- 1 An enchanting Christmas day in Kew Gardens, London
- 2 Experience the magic of Hogwarts in the snow
- 3 Visit the Christmas Pantomimes in Manchester, U.K.
- 4 Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Funchal on the Madeira Islands of Portugal
- 5 Ski the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Granada, Spain
- 6 Explore the Christmas Markets in Colmar, France
- 7 Visit the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France
- 8 Take a Christmas Tour of Tuscany
- 9 Visit the Christmas Markets in Bruges, Belgium
- 10 Immerse yourself in 19th Century England at the Dickens Festival in Deventer, The Netherlands
- 11 Explore the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
- 12 Stay in the oldest Icehotel in the world on a winter trip to Sweden
- 13 Adventure through Santa Claus Village in Lapland, Finland
- 14 Visit the Meteora Monastery in Kalabaka, Greece
- 15 Cruise the Danube and Rhine River at Christmas
- 16 Delight in winter treats with a food tour of Prague, Czechia
- 17 Explore the city and the best Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria
- 18 Experience the Salzburg, Austria Christmas Markets
- 19 Feel the magic of Budapest, Hungary at Christmas
- 20 Discover classic Buda on a holiday walking tour in Budapest, Hungary
- 21 Wander through the enchanting Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia
- 22 Spend your New Year's skiing in Georgia
This post may contain affiliate links! I will receive a commission, at no extra cost to you, if you purchase something recommended here.
With centuries of history and culture around every corner, it’s no wonder we all want to visit Europe during the holiday season. Unless you’re spending Christmas in New York City, these are the best European winter destinations for your upcoming holiday.
I can’t think of a more magical place than sleeping in a hotel made entirely of ice. Or taking grand European Christmas market tours. Or even skiing in some of the most picturesque mountain towns throughout the continent.
- An enchanting Christmas day in Kew Gardens, London
- Experience the magic of Hogwarts in the snow
- Visit the Christmas Pantomimes in Manchester, U.K.
- Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Funchal on the Madeira Islands of Portugal
- Ski the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Granada, Spain
- Explore the Christmas Markets in Colmar, France
- Visit the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France
- Take a Christmas Tour of Tuscany
- Visit the Christmas Markets in Bruges, Belgium
- Immerse yourself in 19th Century England at the Dickens Festival in Deventer, The Netherlands
- Explore the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
- Stay in the oldest Icehotel in the world on a winter trip to Sweden
- Adventure through Santa Claus Village in Lapland, Finland
- Visit the Meteora Monastery in Kalabaka, Greece
- Cruise the Danube and Rhine River at Christmas
- Delight in winter treats with a food tour of Prague, Czechia
- Explore the city and the best Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria
- Experience the Salzburg, Austria Christmas Markets
- Feel the magic of Budapest, Hungary at Christmas
- Discover classic Buda on a holiday walking tour in Budapest, Hungary
- Wander through the enchanting Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia
- Spend your New Year’s skiing in Georgia
An enchanting Christmas day in Kew Gardens, London
One of my favorite places in London is the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew Gardens. And when Christmas time arrives, the gardens are transformed into an after-dark magical place. For me, it is an unmissable experience in London, the perfect spot to enjoy a festive spirit and to feel the magic Christmas mood.
With over a million lights, the enchanting walking light trail is less than two miles long. It will probably take you about two hours to stroll through the sparkling and glittering landmarks up to the historic Palm House musical laser show. The trees are turned into captivating light sculptures from different artists.
My favorite attraction is the show at the Kew’s Treetop Walkway. Impossible not to be marveled by the waterfall of light, with light beams dropping from the 60 feet high structure. And the music makes it a spectacular show feeling almost like the trees are dancing.
If by chance you are visiting London from the end of November to the beginning of January, you have to book your tickets to this fascinating show. It does not matter how old you are, if you come with your friends or family, you will be mouthy and stunned along your walk. I come back year after year as this magical show is always spectacular.
Experience told by Lauriane from Always Ready to Check-In
Experience the magic of Hogwarts in the snow
- Tour Company: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London
- Location: London, U.K.
- Find places to stay in London: Hotels | Airbnb
Have you ever considered Hogwarts as one of the best European Christmas destinations?
