Europe in December is a travel treat like no other, unlike other seasons, winter can completely transform a place and create a visiting experience that you just can't get at other times of the year. Although it's cold, December isn't usually the coldest month of the year so you can still walk around and do some sightseeing.
Winter is an inspiring time to visit grand cities and charming villages: with fewer queues you can fit more into your itinerary, and off-season accommodation prices make European travel wallet-friendly in November, December, January and February. Let's take a look at the best winter destinations in Europe and what makes each so special.
12 Best European Cities to Visit in Winter
If you are looking for the best European cities to visit in December, here are some recommendations.
1. Palermo, Italy
Do you want to spend your winter in the sun while being linked to the rest of Europe? Palermo, Sicily's sun-kissed capital, is one of the best winter destinations Europe has to offer. It is famous for its culture and gastronomy as well as being the fifth biggest city in Italy.
Palermo's winters are moderate, with temperatures reaching a balmy 20°C on certain afternoons, thanks to the warm Sirocco winds that sweep in from Africa. This means you can enjoy everything from the unbelievable street cuisine and fantastic wine, to the stunning picture-perfect blue ocean, no matter the time of the year.
If the sun doesn't shine, there's absolutely no reason to fret. Palermo has a diverse range of culture, fashion, history, and art to explore.
In the winter, the seasonal flora and fauna are especially lovely, and the spectacular ancient Roman monuments and Greek temples are less crowded.
2. Lapland, Finland
Easily one of the best places to visit in Europe in December. With everything from aurora borealis hunting, snowshoeing, dog sledding, ice fishing, and plenty of other outdoor and indoor opportunities, Lapland is sure to capture your attention.
It's also popular for its extremely hospitable people, many of them known as Sámi, and breathtaking winter wonderland environment.
Located deep inside the Arctic Circle, visitors who venture here are bound to experience nothing short of remarkable! Traveling with kids? Lapland is also home to tons of reindeer and even Santa Clause's village in Rovaniemi!
Lapland, Finland is also great for tourists looking for the ultimate escape from city life. Perfectly situated in a remote area of the world, the only people you'll meet are new friends and happy faces.
3. Prague, Czech Republic
There's no question that the city of Prague is one of Europe's most grand. So, it's hardly surprising how crazy busy the Czech capital gets during its warmer months. Funny thing is, Prague is just as compelling during winter and has a fraction of the tourists. This city of old world grandeur, architecture and culture may even look more atmospheric with a light dusting of snow than under blue skies.
And while Prague is certainly a place of culture, its love for beer and partying means Prague is a fun destination as well. Enjoying the different local beers across the city's many bars is enjoyable no matter the season. If you're looking to warm up and drink some beer at the same time, Prague has you covered with its many beer spas, where you can literally soak up the local brews.
4. Copenhagen, Denmark
If you've ever wanted to truly immerse in the cosy Danish concept of hygge, then Copenhagen is one of the best places to visit in Europe during December. Hygge is all about warming up in picturesque cafes with hot mulled wine, mini pancakes and good conversation. However, that's after you've loaded up your shopping bags at the Nyhavn Christmas market, and within the elaborate decorations of the Kongens Nytorv market.
Families with kids can enjoy nearly private tours of The Round Tower, Rosenborg Castle, the National Museum of Denmark, and even the Christiansborg Palace. With frequent snowfall, kids can enjoy snowball fights along the pier and parents can enjoy hot Danish treats and window shopping for the holiday season.
5. Berlin, Germany
Berlin is one of the most famous places to go in Europe in December. You can visit more than 70 Christmas markets. That's right, the city hosts cosy indoor markets, outdoor festivals with rides, nostalgic stores and seasonal cheer galore.
The largest market is in the old town of Spandau and the historic Gendarmenmarkt features unique stalls with glassblowers and origami art. Pick up some freshly roasted almonds and stroll around Opernpalais, to buy arts and crafts from across the globe.
Spend a long weekend in Berlin enjoying the winter sports on offer too. Ice skating rinks dot the city, however, toboggan runs are where the action's at, especially on the slopes of one of Berlin's highest hills, Teufelsberg.
6. Zermatt, Switzerland
During most of the year, Zermatt is a sleepy village. Come winter, though, skiers of all abilities descend upon it to take over the 200-plus kilometers of pistes. Zermatt is a haven for expert skiers, with off-piste opportunities and top stations sitting at altitudes of almost 4,000 meters.
Non skiers will find plenty of things to do in Zermatt as well. For those who want to try snowshoeing and winter hiking, Zermatt offers plenty of sunshine during the colder months, perfect for a walk in the wilderness. There's also tobogganing and sledding, as well as guided hikes for those who want to discover off-the-beaten-path areas.
