Any town or city can hang up a few lights in the city centre and call it a Christmas festival but there are places in the world that put the rest to shame. If you’re fed up of shoddy lights and a sad-looking tree take a look at these places that really know how to put on a show and offer the best alternative places for holidays at Christmas.
If you’ve got enough holiday to extend your holidays until the 5th of January (Three King’s Day) then there’s no place than Barcelona to spend it with Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar. On Januray 4th the three king’s touch down at the city’s port on their very own ship – Santa Eulalia and completely kitted up in velvet. Canons are fired, fireworks are let of and as the mayor of the city hands over the keys of the city to the kings, the magic of Magi officially starts. The kings are paraded through the streets in an extravagant procession of floats comprising of camels, elephants and giraffes.
Christmas is coming and along with all the cosiness there is also the dreaded Christmas shop. Give something different this year and give yourself a present at the same time. Why not head off on your travels and stock up on traditional European goods from a foreign christmas market and soak up the incredible atmosphere.
Vienna’s Christkindlmaerkt is one of the most famous, and long running in Europe and Vienna makes the perfect setting for this European Christmas Market. A lot of effort goes into the magical decorations and atmosphere and it attracts people from all over the world. Held in front of the town hall, visitors flock to Vienna to grab photos with the famous Christmas decorations, listen to the seasonal music, pick up traditional gifts and of course overindulge on sweet chestnuts. The city also offers the chance to see the glorious Schonbrunn and Imperial palaces and to stuff yourself silly with all the great cakes at the coffee houses.
Decoration – The Christmas Tree is the most well known festive decoration. People use colourful lights, homemade decorations, a bit of tinsel and on top of the tree a big shiny star, symbolising the Star of Bethlehem that revealed the birth of Jesus. But, as always, the Greeks have their own particular traditions! Mainly, in the Greek Islands, the locals decorate a wooden model ship to show their love and appreciation to all the seafarers on duty during these special days.
Christmas delicacies – Apart from the sweet savoury pastries, such as melomakarona (honey cookies with walnuts) and kourabiedes (shortbread-type biscuit usually made with ground almonds – recipe), there’s another special treat made only on the first day of the year. It’s a cake or bread called Vasilopita, and on New Year’s Day families cut the pastry for a blessed and luck year. This is usually done at midnight on New Year’s Eve. A coin is hidden in the bread by slipping it into the dough before baking.
In our weekly series, we go around the world to find the most beautiful, weird and wonderful hotels. From caves to converted prisons, expect the unexpected. This week, we’re celebrating Christmas with a cool hotel made of ice.
What’s the gimmick? Newly rebuilt every year the IceHotel is created from tonnes of snow and ice, in the village of Jukkasjarvi, in Lapland. Although it can drop to -30 C outside, it never gets colder than -5 to -8 degrees inside. The hotel is filled with art made from ice, the beds are made of igloo style blocks of ice and every morning, hot lingonberry juice is offered to warm you up.
Why stay? The IceHotel has everything. On arrival you will be given special insulating clothes and reindeer blankets to fight off any cold. You’ll get your own locker for your luggage and you are advised to pack long johns! Some guidelines from the hotel include leaving your luggage at reception: “Your luggage will be stored in a locked luggage room during your stay. If you bring it to your room, it will freeze during the night.”
One of the pleasures of staying is the surrounding areas, there are night trips to discover the Northern Lights, dog sledding transfers from the airport and evening sauna trips to warm you up. The IceHotel is also offering space travel, having partnered with Virgin Galactic with reservations on the world’s first private space expedition.
The hotel also offers technical trips, where you can learn about CO2 emissions and the technology used to create and manage hotels like this. It’s got an onsite chapel for the coolest wedding imaginable. Oh and a trip to the legendary Ice Bar is a must: it’s so popular it’s been licensed all over the world
1. The World’s Heritage, A Complete Guide to the Most Extraordinary Places
Culture vultures (well, their gift buyers) rejoice! UNESCO’s Complete Guide to the Most Extraordinary Places is a the ultimate in Christmas travel indulgence. Pore over the pics, jot down your own list and get ready to travel the world in the year ahead. With everything from Mayan Temples in Guatemala, to Petra in Jordan and the Acropolis of Athens, it has something for everyone.
