London is simply sublime at Christmastime. It’s Christmas party London-style season, November through December. There’s London Christmas lights and many Christmassy experiences. Here’s a few things you shouldn’t miss:
Christmas party London
You can go to hotels, clubs, bars, markets – just about anywhere for a Christmas party London experience.
We were lucky enough to be invited over to Camden for the launch of FEST’s Christmas party London events. Take a look:
More places to relish in London’s Christmas spirit:
Harrods Christmas Grotto
A Christmas escape for Children, that leaves parents free to also escape… to do some shopping! It’s festive, magical and very Harrods. Various events happening throughout December. More at: harrods.com
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland and Santa Land
Marble Arch tube
This gorgeous, annual one-stop Christmas spectacular includes rides, circus-like attractions, markets that sell sweets, Christmas treats and traditional German crafts and of course an ice rink. More at: hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Westfield ice skating and grotto
Shepherd’s Bush tube / Stratford tube
There’s nothing that feels more like Christmas than spending a day in the warmth, shopping at Westfield London or Stratford City. Santa’s in store too, and there’s an ice skating rink – makes for a wonderfully spirited day out.
Southbank Centre Christmas Market and Winter Festival
A traditional German-style wooden hut market along the river – so charming! Toys, gifts, food, drinks – internationally inspired. Also features the Designers Makers Christmas Market, with over 50 British designers selling jewellery, ceramics, textiles, homewares and prints. More at: southbankcentre.co.uk
A Covent Garden Christmas
Covent Garden tube
The historic market piazza plays host to innovative digital installations, a super-sized LEGO snow globe, entertainers, festive lights and displays. More at: coventgardenlondonuk.com
Christmas Arcade at Somerset House
Temple or Covent Garden tube
The divine Somerset House‘s West Wing overlooks a lavish ice skating rink, and the setting features a Narniaesque corridor bedecked in lights and foliage. Dozens of airy rooms are occupied by pop-up-shops with an emphasis on British-made wares, so you’ll find the likes of Brora cashmere, Murdock grooming products, BoBelle London bags and leather goods.
Harry Potter Walking Tour
Indulge in a magical Hogwarts Christmas with a guided walking tour (also includes a boat ride) that takes you through Leadenhall Market and other Potter filming locations.
Christmas at Kew Gardens and Hampton Court Palace
Christmas at Kew Gardensis family friendly in a magical woodland setting, includes a Victorian carousel and vintage rides, Santa’s grotto, boutique Christmas market and live music. Over at Hampton Court Palace, Henry VIII’s favourite ‘haunt’, not to mention a fabulous place to visit, there’s a divine ice skating rink in the front courtyard.
Christmas lights in London
Christmas lights by night
Famous throughout the world, each year there is a different theme throughout the city’s festive streets. Brave the chill and jump on an open bus sightseeing tourduring the evening, taking in all the classic sights including Harrods, Oxford Street, Piccadilly and the Tower of London all dressed up in their Christmas finery.
Where to stay: The Wellesley, for a little Christmas luxury
The Wellesley is set within prestigious Knightsbridge, and provides easy access to all the Christmas experiences listed above, and much more. It is not yet a year old following extensive renovations which transformed the property from musical venue to luxe townhouse hotel. Gatsbyesque glamour sets the tone, and this boutique property is worth the dollar outlay if you’re seeking luxury alongside unparalleled service while in London.
The Roaring Twenties carry on at The Wellesley through cleverly considered interiors like crystal chandeliers, original artwork, mirrored panelling and lavish cream and gold colour scheme. It’s also a romantic building for anyone keen on being immersed in history − indeed it used to be the site of the original Hyde Park Corner tube station in the 1920s, and telling architectural signs are evident upon the exterior of the property and from within.
The Wellesley attracts a high calibre of clientèle, but is accessible for anyone seeking a night or more of pure indulgence. The hotel is conveniently situated for shopping, up-market bars and a wander around Hyde Park. Beautifully restored in Art Deco style with a contemporary twist, The Wellesley is a feast for the senses, offering the discerning traveller copious luxury surprises and outstanding personalised service.
What we loved!
Live jazz that was in the hotel’s divine Jazz Lounge which boasts brilliant acoustics thanks to the venue’s musical roots.
The delicious cocktails on offer in the Crystal Bar.
Marble bathrooms and Hermès toiletries.
Courtesy Rolls Royce chauffeur service.
