December in the Northern Hemisphere is a winter wonderland! It’s the season of Christmas markets, twinkling lights, cosy fires and ice-skating rinks. Winter is truly a fantastic time to visit destinations across Europe! From the festivities in Amsterdam and snowy Switzerland to tasty treats in Belgium, picture-perfect Austria and the Christmas charm in Italy, Europe has something for everyone. In fact, in even more great news, if you don’t mind the cold weather, you’ll pay cheaper prices and have fewer people around when you travel Europe during winter!
Munich is freezing in winter. But this doesn’t mean the capital of Bavaria quiets down at all. If anything, December is the liveliest month of the year in Munich. Making it one of the best European cities to visit in winter. Streets are lit up with fairy and Christmas lights. Cathedrals and churches fill up with choir singing and organ music. You can plan your days around ice rinks, beer halls, palaces, museums, historical buildings and 24-hour Christmas markets. Marienplatz square is in the heart of the city centre. It is home to one of the most popular Christmas markets, where you’ll see a towering 100-feet Christmas tree! There, buy mulled wine, gingerbread, glassware and charming gifts.
Did you know? Our Eastern Highlights Christmas & New Year tour starts and ends in Munich!
Nowhere in the world is it as easy to get active in winter. Switzerland is the mecca of winter sports! Get active by skiing, sledging, snowshoeing or hiking. Not in the mood to get active? Take the cable car or train to Jungfraujoch (Europe’s highest train station) to enjoy the spectacular views! You will see snow-covered Swiss alps and massive glaciers! Or, snuggle up in front of the fire in a wooden chalet and eat Swiss chocolate and cheese. Winter in Switzerland is truly magical. It could be one of your best December vacations!
Bruges knows how to do winter! Imagine exploring a Flemish landscape guided by festive lights. You can walk through the medieval city centre and along the canals. Or you can listen to a free bell-ringing concert, take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage and take Christmas gift-buying to a whole new level with some of the best Christmas markets in Europe! Bruges is one of the chocolate capitals of Belgium. On every corner you can see chocolate connoisseurs. They make artisan truffles, salted caramels and pâte de fruit by hand – take the chance to explore all the interesting flavours. You can enjoy chocolate and wine (or beer) pairings at many of the local chocolatiers.
Rome is at its most beautiful in European winter! The cooler weather means fewer crowds and locals returning to the streets. With space to breathe you can fully appreciate the Italian culture. You also experience the smells and sights the city has to offer. If you’re in Rome or southern Italy over Christmas, keep an eye out for the bagpipe players (known as Zampognari). They travel from the nearby mountains to play their merry folklore carols. Enjoy Italy at Christmas time on our Taste of Italy Christmas and Taste of Italy New Year tours!
Travel tip: Italian hot chocolate is thick and enjoyed with a spoon. Ask for whipped cream (“panna” in Italian).
Tourists reap unexpected rewards in Amsterdam during winter. There is a long list of things to do even if the weather dips to lower temperatures. You can go to Christmas markets and museums (like Rijksmuseum and Anne Frankhuis). Or enjoy canal-side cafes and charming little shops selling stationery, art, photography and books. If it’s not too cold, go for a walk along the canals and warm up with a Nutella-stuffed crepe. Be sure to take in the Amsterdam Lights Festival which takes place during winter time!
Related: Not sure what to pack? Read our top packing tips for cold-weather travel here.
Like Rome, Venice has fewer people and is less expensive in winter. The chance of getting a quiet moment in a canal or square is better than at any other time of the year. Crisp and clear winter skies mean you can take a peaceful gondola ride and indulge in tasty pizza. Why not ignore the map to follow your nose around?
If you’re around from the end of January to mid-February, you can experience the annual Venice Carnival. What an amazing travelling experience! It was first held in Venice in the 11th century, this world-famous carnival is now hosted by the tourist board. For two weeks, locals and tourists can take part in classical concerts, grand masquerade balls, cocktail parties and party cruises. Find out everything you need to know about the Venice Carnival here!
Christmas time in Prague! What you can expect: The most beautiful architecture frosted with snow and lit up by twinkling lights and street lamps. Everything comes to a standstill as the locals head out for shopping and celebrations. Make your way to the Old Town Square for some barbecued pork, Czech muffins and other edible delights at the famous Christmas market!
Barcelona is Spain’s energetic second city! It’s a colourful and stunning city to visit in the wintertime. It is not too cold and often enjoys sunny, clear blue skies. This means you can enjoy open-air markets, ice skating rinks and even walks on the beach in the milder winter weather! Barcelona is home to amazing architecture including Gaudi’s famous La Sagrada Familia, incredible food markets, historic neighbourhoods and cosy fondue restaurants across the city.
Related: Enjoy Barcelona and more at Christmas time on the Spain & Portugal Christmas tour!
Swedish Christmas food is a must! Smoked sausages, meatballs, reindeer meat (yes, it’s considered a delicacy here) gingerbread and hot glögg (Swedish spiced wine) are a few tasty treats that must be tried! Christmas markets are held four weeks before Christmas and some are traditional while others are more modern. Visit the Old Town for a genuine Stockholm Christmas.
Did you know? The Swedish word for Christmas is “Jul”. Everywhere you go locals will say, ” God Jul”, which means Merry Christmas.
The largest Christmas markets can be found in beautiful Vienna. Festively decorated market squares turn into magical Christmas markets. You can smell the aromas of candied fruit, hot punch and roasted chestnuts. At the Viennese Christmas market, children can learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles. They can enjoy this inside the City Hall (ground floor). The Christmas Market at Schönbrunn Palace is converted into a New Year’s market after Christmas. Here, you can buy traditional Austrian gifts like hand-crafted glass decorations, ceramics and the most spectacular baked goods. With dozens of entertainment venues in Vienna, there is something for everyone; young and old! You can experience chapels, theatres or even live acts on street corners.
Europe is festive in winter. There are no two ways about it. It’s one of the best places to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve! Everyone should experience it at least once in their lives. It’s not too late to book an unforgettable trip to Europe over Christmas and New Years. Find out more about our delightful European Christmas and New Year tours.
We’ll deliver top travel tips, insider info and travel inspiration right to your inbox.