In Photos: 6 Stunning Christmas Cities To Visit During The Holidays
The enchanting city of Strasbourg, which lies in the Alsace region of France, is famous for many things, among which is their world-renowned Christmas market. Held annually at points around the city, the marché de Noël de Strasbourg is a long-running tradition with roots dating back to the 12th century. This year, the custom continues, beginning the 28th of November.
A crossroads of French and German tradition, Strasbourg is a delightful melting pot of European society. It is a single bus-ride away from the town of Kehl in Germany, and accessible by car from Switzerland. It is also home to the Council of Europe Headquarters, which stands just across the Parc de l’Orangerie, close to Allée Spach.
Architecture around places such as the Neustadt university district point to German convention, while structures such as the Palais Rohan are indicative of a proud French history. The local fare is much the same way. From the thin-crusted tarte flambée (reminiscent of pizza) to the pungent delights of choucroute (similar to German sauerkraut), Strasbourg offers a multitude of options in terms of gastronomy.
As such, one may expect the local Christmas traditions to be the same way. The city, which was part of the German Rhineland in 1570, took part in the rich celebrations of a German holiday. When Strasbourg was annexed to France in 1681, it continued to keep the legacy.
Now, under the shadow of the majestic Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg — an imperial edifice of Gothic architecture—tourists and locals can enjoy the Christmas markets alongside specialities such as bredele (Alsatian Christmas biscuits), mannele (brioche shaped like little men) and gingerbread. Along the plaza at Place Kléber, the usual congregation of musicians, street vendors, tourists and families can also be seen milling around the magnificent canopy of Strasbourg’s beautiful Christmas tree. Those who prefer a more religious experience can also enjoy a Christmas Mass inside the majestic cathedral at the Place de la Cathédrale.
Some have described Christmas at Lüneburg as a fairy tale come to life. With all the romance of a Brothers Grimm’s fantasy, Lüneburg attracts thousands of holiday tourists every year. And no wonder, this Hanseatic town south of Hamburg perfectly captures the romance Europe is so famous for.
In the run up to Christmas, fairy lights begin their magical twinkle, blinking their eyes from around the gabled rooftops and baroque facades of lower Saxony. Medieval churches and modern institutions surround the plazas upon which market vendors sell their wares—everything from hot chestnuts, to German bratwurst and Glühwein (mulled wine). A great wreath is hung up on the town’s water tower, a communal reminder of the upcoming merriment that succeeds the contemplative season of Advent.
Beginning the 25th of November, the Lüneburg Christmas market runs through various districts of town, ending only on the 23rd of December. Between this month, the scents of mulled wine and gingerbread can be smelt all around. Nearby at St Michaeliskirche church, time is turned back and guests are transported to the Middle Ages; here, people are free to stroll along the narrow alleyways and explore the offerings of traditional traders. The area close to the church of St Johanniskirche is another hotspot of activity, with larger courtyards and bustling market activity.
In previous years, there had also been plenty of recreational activities ready for children. Grimm’s fairy tales are often recounted in one area of the plaza, and an annual Christmas cinema in the Rathausgarten has become a highlight for movie enthusiasts eager to soak up the magic of holiday films. With the current situation however, precautions have been made that include the lessening of the number of stalls and a more spacious layout along the streets of Am Ochsenmarkt and Bardowicker Straße.
Prague’s innumerable sky-high spires are sure to make anyone stop in their tracks. These steeples on top of churches and castles make Prague a city that beguiles tourists to stay a tad bit longer. Previous tourists that have scouted the city both for a captivating scenery and a good buy have given various building structures a visit. Even the Prague Castle is impossible to miss as it is only 22 minutes away from the airport.
In this city surrounded by castles, guests can feel like they are in a fairy tale, seeking to find their next adventure. A must-stop is Prague’s Christmas market or the Vánoční trhy. The Christmas market opens beginning 28 November until 6 January, which includes both Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve for last-minute shopping.
There is a unique kind of magic found in Prague’s Christmas market, just like the enchantment that the whole Czech Republic has, with local handicrafts and Christmas treats hanging all over wooden huts. Tourists will also find wooden toys, candies, ornaments, puppets, dolls and more. Aside from these, tourists can taste locally made food and drinks such as their popular large hams, sausages, flatbread, sugar-coated pastry or the trdelník, and their famous spicy gingerbread, the perníčky.
When tourists reach the centre of the Old Town Square, they will find an Observation Bridge which gives them a chance to look over the beautiful view of the market. This way, they will see that when the festive season hits, Prague’s Christmas market truly becomes a winter wonderland.
Old Christmas traditions and baroque structures make Vienna a magical destination for the holidays. Tourists will find Christmas ornaments designed with a Viennese approach, which are mostly made of natural materials like wood, straw and glass. They even hang wooden goat ears and inflated pig bladders, bringing a unique and traditional feel for tourists.
