9 European cities that get you into the Christmas spirit
Amazing markets illuminated by beautiful Christmas lights, delicious local food, and a little Christmas shopping create a unique feeling you only get as December approaches. Many people need to get away a little when the nights grow long. Here are the nine best Christmas towns to visit.
Tallinn knows how to celebrate Christmas. The Old Town is UNESCO-listed and looks like the beautiful pictures from a children's fairy tale. Right by the town hall square – Raekoja Plats – you will find pastel-coloured facades, cosy street lamps, and wooden cabins that offer genuine Christmas magic. Of course, a massive Christmas tree is erected at the end of November, as has been done since 1441. The Christmas market in Tallinn is authentic, with cosy stalls selling goods made by local artisans. Here you can get wool hats and unique food and drinks.
The city also has a beautiful ice rink, a number of museums, and events that are hosted especially for Christmas. Tallinn is also known as the homeland of marzipan, which goes hand in hand with Christmas. Visit the Kalev Marzipan Museum Room with the whole family, where you can make your own marzipan figurines. In addition to everything related to Christmas, you will of course also find plenty of cosy cafes, local shops and saunas.
Hotel tip: The old town is home to the 5-star Telegraaf Hotel, which is especially popular with couples. The luxury hotel is located a stone's throw from Raekoja Plats, in a historic building from the 1800s. The Telegraaf has its own spa with pool, jacuzzi, sauna and steam room - extra nice when you have been on long excursions in the city. Here, you and your travel companions are guaranteed a tranquil place to relax.
Austria has a number of cosy winter towns that give you the Christmas spirit you are looking for. Many of the charming Alpine towns offer powder snow, glühwein, and Christmas markets. In the centre of Innsbruck, you will find its historic Christmas markets, the most famous of which is located in the old town in front of the well-known Goldenes Dachl or Golden Roof.
At Marktplatz, you will find a Christmas market suitable for the whole family, with rides, a small zoo, and other fun activities. In this part of Austria there are opportunities to experience far more than city life. From Innsbruck it is only 15 minutes to the nearest ski resort, and if you want to experience the surrounding areas, it is a short distance to the ski slopes in Anterselva or the Alpine mecca of Kitzbühel. Innsbruck also has an international airport. Feel free to rent a car and experience Austria, Germany and Italy all within a short time.
Hotel tip: Altstadthotel Weißes Kreuz – a hotel that has been welcoming guests since 1465. The historic hotel still delivers cosiness right in the centre of Innsbruck - just a stone's throw from the Golden Roof. The hotel has a modern style and was completely renovated in 2020. The hotel breakfast serves local products.
Prague, Czech Republic
From late November to January, the whole of Prague lights up. Tourists in their thousands come to visit the Christmas markets, or to spend Christmas or New Year's Eve in the big city. It's not hard to see why. There is a lot going on in this popular city. If you want to catch the events, it is recommended to book tickets and restaurants well in advance to be guaranteed a spot in the most visited places.
Prague's well-known Christmas markets are open to everyone and are close to some of the city's most famous tourist attractions like the astronomical clock and the Church of Our Lady before Týn. Of course, the big Christmas tree is in place, together with a long line of cute Christmas cottages serving mulled wine and goodies. Both of these markets are located in Prague's Old Town.
Accommodation tip: Hotel Botanique is centrally located in central Prague. The 4-star hotel is modern and recently refurbished and gives you great value for money. The hotel also focuses on sustainability with its Be Green initiative. The rooms have energy-saving systems, and the hotel serves vegan and vegetarian food options, and has also eliminated all use of disposable plastic.
Many people have the magical island of Iceland on their bucket list. Why not tick it off under the northern lights, while swimming in a hot spring? With only 5 hours of daylight, December is a great time to experience the northern lights in Iceland. The volcanic landscape, nature and culture of the island is something truly unique that you won't be able to experience anywhere else. Iceland offers many hot springs, which are perhaps extra memorable to visit when ice cold outside and the darkness has settled.
In Iceland, you can also enjoy beautiful festive lights and Christmas shopping at the Christmas markets. They can be found in Hafnarfjörður or Selfoss, downtown Reykjavík Laugavegur, Skólavörðustígur or in Kringlan and Smáralind shopping centres. It is recommended to book restaurants well in advance, as some close during the Christmas week.
Hotel tip: With just 13 rooms, 360 Boutique Hotel has still managed to become one of Iceland's most attractive hotels. The hotel is known for its delicious cuisine, but it is the view that makes this small and exclusive hotel so special. Here, you can truly pamper yourself in a unique setting. Relax in a heated outdoor pool or in the sauna, surrounded by snow, while gazing up at the stars and the northern lights.
Paris is the city of love. And maybe even more magical when Christmas comes. Each district of Paris has its own Christmas celebration that sets the tone for the whole city, and one of the most beautiful things is the spectacular Christmas lights that are hung.
The French capital is also the fashion capital of the world, and its sense of visual design is reflected in the Christmas lights, which are most impressive at the Champs Élysées. Every year, the lighting here is designed by leading lighting designers. Over a million light bulbs have been draped on 400 trees along the Champs Elysées, and the shops in the area decorate their windows with beautiful exhibits.
