2nd December 2013
Last year we went to a number of London Christmas markets and to be frank, we were more than a little disappointed by some of them. Where was the mulled wine? Traditional Christmas tree decorations? And unique, artisan gifts to buy? So this year, we thought we’d try further afield – here are our favourite European Christmas markets.
28th October 2013
There are two lovely markets in Stockholm at this time of year – one in Gamla Stan, the Old Town, (open daily until December 23, 11am-6pm) where you can find delicacies like smoked sausages, reindeer jerky and sweets or handcrafted presents like traditional holiday decorations, great sheepskin booties for kids and knitwear. The second is at Skansen, the outdoor cultural museum that has had a Christmas market since 1903. There are plenty of homemade mustards, jams, sausages, marzipan, breads and cakes as well as traditional handicrafts (leather, embroidery, holiday decorations and more) and it is very family-friendly with dances around the Christmas tree and lots of activities for kids. (Open every weekend before Christmas, 10am-4pm).
This market is held indoors at the main train station so is perfect if you’re stopping over or on your way skiing further afield. Keep a look out for the olive wood stall which sells great wooden boards for cheeses and meats. You’ll also find a range of traditional Swiss/German foods, wooden holiday decorations and jewellery. (Open daily until 24 December, 11am-10pm).
There are quite a few markets in and around Berlin (apparently 54 in all!) but our favourite is definitely the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market set in a beautiful old, central square. There’s an enormous amount of food to try here – you could spend a morning alone browsing the food stalls – but what also makes it special is the wood carvers hard at work on the Christmas decorations, flax embroiderers and other entertainment such as choirs, jugglers and dance groups, not to mention the many arts and crafts stalls. (Open daily until 31 December, 11am-10pm. Free entrance Mon-Fri 11am-2pm).
Again there are many Christmas markets in Munich but probably the oldest, dating from 1642 is held at Marienplatz. Here you’ll find an emphasis on traditional Bavarian gifts, including wood carvings from Oberammergau, gingerbread (Lebkuchen) from Nuremberg and glassware from the Bavarian Forest. It’s also a great place to pick up everything you’ll need for a traditional crib plus there are Christmas concerts and lots of seasonal food to get you in the yuletide mood. (Open daily until 24 December, Mon-Sat, 10am-9pm, Sun, 10am-8pm).
Located on the large town square between Rathaus (city hall) and Burgtheater, the Wiener Christkindlmarkt is by far the largest and probably best known christmas market in Vienna and sells a huge variety of food and Christmas gifts. (Open daily until 24 December, 10am-9.30/10pm). It does get somewhat crowded though, so we also recommend the Weihnachtsmarkt am Spittelberg which focuses particularly on traditional craftwork. It’s a smaller market and the stalls are spread throughout the narrow streets but you’ll find plenty of cafes and small bars selling gluhwein to keep you going! (Open daily until 23 December, 2pm-9.30pm).
This is one of those collections of books that makes you think – “Perfect Christmas present… or maybe I’ll just keep it for myself”.
It’s a colourful collection of ultra slim (nice for two-wheel, hands-free weekend adventures) city guides to Paris, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Antwerp/Ghent, Milan, Berlin and Barcelona: places where hiring bikes provides an appealing way to see the city. Pointers to great shops, cafés, galleries et al are peppered with cycle tips (Paris’ Rose Bakery on Rue des Martyrs might be a nice place to stop for lunch as the road is pretty steep, for example), or quiet backstreets that avoid the traffic, and give you a more romantic, behind-the-scenes view of a city. The focus is on trundling along on a bike in a leisurely weekend way, rather than boy-racer style (though the books are co-published by hipper-than-hip cycling brand Rapha).
These tomes aren’t too prescriptive – they don’t give you strict routes, just how best to explore suggested streets and areas by bike, so you can potter about in your own way, rather than having to keep stopping every 5 minutes to check you are on course. The illustrations, from local artists, are fun too, as are the refuelling boxes: where to eat, drink, check in with WiFi or drop in for a puncture repair.
19th June 2013
If you’ve ever used the LUXE City Guides, you’ll know that their smart, snappy, informative, fit-in-your-pocket (or download on your smartphone) guides are the best around for city breaks. Including only the very best and hippest of what’s on offer in each town – from bars to spas and shops to hotels – we’ve used them for everything from finding the best deals in Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar to discovering the latest restaurants in Beijing. Launching this July, is a new 8-guide European Grand Tour set that contains the latest 2013 editions for Madrid, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, Istanbul and Florence – perfect if you’ve got any city breaks planned for this summer. Worth £49, we’ve got one 8-guide set to give away, so just fill in your name below by 5pm on 8th July and we will pick one lucky winner out of a hat. Good luck!
