Spending a long weekend in a European city during Christmas is a magical experience. From the illuminated streets of Prague to the Christmas markets in Berlin, there’s a fairy-tale feel to the streets of Europe’s top destinations in the run up to Christmas Day.
And while it’s easy to hop on a plane to Paris or jet off to Budapest, it’ll take a bit research to get the most out of your European city break – and who has time to spare as the festive season fast approaches?
But don’t worry, we’re here to help. In order to save you the leg-work, we’ve put together our handy guide on what to see, where to stay and all the can’t-miss Christmas attractions in Europe’s most iconic cities.
We’ve compiled a 2-day itinerary for each city to help you fit the most in. You’ll even find insider tips on each destination to make your city break go further. While you’re here, why not check out our City Breaks for exclusive flight & hotel deals?
Make a beeline for Wencelas Square, Prague’s main shopping district. This thriving central hub is home to designer stores, streetside cafes and the best tea rooms in the city. At the top of the square, pause to enjoy the National Museum, one of Prague’s grandest buildings.
From the museum, it’s a 1km-walk north to Powder Gate, an imposing gothic tower used as a gunpowder store in the 17th century. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb the stairs to the viewing gallery, 44 metres above ground level.
Walk towards the river for 500m to arrive at Old Town Square. Here, you’ll find the most famous Christmas market in Prague, full of hot chocolate stands and gingerbread stalls. Don’t forget to try Trdelnik, a cinnamon pastry filled with ice-cream and chocolate – surely the best way to refuel in Prague.
Begin the day exploring the streets of Prague Jewish Quarter, location of the Old-New Synagogue – the oldest active place of Jewish worship in the world. You’ll also find The Spanish Synagogue here, often described as the most beautiful in Europe.
Next, make your way over Chekov Bridge to Letna Gardens. This elevated park contains Prague’s most famous beer garden, where you’ll find breathtaking views over the city’s bridges, churches and narrow streets. It’s time to order a Czech lager and take it all in.
From the park, it’s a short Metro hop to Prague Castle. Built in the 9th century, this spawling complex can’t be missed on any Prague city break, with highlights including St. Vitus Cathedral and Golden Lane. When you’ve finished, end the day with a stroll over Charles Bridge, an astonishing structure, and symbol of Prague’s medieval past.
There are many places to ice-skate outdoors in Prague during winter, but for a unique experience head to the roof of Galerie Harfa Shopping Centre – skating sessions are free – just hire a pair of boots and off you go.
The iconic Brandenburg Gate is the perfect place to start your Berlin adventure. This 30m-tall structure once stood between East and West Germany – it’s now a symbol of unity, and one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks.
A 5 minute walk will take you to the Reichstag Building, home to Germany’s parliament. In the centre of the building, you’ll find a giant glass dome giving incredible panoramic views of the city. There’s a rooftop restaurant here, too – grab the chance to fill up on currywurst and beer as you look out over the skyline.
Head back in the direction of Brandenburg Gate for Großer Tiergarten, Berlin’s 500-acre central park. At Christmas, the main avenue of the park is beautifully lit up, and you can stop for Glühwein, wurst, and cinnamon biscuits along the way.
A visit to Belin wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Berlin Wall. At East Side Gallery, you get to witness the longest section of the wall standing today, adorned with hundreds of unique murals. At 1.3km long, it’s considered the world’s largest open-air art gallery.
From here, jump on the S Bahn (intercity train) to reach Museum Island. This UNESCO-listed complex houses 5 museums, the oldest dating back to 1830. If you only have time to visit one, we recommend the Neues Museum, with its impressive collection of Egyptian artefacts. Highlights include the Papyrus Collection and the Bust of Nefertiti.
Finally, take the U-Bahn (underground) to Television Tower in Alexanderplatz, the tallest structure in the city. At a height of 200m, you’ll get excellent views of the city, and the tower revolves so you won’t miss any of the sights. Back down to earth, wander through Berlin’s best Christmas market for mulled wine, bratwurst and a game of curling on the ice.
Many of Berlin’s top attractions need to be booked in advance, including the Reichstag Dome and Television Tower. Check Visit Berlin for reservations.
A visit to Reykjavik is a magical experience at Christmas, and what better way to begin your break than at the Blue Lagoon? Just 50 minutes from Reykjavik, Iceland’s biggest thermal spa features a giant lagoon pool, heated from the flow of lava underground. Surrounded by volcanoes, it’s an unforgettable, otherworldly experience.
From mid-afternoon onwards, the city is filled with festive lights, and you’ll spot dozens of Christmas trees dotted throughout the streets. Keep a look out for Yule Cat, an illuminated sculpture in Laekjatorg Square, and the Oslo Christmas Tree, lit up in early December to mark the beginning of Christmas.
Before you call it a day, pay a visit to Harpan Concert Hall, an amazing feat of architecture overlooking Reykjavik Harbour. Even if you haven’t booked to see a concert, it’s worth taking a look at night, when 700 glass panels are lit with LED lights creating a spectacular show of colour.
