I’ve been through the UK and Germany in the first part of my Christmas travelling special, now onto the next destinations on the list!
A fascinating country to visit any time of the year, Austria takes on an even more magical and romantic atmosphere, come November until end of year. The Advent and Christmas season hold a special meaning to the Austrians, and celebrations are based largely on folk traditions, making the holidays come to life in a colourful and twinkling array of soft light and music.
Innsbruck – the Capital of the Alps! A beautiful and fairytale like city, with jagged and dramatic mountainous spires seemingly within touching distance of the gorgeous old imperial town’s squares. If you want to spend Christmas time in the mountains, this is the place to be! The Altstadt Christmas Market (Innsbruck’s traditional Christmas Market) counts among the most beautiful and romantic locations in the entire Alpine region! A stroll through this rustic market (over about 70 stalls) would reveal a delightful selection of Christmas decorations, great arts and crafts, and a few quirky items too! The Maria-Theresien-Straße Market (Innsbruck’s main shopping street) on the other hand, is lit up by glistening crystal trees making it look like magical winter wonderland. The Marketplatz family market, also emanates and cosy and traditional atmosphere whilst the Hungerburg Christmas Market makes for a market with a dramatic experience and view! The journey on Hungerburg hybrid funicular railway, from the centre of town to the various stations, is an experience in itself. Advent concerts and performances are plenty, starting from mid-November and there are a couple of very entertaining Innsbruck city tours available during the Christmas season. You’re sure to find something to get you into the festive mood here!
Salzburg – Such an amazing city! Home of the world-famous “Sound of Music”, and Mozart, and birth place of one of the most famous Christmas carols of all time – Silent Night, this city is indeed the picture perfect “Austria”. With the fast flowing Salzach River lying below the impressive and formidable structures of the clifftop fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg, and the mountains beyond, the city just oozes Yuletide magic during Advent and Christmas!
The Christmas Market right on Cathedral Square has its origins dating back to 1491, making it the oldest in the city. You could easily discover the Christmas Market as part of a guided walking tour as well as learn fascinating facts about the market’s history and about the origin of the song “Silent Night”, Alpine traditions and so much more.With over 90 events, this market offers visitors a hugely varied programme, to suit many different tastes and ages. Manger displays and exhibitions, folk song and dance performances, theatrical shows and a very popular Advent brass concert all contribute to a very busy schedule during the season! The Krampus and Prechten Runs are an experience not to miss, as they are so unique and strange, but could prove a bit too scary for the younger ones. The Krampus traditionally accompany St. Nicholas, who rewards the good children while any naughty children are punished by being swatted the Krampus’ switch. Some of the visitors may also feel an occasional swat from the Krampus’ during the Krampus Run around the Cathedral.
The Christmas market in front of Mirabell Palace has also become a popular attraction for young and old over the last few years. Beautifully decorated stalls invite visitors to stop and browse their wares whilst tasting some of the culinary delicacies and mulled wine on offer.
Vienna – A historical, lush and lavish city, what better way to spend the Christmas season than doing so in the streets of baroque Vienna? Numerous events are held all across the city, ranging from rich and splendid markets, to concerts and ballets in some of the greatest venues of the world. The Christmas Market at Karlsplatz sells only the highest quality goods. It is run by an association of arts and crafts professionals known as divina art, which actually runs quality control on each of the hand-made items sold at the market! You can rest assured that any gifts or souvenirs you buy from here are of the best possible quality. Of course, what’s a visit to a Christmas market without a few nibbles and drinks? You won’t be disappointed here! With ample choice of traditional sweets, snacks and meals, as well as all the mulled wine and punch your heart (and stomach) desires, this place is every foodie’s delight!
The Christmas Market in front of Schönbrunn palace runs from the 21st November to 26th December 2015 and offers an extraordinary and lavish Yuletide experience. Every year over 80 exhibitors from Austria and the neighbouring countries create a unique atmosphere on the splendidly illuminated Parade court of Schönbrunn Palace. There’s a huge twinkling Christmas tree bang in the centre of the plaza, and a hand-carved manger in front of the stage with more than 250 figures created by a master carver from East Tyrol, Franz Oberschneider.
Another un-missable market is the Belvedere Palace Christmas Market which runs all the way up to Christmas Eve. It’s set up right in front of the magnificent Belvedere Palace and provides a more intimate setting, selling traditional handicrafts, food and drinks and Christmas decorations to take home to your loved ones.
There are various musical performances to attend, such as “Bach’s Christmas Oratorio”, the “Christmas in Vienna” concert, a yearly gala event at the Vienna Konzerthaus that features leading singers performing traditional Christmas songs, and of course, a traditional performance of “The Nutcracker”; the world renown ballet set up to take place at the breath-taking State Opera House in Vienna, one of the greatest international venues for classical music and ballet. The Vienna Boy’s Choir is also said to provide an unforgettable experience so check it out should you have the time! It’s a fancy affair, set up at the futuristic, sleek MuTh theatre!
Graz, Austria’s second largest city, albeit more relaxed than Vienna and Salzburg, also offer a fantastic array of Xmas markets, 14 in total, all within walking distance of each other! The oldest market takes place around the Franciscan church and by is the Christmas market in front of the City Hall. A giant Christmas tree decorates this rustic and atmospheric area, and an old fashioned merry-go-round is a fantastic treat for the younger visitors! There’s an ice sculptured nativity scene in the Landhaus courtyard which is worth a visit, and the unique “Office of Christmas Carols, the place to be for all the answers regarding both Alpine and international carols, lyrics, stories and poems of the festive season.
