Spend the most festive season in three amazing hubs: Dresden, Metz, and Trento

Each December, Europe’s cities explode with Christmas cheer. The lights are raised, wine is spiced with cinnamon and cloves, and above all, Christmas markets spring up! Browsing the stalls of a market—hot cocoa in one hand, local delicacies in the other—is about as festive as it gets, especially when there’s some snow to add ambiance. But there’s so much more to explore during the year’s coziest month. Today, we’re letting you in on some of the other remarkable Christmas experiences you can have in cities in three European countries: Germany, France, and Italy. Go for the Christmas market, stay for activities that will make a lifetime of memories! 

Dresden, Germany 

In 1434, Friedrich the II, Elector of Saxony, declared that a market would be held on the last Monday before Christmas in the Altmarkt Square. Why? To allow residents to purchase meat and other goodies for the Christmas feast. Five hundred and eighty-nine years later, the market founded in Dresden is still going strong. Today, it’s home to some 240 stands that are present for most of the four weeks of Advent. What should you check out? The delicious food and drinks like grilled sausages, mulled wine, and hot apple cider.  

But Dresden is not defined by its Christmas market alone! Sure, it may be reason enough to come, but you’ll stay because of what else is on offer. If you’re nuts about nature, the nearby Dresdner Heide Forest will impress you. Often covered in a blanket of soft snow, this forest—which is one of the largest in Germany—is filled with hiking trails, dense woods, and gorgeous views. Break away from the city scene by getting on tram 11 from the Old Town and ride until you reach “Plattleite.” From there you can easily access this nature reserve, comprising over fifteen thousand acres (sixty-one hundred hectares) of wild nature. Winter is actually the best time to visit: at this time of the year, you’ll (almost) have the place to yourself, and the snow gives the forest a magical, otherworldly sheen.  

Another unforgettable experience to have in Dresden is a Christmas cruise down the river Elbe. Picture this: you’re seated at the window of the boat, watching as the glittering lights of the Dresden Old Town start to recede behind you. As the boat makes progress, majestic castles begin to appear on the banks. First you see Albrechtsberg, then Eckberg, and the Lingner Castle. Then the first of your three-course winter meal arrives. As you bring bite after sumptuous bite to your mouth, you sight the first of the four famous Elbe bridges, culminating with the Blue Wonder, which gets its name because of its vibrant color. Throughout the night, live music plays softly in the background. If this strikes you as a perfect Christmas evening, Dresden is the place for you. 

Christmas Market in Dresden
Bird’s eye view of the Christmas market in Dresden.

Metz, France 

From Germany, France is merely a train ride away, and Metz, in the northeast of the country, is one of the most magical cities to visit during the holidays. One reason? The Christmas market! Christmas markets in France are particularly wonderful because they combine ambiance and cheer with the country’s long and famous history of gastronomy. The Metz market is known for having a wonderful selection of regional specialties like cured meats, handmade preserves using local fruit from the summer months, Moselle AOC wines, delectable Christmas cakes, and unique regional beers. But that’s not all! Some twenty craftsmen and local farmers also have stands at the market to sell items you can only find in the region, such as glass art, plum-scented candles, handmade soaps, and the famous Meisenthal Christmas ornaments.  

But Metz has so much more to offer! First, there’s the Saint-Nicolas Parade on December 4th, which welcomes the arrival of Saint-Nicolas, the region’s patron saint, the focal point of the European feasts on the 5th or 6th of December, and the progenitor of modern Santa Claus. Over the course of a half day, you’ll see intricate floats, you’ll hear live music, you’ll witness dancers in traditional garb. It’s a great way to dive deep into local culture and tradition, which is truly distinct from what you’ll find in Paris. And best of all, especially if you have children with you, you’ll get the chance to meet Saint-Nicolas himself! What a selfie that would be. 

Before leaving Metz, you’ve got to go ice skating. Ice skating is a pastime, a passion, and a pleasure in this eastern French city. December is the perfect time. After you’ve had your fill of Christmas market goodies, head to any number of ice rinks around the city, strap on your blades, and get going. The crown jewel of ice rinks has to be the one at Place de la République, where each year, this massive square is transformed into a rink so special it could exist at the North Pole! Imagine this: you’re gliding over fresh ice, surrounded by gorgeous old buildings. After an hour on your skates, you pop into a local café for a steaming hot chocolate as Christmas music plays softly in the background.  

Pyramid of Christmas in the Metz Christmas Market.
Pyramid of Christmas in the Metz Christmas Market.

Trento, Italy 

Once again, our next stop is just a train ride away! In the mountains of northern Italy is the city of Trento, an exceptional place filled with Christmas charm. You might not associate Italy, the land of rolling hills, sunny beaches, and lemon trees, with wintery weather, and yet this country has been celebrating the holiday with beauty, grace, and excellent food for centuries. Trento, in the chilly north of the country, holds one of the most gorgeous Christmas markets, and better yet, it is still “undiscovered” compared to those in Germany or Austria, which means it’s highly authentic. The market consists of more than ninety stalls across two central squares: Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti. Given the alpine setting, the stalls are made in charming wooden designs and sell products and delicacies deeply tied to the region and its history. Make sure to explore the unique selection of cakes, local cheeses, cured meats, and many delicious drinks—both with and without alcohol! 

But a Christmas adventure only starts with the market. Apart from that, we suggest taking advantage of your location: the Dolomites, an ideal place for skiing or snowboarding. These breathtaking mountains are home to some three hundred ski resorts, which offer a range of difficulty levels. If skiing is not your thing, there are hot springs to explore, snow parks, and endless culinary delights to indulge in like panettone, a sweet Christmas loaf, torrone, a nougat confection, or risotto.  

And finally, a trip to Trento would not be complete without a wine tour. The Trentino–Alto Adige region is known for several special grape varieties, including Schiava, Lagrein, Teroldego, and the sparkling wine, Trentodoc. There are any number of wineries within a short distance of Trento that would be eager to help you explore the region’s specialties. Here’s how it will be: you’re seated on a deck above the vineyards, which are frosty in the cool weather. The sunset is red and marvelous. You sip a glass of sparkling trentodoc and take stock of the holiday season you’re experiencing, one that you’ll never forget.  

Stalls around the central square in Trento selling mulled wine, local food and local products
Stalls around the central square in Trento selling mulled wine, local food and local products.

Things to consider before traveling

load more

Some tips to consider while traveling

Want to know more about Europe?

Sign up to our newsletter here: