Top Christmas Holiday Destinations in Europe

Top Christmas Holiday Destinations in Europe

As Christmas approaches, most of the big cities open their Christmas fair, where visitors can have a taste of the Christmas mood weeks before the actual holiday.

Most people avoid travelling in Europe during the winter, especially to northern countries because of the harsh temperatures that sink way below zero and the long nights. But winter and Christmas time specifically is one of the best times to go on holidays around the old continent. Here’s why:
Yes, winter is generally the low season for tourism, but that’s actually great for you because it means that you won’t have to put up with so many lines for every tourist attraction, crowded streets and restaurants and overpriced hotel rooms. The weather is very cold, but that’s just the perfect excuse to have a cup of traditional mulled wine in a beautifully lit Christmas market. Not to mention how magical the old European streets can look after a snowfall.
From mid-November until New Year’s most European cities light up and become Christmas wonderlands. So instead of running from the winter, how about embracing the season and make the most of it? These are some of our top picks for winter holiday destination to enjoy the Christmas spirit:

Top Christmas Holiday Destinations

1. Brussels

Brussels already exudes a wonderful smell throughout the year because of all the waffle, fries and chocolate stores, but when the Christmas markets show up the city gains an actual explosion of sweet scents and even better tastes.

The cute little buildings and streets are super photographable and the holiday lights make it seems straight out of a movie. Because the historical centre is so small, it really revolves around the holiday celebrations.

The legendary main market, Winter Wonders, starts at the end of November and goes on until mid-January. It stretches for 2 kilometres in Grand-Place and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. Besides the 200 chalets, you’ll also find a Ferris wheel, ice skating rink and a couple of merry-go-rounds spread across the market areas.

Brussel christmas
Brussel christmas

Berlin is not your typical cute, picturesque, old European town. It’s a massive, modern and urban metropolis. Not really what most people have in mind when they think “Christmas destination”.

But Berlin is actually home to dozens of seasonal markets located in varied districts. The Weihnachtsmarkt in Gendarmenmarkt is one of the best known for its food stalls, handmade products and music concerts.

Every year this market, located between several historical buildings, receives 600 thousand visitors. Another very popular destination during this period is the Berliner Weihnachtszeit, a market that stretches from Alexanderplatz to Roten Rathaus, the city hall. It’s one of the oldest and biggest markets in the city and it offers a lot of traditional German foods and drinks.

Berlin Mitte lights up with all the lights and the huge Ferris wheel that creates a perfect contrast with the Fernsehturm from Alexanderplatz in the back.

The best part about spending Christmas in Berlin is that because it is this big cultural hub and young city if you get bored of all the holiday activities you can still find some of the best techno parties in Europe, world-renowned history and art museums and cultural events that don’t necessarily centre around Christmas.

Berlin christmas

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3. Prague

Prague has the privilege of being one of the few European capitals that although was involved in the Second World War didn’t suffer a lot of material destruction.

Because of that, its historical center was left intact and has a very unique architecture. The city looks even more beautiful under the Christmas lights and feels like a romantic fairy tale land, especially covered by a white layer of snow.

The Christmas market in the Old Town Square offers many traditional dishes and has free live concerts throughout December. Visit also the market in the Prague Castle across the river and have a breathtaking view of the old town.

Prague

Budapest is a city that is enhanced by the winter and is the perfect Christmas destination. The Hungarian capital is modern and urban but also ancient and charming.

During this time of the year, the city lights up with markets happening all around the historical centre.

One of the best markets happens in Vörösmarty Square with around 100 stalls. You can try hearty traditional meals like goulash, grilled meats and sausages and of course, chimney cake for dessert.

Another beautiful event is the fair in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, that has an impressive light show projected onto the facade of the church every evening.

But the highlight of winter in Budapest and what makes it special are the historical spas which are supplied by thermal springs. While these are a must at any moment you decide to visit the city, this is the perfect time to go for a bath.

The freezing temperatures make the experience of the saunas, pools and baths all the more relaxing. Swimming in the outdoor naturally heated baths of Széchenyi, located in the city park, is a unique experience.

