Europe is known for being one of the world’s top destinations for summer holidays – but it’s just as magical in winter. Whether it’s cheery festive markets or spectacular ski trips, many destinations come into their own in the winter months, particularly December. Plus, not only do historic cities look better with a dusting of snow, but prices are lower, and crowds are fewer too.

So, if you’re looking for some short-haul winter travel inspiration, we’ve got you covered. Here are 11 of the best holiday destinations to visit in Europe this December.

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1. Bruges, Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is one of the most popular destinations to visit in winter, and it’s known for its traditional Christmas markets. But, each year, this picturesque Belgian city also hosts the festival Winter Glow. Alongside markets, other seasonal experiences include ice skating, atmospheric light displays, pretty walking trails, cosy winter bars, and lots of festive shopping.

But Winter Glow aside, this incredibly well-preserved medieval city is most bewitching in December, when the cobbled streets are lit with twinkling lights and the historic buildings are frosted with snow. The narrow canals and winding streets are perfect for romantic winter strolls, and, when you get chilly, few things are more comforting than sipping Belgian hot chocolate in a cosy cafe.

2. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, Czech Republic

Another city that’s at its most beautiful in winter is Prague. In terms of beauty, romance, architecture and art, it rivals cities like Paris and Rome, yet prices are much lower, particularly in December. It was a little over three decades ago that this city emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, and since then, the former Communist capital has evolved into a buzzing and charming Western metropolis.

The UNESCO-listed medieval Old Town is always a joy to explore, but on a snowy day, iconic sights like Charles Bridge and the historic church spires look even more magical. Prague is also home to some of the best Christmas markets on the continent, so whether you want to browse for gifts or feast on warming mulled wine and trdelník (delicious fried dough treats), you won’t be disappointed.

3. Lapland, Finland

Lapland, Finland

If you’re feeling really festive, there’s no better destination than Lapland. Spread out across the north of Finland, this remote part of the world is synonymous with winter pleasures – from cosy log cabins and husky-led sleigh rides to snow-swathed forests, reindeer, and, of course, Santa Claus. It’s almost impossible to come here and not feel like a child at Christmas.

But festive activities are only part of the fun, because Lapland’s snow-covered countryside is perfect for adventuring. You can try snowmobiling, skiing, or ice skating, or take a Northern Lights safari to see the aurora borealis. If you want to relax, things don’t get any cosier than a log cabin – sip glogg by the fire, warm up in a sauna, and soak up the gorgeous views of this winter wonderland.

4. Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam is a delight at any time of year, but things are especially lovely in December when the Amsterdam Light Festival further illuminates the already glittering Dutch capital. The canal-crossed centre looks lovelier in the snow, and the hearty Dutch food on offer and cosy cafes are even more pleasurable on cold days.

If things get really chilly, there are many interesting places to warm up, as Amsterdam is home to some of the best museums and galleries, including the world’s largest Van Gogh collection. But, the city as a whole is bursting with creativity and culture, and it’s small enough to explore on foot, so you don’t have to trek for hours in the cold to see all the best sights.

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5. Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

With its gleaming glaciers, snow-capped mountains, colourful wooden buildings, and scenic harbours, Norway is synonymous with winter beauty, but few places are as idyllic as Bergen. As the country’s second-largest city, Bergen is packed with culture, charm, and history, and you can visit its medieval wharf, lively fish market, and first-rate museums.

The vivid colours of Trondheim look even better against the snow, and the sweeping views of the surrounding fjords will take your breath away. And seeing as you’re in Scandinavia in December, why not try and spot the northern lights during their most impressive season? Seeing these gleaming lights dance across the sky is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

6. Zagreb, Croatia

Zagreb, Croatia

Croatia might be best known as a summer destination, but visiting in winter gives you the chance to see a whole new side to the country. You might not be able to take advantage of Croatia’s famous azure waters in December, but there are many other perks to visiting in winter – particularly if you visit the historic hillside city of Zagreb, which is close to the Slovenian border.

