central prague christmas market

Prague is a haven of holiday cheer. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Way Beyond Christmas Markets: Savor Unique Holiday Traditions on a European Getaway

For all its inherent festive cheer, the holiday season is not without its stresses. So if you’re in the mood for getting away from it all this year, why not ditch the usual traditions and make your own. Here’s how to carve out some time for yourself and rediscover a familiar European city on a holiday getaway.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning any trips.


Prague’s Old Town Square is well-known for its Christmas Markets, but if you’ve already experienced the glitz, crowds and mulled wine of Old Town Square, you can find a less touristy experience at the Dyzajn Market Winter in the Výstaviště Praha exhibition ground in the north of the city.

Typically open for a couple of days in November and December, the market showcases artwork, clothing, jewelry and other unique items from more than 150 different designers alongside music, theater performances and great food and drink.

A classical music concert in a beautiful setting is also sure to put you in the holiday spirit — check the program at the Rudolfinum — and if you’re in town around Hanukkah, the lighting of the menorah on Jan Palach Square is a moving sight.


colosseum with christmas tree at night
Create your own Roman Christmas holiday. (Photo: Getty Images)

As you might expect of the seat of the Catholic Church, Christmas in Rome has a very special atmosphere. Streets glow with strings of sparkling lights; festive trees adorn Saint Peter’s Square, Piazza Venezia and the area next to the Colosseum; and churches display ornate nativity scenes in all sizes and styles.

Simply strolling through the city is sure to get you in a festive mood, as will taking a spin around one of the city’s several ice rinks, such as the Renzo Piano–designed Auditorium Parco della Musica, which transforms into a winter wonderland every holiday season.

Hectic holidays are also the perfect time to escape from the crowds into an entirely different atmosphere. Head for the peaceful oasis of Parco degli Acquedotti in the south of the city, near the famed Cinecittà Studios and recognizable from the opening scene ofLa Dolce Vita.”

Here you can unwind with a relaxing stroll past relics of the Roman Empire, including ancient aqueducts and part of a cobblestone road that once formed part of the Appia Antica.


lisbon city center with holiday lights and tree
Lisbon brings the holiday charm. (Photo: Getty Images)

Portugal’s City of Light shines even brighter during the festive season. Lisbon’s grand avenues and squares glow with twinkling lights, and its glitzy Christmas tree is one of the tallest in the world.

If you’d rather eschew all things festive, however, head 90 minutes north of Lisbon to Nazaré. December and January are peak months for seeing the big waves for which the chilled-out coastal town is known. During particularly stormy winter days, waves can reach up to 100 feet, attracting some of the best (and bravest) surfers in the world.

The sea air and excitement should build up your appetite to indulge afterward in such festive treats as bacalhau da Consoada (Christmas Eve cod) and bolo rei (king cake) before toasting this season with cocktails and sprawling city views from the rooftop Panorama Bar at the Sheraton Lisboa Hotel & Spa.


angel decorations at german christmas market
Shop for holiday presents at a Christmas market. (Photo: Getty Images)

While visitors flock to Munich’s traditional Christmas market on Marienplatz, locals favor the Tollwood Winter Festival for its colorful cultural programming. Held on the same fairgrounds as Oktoberfest, Tollwood features a handicrafts market where you can find original gifts and souvenirs, organic food and large-scale sculptures, live music, theater and circus performances, and art workshops.

You’ll also find plenty of opportunities for ice skating, including at the Olympiapark and Prinzregentenstadion rinks, but if you want to try something a little different, join the locals on the frozen Nymphenburg Canal, under the Nymphenburg Castle, as it is transformed into the city’s biggest curling rink. Beginners are welcome, and sticks are available for rent.


The Irish capital is always filled with cheer, but Dublin is particularly magical during the festive season. Visit in winter and you’ll find the city’s famed Georgian doors dressed up with Christmas wreaths, shop windows displaying fairy-tale tableaux, and the cobblestones of Grafton Street ringing out with the sounds of caroling street entertainers.

It’s the perfect time to tuck into a few pints at a cozy pub, but when you feel the need for a little quiet time, you’ll find that Dublin is also a great city for embarking on a peaceful stroll — a walk along the Grand Canal or the Royal Canal on a chill winter morning is sure to have you feeling reinvigorated. If you’re feeling hardy, take a dip in the Irish Sea’s freezing waters at the Forty Foot promontory, a local Christmas Day tradition.