Budapest christmas

Christmas in Copenhagen is a magical time and makes the Danish capital even more charming than it already is. Unlike many places during the winter, Copenhagen’s streets continue to boom with movement even in the coldest days with both tourists and locals.

From the restaurants and stalls by Nyhavn to the ice skating rink in Frederiksberg Gardens, you can trust that there isn’t a lack of Christmas activities happening all around the city.

The biggest gem during this time of the year is the Christmas market in Tivoli Park. The traditional park was founded in 1843 and is a national treasure. No matter your age, you’ll be amazed by how intricate, beautiful and one-of-a-kind its designs, attractions, buildings and gardens are.

The park has something for everyone, from kids, rides to exciting roller coasters to exhibitions. Not to mention the lovely Christmas stands with handmade gloves and hats, Christmas tree ornaments, gifts and of course, amazing danish foods and mulled wine.

When it gets dark, the whole place lights up with fairy lights and becomes even more like a fairytale. You’ll easily spend a full day in the park exploring every little corner.

Copenhagen

Although so far we’ve only covered capital cities, the biggest Christmas destination isn’t a city at all, but the Lapland region of Finland. Lapland stretches across the northernmost part of Finland all the way to Sweden and Norway and is sparsely populated due to its harsh weather conditions.

This untouched, wild, white paradise is made for traveling in the winter since most of its traditional activities involve snow. Some of the most popular things you can do in Lapland include:

Husky safari – riding a sledge through the white landscapes behind a pack of huskies is a unique and wild adventure. The dogs are surprisingly fast and seem like they are insatiable and will stop for nothing!

Sauna – visiting Finland and not going to a sauna doesn’t even make sense. The Finnish love for saunas is crazy, and you’ll find one in most of the hotels and even in the huts. Don’t panic if you see a Finnish person leave a sauna and go roll around in the snow, they are used to doing that to cool off.

Northern Lights – if you’re lucky, you can experience the greatest show that nature can put out. The ideal time for watching the northern lights is from November to March, so if you’re around Lapland in December-January you have a strong chance of catching this amazing phenomenon at least once.

Reindeer sleigh ride – reindeer are adorable animals and basically Christmas’ mascots. What better way to get into the holiday spirit than riding on a sleigh being pulled by reindeer? The ride is slow and calm, and you can relax and enjoy the scenery.

Visit Santa Claus – did you know that the official hometown of Santa Claus is a small Finnish town called Rovaniemi? Every year this picturesque town in the arctic circle, way up in the north of Lapland, receives over 500 thousand visitors from all over the world who want to have the ultimate Christmas experience. Santa Claus Village is Lapland’s best-known attraction and offers several activities for every type of traveller.

You can actually go to Santa’s office and see the 15 thousand letters that he and the elves have received. The Christmas festivities start at the end of November and on December 23rd you can hail Santa goodbye as he leaves on a sleigh on his yearly mission.

 Finnish Lapland
 Finnish Lapland
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Lisbon City Guide – Lisbon Travel Tips

Lisbon City Guide – Lisbon Travel Tips

Lisbon City Guide - Lisbon Travel Tips

Lisbon has many nicknames: “City of Seven Hills”, “Queen of the Sea”, “The City of Tolerance” or “The City of the Light” but is always ready to be discovered.

Reasons to visit

Lisbon has been on the rise for a couple of years now as Western Europe’s hot tourist and expat destination and is showing no signs of going down. The biggest reason why it’s getting so popular is that it feels almost exotic compared to the surrounding capital cities because of its very recognizable architecture, easygoing attitude and great cuisine with unmatched prices.

It’s a capital city with a small town vibe. Walking up and down the steep slopes of Lisbon’s seven hills you’ll see renovated tile buildings, modern restaurants with all types of cuisine and designer boutiques.

But you’ll also see the crumbling buildings where old Portuguese ladies are hanging their clean clothes outside, traditional restaurants that have had the same employees for over 20 years and local craft stores. It feels new and exciting but cozy and quaint at the same time.