When it comes to the city's major shopping centres, the window displays are a kind of temporary exhibit. Every year a new theme is used for their decorations - from Hollywood glam to Disney fairy tales. You'll find some of the best Christmas window displays in Paris at the spectacular Galeries Lafayette shopping centre on Boulevard Haussmann.
The Christmas markets naturally also have their traditions in Paris. They are scattered throughout the city, with the biggest being La Défense, with over 350 stalls spread across 13,000 square metres.
It's hard to beat the magic that Disneyland Paris creates at Christmas. The park puts on its own Christmas parade, Christmas shows and markets, and the streets are filled with decorations of your favourite characters. A destination for the whole family.
Hotel tip: Paris has hundreds of great hotels with character, but if you're looking for a unique luxury experience, the 5-star boutique Cour des Vosges is truly something special. The hotel opened in 2019 and has only 12 rooms. It's located in Place des Vosges, not far from Place de la Bastille. Although it costs a little extra to stay here, you get what is perhaps the most beautiful boutique hotel in Paris, with a perfect location.
London is truly a destination for all seasons, attracting tourists from all over the world. In London there is always life, but around Christmas time something special happens to the big city. Christmas lights are hung, the Christmas tree from Norway is erected, and spectacular window displays are unveiled.
In addition, Christmas markets and ice skating rinks are popping up all over the city. To put residents and guests in a real holiday mood, a very special Winter Wonderland is set up in Hyde Park. There are also a number of great shows for both adults and children that are worth booking tickets for. London is a shopping paradise, including when it comes to Christmas shopping. Here you can buy all your Christmas gifts, and maybe even something nice for yourself.
Hotel tip: The Landmark London boasts five stars, yet amazingly, you get quite good value for money there. This hotel is huge: eight floors with glass roof and tall palm trees, indoor pool and spa. The restaurant is also well known for its high quality. Regent's Park and Lord's Cricket Ground are both less than ten minutes' walk away. The hotel is also close to the tube.
Colmar is located right on the border with Germany, in Alsace. The small town tends to fly a little under the radar but has recently really risen to prominence as a worthy destination. The French town is a fairy tale city all year round, but as Christmas approaches, it transforms into a replica of Christmas villages from famous movies, with homes that resemble the most beautiful gingerbread houses you've ever seen. Colmar offers six Christmas markets, each with its own unique theme. Delicious crêpes, churros, waffles or a glass of vin chaud (mulled wine), can be enjoyed at the stalls. La Petite Venise is Colmar's most beautiful – and most photogenic – neighbourhood.
The area is also home to Alsatian vineyards, where the wine cellars are specially decorated to give visitors a true sense of Christmas spirit. The vineyards invite you to taste local wine, spirits and liqueur, and explore the many Christmas traditions from Alsace. Although small, Colmar is a food lover's paradise. Colmar has as many as ten restaurants that have received one or more Michelin stars, and as many Bib Gourmand restaurants.
Hotel tip: In the heart of traditional Colmar, you'll find the relaxing urban boutique hotel L'Esquisse. This spa hotel boasts five stars and provides a quiet and tranquil place in an active and vibrant city.
The holiday season in Vienna is in a league of its own. Here we are talking about extravagance, history and veneration. The city sparkles with luxury and offers a number of rich Christmas markets. The Austrian city is well known for its café culture and does not disappoint with its many cosy places one can sit down to enjoy coffee, hot chocolate, or a good glass of wine. Glühwein, local baked goods, and delicious sausages can be enjoyed while strolling around the Christmas markets, skating at Rathausplatz, or visiting the Snow Globe Museum.
Vienna has brought the world iconic classical composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss, and has more than 50 theatres and opera houses. The Viennese Waltz originated here, and its centuries-old spirit is still felt today. If you first travel to Vienna around Christmas time, booking tickets for one of the many Christmas or New Year's concerts held around the city is a must. The most famous is Christmas in Vienna by the Vienna Boys Choir.
Hotel tip: In the heart of Vienna you will find the renowned 5-star Hotel Imperial, located right beside Ringstraße Boulevard. The hotel takes you back to the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Inaugurated in 1873 by Emperor Franz Josef, the hotel is decorated with original antiques, its walls are shrouded in silk, and its bathrooms are made of marble. Hotel Imperial combines the timeless elegance of 18th century Vienna with state-of-the-art facilities.
Røros has long been known in Norway as the most beautiful Christmas town the country has to offer. After the Netflix hit Home for Christmas was filmed in Røros, and later viewed in living rooms across the world, many more people became aware of this charming, listed wooden house town.
For a few days each December, Røros is transformed into a beautiful Christmas market, which you should definitely visit if you get the chance. Here, you can simply stroll around and feel yourself being filled with the holiday spirit. You can also try fun winter activities, such as sleigh rides, kick sledding and tobogganing. All in the centre of Røros, also famous for the worlds largest dogsled race.
Hotel tip: Erzscheidergården is located in the centre of Røros and has existed since the 1600s. The hotel blends in with Røros's famous wooden houses and is just as suitable for families as for small groups. The hotel is decorated with antique furniture and old farm tools and its old timber walls give it a lovely touch.
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The Banke Hotel
The Banke Hotel 5* was one of the first Haussmanian-style buildings to be built in Rue la Fayette alongside the Opera in the early 20th century. The Hotel exhibits Derby Hotels Collection’s most important collection of ethnic jewellery from Africa, Pre-Columbian America and Asia.