How to have a white Christmas in Europe: Best markets, cruises and experiences

Snow covered trees with the bright green Northern Lights swirling behind in the sky

Blanche Clark

Posted December 06, 2023

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? Make it happen in 2024 with an unforgettable tour that takes in the Northern Lights or Europe’s vibrant Christmas markets.

Europe in winter is magical. Scandinavian countries like Norway, Sweden and Finland transform into dazzling, snow-covered wonderlands, with the Aurora Borealis (aka Northern Lights) dancing in the night skies of the Arctic, making a camera essential for any tour.

If you're after a white Christmas, as a general rule, the further north and further inland you go in Europe, the higher your chance of seeing snow. Another way to enjoy the festive season is to visit the Christmas markets in central Europe. Steeped in local history and culture, these markets come to life in November, December and sometimes early January, with festive lights, carols and traditional foods. 

If you combine a Northern Lights tour with a European river cruise, you'll experience a journey of contrasts and experiences, and celebrate the festive season in a whole new way.

Best way to see the Northern Lights in 2024
Best way to see Santa
Best way to see Europe's Christmas markets
Best Christmas cruises in Europe

RACV Members save on holidays to Europe.

Best way to see the Northern Lights in 2024

Lapland, located in the northernmost region of Finland, not only has snow, it’s one of the world's best places to witness the Northern Lights. Group tours, like the 6-day Globus Finland Escape, give you access to experienced guides who can take you to the best viewing spots and teach you about the science and folklore surrounding the lights.

If you want to up the ante, consider APT’s 22-day Northern Lights and Lapland with Magnificent Europe, which combines immersion in Finnish culture with a 14-night river cruise. Along with two nights’ accommodation in a snug glass igloo at the start, you'll visit Ranua Wildlife Park, where you can see polar bears, wolves, lynx, and sea eagles.

Two reindeer in a white landscape with snow-laden trees in Lapland, Finland

Seeing a reindeer for the first time makes Christmas extra special, and you can experience a sleigh ride too. Image: Getty

Best way to see Santa

Regardless of your age, no visit to Lapland is complete without meeting Santa Claus. At the Santa Claus Village, you can cross the Arctic Circle, send postcards with the Arctic Circle postmark, and explore Santa's enchanting home. If you grew up singing Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, then a visit to a reindeer farm will make this tradition all the more meaningful. Here, you can take a gentle reindeer sleigh ride, feed the reindeer, and learn about the Sámi people, who are the Indigenous people of the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula.

For the adventurous, you’ll find tours that include husky sledding and snowmobile safaris, while APT’s 22-day tour has a more leisurely approach, with a visit to Arktikum science museum in Rovaniemi and a guided exploration of Helsinki’s architecture, including Oodi Library and the Opera House.


Aerial view of a Christmas market in Cologne.

This Christmas market in Cologne reflects the magic of Christmas in Europe. Image: Getty

Best way to see Europe's Christmas markets

For a fairy-tale experience, consider a tour that explores Central Europe’s festive markets. Held annually in November, December and sometimes early January, Christmas markets are a popular attraction in Germany, Austria and many European countries.

With Intrepid’s 8-day Europe Christmas Markets: Munich to Budapest tour, you’ll experience the holiday season as locals do in Germany, Austria, and Hungary, seeing the contrast in traditions across the three countries. There are 20 different Christmas markets in Munich alone, and you'll be introduced to the best of them. You can savour treats like mulled wine, gingerbread, and sausages, and do all your Christmas shopping, with unique handmade ornaments, woodwork, glassware, and textiles to bring back home for family or friends.

Travelling by train, you'll also get the choice of visiting places such as the Bavarian Royal Place in Munich, Mozart's birthplace in Salzburg, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and Buda Castle in Budapest.

There are many advantages to travelling to Europe between mid-November and January, including winter travel deals and less tourists. You’ll also get to enjoy the festive season in a unique and memorable way.


Row of Christmas market stalls at night in Budapest

A Christmas cruise includes time to explore Europe's Christmas markets, like this one in Budapest. Image: Adobe Stock

Best Christmas cruises in Europe

The festive season takes on a whole new dimension on a Christmas river cruise. It's not just a holiday; it's an immersive journey where the magic of Christmas comes alive on the water. 

Climb aboard a 5-star Scenic Space-Ship with Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours for the Christmas Markets with Prague: 2024 Prague to Amsterdam luxury cruise. The vessel will be adorned with festive decorations – the twinkling lights reflecting on the gentle ripples of the water – and the warm, welcoming atmosphere will instantly make you feel at home. 

See the Baroque belfries, Gothic church spires and 19th-century clocktowers that make Prague so unique, relax in the thermal baths in Budapest, and visit Christmas markets in Vienna, as well as learn how to make traditional gingerbread in Nuremberg. 

Emerald Cruises' Christmas Markets on the Danube: 2024 Munich to Budapest also promises a perfect blend of cultural exploration and holiday merriment. The carefully curated itinerary ensures that you have ample time to shop for unique gifts, savor seasonal treats, and immerse yourself in the local traditions of each destination. The cruise also embraces the spirit of giving, with special touches like onboard festivities and themed events. 

Avalon Waterways's Christmastime on The Danube showcases the best of each destination's festive offerings. Choose between a Deluxe Stateroom, Panaroma Suite or Royal Suite for your accommodation, and soak up the atmosphere at each stop, from the simplicity of supping hot mulled wine to the joy of seeing a town full of nativity scenes, and admiring the grandeur of catherals and historical buildings.

Plan ahead for 2024, and let the rivers be your guide to a Christmas celebration like no other.



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