Portugal’s capital also has a long history which you can see all across the city. The feeling I get from Lisbon is that the people are proud to be keep things the way that they always were, and don’t really want to change to a big city mentality.

But at the same time there’s always something new happening because of the large immigrant and expat community.

Why that’s great for you? Well, this is your chance to have a relaxing holiday in a town that is beautiful, unique, sunny all year long and has all the amenities, parties and fun that a big city offers. Not to mention that it’s still pretty cheap comparing to other countries close by!
Lisbon will make you feel like a king and explorer.

Lisbon Weather

Lisbon has a warm climate with mild winter and long summer between May and October. Been close to the ocean weather can chance pretty fast, so my suggestion is to prepare for any changes of weather. Regular temperature during summer is around is 25°C. Because of his warm temperature Lisbon it’s perfect escape from cold cities.

Perfect time to visit Lisbon is from March to May or September to October because the city is not that crowded and the weather is warm.

Lisbon Local Transport

If you are ready to discover this capital you have plenty of options. Metro and buses are the most common option but you must not forget you can use a bicycle pretty well and for this thing Lisbon is famous.

Also a good opportunity to move around is by scooter, moped or motorbike, quite similar with bicycle but faster. As usual everywhere, you can rent a car but I must warn you to be prepared to spend some time in traffic or searching for a parking spot.

Another way to visit Lisbon, maybe the best is walking. You can discover different spot at every step.

If you want to discover suburbs you may want to take a ferry. Prices are similar with metro.

Language

Main language in Lisbon is Portuguese, as usual in Portugal. Most of young people speak also English. Because of the linguistic similitude Spanish is also understood.

Electric

As almost every European country, in Lisbon you can you use power plugs and sockets type F. If you are not from around we suggest having a travel adapter, if you are not from Europe.

Currency

As most of European Union contries, the official curency is Euro with ATMs available almost every street corner.

Must Try Food

Being a coastal city with deep naval roots, you can imagine that seafood and fish are the default here, with codfish being the most traditional dish you can get.

Do yourself a favor and comprehend skip the cool, modern looking restaurants and find the smallest, simplest place around. If there’s an old Portuguese man at the door looking annoyed, you know you found the right place.

These small traditional restaurants are called tascas and usually have been around for decades. The dishes are massive and so, so cheap!

In Lisbon you’ll find several different types of codfish, one better than the other. Another thing that the Portuguese really get right is octopus.

If you’re not a fan of sea creatures in general, I urge you to try alheira, which is a fried bread sausage unlike anything I’ve ever had. It usually comes with a fried egg, fries and rice, like most Portuguese dishes.

Now, time for dessert! You must absolutely have one (or a dozen) Portuguese custard tarts, called pastéis de nata.

They pair heavenly with a coffee after lunch. You can find those at any snackbar, but there are two places that you must visit.

First, you have to go to the place that created the custard tarts and still has the most popular recipe: Pasteis de Belém, near the Jerónimo monastery and the Belém tower. The building itself is beautiful and surprisingly big, so do yourself a favor.

Skip the takeaway line and head straight inside, where you can see the people making the tarts and admire the tile murals.

You’ll be seated right away and have a hot pastel de Belém straight from the oven. The other place is Manteigaria, which you’ll find in Chiado and in the Time Out market, a gourmet food court that holds stands for some of the best restaurants in the city.

Must-Try Drinks

Portugal is known for its amazing and affordable wines. Be it a strong and bold red wine, a refreshing white or a complex green wine (which is something I had never heard of before visiting Portugal), there’s no way to get it wrong.

The restaurants usually have a house wine and a glass will cost you about 2 euros. If you go for a fancier wine, it can go up to 3,5 or 4, while you’ll find amazing wines at the supermarket for 5€ per bottle. Yes, you read that right!

Another traditional drink you should try is Moscatel, a liquor that is similar to Port wine but smoother. It has a beautiful golden color and is great after a meal.

