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Europe in December - HELP ***

Hi fellow travelers!

I am planning my annual Christmas vacation & wanted some feedback/help in picking my next destination. Last year, I paired Istanbul with Paris and it was phenomenal. The year before that, I did Madrid & Barcelona.

However this year, I am having a hard time choosing my next place. My GF really wants to visit London --- So we will most likely be flying into LHR. What other place can/should we add? We were talking about Prague or Berlin - ( We want to feel the Christmas spirit and go to a Christmas market etc.

We are looking for a city where we can enjoy a good Christmas dinner & wait for the New Year. ( We were thinking about being in London for NYE .. thoughts?).

*** The trip is from 12/24/20 -1/03/21 (Landing at LHR on the 24th). ***

Please refrain from COVID-19 // It to shall pass and if it doesn't we just can just cancel the trip.

Posted by
82 posts

I've been in London many times in December but specifically avoided the 24-26. Everything of interest to most tourists is closed. I love London, but would not recommend it for Christmas Eve, Day or Boxing Day unless you are interested in a few walking tours and hanging out in your hotel.

Posted by
5544 posts

We spent last Christmas in London and it was difficult as so much is closed. We were able to get tickets( free but very limited) to Westminster Abbey for Christmas Eve and some dinner reservations. Christmas Dinner was preordered from Whole Foods in Kensington, partially cooked, and we had a nice kitchen to finish preparing it. Bought those English Crackers to pop open and find a prize. . And Mincemeat Pies. . Delicious.
The Ivy in Covent Garden was open Christmas Eve, book way ahead. Museums were all closed, many restaurants too. No Tube or buses on Christmas Day. Beautiful weather Christmas Day for walking in Hyde Park.
Then we went to Rome for New Years and it was mobbed with Italian tourists. Not pleasant.
Would avoid!

Posted by
112 posts

Looking for a good pairing, pick 2 of these: Berlin, Prague, Budapest.

I have done Paris and London at XMAS, and enjoyed Paris more (with more open on XMAS day, too).

Posted by
1040 posts

If you plan to visit multiple cities, get an open jaw ticket. Self connecting in London on Christmas eve is not something I'd recommend. And if you arrive on Christmas eve you can more or less forget about markets as most of them close on the 22nd or 23rd.

So maybe head east to more orthodox countries, as some of them celebrate Christmas in January. Tallinn is probably the best choice in my opinion. They have a great Christmas market that is open until January and not as well known as the ones in Germany and surrounding countries, so not as crowded. Apart from that it is in general a very nice town that deserves a visit. And being bit further north means higher chance of snow. And with a partly orthodox, partly lutheran population the country doesn't close down as much around the 24th/25th as many other countries do.

Posted by
10675 posts

I spent Christmas in London one year. It wasnt bad. Took some advance planning to have things to do and places to eat. London to Budapest is under $100 if you dont over pack. The Christmas Market in Budapest stays open till New Year, its just the gifts, the food goes on Christmas Eve. While I love Budapest for Christmas, its not much for NYE; for that maybe Prague would be better. A location with Orthodox celebrations is an excellent idea. Orthodox Christmas is January 7th. My vote would be Lviv, but only because I know it and love it and I know they do the holidays up right, but not in comparison to Tallinn [never been]. There are direct flights between Lviv and Budapest. Actually, if it were my trip, because you want the Christmas feel, I would stick to Orthodox countries.

Posted by
669 posts

I have read that Vienna is great both for xmas and NYE, altho I haven't done it myself- hope to, one day.

Edinburgh for NYE is also reported to be fantastic!

Safe travels!

Posted by
1040 posts

Note that not all orthodox countries celebrate Christmas in January, some follow the gregorian calendar.

As for new year, Vienna and Edinburgh are the two European cities most well known for their New Year celebrations. Or hogmanay as they call it in Scotland. Just note that many events in those cities reqiure prebooking well in advance (and getting tickets to the famous New Year's concert in Vienna also requires quite a lot of luck).

For a different New Year, I have to mention the twin towns Haparanda and Torneå located on the Swedish-Finnish border that arrange a "celebrate twice" party since the towns are in different time zones.

Posted by
26 posts

I appreciate all of the feedback!

Right now, we are looking at London for NYE - there is an awesome firework display. That being said, should we do Prague, Budapest or Berlin to pair? You all just made it harder for us to pick :/

How should we split the time? It is cheaper to fly into LHR on the 24th - So should we just go straight to our next destination for 5 days & then make it back to London 5 days before NYE?

