Maybe it is the historical buildings, the cobblestone streets or the authenticity of each city that contribute to this, or maybe it is a combination of all. I can definitely say as someone who grew up in Europe (shout out to the Netherlands!), that every year, no matter where you are, people know how to keep the Christmas spirit alive.
The streets and squares are decorated with the most beautiful Christmas lights, the stores are putting their best foot forward with extravagant designs in their windows and some city squares fill up with wooden chalets that sell Glüuhwein, Christmas ornaments and more. Because Europe is so diverse, we created a list for you with less well-known, cosy towns where while visiting, you might feel like you’re walking through a postcard.
1. Lapland, Finland
Starting with a place that is not a town but a region: Lapland. This stunning winter wonderland is located in the north of Finland and is known for Santa Claus, huskies and the Northern Lights. Meet Santa Claus in Santa’s Village, a park with Santa’s office, stores, attractions, a post office and more. Enter a sauna after having a snowball fight in the unlimited amount of snow, hike through the beautiful, white forests, go on a husky safari or see the reindeer. Spending the festive season in Lapland is like stepping into a Christmas movie!
Where to stay in Lapland, Finland
Budget - Motelli Rovaniemi
These cute wooden cabins have dorms as well as private rooms and are simple, but have all you need.
Mid-range - Arctic Circle Wilderness Resort
These warm chalets are surrounded by breathtaking scenery and hiking trails.
Luxury - Arctic City Hotel
This comfortable hotel is located in the centre of Rovaniemi, and has relaxing saunas.
2. Coburg, Germany
In the north of the German state Bavaria, the picturesque Coburg is located. With one of the biggest castles in Germany, this city gives off fairytale vibes and is an amazing place to go to during the Festive Season. The charming Coburg is easily overlooked by people travelling through Germany, but we don’t really understand why. Yet the fact that it is not crowded with tourists makes it even better! Because imagine visiting the stunning Ehrenburg Castle (where Prince Albert who married Queen Victoria in 1840 spent most of his childhood) when it has been snowing, without having to wait in line or strolling through the Christmas market without being surrounded by crowds.
Where to stay in Coburg
Budget - Gasthof Loehnert GmbH
Gasthof Loehnert is a simple hotel, with everything you need, including a gym!
Mid-range - Hotel Garni, Haus Gemmer
This hotel is located in a calm, quiet area, but still only a 10-minute walk from the city centre.
Luxury - Hotel Hahnmüle 1323
Sleep in an authentic timbered building (the second-oldest one of the city!) with comfortable, luxurious beds and only a 10-minute walk from the city centre.
3. Colmar, France
Narrow, cobblestone streets, half-timbered medieval houses with lights that reflect in the canal, coloured houses and Christmas decorations everywhere… Colmar, located close to the German border is wonderful to walk through during winter. In addition, since it is so close to Germany, you will notice the perfect mix of French and German culture, especially when it comes to architecture and food (and of course, there is a romantic Christmas market!). Visit Petite Venise (Little Venice), view the old town from the water on a boat or get yourself some fresh groceries at the Covered Market.
Where to stay in Colmar
Budget - Kyriad Colmar Centre Unterlinden
Kyriad Colmar is a very affordable and great option for staying in Colmar. With a nice lounge area, it is also great to meet other travellers.
Mid-range - PAUL & PIA - Welcome Home Hotel
This hotel has probably one of the most colourful designs you have ever seen, and just that will already make you smile.
Luxury - Le Colombier
This beautiful hotel has a cosy lounge, a gym, is located very central and is perfect for relaxing after a long day in the cold weather. It is housed in a historical building, and the interior is the perfect mix of old and new.
4. Gothenburg, Sweden
The second-largest city of Sweden, Gothenburg, is located on the west coast and therefore is an important seaport. In summer this place is amazing to visit (hello midnight sun), but in winter it is truly magical with the blanket of snow and holiday vibes. Stroll along the beautiful canal, through the park or through the city to simply admire the historical buildings and warm up with Glögg, a warm, spiced wine with almonds and raisins (basically the Swedish version of the famous German Glühwein). Not really into warm wine but still feeling cold? Visit a Swedish spa, with saunas, pools and outdoor hot tubs, in this way you will have the ultimate Scandinavian winter experience!
Where to stay in Gothenburg
Budget - Le Mat B&B Göteburg City
With a perfect location, Le Mat B&B offers a great breakfast.
Mid-range - WOW, Föreningsgatan 9
If you want to stay in a place with beautiful, clean, Scandinavian interior, look no further!
