For many, the holidays just seem to kind of sneak up on us. It’s not that we don’t know they’re coming, or that we’re not feverishly planning with them in mind, but it seems that we rarely get into the Christmas spirit until we’re well and truly in the midst of it. Many European countries enhance the lead up to December 25th with the appearance of Christmas Markets in many cities and towns, which celebrate the season and get everyone into the holiday spirit. The Christmas Market is a long standing European tradition, with roots dating back as far as 1294. To help you get into the holiday spirit a little earlier this year, here are 12 great images from Christmas Markets around the world:
12. Strasbourg, France
Founded in 1570, Strasbourg’s Christmas Market is the oldest and most famous in all of France. The city is known as “the Capital of Christmas” and proudly displays the deep rooted history and traditions of Alsatian Christmas.
11. London, England
There’s no shortage of beautiful Christmas Markets to explore and enjoy in the city of London. The Southbank Centre Winter Festival, Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and the Christmas Market at Tate Modern are all excellent choices for shopping and general holiday merriment!
10. South Tyrol, Italy
In the South Tyrol region of Italy, each little town has it’s own unique Christmas Market with plenty of holiday cheer. The market in Bolzano is known as Italy’s largest Christmas Market and draws visitors from far and wide to the beautifully decorated Piazza Walther.
9. Dresden, Germany
Also known as the Striezelmarkt, the Christmas Market in Dresden is one of the oldest documented markets in Germany. The market which runs through the Advent season up until Christmas Eve, celebrated its 580th anniversary in 2014.
8. Trento, Italy
Each year at the end of November, the little wooden stalls are set up against the historic walls of Castle of Buonconsiglio for Trento’s annual Christmas Market. One of the market highlights is “I sapori del mercatino”, which means “The flavor of the Christmas Market”, in which visitors can sample delicious sweets, schnapps, wine and sausage products.
7. Berlin, Germany
Germany knows how to do Christmas Markets extremely well, and visiting them is a popular tradition for many in December. The city of Berlin has over 60 individual Christmas Markets to be explored and while it would be a shame to visit just one, a favorite is Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt.
6. Basel, Switzerland
The Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz in Basel is considered by many to be one of the prettiest and largest in Switzerland. Over 180 sellers and artisans sell gifts, decorations, food and more from the market’s traditional wooden chalets.
5. Vienna, Austria
Christmas Markets are a celebrated and well-established tradition throughout all of Austria. In the capital city of Vienna there are over 25 different markets to explore, shop, eat and get into the Christmas spirit!
4. Hannover, Germany
The Hannover Christmas Market takes place in the city’s historic Old Town center and features a wide array of vendors for your shopping enjoyment. Over 150 artisans sell their wares including hand carved decorations and locally produced food products.
3. Vilnius, Lithuania
The Vilnius Christmas Market in Lithuania takes place in the city’s historic Cathedral Square each year in the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas. One of the most recognizable features of this market is the 25 meter high Christmas tree decorated with thousands of twinkling lights.
2. Vipiteno, Italy
This town of South Tyrol Italy features it’s Christmas Market high up in the snowy mountains. Vipiteno is located at 1000 meters above sea level and the tiny town’s market offers visitors a beautiful small-town Christmas atmosphere.
1. Frankfurt, Germany
The Frankfurt Christmas Market is widely known as one of the most beautiful in all of Germany. Each December, the town square is transformed with lights and decorated, traditional wooden stalls while visitors enjoy the festive atmosphere of the season.
When people think of a European getaway, they tend to name off places like London, Paris, and Rome. While each of those cities has earned its spot on various travelers’ bucket lists, there are many cities that are just as worthy of “must see” status that are a little more off the beaten path. Northern Europe tends to get the short end of the stick when it comes to tourism, despite its rich, long and varied history. With small populations, limited influence and often harsh climates, the northern countries, including Scandinavia, Finland and the Baltics don’t exactly seem like havens for travelers – but these underrated escapes are also home to some of the most beautiful, diverse and storied cities in all of Europe. Here are 10 of the hidden gems in Europe’s Northern kingdoms.
10. Roskilde, Denmark
Roskilde is a city with only 50,000 inhabitants, but it’s easily one of the most important cities in Denmark; in fact, it was the Danish capital for many generations. The city dates back to the Viking Age and, according to medieval sources, was the site of a royal palace and a cathedral built by Harald Bluetooth, the legendary founder of Denmark. Though the Roskilde Cathedral that stands today dates from 12th and 13th centuries, Harald Bluetooth’s tomb is here, along with the graves of other Danish monarchs. Attached to the cathedral is Roskilde Palace. Roskilde is also famed for its Viking Ship Museum, which houses the remains of 5 well-preserved Viking ships, which were unearthed from the Roskilde Fjords surrounding the city.
