The top 7 European cities to visit at Christmas
Several cities

The top 7 European cities to visit at Christmas

Ever dreamt of spending Christmas in one of the most beautiful and welcoming cities in Europe? Our best destinations are packed full of beauty, festive atmosphere, and energy to start the New Year off on the right foot.

Some people are crazy about Christmas markets, mulled wine, and local artisan products. Others cannot wait to pick up their skis and hit some breath-taking slopes. Others prefer to escape to warmer climates by the sea. Let’s not forget those who love Christmas lights and are waiting for the holidays to have some uncomplicated fun.

Whatever your idea of the ideal Christmas holiday, this festive season is a unique opportunity to explore the length and breadth of Europe, see places close to your heart or discover new destinations that have been on your wish list for a long time. Have a look at our suggestions to plan your Christmas trip.

Prague: a fairy-tale Christmas

Prague is a city that casts a magic spell on its visitors. Whether you are crossing the Charles Bridge, wandering around the Jewish Quarter or Malá Strana, or admiring the hilltop castle view, you will feel like you have been transported into a fairy-tale. At Christmas, Prague’s magic knows no end: wonderful lights, artisanal markets, ice rinks, and Nativity scenes are all irresistible attractions for Christmas lovers.

Our recommendations for spending Christmas in Prague:

  • Visit the Christmas markets: there are many scattered through the city centre, but the main (and unmissable) ones are those in Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square, just a few minutes apart. This year they should be open every day from the last week in November until 6th January 2023. Not only will you have an array of souvenirs to pick from, you can also enjoy local delicacies like klobása (grilled sausages), perníčky (spicy gingerbread) and warm yourself up with svařák, a local mulled wine. If you are bringing the kids, the Old Town Square market has an animal stall where they can pet sheep, goats, and donkeys.
  • What would Christmas be without carols? School choirs and folk groups in traditional dress perform every afternoon in the Old Town Square. Taking part in these performances is a great honour for children, who travel from all over the country to take part.
  • Go to a classical music concert or see an opera or a ballet at the National Theatre, the Opera House, the Castle or at one of Prague’s historic churches. You’ll feel as if you were in an eighteenth-century novel – all you’ll need is a carriage to top it off!

Venice: skiing down World Heritage mountains

piste sci cortina

When you think of Venice, the first thing that comes to mind is the wonderful ‘City on Water’ with its canals, streets, and history. But Venice is also the starting point for those travelling to the mountains, seeking fantastic ski resorts aimed at winter tourism. If you would like to spend Christmas on the slopes, rent a car at the airport, take motorway A27 from Mestre, and drive to Belluno. From there, take the national road to Cortina d’Ampezzo, Zoldo Alto, or Folgaria (Trentino).

These are some options for more or less experienced skiers:

  • Great War Ski Tour: this is one of the most spectacular ski circuits in the area, designed to explore the locations where, between 1914 and 1918, Austrian and Italian soldiers fought a devastating war in between the peaks. The entire circular route can be completed in 8 hours, and you will be able to see shelters, trenches, and cannons. You can start from any of these towns: La Villa, San Cassano e Armentarola in Alta Badia, Arabba, Malga Ciapela, Alleghe, Selva di Cadore, and Passo Falzarego.
  • Nordic skiing on the Asiago Plateau: in this area surrounded by seven towns, lovers of cross-country ski will find 500 km of perfect tracks to get away and relax on the peaceful mountains.
  • Glamour and après ski in Cortina, the Queen of the Dolomites. If you believe that the real fun begins when the skis come off, you will love Cortina. This mountain village is not only surrounded by amazing landscapes and beautiful districts, but it is also the most fashionable and prestigious ski location in the country. If you want to be in the in-crowd and are not intimidated by crazy prices, this is the right place for you.

Bari: Christmas traditions and culture

orecchiette bari

In recent years, Puglia has established its reputation as an ideal destination for summer holidays thanks to an irresistible mix of beautiful beaches, cultural cities, fantastic food, and lively culture. But, although most people think that Puglia is synonymous with beach life, it should not be overlooked as a Christmas destination. For example, its capital, Bari, is a beautiful city with deeply embedded traditions, which means Christmas is always a thrilling experience there. We recommend spending a weekend there over the holidays, so you have time to explore the city and the outskirts.

  • Spend a day discovering the wonders of the historic quarter, Old Bari. The narrow alleys, palaces, and churches decorated with stunning Christmas lights that create a fantastic atmosphere. But don’t forget about the people: chat with the people on the famous delle Orecchiette (via dell’Arco Basso) who continue the ancient tradition of hand-made pasta. Bari’s churches are perfect examples of the Puglia Romanesque and beloved by the Pugliesi, and at Christmas they are full of people and ambience.
  • Taste the traditional Baresi Christmas sweets, fragrant fritters cover with sugar and honey, or soaked in mulled wine. And, of course, enjoy the Bari focaccia, perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and as a snack!
  • Take a couple of days to explore the Bari area which is full of interesting places: Polignano a Mare, Alberobello, Putignano, Trani, Giovinazzo, Locorotondo, Cisternino, and more. You really are spoilt for choice because the local towns and villages are all beautiful, and you will avoid the summer crowds.
alberobello puglia

