When you think about Christmas, Europe is the perfect answer! Christmas and Europe are almost synonymous. Be it the flashy celebrations in the big cities or the cozy little traditional European villages; Europe has a plate for everyone’s taste. You get “The Best Christmas Markets”, ” The Most Romantic Christmas Destinations”, “The Best Budget Christmas Destinations”, “City with the World’s First Christmas Tree”; all wrapped in one continent “Europe”! There are whole villages and cities that strive for months to put together a remarkable experience for you. No wonder some of the countries in Europe, get more than 270 million tourists, just in this season.
Oh, the feeling of Christmas! The Feeling of fresh soft powdery snow falling on your face! The contagious smiles on everyone’s faces! The lovely bright colorful winter outfits! The couples walking snugly hand-in-hand on the white streets! I don’t know if it’s the season’s wintry charm or the general holiday mood everywhere, suddenly everyone is wrapped around in an affectionate sheath. The Love is in the Air.
Christmas has so much meaning to each and every one. It’s the beautiful aura that surrounds everyone, that gets reflected in the city’s scape too. For me, Christmas is a beautiful time of the year to be traveling around. The thousands of light-bulbs hugging the cities, the smell of freshly baked gingerbread cakes filling the streets, the hands seeking warmth beneath the hot cup of Gluhwein (Hot wine brewed with spices and raisins), what more could you ask for? I know the days are short and you have limited daylight to visit the city’s attractions, but that just gives you the perfect excuse and a subtle hint to not make it hectic and lose yourself in the charms of an idyllic winter wonderland.
Here is a small glimpse into some of my absolute favorites during “that time of the year”. I have sampled together varied tastes here, to suit everyone’s interests. They can be visited together as a long Christmas destination-hopping or any one of them can be chosen as your perfect recluse for a week.
COLMAR: A Christmas Wonderland
I know, I know, I am jinxing it! You are probably thinking, How can I start with the best one first? Shouldn’t that be saved for the last? Don’t worry; the whole list is full of “Aww” places!
Colmar, a small provincial village in Alsace, France, is the Ultimate Christmas destination. Rows and rows of pastel-colored half-timbered Alsatian houses will take you back to the childhood memories. This Story-book village of France is a perfect place for someone seeking a more rustic location, filled with conventional celebration, closely related with Christmas. But, don’t get me wrong, it has all the dazzles associated with the season; or more so than any other place.
In the morning, you can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the town, marveling at its picturesque settings; the small closely spaced houses beside the canal, the churches, and the cute market squares can be explored in an hour or two.
Let the nightfall and you are greeted with a land that has transformed its appearance altogether. Not a single corner of any house is left unlit. Brilliantly shining houses, elegantly decorated streets, and squares filled with decorated Christmas trees, time-honored stalls still selling the familial hand-made crafts, small nativity stalls and Christmas-themed fun rides for kids; you can’t go wrong with Colmar. You can easily spend a whole week or two here, visiting the wonders of the town or the lovely nearby pastoral villages of Alsace.
If you don’t want to move around a lot and be at one place, soaking up the Christmas fervor, Colmar is the right place for you.
NUREMBERG: The Best Christmas Markets in all of Europe
Well, as we are already in the line of visiting the extreme destinations first, I have to mention this one too! Nuremberg, a city in the Northern Bavaria of Germany, holds the title of being one of the Oldest and most visited Christmas markets in Europe. Christmas markets or Christkindlmarkt having originated in Germany itself, are truly the best you will find in all of Europe and fulfills every expectation of a Hungry-for-Christmas Soul.
These street markets associated with the celebrations of Christmas dates back to the Late Middle Ages. Nuremberg’s Christmas markets attract more than two million visitors annually. Best known for the market on the central square of its old-town, it shows off all the galore of a famous German Christmas market.
Nativity scenes (Exhibits representing the birth of Jesus), Zwetschgenmännle (Figurines made of dried plums), Nutcrackers (Decorative wooden carvings of a King, Knight or Soldier), traditional Christmas cookies, Bratwurst (German sausage served with bread, potatoes, fermented cabbage and mustard sauce), Carousels, and Gluwhein (my absolute favourite & a must accompaniment while strolling) are just a few to name. Nuremberg markets are the most aesthetically adorned ones, I have ever seen. Each wooden stall standing out than the other, competing for a sheer glance, by the millions of swarming tourists packed in the market.
Nuremberg markets are also famous for the Christkind (A young woman dressed in White and Gold, with long blond hair, a golden crown, and golden Angel-like wings). Selected every two years from among the local girls in the town; Christkind is a prestigious title to hold, as she opens the season-celebrations with her prologue speech.
If it is the festivities you yearn, the sound of Christmas carols you seek, and the holiday euphoria you hunt for; Nuremberg is the destination for you.
