The Best Places To Spend Christmas in Europe by JetSettingFools.com

The Best Places To Spend Christmas in Europe

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Christmas in Europe is pure magic! Twinkling lights along quaint cobblestone lanes. A Christmas fair of traditional holiday huts in the city’s main square. Mulled wine, sizzling sausages and gingerbread cookies galore. We absolutely love spending the winter holidays in Europe and, in our extensive travels, we have discovered the best European Christmas destinations.

 

Christmas Destinations: Europe

Travelers deciding where to spend Christmas in Europe have ample options! Visitors can plan a European Christmas vacation at a quintessential German Christmas market, go on a trip to top European cities that will be decorated in lights or visit lesser-known places that are full of charm during the holidays.

Our list of the best places to visit in Europe in December includes a range of holiday destinations – and why we think they are the best European cities in winter!

Top Tip: Looking for guided Christmas tours in Europe? Although we have always planned our own Christmas market holidays, there are companies that offer organized tours for Christmas holidays in Europe. At the end of the post, we highlight some of the highly-rated Xmas market trips and Christmas market weekend breaks in Europe.

 

12 Best Places To Spend Christmas in Europe

This list includes our top picks for the best places to visit in Europe in December. At the end of the post – in addition to providing information about organized trips – we provide our best tips for spending Christmas in Europe and answers to the most commonly asked questions.

 

ZAGREB, CROATIA

Many people don’t think of Croatia as a winter destination, but we think Zagreb – the capital city – is one of the best European cities for Christmas. Located inland from the country’s famous coastline, Zagreb is both historic and modern – and their Christmas market, called Zagreb Advent, is the city’s biggest event. 

Why Zagreb is One of the Best European Christmas Destinations

The Zagreb Advent festival has won the title of ‘Best Christmas in Europe’ for three straight years (2016, 2017 and 2018). Often overlooked by travelers in favor of more famous Christmas markets in Europe, Zagreb Advent is just as grand…and much more diverse. In December, we spent two full weeks in Zagreb – sightseeing during the day and visiting the Advent fest in the evening..and we found something new each night.

Christmas markets at the Advent festival are spread out all over the city – occupying squares, lanes and parks. Each market has its own theme; couples looking for romantic Christmas corners and families looking for kid-friendly activities can both find exactly what they are looking for.

{Find our more about Zagreb Advent in our post: Zagreb Christmas Market}

 

BARCELONA, SPAIN

Barcelona attracts hordes of tourists all summer long – so many don’t think of it as a place for where to go in Europe for Christmas. The seaside city is well-known for its extraordinary architecture (including several of Gaudi’s Modernism works), characteristic old town and undeniably delicious tapas. At Christmastime, the city’s best sights are draped in lights and residents partake in peculiar traditions.

Why Barcelona is One of the Best European Cities to Visit in December

One of the best things about Barcelona in December is the weather. Unlike other places to go in Europe for Christmas, Barcelona winters are mild and can be quite sunny. Couple the pleasant weather with significantly fewer crowds and the city is ideal for exploring the sights. Visitors can enjoy strolling down the festively decorated streets and perusing the Christmas markets.

However, we think Barcelona is one of the best places in Europe for Christmas for its quirky Christmas traditions. We were thoroughly entertained by the long-standing customs of celebrating with Caga Tio, the smiling log that poos gifts for kids, and the Caganer, the Nativity Crapper.

{Find out more about how they celebrate in our post: Christmas in Barcelona}

 

KRAKOW, POLAND

Krakow is a fascinating city! Filled with historic sights and a storied past, Krakow is gaining popularity with tourists from around the world. At the center of the UNESCO World Heritage listed Old Town is the 13th century Market Square, which is where the Krakow Christmas Market takes place.

Why Krakow is One of the Best Winter Holiday Destinations in Europe

Stepping into the Krakow Christmas Market is like stepping back in time. Traditional Christmas huts cluster around the Cloth Hall, while a decorated Christmas tree stands below the tower of St. Mary’s Basilica. Horse-and-carriages line the market perimeter and the sound of Christmas carols can be heard from St. Adalbert’s Church.

Vendors at the Christmas Market in Krakow sell sweet treats, traditional children’s toys and scrumptious fare. While sausages and pierogis (of which there are plenty at the festival!) top our list for Polish food, we think the best treat at the holiday market is oscypek – smoked sheep milk cheese that is grilled over hot coals.

