As Christmas approaches, most of the big cities open their Christmas fair, where visitors can have a taste of the Christmas mood weeks before the actual holiday.
Most people avoid travelling in Europe during the winter, especially to northern countries because of the harsh temperatures that sink way below zero and the long nights. But winter and Christmas time specifically is one of the best times to go on holidays around the old continent. Here’s why:
Yes, winter is generally the low season for tourism, but that’s actually great for you because it means that you won’t have to put up with so many lines for every tourist attraction, crowded streets and restaurants and overpriced hotel rooms. The weather is very cold, but that’s just the perfect excuse to have a cup of traditional mulled wine in a beautifully lit Christmas market. Not to mention how magical the old European streets can look after a snowfall.
From mid-November until New Year’s most European cities light up and become Christmas wonderlands. So instead of running from the winter, how about embracing the season and make the most of it? These are some of our top picks for winter holiday destination to enjoy the Christmas spirit:
Top Christmas Holiday Destinations
Brussels already exudes a wonderful smell throughout the year because of all the waffle, fries and chocolate stores, but when the Christmas markets show up the city gains an actual explosion of sweet scents and even better tastes.
The cute little buildings and streets are super photographable and the holiday lights make it seems straight out of a movie. Because the historical centre is so small, it really revolves around the holiday celebrations.
The legendary main market, Winter Wonders, starts at the end of November and goes on until mid-January. It stretches for 2 kilometres in Grand-Place and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. Besides the 200 chalets, you’ll also find a Ferris wheel, ice skating rink and a couple of merry-go-rounds spread across the market areas.
Berlin is not your typical cute, picturesque, old European town. It’s a massive, modern and urban metropolis. Not really what most people have in mind when they think “Christmas destination”.
But Berlin is actually home to dozens of seasonal markets located in varied districts. The Weihnachtsmarkt in Gendarmenmarkt is one of the best known for its food stalls, handmade products and music concerts.
Every year this market, located between several historical buildings, receives 600 thousand visitors. Another very popular destination during this period is the Berliner Weihnachtszeit, a market that stretches from Alexanderplatz to Roten Rathaus, the city hall. It’s one of the oldest and biggest markets in the city and it offers a lot of traditional German foods and drinks.
Berlin Mitte lights up with all the lights and the huge Ferris wheel that creates a perfect contrast with the Fernsehturm from Alexanderplatz in the back.
The best part about spending Christmas in Berlin is that because it is this big cultural hub and young city if you get bored of all the holiday activities you can still find some of the best techno parties in Europe, world-renowned history and art museums and cultural events that don’t necessarily centre around Christmas.
Prague has the privilege of being one of the few European capitals that although was involved in the Second World War didn’t suffer a lot of material destruction.
Because of that, its historical center was left intact and has a very unique architecture. The city looks even more beautiful under the Christmas lights and feels like a romantic fairy tale land, especially covered by a white layer of snow.
The Christmas market in the Old Town Square offers many traditional dishes and has free live concerts throughout December. Visit also the market in the Prague Castle across the river and have a breathtaking view of the old town.
Budapest is a city that is enhanced by the winter and is the perfect Christmas destination. The Hungarian capital is modern and urban but also ancient and charming.
During this time of the year, the city lights up with markets happening all around the historical centre.
One of the best markets happens in Vörösmarty Square with around 100 stalls. You can try hearty traditional meals like goulash, grilled meats and sausages and of course, chimney cake for dessert.
Another beautiful event is the fair in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, that has an impressive light show projected onto the facade of the church every evening.
But the highlight of winter in Budapest and what makes it special are the historical spas which are supplied by thermal springs. While these are a must at any moment you decide to visit the city, this is the perfect time to go for a bath.
The freezing temperatures make the experience of the saunas, pools and baths all the more relaxing. Swimming in the outdoor naturally heated baths of Széchenyi, located in the city park, is a unique experience.
Christmas in Copenhagen is a magical time and makes the Danish capital even more charming than it already is. Unlike many places during the winter, Copenhagen’s streets continue to boom with movement even in the coldest days with both tourists and locals.
From the restaurants and stalls by Nyhavn to the ice skating rink in Frederiksberg Gardens, you can trust that there isn’t a lack of Christmas activities happening all around the city.
The biggest gem during this time of the year is the Christmas market in Tivoli Park. The traditional park was founded in 1843 and is a national treasure. No matter your age, you’ll be amazed by how intricate, beautiful and one-of-a-kind its designs, attractions, buildings and gardens are.
The park has something for everyone, from kids, rides to exciting roller coasters to exhibitions. Not to mention the lovely Christmas stands with handmade gloves and hats, Christmas tree ornaments, gifts and of course, amazing danish foods and mulled wine.
When it gets dark, the whole place lights up with fairy lights and becomes even more like a fairytale. You’ll easily spend a full day in the park exploring every little corner.
Although so far we’ve only covered capital cities, the biggest Christmas destination isn’t a city at all, but the Lapland region of Finland. Lapland stretches across the northernmost part of Finland all the way to Sweden and Norway and is sparsely populated due to its harsh weather conditions.
This untouched, wild, white paradise is made for traveling in the winter since most of its traditional activities involve snow. Some of the most popular things you can do in Lapland include:
Husky safari – riding a sledge through the white landscapes behind a pack of huskies is a unique and wild adventure. The dogs are surprisingly fast and seem like they are insatiable and will stop for nothing!
Sauna – visiting Finland and not going to a sauna doesn’t even make sense. The Finnish love for saunas is crazy, and you’ll find one in most of the hotels and even in the huts. Don’t panic if you see a Finnish person leave a sauna and go roll around in the snow, they are used to doing that to cool off.
Northern Lights – if you’re lucky, you can experience the greatest show that nature can put out. The ideal time for watching the northern lights is from November to March, so if you’re around Lapland in December-January you have a strong chance of catching this amazing phenomenon at least once.
Reindeer sleigh ride – reindeer are adorable animals and basically Christmas’ mascots. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than riding on a sleigh being pulled by reindeer? The ride is slow and calm, and you can relax and enjoy the scenery.
Visit Santa Claus – did you know that the official hometown of Santa Claus is a small Finnish town called Rovaniemi? Every year this picturesque town in the arctic circle, way up in the north of Lapland, receives over 500 thousand visitors from all over the world who want to have the ultimate Christmas experience. Santa Claus Village is Lapland’s best-known attraction and offers several activities for every type of traveller.
You can actually go to Santa’s office and see the 15 thousand letters that he and the elves have received. The Christmas festivities start at the end of November and on December 23rd you can hail Santa goodbye as he leaves on a sleigh on his yearly mission.
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As Christmas approaches, most of the big cities open their Christmas fair, where visitors can have a taste of the Christmas mood weeks.