13 Unique European Christmas experiences
There’s no better place to enjoy the Christmas season than a city in Europe. Why is this? Because Europe is known for magnificent snowfalls, excellent Christmas markets, and its Old World feel that elevates this yearly holiday beyond consumerism. Plus, since most schools have a winter break, Christmas is a great time for the whole family to travel overseas.
The legend of Saint Nicholas – now known as Santa Claus – may have begun in Turkey, but it was Europe that took the idea and ran with it. By the Renaissance period, St. Nicholas was the most popular saint on the continent, something that stayed as time and traditions moved forward. Now, there are unique Christmas experiences in many major European cities. Picking a destination can be hard, so here are our suggestions.
There’s plenty of snow in Lappland around Christmas time, mostly due to the city’s location just above the Arctic Circle. It’s also the home of Santa’s Workshop, where you can enroll in Elf School, chat with Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick himself, and view some interesting ice sculptures. Lappland is definitely the place to go for an authentic Christmas experience!
If you’re spending Christmas in Stockholm, make sure to spend a day or two at the Old Town’s Christmas Market. It has been in operation since 1915, and is lined with red stalls in order to create a holiday “feel” that you won’t find anywhere else. Some of the stalls sell Swedish Christmas favorites, like warm glögg, fresh gingerbread (pepparkakor), unique cheeses and candy, and of course, traditional crafts. My absolute top favorite so far!
Bath, United Kingdom
Located just outside of London, the town of Bath is known for its Christmas market. Open for 18 days prior to the holiday, and surrounded by gorgeous Georgian architecture, the holiday ambiance of the area is unforgettable. Of course, there’s also London itself, which has picturesque snowfalls, winter festivals, and plenty of other holiday-related things to do.
Every year in December, Vienna becomes Christmas central. There are nativity plays taking place on street corners, an outdoor ice skating rink, decorations galore, and two must-see places: the Christmas Market on Karlsplatz and Schönbrunn Palace. The latter has a romantic holiday ambiance that you won’t find elsewhere.
A Ferris wheel covered in lights, an outdoor ice rink, and a festive atmosphere make Brussels extra-special at Christmastime. You won’t want to miss the outdoor light show or the holiday shops. There are also plenty of quiet restaurants and cafes to rest in, after you’ve spent some time wandering amongst the wooden chalets that serve as pop-up shops.
Bruges’ Christmas Market literally transports you back in time, due to its location in the UNESCO World Heritage section of the city that dates back to medieval times. Each building is decked with Christmas lights, and there are plenty of small cafes to eat in, an outdoor ice rink to skate on, and small market shops to purchase gifts and decorations in.
St. Moritz, Switzerland
St. Moritz is known for its skiing – mostly due to its Alpine location. However, there is plenty to do over Christmastime in the city besides winter sports. The Christmas lights, holiday concerts, and Advent shops make the area fun for everyone, as long as they aren’t afraid of a little snow.
Budapest manages to meld Old World charm with modern day fun, thanks to their Christmas laser light shows and holiday music-filled concerts. On top of this, there are wooden stalls set up in the city center, full of sellers peddling Christmas wares. Make sure to take the time to visit the thermal baths for a little pre- or post-holiday pampering.
Red is a dominant Christmas color, and you’ll find plenty of it in Copenhagen, particularly at the Tivoli Gardens, which are decorated with lights that match the bright color of their famous pagoda. Tivoli is also home to Copenhagen’s annual Christmas Market and Land of Elves, the latter of which is home to Santa Claus himself.
Amsterdam is home to not one, but two memorable Christmas markets. The first is Winterland Market in Rembrandtplein, which is also known for its decorative snowmen and stalls selling tasty holiday treats. The other market is the Albert Cuypmarkt Christmas market, which has a whopping 300 stalls filled with people selling ornaments, traditional decorations, and a few modern things as well.
The medieval castle located in the center of the city serves as the main thoroughfare for holiday enjoyment in Cologne. You won’t want to miss the live entertainment – from jugglers to glassblowers – that surrounds the castle’s walls. The three local Christmas markets: the Cologne Harbor Market, the Market of Angels, and the Fairytale Christmas Market should all be on your must-see list as well.
Can you imagine having over 170 stalls filled with traditional Christmas crafts and foods to choose from? The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church Christmas Market is just a fraction of what makes Berlin a special place during the holidays. Imagine the fruit ciders, glazed treats, and Christmas ornaments that you’ll find in the city. Purchase an ornament for your tree at home, and you’ll remember your special German Christmas for years afterwards.
Prague, Czech Republic
Picture a city all lit up with green, red, and white Christmas lights, combined with amazing architecture, and a gentle snowfall. This should give you an idea of what Prague is like in December every year. You can visit the Old Town Square Christmas Market and shop for wooden toys and interesting decorations while drinking mulled cider and snacking on muffins.
No matter which European city you choose to travel to for Christmas, you’ll make plenty of memories for years to come, especially if you purchase some interesting, decorative souvenirs!