Christmas in Europe is simply perfect. It seems to have the Christmas atmosphere nailed, the best Christmas markets, and decorate cities everywhere. But while walking around a Christmas market is difficult to beat when it comes to spending a day and evening in a European city, sometimes we all want a little something extra, don’t we? After all, it is Christmas.
So here, I have searched out some truly special and unique experiences that not only put the cherry on the top, but also the fairy in the tree, and then some. From Ireland to Italy, from luxury to plain silly fun, here are some great places across Europe that add that extra sprinkle of magic Christmas dust to your seasonal vacation.
1. Stay In A Christmas Suite In Rome
Personally speaking, one of the main reasons I don’t really like to be away for Christmas is the lack of decorations and Christmas feeling. No, not outside in the streets, but in your apartment or hotel room. I miss my favorite baubles and cute decorations. And it seems, I am not alone in feeling like this, because Hotel Hassler Roma in Rome is offering guests a fully decorated Christmas Suite to stay in. The suite, available for booking between December 10, 2021, and January 3, 2022, comes complete with a trimmed tree, lights, ornaments, and Christmas decorations throughout the suite.
Included in this luxury and atmospheric 3-night stay, the elegant 5-star hotel right at the bottom of the Spanish Steps in the heart of Rome offers a fine-dining Michelin-starred Christmas Eve dinner, with dancing afterward.
Pro Tip: On Christmas Day, the Pope gives his traditional blessing Urbi et Orbi from St. Peter’s Basilica, and whether you are religious or not, this is a special event not to be missed when in Rome for Christmas.
2. Enjoy A Christmas Market Food Tour in Vienna
Vienna is simply wonderful at Christmas time. The beautiful grand architecture is lit up and traditional Christmas markets dot the streets. In fact, there are 12 main Christmas markets, plus countless smaller ones across the city. And the smells are divine: from mulled wine to Krapfen, from roast potatoes to chestnuts, the markets offer countless goodies that simply need to be tasted. And this is where Vienna offers that special little something, should you decide to visit over the holidays. A guided food tour across a Christmas market in the center, with the guide introducing you to all the special, local treats that are eaten here around Christmastime. And, as you won’t be able to eat everything you would love to try, you even get the option to get a doggy bag for later.
Once you have the knowledge of what is what and a taste for certain specialties, you can then spend the next few days locating them in all the other markets that are a must-visit. Some of the most special markets are Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz; Christmas Market on Stephansplatz, and the Christmas Market at the Palace of Schönbrunn.
Pro Tip: As a unique souvenir, keep one of the lovely mugs you get when you order the Viennese Weihnachtspunsch, or Christmas punch or a Gluhwein, or mulled wine. You pay a small deposit of around 2.50 euro for the mugs when you get the drink, to make sure you bring the mugs back. But it is perfectly acceptable to keep them, even positively encouraged, for the price of the deposit.
3. Stay In The Hotel Noel In Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich is a truly stunning city in gorgeous surroundings at any time of the year, but at Christmas, it seems to really come into its own and turns into a winter wonderland. Very much sticking to old traditions, there are many Christmas markets, a fairytale tram, traditional arts and crafts, local food specialties, and more. And a must-see is the 32-foot-tall Christmas tree on the Burkliplatz, which is decked out in Swarovski crystals and sparkles like you would not believe.
But in addition to all the usual Christmas joys, Zurich always tries to add something new and special each Christmas. This year, there is a pop-up Hotel Noel, open between November 26 and December 26, 2021. Not a hotel as we know it, but instead 10 rooms in 10 different hotels, all individually designed by different artists, reflecting creative contemporary interpretations of the Christmas season. A unique approach to offering you a stay with some extra Christmas atmosphere.
Pro Tip: Should you be around on December 5, don’t miss the Samichlausschwimmen when around 300 people, all dressed in Santa outfits go for a swim in the river in the middle of the city.