2. Rosetta Stone language learning pack
For your dad, who wants to speak a couple of lines of local lingo, pick up a copy of the Rosetta Stone Language Learning pack. Over thirty languages are available in the form of a computer-based course that helps you remember the words, by matching them with images, providing examples of pronunciation along the way.
3. Scratch map
For the show-offs in your life, a Scratch-Off-Where-You’ve-Been-Map is so much fun. Remove the wax to show the parts of the world that are well travelled by your globetrotting skills.
4. Suitcase All Aboard Board Game
Post Christmas dinner, this is a good choice for all the family. Travel to exotic locations but watch out for elaborate obstacles that pop up along the way.
5. iPhone driSuit Endurance
An underwater cover for your iPhone that makes it all James Bond-like. Take pictures under the sea, Instagram from the beach, or record video as you hike through the mountains. The iPhone driSuit Endurance is a protective layer of gel that will keep your phone safe and sound.
Now is the time to head for a Christmas market, let me tell you, there are plenty that are just a quick plane trip from the UK, (and even a few genuine local ones.) It’s the *only* way of getting in the spirit of Christmas. Get away from the crazed Christmas shoppers and head for the spicy gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and the big man himself, Santa Claus in our top ten Christmas Markets around Europe.
Europe’s Christmas markets are all about reclaiming the magic, seeing the pixie dust in the air and soaking up the atmosphere, sparkle (and bargains.) And the best bit? (Apart from meeting Santa?) The arts and crafts. These aren’t just your regular old tourist tat, these are genuine crafts made with love and affection, that’ll look perfect on your tree, or passed on to a lucky loved one.
Get the best price on a Christmas Market break from PurpleTravel.co.uk by calling 02079939228.
Out of 2,500 markets all over Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and France, these are our favourites.
1. Nuremberg, Germany
The Nuremburg Christmas market might just be the most famous one going. Around 180 cute wooden stalls line the main square and there’s even a prize for best design. Don’t panic if you’re thinking it’s all tinsel and plastic, this is the good stuff. There are beautiful carved wooden children’s toys, handmade candles, Christmas tree decorations and bucket loads of the city’s famous gingerbread spicing up the air. The dedicated children’s market, the Kinderweihnacht is really something, with old fashioned steam trains and cookie making courses.
When? November 30 to December 24.
2. Cologne Christmas Markets, Germany
Up to two million Christmas fans pack out Cologne’s four traditional markets every December to take advantage of friendly atmosphere, yuletide tradition, great food and shopping. The centrepiece is the Am Dom market, set right in front of Germany’s most visited monument, the twin spired cathedral. A great choice for little ones too, the city’s old fashioned Alter Markt in the heart of the town is a treasure trove of puppetry, old fashioned merry-go-rounds, candy floss, and the ultimate symbol of the Christmas market: gingerbread.
When: November 26 to December 23.
3. Dresden Christmas Market, Germany
This one goes way back, to 1434, meaning Dresden’s Christmas Market is the oldest in Germany. It’s absolutely drenched in tradition from the stalls offering textiles, hand carved toys, seasonal decorations and lots more, to the locals’ love (obsession?) with Striezel. This is the local fruitcake baked as a loaf and dusted with icing sugar. The highlight has to be the second Sunday every December, when the market holds the Stollen festival. A giant 3,000kg version of the cake is made, harking back to a 16th century tradition where the prince would cut it with a five-foot knife and hand it out to the poor. Nowadays it’s a little more civilised with the glamorous Stollenmadchen, or ‘Miss Cake’, keeping an eye on things.
When: November 30 to December 24.
4. Vienna Christmas Market, Austria
Austria practically makes an art form out of its Christmas markets. The Viennese one dates back over 700 years and is an early starter, meaning it kicks off in November. Here’s how the locals do it: they get all cosy and snug in furs, sip on some of the famous glühwein and moon shaped cookies called Vanillekipferl and wander through the squares. They’ve got lots to see on their stroll, from the spectacular advent windows, the handmade gifts and decorations everywhere you look. The festival also draws choirs from all over the world to perform in the main hall. For little ones there’s plenty to do too, with daily workshops on offer.