A great easy trail to try is the 2.2-kilometer walk from Blauherd to Fluhalp, where you can catch sight of chamois grazing on the slopes and the Matterhorn in the distance.
7. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges in winter is a treat. While early December is comparatively mild compared to mid-winter temperatures when the thermometer hovers around freezing, visiting Bruges in winter at any time is a multi-sensory delight. Its Christmas market is the city's crowning jewel in late-November and December, with the scent of fresh waffles, hot chocolate, mulled wine and mayonnaise-covered fries wafting through the streets of the Old Town. Draped in decorations, Bruges transforms into a picturesque winter wonderland that can’t help but fill you with festive cheer.
Between the historic Old Town and the charming canals, and the medieval architecture and endless cozy breweries, Bruges is nothing short of a fairytale destination for love birds. During your visit, be sure to take in the view from the top of Belfry Tower, fill your bellies with some waffles from the House of Waffles on Wollestraat, and walk around the cold city at night to capture some incredible photos!
8. Canary Islands, Spain
Now, not every winter destination necessarily has to be a cold one. It's just as good to escape the cold weather for somewhere warmer and get a break from shivering. For all that, there's likely no better place than the Canary Islands. Resting off the coast of West Africa, these Spanish islands typically enjoy pleasant sunny weather while Europe freezes. And while other island destinations tend to close down during winter, you can be sure the Canaries will truly be open for business.
As for what there is to see and do in the Canary Islands, take your pick between lounging on a beach, playing in the water with diving and surfing or hiking across the islands’ memorable landscapes. Volcanic at heart, these islands enjoy varied terrains that include epic craters, sand dunes and ash fields. Basically, you won't have any problem finding outdoor activities to take advantage of.
9. Vienna, Austria
Vienna is centrally located in Europe, making it an extremely convenient base for doing day trips to neighboring countries or other parts of Austria. Austria's capital city is famous for its coffee culture, opera, architecture, Carnival, and music. It is a city that offers something for everyone.
Visit the Schönbrunn Palace, a UNESCO world heritage site that was built for the Habsburgs in the 1700s. Enjoy a fun family trip to Prater amusement park. And of course, spend an evening at the Vienna State Opera, famed as one of the best opera houses in the world.
10. Geneva, Switzerland
One of the most beautiful places in Europe, Geneva is amazing at any time of the year thanks to Lake Geneva and the surrounding Alps, but in winter it really comes into its own. The warming deliciousness of Swiss hot chocolate transforms into something otherworldly after you’ve come in from the snow swept city.
If you want to hit up some of the best slopes in the world, the iconic ski town of Chamonix is just an hour drive away from Geneva. Being on the French/Swiss border, you really can have your pick of ski resorts and you can eat some of the best, most filling, heartiest food, with so many great restaurants and cafes in the city and surrounding area. This combination of great food, great slopes, and great people really makes Geneva one of the best European winter travel destinations.
11. Budapest, Hungary
With thermal baths, scenic boat cruises and magically lit streets, Budapest is one of the most romantic places for a December holiday in Europe. Just strolling through the old town is enough to put you in the mood for love, not to mention the dazzling array of atmospheric restaurants, bars and cafes for champagne and rich Hungarian cuisine.
Even the trams light up each evening in winter, to take you around town in fairytale style. And, if it's shopping you're looking for, markets and famous retail streets could keep you pounding the pavements the whole time.
Vörösmarty Square is home to the most spectacular Christmas market, with crafts, goulash, grilled sausages and scrumptious Chimney Cake on display, simply waiting to be washed down with hot, spicy drinks. Spending your honeymoon in Europe in December? Nothing says romance like a cruise on the magical Danube River.
12. Rome, Italy
The city is one of the most popular in Europe, rome is an open-air museum! It also has lots of Christmas markets, which is why we recommend visiting in December. The nice thing is that if you visit outside of the peak summer months, prices are lower and sights like the Colosseum and Pantheon are also relatively quiet.
Rome's incredible variety of museums will keep you warm and Vatican City is a favorite Christmastime attraction. And then there's all that incredible Italian food you can enjoy every day….
If you stay for a while, train connections make it easy to visit other areas of Italy. We recommend a few days exploring the warmer southern region and cities like Florence.
In our opinion, these are some of the best places to travel in Europe in December. With such a concentration of different countries and cities in one continent, Europe offers a buffet of culture for the would-be winter traveler.
It is worth noting that this conclusion is meant for people who want to visit Europe in December. It is not a full list of everything there is to see, but it contains the best places in Europe in December.