Luxury - Radisson Blu Scandinavia Hotel
With big rooms and comfortable beds, this luxurious hotel is the perfect place to stay after strolling around the city.
5. Freiburg, Germany
In Germany’s beautiful, magical Black Forest, Freiburg is situated. The city is the warmest of the country, with 2000 hours of sunshine every year. But that doesn’t mean it cannot turn into a winter wonderland! During Christmas time the colourful houses get a white layer and the Christmas market is filled with fun attractions and delicious winter snacks. Just like Colmar, Freiburg also has a Little Venice, which you should definitely visit. Hike up to Castle Mountain, that unfortunately doesn’t have a castle anymore, but the amazing views make up for that.
Where to stay in Freiburg
Budget - Super 8 Freiburg
This hotel is located in the centre of Freiburg and has bikes available, so you can explore the area.
Mid-range - Mercure Hotel Panorama Freiburg
Mercure Hotel Panorama is located in the quiet hills and has a beautiful view on the Black Forest and the city.
Luxury - Colombi Hotel
This hotel has a beautiful, luxurious interior, a spa, gym and an amazing breakfast.
6. Tromsø, Norway
Known for being one of the best places in the world to watch the Northern Lights, Tromsø is another breathtaking place to visit in the wintertime. From the city, you can see the beautiful mountains, but if you take a cable car up to Mount Storsteinen, you will have an amazing panoramic view of the city, the water and the mountains. There are many hiking trails, so this place is great if you are into getting active during your holidays. In the waters around Tromsø even live whales, who you can see during a whale safari.
But apart from a lot of beautiful nature, the city itself has a lot to offer: nightlife, art exhibitions, great Arctic cuisine and much more Viking flaire.
Where to stay in Tromsø
Mid-range - Small Cozy Apartment
This cosy apartment (with sauna!) is perfect if you are travelling through Norway by car, as it is located a little bit out of the city.
Luxury - Clarion Collection Hotel
This hotel has beautiful views on the harbour and a relaxing sauna.
7. Wrocław, Poland
Wrocław, known for its colourful square, is the fourth largest city in Poland. The city holds a lot of history and even has one of the oldest restaurants in Europe! It is called Piwnica Świdnicka and it was established in 1273. Another fun fact about the city is that after Amsterdam and Venice, Wrocław is the city with the most bridges: the city counts 112 of them.
When winter starts, the city of Wrocław opens a beautiful Christmas market, that you can’t miss while being there. With hundreds of mini Alpine chalets, beautiful fairy lights and an impressive Christmas tree made out of lights it is hard to get bored here. Once you’re done strolling the market, go look for one of the cute, funny gnomes (yes there are 600 of them hidden throughout the city!).
Where to stay in Wrocław
Budget - HP Park Plaza
This hotel is located walking distance from the city centre and has a view on the Oder River.
Mid-range - Hotel Altus Palace
Hotel Altus Palace actually makes you feel like staying at a palace, with high ceilings and chandeliers.
Luxury - Hotel Monopol
This hotel has comfortable rooms, a great location and a luxurious swimming pool.
8. Ghent, Belgium
With its medieval centre, Ghent is a charming, Belgian city. Try roller skating on Belgium’s largest mobile roller skating rink. Not feeling comfortable on skates? Walking around the city of Ghent on its own is already a great experience. Go shopping in the streets that are decorated with beautiful Christmas lights, take a ride in the Ferris wheel at the Christmas market, or pay a visit to Winter Wonderland Castle. If you’re curious about what else to do in Ghent, check out our stories and guide for the city’s hidden gems here.
Where to stay in Ghent
Budget - KaBa Hostel
This hostel has a very cool design and is great for meeting other travellers.
Mid-range - Hotel Carlton
This hotel has a lovely bar and from here you can walk to the city centre.
Luxury - Nonam Boutique Hotel
Nonam Boutique Hotel has a beautiful interior, inspired by countries from all over the world.
9. Gdańsk, Poland
Situated on the north coast of Poland is Gdańsk. Poland is known for having the best quality of Amber stone. It is usually found around the Baltic Sea, and that is exactly where Gdańsk is located. That is why you will find lots of shops that sell the alluring yellow stone, especially in the impressive street of Mariacka. Of course, Gdańsk has a cosy Christmas market, that you should definitely pay a visit. Try a traditional Polish rose doughnut at Dobra Pakarnia, where they have different flavours.
Where to stay in Gdańsk
Budget - Craft Beer Central Hotel
For the price you pay at this hotel you wouldn’t expect it to be this luxurious!
