It’s Christmas and it’s cold; the perfect season to jet off on a European city break. Every year in December I have escaped England, snapped up a cheap Ryanair flight, and partied with the locals in a European city. Here are a couple of my favourite seasonal destinations.
Nordic countries are renowned for their cold climate: in Sweden there’s snow higher than 6” and everyone wears thermals from October until March. Despite the cold, it is breathtakingly beautiful. Swedish design and simplicity highlights Stockholm’s reputation as ‘Venice of the North.’
Visit the Vasa museum, a 380-year old war ship, or take a trip to Grona Lund, Sweden’s oldest theme park. Fill yourself up on Dagens (cheap lunch menus which provide food and drink). Swedish food is simplistic but amazing, and happens to comprise of more than just meatballs (Köttbullar). For those who don’t know Swedish whatsoever, don’t worry: everyone in Sweden speaks English, and everyone is friendly – except if you happen to bump into Lisbeth Salander. If you’re going for more than just the weekend, why not take a train up to Lapland and see the northern lights?
Due to Amsterdam’s location near canals it is a cold city; order some chips with mayonnaise or pindersaus (peanut sauce – a Dutch speciality) to warm yourself up in the chill season. The iconic tourist attraction in Amsterdam is Anne Frank’s house – the place where Anne Frank wrote her famous diary during the German occupation of the Netherlands. Beware of the long queues in winter. Another must see attraction is the Vincent Van Gogh museum, the most visited museum of the Netherlands, with the largest collection of Van Gogh paintings in the world.
Tours are aplenty in Amsterdam: take a boat tour across the canals or a walking tour of the city. However if you want to explore the canals and the picturesque houses make sure you don’t accidentally wind up in the red light district as I did… Oh, and apparently there are some coffee shops?
Budapest, capital of Hungary, is slap-bang in the middle of Europe and always a welcome addition to any summer inter-rail, but in the winter it’s cold-cold-cold. Comprising of two separate cities: Buda, and Pest (yeah, it was news to me too) which are separated by the river Danube, it is a very different place to visit. Food is affordable and drinks are cheap. Take the Budapest funicular for a view of the whole city – although in winter it may be misty and dull. It is fast overtaking Prague as the stag-do capital of Europe. If that’s not your thing, visit the thermal baths which have healing qualities, and luxuriate in the warming waters…
Nottingham’s Christmas market really doesn’t capture the spirit of Berlin’s worst Christmas market! Berlin is jam-packed with them, so you can bathe in Gluhwein and naturally gorge on German sausages to your heart’s content!
Take a stroll along Unter Den Linden (a street of lime trees), and Kurferstendam (what the Champs-Elysses is to Paris, or Oxford Street to London) which are both illuminated by Christmas lights in the festive season. Take a day trip to the Brandenburg Gate and stop by the Reichstag on the way. If you’re interested in the Cold War, visit Checkpoint Charlie, which divided West and East Berlin, or the Stasi museum – a fascinating insight into the East German regime.
The City of Love is fantastically lit up at this time of year. Visiting Paris in winter definitely has its perks; it’s less busy and certainly less hot than the tourist-overrun capital in summer. You will actually be able to snatch a seat on the Metro and not die of raging heatstroke, and can ‘parlez’ with the French, who usually head off to the Cote d’Azur to escape the influx of summer tourists.
If you are looking for a bit of fun, take a train to Disneyland Paris, which puts on a brilliant winter wonderland, without waiting 5 hours to go on Space Mountain (OK, maybe you’ll still queue for an hour or so.)
Why not visit the Moulin Rouge and the sex district for a night of fun (non, non – not like that). You can always warm up on some traditional onion soup followed up with a cheese board and one or two glasses of wine. Try and stick to wine though – a double vodka-orange cost me €14 near the Moulin Rouge…
Prague, the vibrant capital of the Czech Republic is home to more than just cheap alcohol. Walk across the famous Charles Bridge, known as ‘Karlov Most’, which provides beautiful views of Prague Castle. This links the old and the new town – both with distinct identities, and both worth an afternoon’s walk. If you’re short on time, visit the astronomical clock (ho, ho, ho etc) in the old town square: dating back to the 1400’s, figures emerge from the clock every hour.
Food is relatively cheap, as is the alcohol. It has been reported that due to its popularity, prices will rise, so visit now before it becomes a thing of the past, like 10p Freddos!
Don’t fancy going abroad, but still want to get away? Well Scotland has the cold, it has the fun, and everyone speaks English… apparently. Edinburgh and Glasgow are both fantastic places in winter with lots to do and see… but Fort William is a beauty. You can even attempt to ski, and visit your old friend Ben (Nevis) while you’re there.
Photo courtesy of Gianlluca Simi