4. Watch A Tractor Parade in Carrick-on-Suir, Ireland
You know that advert for a famous American soft drink, when a truck drives along, all beautifully decked out in twinkle lights? Just change the truck to a tractor, add a few more tractors, and you have a tractor parade that has been taking place in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary in the southeast of Ireland for a few years now. It even holds a world record for the convoy with the most illuminated lights, a grand 118,000 of them. The tractors have their wheels, forklifts, and the entire chassis decorated in twinkling lights and are joined in the parade by local kids on their decorated toy tractors. It might not sound terribly exciting, but the parade is quite magical, evoking a true Christmas atmosphere as only pretty lights can.
Pro Tip: Stay in Waterford, famous for its crystal for an extra treat, in the historic Waterford Castle. The tall castle rooms are decorated beautifully and there is an enormous tree next to a roaring open fire in the hall.
5. Visit The World’s Largest Gingerbread Town in Bergen, Norway
The colorful town of Bergen, nestled into Norway’s fjords, already looks like a picture-perfect gingerbread town along the old harbor. So, maybe it is not a big step to actually host the world’s largest gingerbread town called Pepperkakebyen over the Christmas period. While many of us might try our hand at baking gingerbread men, angles, or even go all out and construct a gingerbread house, in Norway going a bit further than that is part of the Christmas tradition, and gingerbread villages and towns pop up across the country in various locations, but Bergen has the biggest gingerbread town of them all. You can spot Bergen’s landmarks, including the harbor with boats, a Ferris wheel and countless houses and other landmarks, and even a train, to raise money for charity.
Pro Tip: If you are a gingerbread village enthusiast, you could easily travel across Norway and search out other yummy villages in cities such as Stavanger, Hammerfest, Haugesund, Fredrikstad, and Bodø.
6. Marvel At Decorated French Châteaux, France
French chateaux are on the top of every Francophile’s to-do list, from the stunning castles along the Loire to the many others found dotted around the country. Take Chenonceau, for example. The iconic château built across the River Cher is one of the most popular of all the pretty chateaux, and at Christmas time pulls out all the stops with themed décor and events. This year it’s Royal Paradise, showcasing golden and white floral arrangements, snowy Christmas trees, and lavish flower arrangements created by some of France’s best designers and teams.
A little closer to Paris is the stunning Château de Vaux le Vicomte the château that inspired the Palace of Versailles, with the architects, garden designers, and many craftsmen taken by the king to enhance Versailles and recreate Vaux le Vicomte on a grander scale. During the Christmas season, the family who owns and still lives at Vaux le Vicomte decorates the palace and gardens with countless trees, roaring open fires, and Christmassy scenes. It is a must-see when in Paris.
Pro Tip: There are several restaurants and a champagne bar on the grounds, and it is worth booking ahead for a special champagne dinner to finish off a beautiful day at the chateau.
7. Have A Drink In A Lakeside Bubble Bar In Lausanne, Switzerland
A medieval city stretching along the shore of Lac Leman, or Lake Geneva, with the snow-covered Alps on the horizon already conjures up plenty of Christmas atmosphere. Lausanne is picturesque at any time but knows how to dress up for the holiday season to make the best of its unique features. And it does so in style.
At the Beau-Rivage Palace, the historic and ridiculously sumptuous and luxurious hotel on the lake dating to 1861, and which has played host to the likes of Victor Hugo, Charlie Chaplin, and Coco Chanel, it doesn’t know better than to do things with style and extravagance. Just right for a Christmas treat, really.
In the hotel and on its grounds, you can not only enjoy roast chestnuts and squishy marshmallows, ride on an enchanted carousel, or eat at a 2-star Michelin awarded restaurant, but there is also the utterly romantic Bubble Bar. Right by the lake, the Bubble Bar is a series of private, transparent bubbles, heated and comfortable, with great views, and even better it is by Ruinart, the world’s oldest champagne house. Here you can sit in the snow, look at the stunning view, and indulge in some of the world’s best bubbles. In your glass, and around you.
Pro Tip: While in Zurich, the Santas swim in the river, but here they run. On December 11, the traditional Christmas Run will wind its way through Lausanne’s ancient streets, and the majority of runners will be dressed as Santa Claus.