Yearly Archives: 2018

Five Alternative European Christmas Markets

The traditional Christmas market originated in Dresden as far back as 1434, but Christmas markets can now be found across Europe, collectively attracting millions of visitors each year. With sparkling Christmas lights adorning snowy trees, aromas of chestnuts roasting on open fires, and traditional mulled wine warming you down to your toes, Europe’s Christmas markets are guaranteed to leave you feeling festive.

Selling everything from handmade wooden toys to traditional local cuisine here’s our pick of the most magical European markets to visit this winter.

Nuremberg, Germany

Sweet Gingerbread Hearts, Nuremberg Christmas Markets

Nuremberg Old Town is transformed into a Christmas city, where fresh greenery and sweet gingerbread hearts decorate the stalls. Here you’ll find traditional handmade wooden Christmas decorations and the famous Zwetschgenmännle prune men. And of course, it wouldn’t be a German Christmas market without mulled wine and roasted sugared almonds.

Strasbourg, France

Christmas Tree in Strasbourg, France

Several town squares around the UNESCO World Heritage site of Strasbourg host Christmas markets, each with their own unique characteristics. The oldest and best-known Christkindelsmärik in Place Brogile, features over 300 wooden chalets. Browse beautifully decorated Christmas stalls brimming with handmade decorations, local delicacies, and Alsatian fare. For an even more magical experience, take a short stroll over to Place Kléber, where you’ll find the square illuminated by the city’s iconic 30-metre-tall Christmas tree.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Old Town Square at Christmas TIme

For five weeks of the year, Prague’s iconic Old Town Square transforms into a magical Winter Wonderland. A celebration of traditional Czech culture and handicrafts, you can browse stalls stocked with embroidered lace, wooden toys, Christmas ornaments, and traditional puppets and dolls. When hunger strikes, there’s plenty of classic Czech foods to indulge in; roasted hams, klobása(barbecue sausages) and the hot sugar-coated chimney cake known as Trdelnik.

Krakow, Poland

Christmas market at the Main Market square of Krakow

In the centre of Krakow’s Old Town, the Main Market Square is filled with wooden stalls offering Bolesławiec Pottery, traditionalSzopkas (nativity icons) and fresh mistletoe. Foodies can’t miss out on oscypek (a traditional Polish smoked cheese made from sheep milk), topped with jam. For a truly unique Christmas experience, take a short walk to the Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where you can watch a live nativity scene and be entertained by bands and carollers.

Vienna, Austria

Spiced Mulled Wine at Vienna Christmas Markets

Vienna has over twenty official Advent Markets across the city, but no setting is more beautiful for a Christmas market than Vienna’s Schonbrunn Palace. The tempting aromas of warm punch and freshly baked Vanillekipferl (crescent biscuits) fill the air around this neoclassical palace – the perfect place to sample hearty Austrian delights.


10 Reasons to Spend Christmas in Europe

From experiencing atmospheric festive traditions, to embracing the après ski scene in Europe’s most idyllic mountain towns, with our favourite time of year approaching, we take a look at why you should spend Christmas in Europe.

Christmas in Europe

The Christmas Markets

There aren’t many traditions more evocative of Christmas in Germany than the season’s outdoor markets. Between the bustling stalls, visitors can sip on steaming cups of mulled wine and tuck into warm stöllen and roast chestnuts. In fact, these Bavarian-style markets can be found all over Europe, from the romantic Austrian city of Salzburg, to England’s vibrant capital, London.

Outdoor Ice Rinks

Christmas markets often come hand-in-hand with sparkling open-air ice rinks. The Natural History Museum Swarovski Ice Rink and Skate at Somerset House – two of London’s most popular rinks – are celebrated as destinations in their own right, each set within impressive surroundings, amidst architectural grandeur and twinkling lights. 

Christmas in Europe

Seasonal Shows 

Performances spanning a wide range of genres are on offer across Europe year-round, but December brings an influx of festive shows, perfect for a seasonal dose of Christmas spirit. From classic pantomimes such as Cinderella to nostalgic plays like The Snowman and whimsical ballet The Nutcracker, London certainly stands out for its theatrical offering. 

Cosy Winter Fare 

With the wintery days and first snowfall comes a feast of warming winter fare, which is distinct to each location. Indulge in a rich fondue or raclette on the Swiss slopes, tuck into an Italian beef stew infused with rosemary and red wine, or embrace the heartiest of French festive cuisine.

Christmas in Europe

Warming Winter Cocktails 

Mulled wine and hot spiced cider are of course widespread at this time of year. But with such an outstanding selection of bars across Europe’s most happening cities, this is just the beginning of the winter cocktail offering. Step into chic bars and onto cosy winter terraces to try a new Christmas tipple. 

The Mountain Towns 

Flanked by snow-capped mountains and pine forest, there aren’t many settings more idyllic at this time than Europe’s mountain towns. Dotted across the 1,200-kilometre expanse of the Alps are a number of romantic Alpine towns, each of which has its own unique appeal.

Christmas in Europe

The Aprés Ski 

While some of these Alpine towns offer tranquillity, others are at the heart of Europe’s vibrant après ski scene. Join the skiers of towns such as St Moritz and Cortina d’Ampezzo as they come in from the slopes to celebrate the setting with a glass of Champagne. 

Nostalgic Settings 

From alpine lodges to manor house hotels and grand castles, nostalgic settings abound throughout Europe. After all, what better way to end the day than sitting by a roaring log fire amid such splendour? 

Christmas in Europe

The Annual Traditions 

While many traditions have been adopted worldwide, some of Europe’s festive customs have remained lesser known, from regional culinary specialties across Italy, to the handicrafts that can be found in Germany’s Christmas markets.

The Winter Festivals

A number of festivals pop up across Europe during the build-up to Christmas, bringing together the season’s markets, shows, ice rinks and more, all in one place. One of the most popular in London is Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, where highlights this year include The Nutcracker on Ice.


The 16 Most Charming Christmas Markets in Europe

There’s nothing in the world quite like the holiday season in Europe, and if you’re there from late November through the New Year, it’s easy to see why: There are wooden chalets in 13th-century towns, snow-capped cathedrals, seasonal cookies and cakes in display windows (better still: in your mouth), and of course, all the hot mulled wine you can drink. Put all of it together, and the towns practically twinkle with fairy-tale festiveness. We’d venture to say there’s hardly a wrong way to do Christmas across the continent, but it’s worth hitting some of the biggest celebrations first. Here, in no particular order, are 17 of the best Christmas markets in Europe.


23 Best Places to Spend Christmas: The World’s Most Festive Cities

We’re all for snow days and cuddling up with loved ones by the fire, but the month of December is also prime time for traveling—mainly to see how the rest of the world celebrates Christmas. These cities are worth a visit any time of year, sure, but they seem to be exceptionally magical during the holiday season. Whether they’re European classics with storybook Christmas markets, Asian cities where you can see twinkling lights from a rooftop pool, or ski paradises right here in the U.S., some celebrations are worth the price of a plane ticket. And let’s face it: You haven’t really seen Christmas lights until you’ve seen 26 million lights all at once (we’re looking at you, Colombia). From Cologne to Cape Town, here are the best places to spend Christmas this year.