From your cosy city centre hotel, it’s a short walk to Hallgrimskirkja, another of Reykjavik’s stand-out buildings. This 75m-high church is a remarkable sight, and one of Iceland’s tallest structures. After admiring the exterior, take the lift up to the observation deck for amazing views of the city and mountains.
Next, jump on a city bus to Perlan Museum near the airport. Inside, you’ll discover the world’s first indoor ice cave – a 100m-long cavern made with 350 tonnes of snow. Don’t miss the excellent planetarium while you’re here.
Let’s save the best ‘til last – the Northern Lights! While not guaranteed, you’ve got a good shot at seeing them over the winter, with most tours leaving Reykjavik at around 10pm. You’ll be driven 35-40 minutes outside of the city to get the best views of this astounding natural phenomenon.
Buy a Reykjavik City Card and you’ll be covered for all bus travel within the city, access to Reykjavik’s thermal pools, and entry to most of the city’s museums. Passes are available for 24, 48, or 72 hours.
Your Yuletide tour of the City of Lights begins at the Arc de Triomphe, one of Paris’ many world-famous structures. Climb the 284 steps to spot the Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Champs-Élysées (find the coin-operated binoculars for a closer look).
Make your way to nearby Charles de Gaulle Station where a speedy 8 minute Metro ride takes you to the Louvre. Congratulate yourself on visiting in winter, (waiting times will be at a bare minimum) before enjoying some of the most famous paintings ever put to canvas, including the Mona Lisa and Death of the Virgin.
From the Louvre, walk over the 17th century Pont Royal Bridge towards Musee d’Orsay. The museum is certainly worth taking your time over, but if you fancy saving it for another day, head straight to the RER rapid transit train for Champs de Mars Station and the Eiffel Tower. Take the elevator to the top for unparalleled views of the city before stopping off at the wonderful Christmas market for vin chaud.
Begin the day by stepping back in time at the Pantheon. Built in 1790, this mighty monument is older than both the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe, and was originally used as a church before becoming a mausoleum for the famous. The Pantheon’s most visited attraction is the crypt, resting place for many of France’s most influential figures, including Marie Curie and Victor Hugo.
A brisk 15 minute walk takes you to Ile de la Cité, an island on the river Seine. Here you’ll find Sainte-Chapelle, a 13th century gothic church home to a dazzling display of stained glass. The arrangement consists of 15 giant windows, depicting over 1,000 scenes from Old and New Testament.
If you haven’t had your fill of ‘wow’ moments for the day, Notre Dame Cathedral is located just a couple of minute away. After the devastating fire in 2019, the cathedral is quickly being returned to its former glory, and will be open to the public in 2024. Walk the perimeter of the building to take in its vast scale and amazing medieval architecture.
Stay at the highly rated XO Hotel for easy access to the Metro and all the major sights of Paris.
To make the most of your Budapest tour, you’ll want to be centrally located – we recommend a stay at Three Corners Hotel Art near the National Museum. From here it’s a 5 minute walk to the wonderful Central Market Hall, a grand gothic building built in 1897. You’ll find everything from Rubik’s Cubes (invented in Hungary) to Tokaji wine – it’s a great place to bag yourself some authentic souvenirs and get a head start on your Christmas shopping.
From nearby Kálvin tér station, take the electric train to Széchenyi fürdo for a short walk to the best thermal bathhouse in the city. At Széchenyi Thermal Bath you’ll discover 18 indoor and outdoor pools filled with the medicinal waters of Budapest’s hot springs – the perfect winter warmer. Besides the soothing water, visitors can unwind with a massage and enjoy the latest treatments.
When you’re feeling rejuvenated, it’s time to hop on Metro line 1 to St Stephen’s Basilica. At nearly 100m tall, this mega church is the biggest in Budapest – take the lift to the viewing platform for commanding views of the city. This is also where you’ll find the city’s most exciting Christmas market, featuring concerts, light shows, and dozens of festive food stalls.
Start off with a short walk to Astoria station, where you’ll board bus number 5 to Alagut utca. A few hundred metres away, you’ll find the magnificent Fisherman’s Bastion, a unique fortress with origins in the middle ages. Today, this Budapest monument offers visitors far-reaching panoramic views over the city.
A 5 minute walk south takes you to Hungary’s most iconic building – Buda Castle. This vast palace and castle complex sits on a hilltop overlooking the Danube river – it’s a magnificent sight, particularly when lit up at night. Don’t miss Mattias Fountain, and the Hungarian National Gallery.
Cross over the Széchenyi Chain Bridge – another of Budapest’s celebrated landmarks – turning left at the river to reach the Hungarian Parliament Building. The third largest parliament building in the world, this super-structure boasts 691 rooms, 28 entranceways, and 29 staircases. To see the ornate interior, you’ll need to book in advance with an official guide.
Budapest has a well-connected tram network – line number 2 runs the length of the Danube river and is considered one of Europe’s most beautiful city journeys.