Finally, the Summer heat has started to fade away into a cooler Autumn breeze, the sea is getting too cool for comfort, and the smell rain is a now welcome scent to nearly every Maltese nostril. Yes, with Fall being just around the corner, cooler days are on the way! Although most of us do love those long summer days, with 8:30PM sunsets, delicious, smokey barbecues and our favourite Cisk Lager can in hand, we all look forward to our cosy moments indoors with a grey, rainy, gusty day blowing outside our windows. With the coming of Autumn, us Catholic (and not so Catholic) Maltese start thinking about one of the most awaited festivities of the year, Christmas! We love Christmas!!! Those twinkling fairy lights and colourful baubles on the tree, the smell of cinnamon and mulled wine, the tasty ginger biscuit treats! What’s not to love?! Where shall we be celebrating it this year?? I personally love spending the holidays with my loved ones. I try my best to appreciate the most beautiful thing in the world on this holiday, my family. Travelling during the Christmas season is also a fantastic experience. Not only do you get to see some amazing traditional Christmas decorations, you can also get a taste of how different cultures experience this global celebration. After all, what better way to connect with our foreign cousins, than during the happy and festive Christmas season!
I’ve compiled a list of places I think are the best options for those looking into spending Christmas time abroad, and I’ve focused on Europe since most of my followers are from Malta, or mainland Europe and the UK. This does not, by any way, mean that I would say no to spending the holiday season in New York, so if anyone wants to make an offer, by all means, go ahead! 😉 Even so, thought I would stick to a more budget friendly option considering monetary and time restraints (especially for those travellers with kids). Here it is, a short list of fantastic, Christmassy place to visit!
Munich – Spending the Xmas holidays in Munich is a real treat. With a variety of Christmas Markets springing up all along the city’s old town, churches and cathedrals being filled with holiday carols and organ recitals, and the main shopping streets glowing with sparkling Christmas decoration, Munich is an ideal place to spend the winter holidays! Some places which you should definitely pass by are:
The Christkindl Market – Celebrated in the gorgeous Marienplatz, this market is the highlight of Munich’s holiday season! The Christkindl market features more than 160 traditionally decorated booths, and the fair is a great place to buy authentic Bavarian wood carvings and traditional toys, some pretty Christmas ornaments and tree baubles, and bees’ wax candles. The 30-meter tall Christmas tree, lit by 2,500 candles adds a magical, fairytale-like atmosphere to the large square! Within walking distance of the Christkindl Market is the Munich Manger Market (Kripperlmarket), dating back to 1757! This market is devoted to mangers and nativity figures made in Germany. Ideal for some wonderful souvenirs, as well as buying supplies to make your own nativity scene at home.
- Tollwood Winter Festival – This is an international Christmas market, so you’ll get to see items from all over the world in this festival! You’ll also get to see some great musical, theatrical and circus performances!
- Munich Open Air Ice Rink – Between November and early January, situated right in Munich’s famous shopping district at the Karlspatz Square you can find a large, open air ice skating rink. Give it a shot! You could always sip a nice hot chocolate whilst you watch your partner or kids make fools of themselves if you’re not into the skating scene. 😉
- Christmas Village in the Royal Residence – Yet another Christmas village, set up in the Munich Royal Residence – so you’ll get some cultural points here, not just shopping!
- Christmas Music in Munich’s Church of Our Lady – Throughout December, Bavarian choirs and musicians perform classical concerts, organ recitals, and music-filled church services. Concerts usually require a ticket purchase although services are free – so check at the church entrance for more details.
