15 European Christmas cities and what you shouldn’t miss
Europe is a fairytale at Christmas-time and whether you’re a big fan of Christmas or not, the twinkling lights and the smell of warm wine and roasted almonds bring atmosphere into the dark winter-nights of December.
Throughout the past 10 years, I have been fortunate to experience a bunch of exciting cities during the festive season, so I thought I’d share a bit of holiday-atmosphere to boost your winter-mood – or maybe even inspire you to plan a spontaneous Christmas-getaway of your own.
Let’s start in the North where you’ll find these great Christmas-market destinations…
My girlfriend and I won a trip to Stockholm through the Lonely Planet magazine (flights and hotel) and we decided to make it a Christmas-trip in December 2013. Little did we know we would both end up travelling there with a bad cold, so we were naturally a bit battered as we went to explore the cosy streets of the historic Gamla Stan quarter in central Stockholm. The Swedish capital is definitely worth a visit during Christmas where you will find several markets in downtown and one of the world’s largest Christmas trees.
Don’t miss: The market at Stortorget in Gamla Stan is the best spot in the city for an authentic holiday atmosphere. It is on until December 23 this year (2020).
The Danish capital is another Scandinavian hotspot during the festive season. Here, a shopping-spree down Strøget is popular with both locals and visitors and so is the Christmas-themed season at the world-famous Tivoli Gardens.
Don’t miss: The Christmas market stalls along Nyhavn, which is one of the most popular areas of Copenhagen all year round.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO DENMARK HERE
Denmark’s third-biggest city and my beloved hometown of Odense is an excellent alternative to Copenhagen come Christmas time. With a very walkable downtown of beautifully decorated shopping streets, Odense offers a ton of hygge on the island of Funen.
Don’t miss: The historic Hans Christian Andersen neighbourhood is as good a setting you get for a Christmas market.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO ODENSE HERE
We continue across to the UK and Ireland where I’ve visited some of the big cities during the holidays…
If you’ve checked off London, Paris and other popular Christmas-destinations, my former home of Cardiff is an excellent alternative for any holiday-getaway. With several markets and excellent shopping opportunities, you certainly won’t be bored here. Travelling with kids? Then the city’s Winter Wonderland will be a homerun-hit.
Don’t miss: Cardiff’s Victorian shopping arcades provide a perfect hideout from the cold of winter. These are must-sees all year round, but they’re especially atmospheric when they’re adorned by twinkling lights.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO CARDIFF HERE
Bristol is an exciting city in Southern England – just a short bus or train ride from London. It’s definitely worth a visit during the holiday season as a large market will draw people to the already busy shopping-area of Broadmead and Cabot Circus.
Don’t miss: The permanent markets of St. Nicholas which is extra attractive during December.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO BRISTOL HERE
London is a tourist and shopping-magnet 365 days a year, but it pulls just a bit stronger near the end of the year as visitors are looking to bag their Christmas gifts. Grand department stores, a decorated Oxford Street, a sparkling Covent Garden and the Christmas market at Hyde Park is among the many seasonal highlights.
Don’t miss: The eye-catching and highly creative window displays of the iconic Harrods department store.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO LONDON HERE
If you’d like to include a Guinness-break on your Christmas-shopping spree, the Irish capital is certainly a great choice. Spend your money down Grafton Street, walk the cobbles of the decorated Temple Bar area and admire Dublin from the Gravity Bar of the Guinness Storehouse.
Don’t miss: A visit to the beautifully decorated Stephen’s Green which is far from your ordinary shopping mall.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO DUBLIN HERE
The Swiss capital instantly became one of my favourite Christmas-destinations when I dropped by in December 2016. This city is an underrated stunner – not at least when you start exploring the historic Niederdorf neighbourhood. When you top it all up with a handful of supreme Christmas markets, this city simply becomes irresistible. Check out the ice rink hidden in the courtyard of the National Museum and the attractive market in front of the Zürich Opera House.