Best Christmas Destinations In Europe

With Christmas  just a few months away, now it’s the best time to plan your holidays in one of Europe’s best Christmas markets.  In this post, top travel bloggers from around the world share their favourite Christmas destinations in Europe.

Nuremberg – Germany 

Nuremberg in Bavaria, Germany gets our stamp of approval for being our favourite European Christmas destination. This unofficial Franconian capital city holds a Christmas Market – Christkindlesmarkt – every year, and has been doing so since 1628; a time when Christmas gift-giving to children started in the region.

The city’s Christmas Market is located in the quaint and charming Old Town Hauptmarkt (market square) where 180 stalls await visitors. The Christmas Market typically runs from the last week in November up to Christmas Eve. Visitors to the market can enjoy all sorts of things, such as horse carriage rides; regional foods (be sure to try the Nuremberg sausages – 3 on a bun); libations such as Gluhwein (mulled wine); handmade local products; souvenir and gift shopping; the children’s Christmas market where the Christkind visits with kids.

Being part of this festival that is always packed with both locals and tourists is worth taking a trip to Nuremberg. It is a time where everyone there revels in the atmosphere and conviviality of the season.

nuremberg-christmas-market-photo-by-wavejourney-com
Nuremberg Christmas-Market photo by wavejourney.com

Prague, Czech Republic

We love to be with our friends & family during the holidays, but if you could take them anywhere in the world for Christmas, it would be Prague. We have visited Prague several times and just last year in December when all the Prague Christmas markets were set up. Prague is the perfect place to travel to during the Christmas season. There are a ton of things to do in Prague year-round, and it’s magical to see Old Town Prague transform into a gorgeous picturesque Christmas market.

Nothing beats having a cup of hot gluhwein as you wander the streets of Prague. The weather is chilly but very pleasant, we have visited in the summer heat, and we much prefer the cooler temperatures. Stop in the local restaurants and shops to warm with some local treats or do a bit of Christmas shopping. Prague really is the perfect Christmas destination.

prague-xmas-market
Prague Christmas Market photo by GettingStamped

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is without a doubt one of the most exciting European destinations to visit over Christmas. This cosmopolitan capital puts on quite the celebration during the holiday season, drawing thousands of visitors to marvel over its elaborate Christmas decorations. In addition to being decked out in lights and embellishments, Berlin also plays host to over 60 Christmas markets in the months of November and December. Each market is unique but full of beautiful stalls with great food, delicious mulled wine, souvenirs, Christmas decorations, crafts, and so much more. We’ve only had a chance to visit a few markets during our brief visit to Berlin in 2012, so we can’t wait for a chance to one day go back to Berlin for more Christmas fun.

Berlin at Christmas
Berlin at Christmas photo by Drink Tea and Travel

Dresden, Germany

Home to Germany’s oldest Christmas Market, Dresden is a must-visit destination during the festive Christmas season. The top draw in the city is Striezelmarkt, the famous market which came up in 1434 and has been around ever since. Located in the centre of the city at Altmarkt Square, the visit to the market is incomplete without trying out the traditional hot wine, Gluehwein, and the German Christmas Cake, Hefestriezel, which also gave the market its name. There is something for the kids too, and these are famous Christmas toys from the Ore Mountains like nutcrackers, incense smokers among others. Despite the cold, the markets are open till late and are a great place to end your day with a local meal.

However, this is not the only market to be explored, and other recommended markets include Medieval Christmas Market and Frauenkirche Christmas Market, both within walking distance to each other in the heart of old city.

dresden-christmas-market
Dresden Christmas Market photo by the Wanderer

Brussels, Belgium

Christmas is a time to be with family, so for as long as I can remember I`ve always been home for Christmas. In Belgium, we always celebrate with a large family dinner and by visiting a nearby Christmas market. Almost every city has it’s own Christmas market so there’s a lot of good choices!
Brussels organises one of the biggest Christmas markets in Europe. Besides the impressive spruce tree in the middle of the Grand Place, the main attractions are the Sound & light show, the Ferris wheel and the numerous Christmas stalls around the Fish Market.
Most people visit the Brussels Christmas market for the great atmosphere, the lights, the chalets full of Christmas presents and, of course, the genever and gluhwein! On Saturday, there’s also a large Christmas Parade!
brussels-christmas-market
Brussels Christmas Market photo by Inspiring Travellers

Copenhagen, Denmark

Far up north, in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, the month of December is full of old traditions, delicious food and snow-covered Christmas trees. The city is most beautiful after dark when the cobblestone streets light up in the glow from thousands of Christmas decorations. In the city’s old port, Nyhavn, the charming wooden ships in the frozen canals make for some excellent Christmas pictures.

It’s not really Christmas, though, until you’ve had the Danish version of mulled wine and pastries called gløgg and æbleskiver. The best place to get this is at the traditional Christmas market in Tivoli, a 150-year-old amusement park in downtown Copenhagen. Once a year it turns into a magical winter wonderland full of elves and strolling families. In the market, you find anything from home-knit slippers to delicious Danish sweets and possibly also the coziest Christmas atmosphere you’ve ever experienced.

copenhagen-christmas
Copenhagen at Christmas photo by the Rucksack Ramblings

Edinburgh, Scotland

Scotland really sparkles at Christmas time, and one of the hottest destinations in December is the capital, Edinburgh (pronounced, Edin – bruh / Edin – bur – uh). The city is littered with the typical lodge style wooden huts that serve European style mulled wine and sell Scottish trinkets and crafts which make nice souvenir festive gifts. The Christmas market also boasts of adult chair-o-planes, an ice rink, and Santa’s grotto. I would strongly advise sticking around Scotland for the biggest celebration of the year, Hogmanay. Hogmanay is New Year’s Eve to all you none – Scots out there. Bring in the bells with a bang with Edinburgh Festival’s firework display, live music, and street ceilidh.

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Edinburgh Christmas Market, 2014 by Graham Campbell /CC BY-SA 2.0

Florence, Italy

Spending a Christmas in Florence Italy last year was one of my most incredible travel experiences in Europe. The streets of Florence are filled with people, bright from the millions of lights, and smells great from all the delicious food on every corner. We spent four days here last Christmas in an old AirBnb and couldn’t believe how the Christmas feeling just lingered in the air before and after December 25th. One of our more memorable moments was heading to a Christmas night mass and watching all the Italians come together with their family. We can’t speak a word of Italian, but it was still wonderful to experience!

christmas-in-florence
Christmas in Florence photo by the World Pursuit

Krakow, Poland

One of our favourite places to spend Christmas in Europe is Krakow. It is the most beautiful city in Poland. There is always a lot going there!
On December, there is a Christmas Market at Krakow‘s Old Town and the other (smaller) next to Galeria Krakowska shopping mall. You can eat there traditional Polish food like bigos, golabki and pierogi or drink Grzaniec Galicyjski; Polish mulled wine.
In contrary to the popular Xmas destinations of Europe, like Paris, London or Berlin, Krakow is not that crowded, and it’s definitely cheaper. For an apartment in the heart of the city, you will pay $70 or less.
Krakow
Krakow photo by Karolina & Patryk

Bremen is also known for having one of the best Christmas markets in Germany. 

