Top 5 Christmas Markets in Europe

christmas markets

Trying to not sound like an X Factor contestant, Christmas hasn’t really been the same since my Dad left a couple of years ago and he seemed to take the magic with him as it just wasn’t the same any more and living in a house share that’s barely decorated it doesn’t even feel like Christmas in the December run up. Whilst we now celebrate with a crazy day at my aunt and uncles I still feel a bit bah humbug as everyone starts to get excited which is eased by the awesome Christmas markets that are held in London and small towns from the middle of November. I would LOVE to visit a Christmas market abroad, especially since falling in love with Berlin a couple of weeks ago but unfortunately my funds and ability to tolerate nob heads on budget airlines has seen me staying put for the time being but I’ve put this awesome list together for those who fancy a romantic weekend away, a shopping trip or a treat for their kids to really get in the Christmas spirit!

1 – London, England

winter wonderlandAs someone who mentally flies the Union Jack at every available opportunity (I’m proud to be British, don’t shoot me) and was born and bred on the mean streets of South London how could I not mention my beloved home town? Situated in the picturesque Hyde Park, just a short stroll from London’s famous shopping strip Oxford Street Winter Wonderland draws in thousands of excited visitors year after year with it’s vast Christmas market, array of bars, eateries and fun fair including a huge big wheel that gives spectacular views over the park lit up in all its glory. Visitors can book in to skate on the glittering ice rink or explore the Magical Ice Kingdom or simply enjoy the magic from a carousel bar that slowly turns (maybe not a good idea after too many mulled wines…) and for a real Christmas treat there’s the Zippos Christmas Circus which is performed in the biggest circus tent in London! It really is a magical place, I return year after year just to see the excitement on everyone’s face and shove my own in a bag of freshly fried churros dripping in chocolate fudge sauce. Yum. A word of warning though it’s quite expensive, expect to pay around £5-8 per ride and food/drinks are quite overpriced as you would imagine. The market itself is full of unique and quirky gifts and the usual London themed tat so if you have friends from overseas there’ll be plenty on offer to keep everyone happy. A great day/night out for all ages and in the heart of London to boot you’ll be mad not to pay a visit, even if you do have to take out a mortgage to buy a hot dog the Instagram likes will be well worth it.

2 – Hamburg, Germany

hamburg christmas marketThe place where it all began! I fell in love with Berlin a few weeks ago and was seriously debating on going back to explore a traditional Christmas market it all its glory but unfortunately funds won’t allow but if I was to go back, Hamburg would definitely be on my radar. Hamburg’s historic Christmas market is bursting at the seams with hand-crafted gifts and goodies from the Erzgebirge region and the bakers from Aachen will have your mouth watering over their delicious cookies and gingerbread creations. Hamburg town hall creates an enchanting, fairytale backdrop (especially in the snow) as old-fashioned carousels whirl with excited children and the occasional pissed adult still clutching a mug of GlühweinNot only does Hamburg have such an electric Christmas market there’s also the romantic Alster lake boat tour and for all you culture vultures there’s an array of Christmas exhibitions and of course the spectacular Christmas parade every Saturday during the run up to the big day. A must for little ones is the chance to see Santa doing his thing as he rallies his reindeer to fly above the market every day at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm telling the story of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. If you’re looking to tie in some last minute shopping with your trip Hamburg is home to elegant boutiques, department stores and shopping malls so take an extra suitcase and your credit card as everything is decorated like a Christmas wonderland and you won’t be able to stop yourself from buying that Swarovski encrusted angel… Germany of course is famous for its beer and bratwurst which are cheap, flavourful and available on every corner so don’t leave without sampling the local wares!

3 – Vienna, Austria

vienna christmas marketThe pretty squares of Vienna transform into a Christmas fairytale as the smells and sights from the beautiful bakeries create a wonderful, warming atmosphere that kids and adults alike will love. In the run up to Christmas the Rathausplatz becomes a shimmering wonderland as 150 or so stalls set up shop shop selling gifts, decorations and sweet treats that are festively decorated and bring the excitement of Christmas alive. Although I’ve never been I know that Austria is fairly expensive when it comes to basics like food and drink so Vienna is maybe not the best bet if you’re on a budget but the scenery is absolutely amazing and probably the largest market around. The trees in the surrounding City Hall pall are festively decorated to really bring the true spirit of Christmas to Vienna making it a top choice if you’re looking to explore somewhere a bit different. You also have the Christmas Village on Maria-Theresien-Platz which is conveniently situated between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum which are well worth checking out on your trip. The romantic Christmas Village is full of handmade gifts and crafts and is a popular spot for locals to watch Winter games such as ‘ice stock sport’, a game similar to curling. A popular choice for kids is the winter market on Riesenradplatz that stocks the usual plethora of gifts and decorations but also a funfair, children’s activities and musical live acts and shows to keep them entertained.

