8 European Countries to Spend Christmas and New Year

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A year that has been packed full of weekend getaways, spontaneous road trips and many amazing experiences has been capped with a European Christmas adventure that we will never forget. I couldn’t imagine spending the Christmas and New Year festivities anyway better than in Europe, and that is after experiencing both these holidays Down Under and across the pond in the States.

Whether you are interested in Christmas markets or simply traditional European festive decorations and norms, traveling around Europe at this time of the year is the ultimate risk and reward experience. You may be wondering why I categorize this as risk and reward, yet began this post by raving on about how amazing Europe is.

best european countries to spend christmas

Well, just like any other destination at Christmas you have to deal with much more holiday traffic, potential weather disruptions etc. that can cause headaches if you are not well-prepared. Even then, it can still go wrong but having a positive outlook and a hint of good luck and you are well on your way to an amazing adventure.

Rather than going into specific details of every European country you can visit at Christmas, I want to share with you our itinerary and the countries we have visited and plan to visit in the next week before heading back to the States.

Iceland

In the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean sits the beautiful country of Iceland. Distant from anywhere else geographically but definitely a vibrant and historic country worth experiencing, especially during the winter. Of course, remember that during the winter months you will only have 4 or 5 hours of daylight each day but it’s definitely worth seeing.

best european countries to spend christmas iceland

Without going into too much detail about what we experienced, our hub for the duration of the 4 days we spent in Iceland was in the heart of the capital city, Reykjavik. We took three awesome tours courtesy of Time Tours Iceland that I would highly recommend including the Golden Circle, Northern Lights and South Coast tour.

best european countries to spend christmas iceland

Be prepared for cold, snowy and windy conditions but embrace this weather because it makes Iceland even more entertaining. We both would go back to Iceland in a heartbeat but just wandering up the main street in Reykjavik at Christmas with all of the decorations and lights makes this a perfect spot at this time of the year.

England

Heading back home to England at Christmas is always an amazing experience. Everywhere you look the Christmas spirit is alive, whether it is the Christmas decorations along the street or the plethora of Christmas gifts available in all the shops.

best european countries to spend christmas

We spent Christmas with my parents in North West England, but only after visiting London for two days and taking in Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park for the second time. Taking the National Express coach from London to Manchester was a first for both of us but it was cheap, convenient and comfortable. The four days we spent in North West England were spent in Cleveleys, Fleetwood, Bury and Manchester along with my home town of Ramsbottom.

The only thing missing was a little snow to make this is a real White Christmas but apparently this arrived the day after we left! I guess Mother Nature forgot to drop the white stuff a day earlier.

Italy

Boxing Day saw us venture south from Manchester to Birmingham and then head on a short two-hour flight to Rome Fiumicino airport. This was our first time on Italian soil and we had plenty planned as this was also our starting point for our Eurail adventure around four countries. The two action packed days we spent in Rome involved a tour of the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill along with a tour of the Vatican.

Best European countries to spend christmas rome

We also spent some time in Milan after taking our first train ride using Eurail from Rome. Although we only spent a night and a few hours the next morning here, we were able to walk around the Duomo di Milano and some of the main shopping districts in the heart of Milan.

best european countries to spend christmas

Vatican City

I mentioned that we took a tour of the Vatican and of course if you were not already aware, the Vatican City is a country on it’s own! Also known as the ‘Holy See’, the Vatican City is the world’s smallest country and fits within the Italian capital city of Rome.

best european countries to spend christmas

A tour of the Vatican is a must-see when you visit Rome, though I would highly recommend making a prior reservation or group tour as the lines outside are crazy long especially at this time of the year. Our tour with Overome was amazing and I will be sharing a more in-depth experience of this tour in due course.

Switzerland

Leaving Italy from Milan was tough because we only spent three days there and would have loved to see so much more. However, the moment we crossed the Swiss border in the town of Chiasso we immediately started heading into beautiful countryside.

After earlier passing by the gorgeous Italian resort of Lake Como, we were spoiled by breathtaking scenery in the Swiss town of Lugano which was our first opportunity to disembark the train. Lake Lugano was glistening with the backdrop of the snow capped mountains and it really was a perfect setting to say “Welcome to Switzerland!”

lugano switzerland

We decided to base ourselves in Zurich for three days and take several day trips which really worked great for us. Staying at the Hilton Zurich Airport, this was a perfect spot to catch the train to various parts of Switzerland. Bern, Lausanne, Lucern and the Golden Pass train across the Swiss Alps were all spots we experienced during our time in Switzerland.

best european countries to spend christmas

Liechtenstein

After visiting the world’s smallest country, we added the sixth smallest to our list when we visited Liechtenstein for the morning during our day trip to Austria. Taking the train from Zurich to Sargans, we then hopped on a bus that took us to the capital city of Vaduz. You don’t realize just how small a country is until you wander around the main streets of the capital city and find that you have pretty much seen everything after just over a hour.

best european countries to spend christmas liechtenstein

Vaduz is a beautiful city (or town depending on how you want to classify it’s size) in it’s own right. The architecture of the buildings is really cool and the patriotism is apparent throughout as there are a number of Liechtenstein flags throughout the city. I am really glad we took the time to visit Vaduz.

Austria

Our visit to Austria included a trip to Innsbruck on New Year’s Eve. We were able to experience the Austrian Central Alps on our train journey from Feldkirch (we earlier visited Vaduz in Liechtenstein and Feldkirch was the best station to continue our journey to Innsbruck) and then wander around Innsbruck for several hours.

best european countries to spend christmas innsbruck

Along with taking in the preparations for New Year celebrations, we were also able to see the history and culture that makes this a popular spot for tourists.

