20 best Christmas cities in Europe
Christmas is the time of year that gives you an unlimited fun hall pass.
It’s when we get to let our hair down, and hide our gluttony beneath layers and layers of clothing.
But, combine the holiday with some of the most fairy tale-like cities in Europe, and Christmas becomes something even more memorable.
In this post, I’ll be bringing you plenty of festive cheer with these 20 best Christmas cities in Europe. Enjoy the Christmas markets, the food and plenty of Glühwein, — though vicariously — all from the comfort of your sofa.
1. Lapland — Finland
Spend your European Christmas trip in the magical home of St Nick in Lapland, Finland.
Regardless of your age, or whether you’re traveling with children, you can’t help but feel Christmassy in Lapland.
Take a visit to the wintry Santa Claus village located in Rovaniemi. There are several attractions and activities here that’ll easily fill up a day.
Stop by Santa Claus’ office and watch the man and his elves at work. Afterwards, don’t forget to swing by the gift house and pick up a few presents to take home.
Where to stay in Rovaniemi — best Christmas cities in Europe
Continue your magical experience in Rovaniemi by spending a few nights at the picturesque Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort.
Consisting of cozy igloos and dreamy chalets, it’s your chance to sleep beneath a blanket of stars.
2. Rothenburg ob der Tauber — Germany
When it comes to wanting a storybook-style Christmas, Germany has several fabulous options sure to ignite your festive spirit.
Located in northern Bavaria is the medieval town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Come Christmastime, a powdering of light snow transforms the town into something more fantastical.
Walk through the town’s cobbled streets and past the half-timbered houses until you reach one of its 8 Christmas markets. Four of these locations include Marktplatz, Grüner Markt, Kapellenplatz, and Schrannenplatz.
The Christmas markets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber date to the 15th century. Not much has changed since the tradition began over 500 years ago. If an authentic Christmas experience is what you’re looking for, you’re in the right place.
Where to stay in Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Hotel Herrnschloesschen is one of the oldest buildings in the town. Offering French-country style rooms and suites, a sauna and rental bikes, it’s a cozy and boutique hotel choice.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber in Bavaria, Germany is one of the best Christmas cities in Europe
“Enjoy the festivities, the food and plenty of Glühwein, — though vicariously — all from the comfort of your sofa.”
While in Bavaria, you may be tempted to stop by the city of Nuremberg. The second largest city in the region, its annual Christmas market is one of the biggest and the best in Germany.
A festive feast that the whole family can enjoy, the ‘Christkindlesmarkt’ has something for everyone. Browse the many stalls for a Christmas gift, before stopping by to try a Nuremberg Bratwurst in a bun.
Dates for the Nuremburg Christmas market
The main Christmas market in Nuremberg usually takes place in the central square in the old town, called the ‘Hauptmarkt’.
It usually starts around the first Sunday of Advent, so typically the end of November. The Nuremberg Christmas markets end on 24 December.
Where to stay in Nuremburg
Central, boutique and very affordable, Melter Hotel & Apartments – a Neighborhood Hotel, is a fine choice.
The Nuremburg Christmas market is just 500m from the property and 400m from the old town.
Experience a colorful Christmas extravaganza at Nuremburg
4. Linz — Austria
Lose yourself in the spicy aroma of freshly baked gingerbread and Linzertorte in the Austrian city of Linz.
Located between Vienna and Salzburg in Upper Austria, the city lights up with festive cheer when the holidays come around.
Like the dates of the Christmas market in Nuremburg, the Linz Christmas market also begins around late November. Its primary location is the Main Square. With a backdrop of beautiful baroque buildings and the old town hall, this is a 2 for 1 trip.
Near to the main train station is the Christmas market in the Volksgarten; a market traditionally for families. Browse the standard wooden stalls, jump on some rides, and watch the nativity play.
Take home one or two traditional gingerbread cookies from the Linz Christmas market
5. St Wolfgang — Austria
The Christmas cheer extends to plenty more towns and cities in the Upper Austrian region.
