If you’re in desperate need of a winter escape, or the travel bug just can’t wait for summer, then book yourself a ticket to one of the best places to spend Christmas in Europe.
When it comes to Christmas breaks, Europe is awash with great possibilities.
There are tiny seaside towns with deserted beaches that bake in the midday sunshine. There are grand cities, where you can enjoy candlelit dinners by crackling fires. And, there are rural villages, where locals pause on the way to market for a gossip session with their neighbours.
Whatever your idea of a perfect Christmas destination, Europe can deliver.
Having lived in London for 10 years, we had plenty of time explore Europe and choose our top picks for…
The Best Places to Spend Christmas in Europe
Best Places in Europe for a Storybook Christmas
If you want a Christmas holiday straight out of Hans Christian Andersen, where snow falls in big fluffy flakes, sticking to your nose and eyelashes, these places should be at the top of your list.
While we can’t promise a white Christmas (that’s climate change for ya), we can promise days of wandering down narrow, twisty streets, and evenings curled up by the fire with a mug of steaming hot chocolate.
Are you a fan of those creepy fairytales, where wicked fairies and handsome vampires walk among us? Then Transylvania is your perfect Christmas destination. Its charming towns, like Brasov and Sibiu, feature huge town squares where you can sip hot apple cider while nosing around the outdoor market. Depending on your age and upbringing, the soaring church spires and roofs with eyes will have you looking over your shoulder for vampires, werewolves, or the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Photo by Michael Büker via Wikimedia Commons
Earlier this year, I spent a few days in Sarajevo and absolutely fell in love with the city. Nestled in a narrow valley, with mountains rising on all sides, the city is as picturesque as it is enticing. You can rent incredible apartments in Sarajevo at incredibly cheap prices and the culture, history, and cuisine are all captivating. Plus, you can go snowshoeing up Trebevic Mountain!
Yup, Sarajevo might just be the perfect winter city break in Europe.
One year, just before Christmas, my Mom and I took a trip through Austria, where my grandfather was born. The entire country is one big Christmas card, but Hallstatt, a tiny mountain village in Salzkammergut, wins the Christmas crown. The gingerbread houses of Hallstatt cling to the shore of Lake Hallstatt and the mountains rise steeply all around. With snow falling gently on cobbled streets and the town’s lights dancing in the glassy lake, Hallstatt might be the most romantic Christmas town on Earth.
I should probably go there with Stephen next time!
We have been to Tromso, Norway in high summer and experienced the midnight sun as it dips briefly below the horizon before rising again on a new day. Though locals have warned us against it, I’d love to experience the opposite; I imagine cold dark days sitting wrapped in a blanket by the roaring fire, reading classic novels and sipping glass after glass of Aquavit. When I did venture outside, it would be to feel the soft crunch of snow underfoot and to gaze in awe at the mysterious Northern Lights as they dance overhead. Gorgeous.
Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland
If you think Santa comes from the North Pole, you have obviously never met a Finn. Santa really hails from Rovaniemi, Lapland, so there’s no way we could leave the frosty northern town off of our Christmas list. We’ve never been there, but with the chance to sleep in an igloo, go ice-climbing, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing, plus getting to visit Santa at his office (his home is in a secret location), Rovaniemi seems like the perfect Christmas destination.
Prague, Czech Republic
Until earlier this year, we’d never been to Prague. On our first morning in the city, we woke up to a fluffy snow falling lightly past our window. In Prague, strolling along the charming streets to find the best cup of hot chocolate in the city could become a full-time occupation—one I would willingly accept as my Christmas duty.
Best Places in Europe to Spend a Sunny Christmas
I’m not going to lie – if you’re looking for a hot sun-drenched Christmas where you can lie on the beach in your bikini 24 hours a day, Europe is not going to provide it. Even the warmest European destinations get a little chilly in the winter.
But, if you just want a place where the bright, hot sun shines most of the day and you can curl up by the fire at night, here are our four favourite places to spend a sunny Christmas in Europe.
Photo by Bruno Carlos via Wikimedia Commons
Last year for Christmas, Stephen and I secured a housesit in the Algarve, thinking we’d have a hot sunny Christmas while all our friends in the north shivered in their big winter coats. And we were right! By day, there was nude tanning by the pool (sorry, no photos!) and yoga on the rooftop. But don’t forget to pack your wooly hat and your scarf because when the sun goes down in the Algarve, so does the temperature!
