Of all Europe’s excellent choices of places to spend your Christmas and New Year’s Eve, these five cities deliver the perfect combination of maximum festivity and fun, and a surprising minimum of fuss.
These five destinations – Baden-Baden, Budapest, Belgrade, London, and Rome – are easy cities to enjoy. And they are all particularly good at celebrating the Holidays – they’re ideal for last minute, spontaneous Christmas and New Year’s Eve vacations.
Baden-Baden – an Old World Classic Place to Spend your Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Baden-Baden at Christmas and New Year’s is even more enchanting than usual. This unique town centers around the spas (Baden means “to bathe” in German) that catered originally to royalty and high society Europe. Logically a wealth of leisure and cultural activities followed. It makes an ideal place to spend and festive and rejuvenating Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
I took a fantastic trip to Baden-Baden last year right before Christmas. I came to experience the world-famous Friedrichsbad and its strict – and, as I discovered, strictly nude – 17-step procedure. Everything else was a delightful surprise. I don’t care for gambling, but I loved the Casino of Baden-Baden, essentially a museum of recreation, with gilded walls and baroque ceiling paintings depicting all the towns of Baden-Württemberg.
The Trinkhalle and its murals is still a social gathering place, a setting for the lovely Nativity scene during the holidays. And the great lawn in front of the opulent Kurhaus – were the Casino of Baden-Baden is – has a fairy-tale perfect Christmas market, glittering under a velvet night sky. We shopped, warmed up with mulled wine, and had plates of hearty Spätzle with sauerkraut and Speck.
By day, you can stroll along the banks of the lovely river Oos, and stop for Kaffee und Kuchen – the customary afternoon ritual of coffee, cake, and chat. The best place to for this in Baden-Baden is the Café König, an institution famous for schwarzwälder Kirschtorte – a must when you are actually in the Schwarzwald (the Black Forest). For an refined evening, check the program of the world-famous Festspielhaus – Baden Baden’s elegant performance space hosts internationally renowned productions throughout the season.
There are a host of Gala events for New Year’s Eve in Baden at the finest hotels. There is also a festive New Year’s Eve concert at the Festspielhaus early in the evening. This way you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for celebrating New Year’s Eve in style.
Baden-Baden has many other enchanting cities close by. An efficient train network connects Baden-Baden to Strasbourg, Colmar, and Freiburg, Heidelberg, and other fairy-tale destinations. We saw them all on convenient day trips. The regional network offers great discounts for day tickets for groups, with savings starting at just two people. Each of these towns was full of Christmas markets, Cathedrals, mulled wine, and the scent of cinnamon and snowflakes in the air.
Baden-Baden’s Best Hotels – Wonderful Places to Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Baden-Baden’s Old Town is the place you’ll want to be. We stayed near the Festspielhaus, which is the only landmark not in the old Town. It wasn’t too far, but it was a chilly walk after an evening in the baths or after the Casino. I’ll definitely stay in the old town on my next trip, at one of these hotels. By clicking on the links, you’ll find candid reviews, photos, and more details about your stay:
The venerable Brenner’s Park Hotel and Spa is an institution, an supremely elegant grand hotel overlooking ts own private gardens. It offers the classic, and exclusive, Baden-Baden experience.
The four-star Hotel Rathausglöckel is a charmer. In a 16th-century building just 50 meters from the Friedrichsbad, this is the best location for the classic Baden Baden experience. Freshly renovated rooms have a stately decor with wood furnishings. A large buffet breakfast – optional – is served in a handsome room, and there is also a romantic wine cellar. The prices for the quality are excellent.
The Boutique-style Hotel Beek has handsome rooms – some with a balcony. You’re right next to the Caracalla Baths, surrounded by the Black Forest. The price includes a very good breakfast.
Elegant and grand, the Hotel Am Sophienpark unites a classic beauty with fresh, contemporary design sensibility. This is one of Baden-Baden’s more indulgent choices, and worth the splurge. It’s close to the Kurhaus, where the Casino is, and to the Caracalla Baths. The rooms are spacious, and include an excellent breakfast.
The stylish Hotel Merkur has an elegant modern decor, large rooms, and an excellent breakfast. The location is excellent, on a quiet street in the center.
Best Places to Spend Your Christmas and New Year’s Eve – Budapest
Budapest is festive in any season. This elegant capital with its neo-Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings and beautiful bridges is so ornate it looks like it’s ready for the holidays all the time. But they really go all out for the holidays, with Europe’s most beautiful Christmas market.
Other beautiful sights include the Fisherman’s Bastion, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Parliament building, and – for Christmas services – the Matthias Church with its bold and colorful interior. This is a fantastic choice if you are looking for a place to spend your Christmas and New Year’s Eve that offers the ideal combination of excitement and total relaxation.
