Looking for a European getaway around the festive period? There are tons of amazing towns and cities to check out in the winter season, whether you’re into Christmas markets, hitting the slopes, or catching some winter sun.
With so many awesome options, it can be difficult to choose the best winter European destination for you. That’s why we compiled a list of the 35 best places in Europe to visit in December. Let’s dive in and find out more!
1. Lapland, Finland
Okay, nothing says Christmas like a visit to the real-life Lapland up in northern Finland, flying into a snow-covered paradise called Rovaniemi. Lapland is home to Santa’s workshop, husky dog sled rides through the snow, glass igloos where you can watch the stars, and much, much more.
Honestly, it’s one of the best options if you’re looking for a family vacation in Europe in December!
2. Reykjavik, Iceland
The capital of the Land of Fire and Ice is a super popular destination pretty much all year round. From stunning geysers to geothermal lagoons to awe-inspiring waterfalls, Iceland is a stunning place to visit.
In the winter months, the city comes alive with the Icelandic Christmas traditions of the mischievous Yule Lads and is covered in a layer of snow. Of course, you’ll also be at the peak of the season for seeing the majestic Northern Lights. That’s a bucket-list moment right there!
3. Cologne, Germany
If you love German Christmas Markets, there is one city that rises above the rest. Cologne has not one, not two, but seven different Christmas Markets for you to enjoy. There’s even one that’s on a boat on the river.
In December, the entire city gets taken over by festive vibes, and the smell of Gluhwein and Bratwurst is just about everywhere—it’s magical! It’s also beautiful to see the architecturally stunning Cologne Cathedral dusted in snow.
4. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest has long been a great spot to visit if you’re looking for a budget European getaway, and it’s especially beautiful in the winter months. Like many central European cities, there is a huge Christmas Market to enjoy, and the prices of accommodation, food, and drink, are a fraction of what they are in Germany.
There are also a ton of beautiful open-air thermal spas to relax in and warm up after a chilly walk around the city.
5. Prague, Czechia
Want to ice skate around medieval architecture and be surrounded by beautiful, historic buildings? Well then, you need to head to Prague in Czechia (formerly the Czech Republic).
Prague has one of the most stunning Old Towns in the whole of Europe, and in December, with the snow, the markets, and the lights, it gets completely transformed. There’s a distinctive Baroque vibe to Prague that makes it feel like you’re in some kind of European fairytale.
6. Edinburgh, Scotland
If you’ve ever visited Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, you’ll know how magical the cobbled streets of Old Town are and how cool the atmosphere of the city actually is. In December, there are a ton of amazing festivals and celebrations.
From the Celtic Winter Solstice on Calton Hill to the famous Hogmanay New Year’s Eve celebrations, Edinburgh in December is a great place to be if you want a mix of culture, festive vibes, and fun.
7. Munich, Germany
Did you know that there was a thing called a Christmas Tram? Well, in Munich, Germany, you can take a festive ride through the city, between Christmas Markets, open-air curling arenas, and more.
Usually covered in a blanket of snow, Munich in December is the quintessential city when you imagine German Christmas time. Make sure to wrap up warm and buy as many candied almonds as your arms can carry!
8. Copenhagen, Denmark
If you want to indulge yourself in a winter wonderland that unleashes your inner child, head to Copenhagen. The Danish capital has a huge Christmas market and the super popular Tivoli Gardens transforms into a winter playground full of fun, fairground rides, and all the traditional Christmas treats.
Whether you’re traveling with kids or just want to be a big kid at Christmas time, Copenhagen is always a good idea in December.
9. Salzburg, Austria
Okay, so The Sound of Music is always playing on at least one channel at Christmastime, so why not visit where it was filmed? Salzburg in Austria is a beautiful and historic city – it’s the birthplace of Mozart – and it’s perfect in December.
You can wander around the Christmas markets, go for a wintery walk or hike around the hillsides, and even explore the medieval castles to get your fill of culture.
10. Lille, France
You might not know much about Lille in France, but in December, it’s a winter wonderland that’s home to one of the biggest and best Christmas markets in the whole of France.
With light dustings of snow, that classic French joie de vivre, and a ton of delicious French treats, Lille is an amazing place to be in December. As it’s right by the border with Belgium, you can also make it a dual-city trip with the next destination on our list.
11. Brussels, Belgium
The Belgian capital is a popular short city break as it’s a super walkable city, filled with history and culture. It’s got a fantastic Christmas Market in December, and Brussels is easy to reach by train, even if you’re coming from London, as the Eurostar goes directly into Brussels.