A scene that has been growing a lot in Lisbon recently is that f craft beers. There are several small local breweries in the city with great options of IPA, stout, ales and more. There’s a bar by the river near the Time Out market that specializes in local craft beers. It’s called Crafty Corner and it has a wide selection that you can try out before making up your mind.

If you’re a cocktail person, you have to visit one of Lisbon’s many terrace bars that have all sorts of drinks. One of the best out there is Park Bar, located on top of a parking building in Chiado.

Going up the elevator, you can’t possibly imagine how cool the bar actually is, with a wonderful view, chill atmosphere and even a DJ and small dancefloor where you can start the night. A very popular drink in Lisbon right now is gin tonic, and you’ll find several delicious takes on it.

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How to get there

Lisbon it’s an unique destination. You don’t need to carry too many things, just enjoy your time here. If you want to check the best fly tickets you can trust kiwi.com. Kiwi can help to find also best fly on your way home.

The largest international airport in Portugal is Aeroporto da Portela and it’s located between Lisbon and Loures. Gettin’ here is not complicate, you just need enough time.

Also, if you are in Europe you can take a bus from FlixBus. Prices are pretty good and you don’t have limits on your baggage.

Of course, take more time to get here but is perfect if you want to visit different cities around like Venice, Rome, Florence and so on. You can also use ride-share apps like BlaBlaCar for a cheaper ride.

You can spend good time in cars with locals and they can suggest you different places to visit which could be more useful then guides.

Things to know

1- If you like antique markets, every Tuesday and Saturday Alfama hosts the biggest one in the city all year long. It’s called Feira da Ladra and goes on from very early in the morning to around 4 or 5 in the afternoon.

2- Another really cool outside fair is the LX Market, which happens every Sunday in the LX Factory and is a mix between a farmers, antiques, design and art markets.

3- Regarding security: Lisbon is incredibly safe, but you have to be aware of pickpockets like in any major touristic city. Just keep your eyes on your belongings at all times and avoid walking in crowded areas with important objects on your back.

4- Every Sunday most of the museums in the city have free entrance either all day long or in the morning, so make sure that you check some of them out.

5- From May to September the city hosts open air jazz concerts in different parks every Sunday. This festival is called Out Jazz and is an amazing way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

6- Like the Spaniards, Portuguese people eat and go out to drink very late. Although the restaurants open at 6 or 7 in the evening, they won’t get full until 8 or 9, and the bars only start to get busy after 11 or midnight.

7- In the month of June Lisbon celebrates Santo Antonio with popular parties happening all over the city with fresh sardines, traditional foods, and of course lots of drinking and dancing. It culminates in the night of the 12th of June, when a big party takes over Alfama.

Where to stay

We highly recommend the Aristheu Hotel which you can book for only €18 or 7 Seas Hostel for only €20 but with  free breakfast, also if you are looking for a 4 star hotel we highly recommend Altis Suites for only €196 but including everithing even a spa and airport transfer.

Lisbon has multiple options for finding a cheap or expensive place to stay. As I said, could be expensive but you can fit also on a budget. If you don’t have to worry about your budget can book plenty of hotels rooms and pensions where you like on www.booking.com or www.agoda.com.

It’s a huge city and must consider how much you will to walk, how close to the city center it is your place. If you like to hang out with a local you can book a room on www.airbnb.com and you can find a good price for your accommodation.

Also if you can stay with them for free using Couchsurfing app. You can use it also only if you want to meet with them. If you are traveling on a budget or not couch surfing seems to be a good idea. First of all, it’s a chance for you to talk with a native and learn about day by day life in new york city. It’s a great opportunity for making new friends maybe for a week or maybe for a lifetime, you never know. Hostels are less expensive than a hotel room. Why spend 300$/night for a hotel room when you can spend 30$/night for a hostel room?! The culture of making friends never fails to amaze people.

 

Booking.com

Getting around

Lisbon is a city to walk around in. Avoid the metro at all costs and enjoy the beautiful streets, hills and alleys that this city has to offer. There’s always a steep climb to get somewhere, but there’s also always a beautiful view waiting for you when you get there.