Posted by
10675 posts

Ive been in Scotland for NYE, its a big deal there and it would be my choice. If you fly into London I would hang around there for a few days, then move on if you want. Most of the discount flights fly out of airports other than Heathrow and getting between the airports is a hassle so spending a few days in London solves that. If you wanted to go further afield, I might still be inclined to say Lviv for their Christmas celebrations ... they do it up right. Wizzair does direct flights for about $100, they fly out of Luton.

Do all countries with predominately orthodox religion use which calendar or the other? No idea. I do know that Ukraine (Lviv) and Russia (been there for Orthodox Christmas too) use the Western (Gregorian) calendar but they celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7 of the Gregorian calendar which is December 25 on the Julian calendar. Some locations celebrate both and just drag it out. Oh, define celebrate .... culturally and / or religious. Lviv for instance has a large non-orthodox population so both get celebrated but its the cultural activities leading up to Orthodox Christmas that were great. Moscow didn't have much culturally after Western Christmas, but the religious observation were pretty amazing. You just have to research each location and see whats going on. Whats great is you can have Christmas twice and New Year twice.

Me? I will probably be in Budapest for Christmas. IF you could modify your trip a bit to arrive in any city on the 22nd then you would get one day of the full impact of the Christmas celebrations. Sure would add a lot of value to the trip. If you could pull that off I would land in a place like Budapest where its really a big social deal well centered and very accessible. Then go to London on your trip home. Open jaw tickets can be reasonable in cost. There are some other tricks too. Its cheaper for me to fly into Kyiv and out of Budapest. When I add a local flight to reach Budapest the price is about the same as RT to Budapest, but I get to visit two locations for the cost of one. You just got to play with the dates and locations. I like Google Flights for that because of the flexibility of the filters. For instance you fly to London. Now use google flights and put in LONDON (all airports), Non-Stop, One Way, Under $150, with the destination "Europe". Every possibility pops up. Discounts dont fly the same routes every day so you have be flexible and check several days. Okay, Im rambling now ......

Posted by
1040 posts

Right now, we are looking at London for NYE - there is an awesome
firework display.

As there is in many cities. While I'm no fireworks connoisseur, I'm not sure London can beat Edinburgh (or just Scotland in general) when it comes to celebrating the new year.

That being said, should we do Prague, Budapest or Berlin to pair? You
all just made it harder for us to pick :/ How should we split the
time?

There are several options, but I still stand by my recommendation to look at orthodox countries. Lviv can also be good choice, charming city in general but I don't know anything about Christmas there.

It is cheaper to fly into LHR on the 24th - So should we just go
straight to our next destination for 5 days & then make it back to
London 5 days before NYE?

The best way is usually to first decide where you want to go, then book a trip there. And booking a trip to London if you don't plan to go there sounds like a terrible idea. London is probably the worst city in Europe for transfers in my opinion. And the UK is one of the countries in Europe that shuts down the most over Christmas. So if you plan to self connect you might be really stuck if you miss your flight (as in, you might struggle to find open restaurants and a hotel to stay in). In addition, the number of flights to other destinations will be limited on the 24th.

If I where you I would do the following: Fly to where you want to spend Christmas (Tallinn, Lviv or somewhere else), after a few days there, fly to London (if you want to see London). If you arrive on the 27th, the city will have woken up again. Then on the 30th, take the train to Edinburgh for Hogmanay, fly home from Edinburgh. Hence, book an open jaw ticket to Tallinn (or Lviv or Prague or somewhere else) and home from Edinburgh. From Boston, my first choice of airline for this would be Lufthansa, maybe SAS or Austrian (depending a bit on where you want to go).

Regarding calendars, most countries in the world use the gregorian. But some orthodox churches still use the Julian, hence the celebrate Christmas in January. But not all, so make sure you check. The Finnish orthodox church e.g. celebrate Christmas in December.

Posted by
112 posts

I agree with Edinburgh, especially for NY eve. Have never done it, but their celebration is called Hogmanay, and it is legendary (if any of you watch the TV series "Outlander" you know all about this).

A simple paired city trip would be London and Edinburgh. With the speed and convenience of the Eurostar, you could also add Paris and only use London as a pit stop between Paris and Edinburgh.

Again, based on my own experience, Paris is much better than London for restaurants, etc., during the Dec 24-26 time period. London really shuts down, but we had an AirBnb in London and loaded up with food and had no problems, but it gets really quiet there, at least for what a tourist wants.

Posted by
26 posts

Hi Wally!
Thank you for the information - We actually did Paris already. However, I would look into Edinburgh.