There is something special about spending December in Europe. Wearing thick winter clothes, shuffling around on a German Christmas market spread out across a medieval town center, holding a glass of mulled wine in hand, surrounded by families on their day out... Bright lights and decorations all around. Walking into a fancy shopping mall to get away from the cold and leaving the building an hour later with half of your Christmas shopping already done.
That's a pleasant mental image, isn't it? And around this time of year, you will struggle to find a town anywhere in Europe that does not make an effort to create that extra special Christmas atmosphere. We would not dare to tell you that we have decided which ones are best (how does one decide that anyway), hence we are not calling this the "7 best Christmas destinations" or anything like that, but here are 7 places that we think are worth highlighting. Highlights in most of these places are, of course, the Christmas markets...
The throngs of tourists descending upon Bruges in summer may not realise this, but Bruges is one of those cities that is actually more appealing in winter. An ice rink is set up on the market square, buildings are spectacularly lit up and small Christmas markets dot the center of town. Head for a stroll around the canals after darkness sets in and you will be hard pressed to find a more attractive town anywhere else in Europe.
Okay, so if you know anything about Christmas markets in Germany, the inclusion of Nuremberg is not exactly going to be surprising to you. But for those of you less familiar with it, it just may be. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is huge and the most famous in Germany, pretty much defining the whole concept: the old town gets filled with nearly 200 stands selling everything from Christmas decorations, mulled wine, gingerbread and bratwurst. It's all in perfect harmony with the lovely historic town center.
Český Krumlov is a kind of mini-Prague and a UNESCO world heritage site that is a tourists favorite in summer months. In December it is not exactly empty here, but definitely less crowded. Combined with snow (fingers crossed) in December, the whole town takes on a magical atmosphere. And of course, Český Krumlov too has a Christmas Market. This is one to go purely for the atmosphere. Highly recommended.
With its German cultural background, it is no surprise that the Alsace does Christmas markets exceptionally well. In December, Colmar looks nothing short of a fairy tale. In fact the whole historic town center with its canals and half-timbered houses turns into a Christmas market: châlets all around sell everything from Christmas decorations to pastries and sweets.
We just discussed a town in a French region with a German background (Colmar). Now its time to discuss a town in an Italian region with a German background: Bolzano! Located in South Tyrol, it houses Italy's most famous Christmas market. The mix of Italian and German influences makes this one of the most interesting markets in Europe, and the romantic backdrop of the town with its arcaded streets and a good chance of snow in winter doesn't hurt either. The gastronomic variety is even better than in some of the other markets mentioned here, mixing the northern European and the Mediterranean. Oh, and even without all the Christmas there is plenty to see and do here. Ötzi?
Salzburg is basically the quintessential Christmas destination in Europe. The castle towering over the town and brightly lit, the streets often covered with a blanket of snow and Cathedral Square filled with the yearly Christmas market selling everything from Christmas ornaments to mulled wine, Lebkuchen and caramelised almonds. And if you get bored of strolling the town and market, why not pack your skis and head up the mountain in one of the nearby ski resorts?
Wroclaw is picturesque. During the Christmas season this becomes even more the case. Poland seems more in touch with the religious origins of the festive season than the rest of Europe, which makes it a joyful place to spend some days around Christmas. The Rynek (Main Square) and Swidnicka Street house the Christmas market and an ice rink. At the market you will find the typical type of Christmas market food, but also Polish Christmas decorations and gifts which make for nice souvenirs.