As Christmas nears, more and more people flock to their famous Christmas market. The tradition began in the Middle Ages when people referred to it as a Krippenmarkt or the December Market, and has since developed into the Christmas market loved both by the locals and tourists of Vienna.
One of the well-known markets in Vienna is found at the square of City Hall, called the Viennese Dream Christmas Market. Starting November 14, people can visit the market and bring their kids over to the children’s area for some lessons in making cookies or candles. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market also holds Christmas carol concerts performed by international choirs. Tourists can also head over to the Christmas Village Belvedere Palace, sparkling with decorations and lights, where they can feast their eyes at the beautiful baroque setting and indulge in locally made food. Tourists can spend a whole night exploring over 40 market stalls. They can also visit another Christmas Village on Maria Theresien Square, and choose from more culinary choices. But if you’re looking for a more traditional shopping experience, you should taste the famous Glühwein from the Christmas Village Altes AKH. Walking through narrow alleys while being surrounded by colourful lights and decorations will make your experience worth it.
The Advent concerts also hold magic of its own once the curtain draws and the music starts. Since Vienna is known as the concert capital of classical music, tourists can book more shows when the Advent season begins. Join the Kursalon concert avenue for Strauss and Mozart concerts on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Tourists also visit the Mozarthaus, Mozart’s house-turned-museum, where small concerts are held in the Bösendorf-er-Saal showcasing the composer’s own pieces.
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The festive season cannot be complete without music that enthrals. One familiar note from a Christmas song can immediately awaken the child-like spirit as it serves as a reminder of a season of joy and giving. What better way to appreciate Christmas music than to visit the city that exhibits exquisite performances such as operas, musicals, concerts and shows.
Budapest, located at the heart of Hungary, is home to some of Hungary’s leading orchestras, namely the Concerto Budapest Orchestra and the Budapest Festival Orchestra. During the holidays, more classical shows will emerge and charm guests and tourists, mainly with performances of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, ballet performances and operas.
These performances are housed in magnificent structures and designs of churches, palaces and famous concert halls, which soon would echo strings and percussion for the holiday celebration.
The Vigadó Concert Hall, built by Frigyes Feszl in 1865, is the oldest music hall and the second largest music venue in Budapest. Although it was refurbished recently, the classic concert hall retained its charm with its intricate pillar and wall carvings. Anyone can still be captivated with the Vigado Concert Hall, even while standing outside. The dentils and overall facade of the building, with the fountain in front, make it all appear like a great setting for a fairy tale ending. For a grander view, most people would visit the Hungarian State Opera. Complete with a grand staircase and three-storey auditorium, the Hungarian State Opera emits an air of royalty. Tourists can avail themselves of a tour to gaze at its elaborate structure and neo-renaissance features. But the modern Cinderella and Prince Charming might find the Budapest Music Center a more fitting venue for a Christmas visit. Once the snow falls over Budapest, it’ll look like a dreamy, winter wonderland with Budapest Music Center’s elegant white edifice. This newly constructed music centre houses contemporary musicians and shows. Its unique interior—walls of stone, simply-designed dentils and spacious venue—makes an improved and excellent acoustics.
Top off a long night with a leisurely walk along Danube walkway. Tourists will find themselves gaping at such vast scenery or opt to visit restaurants and cafes. Afterwards, they can continue gazing from the walkway at the sight of the Liberty Statue, Fisherman’s Bastion and the enchanting Buda Castle.
Those in search of a traditional Baltic Christmas can usually turn to the Estonian capital of Tallinn. While perhaps not as well-known as its other Christmas counterparts, Tallinn offers holiday vacationers an other-worldly charm that can’t be found anywhere else. A true winter wonderland, Tallinn in December is often blanketed in snow, making for beautiful photos amidst an atmosphere of holiday cheer. The growing popularity of this otherwise peaceful town has grown tremendously, especially after Lonely Planet named it one of the best-value destinations in 2018. Unfortunately, due to the current pandemic, Tallinn’s 2020 Christmas market has been cancelled for the year—with hopes to return again after the situation has improved.
Around the town’s central square, the Tallinn Christmas market has been known to welcome people from all over the globe. In past years, Santa and his reindeer have always been at the ready, stationed nearby refreshment huts where shoppers can partake of traditional Estonian treats and drink. In past celebrations, a gingerbread festival showcased sculptural art made exclusively from the said cake, while jazz musicians would play at intimate concerts around the capital.
The city’s impressive Christmas tree is also among the finest in Europe—a magnificent sight to behold. This proud tradition dates back to 1441, when Tallinn became one of the first cities in Europe to display such.
For gastronomy, snacks such as sausages and sauerkraut are popular choices, both having been readily available in past markets. Mulled wine—both alcoholic and otherwise—are also plentiful and served with different flavours. Wares for shoppers include a wide array of everything from foodstuffs to homeware. People can often count on local vendors to provide them with everything from felted slippers to exquisite pine bowls and leather bow ties.
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- Words Ryanne Co and Christine Andas