8 Best European Christmas Destinations: A Backpacker’s Guide

8 Best European Christmas Destinations: A Backpacker's Guide

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A combination of colorful lights, half-timbered homes, historic markets, and endless cheer make for an unforgettable Christmas.

For backpackers on the road, these wintry festive destinations will warm you up like a cup of mulled wine.

Europe’s old cities are filled with tradition.

Their rich heritage tells the tale of Christmases celebrated for centuries. Local cuisine shakes up your regular Christmas meal as much as the change in language and, perhaps, weather. 

Our favorite European Christmas destinations aren’t heavy on the wallet.

With hostels bringing together people from across the world, where else would you want to spend the most wonderful time of the year?

Something to help out with your travels: Check out all our 5 Star Hostels and all of our ‘3 best hostel guides

Looking for the European Christmas Destinations? 

Here’s where they are:

More Highlights for European Christmas Destinations:

Good to know: If you’re hopping around Europe quite a bit, we have other guides that could come in useful, like the one on the Best hostels in Europe (and dedicated ones to the best beach, co-working, and female hostels in Europe). We also have tips on how to travel in Europe cheaply.

Money-saving tip: Hostelz.com is a hostel price comparison site. You can save money with every comparison!

Christmas Hostel Map

This map will help you plan your backpacking trip in Europe during Christmas.

It also has the best hostels included in each destination we mentioned. Just click on the red deer of your choice.

Here Are the Best European Christmas Destinations

Okay let’s start, here’s your best bet on where to experience the magic of the holiday season in Europe.

Our list will help you discover the best destinations to enjoy festive cheer, twinkling lights, and Christmas markets.

1. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest During Christmas
Budapest During Christmas
Budapest Castle
Budapest Castle
European Christmas Destination: Budapest
European Christmas Destination: Budapest

With the fairy lights dangling from the sidewalk trees and illuminating the cobbled streets, you’ll know it’s Christmas in Budapest.

Year-round, Hungary’s capital is infused with romanticism, from the glistening Danube to its historic architecture.

But as the winter temperatures settle in, the festive beauty of Budapest comes to life.

Budapest is one of the best European Christmas destinations for all travelers, but especially backpackers.

Helpful if you’re going to Hungary:

A thriving hostel scene, set in the heart of the city, you’ll never be far from the action and with plenty of folks to share it with. 

At Vörösmarty and Deak Ferenc Square, the aromas of goulash and palinka float through the air.

So do the tunes of carols and the spread of cheer.

After a day of exploring the markets, you can warm up at Budapest’s iconic Szechenyi Thermal Baths, before taking on the city’s famed nightlife.

2. Krakow, Poland

Krakow Streets During Christmas
Krakow Streets During Christmas
Krakow Christmas Market
Krakow Christmas Market
Krakow During Christmas
Krakow During Christmas

Krakow is another celebrated backpacker destination that becomes even more alluring around Christmas time.

History, culture, and winter frost combine to create a dreamy, festive season.

Helpful if you’re going to Poland:

Within one of Europe’s oldest medieval squares, Rynek Główny, stalls, twinkling lights, a Christmas tree, and Polish treats stand alongside the Cloth Hall and St Mary’s Basilica.

From there, you can follow Krakow’s Nativity Scene Route, which showcases a Polish twist on nativity scenes spread throughout the city.

Come Christmas Eve you’ll want to settle down for Wigilia, a Polish tradition. This is a 12-dish meal served at many restaurants and households with plenty of pierogies, herring, and gingerbread.

3. Dresden, Germany

Dresden Christmas Market
Dresden Christmas Market
Dresden By Day
Dresden By Day
Dresden Christmas Market
Dresden Christmas Market

For pure Christmas atmosphere and tradition, there are few better destinations than Dresden, Germany. From the last days of November until Christmas, the city’s Striezelmarkt is in full swing.

This historic market dates back to 1434 and is held within the 13th century Atlmarkt.

Helpful if you’re going to Germany:

A towering Christmas tree is set in the heart of the old square.

It glistens with lights and shines through the misty evening air. Alongside the endless stalls of ornate decorations, you’ll find seasonal treats. The striezel which gave the market its name is a mouthwatering-sweet bread that is the perfect accompaniment.

Around Dresden, you’ll find more Christmas markets, each with its unique charm including the medieval Advent.

4. Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Christmas Market
Prague Christmas Market
Prague Christmas Decorations
Prague Christmas Decorations
Prague Christmas Tree
Prague Christmas Tree

With a skyline dominated by a rich tapestry of historic architecture and streets lined with old cobblestone, Prague is a magical destination.

By arriving at your local hostel at Christmas, you’re discovering it as it should be, under a delightful frosting of snow.

Helpful if you’re going to the Czech Republic:

Get rugged up and wander the old-time streets laden with Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance inspiration.

Follow the lampposts across the famous Charles Bridge to the enormous Prague Castle, where the gorgeous Golden Lane and Old Royal Palace are awash with Christmas spirit.

