Imagine waking up in a small town in Europe. You wander to the window, throw open the wooden shades of the half-timbered house, and see a fresh dusting of snow on the picturesque rooftops. Colorful lights twinkle in along the eaves, and Christmas trees sparkle in the ground-floor windows. It’s Christmas, and you’re living in a fairy tale. ✨
Yes, this magical, once-in-a-lifetime Christmas experience is possible. Traveling in France and Germany last month, I found six amazing small towns that transform into a winter wonderland every single year. I have no doubt there are other magical towns throughout Europe that celebrate Christmas in enchanting ways. These are just my favorites, the ones I’ve seen with my own eyes.
Additionally, each of these towns is known for their Christmas markets and irresistible charm. If you’re looking for the perfect place to celebrate Christmas in Europe – these are the places!
Heart of the Alsace: Colmar, France
Colmar is a hot spot for travelers right now – as is the whole Alsace region. It recently came to the world’s attention that France was hiding a beautiful pocket of well-preserved towns, and everyone wants to visit!
As the largest town in Alsace and the beating heart of tourism for the region, Colmar is a great destination year round. For the holidays though, it transforms into a storybook vision. From the Little Venice to the babbling canals, everything in Colmar gets a touch of Christmas magic.
Visiting the Christmas Markets in Colmar
Colmar is home to five Christmas markets!
- At the Place de Dominicans, near the Cathedral.
- In the Petit Venice area, tailored to children.
- In the Koïfhus, an indoor market.
- At the Place de l’Ancienne Douane, next to the Koïfhus.
- At the Place Jeanne d’Arc, tailored to foodies.
The Christmas markets in Colmar operate daily from November 25th to December 30th, including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (with limited hours).
Traveling to Colmar for Christmas (or Year-Round)
Getting to Colmar is not the easiest, since it has no airport of it’s own. Instead, you can fly into the nearest airport (Strasbourg), and take a train. Similarly, you could fly into Basel (Switzerland) or Paris, and take a slightly longer train ride.
Looking for a place to stay? I chose this Airbnb just outside the city center, but within 10-minutes walking distance of all the Christmas markets. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, use my link to sign up and get $35 account credit.
A Gem on the Alsatian Wine Trail: Eguisheim, France
“The towns of the Alsatian wine trail sit along the base of the Vosges mountains like a string of pearls,” said our guide, pointing east across the German border toward a low line of mountains in the mist.
These “pearls” – truly strung out in a row from north to south – do two things exceptionally well:
- Make Alsatian wine
- Celebrate Christmas
I didn’t know this until I visited as part of a wine tour, but from the moment I stepped foot in Eguisheim, I agreed. A compact, walled city stuffed to bursting with demure half-timbered houses, Eguisheim is one of the most popular towns on the Alsatian wine trail. Aside from delicious wines, they also do Christmas and Christmas markets really, really well.
Visiting the Christmas Markets in Eguisheim
Eguisheim (“eggy-shime,” with “shime” like “shine”) is part of the Christmas’ Stars Land celebration, along with several nearby towns. In addition to markets, many other holiday and religious events happen in Eguisheim and its neighbors. Eguisheim has also been honored with the title of “Villes et Villages de Noël,” highlighting it as one of the best experiences of the season.
The Christmas markets in Eguisheim run from November 25th to December 23rd, and take place in the main square (near the statue of Pope Leo IX), as well as nearby squares and courtyards.
Traveling to Eguisheim for Christmas (or Year-Round)
Getting to Eguisheim must be done by car, as it is not connected to any train lines. However, it’s a short 15-minute drive from Colmar to Eguisheim. You can choose to rent a car and drive yourself, or opt for the special holiday bus that connects the two towns. This bus runs several times daily between Colmar and Eguisheim, only during the same times that the Christmas markets of Eguisheim are open.
For accommodation, you have two choices: stay in Colmar (see my recommendations above), or stay in Eguisheim. In Eguisheim, I recommend an Airbnb like this one, within the main walls of the city.
On the Doorstep of the Black Forest: Freiburg, Germany
Freiburg is the biggest “town” on this list, and should probably be considered a “city” instead! It certainly feels bigger than everywhere else I visited on this list, but doesn’t lose its small-town feel once you’re walking around the bustling streets.
Located in the German state of Baden-Württemberg on the edge of the Black Forest, you can actually see the Black Forest from certain spots in Freiburg. Given that the Black Forest has inspired many fairy tales, it’s no surprising that Freiburg feels like you’re living in one too! When snow begins to gently fall on the cobbled streets, it becomes all the more magical.
Visiting the Christmas Markets in Freiburg
Freiburg has one big Christmas market that takes place in several parts of the city:
- the Rathausplatz
- the Franziskanerstraße
- the Unterlindenplatz
- the Kartoffelmarkt
- in the shadow of the Freiburger Münster (cathedral).
These streets and squares are all connected and it’s easy to walk between them. The Christmas markets in Freiburg are open from November 21st to December 23rd this year.
Traveling to Freiburg for Christmas (or Year-Round)
For geographic context, Freiburg is just across the Rhine valley from Alsace – you can see each region from the other side of the France-Germany border. Similar to Colmar, there is no major airport that services Freiburg. Your best option is to fly into Basel and take a train from there. Mr. Valise and I arrived via Flixbus from Überlingen om Bodensee in the south – that bus route runs all the way to Munich, but takes about 6 hours!
While in Freiburg, Stay Inn Freiburg is a great option for accommodations. Their cute loft apartment rental has plenty of space, but is conveniently located on the Fischerau (fisherman’s street) in the Little Venice of Freiburg, and is close walking distance to all of the city.
