Are you looking to embark on a December journey to experience a unique and enchanting Christmas atmosphere but not sure where to go? Within this article, you'll discover a handpicked collection of cities to explore the best European Christmas markets, as well as some northern destinations for those who adore intense cold and the charm of snow-covered landscapes.
Europe offers a plethora of ideal destinations to revel in the winter wonderland and festive celebrations. Before we immerse ourselves in the enchanting Christmas cities, let's explore crucial pre-trip considerations.
Plan your trip — papers and budget
The Schengen states have established agreements with several nations worldwide, allowing their citizens and residents to enter and move within this European area for up to 90 days without prior special authorization. To check if your country has such an agreement, you can refer to the list available on europa.eu.
If you do need a visa, you'll need to gather the following documents. We recommend consulting the europa.eu page for more details and, most importantly, check the specific visa requirements of the country where you plan to apply for the visa for precise information.
Here's a list of the documents you might need:
- A passport with at least two empty pages, valid for at least 3 months beyond your planned departure from the Schengen territory;
- A completed and signed visa application form;
- A recent identity photograph conforming to ICAO standards;
- A visa fee of 30-90 euros, to be paid when you submit your application;
- Travel medical insurance providing coverage for emergency medical, hospitalization, and repatriation (including in case of death), with a minimum coverage of 30,000 euros;
- Documents related to the purpose of your stay;
- Evidence of means to support yourself during your stay and proof of accommodation.
Visas to Luxembourg, a complete guide for travelers and expats
How to obtain a visa to Luxembourg for Indian nationals
How can I estimate the budget?
Budget planning is a crucial step when preparing for your Christmas holiday in Europe. Estimating your expenses can be complex due to various factors, but we can provide you with essential parameters to consider when creating your budget for exploring the best European cities at Christmas.
Some tourist spots are pricier than others, especially during peak seasons. High demand for services may result in higher hotel and transportation costs. To give you an idea of the cost of living, consider the cost comparison map.
The most expensive and cheapest destinations
Central Europe emerges as the premium choice for Christmas destinations, especially with cities in Eastern France ranking among the most luxurious. The UK, Nordic countries, and Germany also feature in this high-end bracket. Alternatively, those seeking more budget-friendly yet equally enchanting experiences will find Spain, Portugal, and Eastern Europe offering a plethora of delightful options.
The type of lodging you choose plays a significant role in your expenses. From luxury hotels to budget-friendly hostels or guesthouses, your decision depends on your desired comfort level and budget.
Each mode of transportation has its advantages and disadvantages. Driving can be convenient and cost-effective but tiring for long journeys. Flights are suitable for distant destinations, but prices can vary, so be sure to research. Buses and trains offer alternatives; assess their costs and benefits.
Dining expenses are a crucial consideration. If your lodging doesn't include meals and you prefer not to splurge on dining out, consider accommodations with kitchen facilities or explore local restaurants. Often, tourist areas have pricier dining options, which may not offer the best value.
It's hard to predict exactly what attractions or shopping opportunities will captivate your interest. Therefore, allocate a budget surplus to cover unforeseen expenses, ensuring you have room for entertainment, souvenirs, and memorable experiences.
Remember that your choices, such as destination, accommodation, and transportation, significantly impact your overall expenses. Plan wisely to make the most of your holiday while staying within your budget for a memorable and joyous Christmas trip in Europe.
Where to find the best Christmas markets — Cenral Europe
One of the quintessential Christmas activities is basking in the warmth of festive markets. These cozy hubs are a treasure trove of holiday decorations and lights. Inside, you'll discover food stalls offering mulled wine and regional sweets, as well as artisanal crafts and Christmas-themed goodies. That's why we've handpicked several renowned cities known for hosting some of the best European Christmas markets.
Christmas in Strasbourg
Alsace rightfully claims the top spot on our list of the best places to spend Christmas in Europe. Nestled in the northeast of France, this region is a quintessential Christmas destination. At its heart lies Strasbourg, renowned as the "Capital of Christmas."
First market dates back to
Current market has over
UNESCO World Heritage since
Christmas in Colmar
Within Alsace, another must-visit destination during Christmas, and indeed any time of the year, is the enchanting town of Colmar. Like something out of a fairy tale, Colmar is one of the most beautiful Christmas towns in Europe. Colmar's cobbled streets host several Christmas markets. From the market at l'Ancienne Douane to the one nestled in the picturesque Petit Venise district, you'll encounter a treasure trove of crafts and festive goodies in an atmosphere brimming with holiday magic.
Cologne as winter destination
Our journey takes us east to Germany, where we arrive in Cologne, a must-visit Christmas town in Europe. This city is renowned for its awe-inspiring Gothic Cathedral, the most visited monument in Germany. During the Christmas season, Cologne boasts an impressive array of seven enchanting Christmas markets scattered throughout the city. One of the highlights is the market on Roncalliplatz, nestled next to the cathedral. It features many stalls and a massive Christmas tree, creating a festive wonderland. Be sure to explore them all and savor the regional specialties.
The number of festive markets
Main market features over
UNESCO World Heritage since
Christmas in Luxembourg
We now venture to a neighboring country, Luxembourg, where even though its Christmas market may not enjoy the same fame, it is equally enchanting. In Luxembourg City, the holiday season turns the city into a magical wonderland, aglow with a thousand lights. Several Christmas markets spring to life, offering hot wine, regional delicacies, and festive crafts.
