Your order

Travel by train to Europe's best winter festivals



Winter in Europe is synonymous with colourful Christmas Markets, snow-capped mountains and weird and wonderful winter traditions.


Get ready to wrap up warm and venture further to experience some of Europe's best winter festivals. From exploding snowmen and light festivals to lantern processions and masked demons (you won't be disappointed). 


Here at Eurail, we believe the best way to shrug off those winter blues is to travel to Europe's most memorable festivals by train.


Ellie Kingswell

Writer @Interrail

1. Light Festival, Amsterdam, Netherlands

December to January


Enjoy a night of illumination, colourful lights and surprises. 


You'll be captivated by the open-air displays of colourful lights and creative sculptures dotted around Amsterdam's canals during the city's annual festival of lights. 


Walking tour: Wrap up warm, grab your umbrella and join a guided tour to see the kaleidoscope of light installations. Alternatively, get your hands on one of the digital maps for a more intimate and slow-paced walk across cute bridges and along the waterways of Amsterdam. 


Boat tour: If you don't fancy a long walk through the crowded streets in the dark, hop on board one of the covered (and heated) canal boats to enjoy the brightly lit kaleidoscope of light installations from the water. You will sail past the traditional houses and under Instagrammable bridges through a complex labyrinth of waterways to see the "Venice of the North" from a new perspective. 


Did you know: Amsterdam used to be a swamp? The three main canals (Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht) were made in the 17th century during the Dutch Golden Age. Making the city habitable (and free from mosquitos) involved systematically draining one section of the swamp at a time to create individual islands surrounded by canals. 


How to get to Amsterdam by train: Board any NS train to Amsterdam with your Interrail Pass without a reservation from Schiphol Airport (15 minutes), Utrecht (30 minutes) or Gouda (50 minutes). You must buy a supplement to travel from Rotterdam on the Intercity Direct (45 minutes). 

Amsterdam Light Festival

2. Fête des Lumières, Lyon, France



Thought Paris was the city of lights? Think again! Lyon shines even brighter when the Fête des Lumières comes to town.


Four million people flock to Lyon to enjoy the spectacular illuminations each winter. Don't be fooled into thinking this Festival of Lights is a Christmas celebration! The origins of this Light Tradition have a dark side - the black death consumed Lyon in 1643. In their despair, the Lyonnais prayed to the Virgin Mary - begging her to save them.


Call it divine intervention or a total coincidence - but it worked! And the holy mother became a symbol of hope. After 209 years, the city wanted to honour her by unveiling a statue; however, there was a massive storm, and the festival was cancelled. 


However, the Lyonnais were not fazed. Thousands of candles were spontaneously lit in houses across the city in defiance of the weather. Hence, the Festival of Lights was born.


How to get to Lyon by train: Travel reservation-free on the scenic train (TER) from Paris to Lyon with your Interrail Pass. In a rush? Pay extra for a Pass holder reservation to travel with your pass on the high-speed TGV (2 hours). 



3. Tschäggättu, Lötschental Valley, Switzerland



Head to the Lötschental valley between the Catholic holiday of Candlemass and Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday), and you'll find the Tschäggättu roaming the streets after dark. These giant, nightmarish creatures have one goal in mind: to frighten you to death! Luckily, you can't miss them... They wear monstrous wooden masks and furry costumes.


They could jump out of the darkness and chase you down the street at any moment. Or steal your woolly hat or push you to the ground. Sound like fun? We think so too, and you'll be screaming with delight.


Disclaimer: This tradition is not for the fainthearted! 


How to get to Lötschental Valley by train: Take the train to Gampel-Steg station with your Interrail Pass (no reservation needed from Bern or Geneva), and then take a local bus to Kippel (own expense). 


Wooden mask_Switzerland

4. Liichtmëssdag, Luxembourg



Get ready to celebrate Liichtmëssdag - also known as Candlemas day (or the feast of light). Imagine Halloween without all the makeup, mischief and poorly sewn costumes! On Candlemas night, well-behaved children meander the streets and villages of Luxembourg.


They have one goal: candy (we told you it was like Halloween). You can't miss them! They're holding homemade lanterns and singing songs to chase evil spirits away.


Bring your own lantern and join the procession if you like. After all, you're never too old to embrace your childlike playfulness! Step into the fairytale, and see the night through the eyes of a child.


How to get to Luxembourg City by train: You can reach Luxembourg from anywhere in the Benelux or Germany without a seat reservation. 



5. Northern light(s) festival, Norway



March is still a good time to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. Be on the lookout for the sparkling tail of the so-called “arctic firefox.” This elusive creature from Nordic folklore can only be seen on cloudless evenings.


Did you know that revontulet (the Finnish word for the northern lights) means "fox fires?" According to legend - hunters have been looking for this mythical creature for hundreds of years.


To witness this natural phenomenon, you will need to head north of the Arctic Circle. Why not make it a tradition of your own to follow the trail of the elusive firefox once per year?


How to get to Narvik by train: From Oslo, you will need a Global Pass, several seat reservations and a lot of patience to reach Narvik by train. Starting in Oslo in Norway, the full journey takes about 30 hours with 3 train connections in Sweden in Goteborg, Stockholm and Bodem. 



6. Spring Festival, Zurich, Switzerland



Head to Zurich on April 16 to experience one of Europe's most unique and explosive traditions to celebrate the end of winter.


Meet Böögg, the exploding snowman! Imagine a 30-foot-high bonfire with a massive snowman on top. Then imagine a big party with thousands of people watching the bonfire as it burns. As the flames grow, so does the excitement. That's because the locals know a secret...


...They all know that there's going to be a huge BANG! The snowman is packed full of explosives, and the spirited crowd is waiting to hear Böögg's 'boom'.


Fun fact: Böögg is a weatherman! According to tradition: the louder the blast, the warmer the summer. 


How to get to Zurich by train: Travel on reservation-free routes to Zurich from Geneva (3 hours), Interlaken (2 hours), or Bern (1 hour) with Interrail. 



Ready to travel Europe by train this winter? 


We hope we’ve given you enough reasons to travel Europe by rail when a fresh blanket of snow covers the Alps, delicious Glühwein is flowing, and the winter festivities across Europe are in full swing. 


Pack a warm jacket and shoe boots, and check out the Interrail Global Pass to visit these colourful festivals. 


You might like this as well.