Updated on September 7th, 2020
One of my favourite places in the world in December is Europe. There’s nowhere else that quite compares to the fairytale scenes that unfold, the sweet scents and the never-ending streets full of Christmas lights. I’m a sucker for discovering the most festive Christmas destinations Europe and have it on my bucket list to visit them all.
If you’re planning a European Christmas Break, even if you’re travelling Europe on a budget you’ll discover the best places to spend Christmas in Europe and what makes each city worth a visit.
Whether you’re after a traditional European Christmas Market or story (see Iceland), a place to escape the cold or a chance to visit Santa and his elves (Lapland) you’ll find it below. Make sure you also read this guide for tips on celebrating Christmas while abroad.
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Best Christmas Destinations Europe
Belfast Northern Ireland
Belfast is a relatively small and compact city centre making it ideal for a quick getaway in winter with everything easily reached within walking distance of one another.
Central to it all is the Belfast City Hall which serves as a rather proud backdrop to the annual Christmas Market in Belfast (Donegall Square) which takes place from mid-November through to late December every year.
The grounds here are also a main attraction in the city year-round and the free tours of the buildings are well worth taking advantage of. Right next to City Hall is the main shopping streets which will be all decked out with festive decorations.
This connects to Victoria Square which is a rather impressive open-air mall area with a free observation dome on top for views over the city and surrounding hills.
Throughout the city, there are countless opportunities to warm-up in the various bars and pubs and sip a delicious coffee but the Cathedral Quarter, located next to Saint Anne’s Cathedral, would likely be the best area to properly experience the local craic (banter) that Belfast is famous for.
Many of the historic pubs like the Crown Liquor Saloon and the Duke of York also have traditional private snugs for cosier surroundings.
Otherwise, Belfast is a charming and serene city to explore; whether it be the old Titanic Quarter which is like an open-air museum celebrating the origins of the Titanic, or just taking a stroll along the Lagan Riverside when it is all lit up at night. And all these attractions are little more than a mile between them.
If you’re looking for that irresistible storybook Christmas setting, the charming city of Bruges in Belgium is the perfect place to get you feeling festive!
By Allan | It’s Sometimes Sunny in Bangor
Located in the Flanders region of Belgium, this city is hugely popular with tourists year-round for its medieval cobbled streets, UNESCO World Heritage Sites and delicious sweet treats. — Bruges also happens to have one of the best free walking tours.
December, though, is when Bruges really comes to life. Visitors normally only spend one day in Bruges, but at Christmas, you should stay in the city for at least two days!
The focal point of any Christmas in Bruges will be Grote Square, which is home to Bruges’ biggest Christmas Market. You’ll find all the classics here – cute Christmas trinkets, mulled wine and gingerbread, but also some uniquely Belgian offerings – mouth-watering waffles, irresistible Belgian chocolate and, of course, Belgian beer.
At the centre of the square, you’ll find an outdoor ice rink, which is beloved by locals and tourists alike!
Next up, pay a visit to the Burg Square Christmas Tree. Placed right in front of the iconic Town Hall and Belfry Tower, you won’t find a more perfect place to take a few Christmas-themed photos.
Return at night to see the Christmas Tree illuminated by fairy lights, casting the entire square in its cosy glow. The perfect way to end the evening is to try some Flemish stew in one of Bruges’ many restaurants. This hearty local specialty will warm you up and leave you feeling satisfied after an amazing Christmas visit to Bruges.
By Ella | Many More Maps
The Hungarian capital is undoubtedly one of the most magical places to spend Christmas in Europe. Already gorgeous, Budapest takes on extra fairy-tale touches throughout the Christmas season.
This begins around mid-November when the city’s many Christmas markets start-up. The largest and oldest is the one occupying Vörösmarty Square. If you’re visiting Budapest with kids as we did, you’ll find there’s a dedicated children’s cabin where they can learn various traditional crafts.
Our personal favourite was St. Stephen’s Basilica Christmas Market, which lies in the shadow of one of the city’s most incredible landmarks. Every evening, the side of the basilica is lit up with a 3D Christmas lights display accompanied by music from a children’s choir. There’s also a free skating rink around the Christmas tree at the centre.