London alone is a rather romantic destination during wintertime, with huge events including the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and just browsing the city’s famous shopping streets. But the real magic has to be at the ‘Warner Bros. Studio Tour London,’ or Harry Potter Studios as it is better known, where they have the annual ‘Hogwarts in the Snow’ themed event.
Throughout the Christmas months, the studio will be dressed with festive baubles, including all the different winter scenes from the film franchise, using the actual original backdrops, costumes, and props that feature in the films.
Some of the highlights include the Great Hall of Hogwarts, which is decked out with Christmas trees, blazing fires, and the table is set with a massive Christmas dinner. The outside areas, including Privet Drive, are then showered with snow from snow machines. And Diagon Alley is always exciting at Christmas time.
Of course, all winter tours in Europe are busy at this time of year, so advance booking is essential, and be sure to organize travel to arrive at the given time slot as the studios are a fair bit out from the center of London.
But even the busses to the studio are kind of magical at this time of year! With music and movies on board, to create a magic Harry Potter mood before arrival, t’s hard for even the grumpiest of us not to get swept up in the magic of it all.
Experience told by Allan from Bangor Northern Ireland: Travel and Tourism Blog
Visit the Christmas Pantomimes in Manchester, U.K.
Manchester, U.K., may not be the first destination that comes to mind when you think about Christmas, but yet, it has so much to offer!
Visiting Manchester in winter is a magical experience. The entire city becomes a life-sized winter wonderland. In the city center, you will find nothing less than nine Christmas Markets!
The main one is located on Albert Square, right in front of the beautiful Town Hall. You will get to see Manchester Big Santa and beautiful lights, and you’ll also find loads of stands serving delicious Christmas foods. Don’t forget to grab a mulled wine or hot chocolate. There is a £1 refundable fee for the mug. Although you can get your money back, it’s a good thing to keep as a souvenir.
It’s also worth checking out the Cathedral Gardens market, as it’s home to the ice village and an ice-rink. If you are visiting with kids, that will be their favorite part!
Another great thing to do in Manchester at this time of the year is to go to the Trafford Centre. It’s one of the most unique commercial centers in Europe. It always looks a bit like a theme park, but it becomes one of the best European Christmas destinations when November and December come around. You can meet Santa and do all your shopping there!
Finally, make sure to book tickets for one of the Christmas pantomimes. The Opera House and the Palace Theatre always host amazing productions, and in December, they focus on traditional Christmas shows. It’s a lovely thing to watch.
Experience told by Pauline from BeeLoved City
Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Funchal on the Madeira Islands of Portugal
One of the best European winter destinations is, for sure, the magical island of Madeira. Portugal is known as a country that loves traditions and sticks to them. Thus, you will surely be surprised by the festivities that take place during the Christmas season in Madeira.
The best way to experience the Christmas spirit while in Madeira is by going to the Christmas at Avenida Arriaga. The Christmas market takes place on the 23rd of December, and one can enjoy all types of traditional foods and drinks. Some of the best Madeiran foods at Christmas are the honey cake, Bolo do Rei (King’s Cake), Pão de Ló (Sponge cake), and the Rabanadas (French toast made with wine). As for the drinks, you should definitely try the famous Madeiran wine and the Poncha!
While you are strolling in Funchal’s richly decorated Christmas streets, you will also witness the beautiful “lapinhas.” The “lapinhas” are simply nativity scenes, which the locals are decorating by themselves and putting on display in their gardens or windows.
Christmas in Funchal, Madeira is a truly magical experience, and easily one of the best European Christmas destinations. You will definitely not miss home even for a second. The locals are so friendly and hospitable that you might even end up at somebody’s house having a traditional Portuguese Christmas dinner.
If you decide to stay in Funchal, Madeira Islands Portugal for New Year’s Eve, you will be amazed by the brilliant fireworks show that takes place there. It is classified as the Biggest Fireworks Show by Guinness World Records and is truly fascinating to watch. You can observe it by a couple of spots and viewpoints above the city of Funchal and be absolutely stunned by its grandiosity.
