While a U.S. ski resort or all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean are ideal places to spend the holidays (eggnog on the beach, anyone?), there’s just something about a wintertime visit to Europe, where festive celebrations and an especially magical ambience are guaranteed to put you in the holiday spirit. Many destinations in Europe are also cheaper to visit in the winter. Plan a winter family vacation in one of these enchanting European destinations.
1. Rovaniemi, Finland
Did you know Rovaniemi, Finland, is the official hometown of Santa Claus? Visit Santa Claus Holiday Village to enjoy dog-sledding, snowmobiling, excursions to see the Northern Lights and more! You’ll also have a chance to meet Dasher, Dancer, and all of their reindeer friends. Onsite accommodations include everything from standard guestrooms to glass igloos, and there are dozens of restaurants where you can enjoy the delicious food of Lapland—be sure to check out the Snowman World Ice Restaurant! While Santa Claus Village is especially festive during the winter holidays, you can visit year-round, making it ideal for any family vacation in Europe.
Recommended Hotel: Santa Claus Holiday Village
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
Tivoli Gardens is a highlight for families visiting Copenhagen in the summer, but it’s an absolute must if you decide to head to Denmark for your winter family vacation. This whimsical amusement park—which inspired fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen and Walt Disney—is decked with twinkling lights and other decor for the holiday season, with many of the rides and attractions still open. Speaking of Hans Christian Andersen, be sure to visit his namesake Christmas market and other holiday markets throughout the city. Other winter family vacation highlights in this European city include the holiday displays in Kongens Nytorv, ice skating at Frederiksberg Runddel, and touring fairy tale castles just outside of the city.
Recommended Hotel: Copenhagen Admiral Hotel
3. Munich, Germany
Germany is especially festive during the holiday season, when Christmas markets—known as Christkindlmarkts—open in cities and villages across the country. Base your crew in Munich to enjoy its holiday festivities, and plan day trips to neighboring towns such as Nuremberg. One of the most extravagant holiday markets in Germany, Nürnberger Christkindlmarket features nearly 200 market stalls, where you can find everything from handmade toys to glühwein (warm wine). Nürnberger Christkindlmarkt also has the PLAYMOBIL-FunPark, with ice skating, a climbing area, and other hands-on activities for kids. From Munich, you can easily visit Salzburg (where scenes from The Sound of Music were filmed), or Castle Neuschwanstein, said to be the inspiration for the castle at Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
Recommended Hotel: Aloft Munich
4. Westman Islands and South East Iceland
While Iceland is no longer a “hot” destination, much of it remains undiscovered. “Around 70 percent of all tourists remain within ‘day trip distance’ from Reykjavik, meaning the majority of Iceland continues to be under-utilized,” says Ryan Connolly, co-founder and marketing manager at Hidden Iceland. Families can explore a different side of Iceland with operators such as Hidden Iceland, which takes travelers to off-the-beaten-path locales like the Westman Islands, home to a still-warm volcano and the largest puffin colony in the world. While Iceland is an ideal vacation destination year-round, winter is a great time to visit, with discounted airfare and hotel rates and unique experiences such as ice cave tours (safer in the winter) and up-close encounters with Icelandic horses, whose fluffy hair keeps them warm in the winter. It’s also the best time of year to view the Northern Lights! Another reason to visit now? Iceland welcomed its third UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vatnajökull National Park, in 2019.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Vos
5. London, England
London makes the perfect winter family vacation in Europe. Harrods, located in Knightsbridge, is a destination in itself, with fantastical window displays and a Christmas Grotto, where children meet Father Christmas and receive a book, badge and chocolate treat. In nearby Hyde Park, you’ll find a Winter Wonderland, which includes ice and snow sculptures, an ice-skating rink, rides (check out the Giant Observation Wheel) and Santa Land, where you’ll find (more) kid-friendly rides, food and, of course, Santa himself. Don’t pass up a ride on the London Eye either; it’s fun to visit any time, but offers especially pretty views come winter, when the city’s holiday lights can be seen for miles. Other winter highlights include the holiday lights on Oxford Street and the bevy of free-admission museums (available year-round), such as the British Museum, home to the actual Rosetta Stone.
Recommended Hotel: The Rubens at the Palace
6. Paris, France
In Paris, kids enjoy an ice-skating rink at the Champs Elysees, bedecked with lights, bows and garlands. But even better than that is the ice-skating rink at the Eiffel Tower, free with regular admission to tour the iconic landmark. At Notre Dame Cathedral, you’ll see a giant Christmas tree, along with nativity story showings that include spectacular light displays. Disneyland Paris celebrates the season, too, with holiday decorations, shows and visits with Santa Claus. If you have time, drive an hour to Chatilly, where you’ll find Living Museum of the Horse and a fantastic, holiday-themed equestrian show in December and January.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel le Notre Dame
7. Tenerife, Spain
Looking for a warm-weather winter family vacation in Europe? Consider Tenerife, where you’ll find stunning beaches and beach resorts, many of which offer all-inclusive rates; swimming pools, waterslides and hot tubs; and kids’ programming. Things to do in Tenerife include Siam Park, a Thai-themed water park; Taide National Park, home to an active volcano (reachable via cable car); and water sports and excursions galore.
Recommended Hotel: Hotel Mediterranean Palace
What to Pack for Your Next Trip
Men’s/Dad’s Holiday Party Outfit
Girl’s Holiday Party Outfit
Women’s/Mom’s Holiday Party Outfit
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