There are two types of people in this world – those who are quick to pass on a trip to Europe in winter, instead saving up their holidays for the sun-kissed summer season. Meanwhile, there are those who embrace the colder weather and are bustling to make the most of the chillier months and, in particular, December, when they can celebrate with twinkling Christmas decorations, lantern-lit cobbled streets and all the scrumptious treats and mulled-wine that the festive season brings with it.
Some cities, beyond the Christmas market crowds, provide a refreshingly peaceful and inexpensive option for the colder weather, offering heart-warming experiences that are well worth travelling for. Perhaps you have always wanted to ride in a sleigh, drink authentic mulled wine in the crisp white snow, or snow ski down some of the world’s most majestic mountain sides. To help you decide where to go this cold-weather season, we have put together a list of the 12 best European cities to visit in December 2021. So, go ahead and discover some of the best December city breaks and make your Christmas one to remember.
The Best European City Breaks in December 2021
Prague, Czech Republic
With the magnificent Prague Castle, the Gothic marvel that is Charles Bridge and the winding cobbled streets that twist and turn towards exciting things to discover. Prague is a city that rivals the most beautiful in the whole world – and, especially so in December when the city’s skyline is topped with snow and its enchanting spires captivate locals and visitors alike. This beauty, along with its incredible winter attractions and authentic Christmas markets, make Prague one of the best European cities to visit in December.
December is a great time to visit Prague, if only because it is so much cheaper than in the warmer months, offering some exceptional hotel and flight deals. When it snows in Prague, the city transforms into a fairy-tale, with its iconic red rooftops covered in powdery white snow. Here, you can snack on hot, sugar-coated pastries as you browse local crafts at the Christmas markets. Wander into Wenceslas Square to continue window shopping in modern shops, admiring glitzy hotels and stop off for drinks at trendy bars to warm the soul. Want to do something a little more active? Get your skates on at the ice skating rink at Ovocný Trh Square, before going to see the yearly performance of The Nutcracker at the National Theatre.
Things to do in Prage in December:
- Prague Castle – one of the best things about visiting Prague Castle in December is the shorter queues.
- Christmas markets – hundreds of stall sell everything from local hand-crafts to tree ornaments, toys, ceramics and more.
- Charles Bridge – each day in December, until December 23rd, a lamplighter dressed in period clothes arrives on Charles Bridge at 4pm to manually light up the gas lamps on Charles Bridge.
- Ice skating – on the coldest December days, when the water freezes over, you can see Czechs on the Vltava River or on the Slapy dam, about an hour outside Prague.
- Cross-country ski in the city – you can now try cross-country skiing without even leaving the city. Once the snow starts to fall, a number of city parks can be explored on skis or snowshoes.
- Traditional Czech food – Czech food isn’t made for warm weather – it’s hearty and comforting, with lots of stews, thick soups and gravies. In other words, it is perfect for winter.
- Museums – chilly December days offer an ideal opportunity to escape indoors and discover some of Prague’s most exciting museums, including the Kafka Museum, the Strahov Library, the Museum of Communism and the National Museum.
If you have ever wanted to truly experience the Danish concept of hygge, then Copenhagen is by far one of the best cities to visit in Europe in December. Hygge represents everything we love about December holidays – it’s all about warming up in charming cafes with a steaming mug of mulled wine, sugar-topped pancakes and good conversation with friends. Copenhagen is jam-packed full of quaint, authentic cafes and bakeries where you can enjoy all the Xmas pastries.
But, it’s not all about the food, there are plenty of attractions that make Copenhagen one of the best places to visit in December. You can load up with shopping bags at the Nyhavn Christmas market, stroll through the Frederiksberg Gardens which transforms into an outdoor skating rink during the winter, and marvel at the illumination of Tivoli Gardens complete with festive markets, roller coasters and live music. In my opinion, there is no better time to visit Copenhagen than in December.
Things to see and do in Copenhagen in December:
- Tivoli Gardens – these beautiful gardens are transformed into a winter wonderland during the winter months.
- Christmas markets – in December, the city comes alive with Christmas markets, with over 15 dotted around Copenhagen.
- Eat winter food – there are so many winter delights to get your taste buds tingling in Copenhagen, including Flæskesteg, a classic Smørrebrød open sandwich or stick to sweet treats like yummy cinnamon buns.
- Nyhavn – no trip to Copenhagen would be complete without taking a couple of snaps of the colourful buildings that line the canal.
- Museums – if you’d rather enjoy an indoor activity during the colder months then Copenhagen as plenty of options, including The Danish National Gallery, Museum of Copenhagen and the National Museum of Denmark.
- Cafe-hop – enjoy hopping from cafe to cafe, soaking up coffee culture and cosy interiors around the city.
