Planning a trip to Europe during Christmas time? You’re in luck! This is the most magical season of the year and it’s full of so many possibilities. This guide to Christmas in Europe aims to help you pick the best destinations, provide you with tips, and ensure you have the ultimate experience.
The Christmas markets in Europe are a time honored tradition. Cities and small towns are decorated, wooden stalls sell trinkets and delicious roasting meats, and, despite the cold, people come out in droves to experience the season.
Whether you want to see the incredible, over-the-top decorations, the more traditional markets, or the best place to find a winter wonderland, I’ve rounded up the best Christmas markets in Europe.
From traditional Christmas markets to snowy winter wonderland landscapes, you simply can’t go wrong!
So raise your glass of Glüwein and let’s get to it! Here are the best places for Christmas in Europe.
BEST DESTINATIONS FOR CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE
Having lived in Europe for 3 Christmases I’m often asked: “What are the best Christmas markets in Europe?” Truthfully, many of the markets are unique and wonderful in their own way. But since I’ve been to countless markets throughout Europe I want to ensure you see the best.
There are places to shop, dine, explore, and relax, but all will be full of yuletide cheer and beautiful decorations. There are places to shop, dine, explore, and relax, but all will be full of yuletide cheer and beautiful decorations.
Christmas markets typically start at the end of November and will last just before Christmas. You can find traditional German markets throughout Europe, brand new traditions, and of course, decadent food.
These are the 12 best destinations for Christmas in Europe 2018.
1. Strasbourg, France
Named the “Capital of Christmas”, Strasbourg hosts one of the best and most decorative markets ever. Find traditional food intermixed with German cuisine and a beautiful atmosphere, including a gargantuan tree in the square. Each year a guest country is honored so there’s always something new to see. 2017 was Iceland.
2. Vienna, Austria
3. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague comes to life during Christmas. The city’s two main Christmas markets, in Old Town Square and in Wenceslas Square, are only five minutes walk from one another so you can easily stroll the city. It’s a traditional market with wooden huts along with traditional Czech food.
4. Rothenburg, Germany
Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber is a year round Christmas village. This city still has its walls dating back to medieval times. You can explore the lovely Christmas markets here and also take a tour of this small but pretty city. Make sure you visit the museum on Christmas!
5. Basel, Switzerland
This unassuming city seems rather industrial from the outside, but venture further in to happen upon one of the loveliest markets with 180+ stalls selling everything your heart desires. Well organized with fun activities for children as well as adults. See also: 25 photos that will make you want to spend Christmas in Europe.
6. London, England
No city can quite compare to London, even at Christmas. Nearly every street is decked but the fancy ones such as Oxford and Regent go over the top with holiday decor. You’ll even find a traditional Christmas market in Hyde Park. You can go skating in various locations (my favorite is in front of the Natural History Museum) or see the stores transform their window displays, and even whole buildings, into a feast for the eyes. Seeing the city all lit up for Christmas is well worth the trip. See my full guide to London at Christmas.
7. Colmar, France
Located less than an hour from Strasbourg, Colmar is a much smaller city, but seems to outdo almost everyone at Christmas. You’ll find the city transformed into a Christmas village, as if you’re stepping right inside a gingerbread house! With great French food, exquisite decor, and an intimate city you simply can’t go wrong.
8. Heidelberg, Germany
Find the perfect mix of traditional Christmas markets along with a sandstone castle and delicious German cuisine. Heidelberg is an almost unchanged city since the 17th century and during Christmas you can find markets throughout the large “Hauptstrasse”, one of the longest pedestrian streets in Europe. Ornate, wooden stalls sell Glüwein, sausages, ornaments, and more. Find out more about Heidelberg’s Christmas markets here.
9. Zagreb, Croatia
For the past few years Zagrebhas won as the best destination in Europe (closely beating out Colmar, France). Not only does the city decorate fancifully, the advent season boats tons of events throughout the city. Find concerts, food specialties, and large car-free zone to shop, dine, and explore.
10. Glasgow, Scotland
Glasgow is usually left behind to the much prettier city, Edinburgh. But not at Christmas. With great shopping, food, events, and markets, Glasgow tops the list as one of the best places for Christmas in Europe. The “Style Mile” is the perfect place for holiday shoppers and the pubs and bars even join in on the spirit of the season.
11. Nuremburg, Germany
This traditional Christmas market is complete with pretty red and white tents in front of the incredible cathedral. You’ll also find a section featuring treats from all over the world and a section especially for kids. Find out more about Nuremburg markets as well as other markets in Germany here.
12. Florence, Italy
Have your gelato and Christmas spirit, too! Florence is the perfect place for a bit warmer weather and wonderful holiday shopping. 50 stalls flank the Franciscan Basilica for the Christmas market. You can also head to Piazza del Duomo for the nativity scene and Christmas tree, which is lit up on December 8, as part of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
BEST TIPS FOR CHRISTMAS IN EUROPE
Many of the cities are flooded with people wanting to share in the yuletide joy, so make sure you book hotels in advance. I use Booking.com almost exclusively to book the best deals and convenient locations with guaranteed good stays.
TIMING FOR CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE
Typically, Christmas markets last for about a month right before Christmas. This does vary by location.