Mid-range - Celma Condo Hotel Old Town
These cool loft apartments have high ceilings and there is even a sauna, swimming pool and gym.
Luxury - Wilzca Superior
These beautiful, luxe apartments have fully equipped kitchens, dishwashers, microwaves and separate bedrooms.
10. Tbilisi, Georgia
Georgia’s capital, Tbilisi, is a city that holds a lot of history, dating back a long way. The city has had European, Middle Eastern and Asian civilizations, which makes the history and culture very interesting. The architecture especially is something that will probably amaze you, as the city centre is built in Bohemian style, with classic balconies and picturesque cafes.
Because Georgia follows the Julian calendar, Christmas falls in January. That is why the city gets into the festive mood a little later than other countries in Europe: they start in mid-December. Between the 10th and 15th of December, the light displays are set up, and the city centre of Tbilisi turns into a magical Christmas paradise.
Where to stay in Tbilisi
Budget - Kisi Boutique Hotel
This pet-friendly hotel has rooms that are beautifully designed with a combination of old and new, and some rooms even have big patios.
Mid-range - Unfound Door - Design Hotel
This breathtaking hotel has a (golden!) bar, restaurant and beautiful garden.
Luxury - Castle in Old Town
This unique hotel has big rooms and actually makes you feel as if you’re sleeping in a castle.
11. Turku, Finland
Turku is the oldest city in Finland and is situated on the southwest coast. The city centre is full of cosy cafes and restaurants, where you can try delicious Finnish delicacies such as creamy salmon soup, bread cheese or rye bread.
Visit Turku Castle, take a snow walk to Vartiovuori Observatory, or take a ferry to the Åland Islands, where if the ice is thick enough, you can go ice skating. Apart from a lot of beautiful nature, there is a beautiful Christmas market that fills the city centre and contributes to a cosy festive atmosphere.
Where to stay in Turku
Budget - Bed&Breakfast Tuure
A 5-minute walk from the main square, this place offers great breakfast, access to a shared kitchen and even free laundry and ironing facilities.
Mid-range - Borent Suite Apartment
These spacious apartments have kitchens with dishwashers and a microwave and are all provided with a balcony.
Luxury - Forenom Serviced Apartments Turku
These Scandinavian-designed apartments are well-equipped and close to the city centre.
12. Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck is located in the Austrian Alps and is a popular destination for winter sports lovers. That is why it is a perfect location to spend the Christmas holidays if you are into (or want to learn) skiing or snowboarding. Though it is not just a paradise for skiers and snowboarders: there is much more to see. Visit Ambras Castle, the Imperial Palace, Swarovski Crystal World or the Tyrol Panorama, a 360-degree painting that displays the Battle of Bergisel (where Tyrol beat the Napoleonic invaders).
Though Innsbruck has an interesting history and is surrounded by beautiful nature, since it is located in Tyrol, you can’t leave without a little après-ski. One of the best places to do this is Cloud9, a place where you can go clubbing in an igloo!
Where to stay in Innsbruck
Budget - Ferienparadies Natterer See
Stay the night in a wooden sleeping barrel surrounded by trees.
Mid-range - B&B Hotel Heimgartl
Located right by the Inn River, this hotel with wooden interior will give you the ultimate Austrian winter experience.
Luxury - Altstadthotel Weißes Kreuz
This hotel has luxurious, big rooms and offers delicious breakfast.
13. Bolzano, Italy
Bolzano, also located in Tyrol, but the Italian part (as it’s also shared with Austria), is not as well-known as places like Innsbruck or Ghent, which makes it a lot less crowded, but nevertheless a great place to visit.
Bolzano is a hidden gem that has so much to offer: museums, castles, delicious cuisine… And the oldest Christmas market in Italy. Because Bolzano is surrounded by so many vineyards, you can’t skip a winetasting (if you are a wine lover). Yep, tastings are still available in the winter! Visit the South Tyrol Archaeological Museum and learn about Ötzi, a natural mummy of a man who lived between 3350 and 3105 BC, or just stroll through the picturesque cobblestone streets.
Where to stay in Bolzano
Budget - Ottenkellerhof
Located 4 kilometres from the city centre, this hotel has a beautiful view of the mountains.
Mid-range - Stay COOPER | Laubenhaus
Stay in a wonderful penthouse apartment in the middle of the city centre.
Luxury - Stadt Hotel Città
The wooden floors in this beautiful hotel can’t help but make you feel cosy.