Fast, free WiFi and dozens of free movies available on-demand.
Dining and recreation
The Wellesley features several spaces for indulging, including the enthralling Jazz Lounge with its grand piano centrepiece; the award-winning Crystal Bar which boasts a large selection of fine cognac, champagnes and whisky, and the opulent Oval Restaurant where a delectable Italian-inspired menu is on offer.
The spacious 4-bedroom penthouse set across levels six and seven, with scenic views of Hyde Park, and featuring heated marble floors, heavenly bathrooms, balconies and a fire place.
Belgium is the perfect little escape from London, especially on the Eurostar. We’ve got your 1 day in Brussels itinerary sorted that includes history, fun, chocolate and beer!
Brussels is an easy two hour trip from London’s St Pancras. We booked fares when they were on sale, and would have a solid 24 hours to explore. We did some research on the best things to do in Brussels in a day to make the most of the experience.
Sign up to the Eurostar mailing list to find out about sales. It’s how I scored £29 fares which I bought last November for a February trip.
1 day in Brussels – city facts and fun
A few things to know about the city before you set up your itinerary for best things to do in Brussels in a day:
– Brussels is the ‘capital’ of Europe. It’s home to the European Commission, the European Council, Council of the European Union, European Parliament, and NATO to name a few critically important world organisations.
– Actress Audrey Hepburn was born here in 1929 and you can scope out some of the places where she lived and worked.
– Famous philosopher Karl Marx, poet Victor Hugo and writers the Brontë sisters have also called Brussels home.
– There is much Portuguese influence in the city, with 20,000 from Portugal living in Brussels. Interesting for us to see, following our recent trip to Lisbon.
– Brussels is known for grand architecture, wonderful art, museums and one of Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, Galeries St Hubert (1847).
– Brussels is also known for being a little quirky, with peeing statues and comic book art all over building walls.
– Brussels is a foodie city! Muscles, waffles, fries, and Europe’s third biggest market (Midi market, open on Sundays near the train station where the Eurostar arrives/departs).
Upon serious consideration (yes, really), we realised that with just 1 day in Brussels we wanted to get to know it quickly and in a special way.
What better way to appreciate Brussels than through the lens of two of Belgium’s most famous exports: chocolate and beer!
We stumbled across this excellent experience online and made contact with the team to see how we could work together.
The Brussels Journey offers a beer and chocolate tour that takes in the best things to do in Brussels in a day. This includes seeing the key sites, learning about the city’s history and sampling beer and chocolate. Honestly, the tour exceeded our expectations!
A huge benefit was that we landed in the city at 10am not knowing a soul, but by 10pm had a handful of fab new friends from all over the globe.
1 day in Brussels – the best chocolate in Brussels
The Belgian chocolate industry is almost 400 years old, which means there are plenty of stories to tell here in Brussels when it comes to our favourite sweet treat.
There are countless chocolate shops here, so how do you know where to find the best chocolate in Brussels?
Our Brussels Journey tour started in front of popular Chocopolis, and took our group on a lengthy excursion through the streets in search of the best chocolate in Brussels.
We sampled some of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted; unique flavours and blends.
I found it fascinating to learn that chocolate-making has so much to it. I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought of it before (too busy guzzling), but chocolate is like wine, tea or coffee.
The flavours and quality depend on the origin of ingredients, amount of cocoa used, what other flavours are infused, how its stored and produced.
Belgium is a top player in chocolate production and export, and local chocolatiers told us the secret is that they still use 100% cocoa butter.
Praline chocolates were what made Belgium famous, although they more quietly share that this was the invention of a Swiss migrant in 1912 (Switzerland and Belgium are of course the world leaders and fierce rivals when it comes to chocolate production supremacy).
Lively and helpful Brussels Journey guides, Julie and Baptiste, pointed out where to find the best chocolate in Brussels, and shared cool history and anecdotes along the way about all of Brussels favourite landmarks.
If you’ve only got a short time in the city, this walking tour is the way to go. You’ll maximise enjoyment and learning while making new friends and not have to wonder if you’re heading somewhere great.
I couldn’t tell you if any of the chocolate in Brussels is bad. All chocolate seems pretty great to me. For spending only 1 day in Brussels I certainly gorged on plenty of chocolate and enjoyed every bit.
Best chocolate in Brussels?
