Christmas and New Year is a great time to visit Europe. German Christmas markets, speeches from the Pope, big New Year's parties and extra presents from the Three Kings in early January, visits to Santa in Lapland - every country in Europe can make your Christmas extra special.
One thing to bear in mind is that in much of Europe, Christmas Eve is a bigger deal than Christmas Day. Children open their presents at midnight, after a big meal with their family. What this means for you the visitor is that most cities in Europe Christmas Day are not ghost towns where you can get nothing done. You'll find shops and bars open in many cities on Christmas Day, especially in the evening.
Also, often New Year's celebrations start with the bells at midnight, followed by partying until the early hours of the morning. If you are drunk at midnight, you've probably peaked too soon. This is particularly the case in Spain, which is famous for its late nightlife.
Christmas in Europe Suggested... Itinerary
This itinerary is based purely on what to see when, even if the destinations are far apart. You'll probably need to fly to join all of these dots, but budget airlines usually have some fantastic deals in the winter months so shouldn't cost as much as you'd expect:
Late November/Early December Visit Salzburg for the Salzburg Advent Singing Festival.
Until Christmas Christmas markets in Germany usually finish just before Christmas Day, so get your gluhwein in before they shut up shop. Paris and London are also great places at this time, with excellent Christmas light displays to check out.
New Year's Eve Make your way to Scotland for the traditional Hogmanay celebrations.
Early January Visit Spain for Three Kings' Day, when the wisemen give gifts to all of Spain's little sons of God.
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What's it like to be in Italy for Christmas? Martha Bakerjian tells you in Christmas in Italy - Italian Christmas Celebrations and Traditions.
Michael San Filippo also does a fine job about telling you about the traditions surrounding Buon Natale in Italy. He also writes on the Traditional Italian Recipes for Christmas.
The traditional Italian Seven-Fish Christmas Eve dinner and other Italian holiday meals are covered by Kyle Phillips, our guide to Italian cuisine.
La Festa di San Silvestro, New Year's Eve, is celebrated all over Italy with a special traditional dinner, fireworks, music and dancing, and prosecco, Italian sparkling wine. The Fat Ox Fair is held in Bologna on New Year's Eve and the tradition of Lo Sciuscio is still practiced some places in the south. Rome and Naples are good places to celebrate in Italy.
Find out more about Italy's New Year's Eve traditions and celebrations and be sure to wear your red underwear on New Year's Eve.
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Birge Amondson maps out the major German Christmas Traditions you'll want to know about.
Hyde Flippo takes on A German Christmas as it relates to the German language. Did you know that the Christmas tree, or Tannenbaum, first made its literary appearance in 1605 in a chronicle out of Strasbourg in Alsace, then a part of Germany? Well, you do now.
Christmas Markets are all the rage in Germany. You'll want to see them if you plan a trip. Germany for Visitors guide Birge Amondson has the topic covered in German Christmas Markets in Germany. Got kids? Travel with Kids guide Teresa Plowright tells of the tradition of German Christmas Markets.
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Is there a better background for Christmas than the Swiss Alps? Switzerland's Christmas Markets don't go back in history as far as Germany's, but they've become very popular. Read about the best: Switzerland's Best Christmas Markets and Winter Celebrations.
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The Janeiras is a Portuguese tradition consists of a group of people strolling the streets of a town singing in the New Year. To the modern eye, Janeiras is like Christmas caroling as this tradition involves a group of friends or neighbors going from house to house singing and sometimes playing instruments.
Nativity scenes (or 'creches' in American English) are a big deal in Portugal, with one of the biggest in Penela.Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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One of our favorite Christmas songs comes from Austria. Silent Night or "Stille Nacht" is sung the world over, although it's sung a bit differently than the piece Franz Gruber had originally written. Check out the lyrics here: Stille Nacht Lyrics.
If you're in Ausria in early December, Salzburg is a great destination, with its Salzberg Advent Singing Festival
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Did you know that, since 1962, all letters sent by kids in France to Santa get a response? Read more about French Christmas Customs and Traditions.
Young French people often go clubbing in Paris or other big French cities on New Year's Eve, but France offers some unique alternative ways to celebrate New Year's Eve. You can enjoy a romantic Seine River cruise, a torchlight procession to pick grapes at midnight, or an illuminated city tour of Avignon.
Read more ore suggestions for celebrating New Year's Eve in France and in Paris.
- Christmas in Paris from London
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United Kingdom and Ireland
Ferne Arfin leads you to the Best Christmas Markets of in the UK. We'll call on Bernd Biege to tell us about The Irish Twelve Days of Christmas. Finally, Travel with Kids guide Teresa Plowright advises you on the best of London Christmas, with or without kids.
The highlight of New Year's Eve in London is the huge fireworks display. Lots of London clubs have special New Year's Eve parties and restaurants have special New Year's Eve dinners. You can also take a cruise on the River Thames or attend the largest fetish ball in Europe, the Torture Garden New Year's Eve Ball.
Read more about New Year's Eve in London and find out the best places to watch the fireworks.
Nowhere is New Year's Eve more important than in Scotland, where it is known as 'Hogmanay'. Read more about Hogmanay - New Years Eve in Scotland.
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Christmas goes on longer in Spain than in most countries, with Three Kings' Day in January the most important day for children (this is when they get their biggest presents).
New Year's Eve (Noche Vieja) in Spain is a party night like everywhere else in the world, though the structure is a little different to in other countries, says travel expert Damian Corrigan. So grab a flute of Cava and some food and enjoy!
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Reykjavik, Iceland's capital, is known as a good place to party on the long, dark winter nights. New Year's Eve starts out calmly with a service in the Cathedral, dinner, and a bonfire. At midnight, the fireworks go off and then it's downtown to party until at least 5am.
You can even watch the fireworks in Reykjavik live on the web. Go to www.icelandnaturally.com at 7 p.m. EST / 4 p.m. PST on 12/31 (midnight Icelandic time) to see the fireworks over Iceland’s capital city.
Find out more about New Year's Eve Celebrations and Customs in Reykjavik
See also: Northern Lights Tour from Reykjavik
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In recent years, Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands have been a bit controversial, due to the presence of Zwarte Piet (Black Pete), Santa's African helper, who is usually portrayed by a white Dutchman in blackface.
New Year's Eve in Holland is really called Old Year's Evening. But whatever you call it, if you're looking for the big party scene, Amsterdam is the place to go. The streets and squares will be filled with people and there are plenty of parties in bars and clubs. Not the place to be if you don't like crowds.
Read more about New Year's Eve in Amsterdam