St Wolfgang is another fairy tale-like town that feels like it was made just for Christmas. Lantern-lit roads, Christmas trees and a floating light of peace lantern on the lake welcomes you to its shores.
Try one of the town’s local specialties at its Advent Christmas market or watch master craftspeople making vintage handicrafts. St Wolfgang knows how to do Christmas and they do it well.
Where to stay in St Wolfgang — best Christmas cities in Europe
Wake up to views of the crystalline blue Lake Wolfgang at the stunning Hotel Seevilla Wolfgangsee.
The hotel has a small spa center, a 10m infinity pool and a restaurant with a lakeside terrace.
A scene of serenity on Lake Wolfgang in Austria
6. Prague — Czech Republic
This next Christmas market needs no introduction.
Prague has built up a stellar reputation for its Christmas markets and for good reason. Towards the end of November, the Czech capital is transformed into a Christmas wonderland.
A grand 19m tall tree is erected in Old Town Square to symbolize the start of the festive season.
The square’s also one of 5 Christmas market locations in Prague. Just 5 minutes’ walk away is the Christmas market in Wenceslas Square. You can also find some smaller markets at St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle and at Republic Square.
Eat well, drink well — best Christmas cities in Europe
When in Prague, you know you’re going to eat and drink very well. After you’ve finished shopping for gifts at the many decorated wooden huts, it’s time to unwind.
A classic drink at this time of year, a steaming mug of mulled wine, or svařák, goes down very well. Naturally, if you love your beer, you’re in the right place in Prague. The country’s renowned for it. Don’t believe me? The Czech Republic currently holds the title of being the world’s biggest consumers of beer.
After a few drinks, you’re going to need something to soak up all that alcohol. Just some of the treats you can look forward to include spit-roasted hams, barbecued sausages and cheese-topped flatbreads.
Where to stay in Prague
You’re spoiled for options for accommodation in Prague. If a central location is what’s most important, you should look around Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square.
Mosaic House Design Hotel is a gorgeous boutique choice in Prague. With 94 rooms, the hotel’s 1.3km from the old town. Beautiful inside and out, it’s perfect for Prague.
For a unique, and very affordable option, why not consider booking an Airbnb? This one is a Royal Residence Apartment, and just a 7-minute walk from the old town.
A Christmassy scene in Prague
7. St. Gallen — Switzerland
Step into an old town in northeast Switzerland illuminated by 700 sparkling lights. St. Gallen is a name you’ve probably not heard of, but for Christmas lovers, it’s one to know.
The St. Gallen Christmas markets stalls are located in the streets of the old town. Traditional as it’s charming, it’s where you can find locally-made Christmas presents as well as delicacies.
Swiss Raclette cheese and authentic St. Gallen bratwurst are just some of the delights you can expect to find.
While here, be sure to visit the Christmas tree located in front of the baroque towers of the cathedral.
St. Gallen by night
The Swiss Santa Claus — best Christmas cities in Europe
We’re all familiar with the story of Santa Claus, a figure we associate originating from Lapland in Finland.
However, there’s a Swiss contender, and he comes from a village near to St. Gallen called Weinacht.
Willi Würzer, a former manager of the village’s post office, is the Swiss Santa Claus. He receives letters not only from Swiss children, but also from children as far as Japan and Brazil.
They address him as ‘the Santa Claus of Wienacht-Tobel’. Willi receives up to 200 letters a day in the run-up to Christmas. To date, he has received around 5,000 letters.
Where to stay in St. Gallen
Being a small town, the number of options to stay in St. Gallen are surprisingly aplenty. Located besides the UNESCO monastery area is Einstein St. Gallen.
A leading hotel in the town, the rooms are luxurious yet affordable for this part of Switzerland.
Just as pretty by day, St. Gallen
8. Gdańsk — Poland
The port city of Gdańsk oozes plenty of charm, more so in the run-up to Christmas. Its historic buildings date to the 14th century, many of which had to be rebuilt after the Second World War.