If you’re after ideas on where to get the best chocolate in Brussels, take The Brussels Journey tour, or keep an eye out for some of the best-known ones like:
Belvas | Chocopolis | Elisabeth | Frederic Blondeel | Godiva | La Belgique Gourmande | Lawrence | Mary | Pierre Marcolini | Passion Chocolat
We were amazed to discover that a fellow Queenslander from Toowoomba, Ryan Stevenson, actually took out the chocolatier of the year accolade back in 2012, right here in Brussels!
Belgium is also very famous for its beers. It’s said you could spend four years here, drink a beer every day and not drink the same beer twice. That’s a LOT of choice.
Again, another reason to take a guided tour. We had so much fun sampling the best beer in Brussels with their team and our new friends on the beer and chocolate tour
Beer has been brewed here since the 12 Century. As for the story of chocolate, I was fascinated to find out that there’s so much more to beer than I imagined.
On The Brussels Journey tour we learnt about Trappist beers, which are a special kind of beer that must be brewed by monks, next to or within the walls of a Trappist monastery.
The beer brewing is the responsibility of the monks and some of their output is so unique that it’s nearly impossible to purchase! Extra limited edition, if you will. There are only 12 Trappist breweries in the world, six are in Belgium. No profit can be made from the sale of the beer, it must go back to the abbey or to a designated organisation.
– The Palace of Justice in Brussels’ stunning Grand Place (main square) is the largest law court in the world!
– Brussels puts on BIG shows, like the Tomorrowland and Rock Werchter festivals in summer.
– It’s the home of comics, which is evident within street art around the city. For a different type of tour you can follow the Brussels comic strip route.
Within the city there’s an area known as the Restaurant Quarter. There’s plenty to choose from, but some is worth a splurge while others are not. The council addressed this by awarding plaques to places you should try. Keep an eye out for anywhere that boasts the ‘Maison Recommandée’ signs, as the image above depicts.
1 day in Brussels – our itinerary and top spots to visit
Highlights in our map include chocolate shops, beer stops and view points – take yourself on a wander around beautiful Brussels!
Enjoy – and do let us know your thoughts or questions in the comments.
Huge thanks to The Brussels Journey who let us collaborate with them to find out more about Brussels and discover what they offer in the city!
Tips, tricks, comments, or just love beer and chocolate? Let us know in the comments!
It’s one of the oldest cities in Europe and offers wonderful glimpses into Portugal’s layers of time and influence – needless to say we were very excited to get going on our 3 days in Lisbon adventure!
It was the Age of Discovery when Portugal ruled the world, stretching a hand (as well as culture and language) across the globe, from Brazil to China, Africa and beyond.
Set upon seven hills, imagine old-world trams bustling along narrow, cobbled streets; grand architecture, quirky stores scaling hilltops, and colourful rooftops as far as the eye can see.
We flew in for a Christmas city break and managed to cram quite a bit into our 3 days in Lisbon itinerary.
I’ve shared our discoveries below, and hopefully you’ll be inspired to book a trip soon too.
3 days in Lisbon itinerary
“Welcome to Lisbon – a roller-coaster city of seven hills, crowned by a Moorish castle and washed in an artist’s pure light. Lisbon is cinematically beautiful and historically compelling. This is a capital city of big skies and bigger vistas; of rumbling trans and Willy Wonka-like elevators; of melancholic fado song and live-to-part nightlife. Edge, charisma and postcard good looks, Lisbon has the lot!” –Kerry Christiani, Lonely Planet Lisbon Pocket Guide
Understanding the layout
In your research on travel to Lisbon, you’ll find there’s a few main areas within the city’s old ‘centre’ and along the waterfront.
These areas of interest include:
‘Old town’ Alfama, Castelo and Graça: cobbled streets and amazing views from Castelo de São Jorge, Largo das Portas do Sol and Miradouro da Senhora do Monte. Usually reached by tram from streets around Rossio and Baixa.
Rossio and Baixa, Lisbon’s riverfront gateway sitting below Alfama, with bustling trams, Elevador de Santa Justa and the charming Praça do Comércio to name just a few highlights.
Bairro Alto and Chiado, particularly good for dining and nightlife. These areas are along the waterfront and within easy walking distance of Rossio and Praça do Comércio – all of this is close together and easy to explore on foot.
Belém, a little further along the waterfront and overlooking the Ponte 25 de Abril (bridge); with its pastries, and historical charms like Jerónimos Monastery, Belém Tower on the banks of Tagus River, and Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument of the Discoveries) celebrating travellers from the Portuguese Age of Discovery.