4 – Prague, Czech Republic

prague christmas marketsI’m lucky enough to have been to Prague many times as my company has an office out there and every time I go I fall a little more in love with it. Everywhere you look there is beauty, not just in the architecture and parks but in the people too, the Czech’s are absolutely stunning and all look like they’ve just stepped off a photo shoot (as a city known for its huge porn industry it’s probably quite likely a lot of the beautiful girls have just stepped off a photo shoot…) so there’s that. Although the Winter months can be bitterly cold the breathtaking views from the Charles Bridge are what Christmas cards are made of as snowflakes delicately whisper around the historical statues that line the famous structure and are just a stone’s throw from the 2 main squares where the all the Christmas market action is happening. The markets take on the traditional wooden hut theme and are packed to the rafters with glassware, jewellery, metalware, ceramics, scented candles and a vast array of Christmas decorations and food. The Christmas markets in Prague have so much more to offer than just gifts as you can see and smell Czech’s most traditional food and drink made and prepared right in front of you from spit-roasted pork to delicately sugared pastries which fill the air with the spirit of Christmas. To accompany all the wonderful food on offer you must sample the famous Czech beer Pilsner Urquell or a mug of spiced mulled wine to warm you up after a hard day of sightseeing and alcohol is pretty cheap with local beer coming in at around 60p a pint just outside of the main tourist spots. For children, the market in the Old Town Square also has an animal stable where kids can pet goats, donkeys and sheep as well as explore a large Bethlehem scene housed in a wooden stable. Wenceslas Square is home to the huge Christmas tree which is beautifully decorated and makes for stunning pictures with the gothic architecture of Prague city centre as a backdrop making the atmosphere simply magical.

5 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Frankfurter Weihnachtsmarkt eröffnetThe adult playground of Europe, Amsterdam is so much more than just soft drugs and prostitutes but of course they’re there in abundance if that’s your thing and I’ve explored the city many times and had a bloody good time! There’s a certain magic about Amsterdam that I can’t quite put my finger on, and no it’s not just after visiting one of their delightful coffee shops but as soon as you make your way out of the train station you just get this feeling that there’s a lot of fun to be had. I’ve visited Amsterdam during the Christmas period and the seedy underbelly of the red light district and coffee shops are pushed to one side as the huge Christmas tree in the city centre brings a real touch of magic to a city with a reputation for such debauchery. Leidsestraat is home to various Christmas markets and stalls throughout the Winter months and they also have an ice rink which is open until late January so if you can’t escape until after the festive period you’ll still be able to grab a slice of Christmas magic. A little further out is the Christmas at Castle Keukenhof event which is one of the largest Christmas market events in the Netherlands and is the perfect choice for families as kids will be spoilt for choice with all the various entertainment and shows going on. Amsterdam also has the bonus of being a very short flight from the UK so the perfect choice if flying with kids who get a bit restless whilst flying, flights with budget airlines tend to be pretty cheap too.

The ultimate tourist guide to Berlin.

To say I fell in love with Berlin would be a huge understatement, I was infatuated with the art that seemed to decorate every building and not just random graffiti scrawled on a disused office or shop that was only fit for being destroyed, major shopping centres and bustling skyscrapers had incredible art work from floor to ceiling, a particular favourite of mine was a huge image of a monkey with ‘monkey say, monkey do’ written underneath it on a fancy office block I spotted on my way back to the airport. I was going too quickly on the train to snap it myself and I’ve scoured the internet left, right and centre but with no luck! Hopefully I’ll be going back soon for the Christmas markets and I’ll make it my mission to find it but I think out of all the awesome, awesome street art I saw that monkey was the one that truly made an impact. As a huge art, history and culture vulture I knew Berlin was going to blow my mind and luckily my colleague is from the grand city itself so she thoughtfully drew up this AMAZING itinerary for me which came in extremely useful. We purchased the Berlin Welcome Card as advised but we bought the wrong one! Our one was for transport and discounts, NOT free entry into the museums and the person who served us wouldn’t refund or change it for us so we were stuck with it so if you do purchase a Welcome Card make sure you get the right one!