Today, the landmarks and buildings of the old town of Gdańsk provide the perfect backdrop for its Christmas markets.
Typically starting in late November, the Christmas market in Gdańsk usually takes place around Targ Węglowy in the old town. Come to browse the market stalls, and watch some of the cultural events taking place during the season.
Gdańsk is also the only Polish market to be nominated for European best Christmas market award. Plan your trip and find out for yourself.
Where to stay in Gdańsk
Located in one of the most beautiful streets in Gdańsk is Gotyk House. Situated in a building that dates to 1453, the accommodation’s warm, rustic and very welcoming.
The hotel also has a terrace, a library and a museum in the building.
Gather around the ginormous Christmas tree in Gdańsk
9. Warsaw — Poland
The Polish capital isn’t as known for its Christmas markets compared to other larger European cities.
In truth, the main market, which takes place near Warsaw Castle, is much smaller than others I’ve been to. On the plus side, it was far less crowded and also much cheaper for goods and for food and drink.
More than 1 — best Christmas cities in Europe
There were also 2 other smaller Christmas markets nearby. One’s near a Catholic church, just before the castle, and the other’s in the old town market place.
What Warsaw lacks in size regarding its Christmas markets, it more than makes up for in festive spirit.
Come Christmastime, a parade of lights and a traditional Christmas tree illuminate the city. Dive into any of the small nearby bars for a glass of gluwein and an escape from the cold.
Take a look at my guide on what to pack for Poland in winter and ward off the seasonal chills.
Where to stay in Warsaw
The Warsaw Christmas market in the old town takes about 15 minutes on foot, or 5 minutes by taxi.
Watch Warsaw light up come Christmastime
10. Strasbourg — France
A city that has a tagline of the ‘capital of Christmas’, Strasbourg is a no-brainer European holiday option.
When Christmas arrives, the capital of the Grand Est region in northeast France hosts more than 300 market stalls. A city littered with fairy lights, you’ll see Strasbourg lit up from streets and houses to churches and balconies.
The Strasbourg Christmas markets usually begin around the end of November, and finishes at the end of December. As always, check the website for the most up-to-date details. You’ll find all of the markets, 11 in total, in the Grande Île area (historic center) of the city.
One of the larger markets holds the title of France’s oldest Christmas market. Christkindelsmärik takes place in Place Broglie and has been welcoming visitors for four centuries.
Another of Strasbourg’s festive star attractions is its grand Christmas tree. Located in Place Kléber, the luminous fir overlooks the holiday festivities and instantly ignites festive cheer.
Nearing the German border, the city’s location reflects its dual heritage. A mix of French and German culture as well as its architecture, Strasbourg is more than a one-stop shop destination.
Where to stay in Strasbourg
Le Moon is just 350m from the Strasbourg Christmas market, making it an ideal choice for your stay.
The 19th century building has colorful contemporary rooms and everything you need for a comfortable stay in the city.
Gather around the sparkling Christmas tree in Strasbourg
11. Reims — France
Another in the Grand Est region of northeast France is the spectacular city of Reims. The city’s most known for its grand Cathédrale Notre-Dame, the coronation place of France’s kings.
However, when the holidays arrive, the ‘unofficial capital’ of the Champagne region also becomes well known for its Christmas festivities.
With around 140 chalet-style huts selling a variety of gifts, crafts, and refreshments, there’s plenty to keep you busy.
The Children’s Kingdom promises plenty of entertainment in the form of an ice-skating rink and activity-based workshops.
Just 45 minutes by train from Paris, there’s no excuse not to visit France’s third largest Christmas market.
Where to stay in Reims
The ultra-chic and stylish Continental Hotel is a top choice for Reims. Housed in a 19th century building, it offers modern rooms and is also close to top sights like Cathédrale Notre-Dame.
The facade of Cathédrale Notre-Dame in Reims, France
12. Bolzano — Italy
The mountainous region, that spans across the north of Italy and borders with Austria, is ideal for a winter getaway.