Rovaniemi, Finland

This is considered to be the best Christmas destination in Europe thanks to its unique setting and culture. As the capital of Lapland, Rovaniemi is the official home of Santa making it a great place to visit for the Christmas season. You can visit his home, called the Santa Claus Village, which is decorated with ornaments and lights and even stop by the Santa Claus Main Post Office, run by elves, where you can write and send a postcard from the magnificent Arctic Circle. Besides this, you can also take a tour of some local reindeer farms or spend some time hiking to a dark spot to catch the glowing Northern Lights illuminating the sky.

You can even stop by the Ranua Wildlife Park which is a zoo filled with native arctic animals, like polar bears and owls. If you’re looking for more outdoor activities, you can try snowshoeing in the nearby forest or head out to a secluded lake to go ice fishing with the locals to catch herring and pike. On the other hand, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even try to make your own igloo, under the guidance of a professional, which you can later sleep in. You can also take a quick swim in Ounaskoski Beach where many locals enjoy venturing to for a chilly winter swim.

Best Christmas destinations in Europe - Rovaniemi

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt transforms into a magical place for the Christmas season. Often covered in fresh layers of snow, this village features traditional Austrian houses scattered around the hillside as well as a large lake that freezes over and becomes a popular spot for ice skating. Hallstatt offers many festive stalls at its Christmas market you can shop at to buy goodies like fresh gingerbread and cider. You’ll find fragrant Christmas trees lined up around the area and can try a local specialty – spicy smoked fish caught fresh from the nearby lake.

This UNESCO region features plenty of outdoor activities you can partake in like snowshoeing and skiing. You can also visit the Hallstatt Museum which holds ancient artifacts uncovered from the local salt mines, like the Altaussee Salt Mine which is the oldest one in the world. At night, you can catch a horse-drawn carriage which will take you around the village so you can experience the Christmas season here even better.

Best Christmas destinations in Europe - Hallstatt

The Dolomites, Italy

This mountain range is a stunning place to venture to during the Christmas season and is one of the top Christmas destinations in Europe for many reasons. Usually covered in snow, you can walk around the area to visit local Christmas markets which sell handmade items and homemade food. The area features five different markets which are located in Bressanone, Vipiteno, Merano, Trento, and Bolzano.

The market in Bressanone is situated in the midst of a medieval city and known for its selection of handmade glass, barley soup, and mulled wine. You can walk around the area for a romantic evening stroll while listening to the faint voices of carolers and smelling the aroma of fresh garlands and cinnamon. If you’re looking for some other unique things to do while in the Dolomites, you can try bobsledding at the Cortina Adrenaline Center or sign up to go on a sled ride during the night through the majestic mountain range while stargazing.

Best Christmas destinations in Europe - Dolomites

Swedish Lapland

When many think about the best Christmas holidays in Europe, their mind might wander to the Swedish Lapland. This area is often a tranquil place filled with freshly fallen snow on pine trees with reindeer trotting around. Situated near the Arctic Circle, the Swedish Lapland is the best European Christmas destination thanks to its rich history and cheerful Christmas spirit. While here, you can get around by walking or taking a sleigh. You can also go skiing or snowmobiling through its fragrant forests.

This area is very traditional so you’ll find many old Christmas markets and scenery to enjoy. Once you’re done shopping at some of them, you can stop by one of the nearby village restaurants or cafes where you can eat some traditional food like smoked salmon, mushroom salad, and cinnamon rice pudding while sitting by a crackling wood fire. Some other things you can do while enjoying the Christmas season here is to hike up to the Aurora Sky Station to see the Northern Lights or stop by the Gammelstad Church Village which is a UNESCO site featuring a 15th century church surrounded by bright red buildings.

Best Christmas destinations in Europe - Swedish Lapland

Zermatt,  Switzerland

This small spot in Switzerland is one of the best places in Europe to spend Christmas thanks to its majestic mountain views and impressive holiday décor. While in Zermatt, you can catch a glimpse of the famous Matterhorn while walking around the main square which is decorated with twinkling lights and fresh garlands. To get around, you can catch a ride on a horse-drawn carriage which will take you around to various areas in Zermatt. One unique thing to do while here is to take the Gornergrat Cog Railway up to the top of the Alps where you can go skiing or just get amazing panoramic views of the area below. While at the top, you can also check out the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise which features incredible ice sculptures made in the shapes of cars, dragons, and even a throne.

When you’re done exploring, you can stop by one of the many small restaurants to try some fresh fondue and chocolate. You can also try traditional rösti, a dish made out of potatoes and butter.  If you happen to visit during the last few days of December, you can also listen to Zermatt’s Christmas concert which plays classical music pieces. For those looking for some adventurous things to do while here for the season, you can try walking down the Charles Kuonen Suspension Bridge which is one of the largest in the world. You’ll be able to view the mountainous region even better while walking across it making it a great place to snap some pictures. Keep in mind, Zermatt doesn’t allow cars, so to get around you’ll either have to walk, use a carriage, or hop on a train.

Best Christmas destinations in Europe - Zermatt

So where are you spending Christmas this year? Do you have a favourite Christmas destination? Write us bellow in the comments!


Europe’s Best Christmas Markets 2018

Category : Christmas , Visit Europe

Christmas is coming and a trip to a Christmas market will be a huge treat for kids! We’ve put together this list of the best Christmas markets in Germany, Austria, France and beyond with a baby or toddler.

Strasbourg

27th of November – 31st of December

This Christmas market has been named best in Europe in 2015 (for the second year running). With its some 300 chalets spread over 11 sites in the city centre, it is one of the largest of its kind in Europe. You will find arts and crafts, food and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations. The market is spread throughout the streets and squares of the city and there is even a children’s village at Place St Thomas which invites little ones into a make-believe world of Christmas. Entrance to the Village is free however, there is limited space available. There is a handy fast tram network to take you to vintage markets along the main square and back along the river Rhine. Strasbourg-Entzheim international airport is just 10 km away from the city centre and the Hilton Hotel is a central option which caters well to families.

Vienna

15th of November – 26th of December

vienna-2989786_1920

The Christmas markets in Vienna truly are an age-old tradition. There are over 20 official Advent Markets located throughout the city which sell an array of seasonal gifts and mouth-watering treats. One of the most impressive markets is the Viennese Christmas Market in front of the City Hall. The unique backdrop gives this market a charm of its own, and the delicious aromas are sure to lull visitors into the seasonal joy. Inside the City Hall on the ground floor there is an area dedicated to children, where they can learn how to make Christmas cookies or candles. You can also listen to international choirs singing carols with free entrance on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.  Vienna is a very baby and toddler friendly city with plenty of amenities and facilities for little ones. You can get from the airport to the city centre by train in only 16 minutes. The Vienna Sporthotel is centrally located and excellent for families with large rooms.

Nuremberg

28th November – 24th December

nuremburgThis is a great market for toddlers where you will be enchanted by the special and festive atmosphere of the city. With its hundreds of years of history, the traditional market has loads to offer.  Since 1999, the Children’s Christmas Market on Hans-Sachs-Platz, with its special programs geared for children, has appealed to the whole family. Here, right next to the Christkindlesmarkt, you can find a nostalgic two-tiered merry-go-round, a mini Ferris wheel and a steam railway. There is also a Christmas bakery, where the children can bake little shooting stars, teddy bears or hearts and decorate them. At the children’s post office, kids can post letters to Santa. There are also other kids activities where children can make their own special presents such as candles. The city itself is very baby and toddler friendly and most restaurants will offer high chairs and have changing tables. Using the subway system, the airport is only 12 minutes away from the city center and there are plenty of baby and toddler friendly hotels in the city such as the Novotel Nürnberg Am Messezentrum Hotel which has family rooms.