Experience told by Alexandrina Nikolova from Earthosea
Ski the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Granada, Spain
Last December, we drove from Alicante on the Costa Blanca to Granada in Andalucia to see snow. Yes, you can see snow in Spain! After a 5-hour drive, we spent the night in Granada city before getting the bus up to the ski village of Monachil in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The ski village is full of amazing restaurants, bars, cafes, hotels, and of course, some of the most spectacular views out across the mountains. On a clear day, you can see all the way down to the city of Granada.
You can sit with a hot chocolate (or beer!) and watch the skiers and snowboarders whizzing down the mountains. Although it’s a ski village, there is plenty to do for non-skiers too.
We took the cable car up the mountain where you can hike in the snow, take in the views, and of course, have a snowball fight! For children, there are sleds and inflatable rings for hire, as well as mini snowmobiles.
There is also a restaurant at the start of the ski slopes, with one of the most fantastic lunch views. We stayed the night in a hotel in the ski village and woke up to more snow the following morning. After being in Spain for a year, it was definitely strange to be so cold!
For anyone thinking of making the trip, it is easy to arrange yourself. We recommend leaving your car in Granada and taking the bus from the central station as the drive up the mountain is a little scary. It’s a lovely trip to make you feel festive if you have been in Spain for a while.
Experience told by Sarah from Our Spanish Adventures
Explore the Christmas Markets in Colmar, France
Colmar is one of the most famous cities to celebrate the holiday in France. Located in the region of Alsace, at the border with Germany, Colmar is a Christmas fairy tale!
Let me tell you more about this place to show you why it’s one of the best European Christmas destinations and deserves a visit! The Old Town of Colmar is very picturesque. The half-timbered houses you will find here are all painted with pastel colors, and the Lauch River is flowing through the Old Town, giving this area the lovely name of “Petite Venise” (Little Venice in English). Also, many buildings are decorated especially for the holiday, and there are a few Christmas markets.
You can do so many things on one of these self-guided winter tours in Europe in Colmar during the holiday. Start by wandering in the “Petite Venise” and admiring all the traditional houses. There are also a few bridges offering incredible viewpoints! This area is relatively small, so it’s easy to walk around.
Then, of course, you should take a look at the different Christmas markets: there are six of them in the Instagrammable Old Town of Colmar. They all have their own specialty: gourmet market, local products, kid products, Christmas decorations, and other contemporary creations.
On top of that, while you are in Colmar, you should absolutely try the local cuisine! The region of Alsace is, in fact, well-known for its gastronomy. Here are two of the best specialties you should eat in Colmar: the tarte flambée (a mix between a savory tart and a pizza with a thin crust topped with crème fraiche, onions, and bacon) and the kouglof (a yeast-based brioche with raisins and almonds).
Try taking one of these European Christmas market tours to explore all of the different options in Colmar.
Experience told by Ophelie from Limitless Secrets
- Christmas Markets Basel Freiburg im Breisgau and Colmar
- Price: $597.39
- Christmas Market Tour from Colmar
- Price: $134.45
Visit the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France
Originally christened the "Christkindelsmärik" – market of the Infant Jesus – Strasbourg's Christmas Market is France's oldest Christmas Market. It dates back to 1570.
Strasbourg's Christmas market is spread across the city. It comprises twelve different themed markets and is held outdoors each year from late November until the 31st of December.
Update for 2020: While many Christmas markets have been canceled due to COVID, Strasbourg's will occur.
Imagine walking in a fairyland of twinkling lights, amongst elaborately decorated stucco homes and shops. The Ille River flows through Old Town Strasbourg (known as Petite France"). It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Grand Christmas Tree is illuminated each night at Place de Kleber, which has been a tradition since 1605. A red and green illuminated sign proclaims Strasbourg as Capitale de Noel at Place Gutenberg. At night colorful Christmas illuminations trace the outlines of the historic buildings.
There are over 300 wooden stalls (known as chalets). Vendors sell wool sweaters, embroidered tablecloths, hand-dipped candles, wooden toys, and Christmas ornaments.
I think people come to eat as much as they shop at the Christmas market. I will never forget the taste of a chocolate-covered marshmallow bonbon. And, of course, the only way to warm up is to order the hot mulled wine. It must be accompanied by a salty bretzel (pretzel) coated with Dijon mustard. My favorite Alsatian food is tarte flambee, which is a thin, flat bread covered with fromage blanc, crème fraiche, yellow onions, and thin strips of bacon.