When visiting Christmas markets, you can’t miss the body-warming delicacies on offer. We loved the cabbage rolls, potato pancakes with sour cream and cheese on top, Christmas cookies, and of course the hot mulled wine, which comes in red and white.
Speaking of keeping warm, Budapest is famous for its hot springs. A visit to Széchenyi Thermal Bath, an outdoor spa with palace-like architecture, or Gellért Spa, which lies right beside the Danube, are musts. When you’re at Széchenyi, don’t miss going ice skating on the immense frozen pond in front of Vajdahunyad Castle, too!
Last but not least, you can’t visit Budapest at Christmas without taking a ride on the Christmas tram decorated with 40,000 Christmas lights!
By Nick | Spiritual Travels
Grenoble is known as the ‘Capital of the French Alps’. It is located in southeastern France and is a great base for winter sports. During the run-up to Christmas Grenoble also boasts four Christmas markets across the city centre.
The markets cater to locals more than tourists, making it a genuine experience.
The most famous must-see attraction in Grenoble is the les bulles (the bubbles). This is the affectionate name for the Téléphérique de Grenoble Bastille, a cable car that runs from the city centre up to the fortified Bastille.
Here you’ll gain amazing views over Grenoble and the Alps beyond, and is the starting point for many mountain trails. Back down in the city, the Museum of Grenoble is worth visiting, if only to view the amazing paintings (Rubens, Renoir, Gauguin, Monet, Matisse, Picasso … the list goes on).
The Museum of the Resistance documents the fascinating regional WWII history. There are also two renown archaeological museums, one near the Isere river and the other near Grenoble Cathedral.
If you want a white Christmas, then there’s a good chance of getting some if you visit as a Christmas Europe break! 20 ski resorts surround Grenoble, so you’ll never be bored. Being a vibrant city, Grenoble has a good nightlife and restaurants cater for all tastes.
By Tracey | PackThePJs
Iceland in December
When we were planning a visit to Iceland in December, we were only concentrating on what to see and how to manage long days. We didn’t know anything about Icelandic Christmas, which means we didn’t even expect what a treat it will be.
Let’s start from the beginning. Icelanders have 13 Santa Clauses – better known as Yule Lads, and every day one of them, starting from 11th December bring a small present, which drops into the shoe previously left on the window sill.
Yule Lads have bizarre names and strange habits and will only leave you a gift when you leave them dirty spoons to lick or pots. If you were bad or didn’t leave anything for the Yule Lads, you would find a rotten potato in your shoe instead of a present.
On Christmas Eve, everyone while sitting to the dinner must have on him/her new clothing because if not the Yule Cat will come and eat them. Yule Cat is often used to scare children.
During the entire month of December, every house is lit with loads of Christmas Decorations, in each window – besides the shoes 😉 you can find advent candles. It feels like with them Icelanders want to brighten the long nights with lots of lights.
Another fantastic thing which lights the winter nights in Iceland is the Northern Lights, which in December are relatively easy to spot dancing on the dark sky.
By Ania | The Travelling Twins
Most people who plan holidays at Lake Constance do so in the summer. After all, this large, picturesque lake is well known as a great place for hiking, cycling and other outdoor summer sports. But Konstanz, the largest town on the lake and the one for which it’s named, also makes a great Christmas destination!
The market that takes place here each December is known as the “Weihnachsmarkt am See”, which translates literally as the “Christmas market on the lake”. This is a pretty accurate name, as the market stalls are set up not just around the lakeshore but even on the lake itself.
More specifically, on the “Christmas Ship” that’s docked in the harbour! In addition to arts and craft stalls, on the ship, you’ll also find an ice bar with a 360-degree panoramic view of the lake.
Plenty of food and drink is on offer at the market too. Glühwein (hot mulled wine) is the most popular alcoholic drink, and local dishes include sausages and käsespätzle. A few stalls offer more international fare, such as Indian or Moroccan dishes, and these tend to have more vegetarian and vegan options.