Berlin is one of the best European cities to visit in December, with over 70 Christmas markets to explore and seasonal cheer galore. It is a city with an eclectic mix of architectural beauty, rich culture and incredible art – and all this gets even better during the winter months. If you don’t mind the cold weather then visiting Berlin in December opens up a whole new world of dazzling fairy lights, delicious winter treats and endless contagious Christmas spirit.
Visiting this European city in December gives you the chance to explore its endless selection of museums, monuments and galleries without the queues and hordes of tourists jostling to get that insta-perfect pic. Leisurely stroll through the swathes of Christmas markets, admiring the beautiful handmade souvenirs on offer, sample the famous mulled wine and feast on all the local winter delights, such as creamed mushrooms and kale and sausage stews.
Things to do and see in Berlin in December:
- Try the local food – winter is the best time to sample some of Berlin’s local delicacies, from roast goose to fondue.
- Botanischer Garten – be spellbound walking through the Christmas Garden at Berlin’s botanical garden.
- Museums – Berlin boasts the highest density of museums in the world and winter is the perfect time to discover them.
- Babylon theatre – the theatre is the perfect place to snuggle up while watching a silent classic movie with your loved one.
- Christmas markets – The carnival-themed Wintertraum am Alexa market is a great choice for families with its many fantastic rides and attractions to keep the little ones busy.
By far my favourite month to visit Vienna, December means the aroma of Glühwein and hot Punch coursing through the streets, thousands of lights glistening in the dark, crisp night and plenty of seasonal cheer to go around. Vienna is a magical choice for a December vacation, with great ski resorts located just an hour from the city, world-class classical concerts and art exhibits, ice rinks and, of course, bustling Christmas markets. What more could you want from a winter holiday in Europe?
Things to do and see in Vienna in December:
- Belvedere – when the sky turns dark, the Uper Belvedere Palace is reflected in the small lake in front of it, creating a fairytale vista.
- Christmas markets – the city has endless markets to choose from and all of them have culinary temptation down to a fine art.
- Advent concert – Vienna fills with the sound of Advent Concerts in December, including special ‘Strauss & Mozart’ Christmas performances.
- Rathauspark – one of the Christmas markets along the Ring is the famous Christkindlmarkt on the Rathausplatz, with hidden displays, decorated trees, nativity scenes and illuminated ice skating trails.
- Roast chestnut stand – pretty much every major street corner has a roast chestnut stall in December – known as a ‘Maronistand’.
- Nativity scenes in St. Peter’s Church – Peterskirche features decorative Baroque opulence and is even more atmospheric in December when it hosts an exhibition of nativity scenes.
If you’re looking for the best European city to visit in December for skiiing then pack your snow gear and head for Oslo. Just half an hour from the city centre, Oslo Winter Park is one of the largest terrain parks in Norway, with a total of 18 slopes and 1 1 lifts. That’s not all this European city has to offer in December though – with the 2,000-metre long Korketrekkeren toboggan run, cross country trails at Oslo Ski Centre and endless spots for sledging no matter where you are. Oslo is by far one of the best places in Europe to visit in December.
Oslo is a hub of Christmas cheer in December, with The Spikersupa Ice Skating rink located right in the heart of the city, with a Ferris wheel, traditional crafts on sale and plenty of snowy activities to get involved in. If the weather isn’t particularly outdoorsy (which it quite often isn’t in December) there are also a number of options for things to do indoors, including indoor Christmas market tents that cocoon you in a festive atmosphere full of gingerbread, cinnamon and gløgg (mulled wine).
The best things to do and see in Oslo in December:
- Ice Skating at Frogner Stadion – this stadium is popular all year round but particularly so during December when artificial ice is laid down and it transforms into an ice skating rink.
- Oslo Winter Park at Tryvann – you can simply take the metro to the Frognerseteren and follow the signs to Tryvann, you will come to an area where you can both ski and snowboard.
- Holmenkollen – this area of the city is home to one of the world’s most famous ski jumps.
- Christmas markets – the markets in Oslo give a really intimate and charming experience.
- Eat everything at Mathallen – one of the most famous food halls in the city.
- Oslo Opera House – one of the most recognisable symbols of Oslo is the modern Oslo Operahuset.
If you are looking for the chance to feast on fondue, watch awe-inspiring light shows and see a Christmas tree decorated with 7,000 Swarovski crystals then you’ve just discovered the best European city to visit in December for you – Zurich! Christmas is larger than life in Zurich, with plenty of highlights to get you in the festive spirit. If you have time left over after shopping and eating melted cheese, then there are a range of amazing events left for you to do in December.