If you are an American looking for the best European winter destinations to experience the outdoor Christmas markets, bring an extra suitcase.
Experience told by Terri Markle from Female Solo Trek
- Strasbourg Christmas Market Small Group Walking Tour
- Price: $18.09
- Christmas Bike Tour of Strasbourg
- Price: $42.21
Take a Christmas Tour of Tuscany
I cannot recommend enough touring Tuscany during winter. It is one of the best European Christmas destinations, with its picturesque regions and some of the finest winter tours in Europe, too. Even though it's usually crammed with tourists, around Christmas, you can enjoy its beauty almost undisturbed, away from the crowds and the struggle with parking spots (if you're on a road trip like I was). A cozy room on Airbnb would cost you 35-50 euros per night.
On my tour, I visited some major cities such as Florence, Siena, Lucca, and Livorno, along with dozens of small towns that were absolutely enchanting. If you plan to take any tours in this area, don't miss a stop in San Gimignano and Montepulciano. Both of these charming towns boast medieval architecture that takes you back in time.
I thoroughly enjoyed the extravagant Christmas decorations around the town of Pienza, along with the taste of the local sheep's milk cheese named Pecorino. Another stop worth considering is Radda in Chianti, famous for its wine tours and breathtaking views over hills lined with olive trees and vineyards.
The bottom line is, wherever you stop in Tuscany - it is gorgeous. But if you're short on time, do check the towns I've mentioned as they're all well worth a visit.
Experience told by Eva Milano from All Things Hair
Visit the Christmas Markets in Bruges, Belgium
Without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best European winter destinations is the city of Bruges in Belgium. Extremely accessible from Brussels and neighboring Ghent by train, while many visit Bruges as a day trip, the real magic awaits when the daytrippers depart, and you are left with this enchanting place to yourself at night time.
Although Bruges is a popular summer destination, it's a city that is made for winter. Everything about the place screams "Christmas," whether it's the glistening ice rink that is erected each year in the Market Square. These twinkling lights adorn every eave or lampposts they can be hung from, to the warming cups of hot chocolate held between your fingers to warm them.
There is a traditional Christmas market that is erected each year too. Stalls are crammed full of artisanal produce, Belgian foodie favorites like frites and waffles, and of course, mulled wine - no Christmas market is complete without it! When you've had your fill of the market, take to the winding streets and cobbled alleyways, where an ethereal mist hangs over the canals of Bruges and further fuels the inimitable atmosphere of this special city. If you're feeling cold, take a window seat in one of Bruge's cozy bars and simply watch the world go by.
Take a trip to Bruges during the holiday season - it really is one of the best European Christmas destinations!
Experience told by Isabelle Hoyne from Issy's Escapades
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Immerse yourself in 19th Century England at the Dickens Festival in Deventer, The Netherlands
The Dickens Festival in Deventer, The Netherlands is a festival which takes place annually, the weekend before Christmas. For two days, the Bergkwartier turns into a Dickens world. The Bergkwartier is the medieval part of Deventer. This makes it perfect as the backdrop of a 19th-century English town from Charles Dickens.
Over these two days, you can take one of these self-guided winter tours in Europe through several streets, where some 950 Dickens characters are playing their part. There's one way in and only one way out to this outdoor festival. Between entrance and exit, you walk a designated route; all the while, you can watch and engage with the actors. They perform sketches, plays, and choirs. Don't be surprised if you bump into Scrooge, see Queen Victoria have a cup of tea, walk into orphans or listen to Christmas carol singers.
However magical, the Dickens Festival isn't the only festive thing to do in Deventer. After exploring the festival, which takes some 2 to 4 hours, hit up one of the two Christmas markets in Deventer. There's one on the square, the Brink, at the exit of the Dickens Festival. The second one is on the 'Grote of Lebuinis' church, an indoor Christmas market inside the church. Last, there are also free concerts in churches in Deventer.