The total relaxation part is the spas, and Budapest is famous for them. Budapest is the world’s premier spa destination. The city is famous for its many hot therapeutic springs. There is an astonishing choice of opulent spas, each in its own style. This cosmopolitan Old World capital combines culture and leisure with unique style.
The creators of the Cafe Society, Budapest still has the world’s most elegant and atmospheric cafes, like the Cafe Central and the New York Cafe. For a holiday fantasy splurge, book the Herrend afternoon tea in the Peacock atrium of the supremely elegant Four Seasons Gresham Palace.
Budapest holds many possibilities for the ideal New Year’s Eve, whatever your celebration style. Thanks largely to the lively ruin pub scene in the famous 7th district – Erzsébetváros – Budapest is now a famous party and nightlife destination for all Europe. The former Jewish quarter – and present with its many Kosher restaurants – is now the premier nightlife destination, with the famous ruin pubs like Szimpla Kert.
Or you can have a more Old World Budapest New Year’s Eve, at a Gala event at the Danube Palace, enjoying classical music, a ballet performance, champagne, and elegant dining.
Whichever type of New Year’s Eve celebration you choose, you can start with a classic Budapest experience the day before, at a concert of the famous 100 Gypsy Violin Orchestra.
Perfect Budapest Hotels to Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve
The Four Season Gresham Palace is a landmark on the Danube, an Art Nouveau landmark, stylish and impeccable in every regard. The rooms with the Danube views are a worthy indulgence, especially for Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
The Danubius Hotel Gellert is a destination in itself, as much a reason to come to Budapest as a place to stay when you’re here. Massive, slightly quirky, historic Art Nouveau-via-Wes Anderson, the Gellert has character. It’s on the Danube at the liberty bridge and beside the Gellert Hill. But you’re not here for the location. The Gellert itself is the reason I first came to Budapest, and the reason I keep coming back. I love the views and the enormous windows, The keys are heavy brass, not tacky credit card-style. The breakfast room is elegant and the buffet is astonishing. Most of all, I love walking along the oriental carpets through the huge hallways in my bathrobe, on my way to the most opulent thermal baths imaginable – the Gellert Baths.
Design fans will love the gorgeous, high-style Hotel Noble. With a convenient location in Pest and wonderfully unique and beautiful rooms, it’s perfect for an urban getaway.
A low-cost choice that really doesn’t feel like one is the lovely Hotel Memories Budapest. This hotel in a building from 1900 has handsome contemporary rooms as well as a sauna and fitness area. The price includes a full breakfast, and there is free coffee available throughout the day. The location is perfect for exploring the old Jewish quarter of pest, the center for culture and nightlife, and it is very close to the Great Synagogue of Budapest.
You can browse more Budapest choices by clicking here.
Christmas in Belgrade – Twice
Belgrade is a particularly interesting choice when you’re considering places to spend your Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This is a destination with an important difference: The Serbians are primarily Orthodox Christians who follow the old calendar. This means that they celebrate Christmas on January 7th. This can go two ways. One option is that you can enjoy Christmas on the 25th with all of the festive atmosphere, but none of the inconvenience with everything being closed for your holiday. The other option is that you enjoy a second Christmas with the Serbians. You can go for New Year’s Eve and stay on for Serbian Christmas a week later. You can even go for Serbian Christmas and stay for the second Serbian New Year’s Eve. They celebrate both.
Throughout the season, a charming Christmas Market is open in Republic Square. And Sevti Sava wil be a wonderful place for Christmas servces. This Othodox church is the largest in the Balkans. It’s dome is actually several meters higher than that of Agia Sophia in Istanbul.
Belgrade is both cosmopolitan and very old world at the same time. There is a beautiful National Theater with a full schedule of Operas and Ballets. Tickets are very affordable – almost like cinema tickets. Serbians enjoy culture, and Theater, Opera and Ballet accessible to everyone. Here is how to visit the Opera House and see a performance.
The House of Flowers – Tito’s final resting place – is a monument to his enormous charisma. After visiting the House of Flowers, you can visit the museum of Yugoslavia. This focuses on Yugoslavia after WWII, and is on the same property. Both museums are deeply atmospheric, powerfully evoking the era.
The Nikola Tesla Museum is thrilling and fun, and ideal for visitors of any age. In addition to being a museum of Science and his phenomenal contributions, it’s also a tribute to the individual, with many of his personal effects on display (he was a man of refined and extraordinary style). The Kalemegdan Fortress and Park is a favorite destination with locals. perfect for a stroll among the bare trees, even on a chilly day. The scent of roasted chestnuts fills the air and a paper cone full of them will warm you up. There’s also a small zoo.
