Europe's Christmas Markets
Are you thinking about a holiday vacation? Travel during the holidays can be a fantastic getaway - or a complete headache if you don't plan ahead. I often travel over New Years since my birthday is only a few days beforehand but I know that many think this is a difficult time of year to get away. I am here to tell you that travel (especially in Europe) is fantastic during the festive season! I love Europe during Christmas and New Year's - the streets are beautifully decorated and the traditional Christmas markets are great fun. Not to mention the fantastic fireworks displays for New Years! It is also exciting to see a very difference side to a city than you would if you only visited over the summer. Here are just a few of the places I recommend for holiday season travel:
Germany is home to many of the worlds most famous Christmas markets. The Frankfurt Christmas Market began in 1393 and is one of the largest in Germany. Famous for local foods and drink - make sure you have some traditional bethmannchen - this market is in Frankfurt's beautiful 'old town.' The old town's traditional half-timbered houses are beautifully lit with fairy lights and it really does create a captivating and festive environment. Several hundred decorated stalls sell a variety of local crafts, art, and food while a massive Christmas tree as well as choirs singing traditional carols add to the festive feel.
Christmas in London is both festive and cozy. Hotels are decorated and afternoon teas have a holiday twist - plus, there is something so lovely about sitting in a plush wingchair by a crackling fireplace with a warm cup of tea. The city really comes alive for Christmas and New Years, and you can go ice skating in the spectacular setting of Somerset House, wander amongst the twinkling lights in the world famous Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew (or stunning Regents Street) and of course make sure to visit the festive Christmas markets. Hyde Park's massive Winter Wonderland is perfect for handmade gifts and treats as well as plenty of rides for the kids. New this year is the Wintertime Festival in Greenwich, held at the Old Royal Naval College, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Looking for something a little more unusual? Check out the Museum of Architecture's Gingerbread City or visit the Harry Potter studio to see Hogwarts decked out in Christmas decorations from the Great Hall to the Gryffindor common room and Diagon Alley.
Prague during Christmas is truly a winter wonderland. This year the Christmas markets open December 2nd and are open every day until January 6th. The largest markets are in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square which are conveniently only about 5 minutes apart. There are also a number of smaller markets all throughout the city. The 2017 theme for the markets is The History of Prague so it is certain that the beautifully decorated little shops throughout the markets will have depictions of many famous figures from Prague's past. One delicious benefit to wandering the markets is the chance to sample a wide variety of local food and drink from klobasa sausages to trdelnik pastries and famous Czech beers and mulled wines. Make sure to get to the markets in the early evening - as it is usually between 4 and 5 pm when the lights on the massive Christmas trees are switched on to the sound of Christmas carols and classical music. While you're in town make sure to catch a traditional Czech marionette show or you can see Christmas classics like The Nutcracker at the National Theatre.
Vienna is spectacular during any time of year, but the city really shines during Christmas. Visiting the Rathausplatz Christmas market is memorable from the moment you first see the entrance - a tall, beautiful, gateway lit with candlelight that ushers you in to visit the roughly 150 stalls. Here you can purchase anything from Christmas tree decoration to delicious food, local handicrafts, gifts, and of course a warm drink. Another market features the stunning Schonbrunn Palace as its backdrop while others feature children's rides, live musical acts, and the Imperial and Royal Christmas Market on Michaelerplatz specializes in products from Austrian manufacturers. Though it is sure that the Advent Pleasure Market at the Opera House might be the 'must do' market in Vienna as it is completely focused on culinary excellence. Head to this market for the best gingerbread, meat, cheese, and wine from all over Austria.
The Christmas season in Edinburgh is great fun for the whole family. Make sure to visit Santa's Grotto, go ice skating, let your kids explore the Christmas tree maze, and marvel at the ice sculptures in the Ice Adventure. Not to be missed this year is the new Giant Advent Calendar which is being projected on the beautiful General Register House between 5pm and 10pm every evening. It will feature 'glimpses of Edinburgh Winters from years gone-by' and will be featuring images from the city's archive dating back to the 1700s. Once Christmas has passed, make sure you stay in town since the Scots throw a pretty spectacular New Years party known as Hogmanay. It includes a torchlight procession, street party, live music, candlelit concert, and even New Years polar bear plunge known locally as the Loony Dook. Dookers can warm up in a local pub after the plunge as there are a number of pubs, cafes, and restaurants in the area which will be open.