Zagreb has everything you’d hope an old European capital has – cobbled streets, a beautiful old town, and grand baroque architecture – but in December it also plays host to Advent. During this annual festival, the Croatian capital bursts with yuletide cheer. There are Christmas markets, ice skating rinks, sparkling lights, and more festive food stalls than you could hope to eat at.

7. Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

Bernese Oberland, Switzerland

If you don’t fancy a city break and you’re not particularly fussed about embracing the festive season, why not head to Switzerland? Located in the heart of the country, the Bernese Oberland is home to some of the most stunning mountain scenery in all of Europe. From rugged snow-capped peaks to cosy Alpine villages, the landscape here is quintessentially Swiss.

If you’re into skiing, the Bernese Oberland is one of the best places in Europe to hit the slopes, and the views from the cable cars are an added bonus. Resort towns here have all the amenities you need, whether it’s luxurious spas where you can enjoy an indulgent pamper session, cosy bars where you can sip mulled wine, or romantic restaurants where you can sample Alpine cuisine.

8. Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

Thanks to its turreted castles, coastal location, green spaces, and beautifully-preserved medieval centre, Tallinn is stunning throughout the year. But while summer sees an influx of revellers drawn in by cheap flights and even cheaper beer – in winter, the cobbled streets are blissfully quiet. While Baltic winters can be very cold, the Estonian capital is definitely worth wrapping up for.

Under a layer of snow, the views of the ancient city walls, merchants’ houses, and hidden courtyards from Toompea Castle are even more atmospheric, and you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time. You can visit the Christmas market in the Old Town Square, warm up with a glögi (local mulled wine), take a spin on the Uisuplats Ice Rink, and explore Tallinn’s many excellent museums.

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9. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Whether you visit in the height of summer or the depths of winter, Slovenia is astoundingly beautiful. Its capital, Ljubljana, looks straight out of a romantic fairy tale, and the grand Baroque architecture is even more impressive when lit up with twinkling lights. In winter, the pedestrian-only Old Town is easier to explore without the crowds, and pretty riverside cafés are wonderfully cosy and quiet.

Ljubljana Airport is also close to the country’s most popular attractions: Lake Bled and the Julian Alps. Circled by rugged mountains and dense pine forests, Lake Bled is breathtaking, so if you’re looking to explore the great outdoors this winter, you’re in the right place. Plus, the lovely medieval town of Piran and the fortified village of Štanjel are only an hour from Ljubljana too.

10. Vienna, Austria

Vienna, Austria

Vienna is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, not just in Europe. But its imperial grandeur and lavish architecture are even more impressive under a crisp winter sky, and the Hofburg palace complex and the Schloss Belvedere are the perfect backdrop for snowy festive photos. The lack of crowds compared to summer is also a big bonus.

Plus, in December, you can indulge in local delights like hot chocolate and sachertorte (rich chocolate cake), and there are countless coffee houses to warm up in after a brisk winter walk. There are also lots of free classical concerts in Vienna in December, as well as outdoor simulcasts of the opera. Even when it’s snowing people attend – just be sure to wrap up warm!

11. Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

While winter travel isn’t just about Christmas, you can’t have an article about holiday destinations that are good to visit in December and not feature Germany. Known all around the world for its Christmas markets, no one does traditional cheer quite like the Germans, and the capital, Berlin, has over 60 Christmas markets to browse. WeihnachtsZauber is especially picturesque!

But there’s more to Berlin’s winter charm than its festive markets. This creative, cultural capital is gritty, glamorous, and one of the world’s trendiest cities. Its Michelin-starred restaurants, bohemian bars, edgy museums, and cool cafés are always inviting – particularly on a cold winter day. Like other capitals, Berlin is also less touristy in winter, so you’ll experience a more authentic side of the city.

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Final thoughts…

Winter can be a rather bleak time of year, so travelling to a beautiful new country or city can be the perfect pick-me-up.

Whether you love the festive season and the thought of browsing Christmas markets, or you’d rather just get away from it all and explore a new destination away from the crowds, Europe has many lovely places that are perfect for a winter break.

Plus, travelling in December is usually easier on the budget too.

Have you visited any of these destinations before? Or do you have your own suggestions for the best European destinations to visit in December? We’d love to hear about your winter travel experiences in the comments below.