Belgrade is a great city for nightlife. Try the charming Bohemian pedestrian street Skardalija. The various Rakija will warm you right up. These distilled spirits are fragrant with the fruit from which they have been distilled. They come in a great variety. Plum is the most common, and quince and pear are delightful. Belgrade is an excellent town for drinking and socializing, with plenty of quality local beers and spirits – here is a guide to what to drink in Belgrade.
There are countless choices New Year’s Eve in Belgrade. This is a great night city. The best way to celebrate may be to pace yourself. Rest up, then bundle up- Belgrade is cold for Christmas and New Years! Start with the fireworks and the countdown, then go from party to part
The Best Hotels for Where to Spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Belgrade
The classic choice is the opulent, gilded Hotel Moskva. The building is a landmark beauty in a central spot, and this is also a popular meeting point – having a slice of the Moskva Schnitt in the cafe is a Belgrade tradition.
In New Belgrade, across the river, is the inexpensive Garni Hotel Jugoslavija, a showpiece of glamorous modernism from the Tito era. The Hotel Jugoslavija is the subject of an excellent and evocative film.
If you plan to enjoy the nightlife around charming Skardalija, you’ll enjoy the Hotel Bohemian Garnia Skardalija, with an industrial-chic, minimalist decor.
The warm contemporary classic style of the elegant Hotel Centar 1 makes it one of the loveliest Hotels of Belgrade. It’s close to the National Theater.
If you prefer an apartment-style experience, you might try the glitzy and well-appointed Ben Akiba Luxury Suites, some with Jacuzzi. They’re located in Stari Grad, just 100m from the central Republic Square.
These are my top choices for my next trip to Belgrade. There are many more options here.
London – One of the Most Exciting Places to Spend Your Christmas and New Year’s Eve
England – land of A Christmas Carroll and Harry Potter – defines the holiday mood. London is big and splashy and fabulous – the ideal place to spend your Christmas and New Years.
London goes all out for the holidays. Hyde Park becomes a gorgeous Winter Wonderland. There’s an ice skating rink, ice sculpting, a Christmas market, a little Bavaria. There’s also a host of performances, an Observation Wheel 60 meters high, and nine (!) roller coasters. Admission to the extravaganza is free. But it’s wise to book tickets for special events in advance.
It’s not just the Winter Wonderland that sparkles. London goes all-out, all over for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. This is a big city. To see the very best of London’s beautiful holiday decorations and hear some wonderful stories and facts along the way, bundle up and take this London Christmas Lights Tour on an adorable vintage open-topped bus. Harry Potter fans will love this tour of Magical London, with a fanatical and fun expert guide.
The famous large department stores have fanciful window displays, and stock special goods for Christmas. Join the festive crowds browsing at Fortnum and Mason, Selfridge’s, Harrod’s, and Liberty of London.
London’s year-round attractions are also worth seeing. London’s magnificent Museums are free. You can enjoy a wealth of culture in beautiful, festive settings. The National Gallery and the Tate Britain are filled with masterpieces in wonderful rooms. But my favorite London museum is the Wallace Collection – as much for the collection as for the setting. The Wallace is in an opulent mansion. The walls are covered in shimmering silks in bold jewel tones. In addition to the Old Masters, you’ll see Fragonard, Watteau, Reynolds, Gainsborough. Besides this, there are porcelains, furnishings, snuff boxes, and astonishing collection of armor. It’s never very crowded.
And you don’t really need to actually seek anything out to have the Wallace experience. All you need to do is wander through the rooms and take it in. A glass-covered interior courtyard makes the ideal place to enjoy a classic Afternoon Tea. They do a special edition at Christmas time.
With the money you’ve saved on the museums, you can afford a classic London experience – going to the theater. London’s West End is famous for the excellence of its productions. There are several productions just right for the holidays. And you can always count on a first-rate staging of The Nutcracker.
For a perfect London New Year’s Eve, join the crowds on the Victoria embankment and the South Bank area to see a massive. joyous fireworks display. It’s all the more dazzling reflected in the river Thames.
Hand-Picked Hotels for Spending your Christmas and New Year’s in London
London has famously expensive accommodations. But many are well worth the indulgence. There are also really astonishingly bad accommodations. Rarely do you see so many 5s and 6s on booking.com. Budget rooms can be dirty, windowless, or shockingly small. Here are some good choices for a variety of prices for enjoying your London Holiday.
You can get a complete overview, including photos and candid reviews, by following the links below:
The Hotel Indigo London, in Kensington, is juicy design hotel with astonishingly large rooms by London standards (24 square meters). In chic Kensington, you’re very close to the Victoria and Albert and the Museum of Natural History, and also elegant shopping and dining.
If you want to spurge even larger, the Kimpton – Fitzroy is a very appealing choice. In a gorgeous landmark building, the luxurious rooms have a contemporary elegance with a strong sense of London style. In chic Bloomsbury, near Russell Square.
