I studied abroad last fall semester and decided to spend the holidays in Europe—best decision I have ever made. From the mouth-watering treats offered in the Christmas markets to the beautiful architecture lined with sparkling lights, Europe offered a special kind of holiday cheer. Here are four cities where I recommend getting your holiday on (3 of which I visited myself!):
- Prague, Czech Republic
Prague has a fairytale charm that will make you feel like you just walked into a Disney classic. During the holiday season, the Old Town Square is stacked with Christmas markets filled with mulled wine, local crafts, and delicious treats (you have to try Trdelnik- a warm, sugar coated pastry that melts in your mouth!). In Old Town Square, there is a huge Christmas tree lighting ceremony that happens in front of the gothic Church of Our Lady. I recommend getting there earlier because everyone in town will be trying to squeeze in the square to see the sight!
Music also has a big presence in Prague and you should try catching a show in at one of the many beautiful opera houses or at a music club. I talked to some fellow travelers during my stay in Prague and they totally recommended watching a ballet show!
Although Prague has gram-worthy views with the beautiful castle on the Charles Bridge and the famous John Lennon Peace wall, there is also a haunting past the city holds in its Astronomical Clock. Definitely take the walking tour in this city to find out Prague’s ancient past and why Hitler saved this stunning city from destruction.
2. Barcelona, Spain
Don’t feel like freezing during the holiday season? A big perk of traveling to Barcelona during the winter season is the weather because it is warmer than many of the other European countries during this time. So warm that the city holds the annual Christmas Harbour Swim where hundreds of people dive in to the Mediterranean Sea on Christmas Day. While you’re in Gaudi’s playground, you should also enjoy authentic tapas at Catalana and live it up at Barcelona’s world-famous night clubs.
Bon Nadal! The Catalan people of Barcelona have their own holiday traditions that may seem bizarre to some people. Throughout their crafty Christmas markets, you’ll see piles of logs with faces on them- the Tio de Nadal (Christmas log). It is Catalan tradition that kids feed and take care of the Tio de Nadal in the days leading up to Christmas in hopes of generous amounts of treats. Instead of Santa Clause, the Catalan children count on the Three Wise Men to bring them presents on presents on presents.
With the help of famous architect Gaudi, Barcelona does a cool job with mixing the old city with the new. During the holidays, the newer shopping center Place Catalunya and the older winding streets of the Gothic Quarter are filled with holiday lights and gorgeous store fronts. Grab your skates because one of the world’s largest outdoor ice skating rinks lies in Place Catalunya!
3. Rovaniemi, Finland
This is as close you will get to the North Pole and Santa’s Workshop. Named the official town of Santa Clause, Rovaniemi feels like you just entered a real-life snow globe. You can officially meet Santa himself in his office on the Arctic Circle or hang out with his elves in the magical forest of Joulukka. This is not a joke. It is very real. There is a whole village dedicated to the big, jolly man in red where you can learn about Santa’s past and present.
If you’re craving some adventure, Rovaniemi also offers snowmobiling, reindeer safari trips, snowshoe tours, backwoods skiing and sled rides led by the cutest huskies! This chilly town is also known for its unique wildlife so visit some polar bears at the Ranua Zoo. Arktikum, a museum about science and the arctic area, is one of the top attractions in the area for all the history and science buffs out there. If you’re into backwoods adventure and a total winter wonderland, Rovaniemi is the holiday destination for you.
4. Paris, France
There is something magical about Paris during the holidays and only the ones who have been there can truly understand. As you stroll down Champs Elysees, you will see the amazing holiday store fronts of brands like Louis Vuitton and Cartier. At the end of Champs Elysees, one of the biggest Christmas markets in Paris resides with tasty crepes and handcrafted ornaments featuring the Eiffel tower. The entire city looks forward to the Christmas Illuminations where places like Avenue Montaigne, Place Vendome, the Montmarte district and the Bercy village are lit up with colorful lights.
My personal favorite place in Paris was the Montmarte district- a culturally rich neighborhood that feels like old Paris. As you walk through these winding streets, your ears will be delighted with accordion French music and your eyes will be stunned by the art work from local artists. So take a seat on the steps of the gorgeous Sacre Coer and enjoy the atmosphere.
Bonn Annees! Although there are no official fireworks in Paris for New Years, Champs Elysees is the hot spot to ring in the New Year. At midnight, you’ll get a great view of the lights on the Eiffel Tower and Champs Elysees is close to all the happening spots for dancing and dining. On Janurary 1st, crack open a bottle of champagne and continue celebrating by attending the New Years Parade down Champs!