19 Best Places to Spend Christmas in Europe for a Perfect Winter Escape

City, sunny, or storybook? We've got your perfect Christmas escape!

best places to spend Christmas

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.

1. Bern, Switzerland

bern switzerland best places to spend christmas in europe

If you want a storybook Christmas all the trimmings, Bern is perfect.

Nothing says Christmas quite like the snowy winter wonderland of Switzerland. The romance of Bern’s medieval old town decked out in gold lights for the Christmas season is possibly unparalleled in Europe. There are, of course, fantastic Christmas markets, plenty of cozy cafes where you can warm up with a hot chocolate, and lots of shopping if your Christmas list needs some crossing off.

But the best winter activity in Bern? Hit the slopes of the Gurten for some of the best toboganning action you’ll ever see.

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2. Transylvania, Romania

rooftops in transylvania romania Best Places to Spend Christmas in Europe

Transylvania’s picturesque villages provide the perfect setting for a charming Christmas.

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.

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Bucharest | Sibiu

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Bucharest | Sibiu

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3. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina

birds take flight in sarajevo bosnia & Herzegovina

With snowshoeing, winter hiking, and plenty of cafes, Sarajevo is an ideal place for Christmas.

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.

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4. Hallstatt, Austria

snowy houses on lake in hallstatt austria

Hallstatt is a perfect Christmas village.

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!

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5. Tromso, Norway

northern lights over water in tromso norway

Northern Lights in Tromso, best seen in the winter.

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.

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6. Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

ice cathedral in Rovaniemi, Lapland, Finland

Snow architecture is one of the many highlights of a Christmas visit to Rovaniemi.

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.

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7. Prague, Czech Republic

castle in the snow prague czech republic

There’s no fairy tale city quite like Prague in winter.

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.

(Don’t miss: Our guide to finding the best vegan food in Prague)

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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.

8. Gran Canaria, Spain

beach palm trees boats in gran canaria spain

Gran Canaria is the hottest European destination for Christmas. Perfect for a beachy escape.

If you want serious winter warmth without leaving Europe, the Canary Islands — which sit farther south than much of the Sahara Dessert — are the best place to get it.

Spend Christmas Day lying on the beach re-upping your Vitamin D stores and then head out for turkey and all the trimmings, provided by one of Gran Canaria’s many Christmas-minded restaurants. Sounds a lot like Christmas, minus all the stress!

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9. Palma de Majorca, Spain

people swimming in a bay in Palma de Majorca, Spain

Combine warm weather with Christmas cheer in Palma.

If you’re after warm weather but you don’t want to give up on the Christmas atmosphere, a winter break in Palma de Majorca delivers the best of both worlds. On average, it’s 10 degrees warmer than most European cities and you’ll get much more sunshine than you would up north.

Meanwhile, every building is adorned with Christmas lights twinkling their little hearts out and the Christmas market is the perfect place to find hand-crafted decorations for you Palma hotel room. If you want to engage in the true meaning of Christmas, grab a spot in the Palma Cathedral for its spectacular Midnight Mass.

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10. Algarve, Portugal

rock arches on the beach algarve portugal

There’s endless beautiful coastline and sunshine in Portugal’s Algarve region.

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!

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11. Malta

yellow boat on the water with medieval city in the background valletta malta

The walled cities of Malta make a special place to spend Christmas.

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!

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12. Sicily

mist descends over a hilltop castle in sicily italy

Food, wine, and fantastic views… Sicily is great place to spend Christmas.

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?

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Palermo | Taormina | Syracuse

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Palermo | Taormina | Syracuse

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13. Kalamata, Greece

red rooftops and church in kalamata greece

Head to the south of Greece for a perfect European Christmas.

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!

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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.

14. Monte Carlo, Monaco

city lights on the water in monte carlo monaco

Monaco is perfect for a high-rolling Christmas and a New Year’s Eve to remember.

For a high-rolling Christmas with plenty of sunshine and party potential, head down to Monaco! The spectacular cliffside sea coast will take your breath away during the day, as will the veritable forest of Christmas trees that grows annually in Casino Square.

Your evenings will be dominated by formal wear, champagne, cocktails, and high-stakes poker. Of course, no holiday season in Monaco is complete unless you stick around for the most impressive New Year’s Eve celebrations anywhere in Europe.

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15. Aarhus, Denmark

woman pushing bicycle past christmas trees in aarhus denmark

Soak up the Danish Christmas spirit in Aarhus.

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.

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16. Dubrovnik, Croatia

main street of dubrovnik croatia decorated for christmas

Snuggle up in Dubrovnik for Christmas.

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.

Did you know Dubrovnik also makes a fantastic place for a Game of Thrones-inspired vacation?

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17. Salzburg, Austria

snow park and city in salzburg austria

Salzburg is synonymous with Christmas.

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.

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Discover and book the top attractions in Salzburg

18. Helsinki, Finland

christmas lights strung over a street in helsinki finland

Is winter the best season to visit Helsinki?

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.

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19. London, England

christmas fair in london with london eye in fairly lights

Happy Chrimbo, London-style.

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!

(Don’t miss our guide to the best vegan food in London‘s fabulous east end)

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.

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Don’t miss out on these top London attractions

We recommend these travel companies & resources

These are our favourite tools and companies for planning and booking your travels in Europe. We have used all of them and recommend them for their dedication to providing you great travel experiences.

  1. Best travel gear: Minimalist Packing Guide
  2. Cheap flights: Kiwi.com
  3. Hotel savings: Booking.com
  4. Small group adventures: Intrepid Travel
  5. Mindful journeys: BookYogaRetreats & BookMeditationRetreats
  6. Convenient travel insurance: World Nomads

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

Some of the links in this post are our own personal affiliate links. That means that if you buy something using one of these links we’ll earn a little commission at no extra cost to you. It helps us keep this blog going, so thanks in advance! –S&J

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. #europe #christmas #winter #travel

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  8. Comment by Karin

    Karin May 31, 2018 at 7:00 pm

    Hi, this is a very helpful post! I’m thinking of travelling to Eastern Europe with my boyfriend over the Christmas period and was doing some research, but it seems like many towns kind of shut down on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Are there any towns you’d recommend us to go where shops, museums and cafes would still be available? We just want to avoid being the only few tourists roaming the streets in need of some food/entertainment on Christmas Day – that’d be very sad haha! Thanks in advance for your help :)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane June 1, 2018 at 8:50 am

      There won’t be a lot open across Europe on Christmas Day. You’ll have the best luck in the biggest cities – in London you’ll still find a few pubs open probably! I think you’ll be able to find restaurants open whereever you are. But museums and shops will be closed across Europe I’d imagine.

      You should be able to find some Christmas markets open on Christmas Day too, so that will take care of your food and mulled wine needs!

  9. Comment by The Jetset Boyz

    The Jetset Boyz November 25, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Five days in Vienna the weekend before Christmas has become a Jetset Boyz annual event. Vienna’s prettiest squares transform into magical Christmas markets. The aroma of Christmas baking & hot punch sets the mood in the run-up to Christmas.

    We usually stay at the Hilton Vienna Plaza because it’s so close to the fabulous Christmas market at the Rathaus and about five other markets. Last year there were fourteen different markets – you’re absolutely spoilt for choice and you’ll feel like a kiddy in a sweet shop! So, if you’ve never been to Vienna in December why not make a plan and do it this December?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 25, 2017 at 7:02 pm

      Wow, five days in Vienna every year sounds fantastic. Austria wins in my book as place with the most amazing Christmas destinations!


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