The festive winter break from Christmas to New Year offers comfort, coziness, and culture at these 12 best destinations in Europe for the holiday season.
Sip spiced wine as you sit around a cozy fire in a German restaurant, enjoy the choirs and songs that celebrate the season in Italy, and indulge in the offerings at markets that fill cities, towns, and villages across Europe with life and color. From alpine views to friendly villagers, when exploring Europe during the winter holiday season, you can experience authentic and timeless beauty.
Bask in the fun and excitement of the season by discovering the 12 best destinations in Europe, where you can experience the traditions and wonders of the holiday season.
The holiday season in Italy is idyllic, as the winter brings snow and cultural festivities thrive in December. You’ll find Christmas charm abundant in local life, while travelers explore colorful markets instead of beaches.
The Christmas markets in Italy are spectacular, with decorations painting the cityscapes, locals showcasing elaborate handicrafts, and chefs serving seasonal delicacies. In the north, snow often blankets the alpine landscape, while in the south, the warmer climate offers a different aesthetic. The festive ambiance that swirls through every city brings together small-town locals eager to join in on the fun.
From aromatic spices to twinkling lights, Italy indulges in seasonal pleasures that can take you from Vatican City to Piazza San Marco, the Citadel of Craftsmanship to the Bressanone Artisan Market, and the Roman Christmas Market as New Year’s Eve rolls around.
Highlights: Roman Christmas markets • Midnight Mass at the Vatican • Skiing on the Dolomites • Christmas treats like Panettone and Pandoro • The Tradition of La Befana
Germany in December unfurls the festive spirit as snow glistens across the landscape, lights twinkle in the cities, and the air fills with enticing aromas.
The ambiance feels special throughout the holiday season, as Christmas markets in Dresden, Nuremberg, Trier, and beyond warm the town squares with wooden toys, mulled wine, and decadent chocolates. Sleigh rides feel authentic and tobogganing offers a thrill ride on the frozen slopes of Germany’s Black Forest and ski resorts for every age.
From skiing to a steam train, classical concerts to seasonal pastries, when you visit Germany around Christmas and New Year’s Eve, you can indulge in the coziness and embrace the wonders of the winter season.
Highlights: Christmas markets • Skiing in the Black Forest • Winter delicacies like mulled wine and Lebkuchen • Christmas tour of castles • Bavarian winter road trip
England during the holiday season is splendid, with festivals, Christmas markets, and snow creating a wonderland across the main cities and rural parts of the country.
Carolers sing in the gilded churches, while markets with traditional wooden huts display arts, crafts, and seasonal dishes. Fewer visitors choose to explore England during the winter break, meaning crisp walks through the atmospheric countryside are an escape from the rest of the world. Crackling fires warm traditional English pubs and snow accentuates the charm of quaint villages in the days leading up to New Year’s Eve.
There are plenty of opportunities in which to enjoy the storybook winter atmosphere in England during the holidays as you choose to dance beneath twinkling Christmas lights, toast champagne as fireworks illuminate the sky, and tuck into hearty seasonal dishes at gourmet restaurants.
Highlights: Christmas markets • Caroling • Gastronomy tours of Christmas cuisine • Christmas shopping
Spain embraces regional traditions and contemporary comforts during the holiday season. Celebrations can take the form of a grand stage in a cosmopolitan city or a quiet nativity scene in front of a countryside church.
Every seasonal detail shines a light on the epic Christmas history in Spain, with medieval streets and Baroque churches filled with joyous locals. Christmas songs chime through the districts, marzipan is made in almost every home and on every street corner, and glittering lights add to the glamorous atmosphere.
As summer crowds thin in the winter, the holiday season brings more authenticity, felt in each mouthful of seasonal cuisine and on each night spent around the bonfires. Before the turn of the year, you can also experience winter sports at Pyrenees resorts.
Highlights: Nativity scenes • Christmas snacks like marzipan • Christmas services in Baroque churches • Caroling • Winter sports at the Pyrenees
Winter brings snow to Swiss towns and boulevards of white pine trees are the ultimate image of Christmas in Switzerland. The old towns glow gold with lights and markets create a vibrant seasonal atmosphere.
Basel preserves the Christmas spirit throughout the holiday season, with tented stalls in the main town square and the aromas of hearty dishes flowing through the streets. You can also visit Lausanne, St. Gallen, and more Swiss cities and towns for unique holiday atmospheres in the days building up to New Year’s Eve.
A winter break in Switzerland is also a great time to visit the mountains of the Jungfrau Region or the ski resorts of Zermatt, where winter sports take center stage. You can ride cable cars across snow-drenched slopes, ski down the world’s best trails, and embrace panoramic views of blinding white peaks.
Highlights: Christmas markets•• Skiing and winter sports in Zermatt • Caroling • Baking Baumnuss Guetzli, walnut cookies • Klausjagen festival in Küssnacht
In Poland, the official Christmas celebration is on the 24th of December and is known as Wigilia. However, the Christmas spirit engulfs Polish cities throughout the holiday season.
Polish Christmas traditions dictate the local way of life during the holiday season and these pleasant customs are a joy to discover. An extra chair in Polish homes is left free for an unexpected guest, families sing carols through the night, and Midnight Mass invites all to celebrate the season.
You can experience the charms of Poland during Christmas in the markets of Wroclaw or Gdansk before you clink glasses of champagne as fireworks and spotlights illuminate Warsaw’s sky at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
Highlights: Christmas traditions • Celebrate Wigilia • Caroling • Midnight Mass • Warsaw New Year’s Eve fireworks shows
Christmas time, or Advent, is peaceful in Austria as traditions of biscuits baking, Christmas carols, and family adventures take preference over the yearly hustle and bustle of busy cities.
