Do you hear what I hear? It’s the sound of church bells nestled inside of tall steeples, Christmas music drifting through the air, and people of all ages chattering at Christmas markets. Christmas in Europe is magical. There’s no better way to describe it. Is it cold? Yes. But put on your warmest coat and fuzziest socks and marvel at the beauty of the quaint villages, snow covered rooftops, and over-the-top extravagant Christmas decor. I’ve complied 25 photos that will inspire you to spend Christmas in Europe.
When I moved abroad many people asked, especially around the holidays, if I was homesick. But my answer was a resounding, “No”. The reason? There’s just too much to see and do around the holidays. Big cities like London, Paris, Munich, and Vienna go out of their way to decorate every inch of storefront and deck their entire streets with lights. Smaller towns like Strasbourg, Colmar, and Heidelberg are gingerbread towns come to life with Christmas markets dotted beside the half-timbered homes.
I thought the best way to show you these places was to give you some of the prettiest pictures from winter in Europe. From Switzerland, France, Germany, and beyond. The Advent season starts with the beginning of Christmas markets throughout Europe but is special to places like Germany and Austria since Christmas markets originated here. The “Weihnachtsmarkt” (Christmas Market) or “Christkindelsmarkt” (literally means Christ child market) has been traditionally held in the town squares since 1310 in Munich. Vienna, Austria had the first December market all the way back in 1296. So when you’re at a Christmas market or spending Christmas in Europe, you’re participating in a time honored tradition. So grab the glüwein and let’s get to it!
Start in Frankfurt, this is a major airport hub allowing easy access to many beautiful places, and make your way through Germany. I’d suggest renting a car to have ease of getting from place to place. But you can also find the train system very easy. Frankfurt is not a beautiful place (sorry, Frankfurters) but they do have a market there. My suggestion? Skip it and head on down to Heidelberg.
From Heidelberg make your way to a few other German Christmas markets. The ones in Nuremberg, Worms, Rothenburg Ob der Tauber, and Munich are exceptional. Make your way next by car or train over to the stunningly beautiful markets in France. I’d suggest Strasbourg and Colmar. Both are on the border of Germany, so it’s an easy trek over the border.
Next, I suggest heading south to Switzerland! Here you can go to Basel, just a short ride over the German Border. Check out the Christmas markets there then take a short ride to beautiful Bern. About an hour away you’ll find Lucerne situated on the lake.
That’s a lot of ground to cover, but if you’d like to see more of Europe then keep on heading east. You could then make your way over to Vienna, Austria for one of the most magical Christmas markets in the world. If you still haven’t had your fill, go north to Prague for Christmas markets throughout the city.
The 25 photos below will represent the journey along the route.
A true representation of a wonderful German Christmas market is Heidelberg. You’ll find piping hot glüwein and an ice skating rink below a grand castle. The stalls are ornately decorated and there are many options for shopping and eating!
Check out my full guide to Heidelberg’s Christmas markets.
The Black Forest, Germany
I moved to Germany to travel Europe, and I often forget just how wonderful the beauty nearby Heidelberg can be. The Black Forest is a perfect example of this. We drove from the town of Baden Baden and watched the sun set over the mountains. It’s a truly breathtaking view. Here you can find skiing, beautiful chalets, and delicious Black Forest Cake in nearby cafes.
Nuremberg is one of the most traditional and famous Christmas markets in Germany. You can get a real feel for what Christmas markets were like back in the 1300s and some of the decorated stalls selling food and Christmas decor date back to 1890.
Worms is a small city but boasts some serious history. Here’s where Martin Luther is commemorated to be declared a heretic. The Christmas markets here are not overcrowded, yet you’ll still get the traditional feel.
See my travel guide to Worms and Nuremberg for Christmas.
Rothernburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany
Yes, Rothernburg Ob Der Tauber has a long name but it refers to the fact that it’s still surrounded by its city walls. This medieval city will feel like Christmas no matter the time of year you go. But they do have lovely markets and even a Christmas museum. Here you’ll find the incredible Christmas store Käthe Wohlfahrt.
Check out my full guide to Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber.
The jewel of Germany is Munich. You’ll find some of the prettiest architecture, fun restaurants, and the home of Oktoberfest. But the snow covered rooftops of Munich in the winter is maybe the loveliest. Munich is said to be the where Christmas markets originated after Vienna, Austria had the first preliminary market.
Check out my full guide to Munich.
Strasbourg at Christmas can be described in one word: magical. This elaborate, classic Christmas fantasy town just over the border from Germany, feels like a Currier and Ives winter etching come to life. Golden lights twinkle atop long stretches of individual market stalls decorated with imaginative Christmas settings — toy land, candy forests, dreamy snowscapes — all tinseled and glowing. Locals tempt the constant flow of strolling market-goers with regional foods, hot mulled drinks, hand-knit mittens, scarves, and an array of cold-weather clothing.
See my full guide to Strasbourg at Christmas here and many more pictures!
If you thought Strasbourg was pretty, wait until you venture to Colmar. The entire town looks like a gingerbread wonderland complete with multicolored homes selling macaroons, croissants, and hand-painted glass ornaments. It’s one of those places that I can’t fully fathom is real.
When I traveled to Basel with my Mom I wasn’t expecting much. I was wrong. This pretty city is situated on a river and the Christmas markets are brightly decorated stalls brimming with trinkets and decor.
One of the absolute best treats I’ve ever had at a Christmas market was in Bern, Switzerland. The melt-in-your-mouth caramel was decadently divine and something I can’t seem to find anywhere else. The city has a gargantuan cathedral, pretty tree lined boulevards, and sheepskin furs on almost every chair. It just feels expensive. Maybe because it is. But it’s worth it to go.
Check out my full guide to Bern, Switzerland.
Lovely Lucerne is located on the banks of the lake of the same name. Walk across the oldest covered bridge in the world and marvel at the lovely lit up city at night. The markets here are uniquely Swiss and remarkably lively. One woman scores a sale of her woolen hats by showing how the items hanging from her chalet-style stall come from her sheep raised and sheered by her father and stitched together by her mother on her family’s nearby farm.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is well known for its overpowering architecture and powerful bridge. It’s a quintessential Christmas destination since it echos the way Christmas markets were orchestrated in the past. The markets are filled with delicious pastries called Trdelníks and roasting meats.
See my guide to Prague.
Innsbruck is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen in my life. The glistening alps above and the spectacular city below. No matter the time of year, it’s a great time to visit Innsbruck. It feels like you’re inside a snow globe in this cheerful, vibrant city.
Vienna is well known for its stately architecture. But come Christmas time it’s even more opulent with string lights on every building. I’m particularly infatuated with the chandeliers seemingly hung in midair on the fancy streets. The Christmas markets are clean and bright and you can’t NOT walk around this city without a smile on your face.
Check out my full guide to Vienna in 3 days.
England does it right when it comes to Christmas. The decor on every street is utterly mind-blowing. I remember walking down Oxford Street with my mouth wide open in amazement. There’s also a Christmas market in Hyde Park that’s over-the-top fun and the English version of a German tradition.
Check out my guide to London Christmas right here.
Here’s a quick glance infographic I made to make Europe Christmas planning even easier. (Pin it so you don’t forget it!).
Christmas time in Europe is one of my favorite parts from my move abroad. There’s an overwhelming feeling of pure joy and the Christmas spirit feels authentic. Everyone needs to make a trip at least once in their life during the colder months. I promise, it’s worth it!
Where’s your favorite place for Christmas?