The experience of walking among the Dickens characters is fantastic. The actors do their utmost in bringing the stories to life. You'll be engaged in the stories by the actors all along the route. This, with the decorations and other Christmas activities, brings you into the festive mood.
Experience told by Cosette from KarsTravels
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Explore the Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany
- Tour Company: Cologne Tourism
- Location: Cologne, Germany
- Find places to stay in Cologne: Hotels | Airbnb
If you like your holidays festive and cozy, Germany in December is for you. One of my favorite places for exploring all that a German Christmas has to offer is Köln (Cologne), the country's fourth most populous city.
Grab a mug of steaming-hot Glühwein (mulled wine – or the alcohol-free "children's" version) and wander through alleys of wooden booths that offer crafts, toys, gifts, candy, gingerbread, and lots and lots of food. Traditional favorites include sausages, Rievkooche (potato pancakes) with applesauce, Dampfnudeln (steamed buns with vanilla sauce), and various meats.
Any European Christmas market tours of the more than half a dozen markets must include the one centered around the famous medieval cathedral, the Kölner Dom. Also, don't miss the atmosphere-laden Alter Markt (Old Market). Or, for something different, check out the more maritime-themed market next to the Chocolate Museum or Heavenue, the "gay Christmas market."
For one of their more formal winter tours in Europe, take a ride on the Christmas Market Express train, or visit the Cologne tourism office. Make sure to dress warmly, wear comfortable shoes, and bring some coins to use for the public bathrooms.
Experience told by Olivia from Happy in the Hollow
- Cologne Christmas Market Private Walking Tour
- Price: $295.46
- Magic Christmas Tour in Cologne
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Stay in the oldest Icehotel in the world on a winter trip to Sweden
Stockholm is great at any time of the year, but it has a special charm in winter when it's decorated with a myriad of Christmas lights and ornaments. Nights start early, but this didn't bother us too much. It just meant more time to enjoy the serene atmosphere. After having a genuine portion of Scandinavian urbanicity, we said goodbye to the capital, even if it was pretty hard, and took a train to the north.
There you're able to enjoy an authentic winter experience. Kiruna was the perfect hub, as it has useful links to the attractions and shops, hostels, and hotels to choose from. But the train trip was an experience by itself. It took us by small villages, isolated houses, frozen lakes, mighty rivers, and endless forests. We were even lucky enough to spot some wild elk and reindeer.
As soon as we got to Kiruna, we reserved our spot for the Aurora Spa and dog-sledding. Both experiences were simply outstanding. There still wasn't enough snow for snowmobiles. One can even go underground to find out more about the ore mine and why the town is being moved to a new location. We also took a bus to Jukkasjärvi to feed and pet reindeers at a farm.
After that, we checked into Icehotel, the oldest of its kind in the world. Every year most of the rooms are created from scratch. You can even sleep in one of the rooms if you dare. In the evenings, we filled a thermos with hot tea and went aurora hunting around Camp Ripan. Luck was on our side, and we got to see the Northern Lights for three evenings in a row. Just look north!
Experience told by Raluca from Travel With A Spin
Adventure through Santa Claus Village in Lapland, Finland
An area in the northern part of Finland, Lapland is an amazing region filled with the most unique and winter-like activities you can find anywhere in the world. From ice fishing to reindeer rides and husky rides, as well as chasing northern lights, Lapland truly has some incredible winter experiences.
Rovaniemi, Finland, is the perfect destination for experiencing all things Lapland. As the official hometown of Santa Claus, it is an ideal home base to experience some of the best winter tours in Europe and activities. Many tour companies pick visitors up at the city's most popular lodging palace, Santa Claus Village.
Santa Claus Village has reindeer rides in the village, as well as a husky park where families can get pulled by huskies. There are numerous tour companies in Rovaniemi that will pick you up at the village if you're looking for a longer husky or reindeer ride.
Ice fishing and northern lights chasing are two other fantastic winter activities that can be done straight out of Rovaniemi. There are enough tour companies to pick and choose dates, times, locations, and lengths of the tour. Like Snowshoeing and snowmobiling, and outdoor sauna experiences, several other winter activities are possible to do in the city. The sheer variety of winter activities in Lapland make this one of the best and most desirable winter destinations.