Locals respect Rauhnaechte, the 12 Days of Christmas, during the holiday season and the tradition of burning incense fills the air with sweet aromas said to protect animals during the seasonal period. Folkloric stories like this one run deep in Austrian Christmas traditions and travelers can embrace the authentic holiday customs on trips to charming country towns veiled in snow.
A stay in Vienna, the capital of Austria, is also worthwhile during the holiday season as you can explore the remarkable artistic and intellectual legacy of the country’s extraordinary people. From hearing renditions of Mozart in theaters to viewing exhibits honoring the work of Sigmund Freud, Austria is a Christmas wonderland and cultural reservoir.
Highlights: Rauhnaechte • Christmas markets • Christmas baking classes • Festive music performances • Christmas ice pavilions
Most may recognize other European destinations as holiday season hotspots, but Croatia is certainly a contender for your travel radar. The Mediterranean jewel lights up with Christmas decorations in December and the weather is relatively comfortable for the time of year.
Traditional Croatian Christmas celebrations dominate the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, from evergreen wreaths and burning candles to gifts on St. Lucia’s Day and Christmas mass. Roast meats of turkey, duck, or goose, with sides of cabbage rolls and flatbread, capture the seasonal flavors at Croatia’s best eateries. And Christmas markets create a warm and inviting atmosphere in the cities and towns.
From the Croatian coastline to the Old Town of Dubrovnik, the Gorski Kotar green lung and Plitvice National Park, vibrant stalls or icy landscapes make the season memorable.
Highlights: St. Lucia’s Day • Christmas mass • Christmas dining • Trekking Plitvice National Park • New Year’s Eve on the Croatian coastline
Learn more: Top 5 Things to Do in Croatia in Winter
Hungary is home to joyous Christmas traditions like German-inspired carols and twinkling Christmas trees, burning candles and glimmering sparklers. Cities and towns mark the sacred season by dressing their neighborhoods in lights and decorations centered around markets.
You can wander between the colorful lanes as you listen to festive music pour through the streets, catch wafts of Hungarian comfort food like fish soup, and follow the route to cultural landmarks. You may celebrate Midnight Mass with the locals or find your own way to respect the seasonal traditions as you tour Budapest, Eger, or Debrecen.
You can also hope for a white Christmas with a trip to the rolling hills of the Mátra mountains or warm up on a cold winter's day in the salt baths of Miskolctapolca in a natural cave.
Highlights: Christmas markets • St. Nicholas Day • Classic Christmas dishes like Hungarian fish soup • Midnight Mass • Salt baths in Miskolctapolca
Snow, markets, and seasonal cuisine capture the attention of travelers who visit France on vacation for the winter break.
There are few things quite as beautiful during Christmas as the Eiffel Tower flecked in white and surrounded by a sheet of snow. The City of Lights, Paris, shines brighter than ever during the holidays as Christmas decorations hang from tree-lined avenues and the balconies of boutique eateries. Holiday markets in Paris, Metz, Montbeliard, and beyond share the spirit of the festive season and a taste of gourmet French gastronomy.
You can stroll from Marchés de Noël, Christmas markets, to cathedrals that honor religious Christmas traditions, try artisanal French winter bites, and retreat to the French Alps for a white Christmas and New Year ski trip.
Highlights: Eiffel Tower covered in snow • Paris Christmas markets • Gourmet French Christmas cuisine • Skiing and winter sports in the French Alps • French château tour
Learn more: Top 3 Reasons to Visit France in Winter
Christmas history in Scotland is fascinating as celebrating the holiday was once banned. Today, Christmas in Scotland is a merry occasion as locals and travelers mingle at markets, enjoy the winter scenery and observe the festive holiday.
There are many great places to visit during Christmas in Scotland, from nature sanctuaries in the Isle of Arran, where red deer roam freely, to the snow-covered streets of Glasgow. Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is also popular during the holiday season as local tradition mixes with global influence and the city is animated with Christmas spirit.
You can explore Scottish Christmas markets where children write letters to Santa Claus, sip whisky or sherry in toasty restaurants warm with fires, and tuck into authentic haggis Bon Bons, a Christmas twist on the national dish.
Highlights: Viewing winter wildlife in the Isle of Arran • Tours of Glasgow’s snow-covered neighborhoods • Christmas markets • Authentic Christmas treats • Caroling
Wish everyone a Feliz Natal, Merry Christmas, on vacation in Portugal during the holiday season. Winter is pleasant in the country, with warmer temperatures in the Mediterranean than in the rest of Europe and sunshine on a great day.
While snow may only fall on the highest peaks, a holiday season trip to Portugal presents a different kind of Christmas experience as New Year’s Eve comes around. You can cruise the Douro River from Porto in ships decorated with lights and Christmas colors, visit the Campo Pequeno Christmas market in Lisbon, or eat dinner on Christmas Eve with a family in the charming village of Óbidos.
Another picture-perfect way to spend the holiday season in Portugal is to sip port or prestigious wines at the historic estates in the country’s best wine-growing regions. However you choose to spend the holidays, Portugal is bound to impress.
Highlights: Christmas cruises on the Douro River • Port tasting in Porto • Campo Pequeno Christmas market in Lisbon • Christmas culinary tour of Óbidos • Wine tasting in the Mediterranean sunshine during winter
Wander the aisles of quintessential Christmas markets to embrace the charm of the holiday season or watch fireworks illuminate the European night sky on New Year’s Eve. With goodwill, an open mind, and the enticing beauty of the winter landscape accentuated by antique traditions, you can find and enjoy magnificent holiday celebrations at these best destinations.
Whether looking for Spanish passion, English custom, Italian style, or something else entirely, you can plan your holiday season trip to Europe with our European Christmas Market Tours.