The festive period is cherished for so many different reasons. Some people delight in the traditional food and drink, like stollen fruit bread and mulled wine, that are savoured at this time of year. Others seek more novel experiences, from festively themed train journeys to one-of-a-kind markets. Whether you prefer a cosily traditional or more alternative festive time, Europe offers a myriad of holiday activities for you to explore.

Browse a classic Christmas market or hit the sledding hills in Germany


No trip to a German Christkindlmarkt would be complete without sampling a pretzel seasoned with salt and cinnamon (Photo: Getty Images) 

Delight in Munich's traditional Christkindlmarkt

After a leisurely breakfast at Munich Marriott Hotel City West, make your way to the legendary Munich Christkindlmarkt, which dates all the way back to the 14th century and is the largest in Germany. It's found in the heart of the city, at the Marienplatz, which is worth a visit for its stunning Gothic architecture alone. You can expect many traditional treats to get you in the festive mood, including glühwein (mulled wine) and gingery lebkuchen biscuits.

Try out Berlin's sledding hills and Rothenburg's quirky Reiterlesmarkt

Step out of the ordinary at Munich’s Tollwood Winter Festival where you can revel in live theatrical performance, music galore, organic delicacies and even a curling rink. Be sure to sample the festive feuerzangenbowle drink, whereby a rum-soaked sugarcube is set alight and drips into mulled wine beneath it.

For something a bit more off the tourist trail in Berlin, you could join in with a very local activity by hitting one of the German capital's sledding hills, before warming up in the sauna at JW Marriott Hotel Berlin.

For a really alternative German festive experience, head off the beaten track to Rothenburg for its quirky Reiterlesmarkt, which honours the mystical figure Reiterle, meaning 'little horseback rider'. Believed to be an ambassador from a different world, Reiterle's origins are said to date all the way back to prehistoric times.

Sample traditional treats or an innovative tasting menu in the Czech Republic


If you’re keen to get into the festive mood, a December visit to Prague’s impressive Church of St. Nicholas will have everything you need (Photo: Getty Images)

Go on a Christmas market adventure in Prague

The Czech capital is bursting with Christmas markets, with some of the most impressive held at the Old Town Square, as well as at Wenceslas Square in the heart of the city. A scenic walk from Prague Marriott Hotel over the river will take you to the stunning Prague Castle, which hosts its own spectacular Christmas market.

Festive Czech foods to look out for include juicy roast pork, spiced gingerbread and local speciality pastry trdelník – cylindrical dough cooked over fire then topped off with sugar and walnuts. For a really traditional Czech festive meal, head over to Municipal House Beer Hall on the 24th of December, where the centrepiece is the classic fried carp.

Indulge in a festive feast within a former Augustinian monastery

An alternative gastronomic experience is offered by the expert chefs at Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague, set within a former Augustinian monastery. Opt for their Augustine Experience Tasting menu, featuring the likes of wild boar, Japanese umeboshi pickles, truffles and caviar.

You might also pay a visit to Prague's Gingerbread Museum. Here you can buy everything you need to transform your own kitchen back home into a gingerbread factory bursting with evocatively festive aromas.

Enjoy a traditional 'chimney cake' or a memorable bathing experience in Hungary


Doused in cinnamon and sugar, the cylindrical pastry treat known as 'chimney cake' is a classic Hungarian festive treat (Photo: Getty Images) 

Catch festive ballet 'The Nutcracker' at Budapest Opera House

The Nutcracker is a well-known festive ballet that is set on Christmas Eve, making it synonymous with the season. If you want to experience one of the best renditions of the ballet, head to the Budapest Opera House. You must also grab yourself a traditional 'chimney cake' – a cylindrical pastry treat doused in cinnamon and sugar – before carrying on the cultured feeling with a night at the iconic Matild Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, which goes above and beyond to make your festive period special

Take a Christmas Day dip at the iconic Szechenyi Baths

Warm up in an atmospheric outdoor spa at Szechenyi Baths, which opened to the public in 1913. This, the largest medicinal thermal bath in Europe, is open even on Christmas Day. You'll also find a lively café here boasting local treats and delicacies, and you can even order a beer or wine to enjoy while sitting in the baths. Book a relaxing massage, or if you prefer something a little more involved, opt for a guided tour of the baths. End the night with a drink in SOCIETY25 bar at W Budapest or push the boat out with dinner at The Ritz-Carlton, Budapest.