Konstanz lies very near the triple border between Germany, Switzerland and Austria, so the market also attracts visitors from neighbouring countries.
If you happen to be coming from Switzerland, enquire about deals for market visitors at any Swiss train station. Swiss railways usually offer discounts, which can include up to 50% off the train fare and a free glühwein in a souvenir mug.
By Wendy | The Nomadic Vegan
Who would like to spend the Christmas holidays in a winter wonderland? Lapland offers tons of fresh snow, a variety of winter sports, and numerous other attractions for visitors during the winter. It will be the best white Christmas you’ve ever had!
The best part: the real Santa lives there too.
The magical holiday-themed Santa Claus Village is located at the Arctic Circle, right next to the charming town of Rovaniemi. It is open all-year-round, but the best time to visit it is around Christmas, so it’ll definitely bring out your holiday spirit.
Whether you travel alone, with your partner or family, meeting with the old man and the busy elves will make your Christmas Vacation memorable.
After meeting with Santa and telling him your wishes, try the other attractions in the village. You can visit a husky farm or get to know Sami reindeer herders – optionally, you can a ride with the animal-pulled sleds too. If you need other indoor programs, check out Santa’s Post Office too and send postcards for the next year’s Christmas to your loved ones.
At night, you should go hunting for the mesmerizing northern lights. A cozy yet more expensive option is to stay in a glass igloo and observe the sky straight from your warm bed.
If you are an outdoorsy person, don’t forget to spend at least a day or to exploring the beautiful snow-covered forests and fells. Winter hiking and snowshoeing are some of the most popular options, but you can try ice fishing or ice swimming as well. Make sure you visit a Finnish sauna to warm up after experiencing the real Finnish Lapland.
By Katalin | Our Life Our Travel
Perfect winter sun destinations Europe
Sitting pretty on the Bay of Palma in southwest Mallorca is a Mediterranean gem called Palma. Also known as Palma de Mallorca, Palma is one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe thanks to its vibrant city lights, bustling Christmas markets, infectious festive spirit, and pleasant winter sun.
Temperatures in Palma usually hover around 15°C during the day and 9°C during the night. During Christmas, you’ll find the avenues decorated with baubles, little bonfires in the outdoor seating setups in cafes and restaurants, trees embellished with sparkling lights, and a general happy vibe throughout the city. It’s like the whole city becomes a huge Christmas venue.
Since the tourist crowd during Christmas time is less, you can enjoy exploring the city at your own pace. The things to do and see in Palma during this time are Bellver Castle, Pilar and Joan Miro Foundation, Palma Cathedral (La Seu), Royal Palace of La Almudaina, and Palma Aquarium.
You can also do wine tours in Mallorca villages, visit the bars and cafes in Paseo Marítimo area, explore the shops, crafts stores, restaurants in Plaza Mayor (Plaça Major), soak in the celebratory vibes at Paseo del Borne, and attend the Three Kings festival which follows Christmas and is grandly celebrated in the island of Mallorca.
However, the best things to do in Palma during Christmas are attending the midnight Christmas mass at Palma Cathedral and strolling through the lively Christmas markets. The grandest and most popular Palma Christmas markets at Plaza Mayor, Puerto Portals, Port Adriano Market ensure that you enjoy the festivities and create some unforgettable memories!
By Vaibhav Mehta | The Wandering Vegetable
Italians love Christmas or Natale and there is no better place to visit at this time than Rome. The ancient city’s cobbled streets are full of festive cheer. Take a stroll down Via del Corso and admire the lights.
Shops and restaurants are dressed in beautiful seasonal decorations and lights and Campo de Fiori market is bustling with shoppers browsing handmade gifts.
Of course, being the home of the Catholic Church, Rome also has an important part to play in religious celebrations. Outside St Peter’s Basilica, a huge Christmas tree is adorned with lights and twinkles in anticipation of the big day.
Christmas Eve mass in the basilica is one of the most important dates on the calendar. You need to book well in advance for this but if you miss out the Pope traditionally addresses crowds in the piazza with his Urbi et Orbi speech on Christmas Day.