Christmas in this country is known to be breathtakingly beautiful. This compact, multilingual and multicultural country has a multitude of gorgeous Unesco sites to see, and tastes to delight in; ranging from toasty waffles, salty fries, steaming mussels, and the absolutely delectable chocolate! It’s a place to visit, throughout the year, yet is set to impress during the festive season. One of the biggest and the most distinctive feature of Belgium’s Christmas that here, people actually believe in not one, but two Santas! The two figures are known as ‘Pere Noel’ (Santa Claus) and Saint Nicholas (Sinterklaas). Saint Nicholas (who apparently visits speakers of the Walloon language) comes the first time round to check if the kiddies have been good throughout the year. If they’ve behaved well, they receive beautiful gifts on his second visit. The bad kids are given nothing but twigs and rock (haha). Pere Noel or Santa Claus usually visits the French and Flemish speakers. This guy also visits twice, following the same procedure of Saint Nicholas’ routine. There have been times, when a few lucky people had the opportunity to get gifts from both, Saint Nicholas and Pere Noel! So if you’re in the neighbourhood, lets hope you’ve been good enough to get two mysterious gifts this Christmas! 😉
Brussels – Starting off with the country’s capital is a smart way to go right? The Winter Wonders festival, set up in the centre of this impressive city is popular amongst many a visitor! With numerous authentic markets, a large ice-skating rink, a beautiful, huge Christmas tree, a magical and original light and sound show, festive parades and performances and a giant ferris wheel, this destination is set to please all who experience it, young and old! The Winter Wonders festival is set up along a 2 km colourful and vibrant course within the city – making Brussels a fantastic festive destination for all.
Antwerp – Antwerp’s Christmas Market offers visitors great winter pleasures full of light, colour and twinkling fairy lights. Every year The Grote Markt, Suikerrui, Handschoenmarkt and the Groenplaats are transformed into a wonderful market with festive atmosphere. There are loads of things to do and see whilst visiting this lovely place. You can skate around a newly set up ice rink, play a round of miniature golf in a fire forest, shop to your heart’s delight at over 90 wooden stalls and enjoy magnificent sweeping views of the city from a giant Ferris wheel. Of course, all of this is accompanied by food, food, food (and oh yes, mulled wine and punch!!). ❤
Other notable places to visit during the festive season include Ghent; where an impressive market is available for perusal as well as a large ice-skating rink and merry-go rounds for the little ones, Ostend, Leuven, medieval Bruges and Leige where you can find the biggest Christmas village in Belgium, as well as the unique Christmas Market in les Grottes de Wonck – set up in a set of interconnecting caves this is a truly artisanal market with plenty of local produce, including wine, cheese, sweets and cured meats, as well as artwork and jewellery, all made by hand locally.
Home of the delicious swiss cheese, chocolate, cuckoo clocks and yodeling, Switzerland is an absolute delight. Sweeping mountain vistas, crystal clear lakes and vibrant, chic cities, this place has it all! Add some Christmas spirit to this mix and you’re in Yuletide heaven!
Bern – Beautiful Bern is set aglow during the Advent and Christmas season. If there’s one place in Switzerland which truly comes alive with the festive spirit, it’s here! The Old Town houses, dating from the 15th to 17th centuries, provide a fantastic and unique backdrop for the distinctive Bern Christmas markets and whilst Münsterplatz is devoted mainly to arts and crafts, a more traditional market can be found on Wausenhausplatz, just a 10-minute walk away. Here, the enchanting market stalls sell a variety of special candles, gifts and handmade souvenirs. There are even workshops where you can learn to make your own scented candles! The Bundesplatz (Parliament Square) is transformed into a large ice rink for all to enjoy, and if you don’t feel like skating the night away, you can always enjoy a warm mug of Glühwein (mulled wine) and a tasty snack whilst people and scenery watching.
Montreux – This lakeside city is not only a perfectly scenic place to spend the Christmas holidays, it also provides tons of festive activities. The shores of Lake Geneva are lit up with 150 chalets forming the Montreux Christmas Market and the nearby Lumberjack Village hosts stands showcasing international traditions including countries like France, Germany, Hungary, Japan and China! A Santa Claus parade is also on the menu, and in the nearby town of Caux, you can find a Christmas Village where one can find Santa’s workshop, Santa’s Post Office and a fantastic little elves’ village!
St. Gallen – Another favourite for those who love the Christmas spirit and a festive atmosphere, St. Gallen’s romantic old town shines brightly under twinkling star lights, with quaint wooden market stalls lining the streets. Throughout the month of December, up to 700 stars twinkle over the old town’s streets, adding a festive sparkle to the historic facades of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. There’s a huge 20 meter high Christmas tree in the Abbey district, decorated with thousands of shining little lights adding to the magical atmosphere. The St.Gallen Christmas market contains over 70 stalls, and spreads from the Waaghaus, all the way to the Market Square. Carols are sung throughout the festive evenings, and mulled wine flows a plenty. Could it get any more Christmassy than that?
Other places you can visit in Switzerland include St. Moritz (also known for its skiing of course), where you can even catch a seasonal hockey match at Eisarena Ludains to experience something fun and different during your stay, Zermatt, another special treat for those who love skiing and snow boarding, and Lucerne where during the Advent, the Franziskanerplatz is transformed into a town in miniature, crammed with gaily decorated stalls resembling little timber houses, all selling different hand-made souvenirs, gifts and decorations.
So there it is, another three countries off the list! There are still a few Christmassy places to go of course, so keep an eye open for Part III, should be done in the next few days! There are some truly amazing places to visit this festive season, so best thing to do to avoid confusion is to set up a budget, as well as a list of what is most important to you (regarding things to do and see)… Then move on from there! Hope these posts help!
Until next time!