Don’t miss: The Christkindlimarkt at the city’s main train station is hard to miss if you arrive at Zürich by train. It features 140 stalls and a Christmas tree covered in Swarovski crystals!
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO ZÜRICH HERE
In my opinion, Bern is one of the most underrated capitals in Europe. It’s a wonderful city and it reaches a new level when its historic arcades are dressed to impress during December. A bunch of cosy Christmas markets are strewn around the cobbled streets and the chances are good that they will be sprinkled with a dust of snow.
Don’t miss: A ride with the Christmas-tram known as Das Märlitram.
Interlaken enjoys a stunning location between snowclad alpine mountain peaks and throughout the Christmas season, you’ll find a string of wooden market stalls along the main street of Höheweg. This city is also the perfect shopping-destination if you’re looking for wristwatches, cuckoo clocks or gourmet chocolate.
Don’t miss: More than simply a Christmas-destination, Interlaken becomes an ice skating heaven each winter from mid-December to mid-February. This happens when the Top of Europe Ice Magic brings icy joy to the central park of Höhematte. A truly unforgettable skating experience!
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO INTERLAKEN HERE
Germany is known as one of the best Christmas market destinations in the world. There are a ton of cities with excellent markets and this makes it almost impossible to choose. Back in 2011, I had the pleasure of experiencing the northern city of Lübeck, and with a bunch of markets around the historic city centre, it is definitely worth a recommendation.
Don’t miss: A visit to the famous marzipan shop Niederregger, which is a cornucopia of the sweet almond treats shaped like anything you can imagine.
Wow, Vienna! You’re a stunner and probably the most impressive Christmas-city on this list. There seems to be an endless amount of atmospheric markets around Vienna’s sparkling streets and many of them with backdrops of majestic castles or towering cathedrals. You can spend days checking them all out and among the highlights are the markets at the townhall square – Rathausplatz, Stephansplatz, the Schönbrunn Castle, the Belvedere Castle and Karlsplatz, just to mention a few.
Don’t miss: The market at Riesenradplatz at the free-to-enter Prater amusement park. It is beautifully dominated by the illuminated, giant Ferris wheel Risenrad.
Paris is pure magic all year round – not at least during December while Luxembourg City proved to be an exciting alternative as a December-destination. To end this list, my other hometown of Madrid is really worth a visit during the holidays too. Take a look…
I’ve been visiting Paris a ton of times and The City of Light is beautifully illuminated come Christmas-time. It was back in 2010 that I got the chance to enjoy some chilly strolls along Champs-Elysés and the other Parisian hotspots and it was wonderful to get to experience the French capital in a new light, so to speak.
Don’t miss: Take the metro to the skyscraper-dominated La Défense area which offers a unique contrast to the small town of little market stalls below the towering skyline.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO PARIS HERE
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
It’s just a couple of years ago I got to experience the city of Luxembourg during December, and I was lucky to find it covered with a light sprinkle of snow. Luxembourg downtown offers a bunch of lovely markets along streets and squares. The enticing scents of fondue and raclette will be tempting you around every corner.
Don’t miss: The market at the town hall square of Place Guillaume II where you can grab a bite and burn off the added calories on the ice rink.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO LUXEMBOURG HERE
Madrid has been my home several times throughout the past seven years and it is currently so. This is why I have experienced several Christmas-seasons in this majestic capital city. Madrid has several individual markets with Plaza Mayor hosting one of the most iconic. Take a walk through the towering Christmas ”tree” at Puerta del Sol, and jump on the Christmas-bus to experience all the glittery glow of the decorated streets.
Don’t miss: The traditional Christmas-facade of Cortylandia facing Calle del Maestro Victoria. Here, parents take their kids to pass on the joy of singing along with giant figures such as elves, penguins or polar bears. Also, don’t miss The Three King’s Parade on the evening of January 5th.
FIND MORE TRAVEL TIPS TO MADRID HERE
Which cities have you experienced during the Christmas-season?
Please share in the comments below…