9. Turku, Finland
Before the capital moved to Helsinki in 1812, Turku was the most important city in Finland. Today, it’s still an important center and one of the largest cities in Finland. Situated at the mouth of the Aura River, Turku is integral to both Finnish tourism and business. Of the notable sites, the Cathedral of Turku, erected in the 1300s, is a must-see, along with the Castle of Turku. Due to its location on the Baltic, Turku boasts scenic coastline and access to many small islands in the Archipelago Sea. Like its much-larger Swedish counterpart, Stockholm, the city’s maritime culture encourages day trips to the islands. And yes, there are tours highlighting the design and architecture that the Finns are famous for.
8. Kiruna, Sweden
How far north can you go? In Sweden, the answer is Kiruna, an Arctic Circle town that is home to the world’s very first ice hotel. Here, the aurora borealis put on a spectacular display during long winter nights and the midnight sun dominates summer days. A train will take you north to the land of cloudberries, the traditional home of the Sami. In the winter, 2 nearby mountains, Kiirunavaara and Luossavaara, provide excellent skiing and the nearby lake Luossajarvi can be used for ice skating. Dog sledding is another popular activity and every winter, the town holds a Snow Festival. Kiruna Church, built in Gothic Revival style in 1912, is one of Sweden’s largest wooden buildings and was voted Sweden’s most popular pre-1950s building.
7. Tampere, Finland
The “Manchester of Finland,” or “Manse” in Finnish, Tampere is located between 2 lakes, Nasijarvi and Pyhajarvi. The lakes are at different levels and the Tammerkoski rapids that link them run through the city. Founded in the 18th century by the Swedish King Gustav II, Tampere is renowned as a center of cultural life in Finland. The third largest city in the country is home to multiple theaters, an international theater festival, a short film festival, an urban rock festival and the Tampere Floral Festival. Tampere is also home to many museums, including a spy museum, the Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame and a shoe museum, as well as one of the last museums in the world dedicated to Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin.
6. Aalborg, Denmark
Built at the narrowest point on the Limfjord, Aalborg rose to prominence as one of the most important harbors in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages. Today, it’s become an important hub of culture, even hosting one of the largest annual festivals in Scandinavia. Aalborg has many theaters, performance venues and museums, along with an orchestra and opera company. Budolfi Church, now a cathedral, was consecrated in the 1300s, and in 1550 a royal residence was built in the city. Aalborg’s most famous buildings, however, may be the half-timbered mansions, built by the city’s prosperous merchants such as Jorgen Olufsen. Also notable is Jomfru Ane Gade (Virgin Anne’s Street), noted among travelers for its cafes during the day and clubs at night!
5. Reykjavik, Iceland
Although not “Europe” in the strictest sense, Iceland is often included in discussions of Northern Europe thanks to its Norse heritage. The capital, Reykjavik, is situated on a peninsula. The hills Öskjuhli∂ and Skolavör∂uholt are former volcanoes and the mountains of the Blafjöll range for the city’s backdrop. Also nearby is the famed Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa. The city is home to the largest church in Iceland, the parliament building, and several museums and art galleries. Iceland is renowned for its natural beauty, and Reykjavik boasts Hofdi, a nature reserve; a cluster of red volcanic craters; and a geothermally heated beach. Reykjavik is most renowned for its nightlife, with over 100 bars and clubs, many of which are open until 4:30 am on weekends.
4. Vilnius, Lithuania
Although Vilnius is the capital of Lithuania, and the second-largest city in the 3 Baltic states, it’s often passed over by tourists, if only for the fact that, for much of its history, it has been under the rule of one country or another, most recently as part of the Soviet Union until 1990. Nonetheless, this beautiful city has centuries of history to share with visitors. Lying at the confluence of the Vilna and Neris Rivers, Vilnius was founded during the Middle Ages. It soon became the capital, in part because its geography made it less vulnerable to attack. Vilnius boasts ancient churches and palaces, many in Baroque or Eastern Orthodox styles. A trip through the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, won’t disappoint!
3. Trondheim, Norway
Founded in 997, Trondheim served as the capital of Norway during the Viking Age, until 1217. Long the seat of the Norwegian royal family, the city is situated on the River Nidelva, which flows through Trondheim and supplies water to the surrounding fjords. Munkholmen, a small islet, is a popular tourist destination, and the Stiftsgarden, a 17th century royal palace, is quite possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe. The Nidaros Cathedral, the northernmost medieval cathedral in the world, dominates most views of the city. The cathedral is only one of many historic churches in the city, although many buildings have been lost in fires over the centuries. Surrounded by wetlands, it’s not uncommon to see animals like foxes and moose in the city.
2. Uppsala, Sweden
This quintessentially Swedish city was, for centuries, incredibly important in Swedish culture. Just an hour by train out of Stockholm, Uppsala features the medieval Domkyrka cathedral, a 17th century royal palace, the oldest university in Scandinavia, the house of Carl Linneaus, Viking graves at Gamla Uppsala and runestones scattered about the city. Uppsala is relatively small compared to cities like Stockholm, but that makes it all the more pleasant. The slower pace of life, along with fantastic scenery and parks along the River Frysen, make Uppsala one of the most underrated cities in Northern Europe. At the end of April, students celebrate Walpurgis Night (Valborg in Swedish) by floating homemade boats down the river and drinking copious amounts of champagne.