Lucky visitors, like us, will get to experience the Christmas fair with a light dusting a snow – a perfect compliment to steaming mulled wine or a traditional Polish hot beer. The entire scene resembles a snow globe – which is why we think Krakow is one of the best European destinations for Christmas!

{Find out more about visiting Krakow in our post: 3-Day Krakow Itinerary}

 

FRANKFURT, GERMANY

Frankfurt – a major transportation hub and home of the European Central Bank – is one of the most modern cities in Germany. Some tourists claim the city lacks character, however, tucked below the soaring skyscrapers is the Frankfurt Old Town. And, keeping with tradition, the town puts on one of the best German Christmas markets in Europe.

Why Frankfurt is one of the Best Places to Visit in Europe for Christmas

For a quintessential Christmas celebration in Europe, there may be no better place than Frankfurt. The main town hall square, Romerberg, is chockablock with Christmas huts, which are watched over by a 100-foot-tall Christmas tree. Sausages sizzle over grills and Gluhwein is served piping hot in special market mugs.

However, the market isn’t confined to the main square – instead, the jolly festiveness is spread around the city in inconspicuous courtyards and on rooftops, too.

One of the reasons the Frankfurt festival is one of the best places to go in Europe for Christmas is the ease of getting there! Being a major European transport hub, there are heaps of international flights and trains to the city year-round.

{Find out more in our post: Essential Experiences at the Frankfurt Christmas Market}

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PARIS, FRANCE

Iconic sights, world-renowned art, grand architecture and excellent wine are just a few reasons why Paris, France is one of the most popular destinations in the world. The city is crammed with top attractions and quaint cafes (but interested travelers can easily get off the beaten path). While not often touted as one of the top European cities for Christmas, we absolutely love Paris in wintertime.

Why Paris is One of the Most Ideal Europe Destinations in December

Oui, oui. Paris is always a good idea…especially for the holidays. The City of Light, is particularly beautiful under the glow of twinkling Christmas lights. Paris Christmas markets are set up in squares around the city, with the largest Christmas fair taking place in the Tuileries Garden near the Louvre Museum. In addition to the 100 Swiss-style chalets selling trinkets and fare, the market features an ice-skating rink and carnival rides.

The Christmas spirit, however, is felt throughout Paris! The city shopping streets (like Rue Montorgueil) feature festive decorations and shops specializing is classic French Christmas fare. Paris shopping malls (like Galeries Lafayette) and the city’s secret shopping passages (like Galerie Vivienne) are not only the perfect place to pick up holiday presents, but they also put on dazzling holiday displays.

While Paris is one of the best Christmas locations in Europe, we love visiting Paris in December for one more reason: fewer tourists. There are, of course, still plenty of visitors in the city, but lines to major attractions are shorter and accommodations cost less, too.

{Find out more about visiting Paris in our post: Paris Itineraries}

 

LONDON, ENGLAND

London is home to some of the most famous landmarks in the world – Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and the British Museum, to name a few. The contemporary city is both stylish and old world…and we think it’s a perfect place to spend Christmas in Europe.

Why London is one of the Best Places to Go in Europe for Christmas

There are many Christmas markets in England, but none quite compare to the London Christmas markets. From a traditional market on Leicester Square to the Holiday Street Food market on the Southbank to the over-the-top Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, the Christmas markets in London aim to please.

Shopping in London at Christmas is also a holiday event. Regent Street, the city’s most famous shopping street, features lavish shop window displays and one of the largest light installations in the city.

Need more reasons why London is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe? The two most recognizable churches in London – Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral – both offer a complete line up of holiday events, including choir concerts and Christmas masses.

After a day of sightseeing, market-hopping and holiday shopping, visitors can cozy up in a pub with a pint of beer near a fireplace. Does it get any more Christmassy than that?!

{Read more about things to do in London in our post: 3-Day London Itinerary on a Budget}

 

LISBON, PORTUGAL

Lisbon is a city that has soul. Spread over seven hills, the city features classic architecture, unique neighborhoods and a distinct culture. Rooted in history, Lisbon is timeless. For checklist travelers, the city can fall flat, but for those who like to wander, Lisbon is illustrious. Our very first visit to the city left us unimpressed, but when we returned to Lisbon in December, we were smitten.

Why Lisbon is One of the Best European Cities to Visit at Christmas

Compared to other Christmas events in Europe, Lisbon at Christmas is an understated affair. Rather than popping up Christmas markets in every corner of the city, Lisbon ushers in the holiday spirit with just a couple of markets, festive lights, ornate Nativity scenes and delectable cuisine. Not to be missed are the choir concerts that take place in the most beautiful Lisbon churches in the days leading up the Christmas.