Strasbourg and the magic of Alsace

strasburgo natale

Wooden houses, colourful façades, the smell of cinnamon in the air, lights, decorations, and snow-covered streets. At Christmas-time, Alsace districts look straight out of a fairy tale. Few places in Europe take Christmas so seriously and are so warm and poetic as this French region. These are the places to visit when you travel to this magical destination:

  • Visit the wonderful Strasbourg markets: It’s no wonder the city has been named the “Christmas capital”. From 25th November to 24th December 2022, you’ll be able to explore the oldest Christmas market in France, Christkindelsmarik, dating back to 1570, with 300 stalls all over the old town centre. The mystical atmosphere with carols in the background, the smell of sweets and the twinkling lights will bring back happy childhood memories. One sight to see, in the central Place Kléber, where the market ends, is one of the biggest Christmas trees in Europe.
  • 60 km from Strasbourg is Colmar, one of the most famous towns in Alsace with its wooden houses with brightly-coloured buildings, cobbled streets, and gorgeous canals. It’s a day trip from Strasbourg, so enjoy the local delicacies and take lots of photos! In Colmar too, you’ll find picturesque Christmas markets from 24th November to 29th December 2022.
  • The Alsace Wine Route, a must for wine lovers, goes through beautiful Disney-like villages that are perfect to make a stop at and get into the Christmas spirit. Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, and Riquewihr are just some examples.

Christmas in Bilbao for Foodies

bilbao panorama notturno

Bilbao is the ideal city for those who want to discover the wonders of Basque gastronomy, one of the most highly rated in Europe. In addition to being a leading destination for lovers of architecture and contemporary art, Bilbao is in the culinary avant-garde. Traditional pintxos bars can be found alongside Michelin-star restaurants that experiment mixing old and new recipes. Christmas is the perfect time to enjoy the local cuisine and atmosphere.

  • To bring together culture and food, visit the Guggenheim Museum and then stop at one of the many wonderful restaurants nearby. Learn more about them in this post.
  • Nativity scenes are a strong tradition in Bilbao. Every year, Paseo del Arenal hosts a display of Nativity scenes, created by expert artisans from the Bilbao Nativity associations. Don’t miss the chance to discover this ancient art. 
  • Enjoy the winter sea. There are so many unspoilt beaches near Bilbao, perfect for long, rejuvenating walks. Or, if you are brave enough, you can try surfing the Atlantic waves. 

An “exotic” Christmas in Athens

athens christmas panorama

Apart from the Acropolis, one of the first things you probably associate with the city of Athens is the Aegean Sea and its wonderful islands. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that Athens is only a summer destination: the warm climate and lively cultural scene make the Greek capital an extremely attractive destination all year round. Visit Athens at Christmas and you’ll have the chance to enjoy the birthplace of Ancient Greece and its dynamic districts shrouded in a Christmas atmosphere. Apart from setting off to discover the archaeological remains of ancient Greece, there are other unmissable experiences in Athens during the Christmas period:

  • You will find Christmas stalls scattered all around the city, especially in Monastiraki, one of the most attractive squares in Athens. The particularly lively and colourful Athens Christmas market is a great place to discover traditional products and a wealth of local artisan goods, while you admire the impressive backdrop of the Acropolis. Don’t miss the enormous Syntagma Square, with its magnificent lights and impressive Christmas tree.
  • For the kids, a visit to the Fairy-tale Forest, a sort of theme park set up in the national public gardens is a must. There, they can have hours of fun and learn about traditional Greek fairy tales and those from other countries, among fairy houses and workshops where they can make their own dreams come true.
  • If skiing is what you want, you’ll be happy to know that not far from Athens there are some enticing mountains. The most famous is Mount Parnassus, less than two hours from the capital, where you will find a fully equipped ski resort. Located at an altitude of 2,250 m, more than twenty ski slopes wind their way down it. 

Kid-friendly Christmas in Nantes

machines nantes

There are few cities in Europe that can make children’s imaginations soar like Nantes. The city holds many attractions and cultural spaces designed for kids, from the Jules Verne Museum to the Carrousel du Monde Marin merry-go-round, but most of all the incredible “machines”, gigantic mechanical works that parade around the city. At Christmas, these attractions are even more unmissable owing to a series of fantastic initiatives.

  • The Christmas event at the Galerie des Machines (“Machine Gallery”) is called Noël aux Nefs and is on throughout the Christmas holidays. The Galerie and the workshop where they test the contraptions made by the La Machine company, a bestiary of machines that includes giant birds hanging from the ceiling, frogs, ants and most importantly an enormous elephant. The end-of-year gallery exhibition is particularly magical owing the Christmas exhibition, with fir trees, light displays, chocolate and vin brulé… A truly unique family experience!
  • And those aren’t the only options for family fun: merry-go-rounds, circus shows, ice sculptures and workshops are just a few of the many Christmas events included in the Les Machines de l’île project.
  • In Nantes art is everywhere: after having strolled along the central Rue des Nefs with the kids, among the colourful lights and Christmas trees, set off to discover Le voyage a Nantes, a very interesting artistic tour that will allow you to admire the most striking places in the city and various artistic installations. To get your breath back and enjoy a while in the warm after your walk, go to one of the many bars in the centre for an excellent hot chocolate.

Do you feel the urge to pack your Christmas spirit in your suitcase and go on an unforgettable trip? If you need more inspiration, take a look at all the Volotea destinations and look out for our next posts. We will continue to give you suggestions to set your winter off right!

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