Prague

29th November – 1st January

PraguePrague offers the perfect setting for the festive season, with its stunning castle, Old Town and Charles Bridge lit up like Christmas trees.The Prague Christmas markets are open daily at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. A ‘Winter wonderland’ awaits, for families to soak up the festive atmosphere. You can browse the stalls and enjoy Christmas carols, hearty food and hot wine.The Christmas market at the Old Town Square has a stable, where children can stroke sheep, goats and a donkeys. The Aquapalace Hotel Prague is very family friendly and has loads of facilities for babies but is a bit out of the centre.

Salzburg

20th November – 26th December

salzburg-cathedral-708761_1920Salzburg may be the city of Mozart, but it’s also the city of Josef Mohr, the local composer who wrote Silent Night, one of the world’s most famous Christmas carols. Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt takes place around the cathedral, with huts gathered at the foot of Hohensalzburg Fortress. The “Christkind” and its angels will walk through the Christmas Market on the four Saturdays before Christmas between 3:30 and 6:30 p.m. The gentle beings enchant visitors when they walk across Cathedral and Residence Square, making children’s eyes shine. The  Regent Petite France and the Novotel Strasbourg Centre Halles are central and welcoming baby and toddler friendly hotels.

Munich

27th November – 24th December

munichMunich’s main markets are organised around a 100-foot Christmas tree in Marienplatz, where getting stuck into the Germanic fare is one of the most satisfying things a seasonal visitor can do. This is just the beginning and Rindermarkt specialises in handmade cribs. The Christmas Village in the Kaiserhof Residenz courtyard has animated scenes of St. Nikolaus, friendly creatures in the wood, fairies and elves in the forest. The gay Christmas Market on Stephansplatz is great fun with its pink trees and cross-dressing carol singers and it even has a special kids market. Wittelsbacher Platz also has a special area dedicated for kids. The Sofitel Munich Bayerpost is a fantastic hotel; its central and great for babies and younger kids.

Worms (1 hour South of Frankfurt)

24th November – 23rd December

wormsAn hour south of Frankfurt and claiming to be “Germany’s oldest city”, Worms proves that small really is beautiful. Strings of lights fan out above the 50 stalls located in the market square. Ice skaters skate on the temporary rink, while children pet the real animals in the “living manger” and get to meet Santa and get a gift of a toy. As well classical music and traditional brass players, there are gospel choirs and even a carol-singing flash mob. From Friday to Sunday traditional and contemporary Christmas songs are performed on the Christmas market stage. Every Sunday in Advent at 2pm you can discover Worms from a fresh perspective on a guided Christmas tour.  Hotel Huttl is a great options with little ones.

Brussels

27th November – 3rd January

Brussels offers five weeks of markets filled with  colorful stalls, fantastic gift ideas and original tasting sessions. Christmas in Brussels is like a scene from a fairy tale and the markets seems to get bigger every year. It now covers almost 2 kilometres of the city. Each of the 240 market stalls is a little wooden-roofed hut selling mainly arts and crafts or food and drink, all of them having a pan-European flavour. The quaint stalls continue, punctuated every now and again by a 35 metre toboggan slope, a big-wheel illuminated with 18,000 lights and, of course, the 200 foot-long skating rink. There is also a gorgeous Christmas tree, a festive Christmas Parade, a Ferris wheel, the merry-go-rounds. The Hotel Amigo is a fantastic baby friendly hotel in Brussels with everything you will need including sterilizers, baby baths, nappies and toys. Babysitters can also be booked last minute.

Dresden

26th November- 24th December


dresden
If you like Christmas, you’ll love Dresden where eleven different Christmas markets lie right at your feet.The Dresden Striezelmarkt is located on the Altmarkt Square, in the historical city centre. It is surrounded by various themed Christmas Markets, stretching up to the main railway station and the Albertplatz. The Traditional Christmas Market at the Frauenkirche is at the heart of Dresden’s historic old town where a romantic Christmas scene reveals itself amidst the festive lights. The market is located on a laneway home to some 45 merchants selling traditional handicrafts and culinary specialities.  Children who happen to meet Santa in Münzgass at 4pm and who perfectly recite a poem or song to him will be lucky enough to receive gifts from Santa’s sack. The Hilton and The Park Inn by Radisson are fantastic family friendly options in the heart of Dresden.

Hyde Park, London

20th November – 3rd January


hyde-park
The market in Hyde Park, central London has two circuses, an observation wheel and an ice-skating rink that circles the Victorian bandstand. There’s also an ice forest with intricate sculptures and ice castles in a ‘Magical Ice Kingdom and a traditional, German style Christmas market’. There’s also the child friendly ‘Santa Land’ complete with Santa’s grotto. Churros, frothy hot chocolate and mulled wine are on every market stall. The Athenaeum Hotel is a great option for those travelling with babies and toddlers. where rooms are stocked with sippy cups, plastic bowls, bibs and cutlery, teddies, building blocks, toy trains and story books. See ‘London’ for some great baby and toddler hotel suggestions near Hyde Park.

Other great markets can be found at Valkenburg in Holland (set in caves), Lucerne in Switzerland, Stockholm in Sweden, Innsbruck in Austria, Cologne and Berlin in Germany, Copenhagen in Denmark, Krakow in Poland and Vilnius in Lithuania and Paris in France. Unfortunately we didn’t have the space for all of them but wherever you go have a …

Happy Christmas!


15+ Christmas Europe Breaks For Every Budget

Category : Christmas , Europe

Ski, sun and Christmas markets! There are a variety of reasons to visit Europe during Winter. Whack the heating up, get your onesie on and get ready to be whisked into some serious winter wanderlust with the following tried and tested winter holiday ideas for Europe.

Christmas Europe Breaks

1. Alsace – France, Wine, Wine, and More Wine!

France’s Alsace region in the east is a dream when December comes around. The joint German-French influence creates an area that offers incredible food, stunning architecture, local beer and wine, and a true appreciation for Christmas. Strasbourg’s Christmas markets are bustling, the entire town is dressed up, and there is holiday cheer everywhere. Then, as you leave Strasbourg and head into the smaller villages along the wine route, the Christmas markets are smaller but absolutely packed with locals and tourists alike. Colmar is second to Strasbourg in terms of popularity, it looks like a fairytale Christmas village.

In all the towns, the stalls sell everything from pretzels and mulled wine to handmade ornaments and home-wares. Each one has its own cup that you have to purchase in order to get mulled wine or beer at the stands (our favourites were the glass mugs from Kayersberg) – you can return them at the end to get your money back. Oh, and did we mention that this is all located along the wine route, meaning there are plenty of wineries to pop into along the way? Our recommendation is to fly into Basel and hire a car – driving through all of the villages is the best way to see the area and remember to visit the Christmas markets. Joyeux Noël! <—- White, red, rose, hot, chilled… I love wine!

Alsace Region, France Best Christmas Europe Breaks

Does mulled wine make a city one of the best European winter breaks?

