‘The old town is adorned with twinkling lights’: readers’ favourite Christmas breaks in Europe

<span>Photograph: SCStock/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: SCStock/Getty Images

Wintry romance, Salzburg, Austria

Salzburg’s Christmas markets are among the very best, and there are plenty of them too, with at least 10 main ones across the season. The Salzburg Advent festival (1-17 Dec) at the Great Festival Hall, Residenzplatz, is a memorable show and highly recommended. With snow falling most winters, the city has that beautiful wintry romantic atmosphere. And best of all is a horse-drawn carriage ride through the snowy landscape, wrapped in a blanket, with a hot drink in hand. Especially perfect for a couples getaway.
Colin Snoad

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Steaming to York

York, Shambles
York, Shambles

Beautiful York comes alive at Christmas. All the narrow streets are decorated and independent shops entice you in with mulled wine. There’s a Christmas market selling European goodies alongside makers’ market stalls. York Minster is lit up with warm colours and is very inviting with all the decorations inside. We travelled by steam train from Liverpool to York, with Santa and his elves serving a three-course dinner. We booked it through the Railway Touring Company – a delightful day out.
Lesley Hall

Frozen waterfall and a million lights, Black Forest, Germany

For a short break to a festive town, I would have to recommend Triberg and the Triberger Weihnachtszauber Christmas event in the Black Forest region. A giant Christmas tree? Check. One of Germany’s highest waterfalls, often frozen at this time? Check. A big nativity scene? Check. Live music? Yes. Christmas lights? They have a million of them! Walking through a starry sky entrance, you are treated to a beautifully illuminated bell tower, fairground rides and winter scenery. There is a snowflake trail across the lantern forest, a waterfall trail with a light tunnel, as well as a nature stage and a castle labyrinth to keep those of all ages entertained. And don’t miss the Alphorn blowers to round off the experience.
From €25, 25-30 December, 2pm-9pm,

Hee-haw-ho-ho-ho, Sidmouth, Devon

Sidmouth in Devon is magical at Christmas but for an extra special feelgood event the Christmas carol service (8 December) at the Donkey Sanctuary fills your heart with peace as you sing surrounded by the soft snuffling of the donkeys. These gentle creatures seem to know that they are participating in something special, and it feels so Christmassy, with everyone in joyful spirits.

Medieval enchantment, Heidelberg, Germany

Aerial view of Heidelberg
Aerial view of Heidelberg

Last year my wife and I took a short Christmas break in Heidelberg, between Frankfurt and Stuttgart. Visiting Heidelberg during Christmas is a magical experience, as this picturesque town transforms into a winter wonderland. The old town is adorned with twinkling lights and festive decorations. The Christmas market was much less packed when we visited than some other German alternatives and wooden stalls offer handmade crafts, seasonal treats and mulled wine. Heidelberg Castle provides a stunning backdrop against the snowy landscape. You can warm up with a cup of hot glühwein in a quaint cafe while enjoying traditional holiday music. The blend of medieval architecture, holiday spirit and the beauty of the season makes Heidelberg a truly enchanting destination.
Mike L

A saunter round Saint-Omer, France

Bars and restaurants on Rue des Clouteries
Bars and restaurants on Rue des Clouteries

We loved visiting Saint-Omer, home of La Goudale brewery, where we sampled wonderful Nòel beer. There’s a good choice of bars to enjoy around the market square, which is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and lots of places to buy hot crêpes if you have hunger pangs after your tipple. Northern French cuisine at Le St Charles is a must, where there are reasonably priced dishes such as herb-crusted cod fillet, parmesan risotto, pea mousseline. A morning stroll will take you around the ruins of L’Abbaye St Bertin, Cathedral de Notre Dame and the wonderfully ornate Jardins Public.

Behind Venetian walls, Bergamo, Italy

Bergamo Alta old town at sunset
Bergamo Alta old town at sunset

It isn’t Rome or Venice but Bergamo has its own charm and is a beautiful destination offering history, culture, and beauty. Take the funicular up to the highest point of the town, the Città Alta, surrounded by 16th-century Venetian walls. It’s a brilliant place to enjoy architecture, cobbled streets, pavement cafes and charming squares such as Piazza Vecchia. In December it has a wonderful Christmas market offering local delicacies amid beautiful festive lighting. We ate in a tiny trattoria with freshly made spaghetti and sauces from recipes passed down through generations. The lower town, Città Bassa, offers trendy shops from Dior to Zara and has a great vibe and plenty to see and do. If you fancy a trip, Como is an hour away by train.
traycie kennedy

Girls’ festive weekend, Málaga, Spain


A girls’ pre-Christmas trip to Málaga was absolute bliss. It was warm enough to sit outside and sip cocktails at the harbour while also browsing the market for Christmas presents. Back into town via lovely Parque de Malaga, where there were lots more Christmas stalls. Then we visited the pedestrianised Calle Larios for the musical Christmas light display, finishing the day with excellent wine and tapas in Casa Lola. Next day we had brunch in a restaurant on Plaza de la Merced, where there was a quaint Sunday market, and made a visit to Atarazanas food hall followed by a refreshing beverage at the AC Málaga Palacio rooftop bar.

Bath feels like another country

Bath, Christmas in Kingston Parade
Bath, Christmas in Kingston Parade

Maybe this is too cliched but my favourite town to visit before Christmas is Bath. Arriving there from Manchester feels like going to another country: it’s so beautiful and full of Christmas markets and street musicians. It also helps me fulfil my mission to never shop in horrible chain stores with glaring lighting. Bath has a lot of independent shops that are fun to buy presents from. And in the evening the restaurants are really lively, and Ustinov Studio usually has something on that isn’t a pantomime. I do think the place is a bit pricey, but if you want to get festive, it’s a treat.
Sarah Collings

Winning tip: thermal spa and flaming punch, Konstanz, Germany


Using Konstanz as a base, we had a really Christmassy long weekend around Bodensee in southern Germany last December. Konstanz fills its atmospheric old town with a rustic Christmas market that spills on to the lake shore. Don’t miss the Feuerzangenbowle flaming punch or the raclette (a melted cheese and potato dish). There’s also a fab thermal spa on the lakeside, perfect for soaking in warm water in the open air while the snow falls. We took the ferry over to Meersburg for more handsome buildings and twinkly lights, and don’t miss Lindau, a gorgeous old town on an island with yet another festive market and great taste in Christmas lights.