A Regal Medieval Relic: Regensburg, Germany
Visiting Regensburg is an experience at any point in the year, especially for history lovers. The town was left largely untouched by bombing in World War II, and many of the buildings date back centuries to medieval times. It’s walled city is so well-preserved that it attained UNESCO Heritage Site status 10 years ago! Large and easy to explore, it’s also a popular stop for river cruises on the Danube – and especially popular during the holiday season.
With several churches and squares, as well as picturesque views from the River Danube, Regensburg gets even more dolled up as the holiday season approaches. It’s also easily reached from other parts of Germany, making it a perfect Christmas destination.
Visiting the Christmas Markets in Regensburg
There are four main locations for Christmas markets in Regensburg:
- In the square near the Neupfarr Church.
- In the Spitalgarden, focusing on religious celebrations.
- At the Lucreziamarkt, where craftsmen share their trade.
The final location is in the Romantic palace of Thurn & Taxis, for an additional fee (usually €5-7). Each of these markets is open from November 21st to December 23rd this year.
Traveling to Regensburg for Christmas (or Year-Round)
Regensburg does not have its own airport, so your two closest choices are Munich or Nuremberg. From either city, you can easily travel by train to Regensburg, and the city is easy to traverse on foot. Another option is to come by cruise, such as with Viking Cruises, though these have a tendency to book early in the year and only visit Regensburg for one day.
If you want to stay longer than a day, I’d recommend booking accommodation with the Hotel Jakob. Located right on the edge of the walled city, it’s within a 15-minute walk of the entire area, and excellently placed if the Thurn & Taxis palace is on your itinerary.
Vibrant, Brilliant, and Intimate: Riquewihr, France
I’ve never seen a house so blue in my entire life as when I stood on the cobbled streets of Riquewihr.
Brightly colored houses, cobbled streets, and yet another walled medieval city – what’s not to love about teeny, tiny Riquewihr on the Alsatian Wine Trail. As part of my own wine tour, and encouraged by fellow travelers, Riquewihr revealed itself to me with windows full of the scent of flowers that are replaced with Christmas lights and gingerbread smells at the holiday season. It’s off the beaten path, but has all the provincial charm you need.
Visiting the Christmas Market in Riquewihr
Given its size (1200 people), Riquewihr has a proportionally smaller Christmas market than some of the other towns on the list, but makes up for it with gusto. The theme of the Christmas market in this town is medieval, so expect to see traditional dress and decorations everywhere. The light-lined streets and squares will become a Christmas market on December 3rd-4th and 10th-11th this year.
Traveling to Riquewihr for Christmas (or Year-Round)
Like Eguishem, the easiest way to reach Riquewihr is by car. Unfortunately, there’s no bus from Colmar, but the drive is only 25-minutes long. A good option is to rent a car for a day or two in Colmar, and drive to Riquewihr for wine tasting and Christmas merry-making.
For accommodation in Riquewihr, I recommend this Airbnb near the main street of town. Nicknamed “The King’s Heart,” it’s a perfect home to call your own for the holidays.
Christmastown Everyday: Rothenburg, Germany
I won’t say I saved the best for last, but if you’re looking for the ultimate Christmas destination – any time of year – it’s gotta be Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
It took us four trains to get to Rothenburg from Munich, but from our very first day, I was smitten. While each town on this list has old-world charm, none captured my imagination so much as Rothenburg. Of all the towns on the list, it is my most recommended destination for celebrating Christmas in Europe, and here’s why.
This small town of just 11,000 is amazingly well-preserved: all of the old walls and towers still stand around the city. Though some portions were bombed in World War II, an unlikely combination of luck, word-of-mouth, and foresight among generals and commanders on both sides managed to save most of the city from destruction. Now, the town is a magnet for visitors from all over the world.
Visiting the Christmas Market in Rothenburg
In the holiday season, the main square becomes a mecca of Christmas market stalls and food stands. When it’s not Christmas, the flagship Käthe Wolfhart store near the Rathaus draws visitors to wander among the 30,000+ different decorations and learn about the history of Christmas in their German Christmas Museum. Christmas is big business in Rothenburg, but it doesn’t lose its authentic German Weihnachtsmarkt feel.
The Christmas market in Rothensburg operates from November 21st to December 23rd this year.
Traveling to Rothenburg this Christmas (or Year-Round)
As I mentioned, getting to Rothenburg isn’t exactly easy. From Munich, it took four trains: a high-speed train to Nuremburg, followed by three increasingly empty regional trains, the final of which terminated in Rothenburg itself. You could fly to Munich, Nuremburg, or Stuttgart and take the trains easily enough. Rothenburg is a very walkable city, so no car is needed.
Within Rothenburg, I recommend staying at the Gasthof Glocke or Hotel Eisenhut. Both have unique appeal, as the Gasthof Glocke is a little bit less busy and right near the picturesque Plönlein, whereas the Hotel Eisenhut is in the center of town.
Just in case you’re not completely, totally, and absolutely convinced that you need to spend at least one Christmas in your life in one of these towns, here’s a video from Rothenburg, showing Christmas in all its charm.
[info]My trip through Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and Alsace was made possible with the support of several partners: Germany Tourism, Regensburg Tourismus, Hotel Jakob, Rothenburg ob der Tauber Tourismus, Gasthof Glocke, Hotel Eisenhut, Freiburg Wirtschaft Touristik und Messe, Stay Inn Freiburg, and Ophorus Tours. [/info]