Here’s how we divided our time, focused on the areas outlined above:
3 days in Lisbon, day one
We stayed not far from Rossio Square (pictured below), overlooking São Jorge Castle.
This was a perfect spot for exploring a large portion of the older part of town around Rossio and Baixa on foot. Or you can easily catch a tram around here, including the famous no. 28.
Day one on your 3 days in Lisbon itinerary is best spent getting your bearings in this area.
Start early at Santa Justa lift to avoid the queues. Head up high and take a look around this beautiful city.
From here, you can also get an early start on the trams including the no. 28 which is famous for the pretty and historical route it takes; also the tourist options like the Yellow buses or trams (very good value for a 48 or 72 hour pass, if you ask us), or wander around and go shopping.
On your adventure, head for (or you’ll inevitably stumble upon) Praça do Comércio (pictured below), gateway to the lovely waterfront here.
There’s a romantic promenade along the front of the city, where you can enjoy excellent views looking back up onto the hills and Lisbon’s colourful canvas, plus out to sea where so many have taken to the waters for an adventure before you.
Fascinating history and architecture
The reason I suggest you spend a little time in these parts along and around the waterfront, is so you can get a good sense of the rich history all around you.
In its heyday these parts of town were wealthy – some of the wealthiest in the world, in fact. This was thanks to trading happening in the 16th Century in gold, spices, silks and jewels among other things. Not to mention Portugal, alongside rival Spain, ruling half the world!
Fast forward to 9.40am on 1 November 1755 though – three major earthquakes hit as Lisbon’s residents celebrated Mass for All Saints Day.
These earthquakes triggered a devastating fire and tsunami, destroying much of the city. About a third of Lisbon’s 270,000 inhabitants died.
From this tragedy emerged a hero, Sebastiao de Melo, who set about reconstructing the city from the ashes. Together with architects and engineers, he made sure the city’s new design was earthquake-proof, and developed one of the world’s first grid systems that we see implemented in so many major cities to this day.
“We must bury the dead and heal the living.”
There’s a lot I didn’t know about Portugal, and across our 3 days in Lisbon I continued to be more and more fascinated!
For instance, the country was run by a dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, who was prime minister between 1937 and 1968.
A contemporary of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, Salazar is remembered by some as the greatest figure in the Portugal’s history, but by others as keeping the country repressed and backwards.
Salazar was overthrown in 1974. Lisbon’s huge suspension bridge (resembles the Golden Gate in San Francisco and was built by the same company) was renamed Ponte 25 de Abril, or ‘April 25 Bridge’ (my birth date!) to mark the event.
Across the city there’s a fascinating legacy hailing from Lisbon’s Arabic roots – tiles, known as Azulejos.
These date as far back as the 13th Century, when the Moors invaded Portugal and Spain (per a contemporary map. The Moors secured their foothold in Portuguese culture between the 16th and 17th Centuries and used Azulejos to decorate plain walls of buildings. These beautiful little polished stones adorn old walls still. Thankfully not all was lost in 1755.
I was also happy to learn that St Anthony was born here (coincidentally buried in Verona, Italy, where we are visiting in April). All through childhood, my mum used to tell us to ask St Anthony for help if we lost something.
Somehow, this always did the trick. The link to St Anthony here was more sentimental for me than anything else (and I did by mum a memento to thank her for all the times her advice helped me recover missing things). The Lisbon Sardine Festival (sardines and other canned fish are a BIG industry here) celebrates St Anthony’s life and brings everyone out into the streets for a party every June.
Eating and drinking – quirky ideas for you
A couple of places that I wanted to find but that were closed over Christmas, and perhaps worth adding to your list, are the storybook-themed Fabulas and Pharmacia cafes/restaurants (in the Bairro Alto / Chiado area). Lisbon is known for offering quirky experiences to locals and visitors alike.
The TimeOut Market (Mercado da Ribeira, pictured above) is also within walking distance in Chiado – only about ten minutes walk from Praça do Comércio in fact.
It’s cool for an evening outing, with a large variety of food and drinks on offer to try. A word of warning, it’s definitely not the cheapest spot in town, although is definitely worth a visit.
3 days in Lisbon, day two
Whether you’re enjoying a self-guided tour on local transport or have taken advantage of one of the tour operators (the Yellow tour brand appears to have the upper hand in Lisbon in terms of tour options and best value), add Belém to your list for the day.
