The holiday season in Europe is something to be experienced at least once your lifetime. The smell of the markets, twinkling lights and festive atmosphere made me fall in love with Christmas all over again.
Fortunately, I lived in Europe long enough to visit multiple countries during this season and I’ve compiled a list of the top spots to find the Christmas spirit!
This Alsatian city embodies the spirit of Christmas and I was in absolute awe during my time here. Canals flowing beside colorful timber homes make Strasbourg alone a romantic destination, now add elaborate decor hanging from every door and you have Christmas done right.
During the holidays, every building is decked out in the most ornate way and every street shines bright. They call it Capital de Noël for good reason, within the city center there are ten different markets with over 300 stalls to discover.
If you get tired of the local crafts, regional produce, and traditional decor, there is so much more to explore: visit the Cathedral, wander through Petite France or step into one of the city’s many museums.
You’ll need at least 3 days to soak up the atmosphere, tour the markets, and venture through the shops while making time to enjoy tasty dining stops.
To continue your Alsace tour, head further into the region and explore Colmar, another destination that oozes Christmas charm.
For more details on where to go and what to do check out my Strasbourg guide!
Germans are the Kings of Christmas and as the fourth largest city, Cologne offers an extravagant market experience!
Seven markets spread throughout the city that each entertain with different themes, cuisine, and artisanal products.
At the Cologne Cathedral there are over 150 stalls to sip, sample, and see artisans work. It also offers an impressive backdrop with the cathedral being the focal point displaying the Rhineland’s largest Christmas tree. Make this your starting point to begin exploring the market scene.
Cologne’s oldest market, Neumarkt Christmas Market, is known as the “Angels Market”. With chalets that glow and lights designed to shimmer like the starry night, this market is best visited when the sky is no longer light.
“Nicholas Village” can be found on the Rudolfplatz and with only 60 stalls, this market provides a cozy vibe. Activities geared towards children include the possibility of meeting St. Nicholas himself, making this an ideal stop for families with little ones.
Stroll over to Alter Market, surrounded by colorful houses and half-timbered stalls, the market is centered around an impressive open-air ice rink. It’s the perfect spot to pause your culinary explorations and test your skills on skates.
Located on harbor-front, overlooking the Rhine river, the Harbour Market offers a unique experience. It aims to inspire a nautical theme with sleek stalls peaked like ship sails and a wooden boat serving as the bar. If you’re in the mood for seafood and a lively atmosphere, be sure to make this maritime market.
On the edge of Cologne’s oldest park, conveniently tucked near a beer garden, you’ll find the Stadtgarten Market, most popular with the locals. A bit out of the way, it’s worth the trek for a relaxed, non-touristic ambiance.
Christmas Avenue is hosted by Cologne’s LGBTQ community. This market offers quality products, culinary delights as well as entertains with cabaret shows and colorful decor.
Attracting around 85 million visitors during the holiday season, Cologne can get quite crowded. It’s best to visit on a weekday and plan to arrive early. The market can be done as a day-trip, but if possible, stay a night or two for a more leisurely experience. Be sure to wear warm clothes and comfortable shoes and bring your appetite!
In contrast to Cologne, Monschau offers an alternative German Christmas experience. Nestled in the valley amongst the Eifel Hills, Monschau is a romantic medieval village that seems to have withstood the test of time. The charming atmosphere is amplified when the Christmas market comes alive. Between the timber-homes and cobbled streets, you’ll find wooden stalls that glimmer by night, where you can sample German delicacies, as well as browse handmade goods. Brass bands, carolers and St. Nick himself all make cameos during the market hours. Monschau seems to be one of Germany’s best-kept secrets and is guaranteed to make your yuletide dreams come true.
Be sure to note that the market takes place ONLY on weekends from mid-November to mid- December.
Ghent is one of my favorite Belgian cities and for good reason. It’s often overlooked by tourists venturing to visit its neighbor, Brugge, and has a lived-in, authentic feel set against stunning architecture and intricate canals. A moderately sized city, Ghent is easy to navigate on foot and the Gentse Winterfeesten is the perfect size to explore at an enjoyable pace. With a giant Ferris wheel taking center-stage, 150 stalls dispersed throughout the city, holiday pop-up bars and a themed Children’s Village, there is something for everyone. At this market, you will mingle with locals as you slowly meander through the streets absorbing the atmosphere and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to shop until you drop
Ghent is the perfect size for a day-trip or you could make a weekend out of it. The market runs from early December to early January so you will have plenty of time to explore!
As soon as the weather gets cold and dreary, the lights sparkle in London to keep you cheery. From November until the new year, London deserves the title of “best dressed” as the city becomes a winter wonderland with festivities that can’t be missed. London is an iconic destination to spend the holiday and with too many activities to choose from, I’ve narrowed it down to just a few. Take a gander and see what interests you.
Ice skating is one of London’s beloved winter traditions and there are multiple rinks available to make your wonderland dreams come true. Two stunning open-air locations are the ice-rink at the Natural History Museum and the Somerset House.
At the Natural History Museum, you will glide around the majestic Christmas tree under gleaming lights and the atmosphere will warm your soul, even on the coldest of nights.
Cost: £8.80/child and £12.65/adult
The Somerset House is a remarkable Neoclassical building that houses London’s working arts center. During the holiday season, it’s transformed into a winter wonderland and as a hub of creativity, there is more offered than just coasting on ice. With skate lessons, late-night DJ sets, a Christmas Arcade, and cafes, there is plenty to entertain.
Cost: £8.50/child and £11.00/adult
Pro Tip: Book your skate times in advance, as there are limited day-of tickets available at these locations.
Stroll along the South Bank and make your way to the Southbank Centre’s Winter Market where you can sip mulled wine and sample street food as you shop. Be sure to stop by Trafalgar Square and you can admire the Christmas tree Norway gifts to the U.K. each year.
Other festive activities include getting cozy in one of London’s pop-up igloo bars and the Coppa Club boasts some of the best igloo views over the Thames.
Click here for an extensive pop-up bar list!
For those who plan to ring in the new year, you won’t want to miss the epic fireworks display over the London Eye. And this website has all the info on how to best design your night!
There you have it.
Christmas in Europe, it doesn’t come from a store.
Christmas in Europe, it means a little bit more.
Until next time,