London is big. You’re going to be using public transport to get around as it is. With that in mind, I once chose the MStay Golders Green. The large room with fresh modern decor with its elegant bathroom and well-equipped kitchenette were very nice to come back to after a really long day. The Kosher bakery down the street was a delicious plus. I paid a little less here than I had paid near Paddington station for a dingy, shamefully tiny room. I’ll return to the MStay in the future. Another convenient plus – the Golders Green station is a hub for the National Express bus. This makes getting to Stansted was much faster and easier than from Central London.
If you’re not going to spend much time in the room, but definitely don’t want to be slumming it, the Z Hotel Soho is an interesting choice. The rooms have an ingenious design, compact but luxurious. It makes for good prices. You can save even more by opting for a windowless room – like an airport Yotel. The location is perfect for theater and shopping.
The Best Places to Spend your Christmas and New Year’s Eve – Rome
Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s is the highlight of a Roman Christmas. This really helpful blog post details how to get tickets (free, but limited). But it also gives alternatives for other Papal ceremonies during the season. And if you can’t get into St. Peter’s, there are many other beautiful churches. You can still stop by Vatican city to see the Nativity scene and the Christmas Tree in Vatican square before celebrating a more intimate mass in a beautiful Baroque church.
Rome is one of the most beautiful and meaningful places to spend your Christmas. Like elsewhere in southern Europe, Christmas in Rome is not a very commercial holiday. The emphasis is not so much on shopping and gifts as it is on the religious celebration. It helps that Italian children receive gifts on Epiphany – the 12th day of Christmas (January 6th).
There’s plenty of celebrating, but it centers of family and foods, like rich and fluffy panettone. Many devout Italians abstain from meat on Christmas eve and eat lightly, feasting only on Christmas day. As to dining for the rest of your stay, you can’t go wrong. Even the simplest foods are delicious. A whisper thin searing hot pie from Ai Marmi is worth the wait in line. This bright, florescent-lit Trastevere pizzeria with its marble tables and lively mood is a Roman classic. Have an aperitivo first at Bar San Callisto in the Piazza of the same name.
On the other days of your Roman Christmas and New Year’s Eve holiday, take to the streets and visit Rome’s majestic squares – the Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, and more, as you stroll. You’ll enjoy it more if you dress up a little – the Italians certainly do. While you’re out, check out the traffic police officer in the circle in from of the Vittorio Emmanuele – Rome’s busiest intersection. The Pantheon is wonderful, and all the more festive with the enthusiastic crowds.
If you want to visit the Colosseum, then you may well appreciate the convenience of this skip the line ticket, which includes the Forum and Palatine Hill. The time you save is better spent searching for the perfect pastry shop. If you see one museum, let it be the Villa Borghese. The collection is rich in magnificent works of Bernini and Caravaggio. Plan your visit – there is a timed entry ticket which is actually very convenient, because it eliminates endless lines and also ensures that the museum is not very crowded.
Rome’s Best Hotels for Spending Christmas and New Year’s Eve
Luxury Hotels in Rome
The venerable, opulent Hassler Roma, at the top of the Spanish Steps, is a Roman institution. Luxury meets all-out cinematic fantasy with the incredible views. Guests love the warm, personal service. Worth it for a special holiday.
Staying at the Nobildonne Relais, also near the Spanish Steps, is like being the guest of stylish, low-key, charming nobility. If you crave authentic details like ceiling frescoes and intricate mosaic floors, this is the place for you. It’s still a splurge, but far more affordable than the Hassler.
Fabulously Affordable Hotels in Rome
There are many modern apartment hotels in the grand old buildings of of Trastevere. I really enjoyed my stay at the design beauty B&B Trastevere 94.
On another visit to Rome, I tried a completely different kind of hotel experience. we stayed at the old-fashioned Hotel Alexandra, near the top of the Spanish steps on the sweeping curve of the elegant Via Venetto. It was central, with older (but spotless) bathrooms, and lots of classic charm, including antiques in the rooms.
The Trevi Beau Boutique Hotel is a stylish option. Some of the rooms at this cozy, charming hotel have arched or timbered ceilings, plus city views. As the name promises, you are just a minute from the Trevi Fountain, so you can get there before the crowds arrive for the perfect snapshot before you return for a delicious breakfast, included with your room rate.
Each of these options can be a little under €75 or €80 for a double, at the time of this writing.
For more choices in Trastevere – a charming neighborhood to make your home away from home and the center of restaurants, cafes, and socializing for locals, please check here.
For more choices in the center of Rome, close to the monuments and sights, please check here.
Last Minute Inspiration – Best Places to Spend Your Christmas and New Year’s Eve
All of these cities are festive holiday choices, with a wonderful spirit. Better still, you can enjoy them without excessive planning, or any planning at all. Happy Holidays, wherever you plan to be.