Most Portuguese people are Catholic – and Christmas is celebrated according to religious traditions, not commercially. The holidays are a time to spend with family, friends, food and faith – all of which is reflected in the city’s celebrations. Christmas dinner is a simple meal of bacalhau (cod), cabbage, eggs and potatoes. And, everyone goes to midnight mass.

That said, there is a fun Lisbon Christmas Market in Eduardo VII Park and simple decorations feature in the main square, Praca do Comercio. Throughout the city visitors will find huts selling Lisbon’s favorite Christmas drink, Ginjinha. Pedestrian street Rua Augusta is lit up and street performers play holiday tunes. Visitors who keep an eye on the rattling trams just might catch a glimpse of Santa Claus driving down the tracks.

{Read more about visiting Lisbon in our 3-Day Lisbon Itinerary}

 

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Budapest is a city that has a little bit of something for everyone: History, nature, monuments, culture, baths and many, many bars. The two sides of the city – Buda and Pest – are fun to explore by day…and always entertaining at night. With iconic sights and a thriving craft beer scene, Budapest is a top destination any time of year.

Why Budapest is One of the Best European Cities to Spend Christmas

Budapest is always a lively city, but it sparkles bright in December. The city indulges visitors with Christmas festivities – from markets to concerts to epic New Year’s Eve bashes.

As one of the best European cities at Christmas, Budapest features multiple holiday events. The two biggest Budapest Christmas Markets are at Vorosmarty Square and in the plaza at St. Stephen’s Basilica. From wooden stalls, vendors sell traditional Hungarian gifts, handmade crafts and heavenly holiday fare (our favorites are goulash soup and Langos topped with sour cream and cheese). And, both markets feature musical performances.

Don’t miss the top sights! Join a guide on a Budapest Xmas Tour! Get the Details here!

The Christmas fairs aren’t the only way to celebrate the season in Budapest. Visitors can attend the Budapest Nutcracker Ballet at the grand Opera House, ride the Christmas Light Tram and go ice skating in Budapest City Park. For a unique Hungarian winter experience, guests can ward off the chilly weather by immersing themselves in the outdoor hot springs at Szechenyi Baths.

{Read more about visiting Budapest in our 3-Day Budapest Itinerary}

 

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Prague is a city that is as stunning up close as it is far away. The city’s Gothic architecture in the preserved Old Town is something straight out of children’s fables. Taking in the sights of the city – like the Prague Castle, Charles Bridge and famous Astronomical Clock – can easily take visitors back in time.

Why Prague is ideal for European Christmas Market Breaks

We think Prague is one of the most enchanting cities in Europe. We have not yet been in Prague for Christmas, but we can only imagine that the markets and holiday decorations take the city up one notch to absolutely captivating.

The holiday season is celebrated in Prague with two main Christmas markets – one on the Old Town Square and one in Wenceslas Square. One of the most popular wintertime market meals is Prazska Sunka – ham that is roasted on a spit (which we were fortunate enough to try at a Prague market when we visited in February). The city’s famous sweet treat is Trdelnik, or Chimney Cake – and is a must-try at Prague markets. Of course, nothing goes better with Prague food than beer! We recommend foregoing the well-known brands and seeking out local craft beer in Prague.

{Read about the best views in Prague in our post: Best Prague Viewpoints}

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VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Vienna is, perhaps, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The elegant city is adorned with grandiose museums, ornate churches, perfectly planned gardens and royal palaces. The city’s classy coffee houses are so much a part of the culture that they have been added to the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Why Vienna is One of the Top Christmas Destinations in Europe

The Vienna, Austria Christmas market is legendary; the event dates to the Middle Ages when the residents held the first December Market. In the winter, nearly every square in the city is transformed into a Christmas fairyland.

See the best of the Vienna on a guided Vienna Xmas Tour!

The Vienna Christmas Market is another one we have yet to visit…but knowing how attractive the city is, we can only imagine that it truly shines at Christmastime.

{Read our tips for an affordable trip to Vienna in our post: Free Things To Do in Vienna}

 

STRASBOURG, FRANCE

France’s Alsace region, which lies along the German border, is marked with idyllic villages of half-timbered houses and hillside vineyards. Although Strasbourg is the region’s largest city, it feels like a quiet village…with an enormous (and beautiful) church.