1. Tallinn, Estonia
Like Vilnius, Tallinn is a beautiful Baltic city that has been overlooked by travelers, although tourism to the city has been growing. Tallinn is Estonia’s largest city, with 32 percent of the population calling it home. The capital is situated on Estonia’s northern coast, across the Gulf of Finland; it’s just 50 miles from Helsinki, Stockholm, and St. Petersburg. Never razed or pillaged (although bombed during World War II), Tallin’s Old Town is one of Europe’s best preserved medieval towns. Sites include the city walls, 2 towers, and numerous medieval churches. On Cathedral Hill, the main attraction is the medieval Toompea Castle, which houses the Estonian Parliament. Kadriog Palace, built by Peter the Great just after the Great Northern War, is another popular tourist destination.
As 2014 has started to wind down, no doubt many of us are already looking ahead and planning those vacations for the coming year. If you’ve been having trouble deciding just where you want to cross off your travel bucket list next, check out this list of the top countries to visit in 2015 as per Lonely Planet’s new guidebook; ‘Best in Travel 2015’. All countries were reportedly chosen for their “topicality, unique experiences and ‘wow’ factor”.
Lonely Planet describes Morocco as one of the most diverse countries in Africa and we agree with this choice given the countries array of ancient cities, vast dessert landscapes and rough coastline. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage listings, the history in this country is rich and opportunities for exploration are endless.
9. St Lucia
While most noted for its abundance of luxury beach resorts, St Lucia has so much more to offer outside the obvious (not that being waited on hand and foot in paradise is a bad thing). While beaches are definitely the top attraction of this Caribbean island, there’s also amazing rainforest adventures to be had along with unique markets, bazaars and tiny beach towns to be explored.
8. The Philippines
Lonely Planet states that the placement of The Philippines in this list is long overdue. With beautiful white sand beaches, picturesque coastlines and enchanting coral reefs it’s much more of a vacation destination that you might think. The country is also known for its love of food, music and street festivals creating an almost carnival like atmosphere.
While many European destinations are notoriously pricey, Serbia makes the top 10 for its amazing value for money and was called one of “Europe’s best kept secrets” by the travel guide. The countries ‘Exit Festival’ was also just named ‘Best Major European Festival’ at the European Festival Awards. The nightclubs in Belgrade are also said to rival those of major party meccas like Ibiza and Berlin. Now is this time to check out this value destination because now that word is out, the crowds will be coming.
6. Republic of Congo
Quite possibly the biggest surprise on this list, the Republic of Congo comes in 6th place, ahead of some clear vacation favorites like St. Lucia. Along the reasons for this are improved tourism infrastructure, better roads and new safari attractions with chances to see gorillas and elephants in the wild. This country is also packed with dense barely touched rainforest making it a nature lover’s dream destination.
Coming in 5th in this group, Ireland can almost certainly look forward to a boost in tourism in 2015 as a result of this ranking. The influential guidebook calls Ireland “stunningly scenic” and “the real deal”. It’s true, as the traditions of music, dance, beer, whiskey and food are firmly rooted and just waiting for enthusiastic travelers to come experience.
With a resurgence of travel to Central America in recent years it’s no surprise to see one of these Latin American Gems on this list. Nicaragua, once best known for its political turmoil and civil unrest has come a long way to become a recognized tourist destination. Along with wild jungle landscapes, you’ll find vibrant cities and some amazing food. The country has also become a premier destination for eco-tourism, one of the hottest trends in the industry.
Another one of Europe’s hidden gems, Lithuania comes in number 3 on the Lonely Planet rankings for being a “rebellious, quirky and vibrant” country. Located on the majestic Baltic Sea the country is full of history, scenery, and mystery. With other popular European tourist destinations becoming increasingly more crowded, you can be sure you’re going to start hearing about Lithuania a lot more.
Celebrating its 25th anniversary of independence in 2015, Namibia is the second African country to make this year’s list. While the Congo was recognized for its rugged wilderness, Namibia is being included for its progress in sustainable development. The country is even the first in Africa to include environmental protection in its constitution. With loss of habitat being a global theme, now is the time to support a country who takes the opposite stance.
Landing in first place and making its debut in the top 10 list, Singapore is clearly a travel destination on the rise. Influential factors for this choice were reportedly the many new developments within the country like a number of new luxury hotels, and attractions like the Singapore Sports Hub and the soon to open National Art Gallery. Increasing in popularity are also the countries high fashion scene and wide array of high end shopping centers. Couple these with the fact that in 2015 the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence and we agree that Singapore is a must visit for the coming year.