14. Dordrecht, Netherlands
Located in the province of South Holland, not too far from the busy city of Rotterdam, is Dordrecht. Dordrecht is a calm city and has a beautiful, historical city centre. Something special about the city is that three rivers come together here: the Beneden-Merwede, the Noord and the Old Meuse.
During the festive season, the city lights up beautifully and organises different activities. Go on the Dwaalspoor, a light walking route that you can do every day from 17:00 to 22:00 from 9 December to 8 January. Breathtaking animations and light projections provide a magical journey through time throughout the city. Check the website for more activities during the festive season.
When you are in the Netherlands during Christmas, make sure to try an oliebol, a pastry that the Dutch eat with New Year’s, but is already being sold from early November. You can’t avoid the stalls that sell them, and especially not the delicious smell since they are made freshly throughout the day. If you want to explore more Dutch activities during the winter, check out our complete insider guide to this jolly season here.
Where to stay in Dordrecht
Budget - Slapen in Dordrecht
This cosy apartment is 4,5 kilometres from the city centre.
Mid-range - Hotel de Watertoren
This hotel is located in a very unique location: in an old water tower. Wake up with a view on the cows walking through the grass.
Luxury - Hotel Dordrecht
Located in a historic mansion, this hotel is situated right in the city centre, close to all the highlights.
15. Stratford-upon-Avon, England
Stratford-upon-Avon is located in the West Midlands of England. It is famous for being the birthplace of William Shakespeare, whose (restored) house of birth you can visit in the city centre. Stratford-upon-Avon itself is a beautiful, picturesque town and while walking around here you will feel as if you stepped back in time. The half-timbered houses, old English pubs and church (where Shakespeare is buried) with an old cemetery make it seem as if you travelled back to the Middle Ages.
At the beginning of November, citizens come to town and count down to see the Christmas lights being turned on. In early December there is an annual (award-winning) Victorian Christmas market festival. There are over 300 stalls and the traders are all dressed up in Victorian clothing, live music, choirs, stilt walkers, chimney sweeps and more.
Where to stay in Stratford-upon-Avon
Budget - YHA Stratford-upon-Avon
This hostel is located in an old Georgian mansion surrounded by a beautiful garden.
Mid-range - Carlton Guest House
This cosy guest house has free parking and provides a lovely English breakfast.
Luxury - Hotel Indigo
This 4-star hotel is located very centrally and has a wonderful interior.
16. Leuven, Belgium
Not too far from Belgium’s capital you will find Leuven. It is a smaller city and popular among students, as one of the most important universities of the Benelux is located here. Being the beer capital of Belgium, there are many beer cafes where you can try different beers. The famous brand Stella Artois is from the city of Leuven and has their brewery here, which you can visit as well.
But apart from universities and beer, Leuven has much more to offer. The city itself is beautiful to walk through, as it has many historical buildings (the city is more than 1130 years old). You will see this, especially in the Begijnhof, a beguinage in a historical quarter with lots of little, narrow streets, consisting of cobblestones, old bricked buildings and little bridges. With 300 apartments it is one of the biggest remaining beguinages in the Benelux. Can you imagine how beautiful this must be during Christmas time? Every year in December there is one night when the Begijnhof lights up with thousands of candles and you can hear choirs sing, which makes the place look even more magical.
After visiting the Begijnhof, visit the Wintertuin (Winter Garden) where you can drink hot chocolate, see a nativity scene, sheep, a beautiful Christmas tree and a corner where you can take pictures. For more information about the Begijnhof night and other winter activities visit the official website of the city.
Where to stay in Leuven
Budget - B&B Daya
This bed and breakfast is located right outside of the city centre and provides an excellent breakfast.
Mid-range - Pentahotel Leuven
Situated right in the city centre, this hotel has a great bar and pool table.
Luxury - The Fourth - Tafelrond
This hotel is located in a majestic medieval building, with beautiful and comfortable rooms.
17. Bath, England
Located in the South of England, Bath was named after its Roman-built baths. With these Roman influences, the city is unlike any other, and in some places of the city it will almost make you feel as if you are in Italy.
During Christmas, there are loads of activities that the city organises. For the little ones, there’s the Elves’ Swapshop, where they can wake up Santa Claus by singing his favourite Christmas song and put their old toy in the Elf-O-Matic in return for a ticket to Santa’s toyshop. Visit the Bath Christmas Light Trail, go ice skating or play some glow golf.
Where to stay in Bath
Budget - YHA Bath
This hostel is situated in an Italian-style mansion and is only a 10-minute walk from Bath’s city centre.