One of the greatest highlights of Zurich in December is the indoor Christmas market at the Main Train Station – one of the largest of its kind in Europe, housing a 50-foot tall Swarovski tree, 150 stalls and the irresistible smell of gingerbread and cinnamon in the air. For the entire month of December, the inner courtyard of the National Museum also hosts a spectacular, interactive light show, Illuminarium. There is even a Christmas circus, The Circus Conelli, with pro acrobatic, comedy and musical performances.
The best things to do and see in Zurich in December:
- Christmas markets – the city plays host to a number of Xmas markets, each one offering a unique take on traditional festivities.
- Museums & art galleries – if you’re looking to escape the cold for a few hours, then there is no better way than in one of the city’s many museums and art galleries.
- Feast on local food – Zurich has plenty of cheese and chocolate havens, from fondues o food tours.
- Walking tour – it might be a little chilly outside, but a walking tour is still the best way to see the city.
- Sukkulenten Sammlung – this indoor botanical garden is another great place to warm up.
- Hike Up Uetliberg – towering 871 metres above sea level, Uetliberg Mountain is a brilliant active winter activity.
Budapest is one of the best European city breaks in December thanks to its thermal baths, scenic river cruises, magically lit streets and even trams that light up each evening. And that’s not to mention the impressive array of atmospheric restaurants, vibrants bars and cosy cafes.
if it’s shopping you’re looking for, Budapest has a whole host of magnificent markets and famous retail streets to explore. Vörösmarty Square is home to the most spectacular Christmas market, offering crafts, goulash, grilled sausages and classic chimney cake just waiting to be washed down with mug of hot, spicy Christmas punch. If you have time, you should also make sure to visit the Hungarian State Opera House to see the yearly performance of The Nutcracker Ballet.
The best things to do and see in Budapest in December:
- Christmas markets – The best-known and biggest Christmas market is on central Vörösmarty tér.
- Celebrate Santa Claus Day – The feast day of St Nicholas, 6 December, is the traditional day in Hungary when Santa Claus comes to town.
- Ride the Illuminated Christmas Trams – From late November until early January, tram 2 dresses up in thousands of white- and blue-coloured LED lights.
- Ice skating in City Park – Trek up to City Park to Europe’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink.
- Soak in the thermal baths – The best-known and most popular are Széchenyi Baths in City Park and Gellért Baths up by Gellért Hill.
Amsterdam is at its best during the winter time, with Christmas celebrations that last for the entire month of December. And, truly making this European city one of the best places to visit in December, those infamous crowds, now associated with Amsterdam, noticeably thin out when the temperatures start to drop. This means that you can make the most of the snow-shrouded canal views and cosy restaurants and cafes in absolute peace. There is no questioning it – while Amsterdam is impossibly pretty at the worst of times, the city looks like a perfect Christmas card when it is dusted in fluffy clouds of pure white snow. It makes for a wildly romantic backdrop to any city break in December, along with twinkling lights brightening up those chilly winter nights.
Another thing about Amsterdam that makes it one of the best city breaks in December is the food! Dutch food, hearty with plenty of bread and potatoes, becomes even more satisfying on freezing cold winter days. So, with warming pubs, fairytale architecture and plenty of festive events and activities to enjoy, Amsterdam makes for one of the best European cities to visit in December. So, make sure to wrap up warm and enjoy all the fun this city has to offer during the winter months.
Things to do in Amsterdam in December:
- Amsterdam Light Festival – see the magical light installations that light up the canals, streets and landmarks from November to January.
- Ice skate on the frozen canals – if conditions are right then the canals are blocked off to allow enough ice to form so that you can actually skate on them safely.
- Christmas markets – Amsterdam takes a more unique, independent approach when it comes to festive markets.
- Eat Dutch cuisine – Dutch cuisine was made for cold days, including stamppot (traditional Dutch mash), snert (pea and ham soup) and olliebollen (delicious balls of doughnutty goodness).
- Wander the stunning streets – make the most of the streets being less crowded in winter and stroll through them at your own leisure.
Tallin is another great European city to visit in December, practically overflowing with charm owing to its turreted castles and its idyllic location on the Baltic Sea. This Estonian city has one of the best-preserved historical centres in the whole of Europe, with many of its medieval buildings falling under UNESCO protection. The stunning views from Toompea Castle are even more astonishing under a layer of snow.
While its summer is a favourite for stag parties attracted by cheap beer and budget flights, in winter, Tallin takes on a whole new kind of magic. This magic is enhanced by the lack of tourists visiting in December – the narrow cobbled streets, grand merchants houses, medieval walls and secret courtyards are almost deserted at this time of the year. A unique and incredibly special place, Tallin is certainly deserving of a place on this list of the best European cities to visit in December.
Things to do in Tallin in December:
- Old Town Hall Square – this was the heart of medieval Tallin and is now filled with Christmas market stalls in December.
