‘Tis the season to be jolly…and to travel! The weeks before Christmas are one of the best times to visit Europe. Not only it’s low travel season (cheaper, less crowded …), but cities, towns and villages, all get in the season’s festive mood with ornate light decorations, special events and local crafts markets.
In recent years, Christmas fairs have been especially attracting increasing numbers of visitors looking for original and sustainable presents for the Holidays. These festive markets feature stalls with traditional gifts made by local craftspeople or small business, and they also offer local delights such as steaming mulled wine, and typical Christmas treats to the the weary traveler/shopper. Singing choirs, holiday plays, winter art exhibitions and fun fair rides complete the experience. Read on to discover some of the best Christmas fair in beautiful historic cities, and of course the local eco-friendly hotel to stay in.
Let the festivities begin!
In this medieval Flemish city, the Midwinter Festival brings holiday cheer with its Christmas market filled with traditional gifts, snacks like waffles with luscious Belgian chocolate, and sweet and tasty hot chocolate or jenever, a gin-like spirit. Also, check out master florists and their display of beautiful Christmas floral arrangements.
To complete your experience head over to the Adornesdomein, an authentic medieval estate in the heart of Bruges where you can hear Christmas songs in the chapel. For a more contemporary season’s mood, check out the first-ever digital ice museum at the Ice Sculpture Festival where video projections light up 60 sculptures, all over four meters (12 feet) high.
Where to stay
A perfect place to plan your city wanderings is the Relais & Chateaux Hotel Heritage Brugge. Built in 1869, the hotel has an old-world feel with ornate rooms, a sundeck with city views on the top floor, and a fitness room with stone arches. Below the building, part of a 13th century cellar has been preserved and their sauna and steam bath room are fantastic for relaxing after visiting the holiday sites of the city!
Spending the holiday season in Salzburg is like walking into a fairy tale! The tradition of Christmas markets in Mozart’s hometown dates back to 1491 , so they definitely know what they are doing.
Wander through the market stalls selling sweets, toys, and warm sweaters amidst the smells of baked apple, gingerbread, and to warm up your body and spirit a cup of mulled wine (glühwein) is never far.
Also part of the holiday season in Salzburg are the “Perchten” processions. According to folk tradition, there are plenty of ghosts and demons going around during the long, cold nights of December. In order to scare them away, people dress up in frightening wooden masks of animals like bears, wolves, or eagles all with enormous fangs, tusks, and horns. It’s a good thing that they’re adorned with bells to announce their arrival!
Where to stay
Stay ecofriendly and in the season’s mood at the Hotel + Villa Auersperg. Located in downtown Salzburg, this boutique hotel features readings of Christmas stories in a festive atmosphere with homemade vanilla crescent cookies and warm punch for the guests throughout the month of December.
For more info on Christmas events in Salzburg: https://www.salzburg.info/en/salzburg/advent
In Ljubljana, one of the greenest city in Europe, the highlight of the holiday season is the Christmas Market along with “The Land of Ice.” Set in a huge hall cooled to -4 degrees Celsius (24 Fahrenheit), fairy tale images made from ice and snow are on exhibition. The city’s Zvezda Park is transformed into a Magic Forest with twinkling lights and workshops for making environmentally friendly Christmas decorations. There’s also a huge “Ice Fantasy” rink. But there’s even more!
For over 15 years Ljubljana-based artist Zmago Modic has put together an imaginative light display elegantly incorporated into the city’s holiday lights. This year’s theme, “Convergence,” symbolizes the desire for existence and was inspired by the famous touch depicted in Michelangelo’s fresco, Creation of Adam.
Where to stay
Stay green in Ljubljana at the Hotel Park Urban & Green, which boasts views of the old city center and is close to the historic center with all its attractions; if you arrive by train you can also get a nice 15% eco discount.
See the calendar of events: https://www.visitljubljana.com/en/visitors/december-in-ljubljana/
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague’s Christmas markets are considered among the best in Europe. The Old Town Square Christmas market (Staroměstské náměstí) is one the prettiest in Prague. Here, little stalls are nestled amidst centuries old Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque buildings. Traditional Czech Christmas ornaments, roasted chestnuts, and Christmas cookies, are all for sale. Be sure to sip some hot wine or warm honey liquor (medovina) while you search for Czech Christmas potpourri (purpura).
In addition to Christmas Markets, this year is the first for the Manifesto Winter Market. Listen to carolers and DJs while you stroll the stalls with a selection of artisanal local products. Pick out a cozy, heated igloo with a fireplace ready for the roasting of sausages and marshmallows.
Where to Stay
Close to the Wenceslas Square Christmas Market is Hotel Adria, one of Prague’s historic hotels, which has been renovated to offer modern comforts and implement sustainable operations. Its stalactite-decorated Triton restaurant has to be seen to be believed!
For millennials and hipsters the choice in Prague, Mosaic House, whose motto “Happiness, kindness and empathy, combined with eco-initiatives and sustainability” is also perfectly in tune with the holidays spirit!
For more info: https://www.prague.eu/en/events
Every year, Tivoli Gardens amusement park and arts center transforms itself in a winter wonderland of wooden chalets, twinkling lights, shows, gifts and local delicacies. Follow the aroma of caramelized almonds and Danish donuts through sixty stalls selling holiday sweaters, leather gloves, sheepskin throws, and much more. The Pantomime Theater also hosts the local Father Christmas grotto for the joy of all the children.
Stop at Trainsbury Station to take a magical journey through Christmas land in tinsel-trimmed train cars. New this year is a spectacular projection show on the façade of Tivoli Concert Hall. Enter the hall to see the ballet classic, The Nutcracker. Denmark’s Queen Margrethe herself came up with the set design and costumes for the production.
where to stay
Close to Tivoli Gardens, and conveniently located to reach all the city’s main attractions by public transport, is the ecofriendly Hotel Alexandra. Filled with Danish mid-century vintage furniture and decorated with period textiles and wallpaper, it’s a time bubble of Danish design but with all the contemporary sustainable policies in place.
Discover all holiday season’s events at: Visit Copenhagen