However, the Christmas cheer isn't confined to the capital alone. Numerous Christmas markets, processions, nativity scenes, illuminated streets, adorned shops, concerts, and other events create a magical festive atmosphere throughout the entire country. Luxembourg is a petite nation, and you can drive from one end to the other in just few hours.
Rudolph, shall we go?
If you opt for public transportation, you won't spend a single cent, as public transport in the country is free. Therefore, if you add Luxembourg City to your list, it's easy to explore other Luxembourgish cities and discover the entire region's charm.
Where to get serious winter vibes — Northern Europe
Now, let's journey north, far north. We've handpicked three cities for those seeking a snowy Christmas vacation in Europe or a direct visit to Santa Claus. We're talking about Rovaniemi in Finland, Bergen in Norway, and Reykjavik in Iceland. Get ready for a winter wonderland like no other!
Rovaniemi, Finland: Santa’s town
Located in the Lapland region of Finland, Rovaniemi takes on a magical charm in December, as it's officially recognized as Santa Claus's hometown. Just outside this Finnish town, you'll find the Santa Claus Village, a theme park that brings you closer to Santa than ever before. It boasts various attractions, restaurants, cafes, and hotels. As you can imagine, you can also visit the official office of Santa Claus and meet the man himself.
Bergen, Norway: gingerbread city
Bergen, a charming and enchanting city, becomes a magical wonderland during Christmas, offering an array of special activities. You simply can't miss Bergen's main Christmas market, the Julemarked. Make sure to visit Pepperkakebyen, the world's largest gingerbread cookie city, and take a leisurely stroll through Bryggen.
If you've ever dreamed of a white Christmas, Iceland is the place to be and ranks among the best places to visit in Europe in December. Roofs are continuously blanketed in snow, and the frosty, otherworldly landscapes create an unforgettable experience.
During Christmas, Reykjavik comes alive with festivities, lights, and Christmas markets. Icelandic traditions, a blend of pre-Christian customs, celebrations, and social gatherings, add a unique flair. One of the quirkiest traditions is that of the "Thirteen Yule Lads," the sons of the giantess Grýla and her husband Leppalúdi, who take the place of the beloved Santa Claus.
Where to get magical experiences — Eastern Europe
In our final section, we'll explore equally enchanting cities in Eastern Europe, offering the undeniable advantage of more affordable costs for your memorable Christmas vacations in Europe.
Bled, a charming town nestled in Slovenia, is an enchanting destination year-round. However, in winter and during the Christmas season, its allure becomes truly irresistible. The iconic Bled Lake, with its church-crowned island, transforms into a winter fairytale postcard. And during the holiday season, you'll encounter Christmas markets brimming with artisanal delights from this picturesque Slovenian gem.
Wroclaw, a Polish city, stands as one of the country's prime Christmas destinations. Its Christmas market, dating back to the 16th century, is located in the heart of the historic city center. The main market springs to life in The Market Square, with additional stalls dotting Plac Solny and the streets of Świdnicka and Oławska.
Prepare to be immersed in a truly magical atmosphere, as this market's theme is fairytales! Here, you'll discover Christmas crafts, and traditional cuisine, and, most importantly, don't forget to savor the pierogi.
Prague, Czech Republic
If Prague is already renowned for its beauty, its charm soars during the Christmas season. Many agree that it's one of the best places to be in Europe for this celebration. Perhaps it's the stunning architecture of the historic center, complemented by the picturesque Christmas tree and the numerous holiday stalls that grace the Old Town Square every December.
What to try during your Christmas trip in Prague?
We recommend ascending the tower of the Old Town Hall in Prague, offering a bird's-eye view of the beautifully adorned city. If you do this at night, the sight is especially breathtaking.
If, despite all our recommendations, you're still wondering where to spend Christmas in Europe, take a look at Budapest, a city brimming with magic and romance during the holiday season. Its squares come alive with Christmas markets, trams are adorned with colorful lights, cafes don their finest attire, and the sound of "The Nutcracker" fills the local opera house.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are the top European cities to visit for a magical Christmas experience?
Discover enchanting Christmas experiences in cities like Strasbourg, known as the "Capital of Christmas," where you can explore its historic markets. Prague's Old Town Square and Budapest's Vörösmarty Square offer festive wonders, while Cologne's markets captivate with their scenic charm. Striking destinations include Reykjavik and Rovaniemi, each with unique Christmas traditions and stunning atmospheres.
What are the must-see Christmas markets in Europe?
European Christmas markets are iconic. Explore Cologne's festive stalls by the cathedral, savor Colmar's aromatic treats at the Colmar Christmas Market, and experience the enchantment of Strasbourg's Christkindelsmärik. Budapest's Vörösmarty Square market and Prague's Old Town Square market are equally captivating. Don't miss the magical Christmas markets in Rovaniemi, the official home of Santa Claus, and Reykjavik, where unique Icelandic traditions come alive.
How can I plan my budget for a Christmas trip to Europe?
To plan your Christmas trip to Europe, start by considering your destination's cost of living and exchange rates. Estimate expenses for accommodations, transportation, meals, and activities. Book flights and accommodations in advance to secure better deals. Save money by using public transportation, enjoying local street food, and choosing free or low-cost attractions. Make sure to account for souvenirs, gifts, and unexpected expenses by setting aside a small contingency fund. With careful planning, you can enjoy a magical Christmas experience without breaking the bank.
We took photos from these sources: Pexels, Pixabay, Ville de Luxembourg website, noel.alsace, Numbeo, Forbes