Nuremberg – One of the world’s most famous Christmas markets is in this lovely Bavarian city. Just about an hour away from Munich by train, this place is definitely worth a visit if you’re into the Christmas Market scene! A delicious aroma of grilled sausage, ginger and mulled wine greets you as you move towards the old town’s main square. The Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt is first mentioned in history in 1628, so it’s OLD! Here you can find about 180 wooden market stalls filled with delicious Christmassy food, handmade Christmas decorations and souvenirs. Make sure to taste the traditional ginger cookies during your visit, and you MUST have a hot mug of mulled wine in your hands whilst perusing the stalls! It comes along in a beautifully designed Christmassy mug, which is a guaranteed souvenier success for when you get back home. You could also take a tour around the market in an an old, horse-drawn stagecoach. The Rheinland Heavy Draft horses are impressive, and very photogenic! The tour takes around 10 minutes and costs 4 Euros per adult (and 2.50 Euros for the little ones).
Rothenburg – Another Xmas market favourite can be found in Rothenburg. Every year, this medieval city transforms itself into a fairytale winter wonderland! This tradition has been going on for the past 500 years, with the narrowly winding streets and picturesque squares around the town hall and its archways being lined with wooden booths, appropriately decorated for the festive season. You can find a delightful Christmas village right in the centre of the old town, and burn off some of those Christmas sweet calories by climbing up to 200 and some steps of the Town Hall Tower to enjoy marvelous views over the Christmas Market and the town itself.
Berlin – Berlin shines in a festive blaze during the Christmas season. Well known for it’s techno music, being a mecca for the night owls, and its avant guard art scene, this metropolitan city transforms itself into a magical, winter wonderland come Advent. There are over 60 Christmas markets to wander round – from the traditional to the trendy and urban, there’s something for every visitor in town (list of Xmas markets here!). A few must visit places include:
- The Charlottenburg Palace – The sumptuous, baroque palace is the perfect backdrop for this luxurious, higher end Christmas Market. The market offers high quality handicrafts as well as historical rides like swings, carousels, and swing carousels for children and vintage fans alike. In addition to the traditional wooden Christmas market stalls selling hot chestnuts, crepes or Hungarian langos, many hotels and restaurants from the city offer fine dining in heated tents. A visit to the Christmas market in front of Charlottenburg Palace is wonderfully combined with a tour of the palace or a leisurely walk through its gardens – a perfect combination of festivities and cultural delights!
- Alexanderplatz – The Christmas market on Alexanderplatz is an ideal setting for those looking for some fun! More of a funfair than a market, this place has a variety of fun activities for all visitors, mature and young, with its ice skating rink, carousels, raffle ticket booths and a large 60 meter high ferris wheel (perfect for a bird’s eye view of the city).
- The Gendarmenmarkt – For a more traditional market go to the Gendarmenmarkt. Located between two cathedrals and the Baroque Konzerthaus (concert hall), it offers visitors a festive mix of culinary delights and handicrafts, as well as a mix of festive musical, theatre and art performances.
- The Unter den Linden – This gorgeous city boulevard is flamboyantly lit during the Christmas season, making for the perfect, romantic evening stroll. Using over 60km of fairy lights to decorate the 220 lime trees between the Brandenburg Gate and the Humboldt University, this truly makes for a magical festive experience.
- Spandau Christmas Market – Located in the old town of Spandau, a district on the western outskirts of Berlin, this traditional Christmas market is said to be one of the most attractive in Germany! Over 250 stalls display delicious foods, and handicrafts from four continents. Outside the market, fairground people, musicians and entertainers help visitors get into the Christmas spirit. Perfection! 🙂
Cologne – Cologne’s Christmas markets attract millions of visitors from all over the world every year. The city’s cathedral is not only the centre and heart of the Cologne, it’s also the number one attraction in Germany with more then six million visitors per year.
It is the third highest Cathedral in the world and it has enough space for 4,000 visitors and is an absolute beauty to behold! There are numerous activities which take place in this wonderful city during the Christmas season, mainly involving the traditional markets, a cosy, Advent boat trip on the Rhine river (about 1.5hours), and of course, a visit to the famous “House of Fragrances 411” at Glockengasse 4711. This is where the world known perfume “4711” was developed and produced in former times. The store includes a museum which you can visit with a tour guide.
