December is a month when we seek comfort and joy and when we reflect on the year past. With longer nights ahead, it’s also a month where we come together with family and friends to brighten the darker days ahead. While for some travel is on the wane, for others the month is prime getaway season, whether it be near or far from home.
Looking for a perfect December destination this year? We have gathered five sparkling European destinations you simply have to explore this holiday season. Christmas markets may be everywhere this time of year, but Europe offers so many more festival places to explore.
From snowy dream escapes near the Arctic Circle to smaller central European towns to English village charm, a truly comforting end-of-year holiday awaits.
In the upper reaches of Lapland, you’ll find Rovaniemi, Finland, Santa’s “official” hometown. Here, Sami culture meets Arctic tundra. Think icicles hanging from glistening fir trees and crunchy snow under your feet. The city’s major draw is the snow-capped Santa Claus Village where the Christmas spirit is strong year-round—you can meet Santa anytime!
Kids of all ages can experience a winter wonderland like no other, transporting them to a Narnia-like world. Want to see reindeer in real life? Head out on a horse-drawn sleigh. Mushing more your style? Hang on as a team of huskies takes you on a thrill ride through paths blanketed with soft snow.
Rovaniemi is the perfect place to spend a weekend break. Nili restaurant is a traditional, family-run restaurant featuring locally sourced ingredients such as wild mushrooms, fresh grayling and lingonberries. Lay your head at the Arctic Treehouse Hotel, a rustic-chic manse with private suites complete with panoramic, floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the trees and afford a cosy view of the Northern Lights.
Looking for a place to celebrate Hanukkah this year? Antwerp, Belgium, with its 15,000-strong Jewish community is one of the best places to celebrate the festival of lights. Central European Jews first settled here in the 13th century, and more arrived after they were expelled from France and England 100 years later. If you arrive by train, follow Pelikaanstraat into the Orthodox Diamond District to see streets bursting with lights and activities starting November 28.
The district is lined with synagogues and family-owned businesses that join in on the eight-day-long celebration. Enjoy the daily lighting of the giant menorah that is the centrepiece of festivities in Cholent Park and check out a plethora of mouth-watering kosher eateries such as Kleinblatt, a historic institution that’s been serving delicacies such as soft blueberry buns, cheesecakes, and fresh traditional bread since 1931.
Vienna, Austria, is a gem throughout the year, but visit in December and you’ll see exactly how the city’s majestic architecture, horse-drawn carriages and twinkling cafes come into their own.
In the 17th district, you’ll find the Snow Globe Museum housed in a 250-year-old building where globes have been produced since 1900. Peek into the workshop and find a perfect holiday gift among the hundreds of enchanting motifs on display. Afterwards, you can pop over to the 86,111 square-foot ice rink at Rathausplatz with wooden snack stands serving piping hot drinks to warm up skaters.
Vienna is a hotbed of Christmas concerts with churches throughout the city hosting choral concerts every December. From the iconic Vienna Boys Choir at Wiener Konzerthaus to chamber music events to sold-out Mozart and Strauss performances at Kursalon, music lovers are spoiled for choice. For something a bit more under-the-radar check out Minoritenkirche, an imposing Gothic church in the city centre that hosts Advent concerts with gospel choirs until the end of December.
Castleton, United Kingdom
In England’s Peak District National Park, at the western end of Hope Valley you’ll find the picturesque village of Castleton (think Jude Law’s hometown in The Holiday). This little blip on the map transforms into a mecca for Christmas lovers come December. Extravagant lights adorn shops and pubs in town and seasonal events create a festive atmosphere that buzzes around the village and beyond. Store-owners extend their opening hours and Father Christmas parades through the streets in a horse-drawn cart
The village boasts four caverns and Peak Cavern has been transformed into an event space that hosts traditional carol singing by candlelight and brass bands with mulled wine and mince pies on the side. The top-rated George Inn (built in 1543) affords guests four cosy rooms set above a bustling pub complete with vintage wood-burning stove, Christmas decorations and hearty dishes such as flaky fish pie, and bangers and mash with homemade Yorkshire pudding.
For guaranteed snow, head north! Bergen, Norway, a Hanseatic city, is known as “The Gateway to the Fjords” and with a spectacular setting between seven mountains, you have the perfect backdrop for December fun.
The city’s colourful houses and narrow alleyways blanketed with the white stuff will definitely put you in a jolly mood. From here you can go cross-country skiing, jump on a fjord sightseeing cruise or even visit Pepperkakebyen, the world’s largest gingerbread town. The miniature town displays everything from tiny houses to local and international landmarks.
Take the six-minute funicular ride up to Mount Fløyen for stunning views of the majestic fjords and scenic winter sunsets. Sync up your visit to the lighting of the advent candles on the four Sundays before Christmas. Locals and carolers dressed in Norwegian Christmas regalia head up the mountain to celebrate a good yule and the end of the year.