10 Festive City Breaks in Europe for Families this December

Hoping to get away with the family this December? With Christmas just around the corner, a city break can be the perfect way to celebrate the festive season with your loved ones. But with so many amazing destinations to choose from, it can be tough to decide on where to escape to. Here is Skratch’s list of the 10 best winter city breaks in Europe, so that you can have a very merry holiday all round.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Nyhavn at night, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Copenhagen may be the capital of Denmark; but as far as cities go, it is incredibly down-to-earth —  despite being pioneers in Europe’s architecture and food scene. Public transportation is easy and cheap here, but a more popular option for getting around the city is by foot or bike. After all, this is one of the happiest, and most sustainable, destinations out.

A fairy-tale city, Copenhagen is magical in December: even in the polar nights. Its traditional funfair Tivoli Gardens transforms into an enchanting winter wonderland filled with over 1000 Christmas trees and 60 market stalls. Open every day from 11am to 10pm (and 11pm on the weekends), Tivoli Gardens is the perfect day out for all the family.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Luxembourg City, Luxembourg

Luxembourg City in the evening, Luxembourg.

Next on our list is the historical Luxembourg City deserving of its World Heritage status. Home to ethereal castles, cathedrals, and the Grand Duke’s Palace, Luxembourg is a luxurious place — not least because it is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. This exquisite city may not be the cheapest to visit, but with public transportation being completely free of charge (as well as the Pfaffenthal Panoramic Elevator overlooking the city), a trip to Luxembourg is definitely worth considering.

In honour of Christmas, the Winterlights Festival illuminates Luxembourg City with over 1000 lights. From ice-skating and fairground rides, to Winterkids workshops and shows, there are plenty of activities to keep the kids entertained. And with a gorgeous selection of markets serving classic and local delicacies, Luxembourg City will fill your heart and stomach with excellent food.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Tom Mrazek, Flickr.

Awarded the  European Best Destination for 2022, Ljubljana is gaining recognition as a lively and eco-friendly city which appeals to all ages. From the 900-years-old Ljubljana Castle and the symbolical Dragon Bridge, to the Baroque Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Ljubljana is more than easy on the eyes. Not to mention the city’s convenient location, allowing tours to incredible sights such as Lake Bled and the Postojna Cave to operate with ease.

A snowy paradise in the winter, Slovenia is the place to go if you are dreaming of a white Christmas. Ljubljana has all the holiday charm as melodies and spices fill the air. More memorable though is the city’s Land of Ice. This cosy venue has an abundance of ice sculptures carved into intricate designs, including several dragons in true Slovenian spirit. You can also find a maze, an ice bar, and even an ice slide which yes, the kids can ride!

Ghent, Belgium

St. Michael's Bridge, Ghent, Belgium.

Ghent may be less popular than Bruges, but this city still has plenty to offer despite its comparably smaller size. Catering to tourists without overdoing it, Ghent is a destination that feels both accommodating and authentic. Home to stunning medieval architecture that will make any history buff’s heart soar, Ghent is great for children (and adults) who love to learn more.

Each year from the 8th December to the 31st, the Ghent Christmas Market is held in the historical city centre. With over 150 wooden huts to choose from, it is impossible not to feel the festive spirit here. Whilst you’re here, why not try some world-class Belgian waffles?

Want to find out more about Ghent? Check out our guide on this underrated gem here.

Tallinn, Estonia

Old town of Tallinn in the snow, Estonia.

The capital of Estonia, Tallinn is a mesmerising place to explore — especially in the snow. Firstly, it is one of the greenest destinations in Europe. As the leader of the European Network of Sustainable Cities, Tallinn is dedicated to helping the local people and environment: such as being the first city to implement free public transportation!

There is more to this city than its eco-friendly attitude though. Its UNESCO World Heritage Old Town has charmed the hearts of many adventurers, making Tallinn a true architectural abode. There is even a Magical Christmas Tour that whisks you through an already astonishing sight (and more) with a festive twist. And who could forget Tallinn’s Christmas Market, taking place in the city’s historical townhall — the only surviving Gothic piece of its kind in Northern Europe!

Erfurt, Germany

Erfurt, Germany.

If you want to experience Germany’s Christmas magic but dread the inevitable crowds that come with the most popular cities, then why not visit Erfurt instead? This quiet but cosy destination is perhaps most famous for once being the study place of German theologian Martin Luther in the early 1500s. To this day, Erfurt attracts around 10,000 students, making it a city that feels both historical and contemporary.

Centred around Erfurt’s Cathedral Square, the city’s Christmas market is open until the 22nd December and runs from 10am to 8pm daily (10pm on weekends). Aside from offering seasonal and national delicacies, there are different activities here worth trying. You can step into a fairy-tale by visiting the market’s Enchanted Forest, where you can meet all kinds of magical creatures. Or you can gaze up into the city’s impressive Christmas pyramid, featuring layers of the region’s local legends and heroes.

Florence, Italy

Florence, Italy.

The birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence is an extraordinary city that embodies romance. Its cobbled streets lead to all kinds of artistries, from the surrounding churches and chapels to the awe-inspiring palaces dating back to the 15th century. Not to mention the city’s phenomenal museums and galleries, which are a real treat for any art enthusiast.

