Destinations for the holiday season

With the year-end holiday season upon us, many people will be looking to join in the celebrations taking place to mark Christmas and the New Year. Nowhere is this festive season better reflected than in Europe. Here, we round up some of the attractive travel destinations that are worth a visit in Europe, not only to witness the displays but also to participate in the grand celebration put up during the festive season.

Bamberg, Germany:  For an off-the-beaten path German winter getaway that combines a UNESCO-listed medieval old town, and sprawling Christmas markets, consider Bamberg in northern Bavaria (Upper Franconia).

The 14th century Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) is located on an island in the Regnitz River. Cross the bridge past the Town Hall to feel like you have walked into a medieval fairy tale filled with half-timbered homes, the dramatic 11th century Romanesque Bamberg Cathedral, and numerous palaces, courtyards and alleys.

Bamberg’s Old Town is a jewel that shines especially bright in the festive season with markets that sell all kinds of beautiful sundries, traditional items and handcrafted art objects, and mouth-watering snacks.

With the traditional main Christmas Market on the central Maxplatz square and two special crafts markets, all staged within the old town, the season of goodwill is both a rich and exciting experience.

Timisoara, Romania:  Located in a region that enjoys the mildest winter in the country, the compact city of Timisoara offers a picture-perfect old town, a restaurant-lined river that meanders through a beautiful central park, excellent dining and nightlife options, a thriving cafe scene and laidback residents that welcome the handful of visitors that arrive.

During winter, the city has a lively festive market sprawling across the main squares and it is difficult not to feel entranced by the atmosphere, especially after a light snowfall.

Bergen, Norway:  The Festival of Lights sees thousands of Bergeners gather with flaming torches around Lille Lungegårdsvannet lake to watch the lighting of the Christmas tree, replete with carols and dazzling fireworks in the inky winter sky.

The nearby Fløibanen funicular whisks visitors to the top of Mount Fløyen for twinkling city views, while the descending paths are floodlit in the evenings and perfect for sledding. The Gingerbread town, the Bergen Christmas market and the Festival of light are some of the events Bergen has to offer to put you in the right Christmas spirit.

The Gingerbread Town (Pepperkakebyen) is the World’s largest town of its kind. In November, half of Bergen’s citizens make their own contributions to this tasteful, magical town. Houses, churches, castles, rockets, and even oil platforms are some of the edible artwork you can find – the creativity is amazing. The result of it all is a mind-blowing fairytale town among mountains, fjords, snow and atmospheric light.

Brno, Czech Republic:  A vibrant city in the south of the Czech Republic. The list of things to do in Brno is huge. If you have only a few days in town you must visit the Špilberk Castle, the Villa Tugendhat and the Old Town Hall.

Among the festivities lined up are Christmas markets and cultural programs on Liberty Square and throughout Brno – the Cabbage Market, Moravian Square, and Radnická Street. Dozens of sellers offer their handicrafts, various sweet delicacies, hot punch, mead, and other Christmas goodies.

Freedom Square becomes a place for socializing, appreciating design, and taking in music and cultural programs every day of the season. Children can also enjoy the wooden nativity scene and the petting zoo. Adults will have the opportunity to taste both local and international cuisines.

Lisbon, Portugal: Sitting on the western edge of Europe, Lisbon is one of the warmest places on the continent in winter, which is reason alone to visit. However, there is plenty more to love in the chillier months, including the spectacular Christmas light show, and the Time Out market, which is a foodie paradise under cover.

Lisbon opts for the extravagant when it comes to holiday decorations. Think big: the city has made its reputation in hosting the tallest Christmas tree in all of Europe, which has reached a record-breaking 76 meters in past years. The Portuguese city turns up the glitz and kitsch factor each winter, with glowing decorations along its avenues and in major squares, with a number of traditional local dishes making an appearance. Expect mountains of bacalhau, or salt cod, Bolo do Reis, or King Cake, which is the Portuguese version of Christmas pudding and comes stuffed with nuts and candied fruits.

Berlin, Germany:   December in Berlin is all about the festival markets, both indoor and outdoor varieties where you can find the most unique and adorable gifts for yourself or someone special. Check out the Bröhan Museum market, where the vendors sell items that are exclusively handmade by Berlin locals. If you are after an indoor market, go to the Weihnachtsrodeo, where you can eat, drink, and be merry while remaining warm.

Berlin’s Botanical Gardens open their gates for visitors to enjoy a magical nighttime stroll through the lit-up gardens. There are several different light arrangements to fancy and you can even find a few fire pits around the garden, and, of course, an ice-skating rink.

Rovaniemi, Finish Lapland:  In the far north of Finland, darkness prevails during the festive season. However, thanks to a blanket of snow that reflects the moon’s gaze and the northern lights that often dance across the night’s sky, the wintry landscape is lit by an almost ethereal glow.

In the region’s capital and Santa’s hometown, Rovaniemi, excited children can watch on December 23 as Santa Claus departs for his epic journey around the world, reindeer in tow. An Elf school where hot berry juice is always in plentiful supply and a traditional Christmas market are among the other popular attractions.