I was only there for 2 days and we managed to do pretty much everything on the list although I was pretty sick (I got struck down with a cold the day I flew out, gah) and as drinking wasn’t on the agenda we didn’t hit up any of the bars. The highlights of the trip for me was definitely the cathedral and all the little markets by the canal, sitting on a deck chair there with a German beer in the sunshine watching the world go by was beautiful. I really liked the socialist museum and the Jewish museum was a real eye opener, everything we ate was really good and fairly cheap, the currywurst sausages are available on pretty much every corner and there’s a huge Turkish community so if kebabs are your thing you’ll be spoilt for choice! The little flurry of shops and restaurants by the Anne Frank museum was probably one of my favourite places to just walk around and admire the street art that adorned every wall, everything seemed to tell a story and the talent of these artists is just incredible. The weather was amazing when we were there and I would strongly advise taking an open top bus tour, especially if the sun is shining and you’re only there for a few days as you get to see a lot more than you would on foot in just under 2 hours. The bus is really good value for money, it’s around 10 euro with the Welcome Card and you can hop on and off as you please, we viewed a lot of the big attractions (including the hotel that Michael Jackson dangled his out of, out guide was really excited to tell us this LOL) and we got the best view of the holocaust memorial as well as the TV tower and it’s interesting hearing a guide telling you a bit of background history as and when you go past.

The public transport system is fantastic, with the Welcome Card all your journeys are included, you simply stamp your ticket before you make your first trip on a train, tram or bus and away you go. There’s no serious security like here in London, they seem to trust people to pay unlike over here… The trains run every few minutes, they’re clean, comfortable and it’s very easy to navigate your way around the city although we did use Google maps a lot of the time to direct us exactly where to go.

If art and history are you thing, you MUST visit Berlin.

Berlin anne frank museum

Museums/Galleries

Museum Island (Museumsinsel)

A unique ensemble of five museums in Berlin’s Spree River, UNESCO World Heritage site

Walk from S Hackescher Markt or S Friedrichstraße

Pergamonmuseum Three museums in one (Collection of Classical Antiquities, Museum of the Ancient Near East, Museum of Islamic Art), the best one on Museum Island Am Kupfergraben 510178 Berlindaily 10-18, Thu 10-20
Bodemuseum Baroque Museum, art from the middle ages to the 18th century Monbijoustr. 310117 BerlinTue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-22
Alte Nationalgalerie 19th century painting (Monet, Renoir etc.) Bodestr. 310178 BerlinTue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-22
Neues Museum Egyptian Museum, Papyrus Collection, Museum of Pre- and Early History and Classical Antiquities (this museum displays the bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti!!!!!) Bodestr. 310178 BerlinMo – Wed 10 – 18,Thur 10 – 20Fr – Su 10 bis 18 h Uhr
Altes Museum Berlin’s oldest museum, Classical Antiquities collection, Greek and Roman holdings Am Lustgarten 110178 BerlinTue-Sun 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thu 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Other museums/galleries:

Anne Frank Zentrum Safe house for persecuted Jews, Anne Frank’s Diary (German-born Jewish girl who wrote a diary while hiding with her family) Rosenthaler Straße 3910178 BerlinS Hackescher Markt (S5, S7, S75)Tue – Sun 10-185,- Euro, red. 3 Euro,
DDR Museum 40 years of GDR, how life was in socialism Karl-Liebknecht-Str. 110178 BerlinMon – Sun 10-20, Sat 10-22S Hackescher Markt (S5, S7, S75)7 Euro, red. 4 Euro
Checkpoint Charlie Chronicle of the Cold War Years, escape attempts made by GDR citizens to reach  the West Friedrichstr. 4310969 BerlinMon-Sun 9-2212,50 Euro, red. 6,50 Euro (you don’t have to go into the museum, just seeing the checkpoint from the outside is enough)U Kochstr./Checkpoint Charlie(U6)
Jewish Museum Berlin Two millennia of German-Jewish- history (impressive architecture!) Lindenstr. 910969 BerlinDaily 10 am – 8 pm; Mondays 10 am – 10 pm8 Euro, red. 3 Euro.U Hallesches Tor

Free Stuff:

East Side Gallery 1,3 km-long painted stretch of the former Berlin wall Mühlenstraße (near Oberbaumbrücke)10243  BerlinU Schlesisches TorU1U Ostbahnhof
Holocaust Memorial Memorial honouring and remembering up to six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust (walk along the pathways into a claustrophobic maze!) Walk from S+U Potsdamer Platz, S Brandenburger Tor or U Mohrenstraße

Sightseeing tip:

You can easily see Berlin’s most important sights in one go.