Leaning into the city’s creative spirit, every year Florence hosts its own Lights Festival! From the 8th December, the F-Lights festival encourages a captivating display of lights and projections onto the city’s iconic monuments and piazzas. In honour of the festival’s theme, there are also themed exhibitions held — typically at the Palazzo Vecchio.

From this magical tradition to the city’s several Christmas markets, a festive city break to Florence makes for a truly special holiday. This Tuscan jewel may be a popular destination (and rightfully so), but it does not attract the same numbers as Venice or Rome. All this and the added bonus of travelling out of peak-season make for a leisurely and less crowded trip.

Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg, Austria.

Nestled in between the Bavarian border and the foothill of the Alps, Salzburg is injected with Baroque charm. This Austrian city makes no secret of being a musical sensation; not only is it the birthplace of classical composer Mozart (whose house you can actually visit), but the setting of family-favourite film The Sound of Music.

The hills are alive here, as Salzburg has multiple hiking opportunities near by for the outdoorsy families. If you would prefer not to climb, why not check out this Christmas Horse-Drawn Sleigh Ride? Open to all ages, this enthralling day trip takes you just outside the city as you begin dashing through the snow.

But if you would rather stay within one area, then there is still plenty of Christmas joy to be found within Salzburg itself. Its Christmas markets are a long-standing tradition, and are mentioned as far back as the 15th century. The one held at the Dom and Residenzplatz Square is famous for being one of the world’s oldest Advent markets. From choir melodies on Tuesdays to the ‘Christ Child’s visit every Sunday, the additional entertainment here rotates amidst the rows of traditional market huts.

York, England

Shambles, York, England.

Shining brightly in the Northeast of England is the walled city of York; once occupied by the Vikings and Romans, York has all the allure that you might expect from such a place. Its cobblestone streets reflect this historical fascination, particularly the Shambles —  believed to be one of the real life inspirations behind Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. And whilst York knows how to make a profit from its 8 million annual tourists, it never loses itself along the way.

Home to North England’s largest outdoor ice rink, Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland is delightfully festive. From skating around a 30ft Christmas tree to cooling down with a cup of the best chocolate in town at The Chalet, York knows how to keep things cosy. But the sweet treats do not end there; as this December, York is running workshops where you can make chocolate with Santa!

Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne, Switzerland.

Last on our list is the quintessentially Swiss city of Lucerne. From its historical old town to the country’s greatest waterfront Lake Lucerne, Lucerne is timeless in its appeal. In 1868, Queen Victoria stayed in this city for a remarkable five weeks! Whilst the city is bound to have changed since then, its charm has not worn off.

It is no surprise then that Lucerne makes for an incredible winter city break for families. Christmas trees dance here as they float on the Europaplatz pond, bursting with light and sound. There are plenty of markets presenting festive goods with a Swiss twist; because who does chocolate better than them?

If entertainment is the most important thing, then it is worth looking into a Half-Day Tour to Mount Titlis. This snowy escapade whisks you up the mountain in the world’s first revolving cable car, offering incredible panoramic views. Whilst this trip is quite pricey, children between 6 and 15 years old go for half the price of an adult ticket (and children under 6 go in free). Tis the season of spending, after all.  

Mt Titlis, Switzerland.
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Facts before you go - Christmas Edition

🇩🇰 Copenhagen

Markets: Tivoli Gardens, Bakken, Copenhagen Zoo

Best for: amusement parks and Hygge

Currency: Danish Krone (Kr.)

Language: Danish (Official); English widely spoken fluently

🇱🇺 Luxembourg City

Markets: Wanterpark, Lëtzebuerger Chrëschtmaart, Wantermaart, Niklosmaart

Best for: winterlights and luxury goods

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: Luxembourgish, French, German (Official); English widely spoken

🇸🇮 Ljubljana

Markets: Prešeren Square, Ljubljanica river, Kongresni Trg (Congress Square)

Best for: ice sculptures and honey

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: Slovenian, English (Official)

🇧🇪 Ghent

Market: Ghent's historic city centre

Best for: history and waffles

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: Dutch, French, German (Official); English widely spoken

🇪🇪 Tallinn

Market: Raekoja plats (Tallinn Town Hall Square)

Best for: Old Town and snowy weather

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: Estonian (Official); English widely spoken

🇩🇪 Erfurt

Market: Domplatz (Cathedral Square)

Best for: festive decorations and comfort food

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: German (Official); some English spoken

🇮🇹 Florence

Markets: Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Santa Croce,  Fortezza da Basso.

Best for: art and nativity

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: Italian (Official); English widely spoken

🇦🇹 Salzburg

Markets: Dom and Residenzplatz, Hellbrunner Adventzauber, Salzburg Fortress,  Alter Markt (a charity event)

Best for: music and a variety of Christmas markets

Currency: Euro (€)

Language: German (Official); English widely spoken

🇬🇧 York

Market: Parliament Street and St Sampson’s Square

Best for: ice skating and pubs

Currency: Pound sterling (£)

Language: English (Official)

🇨🇭 Lucerne

Markets: Weinmarkt, Franziskanerkirche (Franciscan Church), Vögeligärtli Park

Best for: chocolate and cable cars

Currency: Swiss Franc (CHF)

Language: Swiss German (Official); English widely spoken

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Hannah Douch
August 30, 2023
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