12th April 2012
If you like travelling (and really, who doesn’t?), you’ll love these cityguide maps. Beautifully illustrated, they are real insider guides to cities such as Berlin and Chicago that don’t bother telling you about tourist hotspots or the trendiest restaurants but rather a brilliant unmarked cocktail bar, a quirky but fascinating musuem or the locals favourite chocolate shop. And they’re only a bargain £3 each which makes them a brilliant investment if you’re going on a citybreak this summer.
21st March 2012
With fantastic museums and a buzzing nightlife, Berlin has both upscale chic and street-style cool. So grab a rent-a-bike (the city is larger than you’d expect) or hop on their super-quick underground system, and make your way around town.
Bar/restaurant/dancing: Clärchen’s Ballhaus Augustrasse 24 (www.ballhaus.de) is a charming old school dancehall that opened in 1913 and runs a programme of tango, swing or salsa lessons – all are welcome and it’s open to the early hours of the morning. Or if dancing isn’t your thing, you can always just stop by for a pizza and beer.
Restaurant: Grill Royale Friedrichstraße 105b (www.grillroyal.com). Sitting on the banks of the river Spree, Grill Royale is one of Berlin’s swankiest hangouts. Order either of their classic dishes, the shrimp or the steak, and you won’t be disappointed. (Or you can visit their latest outpost, Pauly Saal, set in Jüdische Mädchenschule, a new art gallery/restaurant enclave in an old Jewish girls’ school, which has a modern German menu. Auguststraße 11-13, Mitte, (www.maedchenschule.org)
Restaurant: Borchardt, Französische Strasse 47. Named after the wine merchant who originally supplied the Kaiser with imported delicacies from his delicatessen at this address, this chic Parisian-style brasserie re-opened in 1992 and serves up one of the best schnitzels in town.
Museums: If it’s Museums you’re after, then you’ve come to the right city. Berlin is stuffed with them and we’ve yet to come across a disappointing one. Top of our list are the Jewish Museum (explores the history of the Jews with an amazing, must-see extension design by Daniel Libeskind, www.jmberlin.de), the Neues Museum (rebuilt by David Chipperfield, this museum has everything from Egyptian busts to trojan antiquities), the Stasi Museum (behind the scenes of the infamous Stasi network, www.stasimuseum.de), Bauhaus Archives – Museum of Design (display of ceramics, furniture and models by the Bauhaus architects and artists, www.bauhaus.de), Museum Berggruen (an amazing collection given by a private collector to Berlin with over 100 Picasso’s, Museum Berggruen) and the Allied Museum (a fascinating history of Berlin from WWII to the fall of the wall, including a guardhouse from Checkpoint Charlie, www.alliiertenmuseum.de.)
Bar: Solar, Stresemannstraße 76 (www.solarberlin.com) For one of the best views of the city head to the Solar Bar which is on the 16th and 17th floor of a skyscraper. With a 14 page drinks menu, all you have to do is make your choice and then sit back and enjoy the stunning views of the Reichstag.
Helmut Newton Foundation Jebensstrasse 2 (www.helmut-newton.com) has a fantastic rotating gallery of, yes that’s right, Helmut Newton photographs.
Hotel: Hotel de Rome, Behrenstraße 37 (www.hotelderome.com) Right in the centre of Berlin with the finest museums and shops on the doorstep, this grand hotel has super comfortable rooms and a great spa.
Hotel: Soho House, Torstrasse 1 (www.sohohouseberlin.com) is a private members club (non-members can stay) with 40 bedrooms in a restored Bauhaus building with a rooftop pool and lively bar.
Shopping: Lunettes, Torstrasse 172 (www.lunettes-brillenagentur.de) sells a stylish selection of never-been-worn vintage and designer sunglasses, from 1900s horn-rimmed to 50s cat-eyes to 80s wayfarers.
30th November 2010
This BBC4 documentary, presented by Alan Cumming, is really worth catching on BBC i-player—not only to remind yourself to watch the movie Cabaret again asap, but for the story and history behind Christopher Isherwood’s semi-autobiographical book, Goodbye to Berlin. Great footage, fascinating interviews and Liza Minelli, both then and now.