Start your tour at U+S Alexanderplatz, where you can find the TV Tower (Berlin’s highest construction), the World Time Clock and the Fountain of Friendship amongst people.

Walk all the way down Karl-Liebknecht-Straße and you’ll pass The Neptune Fountain (Berlin’s most famous fountain), Berlin’s Red City Hall (home to the Berlin government and mayor) and Nikolaiviertel (Berlin’s oldest district).

Keep walking along Karl-Liebknecht-Straße and you’ll walk past the beautiful Spree river, on to Schlossplatz street and the Museum Island all the way down to the Brandenburg Gate (and the German Parliament is nearby too).

Just walk straight ahead from Alexanderplatz( first Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, then Schloßplatz, then Unter den Linden)

From Brandenburg Gate you can walk down to Potsdamer Platz (one of the most famous squares in the centre of Berlin) and pass the Holocaust Memorial. Another famous landmark is the Sony Center, also at Potsdamer Platz.

You can also discover Berlin by bus. The number 100 bus route is an ideal way to make your own sightseeing tour. Hop on the bus at Alexanderplatz and it will take you along Karl-Liebknecht-Straße towards the Brandenburg Gate. You’ll pass the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral), Schloßplatz and Museum Island. Get off at “Unter den Linden” and enjoy the view of the Brandenburg Gate (really impressive at night!). And then walk to the Reichstag (German parliament).

Hop on the same bus at the “Reichstag/Bundestag” bus stop and travel past Bellevue Palace (residence of the President of Germany) towards the Victory Column (Siegessäule, monument to celebrate Germany’s victory over France in the Franco-Prussian war). The bus also takes you to Kurfürstendamm with the Kaiser Wilhelm Church. Ku’Damm (that’s how “Berliners” call Kurfürstendamm) is Berlin’s most famous shopping street (a bit like Oxford Street). The most prestigious department store “KaDeWE” is also on Ku’damm. The bus route 100 ends at Zoo (Berlin Zoologischer Garten).

Berlin transport:

Berlin has three fare zones: A, B and C. You can get tickets for AB or ABC. Most attractions are located in zone A and B, so I would recommend getting a ticket that allows unlimited travelling. Think about getting a Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island ABC (ABC since Berlin Schönefeld Airport is located in zone C), which includes unlimited travelling on public transport services for 72 hrs. This card also gives you free entry to the museums of the Museum Island. Also, you’ll get at least 25% and up to 50% discount for more than 200 tourist and cultural attractions. You can buy the Berlin Welcome Card Museum Island ABC at Schönefeld Airport (and you’ll get a free map and handy guide with the ticket). The ticket costs 40.50 Euros (about 31 pound).

Useful websites:

http://www.berlin.de/en/

http://www.berlin-welcomecard.de/en

http://www.exberliner.com/

Bars near your location (we stayed in Mitte)

Aufsturz Over 100 beers
Oranienburger Straße 6710117 Berlin

12-2 am

S Oranienburger Str.

S1 S2 S25

U Oranienburger Tor

U6

X-Terrain Bar Great little cellar bar (and the last authentic one on Oranienburger Straße) Oranienburger Str. 40
10117 BerlinS Oranienburger Str.S1 S2 S25U Oranienburger TorU6
Brauhaus Mitte Good cheap German beer Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 13S Hackescher MarktS5 S7 S75S+U Alexanderplatz Bhf
Wohnzimmer German for ‘living room’ (and this is exactly how it looks like) Lettestraße 6, 10437 Berlin,9 -4 amU Eberswalder Straße
Prater Garten Berlin’s oldes beer garden Kastanienallee 7-9,U Eberswalder Straße
Bar 3 Hipster arts bar Weydingerstrasse 20 (backstreet of Torstraße)U2 Rosa Luxemburg Platz
Le croco bleu Stylish cocktail bar Prenzlauer Allee 242U Senefelderplatz
Konnopkes Imbiss Berlin’s best currywurst Schönhauser Allee 42U Eberswalder STraße

 

10 things you must do in Barcelona.