The historical center is small, so you can pretty much walk everywhere. When you need to go somewhere further away, like Belém, you can easily find bus and tram options available all day long.

Taxis and ubers are also very cheap here, so you won’t feel guilty about treating yourself to it, specially after a long day of wandering around in the hills of Alfama, the oldest neighborhood that is packed with adorable little streets.

Other than that, Lisbon’s metro system is small and easy to understand. The individual ticket costs 1,45€ and you must buy a rechargeable ticket for another 0,50€ that works for an entire year. When planning your day you can see if it’s worth it for you to buy a day ticket, which is good for 24h, gets you inside the buses, metro and trams and costs 6,15€.

Must see

As I pointed out before, Lisbon is a city to see by foot. Unlike a lot of other European capitals, there are not that many “attractions”, its tourist sights being the actual city: the views, the architecture, the culture. Lisbon is like a huge open air museum.
The city is divided by small neighborhoods, with the historical and touristic center spreading out along the Tagus river.

The Alfama district and the Castle of Saint Jorge

The oldest part of the city is called Alfama, and it’s where the heart of Lisbon is. There you’ll find the Saint Jorge Castle, the highest viewpoints in the city such as Miradouro da Graça, Nossa Senhora do Monte and Portas do Sol, the oldest fado houses, where you can listen to traditional Portuguese music while eating codfish and drinking wine.
https://unsplash.com/photos/X87yB-jvYHw photo recommendation, nossa senhora do monte viewpoint

Unfortunately given its geographic position and how narrow most of the streets are, there are no metro stops on top of the hill and few buses. The closest metro stops are Santa Apolonia, by the river, and Martim Moniz, on the other side and closer to the castle. From Martim Moniz you can hop on the 28 Tram that will drive you all around Alfama. Although you’ll have the comfort of sitting down for the rise, you’ll have to fight for a seat with dozens of other tourists, as everyone is already aware of this little gem.

The Saint Jorge castle was built in the 11th Century in the context of the moorish invasions of Portugal and has stood the test of time, surviving even the famous earthquake of 1755 that left the whole city crumbling to the ground with only the Alfama district resisting it. If you go inside you can read all about its history, have a beautiful and exclusive view of the city and even see some of peacocks that inhabit the castle!
Closer to the river you can also visit the tile museum, perhaps the most Portuguese museum that there ever was, and marvel at this beautiful art form that is so specific to Portugal.

The Alfama district
The Alfama district

Baixa district: window shopping

Next to Alfama is the Baixa area, which is actually at sea level for once! It’s surrounded by two squares: Comercio and Rossio, the former served by the blue line of the metro and the latter by the green line.

You’ll notice that Baixa is very touristy, but worth walking up the main street and seeing the street artists and stores. If you start from Praça do Comércio, the biggest and most important square in the city, you’ll be greeted by a line of arches that look like the doors to the city.

Another gem in Baixa is the Santa Justa Elevator, a metallic tower that was built in the beginning of the 20th Century by a disciple of Gustave Eiffel. Following the main street, you’ll end up in Rossio square,which presents the perfect photo op of of hills of Lisbon.

Baixa district

Cais do Sodré district: relaxing by the sun

The Cais do Sodré area has really cool restaurants and bars, including the Time Out market, a must see in Lisbon! Across the street, on the pier, there are also some cafés and lounge chairs, where you can relax after walking all around the city. Behind the Time Out market is the Pink Street, a famous party zone but where you can also find great cuisine.

Make sure to see the Bica street, one of he most photographed in Lisbon. It’s a steep slope that holds one of the oldest elevators in the city, the traditional yellow ones. If you pay to go up there, it will take you to Chiado.

Singapore Botanic Gardens
Singapore Botanic Gardens

Chiado and Bairro Alto: dining and partying

While Chiado is known for its restaurants and shopping streets, Bairro Alto, up on the hill, comes to life later in the night, with hundreds of people partying on the streets.