Germany is just FULL of Christmassy delights and festivities! Apart from the cities I mentioned above, I would also recommend you have look at Aachen, Dusseldorf, Dresden, Leizpig, Stuttgart, and Baden-Baden. All have a multitude of festive exhibits, markets, festivities and delicious foods to sample and delight in!
London – The country’s capital is an ideal hub of all thing Christmas, fun and shopping! It is an absolutely spectacular Christmas destination.
- Hyde Park Winter Wonderland returns yearly in mid-November for six exciting weeks of winter festivities with free admission and an array of entertainment to suit every visitor’s tastes. With more than 100 rides and attractions on site, there’s something for the young, and the young at heart alike! The German Christmas Market, within the Winter Wonderland, has over 200 wooden huts (also known as chalets) to peruse, ranging from delicious German sausage and potato waffles, to wood crafts, ceramics, candles, jewellery and wooden toys, apart from a large variety of Christmas decorations to suit all tastes.
The sub-zero Magical Ice Kingdom hosts amazing and intricate ice sculptures and is the biggest ice and snow sculpture experience of its kind in the UK. There’s also a temporary ice-rink set up around a picturesque Victorian Bandstand within the park, on which live music is played throughout the day and night as skaters take to the ice for a spin. This rink is the UK’s largest, stretching over 1,600 m2!
- Winter Festival at Southbank Centre – The Southbank Centre, by the River Thames, is transformed into a magical landscape during Christmas time with a bustling traditional market, twinkling Christmas lights and a host of entertainment possibilities and seasonal events for all to enjoy! Have a look at the centre’s website to see what it has to offer this Christmas season!
- London Christmas Eve Shows – This one is bound to make even the most “humbugy” Christmas skeptics into the festive spirit!! Many of London’s theatres and performance venues put on one last show the day before Christmas day, usually being morning or early afternoon matinee performances. Watch one of London’s top Christmas shows such as the Royal Ballet’s Nutcracker or enjoy one of the West End’s smash-hit musicals such as Matilda, on Christmas Eve.
- Christmas Carols and Concerts – Another activity which is sure to get you into the Yule spirit – a carol concert! The Royal Albert Hall or St Martin-in-the-Fields offer a gorgeous candlelit concert on Xmas Eve, whilst St. Paul’s Cathedral has a 4:00PM carol service (expect queues). Westminster Abbey also has services and carols on Christmas Eve. So as you see, there’s quite a variety for you to listen to and experience! Enjoy!
- Xmas Shopping Hot Spots – Many and closely packed within the city, you’re in shopping heaven when in London! Oxford and Regent Street are lit up with a spectacular show of Christmas lights making for a picturesque shopping experience. Watch out for Selfridges (Oxford Str.) window displays – they are the most lavish and artful in all the city. Head towards Knightsbridge as darkness falls to see its famous department store, Harrods, gloriously illuminated by 11,500 light bulbs. You should NOT miss the store’s giant Christmas shop, with luxury decorations, posh crackers and the hugely popular Christmas Grotto. Even if you’re on a budget and don’t buy
anything, visiting is an experience within itself. Carnaby’s pedestrianised streets are the place to go when you’re buying a gift for that super-cool friend or family member who already has everything. This is one of London’s coolest shopping destinations, lined with independent fashion boutiques and cutting-edge brands. Covent Garden also pulls out all the stops for a Christmas time bonanza. Showcasing London’s largest Christmas tree, accompanied by live reindeer, just visiting the area to see the festive decorations and street performers is enough of a treat within itself!
The list could go on an on. There’s such a of variety of this to do in this amazing city even when it’s not Christmas! Visiting the London Tower, Camden, Buckingham Palace, the British Museum and the London Eye are just of few other things to do on your trip!