- Old Town Walls – the original medieval walls were 2.4km long and although they don’t all still exist you can climb to the top of the ones that do.
- Cosy cafes – if you can’t handle the cold any longer, retreat indoors into one of the Old Town’s cafes and snuggle up with a hõõgwein (Estonian style mulled wine with fruit and nuts)
- Christmas markets – the market in the Old Town is one of the best I’ve ever been to.
- The Kadriorg Park – this beautiful park is located in the Kadriorg area, a charming seaside district of Tallin.
Dublin, Ireland’s capital, is one of the best places to visit in December – and not just because of its cosy pubs. During the month of December, there are endless magical things to do and see in Dublin; whether you’re wanting Christmas shows, festive markets, outdoor events, or some uniquely Irish activities, Dublin in winter will exceed all your expectations.
Dublin screams Christmas – in fact, for the past 9 years, the city has hosted the truly magical Smashing Times City of Dublin Parade. This is a festival that honours the Winter Solstice (21st December) and often consists of céilí dancing, traditional storytelling and even a fire ceremony. This is what makes December the perfect time to visit Dublin and we’re certain you won’t be disappointed.
Things to do in Dublin in December:
- The Wild Lights at Dublin Zoo – during December, Dublin Zoo hosts its annual ‘Wild Lights’ event, with a different theme every year.
- The Guinness Choir in St Patrick’s Cathedral – the Guinness Choir perform every year in the historical St Patrick’s Cathedral.
- A Christmas Walking Tour – enjoy a Christmas walking tour with a local and experience all Dublin has to offer in December.
- Christmas markets – although smaller than in some European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Dublin’s festive markets are definitely still worth exploring.
- Bottomless popcorn and Christmas movies – The Singing Cinema Christmas Special is an event of Xmas films and snacks!
Stockholm has everything you could possibly want from a December city break. Northern Lights, check. Christmas markets, check. Cosy cafes, check. Although Stockholm may draw in more travellers during the summer months, we would argue that it must be experienced in the winter. In our opinion, December is the best time to visit this Swedish city, when local restaurants serve up hearty Christmas buffets (julbord), the stunning scenery gets even more beautiful as it’s covered by snowflakes, and the quaint city lights up with fairy lights and Christmas cheer.
Stockholm truly does become a winter wonderland in December – especially given that it almost always snow at this time of year, when the temperate drops below freezing. This makes it is the perfect European city to visit in December if you are looking to have a really authentic Christmas getaway. Stockholm is not only picture perfect in winter but there are also plenty of tourist destinations and winter activities to get involved in.
Things to do in Stockholm in December:
- Attend a Lucia Procession – on December 13th, many processions of Lucia, the Queen of Light, take place across the city.
- Christmas markets – the two busiest Christmas markets in Stockholm are the one in Stortorget Square and Skansen’s Christmas Market.
- Ice skating at Kungsträdgården – this is the best place to go ice skating in the city.
- Try the Christmas buffet – you cannot leave Stockholm in December without trying the julbord – a mix of hot and cold dishes including marinated herring, salmon, cod, sausages, meatballs and the julskinka.
- See the world’s largest Christmas tree – the 38-meter-tall tree located at Skeppsbrokajen is supposedly the largest in the world.
Although Poland in December might conjure up images of bitter cold and harsh architecture, the reality is very different. In fact, Krakow, formerly Poland’s capital, is one of the best European cities to visit in December. Nestled in southern Poland, just north of the border with Slovakia, the streets of Krakow are often topped with a festive snow blanket, while the vibrant culture, sights and delicious, hearty cuisine create a truly magical Christmas experience.
Winter is an excellent time to visit Krakow as the crowds tend to be smaller, allowing you to leisurely roam the streets or quickly escape the cold when visiting some of the city’s must-see attractions. Visit in December to glimpse the astonishing fairytale setting with its magnificent views over the river Vistula. While you’re there, make sure to pay a visit to the Christmas market in Rynek Gówny, or Main Square. Here you will find mulled wine sold directly from wooden barrels, handmade crafts to hang on your tree or delicious Polish foods to fill your stomach.
Things to do in Krakow in December:
- See the Szopki – One of Kraków’s most idiosyncratic Christmas traditions is the popular creation of ‘szopki‘, structures which resemble colourful, foil-covered castles.
- Take a walk in the woods – if you’re tired of the bustle of the city, few things are more peaceful than a stroll in the snow-covered woods.
- Sleigh ride – a traditional sleigh ride typically includes a large horse-drawn sled winding through the stunning snow-draped valleys surrounding Kraków.
- Hit the slopes – Kraków is conveniently located only 100km north of the Tatra Mountains where you can go skiing or snowboarding.