Now, it’s time for Prague’s many Christmas markets, beginning in the Old Town Square.

A traditional marketplace, you’ll find a heritage-rich event with the addition of Christmas magic. Spot the 22m decorated tree, a sprawling Nativity scene, and a gingerbread village.

5. Vienna, Austria

Vienna Street Christmas Lights
Vienna Street Christmas Lights
Vienna Christmas Train
Vienna Christmas Train
Vienna Castle
Vienna Castle

It’s impossible to escape the aromas of baked Christmas treats at Vienna’s beloved markets.

In front of the City Hall, Rathausplatz, is a Christmas market that has had over 700 years to perfect its recipe, and it has.

The eye-catching square transforms into a winter fairy tale of exotic lights, ornate Christmas trees, steaming cups of hot punch, and zelten.

Helpful if you’re going to Austria:

But it doesn’t end there.

Be sure to load up on breaded dumplings, gluhwein, and potato pancakes.

To complement this market, explore the captivating 18th-century Belvedere Palace.

Here, you’ll also find the immersive Christmas Village. While at the Spittelberg Christmas Market, you’ll find an assortment of 19th-century alleyways filled with art, eats, and Christmas ambiance.

6. Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh During Christmas
Edinburgh During Christmas
Edinburgh Christmas Market
Edinburgh Christmas Market
Edinburgh Christmas Lights
Edinburgh Christmas Lights

With its festive lights, Edinburgh transforms into one of the best European Christmas destinations.

It’s the scene of picturesque postcards, cobbled streets laced with fairy lights, markets, and emblazoned trees.

With plenty of hostels and backpackers, just being in Edinburgh is enough to be encapsulated by the holly jollies.

Helpful if you’re going to Scotland:

Festive markets aren’t in short supply in Edinburgh.

You’ll find East Princes Street Gardens alive with the Edinburgh Christmas Market.

This is a combination of traditional crafts and gastronomic brilliance.

Later, you can get your legs moving at any of Edinburgh’s numerous ice skating rinks. This, of course, is best combined with some zesty mulled wine.

7. Riga, Latvia

Riga During Christmas
Riga During Christmas
Riga Christmas Market
Riga Christmas Market
Riga Christmas Decoration
Riga Christmas Decoration

It may be a little left field, but Riga is another amazing place to embrace the holiday season. The historic city, awash with Art Nouveau Architecture, already permeates the spirit of Christmas.

Helpful if you’re going to Latvia:

Add a splash of snow and it’s a magical place to uncover.

As you wander around on foot, you’ll step into the 1800s, all with the addition of Christmas lights and markets.

Speaking of which, you’ll find Europe’s largest market hall right here in Riga. And yes, it’s fixed with all your Christmas goodies.

You’ll find events spread throughout the historic city center.

But the Old Riga Christmas Market in Dome Square will be calling your name.

Here, pelmeni and karstvīns make the perfect combo as you explore.

8. Colmar, France

Colmar Street Decoration
Colmar Street Decoration
Colmar During the Night
Colmar During the Night
Colmar Christmas Market
Colmar Christmas Market

Colmar’s maze of old streets becomes enveloped with decorations and lights every December.

A stroll through the breathtaking Old Town will take you along subtly illuminated boulevards and into a Christmas wonderland.

Helpful if you’re going to France:

Colmar’s festive heritage, with the addition of Alsatian wine, makes it a great Christmas destination.

Add the fact that backpackers will find six Christmas markets within the historic center alone, and you’ll be in festive heaven.

Head to Place de l’Ancienne Douane for churros, crêpes, gifts, and the tunes of carols.

Later, ice skate at Place Rapp before sampling some mulled wine at the spinning carousel bar.

Getting around Europe

What is the best way to travel to European countries? Well, there are a few different transport options to consider, depending on your preferred travel style, budget, and any time constraints you may have.

Once you’re in mainland Europe, it’s pretty easy to move between countries. If you prefer to stay on the ground, there are buses and trains. Alternatively, many affordable flights can get you to your next destination in no time.

We’ve written up some handy guides with European transport in mind:

  • Flixbus – connecting European cities by bus
  • Skyscanner – a review of the powerful flight search engine
  • Omio.com – a search engine for trains, buses & flights

Personally, we prefer Flixbus when it comes to traveling around Europe.

In case you need proof of onward travel, make sure you check out Onward Ticket. We wrote a detailed guide and review of Onward Ticket and why you need it.

Once you’ve booked your destination and hostel, don’t forget to sort out your travel insurance. We recommend HeyMondo and Safetywing.

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Map of all the Best Christmas Destinations in Europe 

Summary

We have other guides that might come in handy during your European backpacking trip:

Over to you

Do you have any questions left, maybe doubts? Then please leave it in the comment below. We are very keen to help you - and actually you would even do us a favor!

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Last note: Our commitment

This is a genuine article to help you travel a bit smarter, and find the best place on a budget! We will never recommend you any place we haven’t evaluated or are not convinced by. We are constantly updating all our guides to keep them as fresh and accurate as possible.

Safe travels,
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