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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!