Germany

Our final leg of this European extravaganza saw us cross the border into Germany, passing through a variety of locations before arriving in Dusseldorf where we flew back to England. Although our time in Germany was limited, we were able to capture a glimpse of what this country has to offer. Regretfully the stereotypical German Christmas markets were already closed down for the year when we crossed the border but many of the towns and villages were still decked out in full Christmas decoration to provide the holiday feel as we passed through.

best european countries to spend christmas frankfurt

Visiting the old district of Römerberg in Frankfurt was really cool, especially for Heather who was able to relate to a lot of stories that her grandpa shared with her from his time stationed there in the war alongside the one and only Elvis Presley!

Hopefully we will have time in the near future to head back here and experience more. Munich, Berlin, Cologne and Hamburg are all spots that I would love to explore further.

Summary

We headed to Europe with high expectations and a highly anticipated itinerary. I have to say that our experiences superseded any of our predetermined ideas and all of the countries above provided unique and memorable adventures that will live long in our minds.

Our tip for you is to make plans to head to Europe for a future Christmas or New Year celebration – you won’t leave disappointed!

Weekend Wanderlust


34 COMMENTS

    • It really was an awesome trip Mary and please don’t let the cold weather deter you from exploring Europe especially at this time of the year. We experienced snow, cold, wind and much more but honestly it made the experience even more perfect especially when traveling through the Alps of Switzerland and Austria.

      Happy New Year to you too, hope you have a great 2015!

    • We were disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time there Katrina but that’s just a perfect excuse for us to go back again. If you are planning on visiting a couple of European countries, I would highly recommend checking out the Eurail pass because train transportation is by far the best way to get around. We will be posting on our experience using Eurail in the next couple of weeks!

  1. Sounds like a great trip! Christmas time have to be on of the best time of the year to visit countries in Europe. It has been said that Germany has some of the best Christmas markets, so I hope that we one year can manage to visit for a weekend, to soak in all the christmas spirit we can get 😉
    And BTW, thank you again for the London card!
    We Travel Together recently posted…Travel Statistics 2014My Profile

  2. Thanks for the info Chris. We are headed to Europe in December for a Rhine River cruise from Frankfurt to Basel and want to see as much as possible in the 5-6 weeks we will be in Europe. Still planning on where to spend Christmas day, but leaning towards somewhere in either Germany or Austria.
    Lyn – A Hole in my Shoe recently posted…2014, the year that wasMy Profile

  3. Trying to hit Liechtenstein during a road trip this spring with a friend and our kids (yes, 2 moms + 3 kids under age 5… what could go wrong, ha!) Austria is definitely at the top of my list to visit at Christmas time though. Fingers crossed for next year! Just have to convince the grandparents that they don’t need to see the grandkids EVERY year on Christmas 😉
    Keryn @ Walking On Travels recently posted…Friday Postcards from Bridalveil Fall Trail in YosemiteMy Profile

  4. I have never experienced Christmas anywhere other than home with my parents. Presents under the tree, helping mum make mince pies and Christmas dinner, going for afternoon walks and playing board games… I wouldn’t want to spend it anywhere else 🙂

    And yes, Boxing Day evening in Yorkshire we had snow! Sledging and snow angels the day after 😉
    Rachel recently posted…A Day In CopenhagenMy Profile

  5. That is a lot of Europe in one go!! I’m impressed! A shame you had the snow, but you may have been just below the snow line, we had it in Bollington on the edge of the peaks on the 27th and if I’m honest, I’d always rather see snow in another European country! Another weekend visit to a Christmas market is definitely on the cards for us – we did Vienna this year and its a lovely distraction to add to a winter city break!
    anna parker recently posted…Blog hop – a look behind the scenesMy Profile

  6. Wow Chris, you certainly had an action packed holiday. What an interesting itinerary. Apart from England, as it’s your country of origin, did you have a particular favourite? I know that Jempi & Nina made if over to my hometown – Dublin – for New Year’s Eve, and they had a lot of fun there. Of course if next year you were to make it to Spain, you could eat grapes on each stroke of the bell at midnight for each month of the year. 🙂 Happy New Year by the way.
    Jackie De Burca recently posted…Lloret de Mar Travel GuideMy Profile

  7. Wow, you guys give new meaning to “hit the ground running”. I am constantly amazed at the ground you cover! We almost went to Reykjavik for a big birthday, but ended up in Charleston. Your post reminded me of how much I do want to go there. Even though the temps are cold, everyone seems to just love it. We’ve never been able to travel at Xmas time because our kids were tied to sports, but now that they are out making their own nest, we have that option, and you’ve certainly given me loads of great choices
    alison abbott recently posted…Save #JustoneRhino and We All WinMy Profile

  8. Wow, Chris… you’ve certainly been busy over the festive period! 🙂

    I’ve always tended not to travel at Christmas (think I’ve been in the UK every time), so your excursions rather put me to shame! Still, I’m making up for it now we’re into the New Year, with Tokyo and Singapore next week.

    I’m rather envious of you going to Iceland. That’s somewhere that has been high on my wishlist for a while now…
    Paul (@luxury__travel) recently posted…Cambodia – a journey by bookMy Profile

    • It was certainly an adventure Paul but one that was definitely a life-changing experience for both of us! Words really cannot describe how amazing it was to travel through all of these countries by train (mainland Europe of course).

      Enjoy Tokyo and Singapore – both are on our radar for the near future so will definitely be keeping tabs on how it goes for you!

      Happy New Year!

  9. Glad to see England made the list! I’ll be heading there for the first time in the colder months but am really looking forward to it!

  10. Personally, I’d choose Austria and Germany and Hungary for Xmas holidays any time!They have the best Christmas markets and the festive atmosphere:)

  11. Hi there! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading through your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!

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