Christmas in Europe: 13 first hand travel tips
While some people don’t like to travel during the Christmas-season, many other people love to see how it’s all done in other cities and countries, when it comes to Christmas markets, shopping and decorations. Whether you’re a fan of Christmas or not, the season is lighting up every place in the dark winter – and literally lets you see all cities in a different light.
Personally I have been lucky to experience quite a few places in Europe during the festive season, and here’s my list of first hand tips to all those places…
I’m not a big shopper myself, but if you are, London is hard to miss out on when it comes to do your Christmas-shopping. Even I can appreciate the highly creative and often extravagant window displays, found along famous shopping routes like Oxford Street and at the classic of classics – Harrods.
But London is more than shopping, and a couple of years ago I had the pleasure of exploring the surprisingly big Winter Wonderland in popular Hyde Park – brimful of theme park rides for all ages, while you will also find an ice skating rink and tons of little eateries and food stalls. Enough entertainment to spend half a day in there.
Bristol is one of my favourite cities in England, and on one occasion I saw it dressed up for the holiday season. Here you can follow the glitter down the buzzing shopping-zone of Broadmead, which is lined with a stream of market stalls – adding to the already high number of shops in this area.
Still in the UK, but moving over the border to Wales, the capital of Cardiff is a great destination when it comes to boosting your Christmas-spirit. You’ll find plenty of Christmas market stalls around the city’s atmospheric streets – and even an attractive Winter Wonderland in front of the beautiful city hall, which includes a small theme park and of course an outdoor skating rink.
The mighty Cardiff Castle might even be “wrapped” in Christmas-decorations, and Cardiff is the only place I have personally spent Christmas Eve outside of Denmark.
My hometown in Denmark will give you a great taste of Scandinavian Christmas – not at least among the historic townhouses and along the cobbled streets of the famous Hans Christian Andersen neighbourhood. An idyllic quarter that houses its own Christmas market, and is as picturesque as it gets, when the sun sets on the fairytale-town.
Christmas markets will be found elsewhere around the city, like in the new Storms Pakhus Street Food Market at the redeveloped harbour area – and a huge Christmas tree adorns the square in front of the Italian-inspired city hall.
Copenhagen is another must-visit Christmas-spirit-booster, with the shopping street ‘Strøget’ offering everything a gift-shopper could ask for. The atmospheric highlights in the Danish capital are found inside the magical Tivoli Gardens, where a Christmas market sparkles in the dark – and along the cosy harbour quarter of Nyhavn, which is a great place to warm your hands on a cup of traditional ‘Gløgg’ (mulled wine).
Do also look out for the decorated facade of the exclusive Hotel D’angleterre, facing the Christmast market at Kongens Nytorv.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky to get the chance to visit the Swedish capital right before Christmas (thanks, Lonely Planet!) – but unluckily both my partner and I had the flu. Still we managed to enjoy the spectacularly beautiful old town Gamla Stan, which is an absolutely ideal setting for a Christmas market.
You will also find several outdoor skating rinks around the city, as well as plenty of shopping opportunities – and don’t miss out on the eye-catching window displays of the classic department store, Nordiska Kompaniet.
Ohh Paris! It’s simply stunning all year around – not at least during the festive season, when the boulevards sparkle with little lights, and the temporary Christmas market stalls compete with the posh brand stores along and around the magnificent Champ-Elysés.
Don’t miss out on the enticing Christmas market at the business quarter of La Défense – or the huge outdoor skating rink in front of the grand city hall, Hôtel de Ville. And why not hunt gifts for your book-loving friends at the lovely Shakespeare and Company.
Germany is a front runner when it comes to Christmas markets in Europe – well, worldwide for that matter, and an endless stream of markets are found around the country. Personally I can recommend the Christmas market(s) around the city of Lübeck in Northern Germany, which is possible to reach by car on a daytrip from my home country Denmark.
Let the smells of food and sweet treats lead you around the cobbled streets and squares – and don’t miss out on a visit to the “master of marzipan” – Niederegger.
After visiting Zürich in the holiday-season last year, this city has become one of my absolute favourites for a dose of foreign Christmas-magic – and I can highly recommend to check out the city’s many magical markets. The one at the main train station might be your first sight if you arrive by train, and neighbouring the station you will find another one enclosed behind the walls of the National Museum.
My favourite though, is the one set on Sechseläutenplatz in front of Zürich’s majestic opera house, where a stream of food stalls will tempt you to stay around for hours. A stroll along the cobbled streets of the historic Niederdorf district is also unforgettable.
One of my coolest (literally) Christmas/winter-themed travel experiences has been Interlaken’s Top of Europe Ice Magic. A fairytale of an ice skating complex featuring the snowclad alps as a spectacular backdrop! It invites to hours of outdoor skating as well as “afterskating” activities – and it’s found right next to the city’s largest Christmas market, which is strung out along the main street Höheweg.
If someone in your family is a watch-lover, you’ll have no problem finding the perfect gift right here in Interlaken – depending on the size of your wallet of course.
The often overlooked Swiss capital is another top destination when it comes to Christmas atmosphere. Several markets, featuring interesting artisan stalls, are found around the cobbled streets and squares of the old town – and the unique arcades along Bern’s historic streets are some of my favourite shopping spots in Europe.
Don’t miss the outdoor skating rink in front of the parliament building – and behind it you can enjoy the view across the surrounding landscapes and the aqua green Aare river.
I recently re-visited the Irish capital – 9 years after my first visit, and this time around the city’s Christmas-decorations were just put up, giving me the chance to experience a bit of the Dublin’s holiday-atmosphere. Especially along Grafton Street where you can shop till you drop, and finish with a well-deserved pint of Guinness at the nearest pub.
As mentioned earlier in this article, I’m not a big shopper myself, but Dublin’s St Stephens Shopping Centre is something different. It’s really worth a visit for the architecture alone – as well as for its decorations on display before Christmas.
Maybe surprising to some, my second “hometown” Madrid is a fabulous Christmas-destination too. Not at least because Christmas lasts longer in Spain, as the Epiphany – or Three King’s Day – is celebrated on January 6th. This means the lights and decorations are kept around until the beginning of the new year, and the main spectacle (even bigger than Christmas) is the night before the 6th, when the kings arrive to Madrid with their parading fleet of fun and treats.
The Spanish capital is also an excellent Christmas-shopping-city, proven when people pack the streets around Calle Preciados and Puerta del Sol – and at the department store El Corte Inglés, the giant cartoon-figure-adorned facade named Cortylandia, is an annual kids-magnets in December. The most classic Christmas market in Madrid is found at the iconic Plaza Mayor.
Enjoy the season wherever you go!
And please let me know in the comments below – or on Travelooney Blog’s Facebook Page – if you have experienced Christmas markets anywhere else in Europe?