To get there, you can take the metro to the Baixa-Chiado station, exiting through the Luis de Camoes square side in the heart of Chiado. Going up to Bairro Alto, which translates to “high neighborhood”, there are no metro stops, but you can take the tram 24, another vintage looking yellow tram. While up there, make sure to see the São Pedro de Alcantara viewpoint which has a wonderful view of Alfama.

Belém district: history and traditional pastries

Hop on the tram 15 in Cais do Sodré and head to Belém, another very historical neighborhood, where the Portuguese navigators used to leave in their ships to the Americas. The tram will drop you off in front of the Jeronimos monastery, a beautiful building that you can visit inside and is also attached to the Navy Museum which will teach you all about the history of the Portuguese travels around the world during the Modern age. A fun fact about the monastery is that this is the place where the custard tart was invented, and so the place that sells the famous Pasteis de Belém is right next to it. There are several monuments in Belém aswell, like the Tower of Belém and the monument for the discoveries, which includes a huge mosaic in the floor showing all the dates when they arrived in different places around the world. You can pay to climb both those monuments and have a unique view of Belém.

LX Factory: alternative Lisbon

If you have more time, make sure to visit the LX Factory, the hipster Mecca of Lisbon. This old factory turned design and culture hub is located underneath the 25 de Abril bridge and is home to some of the coolest concept stores, a beautiful bookshop, bars and lots of street art. To get there, you can take the same route as going to Belém, with the tram 15, but exit before, in “Calvário”.

Parque das Nações: business hub

This area lies on a strip of land 5 km long by the river Tagus, and is a very different Lisbon than you usually see. Everything looks very modern and fresh, and offers great contrast with the historical center.

The Vasco da Gama bridge, for instance, has a sleek architecture, and the promenade is very minimalistic, although adorned with a lovely garden. This area stretches around the Oriente metro station on the red line and although it’s more of a business area, you can visit Lisbon’s Oceanary there, home of 450 different species of sea creatures.

Vasco Da Gama Birdge
Lisbon’s Oceanary

Outside the city

 

Sintra

If you have time, there are several day trips that you can easily do from Lisbon. The most important is Sintra, a beautiful town filled with medieval castles and romantic palaces only 45 minutes outside of Lisbon with the local train. I highly recommend getting there early, since it’s a very popular day trip destination because it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can visit Palácio da Pena, Castelo dos Mouros, Palácio Nacional, Monserrate.

Choose 2 or 3 sights that you find more interesting and buy the hop on and off bus ticket at the tourist information center in Sintra so you can get up the mountains faster. One of the most special places there is the Quinta da Regaleira, a mansion built by a freemason that is surrounded by a beautiful and eerie garden complete with a cave that leads you to an initiation well.

 

Sintra
Sintra
Quinta da Regaleira

Cascais

If it’s summer time, you can also take a local train to Cascais, a beach town 40 minutes away from Lisbon. Near the train station here are beautiful mansions and cute little fishermans houses.

And while the beaches accessible by train are not that interesting, you can hop on a bus or get an uber and head to the Sintra National Park tô secluded beaches like Praia do Guincho. If you don’t want the hassle, you can simply take the train to Cascais but get off half way there in Carcavelos, a beautiful white sand beach where you can relax, tan and watch the surfers in the water.

Cais do Sodré

You can also take a ferry in Cais do Sodré to the other side of the river. The ferry will take you to Cacilhas, where you have a privileged view of Lisbon and great restaurants and cafes by the riverfront. From there you can also take a bus to Costa da Caparica, the western coastline that is a great beach destination. The further south you go, the better.

Parque Natural da Arrábida

This mountain just above one of the most beautiful rivers of Portugal, River Sado, with the Dolphins and lots of beautiful places to eat grilled fish, or just have a beer… but back to the mountain.Arrábida is amazing, with lots of trails for both, hiking and biking. For sure, it’s one the “must” places of Portugal.

Please be aware that you need either a Car, or a Bike to reach the mountain. You can leave the car in one of the Restaurants in the area, or in Setubal (in the end of Luísa Tody Avenue, direction of Arrabida).

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