Mid-range - Pathways, Beachwood Cottage
Stay the night in a cosy cottage that is situated on a hill and overlooks the city of Bath.
Luxury - Lansdown Grove Hotel
Located in a beautiful old mansion, this 4-star hotel has a beautiful bar and garden.
18. Hallstatt, Austria
Picture the most picturesque Austrian village, with a church tower, 16th-century built Alpine houses, on a lake, surrounded by mountains. Chances are that it looks exactly like Hallstatt, a village situated Lake Hallstat’s western shore, located in an UNESCO World Heritage Site region. In summer the colours of the village are vivid, next to the clear blue lake, but in winter, the colourful Hallstatt is covered in a sparkling blanket of snow. Fairylights light up the cute balconies and alleyways that make the village so charming.
Like many other places, Hallstatt has a Christmas market, but what makes it different is that it is a one-day-only event. But no worries, there are many activities around the lake, which you can explore here. What about Christmas tunes like Silent Night, Holy Night played by a band from a balcony on Christmas Eve, or a crib exhibition in a historic cellar?
Where to stay in Hallstatt
Luxury - Fenix Hall Boutique Hotel
This warm hotel is designed in a modern country style and has beautiful mountain views.
19. Česky Krumlov, Czechia
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site: Česky Krumlov. Its historic centre has the Česky Krumlov Castle Complex and is therefore protected by law. Many parts of the castle don’t have an entrance fee, and it even has a beautiful garden, which was built in the 17th century.
Stroll along the Vltava River and through the old town, which is almost car-free. With plenty of cafes, cute restaurants, galleries and museums such as the Puppet Museum, there is much to see. At the end of the year, you can attend a Christmas concert, see a live nativity scene, an angel parade that goes through town and much more!
Where to stay in Česky Krumlov
Budget - Vltavská Pohádka
This comfortable hotel is located on the gittering water.
Mid-range - Garni Hotel Castle Bridge
At the Garni Hotel Castle Bridge you can get a balcony room with a view over the river.
Luxury - Krumlovská Pohádka
With big rooms, this hotel is perfect if you are staying with a family or a group of friends.
20. Aarhus, Denmark
Aarhus is located on the east side of Denmark and is a small city, which means you can visit everything on foot. With a harbour that is not just a seaport but also a place where some interesting attractions are, the city has lots to offer. For example, DOKK1, a cultural centre located at the harbour with interactive media, games, playgrounds and more, and the Harbour Bath, a complex with swimming pools and saunas.
Another important attraction of Aarhus is Den Gamle By, an open-air town museum in the Aarhus Botanical Gardens. It consists of more than 75 historic houses that were all relocated from all over Denmark and shows Danish history and culture through three centuries. At the end of the year, you can see what Christmas was like throughout the years, and immerse yourself in a different time while trying different types of foods (battered apple slices, crunchy vanilla brown biscuits or gingerbread). Make sure to get tickets in advance!
Where to stay in Aarhus
Budget - BOOK1 by Brøchner Hotels
This modern hostel is perfect for solo travellers and rents out bikes to explore the area.
Mid-range - ApartHotel Faber
The ApartHotel offers big rooms and is located in a central but still in a quiet location.
Luxury - Hotel Oasia Aarhus City
This design hotel has beautiful, Scandinavian-styled rooms and all have comfortable Hästens beds.
21. Montreux, Switzerland
Nestled between the mountains and Lake Geneva lays Montreux. Some say Montreux has the most beautiful promenade in Switzerland, and with the view you have of the water and the mountains, that seems about right (the Freddy Mercury Statue that stands there can’t complain). Visit the Chillon Castle, an island castle located on the lake, which is among the most visited medieval castles in Europe. During Christmas time, the castle turns into a festive paradise and there are many activities to do for all ages.
Take part in the Big Advent Calendar, where you can win great prices, visit the Christmas market that is located on the side of the lake, visit the La Redoute House of Wishes where you can send your wishes directly to Santa Claus or even visit Santa Claus’ house!
Where to stay in Montreux
Luxury - La Rouvenaz
This hotel overlooks the beautiful Lake Geneva.
Do you want to know where to find the best Christmas markets on the continent?
If you’re traveling around Europe during this Christmas season, you simply can’t miss out on the greatest and grandest Christmas markets dotted all across the continent. Different countries have their own way of celebrating, and each Christmas market has their own unique attraction. We complied the best of the best Christmas Market for you to check out here.