Winter in Europe means snow-capped mountains, comfort food, mulled wine, and Christmas markets.
Locals in these regions don’t hide from the cold, but fully embrace it with festivals, outdoor markets, and snow-based sports. The lead up to Christmas in small and large towns alike is the stuff of storybooks – twinkling markets full of Yuletide delights and towering Christmas trees. Enter the realm of gingerbread, Glühwein, carol singers, and timbered fairy-tale buildings. Soak up the friendly Yuletide atmosphere in our top six countries to visit in winter.
Switzerland becomes an enchanting winter wonderland of frozen waterfalls, peaceful cozy villages with chalet-style houses, snow-laden forests, and imposing mountain ranges, crowned by famous peaks. Go “dashing through the snow” and marvel at the glittering forests and glaciers of the Engadin, all from the comfort of a horse-drawn sleigh. Stay in the fashionable ski resort of St. Moritz, set in the sparkling Engadine Valley nestled below the awe-inspiring, majestic Grisons Alps. Take a ride on the world-famous Glacier Express through the heart of the Swiss Alps, meandering beside rock-strewn rivers and climbing through snowy pastures and woodlands.
Experience Europe’s biggest indoor Christmas extravaganza held in the main railway station in Zürich which houses over 160 wooden chalets and a three-story Christmas tree, draped with Swarovski crystals. (alpine Christmas markets) Visit Lucerne’s Christmas market at Franziskanerplatz, in the heart of the city’s Old Town. Ramble past traditional wooden stalls, a warm mug of ‘Glühwein’ in hand, and admire the swirling Christmas carousel with the joyful sounds of happy children.
Germany embraces the holiday season with a particular zeal, so feel free enjoy (with glee) the vibrant festive markets that abound in this city. On crisp winter days in Munich, organ music and carols ring out from the ancient churches. If snow has fallen, the vast English Garden provides lovely winter vistas. Journey to Marienplatz with its soaring Gothic Town Hall and colorful Glockenspiel, breathtaking under a snowy blanket.
Soak up Christmas magic at Weihnachtszauber, Berlin’s most luxurious market full of gourmet food and handmade goods, framed by the Concert Hall and the near-identical French and German cathedrals. Seek out the delicious Christstollen in Dresden, a Christmas cake recipe dating back to medieval times, at Germany’s oldest Christmas Market. Take some time to admire the record-breaking Christmas pyramid then search among the stalls for one of your own, sure to delight your friends and family back home for holiday seasons to come.
At this time of year, Austria is a place of nostalgia and romance, with concerts, nativity displays and many official Advent Markets selling a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats. Lose yourself among the festive atmosphere and spend some time exploring Innsbruck’s magical Christmas Markets. The giant Christmas tree dominates the square, adorned in lights and decorations, and is set in front of the Golden Roof, graced by beautifully preserved medieval facades. Browse the market stalls selling handmade trinkets that make perfect gifts for friends and family, along with delicious local treats of home-made biscuits, jams, and delicious, soul-warming Glühwein.
Take in the delightful scenery and crisp, fresh air during your horse-drawn carriage ride, know locally as a Fiaker, through the countryside of Tyrol. See incredible Salzburg, where the spires and domes of the Old Town are often draped in snow come December.
Travel along famous Ring Road in Vienna, the grand boulevard built along the lines of the old city walls. The capital’s architectural masterpieces, including the Opera House and Hofburg Imperial Residence, are lit up during the holiday season. You’ll see City Hall, and its surrounding parklands, festively decorated in a sea of lights, the perfect setting for the Viennese Christmas Market.
While the Czech Republic is best known for beautiful Prague, a visit to picturesque Český Krumlov promises to delight. This fairy-tale town, straight out of the Middle Ages, invites you to wander through its cobblestone, traffic-free streets, past colorful houses that lead up to one of the finest castles in the land. Not to mention the pristine views of the Vltava River that the town huddles up next to.
In Prague, discover a treasure-trove of hidden gems including the Charles Bridge lined with the Baroque statues of saints and the Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, with its hourly Walk of the Apostles. Prague offers a different look upon the Vltava River from the heights of Prague Castle, dominated by the soaring spires of St. Vitus Cathedral. Venture down to Old Town Square, where Prague’s colorful Christmas Market contrasts with the Gothic skyline. Beneath a giant Christmas tree, draped in a blaze of lights, locals browse the decorative wooden stalls. Meet a local stallholder and savor a glass of Svařák, traditional mulled wine, along with the local Trdelník pastry.
Wrocław, known as the Venice of Poland, is made up of five rivers, 12 islands, and over 150 bridges. Rated as one of the finest in Europe, Wrocław’s Christmas Market offers a delightful and fanciful charm. Enjoy a stroll of the market, located in Rynek, to the historic main square which is surrounded by Baroque splendor and adorned with thousands of twinkling lights. Spend time exploring the vast array of stalls bursting with local crafts and tasty treats.
Wrapped in romantic gabled townhouses and Gothic spires, the festive Christmas Market stalls of Krakow are a Disneyesque dream, offering all sorts of delicacies and delights—from Highland woolen slippers to amber jewelry from the Baltic. Try the traditional oscypek cheese with cranberries, a delicacy from the Tatra mountains, you won’t be disappointed.
In Budapest, Hungary, a most spectacular treat awaits! Make your way to a traditional strudel house to see pastry chefs at work, as they prepare delicious sweet strudel by stretching the dough and readying fillings. Enjoy a bite of the “true thing” in a delectable taste of this famous delicacy paired with a rich aromatic coffee. The most leisurely way to discover this fairy-tale city is a private cruise on the Danube with a glass of fine Hungarian wine in hand. It’s also the best way to see Budapest’s spectacular illuminations, which give it the nickname ‘The Paris of the East’.