The Top Five European Cities to Explore for a Christmas Break

Cold cobbled streets, mulled wine, candlelit squares and snow-flecked churches; Europe really is a magical, fairtytale-esque place come Christmas time. Though most cities offer something akin to a winter wonderland at this time of year, there are some that really take the Brunkager. Here’s a rundown of the top five European cities to explore for a Christmas break:

Prague

The ‘City of a Hundred Spires’ is magical at any time of the year, but come Christmas time, it really amps up the star power. The historic Old Town Square, dominated by the gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady before Týn, comes alive with Christmas markets, the humming of carols and festive cheer. The food here is lip-smackingly good – think Klobása (grilled sausages), Pražská Šunka (smoked ham) or Langoš (cheese and garlic flatbreads) – best washed down with a steaming Svařák (hot wine) or a crisp pint or two of the city’s Pilsner Urquell.

Prague Charles Bridge winter, Prague. Image: iStock/rusm

Vienna

Undoubtedly one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, Vienna is simply superlative come Christmas time.  As one of the European capitals of culture and the so-called ‘City of Music’, this charming city abounds in jaw-dropping architecture, incredible opera houses and some of the continent’s most fascinating museums. And, during the months of November, December and January, Austria’s imperial capital is at its most photogenic, bursting to life with twinkling lights, Christmas markets and carol concerts galore. Don’t miss a leisurely stroll through the Rathauspark, full to the brim with nativity scenes, lit-up Christmas trees and illuminated ice-skating trails. 

View from Stephansdom cathedral, Vienna. Image: iStock/manfredxy

Copenhagen

Denmark’s Scandi-cool capital, Copenhagen, is photogenic at the best of times, and known for many things – Carlsberg, the Little Mermaid, even the anarchic district of Christiania. But when the Christmas period rolls into town, it becomes a real Instagrammer’s dream due to its winter wonderland-infused atmosphere. The jewel in this city’s crown is the Tivoli Gardens, a theme park set at its very heart, packed full of twinkling lights, cosy grottoes and hair-raising rides and attractions, including a century-old rollercoaster. Denmark’s Santa Claus himself, otherwise known as ‘Julemand’, resides here and there are plenty of street food stalls and gløgg (mulled wine) vendors to keep you fed and watered throughout. Elsewhere, markets and concerts abound for a dose of even more Christmas cheer.

Berlin

A city like Berlin needs no introduction. From cutting-edge architecture to powerhouse techno clubs, the German capital is rife for exploration, and this is especially true during the winter months. Amp up the adrenaline factor at the Alexanderplatz Fairground, glug on a warming glass of Glühwein and check out the city’s extensive range of indoor and outdoor Christmas markets, where all that’s on the agenda is to eat, drink and be merry. For something a bit different, take a nighttime stroll through Berlin’s famed Botanical Gardens which are lit up this time of year and home to giant blow-up Christmas figures and a staple ice-skating rink. For something even more enchanting, watch thousands of carol singers sing to the heavens at FC Union Berlin’s stadium.

Oberbaum Bridge, Berlin. Image: iStock/katatonia82

Bruges

Belgian favourite Bruges is magical at any time of year, with its pretty cobbled lanes, soaring church towers and picturesque market squares. But this UNESCO World Heritage Site really comes into its own come Christmas time. Amble through the beautiful Burg Square, the city’s historical heart, where festive music and aromas of mulled wine and winter spices fills the air.  For a bird’s eye view, climb the 366 steps to the top of The Belfort’s bell tower, and soak up the chocolate box vistas 83 or so metres below. Of course, this being Belgium, you can’t leave here without gorging on frites, chocolate and beer; for a Christmas twist, opt for crisp, chocolate-soaked waffles, gingerbread men and a hearty mug of Glühwein.

Bruges cityscape. Image: iStock/serge001