Experience told by Diana from Travels in Poland
Visit the Meteora Monastery in Kalabaka, Greece
- Tour Company: Visit Meteora Tours
- Location: Kalabaka, Greece
Meteora is one of the best off-the-radar destinations for anyone visiting Greece. With that being said, it is still seen by almost 2 million people each year. It's just not what people think of first when considering beautiful beaches or Athen's Acropolis. It is accessible 12 months of the year, but capturing the snowcapped hills that the monasteries are perched on can only be found right in the middle of Greece. Visiting in the winter also means that visitors avoid the peak season summer crowds and can enjoy the views without hundreds of other visitors.
The steep cliffs almost appear suspended on fog, similar to the cliffs in the movie Avatar. A view of the heavens is what came to mind when the monks visited the site in the 14th century. They were so taken by the place that they built their first (of many Monasteries there).
The steps to the monasteries are modernity's convenience, and so tourists can easily access them. Centuries ago, it was not easy to come and go. Today, it costs 3 Euros to visit inside each one, money that they use to sustain their way of life. They are completely independent from the state and are basically autonomous. Ensure you dress in layers when you visit in the winter. If you do visit in warmer seasons, adhere to their conservative dress code.
If you're interested in visiting Meteora, Visit Meteora Tours will guide you through the experience. It's one of the best winter tours in Europe.
Experience told by Lindsay Nieminen from Carpe Diem Our Way
Cruise the Danube and Rhine River at Christmas
- Location: Danube and Rhine River, Europe
A multi-day European cruise is a great way to see several famous European landmarks in a relaxed and unhurried manner. Even better if you want to visit several of the best European winter destinations at one time, as a Christmas cruise offers the additional benefit of a festive atmosphere.
Most river cruise companies have unique Christmas cruising itineraries that include Christmas carol performances, Christmas shows, and time to wander around the many excellent Christmas markets. Taking a Rhine winter cruise or a Danube Christmas cruise is a memorable way to soak up some Christmas joy while seeing the sights in several of the best European Christmas destinations, and it's also a great way to do your Christmas shopping!
Shop for hand-crafted Christmas ornaments or dainty Christmas angels while you wander around drinking gluhwein and eating gingerbread. Christmas cruises begin in late November and include visits to many popular Christmas markets, such as Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, Strasbourg Christmas market, and Vienna's Christmas market in the central city square. River cruising companies with Christmas cruises include Viking, Avalon, Uniworld, AmaWaterways, Tauck, and Scenic.
Cruises with Christmas market itineraries usually depart from Budapest and cruise the Danube and Rhine Rivers for seven days or longer, stopping at ports like Nuremberg, Vienna, Bratislava, Salzburg, and Regensburg. Many of these cruises will even offer European Christmas market tours.
Some tips for an enjoyable winter cruising experience are to book early as Christmas market cruises are popular. Make sure to bring cash, wear sturdy walking shoes, and dress warmly. And if you see something you like, don't hesitate to buy it, as you may not see it again at your next stop!
Experience told by Christina from Travel2Next
Delight in winter treats with a food tour of Prague, Czechia
If you're looking for a fun way to experience one of the best European winter destinations in the cold – like Prague in the winter – do a food tour! You'll combine a bit of walking and sightseeing with lots of stops inside delicious restaurants to warm up, and Czech food is so hearty that you'll find yourself warming up fast!
I did a food tour with Eating Europe on my last trip to Prague, and it was an absolute delight! I lived in Prague, so I was quite familiar with Czech food, but I hadn't been back in 9 years, so it was a perfect re-introduction to the city! The food tour was well-paced and lasted 4 hours, an ideal marathon of Czech dishes great for first-timers and those already experienced with Czech cuisine.
The food tour included a selection of traditional pastries, some artisan meats from a local butcher, chlebicky (open-faced sandwiches which are traditional Czech dishes), appetizers, soup, traditional Czech goulash, and apple strudel – as if that wasn't enough food already!
My guide was really passionate about Czech cuisine and the innovations happening in Prague to update traditional cuisine to meet tourists' interests while keeping it exciting for locals. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience!
