If the Christmas and New Year to you means snow, church, sledge rides and a picture postcard perfect scenery, then head out to these winter destinations in Europe. Decked up for the festive season, with Christmas markets and events lined up, these cities are straight out of your fairytale books. These European cities are steeped in history, and showcase some of the best medieval architecture. With few winter daylight hours the city centres are artificially lit, offering an out-of-the-world holiday experience for you. So look up these top winter destinations we have lined up for you.
1. Salzburg, Austria
For a quintessential Christmas experience, there is no other place like Salzburg, the city where Mozart, ‘Christmas Carol Silent Nights’ and ‘Sound of Music’ were born. Salzburg is as popular for its Christmas markets as for its music concerts and traditional nativity plays. Take a carriage around the Old Town, visit the Dom Cathedral, admire the spectacular Hohensalzburg Fortress, and check out Mozart’s Birthplace. Walk around the quaint streets or climb the funky train to Burg. Cruise the Wolfgangsee Lake and walk the pedestrian bridge spanning the Salazach river. Indulge in the “lovelock” tradition on the Makartsteg bridge, or have Yuletide adventure on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. Take a detour to Oberndorf on Christmas Eve and usher in the Christmas at Silent Night Chapel. Waltz into the New Year with Silvester fun and classic Bleigießen New Year tradition.
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen is a delightful city to visit over the Christmas holiday season, when tourist inflow is lighter and the holiday experience more ‘hygge’, the Danish word for the cosy and comfortable! Copenhagen oozes history with ancient castles and palaces, cobblestone narrow streets, old timber houses and Christmas markets. Shopping, dining at Michelin starred restaurants, cycling and skating at Frederiksberg Runddel, what more could you ask?
In Denmark, everything is designer chic and sustainable, an eclectic mix of the traditional and modern. Even the Christmas trees are decked up with white fairy lights and sophisticated dressing. Copenhagen is essentially the place for shopping. International labels, Danish fashion stores, designer household stuff, porcelain dinner ware and figurines, jewellery, Lego toys and more. With dozens of Christmas markets and quaint Christmas stalls along the canal, Copenhagen is the place to soak up Christmas fun.
3. Tallinn, Estonia
For a short winter getaway to a neighbourhood European city, visit the winter fairyland straight from the medieval times, Tallinn. The Old Town is at its most charming with red brick towers capped with snow. Walk around the old town, with hot chestnuts and mulled wine to chill your bones. Visit the stunning St. Alexander Nesky Cathedral, a place of worship for Estonia’s Russian Orthodox community. Or take the local tramway to the Christmas Market at Town Hall Square. Did you know that the Christmas tree tradition first began in this medieval town of Tallinn? This is also the birthplace of your traditional marzipan and the famous black bread, the Leib.
Stroll along the market stalls and capture the beauty of Tallinn at its winter best on your camera. It is the perfect place to cosy up with fine dining, fireside warmth and eco-spa for the ultimate winter holiday.
4. Aachen, Germany
Visit Germany this winter for a truly traditional Christmas experience. With cold temperatures, winter festivals, Christmas traditions and Christmas markets to soak in, Aachen is the best place to be. The squares and streets around the Cathedral and Town Hall undergo a festive makeover. The Aachen Christmas market is a wonderland of lights and aromatic smells, where you can warm yourself with hot spiced mulled wine Glühwein and savour the German Christmas Stollen fruitcake. A must-have is the Aachener Printen, a local gingerbread with the EU Protected Designation of Origin status! Visit the majestic Aachen cathedral, and check out the International Newspaper Museum and scores of historic gates. Warm your hands at the Elisa Fountain in the city centre, or drink Emperor’s Water at Elisenbrunnen. With its historic spa and sauna facilities, combined with winter sports, Aachen makes for an ideal destination to combine Christmas traditions with wellness.
5. Valley d’Aosta, Italy
The Aosta valley is for those who love a white Christmas with a touch of history, heritage and adventure. It is one of the most beautiful destinations with much more to offer than winter sports. Snow capped mountains tower over quaint villages, and a 2000 year old town, named after the Emperor Augustus.
Visit Saint Vincent for its thermal spa and licensed casinos, go hiking in snowshoes in the Gran Paradiso National Park or follow the Aosta valley wine route. Enjoy the thrill of a bobsleigh ride in Saint Oyen and take a helicopter ride for spectacular bird’s eye views. From gastronomic delights to whirlpool baths and themed saunas, holidaying in Aosta is luxury redefined. December is the best time to visit, for the International Hot Air Balloon Encounter, Living Nativity Scenes and spectacular end-of-year torchlight descent and fireworks at Cervinia.
6. Bruges, Belgium
If chocolate and beers in a sleepy snowy town gets you excited, then Bruges is the place to go this winter. Chief attractions are of course the Christmas markets and the winter Ice Sculpture Festival. Visit the market stalls at the Christmas market. Warm yourself with beer and hot chocolate drinks. Step into chocolatiers and carry chocolaty memoirs back home.
Bruges is a small medieval town that you can have almost to yourself in the cold winter, as you savour your R&R. Walk around the picturesque cobbled lanes or laze in the market square with towers and historic churches soaring above you. Take a cycle or boat for a historical tour of the beautiful canals. Indulge your romantic side with a horse-drawn carriage ride or walk across the legendary bridge over Minnewater Lake, the “Lake of Love”. Climb the 12th century Belfry bell tower at the Grote market square for excellent 360 degree views or take a hot air balloon flight. Christmas in Bruges is sheer indulgence, where time has frozen.
7. St. Gallen, Switzerland
If you thought winter holidaying in Switzerland was all about skiing, you may need to rethink. Located in the north-east of Switzerland, is St. Gallen, the most Christmassy city ever. It is the “City of Stars” during the time of Advent, when 700 stars twinkle over this old town, adding to the festive glitz. St Gallen also hosts the tallest Christmas tree in Switzerland, more than 20 m high, flown in by helicopter. It is decorated with no less than 18,000 lights. Carols and free glühwein add to the festive cheer. The snow covered streets are lined with stalls of the St.Gallen Christmas and Christchindli Market, with plenty of Advent programmes to delight you. Do not miss the “Chlausritt”, a popular Christmas parade through the town.
St. Gallen is a charming, traffic-free old town, dominated by the famous landmark of Baroque cathedral and Abbey. The city has retained its old world charm, offering enchanting tours through the Old Town and Abbey District.
8. Strasbourg, France
For all ye Yuletide lovers who love Christmas markets, Strasbourg, the “Capital of Christmas” is the place you will love. This is where the first Christmas Market took place in 1570 as “Christkindelsmärik” (market of the Infant Jesus). This year, the Christmas markets have taken a flavour of their own, pooled in the city centre around the 30 m tall Christmas tree to create an illuminated island of festivity. The Strasbourg Christmas markets are unique in their innovative ways of looking at Christmas. Visit the ‘OFF-Christmas Market’ at Grimmeissen to enjoy what local craftsmen have put out for you, take your kids to the ‘Children Workshop’ or visit the ‘Village of Sharing’ market to celebrate the Christmas spirit of sharing. Strasbourg is the city of Christmas markets with a difference, with a new theme each year. Winter events, Nativity plays, and a snow blanketed city, complete the magic of a traditional Christmas.