It’s the most wonderful time of the year… but with so much to do, (the home to decorate, turkey to buy, presents to wrap, family to see, Santa to visit, snowman to build, the list goes on,) it’s no wonder so many of us are looking to head abroad for a sprinkle of Christmas cheer.
With the festive season fast approaching, preparations are well underway in Europe to transform the cosmopolitan cities and bustling streets into a spectacular winter wonderland. In less than a few weeks the air will be filled with aromas of gingerbread, mulled wine and roasted hazelnuts and we can’t wait!
Europe is home to some of the most magical Christmas Markets, and with so many to choose from where do you start?
Voted ‘European Best Christmas Market’ of the year, twice! it’s only fair Zagreb – Croatia’s capital – is at the top of our list. Zagreb’s Christmas Market is spread throughout the entire city meaning there is plenty to explore and enjoy. A picturesque scene of beautifully decorated Christmas trees and glittering fairy lights, you’ll have that festive feeling in no time – and let’s not forget the mulled wine and roasted chestnuts!
When: December 2nd 2017 – January 7th 2018
Germany’s oldest Christmas Market, Dresden Striezelmarkt, is a festive delight. Set your sites on the famous Christmas Pyramid, enjoy the bustle of eleven unique markets, enjoy a famous Bratwurst - or two - or glide across the temporary ice rink – all charmed with the scent of Glühwein and warm stollen.
When: November 30th 2017 – December 24th 2017
Lanterns, gingerbread and carol singers on every corner; Prague’s Christmas Market is truly unforgettable, and comes complete with its own nativity themed petting zoo! Don’t miss the chance to sample traditional Czech food and browse wooden huts filled with homemade glassware, jewellery, Christmas tree ornaments, puppets and much – much more.
When: December 2nd 2017 – January 6th 2018
Ice skating, merry-go-rounds and a Christmas parade – what more do you need to get you into the ultimate festive mood? Brussels – Belgium’s Capital – is home to a true winter wonderland with 240 wooden chalets to explore. Each chalet offers unique Christmas gifts and local cuisine – including the infamous, Belgium chocolate. Perfect for you foodies out there.
When: November 24th 2017 – December 31st 2017
Stay closer to home and see London in a whole new light. Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland offers something for everyone, with over 200 Bavarian style wooden chalets, thrill-seeker and slower paced rides and an array of attractions available to pre-book. Join in with carols, sip mulled cider and find some truly unique gifts for loved ones in our capital.
When: November 10th 2017 – January 4th 2018
Travel to Lille in France and set your sights on the spectacular 18-meter high Christmas tree. Perfect for a festive day trip, Lille offers 80 market stalls, fine cuisine and a chance to meet Father Christmas! Before heading home be sure to try some traditional French ‘Bredle’ Cake or hop on the Ferris Wheel and admire the festive scenery from above.
When: November 17th 2017 – December 27th 2017
For the perfect romantic Christmas getaway, head to Austria and discover the magic of Christkindlmärkte in Vienna. Draped in a remarkable array of lights and garlands, City Hall has never looked so beautiful. Whilst wandering around the stalls be sure to taste a traditional Vanillekipferl – a light biscuit covered in icing sugar and vanilla sugar, yum!
When: November 18th 2017 – 24th December 2017
Poland’s Capital, Krakow, hosts it’s Christmas Market in Rynek Glowry – the city’s central square. Indulge in a truly festive experience as you wander around the fairy-lit wooden chalets in the snow, listening to choirs performing traditional carols. Don’t miss the Szopka, a traditional polish folk art, where creche masters display their winning Szopka in the Krzysztofory Palace.
When: November 24th 2017 – 26th December 2017
Come face to face with reindeer, pixies and Father Christmas himself at the Copenhagen Christmas Market. Denmark’s capital transforms into a true winter wonderland for the festive season and has everything to offer the shopaholics and foodies among us. No trip is complete without trying Tempranillo wine blended with cinnamon, cardamom, orange and lemon zest!
When: November 17th 2017 – December 23rd 2017
Get into the Christmas spirit in the City of Edinburgh, Scotland. Browse quaint wooden huts stocked with unique gifts, indulge in hearty festive food and listen to tales from Santa in his grotto. There’s plenty for the family to enjoy with a spectacular firework display, Christmas tree maze, an ‘ice adventure’ and much more!
When: November 18th 2017 – January 6th 2018
Please note: all dates are guides and may be subject to change.
Those of you that love nothing more than pre-planning all things festive have probably had your Christmas Market trip booked since early September but don’t worry if you’re new to the gang, there’s still plenty of time to experience European traditions like you’ve never seen them before.
There are several ways to book your Christmas Market trip but the easiest way is through a package deal; there are plenty of well-known airlines and travel companies that offer specialist Christmas Market packages that include transport and accommodation. Remember, purchasing a package holiday should mean you are fully protected by either ABTA or the Civil Aviation Authority should your travel plans be disrupted.
