wine house with a bird’s eye view of the festivities or chomping down on a to-die-for kielbasa (Polish sausage) at a street food stand.
Bergen has long been viewed as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and it puts on quite the charm during Christmas. Norway doesn’t see a lot of sunlight during the winter, but the city makes up for it by adorning its streets with spectacular lights. A highlight of the city is the historic medieval area of Bryggen, a UNESCO site, where traditional buildings of various colors pop out from the background of snowy mountains.
A trip to Bergan during the holidays isn’t complete without visiting Gingerbread Town. Every year, locals put together the world’s largest miniature city made of gingerbread houses. Just make sure not to take a bite out of the structures!
A Christmas in Norway might be a bit chilly, but it has some scrumptious dishes to warm you right up. Dig in on traditional meals like mutton ribs, codfish, and rice pudding, which you can find in restaurants and markets throughout Bergen.
Tucked away along the Baltic Sea, Tallinn is the oldest capital city in Northern Europe and the cultural center of Estonia. With a gothic town hall built in the 13th century and one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in the world, there is quite literally history around every corner. Take, for example, the alleged first ever publicly displayed Christmas tree in Europe, circa 1441, in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square.
Today, the square hosts the annual Christmas market from Christmas Day to Epiphany, where locals and travelers partake in sharing hot wine and the warm spirit of the season. If you’re hoping to travel in Europe for a month, the affordability of Estonia makes it a great place to stretch your money while still enjoying Christmas attractions.
You might not find Vilnius, Lithuania, on a list of essential places to visit in Europe, but don’t let that deter you from heading there during the holiday season. In the city’s Cathedral Square, you’ll come face to face with one of the most magnificent Christmas trees in the world, which is surrounded by a circle of wooden stalls. Strings of lights from the top of the tree enclose the shopping area and create a cheerful atmosphere. Take a lap around the tree and grab a warm drink and some gingerbread to get into the spirit of things!
From December 25th to the 29th, the main wall of the Vilnius Cathedral is used to display a 3D projection of a Christmas story (the 2022 show will feature The Nutcracker). You can enjoy the show and the rest of the holiday attractions in an authentic, uncommercialized environment!
There’s no time quite like Christmas, and why not spice things up by taking a trip to some of the world’s most festive locations? From historic markets to epic light shows to tasty dishes, these destinations make it easy to get into the holiday spirit. We hope our list helped you find the best place to spend Christmas in Europe and that you have the trip of a lifetime. Safe travels and merry Christmas!
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