Best Christmas Destinations in Europe
The UK is officially getting ready for Christmas. With Halloween firmly out the picture, the lights along the high street are up and soon to be turned on. Christmas markets are now open and our everyday existence is fuelled by Costa’s gingerbread lattes. We’re on the home straight, people.
We all have Christmas traditions that never get old, but why not spice it up a bit this year? Try experiencing Christmas in a different country! With the Eurostar and cheap flights there is easy access to a multitude of countries in Europe.
So, whether you’re looking for the perfect Christmas markets, a calm city break, or an exciting and bustling atmosphere, here are my top 3 picks for the best Christmas cities you can easily get to from the UK this winter.
1. Bruges, Belgium
Bruges at Christmas is what Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland can only dream of being. Just a two-hour journey from Ashford International, your Christmas dreams can be realised. Everywhere you go you will smell warm chocolate, fresh waffles and the famous Belgian beer. The beautiful Christmas markets run from the 24th of November to the 31st of December, leaving plenty of time for you to plan your trip before they start.
The main square (Markt) is filled with brightly lit stalls selling everything Christmassy from sweets to decorations, so be sure to stock up on Christmas presents for your friends and family back home; you’ll be everyone’s favourite person. The smaller markets nearby are not as focused on culture, so unless you came to Bruges to buy emoji pillows, stick to the main ones. The Bruges Christmas markets are particularly well known for their fantastic food and drink, but the restaurants around the square tend to be expensive.
Other attractions in Bruges include a romantic horse and carriage ride through the city centre. From around 15€, the horse and carriage will take you on a tour through the undisturbed back streets of the city. Don’t restrict yourself to the markets, there are some hidden gems to be discovered in the back alleys of the city.
Bruges is a fantastic place to visit at Christmas time, and you really shouldn't let recent terrorists atrocities put you off from visiting. Check the FCO Belgium travel advice page before departing if you have any concerns.
2. Paris, France
As much as I love Disneyland, Paris has so much more to offer. No matter how many times you travel to Paris, there are always more nooks and crannies left to be discovered. In less than two hours from Ashford International, you will be transported to one of the most famous cities in the world at the best time of year.
A stroll through the city centre is all you need to see a free exhibition of mesmerising Christmas lights and fantastic displays in shop windows. Parisians love their Christmas!
The best view of the city can be seen from the top of the Montmatre Sacre-Coeur basilica. Yes, I know it’s a lot of steps, but I guarantee it’s worth it. Trust me. The view is particularly spectacular at night when the Eiffel Tower is lit up and all the other Christmas lights are on.
Another huge part of Christmas in Paris is chocolate. Paris is similar to Bruges as both cities are full of chocolate shops and cafes, so why not indulge? My personal favourite is the chocolate museum ‘Choco-Story’ along Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, which has an interesting museum on the history of chocolate but also gives out cheeky free samples and demonstrates the making of chocolate. Is it really Christmas if you don’t treat yourself?
Dotted around the city there are hundreds of secluded parks to relax in and get away from the chaos that can sometimes be Paris. For example, Jardin du Luxembourg has fantastic autumn colours in the colder months, making it the perfect place to stroll through with a hot chocolate and wellies.
Like in any big city sometimes tourists can be vulnerable to pickpockets and other types of crime, so check www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/france/safety-and-security for advice on how to stay aware of your surroundings when in Paris.
3. Amsterdam, the Netherlands
I’m sure lots of Canterbury residents, especially students, are familiar with National Express already, but something that might not be so well known is that a National Express coach can take you from Canterbury, St Georges Lane straight to Amsterdam. The downside is it takes almost 12 hours to get there, so you might want to bring a book or two for the journey. If you’re looking for a slightly quicker way to get to city, the Eurostar from Ashford is always an option.
When people think of Amsterdam, more often than not it will be associated with its lively atmosphere and culture of partying. Coffee shops such as The Bulldog are particularly popular amongst travellers looking to have a chill evening, but make sure you visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/netherlands/local-laws-and-customs for the rules on drugs in Amsterdam before going.
The most exciting time of year to visit Amsterdam is New Year’s Eve. The fireworks are completely over the top but in a good way – they should definitely be on your not-to-be-missed list. To get the best view possible, find a hotel bar or a restaurant with a balcony and watch the craziest fireworks known to man unfold.
However, if you’re after a more low-key trip, Amsterdam is full of history. From the beautiful canals that wind through the city to the famous Anne Frank or Van Gogh museums, Amsterdam could not be more diverse. Why not hop on a bike like the locals do and explore the city that way, if you find there’s too much to fit in by foot?
These are some other places you might want to consider: Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Dresden, Frankfurt, Lille, Prague, Tallin, Venice and Vienna. So what are you waiting for, get online and book an amazing Christmas break today!
By Bethany Richards