Take part in festive rituals or visit a castle filled with Santa's elves in Italy


Construction on Milan's Cathedral began all the way back in 1386 and it has stood the test of time through many winter seasons (Photo: Getty Images)

Enjoy towering Christmas trees and delicious chestnut cake in Milan

You can’t help but feel festive standing under the elegant Christmas tree of Piazza del Duomo, with Milan Cathedral as a backdrop. You're spoilt for choice for Christmas trees in Milan, with another impressive one gracing the chic shopping centre Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a couple of minutes walk away. Sample some festive Italian treats at the city's ancient Fiera Degli Oh Bej, Oh Bej street market, which starts on December 7 and promises the likes of castagnaccio chestnut cake and mulled wine aplenty. After a bustling day, slip away from the crowds to the contemporary haven that is The Westin Palace, Milan.

In the Italian capital, make it a festive period to remember by booking into The St. Regis Rome, before attending one of the daily Masses inside St Peter's Basilica itself – make sure you book a ticket in advance. Complement the experience with a Sicilian-influenced meal at W Rome's Giano Restaurant.

Take a very special festive day-trip from Rome

Step away from Rome's festive tourist trail by visiting the city's botanical gardens: the Orto Botanico di Roma, in Trastevere. Here you can take a magical walk beneath the twinkling lights that bedeck the grounds at this time of year. If you're travelling with children, you could head some 20 kilometres east of Rome to see Santa and his little helpers, along with other fairytale folk, at the ethereal Lunghezza Castle.

Discover festive delicacies galore or an unusual Christmas market in Switzerland


Switzerland's Christmas markets offer a range of irresistible treats, including chocolate waffles, warming mulled wine and local gingerbread (Photo: Getty Images) 

Stock up on festive gifts at Basel's Barfüsserplatz market

Switzerland is well known for its fine chocolatiers, practicians of a craft that's been refined since the 19th century, so it's a fine place to pick up exquisitely delicious festive gifts. From Basel Marriott Hotel, walk to Barfüsserplatz, in the idyllic old town, to explore over 155 cute wooden chalets selling artisan gifts, delicious street food such as waffles, moreish Swiss raclette, warming mulled wine and läckerli – the local version of gingerbread.

Visit a train station transformed as a Christmas market in Zurich 

Switzerland offers the chance to visit a Christmas market, or Christkindlimarkt, in an unconventional location. At Zurich Main Station you'll find row after row of festive items and also the famous 16-metre-high Christmas tree, glistening with seven thousand ‘diamonds’. Treat yourself to a stay at Zurich Marriott Hotel, where you can enjoy a cocktail or rare whisky at their New York-inspired bar.

Skate on an iconic ice rink or take in quirky illuminations in the United Kingdom

There are some great places to ice skate in London, including Somerset House, the Natural History Museum's Ice Rink and Canary Wharf (Photo: Getty Images) 

See the English and Scottish capitals at their festive best

London's Kensington is particularly pretty during the festive period and London Marriott Hotel Kensington makes a great base for ice skating at ICE at Kensington Palace. Afterwards, walk it all off with a stroll around Kensington Gardens, or hit the shops – some of the most famous streets such as the King’s Road are within walking distance. You might head towards Knightsbridge for festive displays in iconic addresses such as Harrods.

In Edinburgh, you can see the Scottish capital from up above on the Big Wheel in East Princes Street Gardens. You'll enjoy a bird's eye perspective of the historic Old Town, Edinburgh Castle and Arthur’s Seat, all sparkling with fairy lights. Afterwards, return to Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh for a relaxing spa experience.

Go on a quirky Christmas train ride and see a festively lit safari park

Just east of Cambridge, Anglesey Abbey's ‘Nature by Night, Nature by Light’ event offers an original take on the tradition of festive light displays. This sensory, after-dark experience promises to tease out all the magic of the abbey's gardens. Another quirky display is being held at Longleat wildlife and safari park, where the Festival of Light will be filled with life-sized lanterns and scenes from tales including The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh.

In Manchester, head to the Trafford Centre to see Snowstorm for circus acts and festively themed ice skating performances, before taking a walk through the woods at Delta Hotels by Marriott Worsley Park Country Club.

Published: November 22, 2023

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