Why Strasbourg is One of the Top Places to Visit in Europe for Christmas

The Marche de Noel Strasbourg Christmas Market – regularly touted as one of the best Christmas markets in the world – is what first tempted us to visit the city. However, it didn’t work in our plans (we ended up in Krakow that year!). Instead, we visited in the Springtime – but even then, we learned about the city’s iconic Christmas Market.

Explore more of the region on a classic Alsace Christmas Markets Tour!

Nicknamed the Capital of Christmas, Strasbourg claims one of the oldest and longest-running Christmas Markets in Europe. Featuring a radiant display of lights and more than 300 traditional Christmas Market stalls, the Strasbourg Christkindelsmarik promises to be a unique Christmas event.

{Read more about visiting Strasbourg in our post: 7 Essential Strasbourg Experiences}

 

LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA

Ljubljana is a fairytale city, complete with a hill-topping castle and a meandering river. The pedestrian-only Old Town sits below the castle; the cobblestone lanes are lined with cafes, boutiques and magnificent architecture.

Why Ljubljana is One of the Best Christmas Holiday Destinations in Europe

The Ljubljana city center is postcard-perfect! We have seen the superb city in every season – but have unfortunately not been there for the December event.

The Ljubljana Festive Fair takes place in six of the city’s squares – and lights decorate the entire city center. In addition to the market squares, there are musical concerts, a St. Nicholas parade and a firework display to celebrate the New Year…and it’s all free!

{Read more about Ljubljana in our post: 17 Ljubljana Sights}

 

Where We Are Spending Christmas in Europe 2019: AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

This year, we are returning to the Netherlands for Christmas in Amsterdam! Both of our prior trips to Amsterdam were in the autumn – when the colorful leaves naturally decorate the picturesque canals. The historic city has numerous sights – which can be seen on foot, on bike or on boat.  

Why We Think Amsterdam is Going to Be One of the Best Places to Spend Christmas in Europe

We have celebrated Christmas in the Netherlands before when we were housesitting near the eastern city of Nijmegen. On that trip, we visited Christmas markets near Nijmegen (including one in Germany!) and reveled in the festivities that are uniquely Dutch.

We love Dutch cuisine – and we anticipate feasting on the traditional Dutch holiday treats – like Kruidnoten (ginger cookies), Oliebollen (holiday donuts) and – of course – Bisschopswijn (mulled wine).

However, we are most excited about the Amsterdam Christmas Market on Museumplein, seeing the tall Christmas tree on Dam Square and wandering along the canals that are illuminated by the Amsterdam Light Festival. We also anticipate traveling to nearby Haarlem, which boasts an incredible main square Christmas market!


 

Christmas Market Tours Europe

If planning all the details of where to go for Christmas in Europe is proving to be too stressful, consider joining one of the  organized Christmas in Europe tours. With a set itinerary – and sorted transportation – to some of the best Christmas villages in Europe, tour participants can sit back and enjoy the festivities.

 

Organized Christmas Market Trips by Train

Ideal for solo travelers, couples and groups of friends, Intrepid Travel offers Europe Christmas Markets package deals. Their signature 8-day trip includes Christmas market tours in Germany, Austria and Hungary. But, you will want to book it soon – as their Europe Christmas Market Trips are already filling up! Book it now!

 

River Cruise Trips to Christmas Markets in Europe

Cruising through Europe on a riverboat is one of the best ways to experience the continent. We took a European river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest in the autumn – and had a blast! If you are looking for the best European Christmas vacations, we highly recommend checking out a Christmas-themed river cruise.

Rhine River Cruise: Alsace to Amsterdam

Cruise in style from Basel, Switzerland on an 8-day river boat tour. Visit some of the best Christmas Cities in Europe – including Strasbourg, Cologne (Germany) and Amsterdam. Find out more!

Danube River Cruise: Germany, Austria, Hungary

Travel by boat down the Danube River to small-town, picture-perfect German Christmas markets, then visit the major Christmas events in Vienna and Budapest. Get the details!

 

Create Your Own Christmas in Europe Itinerary

If traveling by a group is not your style, you can create your itinerary to the best European Christmas cities. Travel by bus or train to multiple Christmas fairs in Europe. We recommend booking accommodations in advance – as hotels in many Christmas market cities fill up quickly!

With a week or longer, we recommend visiting more than one city. Here are some Europe Christmas itinerary suggestions:


 

Top Tips for Christmas Trip to Europe & FAQs

Now that you are thinking of the best place to celebrate Christmas in Europe, we have a few tips for your trip – and answers to the most commonly asked questions!

 

When Does Europe Celebrate the Christmas Season?