Experience told by Allison Green from Eternal Arrival
Explore the city and the best Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria
If you've never been to Vienna, Austria at Christmas time, put it on your to-do list! It is sensational! With light displays and Christmas markets throughout the city, Vienna hosted one of the world's first Christmas markets in 1298. From mid-November to late December, you can find 20 different holiday markets all around the city.
When I spent a few days in Vienna to discover the city at Christmas time, I went to at least six different outdoor markets, all very unique with their own charm. You'll find markets everywhere - large ones near historic buildings and smaller markets near local churches or on side streets.
You will find Glühwein (hot spice wine) at every Christmas market, which comes in a white and red mulled wine variety. For a perfect souvenir, when you purchase the wine, you can decide to keep the souvenir mug it comes in or return it when you leave the market to get your small deposit back.
The part I love the most about the best Christmas markets in Vienna is the varied selection of gifts in the market stalls. There are many hand-crafted pieces, and the prices are reasonable for the local wares.
In addition to the many Christmas markets, there are also year-round food markets to visit in Vienna. These were quite impressive with many food stands and choices. I loved seeing all the varied and colorful food on display.
Experience told by Jan from Jana Adventures
Experience the Salzburg, Austria Christmas Markets
Salzburg is a great place to visit all year long, but it comes alive as one of the best European Christmas destinations. From charming streets and cozy cafes to visiting iconic highlights, including castles and baroque buildings, surrounded by the Alps covered in snow, immerses you in a fairy tale land.
Salzburg is Mozart's birthplace. During the wintertime, you can watch winter concerts and appreciate several aspects of Salzburg at once: the beauty of the city, the compositions of Mozart, and sometimes even a traditional Austrian dinner is included!
Christmas really beings in Salzburg when the Christmas markets open for the season at the end of November. While the most famous Christmas Markets in Salzburg are located at the Damplatz, there are other, smaller markets around the city. The Advent Magic Heilbrunn and the Market on Mirabell Square are two of the other most popular holiday markets in the city. Experience the Salzburg delicacies, local hand-craft, and try the traditional Glühwein, known as hot, spiced wine.
One of the more traditional things to do in Salzburg during the holidays is watching the "Salzburger Adventsingen." This nativity play, performed by children in different local dialects, was established in 1946 and brings in an audience of thousands of Austrians every year.
Besides the Christmas Markets, Salzburg is also a great destination for winter sports. It offers an amazing opportunity to explore the picturesque valleys with excellent slopes in the Alps. You can go skiing, snowboarding, ride a sled, go cross-country skiing, or ice skating.
Snuggled in the Alps' foothills, Salzburg is genuinely one of the best European winter destinations during Christmas time.
Experience told by Paula Martinelli from Paula Pins the Planet
- Christmas Markets Tour from Salzburg
- Price: $75.98
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- Price: $41.00
Feel the magic of Budapest, Hungary at Christmas
We spent a month in Budapest over the winter holidays: Hanukkah, Solstice, Christmas, and New Year's. The already beautiful Hungarian city is decked out and full of Christmas markets, menorahs, and cheer.
We wandered through the handful of Christmas markets spread throughout the city, sipping forralt bor (hot, mulled wine). The markets are mostly food and drink, but there are handicraft booths and some kids' activities. Some days there is live music, and we enjoyed the lighting of the community Advent wreath.
One of my favorite parts of the Budapest Christmas experience is ice skating. There are quite a few ice skating rinks around the city, and each one has its own charm. The City Park Ice Rink is the largest and oldest ice rink in Europe. With Vajdahunyad Castle as a backdrop, it's a magical place to skate.
Whether visiting the markets or ice skating, we ate a lot of Kürtöskalács or chimney cake. These sweetbreads are wrapped around something like a rolling pin and roasted on a spit. They're then dipped in cinnamon or another topping. Some of them were filled, but we liked the plain ones.
Other Budapest traditions include seeing the Nutcracker at the Opera House, listening to an organ concert at St. Stephen's Basilica, and riding the Christmas tram — a tram festooned with lights.
Experience told by Mel from Traveling Mel
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Discover classic Buda on a holiday walking tour in Budapest, Hungary
- Tour Company: Discover Classic Buda Walking Tour in Budapest
- Location: Budapest, Hungary
- Find places to stay in Budapest: Hotels | Airbnb
Hungary's capital, Budapest, is located by the River Danube and what were once three cities Buda, Pest, and Ofuda. They have now united to form Budapest.
