Whether you opt for a white Christmas in a cozy Swiss Alps chalet, experience an authentic Dickensian holiday in England, or make the trek to Santa’s official residence in Lapland, Europe offers myriad options for a magical yuletide. Here are some of the best ways to celebrate the season.
London pulls out all the stops when it comes to holiday decorations, with neighborhoods such as Chelsea, Oxford Street, and Belgravia covered in twinkling lights. If in the capital, be sure to take a black taxi tour of the Christmas illuminations. If in the countryside for the holidays, enjoy a pub lunch in Canterbury or tour some of Southern England’s top sites—Windsor, Stonehenge, Bath, and Lacock—crowd-free.
The always romantic France becomes even more so during the holidays, and you can experience the feeling while holiday shopping on the Champs-Elysées in Paris, strolling through the Christmas market in Alsace, touring the Christmas lights of Strasbourg, or visiting the lavish Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte decked in all the trappings of the holiday.
Italy offers a sunny holiday escape in Europe, perfect for those who want to avoid the snow. There’s plenty of holiday cheer to experience in Rome; tour the piazzas draped in lights, visit the nativity scenes in St. Peter’s Square, or attend a Christmas concert in a historic church. Naples hosts a lively Christmas market in the historic San Gregorio Armeno quarter, while the medieval town of Erice hosts a celebration featuring Sicilian carols, dancing, and local wine.
Spain’s cities put up truly elaborate Christmas decorations in December. Take a tour of Barcelona with a local to see the markets and learn about Catalan holiday traditions, sit down for a Christmas Eve dinner in Seville, or catch a special holiday flamenco performance in Madrid, accompanied by a traditional Spanish Christmas dinner.
Snowy Switzerland is stunning around Christmastime. Take in the winter landscapes on a day trip through the Swiss countryside from Geneva to Montreux, stroll through a Christmas market in Basel, or soak up the panoramic views on Jungfraujoch in Interlaken.
It’s easy to believe that Santa Claus calls Finnish Lapland—deep within the Arctic Circle—home. Those who brave the cold are rewarded with numerous magical experiences. Set out on a sleigh ride to see the northern lights in Rovaniemi, build gingerbread houses in a cozy Finnish cottage, meet St. Nick in SantaPark, or take a Christmas Day tour of Helsinki.
For many, Christmas in Europe is synonymous with Christmas markets, and Germany birthed this holiday tradition. Dresden lays claim to the country’s oldest Christmas market, while Berlin, Munich, and Cologne all put on lovely markets of their own.
Few places in the world are quite as picturesque as Austria during the holiday season. Soak up the winter scenery on a horse–drawn sleigh ride from Salzburg, attend Christmas Eve mass at the Silent Night Chapel in Oberndorf, or spend an afternoon visiting some of Austria’s top Christmas markets.