Most European cities align Christmas celebrations according to the religious Advent calendar; but rather than end celebrations on Christmas Day, they continue until the Epiphany.

Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends on Christmas Day. The Epiphany, also known as Three Kings’ Day, is celebrated on January 6, which is 12 days after Christmas Day.

That said, with the ever-growing popularity of Christmas fairs, many European cities celebrate from the last week of November through the first week of January. However, German Christmas markets usually close a couple of days before Christmas Day…and some of the Xmas markets in London begin as early as the second week of November. Before planning Christmas travel to Europe, it’s a good idea to check specific city Xmas market dates!

 

How does Europe Celebrate Christmas?

In most European countries, Christmas Day is an official holiday and people generally celebrate at home with family. Almost all Europe Christmas celebrations are highlighted by a big meal; but it can be lunch or dinner, on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and every region has its own specialty.

In predominately Catholic countries – like Portugal, Croatia and Spain – families to go Christmas mass, usually midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Top Tip: We think Christmas masses are especially beautiful, as they are usually accompanied by the local choir. Christmas Eve mass at the Notre Dame in Paris was especially memorable and we hope to return again after the refurbishment.

 

Where to Spend Christmas Day in Europe?

Christmas Day in Europe tends to be quiet in most places. Almost all shops, restaurants, Christmas fairs and attractions are closed. However, in some major tourist cities, some sights stay open (like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which is open 365 days a year). 

As we are usually staying in an Airbnb apartment or housesitting over the holidays, we make sure to plan a dinner ahead of time. We like to partake in local traditions, so we learn what the typical Christmas meal is then gather the items at the local market (but we have also ordered packaged meals from vendors, which makes it a lot easier!). Travelers who want to eat out on Christmas Day should make reservations in advance.

 

What is the Weather in Europe in December?

Most of the European continent has cold winters – especially in countries like Germany, Austria and Switzerland. However, the winter weather is more temperate in places like Portugal, Spain, Italy and Croatia. London winters also tend to be mild.

Will there be Snow at Christmas in Europe?

Whether or not you will have a white Christmas in Europe depends on where you go! It is highly unlikely to have a snowy Christmas in Lisbon or Barcelona. On the other hand, some of the best places for a white Christmas in Europe are in Krakow or Frankfurt.

 

What to Buy at European Christmas Markets?

Although many of the wares at the European Christmas markets are the same, each place is known for certain items for sale. In Ljubljana, mittens and hats are top products for sale. In Frankfurt, traditional wooden toys are popular items to buy. Almost every fair has a unique Christmas ornament or figurine that represents the country – like the Licitar Hearts in Zagreb or the Caganer in Barcelona.

Of course, visiting any Christmas market is not complete without trying the local fare. Sausages are popular at almost every European Christmas market (however, not all sausages are the same; make sure to try the typical local products!). And, hot spiced wine is also prevalent, although, each region has their own twist on the classic holiday beverage.

Looking for the best travel gifts? Check out our list of 30 Useful Travel Gifts – or, if you are buying for someone who already has everything – find the perfect gift on our list of 65 Unique Travel Gifts!

 

How Expensive are European Christmas Destinations?

Due to the popularity of European Christmas markets, many Christmas cities in Europe experience a surge in pricing around the holidays. Accommodations can be just as expensive as the busy summer months – and many places book up by October.

Lodging in Frankfurt and Vienna can be very expensive during December, but places like Paris, Amsterdam and London are not as affected by the holiday markets (yet, are still incredibly expensive places in general). Booking hotels on the weekend are often very expensive.

That all said, there are some cheap European Christmas destinations – or, at least, less expensive. Our top picks for cheap Christmas market breaks are Zagreb, Lisbon, Krakow and Budapest.

Start your search for the best accommodations on Booking.com – like we do!

 

Where is the Best Place for New Year’s in Europe?

New Year’s Eve is a big celebration in most major cities in Europe. The cities that regularly make Top 10 European NYE are: Berlin, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Budapest and Reykjavik. We have watched the fireworks over the River Thames in London on NYE and we have celebrated the New Year in Madrid.

 

Start planning your trip to the best places in Europe to spend Christmas! Search for the lowest airfares, the best accommodations and fun things to do…then start packing!  Want more travel planning tips? Head over to our Travel Planning page for more information and tips on traveling – and for country-specific information, take a look at our Travel Guides page!

 

We Want To Know: What do you think is the best place to spend Christmas in Europe? Do you have any tips for planning the best Christmas vacations in Europe? Give us your best advice in the comments below!

 

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