Overall, you can get your fill of culture, history, and festive spirit, all in one amazing capital – with super strong beers!
12. Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, Spain
If you’re looking for some winter sunshine, head out to the gorgeous volcanic island of Fuerteventura. As a part of the Canary Islands off the coast of Northwest Africa, Fuerteventura is warm and sunny pretty much all year round.
You can hike the volcano and surf up a storm with the amazing winter swells that hit Europe at that time of year. Of course, being a Spanish island, you know that the food and drink are going to be on point!
13. Madeira, Portugal
Speaking of Atlantic islands off the coast of Africa, Madeira is another super popular winter sun destination. This Portuguese island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Europe and for good reason!
Take a hike along one of the waterfall-filled routes, slide down the hills of Funchal in a traditional toboggan, or sit back and relax in one of the freshwater pools and look out into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great way to escape the dreary winter weather!
14. Florence, Italy
Let’s be honest, there isn’t a bad time of year to visit Florence. This Italian city is full of beautiful architecture, history, culture, and amazing food. As December is during the off-season, there are way fewer tourists so you can have the place all to yourself.
You can also have your fill of Italian Christmas traditions—and yes, that means eating your weight in Panettone! It’s the perfect way to kick off the festive season.
15. Warsaw, Poland
The capital of Poland is an illuminated wonderland during December. If you’re into history, you’re going to love a trip to Warsaw, as it’s around every corner! During December, Warsaw gets covered with Christmas markets, ice rinks, light displays, and much, much more.
Also, by other Central European standards, Warsaw is a super affordable option if you’re traveling to Europe in December on a budget.
16. Chamonix, France
We cannot talk about European December getaways without talking about some world-class skiing destinations. Chamonix in France is commonly known as one of the best places to ski in the whole of the Alps, making it one of the best ski destinations in the world.
Spend some time on the slopes, kick back and have a drink or three at Apres, or curl up in front of a fire with a mug of mulled wine and a book. Sounds perfect, right?
17. Budva, Montenegro
You might not know a lot about Montenegro, but this Balkan nation is nestled between Croatia and Albania on the Mediterranean coast. The town of Budva sits right on the coast and has a bustling nightlife scene in the summer months – think Ibiza on a budget.
However, in the off-season, Budva is a super chilled seaside town with a beautiful Old Town, filled with cobbled streets and relaxing beaches.
18. Valetta, Malta
Due to Malta’s location in the Mediterranean, it’s pretty warm and sunny all year. If you want some classic European sunshine in the heart of winter, Malta’s capital, Valletta, needs to be high on your list.
With beautiful old-world Mediterranean architecture and winding alleyways, it’s easy to get lost in the island fantasy!
19. Nazare, Portugal
Okay, it might sound weird to include a small coastal town in Portugal on this list, but December is the perfect time to visit the surfing mecca of Nazare in Portugal. Home to one of the biggest waves in the entire world, December is when the monster swells hit this iconic beach town.
On any given day, you’ll see some of the world’s best riding 60ft waves at this quintessentially Portuguese fishing town.
20. Sicily, Italy
Home to the Godfather, cannolis, and Mount Etna, Sicily is a wonderful place to visit, especially in December when the tourist hordes are gone and the temperatures are a little bit more bearable.
Whether you want to check out the iconic ruins at Agrigento, chill on the beaches of San Vito Lo Capo, or explore the beautiful town of Taormina, there is a little something for everyone in Sicily in December.
21. Zermatt, Switzerland
If you’re looking for a quintessential Swiss ski town, there’s no better place than Zermatt. With the mighty Matterhorn towering over the town, it’s impossible to ignore the impact that the mountain and snow sports have on the town.
In fact, its peak season is the winter season. One of the coolest things about Zermatt is that it’s completely car-free. It makes it annoying to get there, but it’s really nice to wander around the town without worrying about traffic.
22. Nice, France
It’s no secret that I love Nice, and it’s a great place to visit during any season. With a stunning promenade that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, a beautiful old town district that you can easily get lost in, and tons of delicious French food and wine, you’re spoiled for choice.
Also, in December, Nice’s Place Masséna gets transformed with a Christmas Market and a giant Ferris Wheel!
23. Riga, Latvia
If you want a real taste of the festive spirit but don’t want to spend a fortune, it’s time that you check out the capital of Latvia, Riga. Honestly, Riga is a beautiful city that’s got bags of character and history and is quickly becoming one of the most popular cheap city breaks in Europe.
The old town gets doused in snow, and it gets turned into a complete winter wonderland.