In Belém you can’t miss the romantic Coach Museum, stunning Jerónimos Monastery (pictured below) and Padrão dos Descobrimentos the inspired explorers’ monument that’s along the waterfront (in front of Jerónimos Monastery).
Wander a bit further past the monument and you’ll come across the medieval Belém Tower (pictured below) which is fascinating for its architecture alone, not to mention its prime spot by the river.
There’s a lot to do in this little area that’s about twenty minutes from the centre of town. Give yourself time to deal with any queues at the monastery and tower.
You can’t go to Lisbon and not try a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese custard tart).
They’re everywhere, sweet and delicious! Try at least one from Pastéis de Belém, where they’ve been making these according to a top-secret recipe since 1837.
The city is best experienced from up high, so to wrap up your day, find a rooftop bar for a cocktail as the sun sets. Many hotels have their own roof bar, but the Mundial Hotel in the middle of the city near Rossio Square is well known, as is the luxe Topo (although this appears to be a summer destination).
If you’re up for it, there’s one more stop to make – pop into a Ginjinha shop like Ginginha Sem Rival around Rossio Square and enjoy a shot (or two) of this delicious and inexpensive local delight. It’s a sour cherry liqueur (tastes like Port) that has been served in the city since 1890, and it’ll knock your socks off if you have too many in a row.
Tip: Before your visit, have a look at the Discover Walks website. They offer a range of free and inexpensive walking tours of Lisbon, including around Belém, so you can gather all the knowledge and inside secrets from a local!
3 days in Lisbon, day three
Today you might want to start early and catch a ride on the famous no. 28 tram.
Ride a lap and eventually get off in historical Alfama – it’s about a ten to fifteen-minute tram ride from the city centre (e.g. Rossio Square or Praça do Comércio) up into the hills.
Alfama is colourful, interesting and easy to get lost in, so give yourself time to find the best views. Trip happily along the cobbled streets, and visit the historical sites like São Jorge Castle or the Moorish Gateway, Largo das Portas do Sol that also offers postcard-perfect views.
Tip: See if you can find the quirky and cool circus school Chapito, where you can eat or have a drink. The view is excellent and you might even witness a bit of a show.
Your last night
Back in town, head towards Praça do Comércio, the old place of international trade in the Age of Discovery and home for the Royal Family. It’s often lit up to showcase a magical spectacle.
Wander along the waterfront and then back up the hill towards Bairro Alto where there’s a few fun rows of streets that boast a selection of bars, restaurants and clubs.
Be careful though – we headed out for an innocent dinner but after being lured into a bar playing cool dance music, two free shots later (courtesy a generous barman), we ended up on a bigger night than anticipated. Oh who am I kidding? It was awesome!
Where to stay
I did a lot of research trying to figure out the best area to stay in that was convenient to everything.
I settled on the stylish Lisboa Pessoa Hotel near Rossio Square, that’s nestled on a hilltop overlooking São Jorge Castle. I’d recommend the area and the hotel.
Visiting in December around Christmas time in Lisbon
It gets very busy in the summer season (May to August), and while it’s cooler in the autumn/winter months, everything is still open, and you’ll avoid the crowds.
Late December was cooler than we had anticipated. Take warm clothes.
There is sun though so that’s a bonus, but in the wind it is chilly.
Pretty much everything was open over Christmas though which was great (some places shut down for many days across the period). While you could spend so much more than 3 days in Lisbon, it’s a taster to get you ready for the next trip. That’s our thinking anyway!
As a city break at Christmas, it’s ideal. Busier even than Mallorca and definitely Ibiza – they have different things to offer at Christmastime though.
If you’ve been to Lisbon and have tips, please do share with us in the comments below. And any questions, you know where to find us.
Travelling to beautiful destinations is an inspiring activity for everybody, but if you are a content producer chasing wanderlust, there are some places that stand out.
Here’s a list of the best travel vloggers and bloggers Euro destinations, courtesy guest contributor Rebecca Brown.
The best travel vloggers and bloggers’ destinations in Europe – 7 faves
There is something to say about every new, and even old place you visit, since sometimes you see things you’ve already seen in a different way.
However, some places are better than others.
Portugal has many hot spots, and its beautiful capital is definitely one of them.