Barcelona is one of those cities that will simply blow you away as soon as you step off the plane and inhale the sweet Mediterranean air. The whole vibe of the place is buzzing, but in a warm, welcoming way that makes you feel as if you’ve just got home after a long day at work rather than the fast paced whir of London or New York. With the city drenched in history and architecture as well as a huge shopping district and party scene there’s something for everyone here and with flights from under £50 Barcelona is fast becoming a top European hot spot for city breaks. I’ve been lucky enough to visit twice with my most recent trip being last February, the weather cool but bright, perfect for a girly weekend of sight seeing and exploring. Here are my top ten picks of things to do if you ever find yourself in the sunkissed city of Barcelona…

1 – Drink a Spanish beer whilst lazing on the grass watching the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. The light show is absolutely amazing, the fountain ‘dances’ along to music and it’s the perfect way to wind down after a day of sightseeing and the best thing is it’s completely free.

2 – Walk the full length of Las Ramblas, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the city. One of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks is the pedestrianized boulevard where everything happens. Stretching from the port all the way to Plaça Catalunya here is where you will find the heart of the city, from the markets and Gothic Quarter to street performers, cafe’s, bars, shops and as the sun sets the southern end of Las Ramblas becomes a low key red light district… If that’s your thing.

3 – Sip Sangria at Port Vell, find a gorgeous rooftop bar in the afternoon and stay to catch the sunset. If it’s one thing the Spanish do well, it’s food and drink. A litre jug of sparkling sangria will set you back around 10 euro’s and teamed with the stunning views, good conversation and the warm afternoon sunshine there’s no better way to wile away a couple of hours.

4 – Buy a delicious porras from one of Barcelona’s many quaint bakeries. Along witth the cronut and churros, porras are a frequent find in the bakeries that are scattered around the city. Most are just hole in the wall type places which charge less than a euro for a cream filled porras and are very delicious and just a little bit addictive… We were having them for breakfast most mornings when we were hungry and hungover. Oops.

5 – Take a dip in the sea and sunbathe on the sandy beaches that fringe the city with an indulgent cocktail. No trip to Barcelona is complete without a swim in the beautiful clear waters! It really is the city that has it all and the gorgeous beaches are the icing on the cake, especially with all the cocktail bars and fabulous cheap eateries that are just a few metres away.

6 – Buy an ice cream from the La Boqueria food market. With every flavour you can think of you’ll be spoilt for choice and there’s also an amazing range of fresh fruit and smoothies for those who prefer a healthier sweet treat. The food market also sells a wide range of meat, cheese, olives, bread and fish and samples are plentiful which is quite handy if you’re hungry but spent all your money on sangria.

7 – Enjoy delicious tapas from a street cafe and watch the world go by. Spicy potatoes, olives, cheese, calamari and cold meats are the most common components of a traditional tapas spread and can be found in the small, quaint restaurants on the outskirts of the city but more contemporary spots in the city will surprise you more exotic choices and of course, accompanying Spanish wine.

8 – Skim the city skyline in a Port Cable Car and see the sights from a different view. Not for the faint hearted, the structures are a bit old and creak like they’re going to break at any moment but no one has died yet and it’ll be worth the mini heart attack for all those fabulous Instagram pictures.

9 – Explore the organic architecture of Anotoni Gaudi by visiting some of his most famous creations, Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. It’s well worth booking an audio tour to learn more about the stunning church and if you’re feeling athletic, the stunning view from the top of the tower are breathtaking.

10 –  Make new friends and party the night away at one of the many nightclubs and live music venues in the Gothic Quarter. As the Spanish tend to eat quite late, at around 10pm the clubs and bars don’t tend to be busy until the early hours of the night and tend to go on right up until 6am. Make sure you squeeze in a siesta and fill your tummy with tapas so you can keep up!

Barcelona Zoo and L’Aquarium de Barcelona are well worth a visit too, especially if you’re travelling with children. Avoid expensive taxi’s as the public transport system is great, especially the subway where you can buy a 10 ride ticket for 10 euros and travel the whole city in air conditioned greatness.