Christmas is a magical time and there are many gorgeous destinations in Europe where you can find special Christmas markets, snow and Santa Claus. Wrap up in your warmest woollies for these unusual destinations:
Best Christmas Breaks Europe
Visit Santa Claus’s home in Rovaniemi, Finland
Santa Claus (Joulupukki in Finnish), originally from the Korvatunturi Fell in Lapland, has made the Lappish capital, Rovaniemi his official HQ. At Santa Claus Village, visit his office and Main Post Office. Postcards and parcels are franked with a special Arctic Circle postmark.
Also check out SantaPark – a Christmas fantasy world built inside an underground cavern. Find spectacular ice sculptures and drinks served in handmade ice glasses in the Ice Bar. Learn elf skills in the Elf School or take a sleigh ride.
While in Finland, visit St Thomas Market in Helsinki’s Senate Square – the biggest Christmas market in Finland. The hot Finnish mulled wine, Glögi, is an excellent way to keep warm.
View the Aurora Borealis in Lapland – Abisko, Sweden
Abisko national park in Lapland is a unique destination for its darkness, making it one of the world’s best places to view the Aurora Borealis. Visit Aurora Sky Station, one of the best spots in the world for seeing the Northern Lights. Abisko is the start of Sweden‘s best known skiing and hiking route – the 440 km long the King’s Trail (Kungsleden). You can also go Alpine, off-piste or Nordic skiing here.
Frosty Christmas and hot thermal baths: Budapest, Hungary
Budapest’s central park Városligeti Műjégpálya has an enormous outdoor rink apart from its lovely Christmas market that has crafts, concerts, and laser shows. Budapest boasts of ornate thermal baths – warm up in one of their indoor or outdoor thermal pools or even find a thermal pool party! Hop on the “Christmas Light Tram” that takes in some of the scenic routes in the city. Check www.budapestchristmas.com for details.
Celebrate the ‘Festival of Hearts’ in Denmark
Known by the Danes as ‘The Festival of Hearts’, Christmas is magical in Denmark. In Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city, see how the Danes have celebrated Christmas over the centuries at the open-air museum Den Gamle By where you’ll find 75 restored vintage Danish buildings. Drink the traditional Gloegg (mulled wine) and don’t miss the Christmas Parade.
In Aalborg, North Jutland, Santa Claus sails in from Greenland on November 30. Welcome Santa at the Limfjord waterfront for the lighting of the Christmas tree. At the traditional Christmas market in the Old Square, try local specialties like æbleskiver, pepper cookies and Denmark’s drink with a kick ‘Aquavit’.
In Elsinore (an hour’s train ride from Copenhagen) on the North Zealand coast, Santa arrives on November 28 by ship. Taking a horse-drawn carriage to the town square Axeltorv, he scales the city’s gigantic Christmas tree to turn on the light. On the outskirts of Elsinore at Ålsgårde, accessible by a wintry vintage train ride from Hellerup, Rosendal Farm’s Christmas market (held since 1826) has fir Christmas trees and a farmyard setting.
Milk a Donkey and have a medieval Christmas in Genoa, Italy
Genoa, on the Italian Riviera, has one of Italy‘s most unusual Christmas medieval-era themed markets. Taking over the Piazza Caricamento in the UNESCO World Heritage historic centre, the square is transformed into a medieval village, set around the year 1,000 AD and sees artisans and craftsmen dressed in medieval clothes. There is a real farm with cows and donkeys that children are taught to milk. Take the funicular up into the hills surrounding Genoa or climb the many steps up the Lanterna lighthouse, the fifth tallest traditional lighthouse in the world.
Tobogganing in Berlin, Celebrate Christmas in a castle in Germany
German markets are some of the best in the world. In Berlin, visit the grand Gendarmenmarkt where you’ll find jugglers, acrobats, fire artists, dancers and choirs. While at Winterwelt in Potsdamer Platz, enjoy live music and a rodelbahn – tobogganing on giant tyres. Now that’s a fun way to do Christmas.
Saxony features the ‘granddaddy’ of all Christmas markets, Striezelmarkt in Dresden which dates back to 1434.
In neighbouring Thuringia, less than an hour’s drive from Erfurt, Castle Leuchtenburg has a special ‘Christmas Market of Wishes’ on 5-6 and 12-13 December. Children can write their Christmas wishes on porcelain plates and throw them from a 20 m-long ‘Skywalk of Wishes’, based on a German saying that breaking crockery brings you luck.
The Christmas trail continues in in Saxony-Anhalt: Wernigerode, dating back to the 12th century and full of colourful timber-framed houses.
Other magical settings include Bruchsal Palace (Schloss Bruchsal), famous for the “crown jewel of all Baroque staircases”, an elaborate 18th-century staircase designed by Balthasar Neumann.
In Düsseldorf, at the “Engelchenmarkt” (little angels’ market) at Heinrich-Heine-Platz, the entire market is a single sea of lights reflected in the little golden angels. The 55 metre-high (with its 42 heated gondolas) “Wheel of Vision” Ferris wheel returns as a stand-alone attraction on Burgplatz.
We hope you have a lovely Christmas. And don’t forget to share your favourite Christmas destinations with us!
Also, check out our comprehensive guide on how to have an eco-friendly Christmas this year.