On this exciting walking tour around Budapest's historic castle district, Buda, you get to explore the quaint side of Hungary's capital.
Starting at the iconic 19th-century Chain Bridge that connects the hilly Buda district with flat Pest, you will spend a lovely afternoon wandering the romantic cobblestone streets of the city's historic castle district.
Quite a lot of Budapest is classed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is one to tick off the bucket list!
The tour heads up the hill towards the world-famous Fisherman's Bastion in Trinity Square, the magnificent Matthias Church, and the Royal Palace, which offers the most amazing views across the city. You can admire the Danube River from up on the hill and get a ride on the Funicular.
You also visit lesser-known areas of Buda along the tour, including hidden alleyways and fantastic photo spots. The guide was lovely and very knowledgeable, giving us lots of information about the history of the places we stopped and development over the years.
This tour is definitely a must for any tourist visiting this incredible city!
Experience told by Sophie Davis from Sophie's Suitcase
- Budapest Christmas Market Tour
- Price: $81.53
- Budapest Christmas Market & Food Tour
- Price: $80.51
Wander through the enchanting Christmas market in Tallinn, Estonia
Yes, Europe is cold during winter, but it's the perfect time for you to visit the best European winter destinations. Town squares are filled with beautiful Christmas markets, fairy lights twinkle, the air smells of mulled wine, snow dusts the top of wooden Christmas market stalls, and it just feels magical. Everyone knows that Germany and France have a few of the most stunning Christmas markets in Europe but, have you visited the Christmas market in Estonia?
Estonia is a beautiful country in northern Europe by the Baltic Sea, and its capital city, Tallinn, is one of the best-preserved medieval towns. The cobblestone streets are lined with iron lamp posts, and rustic stalls are medieval carts.
Unlike many other European cities, there is only one Christmas market in Tallinn. It is set in one of the best-preserved medieval town squares in Europe, filled with approximately 50 market stalls.
The markets are open every day from the end of November until just after New Year's days. Not only are there stalls to buy hand-crafted wooden decorations, ornate ceramics, and of course, hand-knitted socks, but you will also find folk dancers and choirs on the weekends. Each Sunday that the Christmas markets are open, you can see the advent candle being lit.
Tallinn has plenty of amazing hot food to keep you warm. Most Christmas markets have sausages, but why don't you try Tallinn's version, sour cabbage with blood sausage, or perhaps that isn't your thing? Maybe pork sausage with potato sits better. Order yourself some warm food and a hot mug of Glogg and stand by the open fire talking to fellow travelers and locals and absorb the atmosphere of one of the best European Christmas destinations.
Make sure you visit one of the market stalls selling sweets and munch on some Gingerbread or marzipan as you shop at the markets.
Be mindful when you are visiting the market stalls that English is quite limited. Get ready for a lot of pointing and hand gestures to get your orders correct.
Experience told by Fiona from Travelling Thirties
- Tallinn Old Town Walking Tour
- Price: $45.77
Spend your New Year's skiing in Georgia
One of the most impressive Christmas experiences I've ever had was visiting Georgia – the country, not the American state! We landed on Boxing Day and made a beeline to the skiing fields of Gudauri Ski Resort. Imagine trying to get to a ski resort in a standard yellow cab!
Skiing in Georgia is really cheap. You can stay in a ski-in ski-out apartment right next to the main ski lift for only $50 a night. The ski fields have the most beautiful white powdered slopes and next to no-one to fight over it.
Spend New Years' in the capital city of Tbilisi, where you'll find the main streets closed off for the celebrations. When you head into Rustaveli Avenue, you'll see absolutely everyone letting off fireworks around the main beautiful Christmas tree.
When New Year comes in, join the locals at the free concert in the main square. It's one of the best New Year's we've ever had! There are loads of things to do in Tbilisi, you certainly won't be bored after New Years'!
Experience told by Annie Symonds from Londoner In Sydney
No matter which of these best European winter destinations you choose to visit, you're sure to have an enchanting experience.