Perfectly combining the new with the old, Lisbon welcomes all kinds of creative travel vloggers and bloggers.
Nostalgic and romantic writers can find inspiration while exploring the city’s beautifully arranged streets and admiring the mesmerising landscapes from the many viewpoints strategically located throughout the city.
Foodies have the chance to indulge in memorable culinary experiences without having to empty their pockets.
There are many affordable restaurants and cooking classes a passionate blogger can enjoy while in Lisbon. Cervejaria Ramiro is one of the locals’ favourite gathering places that recently became famous among travellers as well.
Bloggers who are passionate about travelling and history can’t miss seeing Berlin, one of Germany’s most interesting and intriguing cities.
The number of museums and historical monuments is fantastic, giving history enthusiasts the thrill they are looking for.
Art, great architecture, as well as shocking stories from WWII and other crucial moments of Europe’s past are also present everywhere in Berlin.
Do you want to share stories about sunny days, splendid beaches, cocktail recipes, and mouthwatering dishes, but you are also interested in cultural and historical places?
Then, visit Mallorca.
The island is paradise for travellers who dream about being caressed by the sun, enjoying water adventures, and having real island fun.
But culture and history aficionados are also welcome in Mallorca.
Palma, the capital city, as well as the great number of castles, fortresses, and historical monuments are always a delight for curious visitors. And the Palma Cathedral is definitely an inspiration for all bloggers and Instagram users who love sharing their travels through amazing photos.
Since we are talking about islands, Croatia is worth mentioning because it has many special pieces of land where passionate bloggers can spend memorable holidays and write great posts.
Hvar and the little, beautiful Pakleni Islands amaze the eyes of all visitors with spectacular landscapes and a multitude of secluded beaches surrounded by crystal-clear waters filled with thrilled snorkelers.
Whether you are interested in romantic walks, want to indulge in some of the world’s most interesting cuisine, or dream about following the steps of famous artists, Paris is the perfect destination.
The city was an inspiration for many great minds, and just wandering around its small alleys can give you enough beauty for your articles.
But if this is not enough, enjoy an artistic adventure at the Louvre Museum, climb the famous Eiffel tour, visit the imposing Notre Dame Cathedral or get in touch with your childhood at Disneyland.
Portugal is one of the best travel vloggers and bloggers’ countries, not only thanks to its fascinating capital, Lisbon, but also because it has so much natural beauty.
The Algarve is a region that should be at the top of your list if you love writing about your adventures.
Not only will you find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world here, but the Algarve promises to amaze you with breathtaking landscapes, small, picturesque villages, and authentic cities.
Tavira is a place you shouldn’t miss if you want to catch a glimpse of the village culture, and Lagos is a great city to observe daily Portuguese life.
If nature is your cup of tea, make sure you explore the Ria Formosa National Park, and if you are interested in spending some time by yourself and admiring the surrounding beauties, check out Ponta da Piedade and Cape St Vincent.
These are just seven of the beautiful European destinations a blogger should visit, but there are many more places waiting to be explored and added to your travel posts.
About the author
Guest contributor Rebecca is an expat and translator by day, and a traveller mostly at night. She is an expert on living with jet lag – and packing in tiny suitcases. You can read more of her exploits at RoughDraft.
Germany is famed the world over for putting on the best festive markets, and we’re excited to share with you our Christmas markets Cologne guide.
They’re some of the world’s best that attract millions to the city each year between 25 November and 23 December.
Christmas markets Cologne
Cologne is known as one of the best European Christmas destinations. There are seven significant German Christmas markets in Cologne and highlights of each, as well as best time of day to visit, are listed below.
This charming German city is of course, famous for its Christmas markets (as other neighbouring German cities are). It’s perfect for a winter Christmas city break!
Before we get into the detail of why we’ve come in December, a quick snapshot about this town…
One of the reasons we chose to visit Cologne for a spot of Christmas market shopping is that its positioned on the Rhine river.
We’ve only been to this area once, when travelling around Europe on our awesome Expat Explore tour – and I remember it is spectacular!
Cologne is known as a cultural hub of north west Germany, popular for its food, art and traditional Kölsch beer. The city is filled with quirky bars, cool shopping and plenty of culture.
Much of the city was actually destroyed during the first world war, and the locals have had to rebuild it, together with a multicultural mix of neighbours from around Europe.
Cologne famously accepted many migrants during recent years’ refugee crisis’, and its people are known to be exceptionally friendly, open and welcoming.