And one city in particular, Bolzano, transforms into a Christmas spectacle. Located in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, the city embraces the holidays and everything that comes with it.
A change from the norm — best Christmas European cities
A white Christmas tree substitutes the standard green one, shedding a dazzling array of light and colors over the town.
Italy’s biggest Christmas market is in Bolzano, selling only locally-produced items like slippers and hats to cakes and scented candles. In fact, it’s against the law here to sell any other products than locally made.
Complete your Bolzano Christmas experience by sampling some of the region’s finest produce. Sink your teeth into a freshly made apple fritter and wash it down with some spiced mulled wine.
Where to stay in Bolzano
Just 500m from the Christmas market and 800m from the Bolzano Victory Monument is Goldenstern Townhouse. Luxurious furnishings run throughout this rustic hotel.
With just 11 rooms, this design boutique’s a top choice in Bolzano.
Bolzano Christmas market, one of several Christmas cities in Europe
13. Lake Carezza — Italy
Just 20 minutes’ drive from Bolzano is the tiny town of Lake Carezza.
As its names suggests, the serene lake acts as a backdrop to the small, yet charming, Christmas market. When snow falls, the scene becomes a winter playground, enveloping the entire scene within its powdery white mitts.
Located in the Eggental (Val d’Ega) region of South Tyrol, Lake Carezza is a Christmas hidden gem in Italy.
Extra Italy Christmas stop: Gubbio
If visiting the world’s largest Christmas tree is on your bucket list, you need to visit the town of Gubbio.
Sitting in the Umbria region of Italy, Gubbio’s famous for its luminous tree that lights up the slope of Ingino Mount. While the tree isn’t technically a tree, its dazzling number of lights are sure to leave you speechless.
Lake Carezza transforms into a dreamy scene come winter
14. Vigo — Spain
Lights, lights and more lights are what you can expect at Christmastime in the Spanish city of Vigo.
Each year, the city goes out of its way to make sure that the festive displays outdo the previous years.
To give you an idea, it’s estimated that the lights will cover over 300 streets and 465 trees. With some trees reaching heights of around 60m, there’s no escaping Christmas in Vigo.
Where to stay in Vigo
Unwind on the sun rooftop terrace after a long day of exploring the city at Agua de Mar Hotel boutique. Add a touch of color to your stay in one of these elegant rooms, which offer plenty of natural light.
Be prepared for jaw-dropping Christmas lights in Vigo, Spain
15. Jijona (Xixona) — Spain
What if you love Christmas but hate the cold weather?
Lucky for you, a European solution comes in the form of Jijona, or Xixona, located on Spain’s east coast.
Typically taking place around the first week of December, Constitution Avenue is transformed into the Jijona Christmas fair.
The event has around 90 stalls, selling everything from Christmas decorations and turrón to seasonal sweets and local produce.
Enjoy a taste of Spanish Turrón in Xixona
16. London — United Kingdom
There’s no lack of glitz and glamour when the holidays come to the UK capital.
London’s Christmas lights displays are some of the best in the world, with crowds gathering to photograph them.
Spoiled for choice for Christmas lights locations, you’ll need to carefully plan your trip around the zone 1 tube map.
Naturally, the capital also has several Christmas markets to get you into the festive mood. Areas like London Southbank, Winter Wonderland and Somerset House are just a handful of locations that host festive events.
Where to stay in London — best Christmas cities in Europe
Choosing where to stay in London can be tough, simply because it’s a big city. The Soho Hotel, Firmdale Hotels, is one of many top boutique choices.
Staying here guarantees a central location in London and is within walking distance of the city’s top attractions. We stayed at its sister hotel in New York City, the Crosby Street Hotel, and had the best time.
Alternatively, you may also consider booking an Airbnb. There are several top central London Airbnbs and all at reasonable prices too.
London has some of the most dazzling Christmas lights displays
17. Manchester — United Kingdom
When November arrives in Manchester, its world-famous football team isn’t the only draw to the city.
