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 European countries to visit in winter.
The Best Places to Visit in December and January
Switzerland Winter Vacations
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. 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.
France Winter Vacations
Is there a time of year that Paris isn't magical? We think not, and winter in the City of Love certainly leaves us with cozy feelings. There's nothing like exploring snow-lined avenues, practically empty of tourists, and popping into a cafe to warm up with a perfect cup of coffee. The city is hushed and busy all at once with holiday shopping, and snow blankets the lawn of the Eiffel Tower, making it seem even more romantic than usual (if that's possible?).
Travel outside of Paris and stroll through the medieval cobbled streets for more feelings of magical white winters. Explore the region of Alsace, wedged between the Black Forest and the Vosges Mountains. Make sure to visit Strasbourg, the City at the Crossroads, where the Christmas Market is the oldest and one of the largest in France. Spend time in a cozy neighborhood of timbered fairy-tale buildings, with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery, warm with fragrant promise.
Germany Winter Vacations
Germany embraces the holiday season with a particular zeal, so feel free to enjoy (with glee) the vibrant festive markets that abound in this city. Organ music and carols ring out from the ancient churches on crisp winter days in Munich. 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 the holiday seasons to come.
Europe's Christmas Markets
Winter is a magical time across Europe as the Christmas Markets come alive
Italy Winter Vacations
Although Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are most famous for these charming markets, Italy is no slouch! Many cities and towns will have festive markets full of delicious food, local handicrafts, and holiday entertainment throughout December, like carolers and ice skating. My personal favorite was the market in Florence, located in Piazza di Santa Croce. Learn about the unique local holiday customs and characters, like “Befana” the Italian Christmas Witch!
Italians are rightly known for their warmth and welcoming attitude to travelers. But during the busy summer season, even the friendliest locals can become tired of navigating the huge crowds of tourists inhabiting their cities. With the lower crowds and festive atmosphere of the wintertime, the hospitality of the Italian people becomes even more evident.
Most of Italy is cool but comfortable in the wintertime. Central and Southern Italy, such as around Rome, hover around the mid-high 50s and even into the low 60s. Northern climes can be colder, of course, but as Italy has a Mediterranean climate, still comfortable. Clear skies and bright sunshine are not uncommon in the winter. Unless you live in Florida, California, or Arizona, you’ll probably find Italy much more comfortable than the weather at home.
The biggest and most important reason to travel to Italy in the off-season is the lack of crowds. Italy is one of the most crowded counties to visit in all of Europe. Places like the famous Uffizi museum in Florence can have entrance lines up to 3 hours in the peak season; in December, you can almost walk right in. You'll be surprised by the nearly empty attractions that would normally be bursting at the seams.
Austria Winter Vacations
Austria is a place of nostalgia and romance at this time of year, with concerts, nativity displays, and many official Advent Markets selling a vast array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats. Lose yourself in the festive atmosphere and explore 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, delicious local treats of homemade biscuits, jams, and delicious, soul-warming Glühwein.
Take in the delightful scenery and crisp, fresh air during your horse-drawn carriage ride, known 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 the 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, the perfect setting for the Viennese Christmas Market, festively decorated in a sea of lights.
Czech Republic Winter Vacations
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.
Czech Republic Vacations
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 at 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. Browse the decorative wooden stalls beneath a giant Christmas tree draped in a blaze of lights. Meet a local stallholder and savor a glass of Svařák, traditional mulled wine, and the local Trdelník pastry.
Poland Winter Vacations
Wrapped in romantic gabled townhouses and Gothic spires, the festive Christmas Market stalls of Warsaw and 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.
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.