2. Andermatt in the Snowy Swiss Alps

In 1864, a local hotelier in St Moritz, in the Swiss Alps, offered a money-back guarantee to a few British holidaymakers, offering a winter trip to his local hotel that would be just as rewarding as the summer trip they were enjoying. The bet was placed, the visitors enjoyed their trip and the hotelier never had to make payment. Like this, winter ski vacations in Switzerland and St Moritz as the capital of the wealthy and glamorous world of alpine skiing holidays became popular. But rather than crowded and expensive St Moritz, consider Andermatt for your next Christmas vacation.

A tiny village after the Oberlap Pass, Andermatt has remained the choice of adventurous and off-piste skiers instead of the après-ski fans. The village is all walkable, reachable by train and now features a fabulous and sleek hotel The Chedi complete with ski school, in-room fireplaces and the most stylish spa with an outdoor pool. The investment will soon change the face of this speck of alpine beauty so go now before that happens and enjoy Christmas markets, skiing and the postcard-perfect landscapes of a snow-capped mountain.

Andermatt | Austria | Best Christmas Europe BreaksAndermatt: snug & snowy Xmas breaks in Europe!

3. Austria and Vienna’s 20 Christmas Markets

 Austrians take their Christmas markets seriously. During the festive season, every city and town has a Christmas market. As the capital, Vienna tops them all with a profusion of markets. The city has 20 official Christmas markets and lots of other smaller neighbourhood markets. It’s enjoyable to see the city – warming yourself with a cup of gluhwein and shopping for traditional handicrafts and ornaments. For non-drinkers and children, there is a non-alcoholic version of the gluhwein. The biggest of the markets is held in front of Vienna’s City Hall, the Christkindl Market. The festive cheer spills out into the nearby park, Rathaus Park, where the trees are decorated with giant ornaments and there is entertainment for the children. <—- Nice to hear of a kid-friendly city. Sounds like an ideal place to take them for their Christmas holidays in Europe.

Austria | Best Christmas Europe Breaks

4. Barcelona & The Yuletide Poo

Barcelona is beautiful during Christmas time. The entire city is decorated with Christmas lights. Some shops and hotels also go all out with lights and decorations – Corte Ingles on Plaza Catalunya usually looks amazing! I also love the unique and somewhat strange Catalan Christmas traditions. At the city’s biggest Christmas market, the Fira de Santa Llúicia, you’ll find plenty of really cute looking little logs with faces and hats on the Caga Tió – literally: “the poo uncle”. Kids cover him in a blanket and feed him in the time leading up to Christmas, and on Christmas Eve the poor log gets beaten until he, err… releases… the presents! It’s a cute souvenir to take home, with quite a story to tell.

For fans of classical music, there’s usually a concert of Händel’s Messiah at the magnificent Basilica Santa Maria del Mar a few days before Christmas Eve. Christmas time in Barcelona lasts until January 6th (King’s Day), and there is a huge parade on the evening of the 5th. Bonus points that make Barcelona a great destination for a Christmas break? The weather. It’s much warmer than in most parts of Europe, and just cold enough to make ordering a hot chocolate with churros feel right.

Caga Tio Barcenlona | Christmas Europe Breaks | Kathryn Greenhill via Flickr

5. Beer in Berlin in December

If you are looking to enjoy a short break in Europe just before Christmas and want the stereotypical experience, Berlin is the perfect place to visit. Strolling through Berlin’s Christmas markets is the epitome of a Berlin visit in December. Small, wooden booths decorated with idyllic ornaments including sparkling stars and snow covered fir branches provide a memorable experience for all the family as you enjoy an evening stroll with the sound of your favourite traditional Christmas music echoing around the city.

Berlin is home to a number of traditional markets that occur annually across the city. We stayed in the Alexanderplatz district of the city and were a short walk from the market, though it’s safe to say that the majority of this neighbourhood turns into one large Christmas celebration throughout December. The Berliner Weihnachtszeit is a short distance from the Alexanderplatz and offers a romantic and nostalgic experience with gorgeous, historic architecture providing the perfect backdrop to the skating rink.

Could you imagine any better way to spend a Christmas break than taking a romantic ride on the Ferris wheel while enjoying stunning panoramic views across Berlin with the Brandenburg Gate, Potsdamer Platz, and Reichstag just a few iconic landmarks that you will see?

A visit to Berlin wouldn’t be the same without sampling a fine German brew and what better time of the year to keep you warm as you nibble on your favourite Wurst and wash it down with a local beer.

Berlin, Germany | Apple Market, London | Best Christmas Europe Breaks

6. Bled, A True Fairytale Town

Everyone says Bled in Slovenia is one of Europe’s prettiest fairytale towns. However, imagine that church on the lake and castle on the hill with snow on the mountains – that is a fairytale. Don’t think that Bled is just for looking at in winter, there’s lots of action in this normally sleepy town from skiing to skating and snowshoeing. On December 25th you can watch a local tradition too.

Lake Bled Winter Activities

7. Festive Florence

Florence is the perfect city to spend Christmas time in.  First off Italy is a predominantly Christian country, meaning when November and December roll around you can bet that you will see lights everywhere. During Christmas time Italian hospitality is at its finest and everyone is out on the streets with giant smiles on their faces. The air, the decor, the people, the churches – everything just screams “It’s Christmas Time!” We were able to spend last Christmas there with family and it will always be a trip to remember.

Florence | Christmas Europe Breaks

8. Grindelwald, Switzerland – Top of Europe!

Switzerland is one of the most amazing places I’ve visited in all my travels, it is a magical country with the endless beautiful scenery. Being an Australian I have always dreamed of having a white Christmas and beautiful snowy winters and I think everything truly looks more beautiful covered in a layer of snow! We visited Grindelwald, a majestic village located high in the Swiss Alps a few years ago for our anniversary. Grindelwald literally looks like the front of a Christmas card and the whole time we were there I couldn’t stop telling Dan how I felt like we were living in a real-life snow globe!

Grindelwald is perfect because it has everything; scenery, outdoor sports, adventure, accommodation for everyone whether you are seeking luxury or budget, fine restaurants and even a train that goes to the ‘Top of Europe’! We spent our days exploring the mountains, strolling the snow-covered streets, eating excessive amounts of Swiss cheese and chocolate and relaxing in our outdoor hot tub in the snow. It truly is one of the most beautiful destinations in the world and a short break we will never forget.

Grindelwald, Switzerland | Christmas Europe Breaks

9. Crack Open the Mulled Wine in Krakow

Krakow is one of the most Christmassy destinations on Earth! It is located in Poland, right between the Eastern and Western Europe. It has an airport, so it is very easy to get there from anywhere in the world. The city is beautifully decorated, with Christmas trees, lights and ornaments. It is also one of the cheap winter breaks in Europe – you can find an apartment in the heart of Old Town for less than $60! Krakow has a world-famous Christmas Market. It starts at the end of November and lasts until the end of Christmas. If you go there, be sure to try Grzaniec Galicyjski. It is traditional Polish mulled wine with cinnamon, cloves and all the other warming spices. Yummy!

10. Lose Yourself in London at Christmas

Oxford Street and Regent Street, twinkling in the glow of a thousand of lights. Famous department stores, such as Harrods and Fortnum and Mason decked out in their Christmas finery, with stunning festive window displays (and each with their very own Father Christmas). Children’s pantomimes and the giant Christmas trees at Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. There’s plenty to enjoy in London at Yuletide.