Beginning around the second week of November, the city hosts several Christmas markets, the main one located in Albert Square.
You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re somewhere in Germany or Austria when you see the Manchester Christmas markets.
There’s an impressive number of chalets and stalls — over 300 in total across the city. Featuring goods and produce from local sellers, as well as European vendors, there’s a solid international vibe that runs throughout.
Where to stay in Manchester
Sleek and stylish, Dakota Manchester offers guests a central choice. Its 137 rooms have the latest mod-cons installed plus rainforest showers and en-suite bathrooms.
Market Street is an easy 5-minute walk, while Manchester Piccadilly Station is 3 minutes away.
An international flair at the Manchester Christmas market
18. Tallinn — Estonia
A city that exudes charm anytime of the year, Tallinn becomes something even more special when Christmas arrives.
One thing you can bet on when visiting Tallinn in winter is snow, and plenty of it. The Tallinn Christmas market usually begins in mid-November and lasts until the beginning of January.
Its main location is the Town Hall Square (Raekoja plats) in the heart of the old town. Close to the medieval restaurant, Olde Hansa, you’ll instantly be enamored by the festive display.
There’s an impressive number of chalets and stalls — over 300 in total across the city. Featuring goods and produce from local sellers, as well as European vendors, there’s a solid international vibe that runs throughout.
Lots going on — best European Christmas cities
A short 15-minute drive from the center is the Estonian Open-air Museum. Its winter program typically features a Christmas village, where you can watch demonstrations on historic bread baking and handicrafts.
Where to stay in Tallinn
The Golden Piglet Inn at Hotel Schlössle is a must try for traditional homestyle Estonian cooking.
Tallinn in winter gets my vote for being one of the best Christmas cities in Europe
19. Gothenburg — Sweden
Visit the most Christmassy city in Sweden, and one that holds the title of the country’s biggest Christmas market.
Illuminated by around 5 million (you read that correctly) Christmas lights, the event takes place at Liseburg amusement park. The market typically starts around mid-November and finishes at the end of December.
Highlights of the event include the market stalls, an ice-skating rink and a chance to sample some Swedish Christmas delicacies. A ‘julbord’ is a Swedish-style buffet consisting of hot and cold dishes. From spiced saffron buns to Christmas ham, it’s one that foodie travelers shouldn’t dare miss.
Gothenburg is also home to smaller Christmas markets outside of Liseburg. The Haga quarter of the city’s old town hosts its own event, selling items such as Christmas decorations and homeware.
Where to stay in Gothenburg — best Christmas cities in Europe
With Carpe Diem beds and Egyptian cotton bedding, a good night’s sleep is guaranteed at Dorsia Hotel and Restaurant.
Located at the center of Gothenburg, this lavish hotel is a short walk of many of the city’s main sights.
Browse the displays at the Haga Christmas market in Gothenburg
20. Copenhagen — Denmark
Get a big dose of hygge at Christmas with a holiday trip to the Danish capital of Copenhagen. There are tons of events to get you in the festive mood, such as the Christmas market in Tivoli Garden.
A classic attraction all year round, Tivoli Garden transforms into a festive playpen of Christmas activities. Snow-covered trees, wooden huts and more than 70,000 glittering baubles await you at this Copenhagen favorite.
The Christmas market usually starts around mid-November and ends at the beginning of January. Check the website before visiting.
Kayaks and carols
During the parade, the kayakers make several stops to belt out a few Christmas carols. An Instagrammable sight to capture and something you won’t see anywhere else.
Where to stay in Copenhagen
Have the Copenhagen Christmas market right on your doorstep with a stay at the super luxurious Nimb Hotel.
With just 38 rooms — 26 of which are suites — this dreamy boutique hotel is a class above the rest.
A Christmas sight at night, Tivoli Garden
Would you like to spend the Christmas holidays in Europe? Which of these cities or towns would you most like to visit? Let me know in the comments below.
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Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....