The Christmas spirit is only complete when the world is covered in snow. The lights sparkle more, trees and plants look like cotton wool, and even the stars twinkle brighter. But, with the climate changes we all experience, snow isn’t a certainty.
After looking at locations in Europe that are most likely to have snow and their average snowfalls in December, I was pleasantly surprised that there are quite a few places where a white Christmas is practically guaranteed. These places are a delight to locals and visitors who might have to travel quite a distance, but are rewarded with a winter wonderland in cities that are beautiful and remarkable at any time of the year — only more so when covered in snow.
Here they are:
1. Tallinn, Estonia
The capital and cultural center of Estonia, Tallinn, is located in the north of the country on the Bay of Finland, a part of the Baltic Sea. The old town, called Kesklinn, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a lot of interesting and historical buildings (i.e. the cathedral and over 60 museums). With an average of 18 days of snow in December, you have an excellent chance of a white Christmas.
Estonia is often referred to as the nation of song. Music is important and there is an open arena where a summer music festival is held. In winter, however, it is converted into a playground for winter sports activities like ice skating and snowboarding. All you need is a bit of snowfall to make it perfect.
If you want to be out of the cold for a little while, there is the Estonian Art Museum and Kiek in de Koek, an old watch tower that is part of the Fortification Museum with access to underground tunnels and passages — all giving a unique insight into the history of this city. Tallinn hosts a lovely Christmas market too, with plenty of the local specialty: marzipan.
Pro Tip: Estonian is the local language but nearly everybody speaks a second language, mostly English, German, or Russian. But an aitaeh, “thank you,” is always appreciated. The currency is the euro.
2. Vilnius, Lithuania
With an average of 18.5 days of snow in December, Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, is another candidate for a white Christmas. Renowned for the Baroque architecture of the medieval part of town — with castles, a viewpoint of the Three Crosses, and vibrant street art — Vilnius is a fabulous town to visit any time of the year.
Visit the Gate of Dawn and one of the many museums to get out of the cold. Just a few miles out of town, you can enjoy snowfall in the ski resort of Liepkalnis. The Vilnius Christmas market, held from November 27 to January 7, is a must-see because of the enormous Christmas tree and lovely decorations. A small, decorated train takes you around the town and cathedral square.
Pro Tip: Lithuanian is the official language, but 80 percent of the younger generation speaks English; it wasn’t taught under the Soviet occupation. The currency is the euro.
3. Turku, Finland
Turku, Finland’s oldest city, is located on the country’s southwest coast and crossed by the Aura River. The river plays an important role in city life. In summer, swimming and sunbathing is popular, but in winter, due to the low temperatures, it completely freezes over. That’s when the fun begins because locals and visitors just strap on ice skates and go on a sightseeing tour of a different kind. They glide past the 13th-century castle and decide which of the cute little streets they are going to explore on foot.
Turku is known for its coffee culture so there are plenty of cafes to warm you with a hot drink. In 1996, Turku was declared the “Christmas City of Finland.” A Christmas market is held in the Old Great Square on the four weekends running up to Christmas.
4. Erfurt, Germany
Erfurt is located in the heart of Germany in Thuringia and in the basin of the wide Gera River. Part of the city is called “Little Venice” because of the over 140 bridges that cross the river. Erfurt also has one of the best-preserved medieval town centers in Germany and, historically, is closely connected to Martin Luther, the protestant reformer.
Snowfall in December is consistent, and although it doesn’t stay long, it’s enough to dust the beautiful buildings with a layer of powdered sugar. Unfortunately, the famous Erfurt Christmas market is canceled due to the new coronavirus strain.
5. Riga, Latvia
Riga, the capital of Latvia, is located on the Baltic Sea. The port town was a member of the Hanseatic League and has an average of 15 days of snowfall in December. Riga’s Old Town is a UNESCO Heritage Site mostly because of its Art Nouveau and wooden architecture. Imagine all the elaborate Art Nouveau designs covered in snow to be marveled at in a pedestrian-only zone without having to watch out for cars.
Sadly, this is another Christmas market that has been canceled.
Pro Tip: The official language is Latvian, also known as Lettish. English is mostly spoken by the younger generation but rarely outside of Riga. You are well-advised to learn a few courtesy words. The currency is the euro.
6. Innsbruck, Austria
Innsbruck, the capital of the state of Tyrol in Austria, is located in a privileged position. Along the Inn River and surrounded by the high mountains of the Karwendel, it’s protected on the one hand, and on the other, preserving the cold and snow when it arrives. This location is also the reason that Innsbruck is such a popular winter sports area, having hosted the Olympic Winter Games twice in 1964 and 1976.
With an average snowfall of 8.3 inches in December, there is a very high chance of a white Christmas. Innsbruck is rather small but full of beautiful historical buildings and guild houses along the river promenade. The best-known attraction is probably the 15th-century Golden Roof crowning a building in the Old Town. It was created to celebrate the wedding of Emperor Maximilian I and consists of 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles.
Innsbruck has a beautiful Christmas market too, staged right under the Golden Roof. However, due to the current lockdown regulations in Austria, the market has been suspended until December 12. If you plan a visit, check to see if these restrictions have been lifted.
7. Kaunas, Lithuania
Kaunas, the second largest city in Lithuania, is located on the confluence of the Nemunars and Neris rivers and has been designated the “European Capital of Culture 2022.” The most important attractions are the 14th-century castle and, in the streets of the old town, plenty of murals and gigantic street art; Charlie Chaplin among them.
Another attraction is not one but two original funiculars, first opened in 1935. An interesting museum is the Devil’s Museum. It stores over 3,000 exhibits of horned creatures and is included in the list of the world’s most extraordinary museums. There is a tradition that visitors may bring a devil for the ever growing collection. With an average of 16 days of snow in December, a white Christmas is very probable in Kaunas. To warm up in the cold, try the traditional dish called cepelinai, which is a big potato dumpling filled with pork and served with sour cream and a bacon sauce.
8. Grenoble, France
Grenoble, located in the Isere department in southeast France, calls itself the “Capital of the French Alps” because the city is surrounded by mountains, which made it the location of the 1968 Winter Olympics. There are on average 15.5 snowy days in December and the temperatures are well below zero, so the snow and cold are pretty much guaranteed.
Skiing and winter sports are popular in Grenoble. A main attraction is going up from the town center to Bastille Hill in spherical cable cars called Les Bulles, “the bubbles.” Grenoble’s Christmas market is a delight and lasts until Christmas Eve. It’s a combination of entertainment, a lively atmosphere, and gourmet food, as can be expected in France. Before booking your trip to France, check the latest COVID regulations as they change frequently for France.
9. Helsinki, Finland
Helsinki, the capital of Finland, is located on the Baltic Sea. It gets very cold in winter and the Baltic Sea freezes over, which brings out the locals to walk, skate, or even ski or cut a hole in the ice to fish. Join in the fun but mind any warnings as to the thickness of the ice. With an average of 16.5 snowy days in December, you can enjoy a wintery Helsinki with lots of activities inside and outside.
Another fun thing to do is go sledding. They have special plastic sleds called pullka that you can buy everywhere for a mere 10 euros (about $11.34) to just join the locals in the parks. After the outdoor fun, it’s a visit to a public sauna to warm up after a few hours in the design museum.
Also, visit Helsinki’s Art Deco train station.
Pro Tip: For access to the museum, you need to show a COVID-19 passport at the door. You can enjoy the Christmas market in Market Square until December 22.
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