In 2016 the magical Winter Wonderland is celebrating its 10th year at Hyde Park. I love wandering around the pretty wooden chalets, selling a myriad of Christmas gifts and decorations and tucking into tasty treats such as mulled cider, glühwein and bratwurst. There’s always a funfair with a giant Ferris wheel and the ever popular ice-skating rink and so much more. Two new attractions this year are The Imperial Ice Stars’ production of the Nutcracker on Ice and The Magical Ice Kingdom, made from over 200 tonnes of snow and ice.

You’ll find many more ice rinks dotted around the city, including the Natural History Museum and Somerset House, and further Christmas markets include the Tate Modern, Leicester Square and the Southbank Centre. London at Christmas is simply overflowing with festive cheer throughout its bustling streets and beautiful parks, and even its museums and art galleries. I can’t think of a more exciting city to spend a short break at Christmas.

Apple Market, London | Best Christmas Europe Breaks

11. Make Memories: Malta

December is one of the best times to visit Malta as you are avoiding high season. The appeal? Good weather (although it might get a bit rainy sometimes), really cheap prices, and friendly locals. I spent three days in Malta but won’t lie, there was a bit of stormy weather and crazy winds. However, the rain did catch the lights on Valletta (which was all dressed up for Christmas and NYE Celebrations) creating picture – worthy reflections with lots of colours.

12. Move over Xmas, Munich is Here

Germany at Christmas time is a truly magical place. The whole country smells of mulled wine and bratwurst, snow is dusting every roof and tree, and it feels like there is a Christmas market around every corner. Cities like Dresden or Nuremberg and their world-famous confectioneries instantly come to my mind. Yet I recommend you to visit Munich instead – and not just because I live there.

You see, the perfect city break in winter should be about more than just a lovely Christmas market. You’ll want wonderful restaurants, excellent museums, a couple of good day-trip options and some shopping would be nice as well. Bavaria’s capital has all that and more. There certainly is a lovely Christmas market in Munich, but you also got roughly 100 museums to visit, while the Alps and their ski resorts are barely two hours’ drive away. Not convinced yet? Well then, Munich has one of the largest pedestrian areas in Europe, a world-class opera (or a stationary circus for the kids!) and a gigantic thermal bath. You could also attend a Christmas mass in one of the beautiful churches or go skating on one of the ice rinks. The many fairy tale castles around Munich will look especially beautiful with a little snow covering their golden splendour, and if everything fails you, there is always the Hofbräuhaus and ancient Bavarian beer culture to get familiar with!

Munich | Christmas Europe Breaks

13. Crowd Avoiding Tips – Nuremberg

Nuremberg, Bavaria is the perfect Christmas city break in Europe. It is centrally located, has excellent air and rail transportation connections, and it has what is arguably the best Christmas market in Europe. It is clearly one of the best visited – boasting over two million visitors in the four short weeks the market is open every year.

Dating from the early 1600s, Nuremberg’s Christmas market occupies the Main Square under the towering Frauenkirche (Chruch of Our Lady). The stalls, with their candy-striped awnings, occupy in neat little rows. The stalls sell all manner of traditional handicrafts, including little “smoker” men (carved figures that hold smoking incense inside) and carved wooden toys. A horse-drawn stagecoach takes visitors on a ride through the cobblestone streets of the medieval old city.

On weekends, the Nuremberg Christmas market is a throbbing mass of people huddling together to stay warm. During the week, you can explore the market in tranquillity, eat the local Nuremberger sausages (eaten three in a roll) and drink gluhwein (hot mulled wine). We’ve visited many of Europe’s markets, but Nuremberg is one of the best. Whereas other markets in other cities focus only on tourists, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt still maintains its local flavour.

Nuremberg | Christmas Europe BreaksWhere to go for winter holidays in Europe- Bavaria? 

14. Prague: Sip Svařák, See Snow

Prague is one of the most magical places you could spend a European Christmastime city break. Prague castle sits on top of the hill and looks beautiful with a dusting of snow on it, and the Christmas markets in the Old Town have a festive, celebratory atmosphere. My favourite thing to do there during the winter is to buy a cup of svařák (warm red mulled wine) from a booth for about a euro and take a wintry walk across Charles Bridge, marvelling at the old historical houses along the river’s edge. Or you can curl up in a café with a view of the Vltava river with a cup of coffee and a Kafka book and watch the snow fall. Ah, winter!

Prague | Christmas Europe Breaks

15. Roaming in Sinaia, Romania

Sinaia is one of my favourite destinations when it comes to Christmas and winter holidays, in general. The small beautiful mountain resort has plenty of wonderful things to offer in the cold season. Located in the heart of Romania, The Carpathian Pearl is ideal for winter sports enthusiasts. Whether you choose to ride the gondola up to 2000 m, for breathtaking mountain views, or to practice skiing, the experience will certainly be an amazing and unforgettable one. Besides, you will surely wish to visit one of the most spectacular castles in Europe. Peles Castle is the main attraction in town, for good reasons. King Carol I of Romania fell in love with the surroundings of the place and decided to build a summer residence there.

Nowadays, his castle turned out into a museum, visited by more than half a million people annually. The Neo-Renaissance architectural masterpiece is stunning! Add some snow to the image that you have already pictured in your mind and the fairytale landscape will be complete. The interiors of the castle will let you breathless, as well. Each room has a different architectural style, such as Gothic, Venetian, German or Oriental. Overall, Christmas atmosphere can be felt anywhere in town, no matter if you decide to go to ice skate in downtown, to admire the holiday decorations of the streets, or to simply enjoy a hot chocolate in a rustic restaurant with your loved one.

Sinaia Romania | Christmas Europe Breaks Sinaia – one of the Christmas Europe breaks for architecture lovers 

16. Tinsel in Tallinn

One of our favourite Christmas getaways in Europe is Tallinn, the picturesque capital city of Estonia. Tallinn’s old town was made a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 1997 because unlike any other capital city in Europe, it has managed to completely preserve its medieval structure and therefore nicknamed “the medieval pearl of Europe”.

The cobblestone streets are all originals, which along with the medieval churches, grandiose merchant houses, barns and warehouses, date back as far as the 11th century. It’s the perfect Christmas getaway in late December early January time because it’s all covered in snow, making it like something from a fairy tale – the perfect ideal Christmas image you dream of <—- Have you been good this year? Maybe Santa will send you to Estonia on your Christmas Europe break!


7 Places to escape the crowds in Krakow

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Category : Krakow , Poland

Chocolate box old town Kraków is a jumble of narrow cobbled streets, elaborate churches and grand medieval sights like the main square and Wawel Royal Castle. However, in the summer months, Kraków struggles to cope with overtourism. In 2017, 13 million visitors (and the horse-drawn carriages that carry them) thronged the old town, as well as nearby Auschwitz and Wieliczka Salt Mine. Rachel Mills suggests hitting the highlights fast and then exploring places with a little more local flavour at a more leisurely pace.

1. Take a stroll in Planty Gardens

Where a defensive wall once ringed old town Kraków, there’s now just leafy Planty Gardens, home to more than two thousand trees. The throngs of tourists tend to stick to St Florian’s Gate at the entrance to the old town, which leaves the rest of the park free for a quiet stroll. In the evenings, local families head to its playgrounds and you feel a thousand miles from the old town circus.

