Planning on spending Christmas in Europe? This itinerary gives a taste of everything: big cities with over-the-top light displays, fairytale Bruges, charming Christmas markets…and it’s all doable by train!
Europeans put Americans to shame when it comes to holiday cheer and decor. The light displays, mulled wine, themed sweets, Christmas markets, and shop decorations make for a memorable holiday experience.
So, what are the best places in Europe for Christmas? You’ll soon learn there are enough charming towns to fill the next ten years of holidays.
There are at least twenty Europe Christmas destinations I can name off the top of my head: Nuremberg, Colmar, Strasbourg, London, Bruges, Cologne, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg…you get the drift.
My best advice is to pick a city that’s a priority and then add on places that are close by and reachable by train.
Always assume you’ll be back. You don’t want to stuff your itinerary with too many places and spend endless hours on trains, buses, and planes. That’s a sure way to exhaust yourself and not be able to enjoy a destination to the fullest.
Enough with the preamble. Let’s dive into my Christmas in Europe itinerary for London, Paris, and Bruges.
This is an overview/simplified itinerary to help get your planning started. I’ve written blog posts (links included in each section) on the top things to do in each city. Specifically what to do at Christmastime/in December.
Why I chose London, Paris, and Bruges for this Christmas in Europe itinerary
For this Christmas in Europe itinerary, Jake and I visited London, Paris, and Bruges with a quick stop in Brussels.
Not only did I score some awesome flight deals since we flew into and out of the major airport hubs of London (LHR) and Brussels (BRU), but incredibly low hotel rates were easy to find.
These are some of the best destinations in Europe for Christmas AND they are easily linked by trains. This allows for minimal travel time between cities.
I chose these cities because all are magical at Christmas and each offers a different feel.
With this Christmas in Europe itinerary we were able to experience many holiday markets (some big and some small), see spectacular Christmas light displays and decorations, and enjoy delicious festive food.
London and Paris offer all the perks that come with big cities. Lots to do, plenty of places to see, and endless options for shopping, dining, and entertainment.
In contrast, Bruges evokes cozy, fairytale town vibes. This is the perfect place to slow down and recover from your hectic schedule in London and Paris.
Why not Germany?
Many people flock to Germany for its famous Christmas markets, and for good reason.
The traditional “Europe Christmas markets” originated here. Therefore, Germany offers some of the most authentic markets. With that comes crowds.
The popularity of Germany during the month of December can make hotel and flight deals hard to come by. Also, many of the best Christmas markets in Germany are in small towns. Once you’ve explored the markets, you may find there isn’t a whole lot to do.
With this Europe Christmas itinerary (London, Paris, Bruges), you get the best of both worlds. Glitzed-up cities for the holidays that also offer plenty to see and do in terms of tourist sights and activities. It’s a win-win!
If you’re thinking of spending Christmas in Europe and considering areas outside of Germany and Eastern Europe, this is the itinerary for you!
Christmas in London – 3 to 4 nights
Plan on spending at least 3 to 4 days in London. I wasn’t sure what to expect since London is often skipped when listing the best Christmas cities in Europe.
After spending Christmas in London, I can confidently say London is one of the BEST destinations in Europe for Christmas and should be near the top of the list.
London blew Paris out of the water when it came to decorations and Christmas lights. Add in Christmas high tea, a Broadway show or play, and ice skating below a palace…it’s a clear winner.
AWA Tip: if you have limited time and are wondering whether to spend more time in London or Paris, add more time to London. I prefer London to Paris not only during the holiday season but any time of year. I also feel there is more to do (especially if you’re a Harry Potter fan) and the options for day trips via train are endless.
See also: London in December | TOP 10 things to do
**London Hotel Recommendations**
- The Connaught
- The Marylebone Hotel
- The Ritz London
- The Milestone Hotel and Residences
- The Langham, London
- The Chesterfield Mayfair
- St. Ermin’s Hotel, Autograph Collection
- Park Grand London Kensington
- The Resident Covent Garden
Christmas in Paris – 3 to 4 nights
Similar to London, spend 3 to 4 days in Paris. It’s extremely convenient to get to Paris from London (or visa versa) by taking the chunnel.
The train takes less than 2.5 hours and you don’t have to worry about airport security or baggage fees.