We got to spend a few days on this little island nation last year and it was as exotic as it gets without leaving the EU. There will be plenty of opportunities to take long walks on the beach or sit in the sun with a cocktail in hand. But Malta is much more than beaches – it’s a fabulous cultural and historical destination as well, with atmospheric walled cities, dusty side streets, and a north African vibe. Very Game of Thronesy!
Old world Italian culture, adorable hill towns, mountains of delicious food, and the hot Sicilian sun makes Sicily one of our favourite winter destinations. Also, let’s not forget about the free flowing red wine that is cheaper than apple juice (and much more fun). Plus, cannoli. Can we go back right now?
Photo by G Da, CC BY-SA 3.0
When we were very small children (OK, we were 25) we spent an idyllic Christmas in the town of Kalamata, Greece, on the very southern coast of the Peloponnese Peninsula. We were the only tourists in town and we had to beg the villagers to roust the innkeeper from his slumber to rent us a room. Every night, at the only open restaurant in town, we were plied with free ouzo by the proprietor and by day, we were invited for coffee with curious locals.
It was all very exotic, romantic, and the perfect place to spend our first Christmas away from our families. I suspect Kalamata has progressed somewhat in the intervening decades but I’ve no doubt you’ll still find a charming, welcoming, and above all, sunny town!
Best Places in Europe for a City Break at Christmas
It’s no secret that Europe has some of the most amazing cities on Earth, where you can visit world class museums, stroll along city walls, soak up the festive atmosphere at a Christmas market, and then end the day dining at some of the best restaurants in the world.
A city break at Christmas is especially fabulous because you can smugly watch the locals rush off to do their holiday shopping while you sip on red wine in a snug little pub, congratulating yourself on deciding to spend your money on travel instead of stuff.
These are our picks for the best places in Europe for a Christmas city break.
When we visited earlier this year, I fell in love with Aarhus, Denmark. It is small enough to be walkable and bikeable but big enough to be a cultural destination as well. The addition of a Christmas market, tobogganing, and festive concerts during the holidays fills Aarhus with the Christmas spirit.
At any time of year, wandering Dubrovnik’s mysterious streets is a romantic journey through history. Though you won’t see any snow on a Dubrovnik Christmas holiday, the Dubrovnik Winter Festival lights up the city with winter cheer. To add to the festivity, cosy up in D’vino Wine Bar with a glass or a tasting flight of Croatian red and watch the city go by.
I was raised watching The Sound of Music every Christmas which means that Salzburg and Christmas are synonymous in my mind. With its romantic cobbled lanes and alleys decked with lights and boughs of holly, and plentiful coffee houses serving the world’s best pastries, Salzburg is ideal for a winter getaway. Even if you’re more Mos Def than Mozart, make sure to catch a classical music concert while there for the full Salzburg experience.
Photo by Sigketill via Wikimedia Commons
Whenever we travel to northern Europe in summer, people always say “It’s lovely now but you wouldn’t want to be here in winter!” But that’s not entirely true. Helsinki in the summer is gorgeous. But Helsinki in the snow and cold, with its array of fabulous architecture and snug cafes where you can while away an afternoon, makes it one of our best places to spend Christmas.
Photo by Christine Matthews
As the place where we learned the meaning of “Chrimbo” and that Christmas is not complete without a LOT of unbridled drinking, London holds a special Christmassy place in our hearts. The Christmas party season in London is unparalleled—if your calendar isn’t full of corporate-sponsored free-food free-booze shindigs you’re missing out! If you’re not a London resident, you can always get in on the Christmas fun by visiting the massive Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, the next best thing to being in Bavaria for Christmas.
Here are a few books to inspire your Christmas escape:
Of course, it’s not just these places in Europe that call to us during the holidays.
If we could beam ourselves home to family and friends right now, we would. The problem is, our favourite people are scattered across the globe so unless we hop on the back of Santa’s sleigh, we’ll never get to see even half of them.
So here’s to all of you, our favourite folks, wherever you may be in the world!
We wish you a very merry Christmas and peace, love, and happiness for the new year.
♥ Happy Christmas and Merry Holidays, Stephen & Jane