2023 update: This year I’ll be visiting Basel, Switzerland; Colmar, France; Strasberg, France; and Freiburg, Germany in early December. Can’t wait to share with you!
One of the best parts about moving to Europe has been experiencing it at Christmas time. Europe absolutely comes to life around the holidays and I am absolutely HERE FOR IT. Christmas markets, amazing food, beautiful scenery- it’s just pure magic. Here’s some destinations to consider visiting for Christmas on your next European getaway.
All things Christmas markets! My favorite markets were at Karlsplatz (right outside Karlskirche which is my favorite building in Vienna), Schönbrunn Palace (beautiful setting with lots of good food), and the market at Rathausplatz (touristy and busy, but if you go on a weekday or before 5 pm it’s worth it for the fun decor and lights). My must try Christmas market foods: punsch (warm cider), kartoffelpuffer (basically fried potato pancakes), and kaiserschmarrn (the most delicious sweet french toast-like pieces topped with plum compote).
If you’re looking for a fairytale Christmas experience, this picturesque city is it. Stay near the Town Hall Square in the old town and window shop and explore adorable streets to your hearts content. My must do is spending a night at the world famous Tallinn christmas market in the Town Hall Square. I also had one of the best burgers I’ve had in Europe at Kaerajaan Restaurant. Check out the views from the Kohtuotsa and Patkuli viewing platforms, and stop by the beautiful Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
Regent Street and Carnaby Street for shopping and Christmas lights, Hamley’s toy store, Covent Gardens for shopping and Christmas decor, The Breakfast Club Soho for an amazing breakfast, Portobello Road for markets and window shopping in Notting Hill, and the Sun In Splendor pub for Sunday roast!
Salzburg is my favorite city in Austria and it’s pure magic at Christmas! Enjoy the large Christmas markets on Residenzplatz and Mariensäule. For sunset, I recommend taking the Festungs Bahn or walking up to Fortress Hohensalzburg, which has the best views overlooking the city. Don’t forget to walk along the famous Getreidegasse Street where you can see Mozart’s birthplace.
I only spent one day in Helsinki but it’s the perfect day trip from Tallinn, Estonia via a 2 hour ferry ride. The Christmas market held at Market Square was huge and had a great variety of food and local products, We tried roasted chestnuts and reindeer, both delicious! Make sure to also visit the close by Helsinki and Uspenski Cathedrals. I also recommend grabbing hot chocolate and a warm cinnamon bun (a local favorite) at the cute Cafe Regatta.
The main reason I wanted to visit Krakow was to see the famous Christmas cribs (Szopki) exhibit. These are the Polish versions of nativity scenes and are intricate and amazing, seeing them was a highlight of my Christmas season! Make sure to go to the main square (Rynek Główny) to visit the Christmas market and massive Christmas tree right in front of St. Mary’s Basilica. Walk down the popular shopping streets Floriańska and Grodzka to window shop and see Christmas lights. Take Grodzka Street all the way to the stunning Wawel Cathedral and Royal Castle. And whatever you do, make SURE you get a donut (or two) from Dobra Pączkarnia, it was hands down the best donut I’ve had in Europe 😋
Prague, Czech Republic
Unfortunately, when I went to Prague the biggest Christmas market was closed due to Covid. However there were still small pop up booths throughout the city selling local goods and typical Christmas market food. The big Christmas tree at the Old Town Square was one of the prettiest I’ve seen and the whole city was decorated. Of course make sure to visit the famous Charles Bridge as well as Prague Castle where you’ll find the best views of the city.
Nürnberg is a beautiful city in Germany and should be visited anytime of the year, but it’s especially magical at Christmas! Make sure to visit the Frauenkirche in the hauptmarkt to get a chance to climb up to the church’s balcony overlooking the main Christmas market. When we went it was free (you can make a donation to the church) and we were the last people let up before it closed at 9 pm. The view is amazing! Kids or no kids, you should definitely visit the Kinderweihnachtmarkt! It was so fun and pretty with its ferris wheel and merry-go-round, plus the kinderpunsch is cheaper here. Overall, we just loved how the whole city center felt like a Christmas market. Stalls everywhere with great food options, you can’t go wrong.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
This market is much smaller than Nürnberg but the aesthetic of this gingerbread-feeling village should not be missed! Just wander the streets to see the most picturesque scenes and to shop in many Christmas stores. You can pay €2.50 per person to climb the Town Hall Tower for the most AMAZING view over the village. Just be careful because the stairs are steep and slippery, and go early because it’s closed by 3 pm. The town definitely gets busy with tourists during the day, so visit early or stay late for photos/a bit more solitude.