Visit smaller churches around the city where you’ll find concerts and traditional presepi or nativity scenes. When you get hungry head to the nearest trattoria for tortellini in brodo, a traditional Christmas dish.
Of course there are always sweet treats like torrone (nougat) and panettone (cake) to enjoy. After your meal, take a stroll to the Colosseum where the landmark has its own Christmas tree lit up for the season.
By Katy | Untold Travel
A budget Christmas break destination
Sibiu in Romania is a magical place in the heart of Transylvania (think Dracula). Picture fairytale-like medieval buildings with a traditional old town square surrounded by a wall century’s old. You’ll feel like you have stepped back in time when visiting this beautiful Romanian town.
The only thing that adds to its charm is when visiting during the month of December. The old town is flooded with fairy lights and the Piata Mare which means Big Square houses the city’s Christmas market.
Although all of Romania’s Christmas markets are worth a visit, what makes this one so special is its intimacy. The surrounding buildings have holographic projections enclosing you in a festive wonderland complete with a canopy of fairy lights overhead. There are over 70 stalls offering everything from handmade souvenirs, clothing and ornaments. While I have found other markets to be quite repetitive, the Sibiu stalls seemed to have their own unique spin.
The rest of the town comes to life in December, having embraced the influx of tourism from the success of their market. Alfresco dining takes on a cosy level with blankets and heaters set up, steaming cups of coffee and a traditional soup served in a bread bowl. Make sure you check out this 48-hour itinerary and more things to do in Sibiu.
Christmas market break
As the self-declared Capital of Christmas, it’s no surprise that the beautiful city of Strasbourg, France, transforms into one of the best Christmas destinations in Europe each December!
Home to picturesque half-timbered houses that line winding canals, and overlooked by a towering Gothic cathedral that was once the tallest in Europe, Strasbourg is a striking place at any time of the year–but add in ten (yes, ten!) Christmas markets, an ice-skating rink, and stunning Christmas light displays, and it becomes even more magical.
In addition to perusing each and every one of the Christmas markets for tasty treats (the vin chaud blanc, or hot white wine, is to die for and arguably even tastier than the traditional red version) and beautiful handicrafts, be sure to check out some of the other best things to do in Strasbourg during your winter trip to the city.
Consider adding a canal cruise to your itinerary, for example, as well as a climb up to the top of the impressive Strasbourg Cathedral, a visit to the magnificent astronomical clock, and having a traditional Alsatian dinner in a winstub.
Strasbourg is also perfectly positioned for taking day trips to the smaller villages in Alsace: Colmar, Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and more are waiting to be discovered, each stunningly beautiful in their own right and home to plenty of Christmas markets of their own!
By Kate | Our Escape Clause
One of the best Christmas destinations in Europe is Tallinn, Estonia. It is the home of the Tallinn Christmas Market which has been voted the #1 Christmas Market in Europe time and time again.
It takes place every year from November to January and is known for its robust entertainment program, holiday vendors hawking handmade goods and mulled wine, as well as the fairy lights which brighten up the darkest days in Tallinn’s calendar.
The Old Town is a UNESCO site where most of the action takes place. It is small but has lots of restaurants and cafes to duck into to get warm as well as plenty of adorable nooks and crannies to discover on your own.
One of the most charming areas of the Old Town is the Masters’ Courtyard. Here you will find lots of great shops where artisans showcase their finest handiwork. It’s a great place to pick up holiday gifts which you won’t find at the main Christmas Market!
For a birds-eye view of the town, visit the Patkuli Viewing Platform along the Old Town Wall. The steps to the lookout were made in 1903 and you can see out towards the Harbour and St.Olav’s Church from the viewpoint as well as the red roof’s this part of Europe is known for.
By Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
Hopefully you are inspired by these festive Christmas destinations in Europe and are ready to plan your own Christmas break if you haven’t already.
I’d love to know if you have been on a Christmas trip to Europe before!
What is your favourite Europe Christmas destination?
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