Europe is often frequented during the summer but don’t neglect the winter months. Christmas time, in particular, is a truly magical period in the continent that invented many Christmas traditions. From the German Christmas markets to the Northern Lights, there’s so much worth exploring. Keep reading to discover the best places to visit in Europe in December.
You can choose a destination based on your preferences. Are you looking to embrace the cold and dark days or would you prefer to escape to somewhere sunny? Europe offers it all. Choose carefully because each country celebrates Christmas a little differently. Select a destination that excites you.
With that in mind, it’s time to discover Europe’s best winter destinations. Below, find the seven best places to visit in Europe in December. They all offer something a little different and are all absolutely worth visiting.
Germany supposedly invented Christmas or, at least, many of the traditions associated with it. Any German city will feel a little bit magical in December but perhaps none more so than Cologne. This is one of Germany’s most beautiful destinations and it really comes alive during the winter. In particular, tourists flock to Cologne for its world-famous Christmas markets.
There are several Christmas markets in Cologne, with the largest being right in the town center, next to its spectacular cathedral. These are the most visited Christmas markets in Germany, attracting a staggering four million people a year. Until you’ve experienced it for yourself, you won’t understand how truly magical December can be in Europe.
At the markets, you can shop for unique and handmade gifts and sample some famous German cuisine. Cologne is a city that’s embraced Christmas almost like no other which is why we’ve put it among the best places to visit in Europe in December. If you’re lucky, a dusting of snow will make this an even more Christmassy experience that the whole family will fall in love with.
No matter where you’re from in the world, you probably associate Christmas with snow. That’s because, in our culture, we believe that Santa lives in Lapland. Well, what if you could visit Santa for real? Well, you can. He lives in a town called Rovaniemi which is open to the public. That’s what makes it among the best places to visit in Europe in December. If you have kids, then this is like the ultimate version of Disneyland.
Located in the far north of Finland, Rovaniemi isn’t the easiest place to reach. It’s quite expensive and becomes even more so around the Christmas season. However, there’s a good reason for this. It’s truly the most Christmassy place on Earth. Even if you come at the very start of December, you’ll feel this magic.
The city itself is incredible, sitting among unspoiled natural beauty. From there, you’ll want to visit Santa Claus Village for the ultimate Christmas experience. This theme park is like none other on the planet and offers the most authentic experience of Christmas for you and your family.
If you’re seeking the best of European winter, then Kiruna is a fantastic option. This town, located in the far north of Sweden is among the most desirable destinations in Lapland. There’s no Santa Clause Village here so it’s not a Christmas experience as such but it does offer something even more spectacular: the Northern Lights. This is the ideal December destination for couples.
Like anywhere in Scandinavia, getting to Kiruna and staying there isn’t cheap. You’ll need to fly to Stockholm and then take the sleeper train all the way through the incredible Swedish wilderness. Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself in a tiny town, filling you with a deep sense of remoteness. If you need to truly get away this winter, head to Kiruna.
This wild location is home to some amazing animals, including bears. You won’t see bears in the winter but you might spot some moose or reindeer and you’ll have the chance to go dog sledding. On top of this, you’ll have the chance to stay in the world-famous ice hotel. That alone makes the trip an exciting one but, of course, the main attraction is the Northern Lights.
If you want to visit a Nordic country but can’t afford the likes of Norway, Sweden, or Finland, then head to Tallinn. Estonia’s capital has its own winter charm that makes it well worth visiting. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site filled with untouched architectural beauty. It also houses one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Tallinn residents have been putting up and decorating a Christmas tree in the Old Town since 1441. This tradition continues to this day and is one of the oldest examples of decorating a tree for Christmas in the world. Estonians have really embraced the spirit of Christmas.
Estonia is a safe, modern, and stunning country that many tourists overlook. You shouldn’t, though. It’s affordable and incredibly beautiful, especially during December after a steady snowfall. This Baltic state is rarely on the itinerary of first-time travelers to Europe. However, those who go often find that they prefer it to anywhere else. Get ahead of the crows and visit Estonia while it’s still cool and relatively unknown. If you get the chance, you’ll love spending December in Tallinn.
Not everyone wants to embrace the cold during December. Perhaps you’re more interested in going somewhere a little warmer and escaping the bleakness of winter. In this case, you’ll want to head south. One of Europe’s most southern cities is Dubrovnik. It has as much charm as any northern European city but without the freezing temperature.
It won’t be warm enough to swim but it will still be fairly mild. Temperatures in Dubrovnik average 57°F (14°C), which is warm enough to enjoy. If you’re someone that hates the cold, then this might be more tolerable. Dubrovnik is by far one of the best places to visit in Europe in December, mostly for its incredible beauty. As you wander around the rocky coastline, through the labyrinth-like streets of the Old Town, and up the crooked steps towards amazing views, you’ll understand why this city is so special.
The setting for many Game of Thrones scenes, Dubrovnik has an ancient charm. Its city walls are among the oldest in the world and its coastal location offers stunning natural beauty. Croatians celebrate Christmas just like everybody else. They just do it among slightly better weather. For those who hate the cold, a Dubrovnik December is ideal.
Seville has often been described as the frying pan of Europe. Despite its amazing beauty, many people are scared to go there. It’s roasting hot and yet not particularly close to the sea. That means that you can’t even go for a swim to cool off. When the summers are reaching more than 100°F (40°C), this can be almost unbearable.
However, if you visit Seville in December, then you get a whole different experience. The weather during this time is a much more manageable 62-68°F (17-20°F). If you’ve always wanted to visit Seville for its unmatched architectural beauty and wonderful Spanish culture, then why not do it in December? You’ll get to experience all that without worrying about suffering from heatstroke.
Spain is a religious country so it’s a great place to visit if you like this side of Christmas. You’ll get to see how Catholics celebrate this special occasion. At the same time, the population of Seville is young and you’re bound to have a lot of fun nights out as you celebrate the festive season.
Sometimes, December is about taking a real break. You want to go somewhere far away and experience something completely different. While Europe is a vast and diverse landscape, there’s nowhere quite like Iceland. An island located far from the mainland of the European continent, Iceland is truly one of the most unique landscapes on the planet.
Furthermore, Iceland really comes alive during December. That’s when it’s at its best and the time when you should plan your visit. You’ll be able to experience the beauty of winter, with thick snowfall being likely. Reykjavík is the most northerly capital city in the world. If you’re looking to head north this Christmas, does it get better than that?
Iceland is a powerful and dramatic island. As nice as Reykjavík is as a base, make sure you take the time to explore the more remote areas of this country. For most people, visiting Iceland is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, especially considering the high costs of this trip. If you get out to nature, it will be a trip that you’ll never forget.