Dave and I have spent many holidays abroad. We always seem to book a flight somewhere during Christmas and New Year’s festivities. For us, the holidays aren’t complete unless we are in an exotic location.

Some of our most memorable holidays have been in Europe.  Most cities have Christmas markets that put everyone in a festive mood. There also are plenty of outdoor activities, and the countryside is often a short drive away. If you are thinking of escaping during this holiday season, we have some great ideas for where to celebrate your own holidays in Europe.

Budapest, Hungary

We consider Budapest the most beautiful city in Europe, so, in our opinions, any time of year is a great time to visit. Budapest is magical during the holiday season as the lights from the city twinkle on the Danube in the crisp night air. Vörösmarty Square transforms into a beautiful Christmas market where people bundle up in their warmest winter attire and sip hot mulled wine while they browse stalls. There’s ice-skating in the city park and when you’ve had enough of the cold, you can relax in a warm spa at Szechenyi Baths, one of the largest thermal baths in Europe.

Rome

If a more traditional holiday is on your list, a visit to Rome is an excellent choice. Imagine attending midnight mass in St. Peter’s Square, in the Vatican, led by Pope Francis himself! There are special holiday-themed walking tours of Rome on Christmas Day, and Christmas markets can be found at the Piazza Navona and Campo de Fiori. Normally, Rome is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Earth with many crowds fighting for a chance to see sites like the Trevi Fountain, The Pantheon, and the Colosseum. But by visiting Rome during the holidays, you’ll find the crowds are thinner and you’ll have more time to enjoy the sights.

Paris

If you are looking for a romantic Christmas abroad, there’s no better place than the City of Lights. It’s as if Paris was made for celebrating Christmas. Imagine strolling along the famous Champs Elysées when it has been transformed into an enormous Christmas market. Or how about ice skating inside the Eiffel Tower?. Recent renovations created an ice-skating rink on the first floor. Few things are more romantic than skating hand-in-hand with the one you love in the City of Love.

Viewfinder Tip: Some tourist attractions keep different hours during the holiday season. Be sure to double-check before you head out.

Salzburg, Austria

If an adventurous Christmas is more to your liking, Salzburg, Austria, is the place to be. Christmas has become so popular here that the holidays are considered a second peak season. The nearby Austrian Alps are perfect for outdoor lovers interested not only in downhill skiing, but also in snowboarding, cross-country skiing, and skating. You’ll still feel like you are celebrating the holidays too, as the Christmas markets of Salzburg are the most popular in Europe. While the markets are filled with decorations and local crafts, many streets of Salzburg’s old town also are adorned with Christmas ornaments and lights. It’s worth walking around the city to experience all there is to offer.

Lapland, Finland

Did you know Finland is the true home to Santa Claus? That’s what Fins believe, anyway. You can visit Santa himself at Santa Claus Village in Rovaniemi, meet his reindeer, and help Mrs. Claus make gingerbread cookies. The people of Finland know how to celebrate the cold and there is plenty to do during the holidays. Lapland is one of the best places on Earth to view the Northern Lights. You also can go snowshoeing, dogsledding, and cross-country skiing. If you want to warm up, Scandinavian spas are plentiful and there is even a resort with glass-ceilinged igloos from which you can watch the Aurora Borealis dance in the night sky from the warmth and comfort of your cozy bed. 

Where do you like to celebrate the holidays?