Christmas markets return, the streets illuminate in a warm multicoloured glow and locals develop a festive spring in their step – a European city break in December is a charming sight, and a perfect way to fight off those winter blues. From traditional German markets to off-season hidden gems, these are the best of the bunch.
Looking further afield? Check out our guide to the best places around the world to visit this December.
Munich, for an enchanting Christmas escape
Where else to start? Germany is the home of Christmas markets and the definitive country to visit if you’re looking to amp up the warm festive fuzz this winter. You can’t go wrong with big cities like Nuremberg and Cologne or, for a calmer experience, quaint towns like Koblenz, but for us it’s always Munich that comes out on top. This city really knows how to celebrate, and the market has been a mainstay for over 700 years. Go ice skating in Karlsplatz, try open-air curling on the Nymphenburg Palace canal, or hop on the Christmas tram for a tour of the city accompanied by festive tunes and a hot mug of glühwein (mulled wine). As night falls there are actually a whole host of markets to choose from. Start off at the OG, Marienplatz, where the giant luminescent tree lights up surrounding gothic buildings, stalls are lined with chocolate Santas, hand-painted baubles, sweet treats galore and enough glühwein to keep you warm – and a little jolly – all night long. Read our guide to the best Christmas markets in Munich to find out where to go next.
Our Christmassy Getaway in Germany is the perfect way to embrace German Yuletide. Across four festive days we’ll take you to Munich and Nuremberg, so you can see two of the world’s most famous Christmas markets for yourself, as well as Munich’s vibrant LGBTQ market.
Reykjavik, for local delicacies and nature’s Christmas lights
Iceland in December is very cold and very dark, with only a few hours of daylight. Sounds bleak, no? Well, Reykjavik is anything but at this time of year. The city is imbued with a friendly, playful spirit, while the beauty of surrounding areas is transformed by heavy snowfall. There’s plenty to do, with Christmas buffets, concerts and shows cropping up all over town, while locals go wild with quirky Icelandic traditions. Your main reason to visit Reykjavik in December, however, is that this is absolute peak time to see aurora borealis – perhaps the Norse Gods’ version of turning on the Christmas lights? Join a tour for your best chance of success and, if luck isn’t on your side, you can always warm your spirits (and your body) in one of the country’s many hot springs or lagoons.
Our five-day Epic Trip in Iceland has departure dates in December. As well as a three-course meal in Reykjavik exploring local delicacies like lamb, lobster and Arctic char, we’ll take you around the Golden Circle, through waterfalls and to a black sand beach. We’ll even go snowmobiling across a glacier, and soak in hot springs at night – the perfect setting to hopefully see the Northern Lights. Read our account of the January 2022 trip, featuring a dramatic aurora borealis cameo.
Istanbul, for city sightseeing and Turkish baths
Although chilly, Turkey’s Istanbul is far more temperate to visit in December. The city’s spectacular selection of ancient monuments and architectural feats are resplendent in the winter sunshine, while a little dusting of snow might add even more character, as if that’s necessary. The countless things to see and do indoors here makes it perfect for winter travel, while smaller off-season crowds allow you to take in the majesty of the Blue Mosque, or the vibrant colours of spice markets, without having to duck and weave between crazed tourists. And if temperatures do dip, then that’s just the perfect excuse to go relax in some Turkish Baths.
Book your spot on our 12-day Epic Trip in Turkey next December, which includes three culturally rich days in Istanbul, plus visits to Ankara, Cappadocia and warmer Antalya.
Edinburgh, for fairytale charm and festive cheer
The fairytale streets of Scotland’s capital lend themselves perfectly to cold nights and crisp winter mornings, while the city’s many cosy pubs are the perfect refuge when the weather takes a turn for the worst. Edinburgh goes all out on Christmas lights and the market, spanning the length of Princes Street Gardens, is one of Europe’s finest. It’s even worth hanging around until the very end of December, when the entire city gathers for one of the biggest New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay) parties around. Expect friendly locals, plenty of beer and a passionate rendition of Auld Lang Syne as you see in the new year with your new-found Scottish buddies.
Combine an exploration of Edinburgh with the natural beauty of Loch Lomond, Trossachs National Park and the West Highland Way on this four-day Mini Trip in Scotland.
Venice, for peaceful, beautifully lit canals, bridges and alleys
You may have heard some horror stories about Italy’s most romantic city – peak season prices, streets overflowing with tourists and a nose-pinching stench emanating from the canals. Well, you need not worry about any of those in December. In fact Venice has a serenity in winter that makes it easy to see why all those tourists come in the first place. Strolling around the city’s labyrinthine alleyways at your own pace is a real treat, especially as darkness begins to descend, the shimmer of street lamps bouncing off traditional Venetian buildings and casting shadows over bridges, perhaps even a little fog clouding your vision and your memory as you attempt to find a way back to the hotel. Gondolas are still running at this time of year, providing the canals haven’t frozen over, and you won’t have to fight off rival tourists to hop onboard.
Explore Venice on our Sparkling Escape to Italy’s Veneto Region, which combines the famous sights of Venice with a gondola ride, an evening of sipping and snacking in a bacari (ancient Venetian tavern), and a tour of Veneto’s Prosecco Hills, with plenty of time for tasting.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.