SALZBURG: The Most Romantic Christmas Destination in Europe
The next one on the list is kind of a personal favorite of mine. The most romantic city of Austria, Salzburg, becomes even more idyllic and blissful, in the white shades during Christmas. This Alpine city, nestled on the banks of Salzach River with a mountainous backdrop, is internationally renowned for its well-preserved medieval old town and Baroque architecture.
When in the city of music, a stroll through its beautiful streets of the old town is a must. It still possesses the same charm as it did at the time of Mozart. The sloping cityscape with its mountain-clad fortified castle and Blue domed churches sets the mood for an intimate walk through the city. Winter brings with it the snow-covered roofs and hilltops, with a breath-taking view of the city. The smell of roasting chestnuts, warm Punch (Gluwhein), and toasted caramelized Almonds slowly sinks in the jolly mood and voilà! You are in love with the city forever. At least this was how my love story with the city started!
Salzburg boasts many Christmas markets, with the biggest of all in front of the Salzburg Cathedral. The wooden stalls in the market square are more subtly decorated than the German counterparts, but nevertheless offer a magnificent collection of tasteful wooden artifacts, beautiful knitwear, and pre-Christmas gifts. Baked Apples and cotton candies are a special local delicacy.
Many Advent events attract huge crowds, weeks before Christmas. Other than the very famous Advent concert on the Cathedral Square featuring hundreds of Choral singers, a particularly interesting event etched in my memory is the procession of the Krampus and Percht. It’s a centuries-old local tradition famous in Austria and Bavarian region, where people wearing ghastly wooden masks with curved horns, huge bells, and fur ensemble, parade through the streets; believed to steer away the bad winter spirits, these terrifying masks are sure to leave every spectator uncomfortable.
If a tastefully decorated city with a beautiful natural landscape and enchanting music of Mozart playing everywhere is your type of holiday, don’t look further than Salzburg. Belonging to the Salzkammergut region, you can easily spend a couple of weeks in Salzburg, wandering the many lake-district villages nearby.
BUDAPEST: Christmas with a perfect backdrop of an architectural and picturesque setting
Hungary’s capital, Budapest is unlike any other major capital cities of Europe. It has a unique blend of old and new, western and eastern culture, architecture and scenic vistas; a destination with an affordable luxury with just a hint of Gypsy music everywhere. Christmas really intensifies the beauty of the place; when the temperatures are not soaring high and the city’s marvelous architecture is wrapped in a glittery glow. If you are bored with the usual Christmassy stuff, the markets, the food; Budapest offers the freshest, open, and wide promenade with the most exquisitely lighted buildings bordering it. Just meander along the esplanade and unwind amidst the city’s glorious ambiance. The Danube banks in Budapest are part of UNESCO World Heritage List. So, by all means, immerse yourself in the beauty of this sweeping panorama, either by a leisurely stroll, a romantic cruise on the river, or a traditional scenic tram-ride (Tram no-2), passing through the most beautiful part of the city.
Well, a Christmas destination cannot be a Christmas destination without a few special traditional foods on offer. Being the birthplace of the customary Chimney cake (Kurtoskalacs), the super-fatty but utterly delicious Langos, and the Super-sweet Plum punch, Budapest just lifts the already perfect holiday spirits to another level.
If Christmas means a city draped in glimmers, gorgeous food, romantic walks by a promenade, and still pretty light on your pockets, Budapest perfectly captures the essence for you.
RIGA: Christmas destination with the Oldest decorated Christmas tree
Yes, you heard me right! Riga, the Latvian capital city claims to have the first decorated Christmas tree in 1510, lit right on their Town hall square. Since that day, till now, a Christmas tree is proudly decorated every year on the square. You can even have a map to explore the route of a famous Christmas Tree Trail, guiding you through the various decorated trees on display by local artists.
Well, this is not entirely the reason why Riga is on this list. The old town of Riga is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a rich collection of medieval buildings with spectacular designs on display. A mere walk through this area delights the senses of a die-hard architecture fan.
With an established largest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in the world, Riga captivates you with an endless parade of sophistication. Imagine these beauties flaunting their styles with a galore of Christmas lights around them. And don’t get mistaken, Riga literally decorates every single street, park, and public space, in and around the Old Town and beyond with a different theme.
Visiting Riga during Christmas is like a treasure hunt of Christmas decorations, with you gasping your breath at the start and end of every lane. I can guarantee you; your visit to Riga is going to liven up your Holiday experiences towards a more contemporary style, along with the usual pack of traditional quintessence.
Well, while certainly, this small list cannot epitomize the whole European Christmas Experience for you, but it will help give you a possible taste of the Majesty waiting for you this Year.
Where are you visiting for Christmas this year! Do let me know in the comments.
P.S: I have never used so many exclamation marks in any of my blogs yet! See, I did it again! Uff!! I can’t help it. It’s just Christmas and the sound of it that makes me go all “!” crazy! So, sorry and excuse these little beings on my behalf. They are innocent; I take all the blame on me. Pheww! Man, I am relieved I took it out of my chest.
Happy Holidays Everyone!!!!!