From London’s yuletide carols to Cologne’s Christmas markets, Europe is full of holiday havens. In many locales, there’s even a good chance of snow. If you are ready for a great Christmas escape, try one of these cities in Europe. (main picture Cologne Germany)
Even Scrooge would enjoy modern London’s cultured Christmas parties. You’ll find performances of Handel’s Messiah, Swan Lake andThe Nutcracker in cathedrals and other venues throughout the city. Skaters glide across ice rinks on the spot-lighted grounds of the London Eye, the Natural History Museum and the Tower of London. In Hyde Park, which also has a rink, traditional carousels and ice sculptures make the annual winter Wonderland sparkle. So do the Christmas lights and festive window displays along Oxford and Regent streets.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
The names of the city’s attractions — Wenceslas Square, Bethlehem Chapel — are good indicators of how festive a Prague Christmas is. Even if it’s 10 degrees below zero, this 700-year-old medieval city will warm you with its celebrations. Christmas markets, like the one in Old Town Square, are filled with decorated wooden stalls selling hand-made puppets and other toys and gifts. Take in the traditional Christmas trees and thousands of lights, and enjoy the outdoor nativity scenes. If you’re here in early December, you might catch the arrival of Mikulas, the Czech Santa Claus.
3. Cologne, Germany
Some of Europe’s Christmas markets have been active since the Middle Ages, so it’s no surprise that Cologne, which has five, is a seasonal hit. Starting on the last Monday before Advent, millions come to shop for yuletide handicrafts filling each market’s Buden (quaint wooden huts). The star of the show is the Am Dom market, in front of a mighty twin-spired cathedral, the Kölner Dom. Feast on sticky gingerbread and warm yourself up with a mug of Glüwein (mulled wine).
4. Paris, France
The French capital dazzles at Christmas. Enjoy a moving midnight mass with organ and choral music in Notre Dame Cathedral. Stroll down the Champs-Élysées, lined with trees glittering in thousands of lights. Munch on roasted chestnuts and chocolaty crepes, and maybe even slip on some ice skates and glide along the seasonal rink atop the Eiffel Tower. For some Parisian chic, head to the Galeries Lafayette, a department store whose majestic interior is home to a huge decorated tree.
Rome truly celebrates the spiritual origins of the holidays. Among the many churches with nativity scenes are Santa Maria Maggiore, whose 13th-century version is carved in marble, and Santi Cosma e Damiano, with everyday figures alongside biblical ones. Roman kids write their wish lists to Santo Bambino, honored when his statue is paraded through the streets. Thousands gather in St. Peter’s Square for the pope’s Christmas message, delivered at noon from his apartment window. For a taste of the holidays, be sure to try some seasonal panettone and pandoro cakes — heavenly.
6: Rovaniemi, Finland
You’ll definitely find your Christmas spirit in what’s widely considered to be Santa’s official hometown. Rovaniemi’s Santa Claus Village — on the Arctic Circle — has plenty of snow, ice, elves and boutiques. Here in Lapland, it’s also easy to get in touch with nature. Try your hand at ice fishing or, for higher-octane fun, reindeer or dog sledding. And you can take in the best holiday light show of them all: the aurora borealis (Northern Lights).