2. Cycle along Vistula (Wisla) River

Poland’s “Queen of Rivers” passes Kraków on its 1,000km-long meander to the Baltic Sea and her banks are a much-loved public space. You’ll see local people zipping about on bikes as well as tourists setting out on the south bank to cycle to Tyniec Abbey 12km away. Water trams ply the same route if you’re not feeling too energetic. And if you just fancy splashing about, you can hire a kayak near Pilsudski Bridge.

Szeroka Street by night, pre-war street on Kazimierz, the old Jewish quarter of Krakow

Szeroka Street by night, a restored pre-war street in Kazimierz

3. Explore Kazimierz and Podgórze

Kazimierz is the Jewish district of Kraków, or it was until the Nazis forcefully moved surviving members of the community to a sealed ghetto across the river in Podgórze. A devastated neighbourhood after the war, Kazimierz’s low rents eventually enticed artists and bohemians to move there, and by the 1990s it had developed into the coolest part of Kraków. It kept an authentic feel, with synagogues and a Jewish cemetery, and you can give tour groups the slip by exploring the tangle of backstreets. Bernatek footbridge opened in 2010 to create a link to Podgórze – a district that started to regenerate after the movie Schindler’s List was filmed here (Oskar Schindler’s factory is now a museum). Today, the neighbourhood is all start-ups, coffee shops and industrial chic.

4. Take a picnic to Zakrzówek

A man-made limestone quarry that’s now piercing blue lagoon, Zakrzówek is a secret(ish) wild spot not far from central Kraków. Hike in on a trail to be greeted by a vast reservoir ringed by sheer limestone cliffs and trees. There’s an entrance fee these days and locals grumble about swimming being prohibited (not everyone follows the rules), but it can’t be beaten as a picnic spot.

Krakow, Nowa Huta

5. Learn about Communism in Poland at Nowa Huta

It’s not everywhere that you can visit an entire district that was bankrolled by Stalin. Nowa Huta (“New Steelworks”) was a post-war experiment in Social Realism; a carefully planned hub for 100,000 workers that was to be the antithesis of bourgeois Kraków. Although Poland’s devout Catholicism and the ill-considered location of the steelworks meant that the experiment was ultimately a failure, visiting the neat concrete blocks of Nowa Huta – now a suburb to the east of Kraków – gives a fascinating insight into Communism in Poland.

Katowice, Spodek

The Spodek building in Katowice

6. Visit Katowice Culture Zone

Just an hour away, Katowice airport is sometimes used as a cheap gateway for Kraków. It’s fair to say that until recently, Katowice itself didn’t have all that much else to recommend it to visitors. Fiercely working class, with an industry based on coal mining and steel, the city has been suffering economic decline for decades. But times are changing and a government-led initiative has created a central “culture zone”.

The zone incorporates Spodek, a stark brutalist building known as ‘The Spaceship’ that’s been a landmark building since 1971. Spodek has had new life breathed into it and now hosts major arena tours and music festivals. A former mine has been converted into the world-class Silesian Museum, where underground spaces with glass ceilings are now exhibition rooms. Exhibits include Polish art from 1800 to the present day and an outstanding gallery of non-professional art that includes work by miners. Just next door, the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra (NOSPR) has a brand-new concert hall with outstanding acoustics.

Katowice, Nikiszowiec

Nikiszowiec’s red brick buildings

7. Step back in time at Nikiszowiec

A socialist fantasy turned reality, wandering the well-ordered grid of streets in the Nikiszowiec quarter in Katowice feels like stepping back in time. Built in the early twentieth century to attract coal miners (once the kings of the working class in Poland), today, hipsters are snapping up the red-brick flats in the area. Explore pop-up art galleries and an arcade of 1920s-era shops that includes cute-as-a-button Café Byfyi where you can order apple pie and strong coffee.

Panorama Market Square at sunrise in Krakow, Poland


Where to surf in Sri Lanka

Category : Sri Lanka , Surfing

Sri Lanka is the destination on everyone’s radar, with its jaw-dropping landscapes, stunning architecture and exotic wildlife – everything from jaguars to elephants. But there’s another reason to visit this unassuming island off the south coast of India, when the expansive beaches and blue waves can be appreciated at their fullest: surfing. Whether you’re trying the sport for the first time, eager to brush up your skills or you’re a dedicated surfer constantly searching for the best waves around the world, Sri Lanka has the beach for you (and a beautiful ones at that) all throughout the year. So, get that surfboard waxed as we show you where to surf in Sri Lanka.

Hikkaduwa, Galle District

When asking where to surf in Sri Lanka, Hikkaduwa may well be the answer on your fellow traveller’s lips. Located in the southwest of the island it’s one of the best known surf spots in the country, but still keeps its charm. With a palm-fringed shore lined with drink shacks and restaurants, you’ll find little reason to tear yourself away from the sand. As for the waves themselves, they’re consistent, peeling slowly towards the shore, and particularly ideal for beginners. The best time to surf here is October to April, when the weather is a cosy 30ºC.

The best of the rest in Hikkaduwa

If you want a break from the waves to rest those paddling arms of fury or if the weather has taken a turn, head for some snorkelling in Hikkaduwa National Park. This coral sanctuary is home to plenty of marine life, from turtles to tropical fish. Inland, there are Buddhist temples such as Gangarama Maha Vihara, decorated with hand-painted murals, and Thotagamuwa Rajamaha Viharaya, 2km north of the town.

Hikkaduwa-where-to-surf-Sri-Lanka

Hikkaduwa Beach

Mirissa, Matara District

Often regarded as one of the best kept surf secrets in Sri Lanka (sorry for blowing your cover, Mirissa!), this town has great waves and a low-key vibe. A mixture of locals, committed surfers and some travellers, Mirissa Beach is where you can forget about the busy world around you and simply swing in a hammock. And, of course, hit the surf. Like Hikkaduwa, the best time to catch a wave here is October to April, and its mellow reef breaks over deep water provide a perfect introduction to beginner surfers who want to up their game after mastering the basics. The beach is also a delight to be on if you’re looking for a bit more quiet, and the water is some of the clearest you’ll find in the country.

The best of the rest in Mirissa

Mirissa is a great location for whale watching – you can spot migrating blue, sperm, fin and bryde whales as well as dolphins. They are most visible from November to April, coinciding perfectly with the best waves.

Marissa-where-to-surf-in-Sri-Lanka

Surfers walking on Marissa’s main beach

Arugam Bay, Batticaloa Territory

The main beach at Arugam Bay is very pleasant, but the highlight here is Elephant Rock, an immensely beautiful beach that’s perfect for novice surfers. It’s harder to get to than the main beach – you’ll need to get a tuk tuk (about a 15 minute ride) and clamber over some rocks (wear appropriate shoes!), but it’s well worth it for the solitude and amazing surf break there. Its namesake is no lie either – you may well see wild elephants roaming around here.