24. Stockholm, Sweden
Want to get a Scandinavian Christmas vibe but don’t want to be stuck in massive amounts of snow? Well, as Stockholm is on the coast, you rarely have to worry about being snowed in, compared to most of Sweden, but you can still benefit from all the cozy Christmas traditions that make this part of the world magical in December.
Make sure to check out the markets and the giant Christmas trees!
25. Paris, France
Can you have a list of the best places to go in Europe without including Paris? The capital of France is one of those cities that’s beautiful no matter what the season or month, and December is no different.
Wrap up warm and see the Eiffel Tower covered in snow, take a wintery cruise on the Seine, or eat a ton of festive French pastries and desserts!
26. Oslo, Norway
Honestly, compared to the other Nordic capitals, Oslo doesn’t seem to get a ton of love, despite being a gorgeous city. In December, it comes into its own with Christmas markets, sledding and cross-country skiing, and a ton of hot tubs to warm up in after a long day exploring beautiful Norway!
It’s the perfect winter vibe to lead you into the Christmas period.
27. Valencia, Spain
Located in the south of Spain, Valencia is an awesome place for some winter sun and culture. You can be surrounded by palm trees, sunshine, and creativity, but at the same time, you’ll also find a giant skating rink with a huge Christmas tree.
It’s kind of weird to see an ice rink in a warm city, but it’s a cool way to lead into the festive season.
28. Crete, Greece
If you’re looking for December island vibes, you need to check out Crete in Greece. Filled with amazing ruins, ancient temples and towns, and beautiful architecture, Crete is an awesome place to visit.
As it’s a lot cooler but still has plenty of sunshine, it’s a decent temperature to wander around the old town and ruins without the tons of tourists who visit in the summer.
29. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Honestly, Amsterdam is a super popular city break for a lot of reasons, and in December it’s definitely a great place to be. In fact, the canals freeze over during the winter and the locals walk and ice skate straight over it, so much of the city turns into a magical winter wonderland.
There are also a ton of Christmas lights all around the city, which makes it look super festive.
30. Strasbourg, France
Located on the border between France and Germany, Strasbourg is kind of the best of both worlds. With fairytale European architecture and winding rivers, the city looks like it’s jumped straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson book.
In the winter, you can find one of the best Christmas markets in the world, as there’s a blend of French and German vendors, making the whole thing even more delicious!
31. Manchester, UK
If you want to head over to the UK in December, why not journey to the north-west of the country to the bustling city of Manchester?
Known for its music scene, football, and independent food scene, Manchester is super popular in December as it has one of the biggest Christmas markets in the UK, which takes over the majority of the city.
You might be able to catch a football game while you’re there.
32. Dublin, Ireland
There’s something so magical about Dublin at Christmas. If you’re lucky, you might get flutterings of snow on the cobbled streets around Temple Bar!
The whole city is lit up with festive lights and displays, which gives you a warm and fuzzy feeling all through December.
Wrap up in your big coat and boots, get yourself an Irish coffee, and enjoy exploring this beautiful capital city!
33. Tallinn, Estonia
Located in the Baltics, Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is quickly becoming a popular expat destination thanks to its Scandi flair without the Scandi price tag! In December, Tallinn is covered in snow, and there are tons of Christmas market booths open for business.
With the snow all over the towers, spires, and cobbles of the old town, it’s a perfect spot for a winter getaway.
34. Ibiza, Spain
Hunting for some winter sun? There’s probably no better place for a chilled-out, sunny, December vacation than Ibiza.
This Spanish Balearic Island is known all over the world for its summer party vibes, but in the winter, Ibiza has a more laidback feel to it which makes it ideal for exploring the more picturesque towns and going on coastal hikes.
35. Lagos, Portugal
It might sound weird to book a Portuguese beach break in December, but the small town of Lagos is beautiful in the winter.
With coastal walks, hidden grottos, and excellent surfing during December, if you want an outdoorsy December escape in Europe, but don’t want to head into the snowy mountains, Lagos is an amazing option.
Read More About Europe:
- Is it Worth It to Visit Zermatt?
- Best French Wine Tours for an Unforgettable Wine Experience
- The Only Itinerary You’ll Need for Visiting Naples in Two Days
- How to Spend One Day in Polignano a Mare
Dayna Brockbank is a travel and language-learning blogger who has lived around the world but has now settled in Nice, France. She speaks 3 languages at varying levels of fluency: Spanish, Italian, and French, and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education. She and her husband focus on making travel part of life by living cheaply and traveling on a budget.