When? From November to Christmas
5. Brussels Christmas Market, Belgium
This is one for the foodies. Along with the gorgeous traditional atmosphere, complete with twinkling lights strung along chalet style wooden huts, you’ll find some of the best Christmas fare going. There’s mulled wine, juicy olives, and of course heaps of Belgian chocolates and special speculoos, these are gingerbread biscuits shaped like Santa. However, the piece de resistance must be the moules or snails, served steaming hot. It might not scream Christmas at you but just wait until you try it.
When? November 30 to January 6, 2013
6. Copenhagen Christmas Market, Denmark
The deliciously romantic Copenhagen Christmas market is right out of a storybook. Set in Europe’s oldest amusement park, the 19th century Tivoli Gardens, it’s filled with Christmas trees, fairy lights and fairground rides. The main lake becomes an ice rink and the smell of spiced mulled wine, known as glögg fills the air, as you visit among 60 colourful, hand painted stalls with porcelain dolls, rugs, wooden furniture and silver jewellery. There is even a ‘Pixie Ville’ where you’ll find over 130 mechanical pixies; these are famous in from Danish Christmas folk stories and a 95 year old wooden rollercoaster.
When? November 16 to December 30
7. Innsbruck Christmas Market, Austria
Austria’s Innsbruck makes the ideal choice for a little exercise in the morning and a little shopping in the afternoon. Right up in the Alps, it’s got nine ski resorts to pick from, while the snow peaks mean it’s a perfect Christmassy scene to get you in the mood. Filling the old town’s main square there are plenty of stalls to pick up some crafty Christmas treats, like traditional cribs, decorations and fabrics. Of course, it being a Christmas market, there are plenty of warming mugs of glühwein and roasted chestnuts by the bucket load.
When? November 20 to December 27
8. Prague Christmas Market, Czech Republic
The glowing, Christmassy atmosphere of Prague’s medieval Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square are the perfect backdrop for the classic yuletide market. In front of the famous Astronomical Clock tower, you’ll find plenty of stalls selling all sorts of jewellery, handicrafts, toys and decorations. While the Prague Christmas market is another foodie favourite. There are lots of local favourites like váno?ní cukroví (Christmas cookies) and váno?ní rybí polévka (Christmas fish soup) Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.
When? November 27 to January 2, 2013
9. Budapest Christmas Markets, Hungary
Budapest might just provide the setting for the ultimate treat Christmas Market break. The city is already famous for its spas and history and it really comes alive at Christmas, with around 100 stalls selling decorations and toys made by local craftsmen. There is a huge advent calendar, and delicious festive treats like rétes, a kind of strudel and kenyérlángos a sort of flatbread and of course the infamous Hungarian version of glühwein all to be found in the Vörösmarty.
When? November 18 to December 30
10. Barcelona Christmas Market, Spain
Although maybe not your first choice, Barcelona has a great Christmas tradition and its market dates way back to 1786. There are over 300 stalls selling all sorts of Catalan gifts, decorations and handicrafts, while the 30 miles of ligths that are piled in Fira de Santa Llucia are sure to impress the biggest Scrooge.
It may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas plans, but if, like us, you’d prefer to leave town for the holidays, then you’ll need to book now to get the best prices. If you’re staring at this post with a blank expression, you’re probably a first-timer, but for many of our customers, Christmas is just not complete without a passport, a suitcase and a warm, relaxing sunbed that’s as far away from home as Timbuktu.
A Christmas abroad brings with it a variety of factors – whether good, bad or just plain ugly. Local customs such as the 13 Santa Clauses of Iceland, a black St Nick in Holland and the masked musicians of the Caribbean can be a pleasant cultural awakening, while unexpected seasonal closings and minimal flight availability can be an irritating addition to the holiday – bear in mind, if that twenty-strong family of obese Americans are all competing for the last seats on a flight to sweet potato pie at Big Momma’s House, you’re probably going to lose out.
Yet the real challenge it seems, comes in deciding where exactly is the best place to celebrate this supposedly joyous, but often stressful time of year. Fares skyrocket, offending recession-strapped budgets and deciding between a white Christmas and a golden one can be a pretty tough call.
Rather than worrying your little, paper-hat clad head, why not just book a trip to one of these five destinations that we think are perfect for the Christmas season? Read More