Bath – Head to this historic, World Heritage City of Bath for an idyllic festive shopping break. There are a number of activities taking place during the Christmas season, making this city an ideal short break during the holidays. Bath Xmas Market us of course unmissable if visiting. There are over 170 chalets selling unique and often handmade Christmas gifts, decorations and souvenirs. There are also delicious stalls catering for every foodie, selling tempting mulled wine and cider, pies, slow cooked pork and yummy waffles too! If you’re visiting earlier on, the festive Lantern Procession from The Holburne Museum (20th November) is an enchanting spectacle, with hundreds of huge, intricate hand-crafted lanterns paraded along Great Pulteney Street. A fantastic open air ice rink is also set up just in front of the Royal Crescent in Royal Victoria Park. A fun opportunity to get active during the Xmas season (haha), but don’t worry, your efforts won’t go unheeded; there’s a pizzeria and bar right next to the rink to grab a bite and recover after skating! Longleat also looks like a fantastic time during the Xmas season – you can find a giant singing Christmas tree, an ice rink, a Santa express train and a winter safari, but the best thing about Longleat at Christmas is the Festival of Light, where the night sky is lit up with hundreds of huge Chinese lanterns. ❤ I would definitely make some time to visit the thermal baths if I were to visit the city at the time. Hot, steaming waters and cold, Christmassy weather, do blend so well, don’t they?
Birmingham – This metropolitan city boasts the largest authentic German market in Europe outside of Germany and Austria, the Frankfurt Christmas Market & Craft Fair, with 180 wooden huts, covering New Street, Victoria Square and Centenary Square. There’s a variety of products on sale, including Christmas decorations, handcrafted jewellery, carved wooden toys, sausages, beer and pretzels and tasty, tasty cream filled dohnuts. The Christmas Craft Market on the other hand, will offer locally made handmade crafts, soaps and candles, as well as a wide range of unique and quirky items imported from around the world. There’s a gorgeous big wheel at one end of the market and an ice rink for the olympic skaters ;).
Manchester – The people of Manchester like to brag about this one! Said to be the original, biggest and best Christmas market in the country, the Manchester Christmas Markets is the ideal destination for a festive break. Spread across 10 individual sites – each with its own distinctive character – the market has something to offer every kind of visitor. Some 300 beautifully crafted stalls line the heart of the city centre, offering mouth-watering international food, drinks and finely crafted Yuletide gifts and decorations. Cathedral Gardens offers an array of festive entertainment options, including LED light performers and magicians and if you would like to see the city and the Christmas market from an unusual perspective, climbing the 161 steps of the town hall tower would be well worth the effort, rewarding the visitor with lovely panoramic views.
Edinburgh – Scotland’s beautiful and historic capital city provides the perfect backdrop for a Christmas destination! Hosting a variety of shows, yuletide events, rides and attractions, this city is well worth a visit during the festive season! Running from November on to January, there is definitely no shortage in things to do here. The Christmas markets in the city centre are a popular highlight of Edinburgh’s Christmas. One can enjoy delicious food and drink, as well as traditional crafts at the Scottish Market in St Andrew Square, pick up unique, quirky gifts and goods at the European Market in the Mound Precinct, or choose presents for the kids in the Children’s Market, part of Santa Land in Princes Street Gardens. Over the Christmas period the Gardens transform into a winter wonderland, complete with twinkling lights decorating the trees, christmas decorations and baubles, and an ice Rink and a funfair.
There is also a German Market with pretty, wooden stalls selling hot food, mulled wine, crafts and gifts. Be sure to check out the theatres for Christmassy musical shows and performances. If you’re looking into something more traditional, visit the Edinburgh Castle to discover and learn about the traditions of a Victorian Christmas, from the origins of the Christmas cracker to hearing about how Mary, Queen of Scots would have celebrated Christmas. You could also book your Christmas lunch at the Castle for a truly authentic historical experience!
As with Germany, the UK list could go on an on with loads of other notable places to visit and see during the Christmas festivities including Newcastle, Leeds, Oxford, and Glasgow, amongst others!
This is as far as I will go in Part 1 of my Christmassy post! Keep an eye on the blog though as there are more destinations coming up, including Poland, Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and Finland!
Just a quick note to all my readers – unlike my other blog pictures, these photos are not mine. I do not have any copyright over them and actually obtained them from various websites including local council sites, and tourism sites.
Have a good week, happy travelling!