Top 7 European Christmas Experiences

Winter in Europe. Picture incredible cityscapes strung with glittering icicles, snow-muffled forests and vast icy lakes with cascades of frozen waterfalls – it’s no wonder European winters are described as magical. At anytime, it can make you feel like you’ve wandered into a fairytale, but during the Christmas season, the fairytale becomes even more intensely wondrous.

Add to the breathtaking winter landscape towering Christmas trees adorned with twinkling lights, the scents of roasting chestnuts and steaming mulled wine from local stalls and the sounds of the Christmas markets where locals ply fantastical gifts and unique ornaments for residents and travellers alike. It is a joyful, wintery Christmas scene.

But among all the wonderful happenings, there are seven that truly stand out for us as the most festive Christmas experiences.

Christkindlmarkts – Salzburg, Austria

There is nothing that evokes the feeling of Christmas more than Europe’s Christmas markets. And Austria’s Salzburg has six of the best.

Known as the Christkindlmarkts, the largest spills over two big squares surrounding the Salzburg Cathedral. There are an outstanding number of stalls offering all sorts of marvelous gifts and mementos. But before you start shopping for loved ones, be sure to warm up with a glass of kinderpunsch or mulled wine, and a soft krapfen, or sugar-dusted doughnut.

There are enough incredible local products on offer at the Christmas markets to ensure you’ll find something to suit everyone. Be sure to take a look at the snow globes with their beautiful figurines and magical scenes all painstakingly miniaturised. For the kids, there are old-world wooden toys, painted in bright colours and designed to jump or fly or swing. Of course there are also the traditional and funny nutcrackers, first created when nuts were an important additional food in winter. If none of these quite fits the bill there are also beautiful baubles, nativity scenes and wax angels.

Regardless of what you choose, the Christkindlmarkts will truly help you see the magic of Christmas once again.

Arctic Whale Watching – Iceland

There is no place so intrinsically ‘wintery’ as Iceland, and those wonderful winter landscapes offer the perfect recipe for a magnificent Christmas adventure. Ride an Icelandic horse over icy plains and frozen lava fields, climb up to breathtaking glacier ice caves, chase the stunning aurora borealis and even, if you’re very lucky, spy a wild reindeer.

And there is no better place to have an Arctic whale watching experience. There is an incredible variety of whales that frequents the Icelandic coasts. Onboard a whale watching boat you might see minke, humpback, fin and sei whales and even gorgeous black and white orcas. There may also be white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. This is a rare opportunity to see these majestic creatures in their natural environment and certainly not to be missed.

After all these adventures be sure to relax in the thermal ‘hot tubs’ on the edge of a snow-covered expanse, and keep a close eye out for the thirteen Yule Lads, troll-like pranksters who are Iceland’s answer to Santa Claus.

Father Christmas – Lapland, Finland

Finnish Lapland is the quintessential destination for an enchanted Christmas, especially for kids. Though it is very popular, there are many things about a Lapland Christmas that are still absolutely wonderful. Look for tours that include a hunt for the elusive Father Christmas, something that imaginative children find especially wonderful.

Along with the private meeting with Father Christmas, which children will adore and their parents find utterly charming, Christmas themed tours usually include other winter activities, such as reindeer-pulled sleigh rides through the silent, snow-blanketed forests, snowmobile runs over immense frozen lakes and even dog sledding behind gorgeous Finnish huskies.

Though this might be a truly magical experience for the children, a trip to Santa’s Lapland is also a fantastic opportunity for parents to return to a time when they knew the abandon and wonder of childhood.

Marzipan Painting – Tallin, Estonia

Tallinn is believed by many to be the best European Christmas destination in the world. In winter, Tallinn’s medieval old town, with its vast sparkling Christmas tree, turns into a nostalgic winter wonderland as a fresh powdering of snow covers its rooftops and candles fill its laneways with a flickering glow.

There is so much to do here, and all of it will put you in the Christmas spirit. Skate in Old Town, stop for mulled wine at the local stalls or shop at the traditional Christmas market. There are also special Christmas events, such as the quirky Gingerbread Mania, which showcases hundreds of artworks and sculptures made exclusively from gingerbread cookies. One thing you definitely don’t want to miss is a marzipan painting.

Marzipan is one of the oldest sweets in Estonia and hand painting marzipan figurines is a centuries-old tradition. Try your hand at it under the guidance of a professional marzipan painter at workshops offered at Maiasmokk Café on Pikk Street. The figures you produce will make wonderful mementos and gifts for family and friends, and you will be participating in keeping a wonderful Estonian Christmas tradition alive.

Maiasmokk Café, price 6.40€, contact or +372 64 64 066

The Living Advent Calendar – Stockholm, Sweden

Christmas in Stockholm is a fantastic experience – think flickering candlelight, small cosy tables laden with food and drink and snow floating gently to the ground outside the windows. And the Swedes love Christmas. In Stockholm, there’s enough going on during the Christmas season to make your holiday season burst with festiveness.

One thing that visitors must absolutely experience is the Living Advent Calendar.
The traditional Christmas advent calendar is well-known and well-loved throughout the western world. Stockholmers have taken this a step further with the introduction of the Living Advent Calendar. Each day, somewhere in Gamla Stan, a window will open and a head will pop out – an actor, a singer or a storyteller – who will offer a 15-minute Christmas performance that delights the crowds that come to view it every night. You can find out where the surprise window will be by looking out for banners hung from windows that say här öppnar luckan (here the door opens!). A truly unique Christmas experience!

Call our team of travel planners to discuss your next enchanting Winter Adventure: 1800 242 353.