Choosing a destination can be difficult – they all sound so festive! By setting aside a budget you will have a realistic idea of how much you have to spend and can start looking at destinations, accommodation and travel that will suit your budget. Many countries, including Germany and France, will have several Christmas Markets for you to explore.
The run up to Christmas disappears in the blink of an eye but when it comes to Christmas Markets, timing is key. Most markets open in November and run through till late December, sometimes even early January. Make sure you do your research before booking, as you don’t want to turn up and find the festivities have been and gone.
It’s going to be rather cold so make sure you pack plenty of warm clothing – layering up is always a good idea – and wear sensible footwear. The last thing you need is aching feet ruining your Christmas spirit!
There is nothing worse than wrapping presents and realising you’ve not brought something for someone. Before heading to the market, perhaps when you’re waiting in the departure lounge, make a list of all the people you wish to buy presents for. That way when you’re wandering round distracted by all things ‘Christmas’ you won’t be forgetting dear Aunt Pat.
A little safety advice, as with most busy areas beware of pick pockets. We know it’s the season of good will, but some people will forever be on Santa’s naughty list. Make sure you keep your possessions either on your person or locked in a hotel safe – your travel insurance is unlikely to cover possessions that are lost or stolen if you have left them unattended.
Copenhagen has a ‘CopenhagenCard’ which offers free public transport by bus, train and metro and discounts on restaurants, attractions and entertainment. The card can be purchased for the full duration of your trip, part of the trip or just for a day – and great news for families, two children under the age of ten can accompany a paying adult free of charge!
For more information on the Copenhagen Card click on the green button! Click here to read more
What better way to get you and your little ones into the Christmas spirit than a family trip to a Christmas Market?
With Santa to visit, rides to enjoy and sweets to sample, there’s plenty to keep the little ones entertained! But bear in mind how busy town gets on a Saturday during the holidays… times that by at least ten and you have a Christmas Market on a weekday – now imagine the chaos of trying to navigate yourself and the children through the crowds at the weekend! Nightmare, right?
If you can, we recommend visiting during the week as it is guaranteed to be quieter (ish) then a Saturday or Sunday. Try and catch a glimpse at night too and experience the Christmas magic of the fairy lights.
When travelling with young children it may be a good idea to plan a day trip instead. With London to Lille (France) taking just less than two hours on the Eurostar and under 4’s travelling free of charge (one child per paying adult) you can enjoy the fun of Christmas without having to break the bank!
Whether it’s your first Christmas together or your fiftieth, there’s nothing more romantic than wandering hand in hand in the snow fall under the thousands of glistening lights.
A Christmas market trip is the perfect opportunity to explore your chosen country’s famous landmarks. Spend a day or two browsing the stalls and sipping mulled wine – or hot chocolate (with cream and marshmallows, of course) – and then spend some time embracing what else the country has to offer.
An Interrail Pass is perfect for getting around – especially when the streets are blocked by bustling crowds!
Planning a Christmas proposal? (hint, hint), save it for the night time – the back drop will be even more magical with the Christmas trees all lit up and it will certainly make your trip one to remember…
Some of you will be glad to hear it’s not just about the shopping and the food… many Christmas Markets will host temporary ice rinks, reindeer rides or ‘meet Santa’ events for all the family to enjoy. Most events will require pre-booking which can usually be completed online, but check with your travel agent beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Make sure your travel insurance covers ice skating and other festive activities – Edinburgh has its own ice wall to climb! If you were to take a tumble without the appropriate cover you could face huge medical bills – not what you need right on top of Christmas.
As a Christmas Market trip is not likely to be longer than a week, a ‘single trip’ policy should be perfect. Make sure you have selected the correct destination, especially if you plan on using your Interrail Pass to travel between different countries.
If you do plan on purchasing Christmas gifts abroad it is important to note that if they are lost, stolen, damaged or delayed you will only be able to claim under your travel insurance policy if you can provide proof of purchase i.e. receipts. When buying your policy, we recommend you check the cover limit will be suitable for personal possessions - not forgetting single item limits. For example, your personal possession limit may be £1500 but you may only be able to claim up to £200 for jewellery.
Be aware, when bringing presents back into the UK you may have to declare them to customs. According to the Government website, you will not have to pay duty or tax on any items you bring in from the European Union as long as you 1) transport them yourself, 2) they are for your personal use or to give as a gift, 3) you have paid the appropriate duty and tax in the country where you brought them. Before travelling we recommend you read the restrictions carefully, here.
Remember, most travel insurance policies will offer cover for UK trips that are a minimum of 2 nights, 3 days and only if you are staying in pre-paid accommodation – unfortunately, a day trip to London’s Hyde Park would not be covered.
Before travelling, make sure you check the latest Foreign and Commonwealth Office website for all the latest travel advice.
Any more queries? You can email us, connect on Facebook and Twitter or sign up to our newsletter for more updates, top tips and advice.