If you can’t make the trek to Elephant Rock, the beach in Arugam Bay itself isn’t to be looked down on. People often describe this area as what Bali’s Kuta was 30 years ago, and this moon-shaped bay is a surfer- and traveller-friendly destination with all the amenities you would need for a day at the beach. That means beachside cafes and food stalls aplenty. For surfing, beginners should point their boards towards Baby Point while more advanced surfers should head for Main Point and Whisky Point. Once again, the best time to go is April to October.

Best of the rest in Arugam Bay

The area is on the edge of Yala National Park, so a trip here would be perfectly paired with a safari trek where you could spot elephants, buffalo and more.

Arugam-Bay-where-to-surf-Sri-Lanka

Elephant Rock is the perfect surfing spot for novices

Weligama, Matara District

Literally translating to ‘Sandy Village’, Weligama was destined to be on our list of where to surf in Sri Lanka. It’s arguably the best place for beginner surfers in the country. This energetic town is a lot of fun to spend some time in while you surf to your heart’s content. The main beach has its own surf break, while other little beaches along the bay provide their own waves, which you can pick according to your skill level. Conditions are best here between October and April (spotting a theme?) and this part of Sri Lanka gets some 330 days of sunshine a year. All you’ll need is  board shorts, a rash guard and lots of sunscreen.

Best of the rest in Weligama

Watch the stilt fisherman at work here while you taste the culinary delights Sri Lanka has to offer at the beachside shacks that abound here.

surfboards-Weligama-where-to-surf-Sri-Lanka

Surfboards for hire on Weligama Beach


11 things to see in China beyond the Great Wall

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Category : Asia , China

From narrow hutongs to wide-flowing rivers, China is a land of opposites, superlatives and fascination. There will always be plenty to see and do here, and the likes of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Bund, Zhangjiajie and Terracotta Army usually take the limelight. In need of more eclectic inspiration? Look no further – here are eleven other things to see in China.

1. Leshan Giant Buddha, Sichuan province

Built into the riverside’s red sandstone cliffs over 1300 years ago, Leshan’s Giant Buddha is the world’s largest sculpted figure of its kind, sitting at a gargantuan 71 metres tall. Climb to the top of the mountainous scenic area to bring you level with the ten metre-wide head, and follow his gaze across the Minjiang River. Then, clamber down the steep, zig-zag path to the Buddha’s feet and lean back until it hurts to stare up at the colossal, figure for an evocative, unforgettable image of China.

2. Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan province

Not for the faint at heart, you’ll need a sturdy pair of shoes to take on the Tiger Leaping Gorge hike in southern Yunnan province, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most beautiful things to see in China. The powerful Yangtze River surges between two huge mountains, with the 3000-metre-deep river canyon providing a continuous flank of wobbly ‘V’ shapes down the middle. With dramatic scenery, welcoming homestays and roaming wildlife, this makes for one of the most stunning hikes in China.

11 things to see in China: Tiger Leaping Gorge (hutiaoxia) near Lijiang, Yunnan Province

Tiger Leaping Gorge

3. Hanging Temple of Hengshan, Shanxi province

From a distance, Datong city’s Hanging Temple looks morphed into the mountainside, with its washed-out reds, jade greens and faded yellows trundling uphill. Up close, marvel at the intricate details of the structure, which has seen Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism practiced here since its construction in the fifth century. Those who are feeling brave should tackle the ten-metre hanging plank bridge which connects the northern and southern sections of the temple.

4. Saint Sophia Cathedral, Harbin, Heilongjiang province

With its deep-turquoise domes, white crucifixes and Byzantine Revival architectural style, Saint Sophia Cathedral makes for a unique construction in China. This former Russian Catholic church was built in the early twentieth century, when Russians made up one third of the population in Harbin, northeastern China. Today, it serves as an art gallery and museum enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

11 things to see in China: St. Sophia Church in Harbin

Saint Sophia Cathedral in Harbin

5. Changbaishan Nature Reserve, Jilin province

Despite its remote location, Changbaishan Nature Reserve is easily accessible with regular transport links shuttling visitors to and from the area. Tian Chi is the must-see here and is often referred to as ‘heavenly lake’ – for good reason. During the harsh winters, the five-kilometre-wide lake freezes over, and dense forests cover the cragged mountains, making for truly spectacular scenery. The lake runs along the China-North Korean border – but, of course, straying onto the other side is strictly forbidden…

6. Li River, Guilin, Guizhou province

Lush, green foliage carpeting the sloping hills, grazing water buffalo and fishermen sharing bamboo rafts with cormorants: the Li River is an attractive introduction to southwest China’s Guizhou province. A peaceful boat trip is the best way to take in the hazy-green scenery, and part of the route includes the small market town of Xingping, the spot that is featured on the 20 RMB note.

11 things to see in China: Li River fishermen

Li River fishermen

7. Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve, Sichuan province

A medley of colours can be found in Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserve in southwestern Sichuan province: the still, blue lakes mirror the gold and red forests in the autumn, and the vivid blues and greens in the summer. In winter, the land is doused in brilliant-white snow. It’s also home to the milky-blue Pools of Immortals: bright turquoise bathing pools that seem to come straight out of a fairy tale. Equally impressive are the numerous waterfalls that drop like curtains over the rocky outcrops.

8. Huang Shan, Anhui province

Huang Shan (“Yellow Mountain”) in eastern China’s Anhui province is often described as the mountain that champions all others. Yet despite its popularity, there are still wedges of forest where you can find much-needed stillness, away from the crowds. The high, crooked mountains feature streaks of forests, and are joined by swirls of mist at the very top. Whether you choose one of the easier walks or a more demanding route, tackling Huang Shan can take anything from two hours to three days, depending on how much you want to explore.

11 things to see in China: Mt. Huangshan in Anhui

Huang Shan, China

9. Xi’an city walls, Shaanxi province

For 10 dynasties (spread over 1,000 years), Xi’an served as the imperial capital of China. It’s home to the famed Terracotta Army and is the starting point of the Silk Road, making it one of the best things to see in China in terms of bang for your buck. A great way to experience this impressive city is by visiting the historic city walls that still stand. Originally built in the Tang Dynasty (705-904 AD), they took their modern form in 1568, when they were reinforced with brick. The city walls rise up in a 12-metre-high rectangular formation, with a 14-kilometre-long perimeter. They still include imposing watchtowers, fortress-like gates and a small moat, so hire a bike to explore this slice of regal history in a modern city.

10.Fire-breathing opera, Chengdu, Sichuan province

Despite being a proudly modern city, Chengdu is home to some of the best Sichuanese traditions. There are teahouses to play Mahjong in and spicy hotpots to devour; but, best of all, there’s the Sichuan opera, which started in the late seventeenth century. Performers incorporate humour, storytelling, hand puppetry and more in a seemingly effortless fashion; and the show usually ends with an extraordinary, hair-raising fire-breathing display.

11 things to see in China: Sichuan opera

Watching fire-breathing opera, one of the most unique things to see in China

 11. Qingdao, Shandong province

The coastal city of Qingdao has a distinctly European feel to it, thanks in large part to the existence of a German military base in the area during the nineteenth century. The German residents also established the Tsingtao brewery here, producing the now internationally sold beer (“Tsingtao” being the old transliteration of Qingdao). With Bavarian architecture, cobbled streets and small churches peppered around the city centre, Qingdao feels like a small German town. But, with food markets serving fresh, delicious seafood and market stalls selling shells from the nearby beaches, it has a distinct Chinese essence.


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