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
As 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
The 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 Glühwein. Not 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
The 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
I’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
The 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.