Paris might not have over-the-top lights like London, but it definitely has charm and you can’t beat a warm crepe on a cold day.
The city offers plenty to do during the festive season and the crowds were not overwhelming (excluding the famous department store Galeries Lafayette).
See Also: DECEMBER IN PARIS | TOP 10 THINGS TO DO
**Paris Hotel Recommendations**
- Le Bristol Paris
- InterContinental Paris le Grand, an IHG Hotel
- Four Seasons Hotel George V
- Hotel de Crillon, A Rosewood Hotel
- Hotel Lancaster
Christmas markets in Brussels – stop in Brussels on the way to Bruges
We added a stop in Brussels on the way to Bruges. There’s a larger-than-life Christmas market in Brussels and a magical evening Christmas light show.
I had been to the Brussels Christmas market called Plaisirs D’Hiver or Winter Pret a few years back and wanted Jake to experience this winter wonderland.
Paris to Brussels is a quick 1.5 hour train ride. We took the direct train to the Brussels-Midi station in the morning and stored our luggage in the convenient lockers.
We had the entire afternoon to explore Brussels’ Winter Pret. This gave us plenty of time to sample some of the finest Belgium hot cocoa and chocolates, shop the Christmas market chalets, check out the ice skating rink, duck into a few cafes to warm up, and enjoy the spectacular evening Christmas lights show at the Grand Palace.
After the show, we walked back to the station, grabbed our luggage, and hopped on the hour train to Bruges.
Christmas in Bruges – 2 nights
Bruges, or Brugge, was the perfect end to our Christmas trip. It’s not as well known as many of the big cities, which is precisely why I think it’s one of the best destinations in Europe for Christmas.
Bruges never felt packed like other cities. It was especially quiet and calm in the mornings and evenings since many people visit Bruges as a day trip.
Nicknamed Venice of the North, Bruges really is a fairytale town with its Flemish architecture, water canals, and picture-perfect Grote Square.
This Belgian town is the definition of cozy and festive. The decorations are tasteful and done with great care. The number of family-run and quality restaurants is vast, and the charming streets and canals are perfect for wandering while sipping your rich Belgian hot chocolate and freshly baked Liege waffle.
**Bruges Hotel Recommendations**
- Grand Hotel Casselbergh Bruges
- Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce – Luxe Worldwide Hotel
- Hotel van Cleef
- Hotel Dukes’ Palace Residence
- Hotel de Orangerie
What to pack for Christmas in Europe
It rarely snows in this region of Europe (London, Paris, Bruges), but that doesn’t mean it’s not cold. It can be quite gray, sometimes wet, and very chilly this time of year. You’ll want a proper winter coat.
A pea coat isn’t going to cut it (Jake wore a down jacket under his thick pea coat). Insulation is key. Go for a down or down alternative coat. If you’re always cold (like me), go for a thigh-length coat to help keep your legs warm.
I brought my heaviest, warmest winter coat and was very glad I did. We spent a lot of time outside walking from place to place, wandering the Christmas markets, etc.
If you think you’ll be traveling the same way, bring gloves, ear muffs or hats, and scarves.
Because I packed all the above, I was perfectly comfortable wandering around all day. If I hadn’t, the trip probably would have been miserable.
If you run on the warmer side, you’ll probably be fine in a hip-length down/down alternative.
As for under your coat, I stick to jeans (often black) with a sweater. If I want to bump it up a bit for dinner or a performance, I’ll wear a long sweater dress (below knees) paired with thick, wool tights.
I opt for natural fabrics, like wool and cashmere, as much as possible because they are much warmer than synthetic materials. While cashmere can get quite expensive, Nordstrom has a crewneck and v-neck cashmere sweater that I love for $100.
See my WINTER PACKING LIST FOR EUROPE | TRAVEL MUST-HAVES FOR WOMEN for a detailed packing list and favorite items.
I hope this Christmas in Europe itinerary offered some inspiration for your upcoming trip. You’ll have an easy time finding convenient flight schedules (and deals) since you’re flying into and out of London and Brussels; two major airports.
The travel time is minimal between each city and is easily done by train.
You’ll get a taste of not just three different cities, but three countries! Each offers a different take on how they do Christmas.
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Christmas in Europe | London, Paris, Bruges