Also famous and on at this time of year, is the Cologne Carnival, known as Fastelovend. I love that this annual celebration of street parties and costumes officially launches each year at 11am on November 11, and it runs until Christian Lent.
Apparently it’s normal during this period for people in costume to run up and give you a peck on the cheek. If you get kissed, don’t panic, consider it lucky and enjoy the moment.
Need to know: the 7 Christmas markets of Cologne
Cathedral Market: the big one
– This is the biggest German Christmas market in the city, known for its spectacular location in the square in front of Dom Cathedral. It’s probably the first one you’ll come across if you arrive by train, as the main station is on the doorstep to the Cathedral.
– Come back for a visit at night, for the sprinkling of pretty festive lights throughout the gift-filled wooden pavilions.
– There’s a lot of delicious food here, including local foods like German Bratwurst and Flammlachs (grilled salmon).
– The Cathedral Market is the spot for entertainment which you’ll often catch on the stage by the tall Christmas tree.
– In case of rain, there’s a canopy under the Roman-German Museum where you can find shelter, people-watch and enjoy a mug of traditional gluhwein/gluehwein (hot spiced wine) – I liked mine with a splash of Amaretto!
– Cologne’s tourism information centre is very close to here too, well-signed, opposite the Dom, if you want some tips or help with getting around town.
Old Market or Alter Markt: the traditional one
– Literally next door to the Cathedral market is this gorgeous set-up. For a traditional Christmas market experience that’s particularly great for a daytime visit, make time for the large Old Market.
– This Cologne Christmas market is located in front of the Old Town Hall, and there are indoor areas if it’s raining.
– The open market area is on Heumarkt and features a large ice rink at the centre of it that has ice shows too!
– The Old Market boasts cool themed alleys e.g sweets alley, toy alley.
– There’s a fabulous vantage point here on the balcony at the themed house that overlooks the ice rink, but it’s busy so be prepared to nudge your way through to get some nice photos.
– Want to try local fare? Special drinks to look for include Calvados liqueur with cream; and Feuerzangenbowle which is Gluhwein and rum set on fire and served in a mug called a Feuerzangentasse which has forks attached to it with a sugar cone that can be soaked in rum and the whole thing is set on fire.
Harbour market (Chocolate Museum): the modern one
– A short walk along the river from the Cathedral and Alter Markt, this spot is a must-visit. How could anyone resist a German Christmas market on the banks of the river Rhine in front of a Chocolate Museum? (which is perfect for shelter if it’s wet).
– While this is one of the smallest in the city, it’s possibly set in the most picturesque spot. Go in the daytime, and head here early, it is one of the first to open each day during the German Christmas market season.
– Perfect for lovely arts and crafts, and there’s a cool hat vendor too.
Angel’s Market (Neumarkt): the glamorous one
– This pretty German Christmas market is the oldest in the city, and sits on Neumarkt Square, amongst some of Cologne’s great shopping streets. It is by far my favourite!
– It’s another lovely Cologne Christmas market to visit at night because of its lights, trees and romantic atmosphere. The Angel Market is about 15 minutes walk from the Cathedral (Dom).
– In case of rain, seek the chic bar at the west end of the market, but you’ll want to be early because it gets full.
– Cologne’s Angel market is good for Christmas decorations, unique chocolates, artisan stalls, lights, arts and crafts.
Village of St Nicholas (Rudolfplatz): the magical one
– A village-style Christmas market that is set by the medieval Hahnentorburg on Rudolfplatz.
– This is the area where people go out at night; you’ll find a cool crowd, and atmosphere.
– For more festive spirit, look around the corner as this is next to Christmas Avenue Market.
Stadtgarten: the local one
– A bit further out from the centre of the Cologne Christmas market action, but worthwhile; in the middle of the Belgian Quarter of Cologne – a gorgeous part of the city.
–This German Christmas market in Cologne is known for its lovely village feel, and more locals than tourists surrounding you.
– Perfect for unique and cute gifts; also a great food selection especially desserts and savoury delights.
Gay and Lesbian market: the cool one
– Cologne is one of the most LGTB friendly cities in Europe and its got a Christmas market to match!
– Don’t miss this one for a fun, bright, younger crowd, a diverse range of food and drinks and the quirkiest gifts.
Cologne Christmas markets top tips
1. Each market offers its own unique and collectable Gluhwein mugs. You pay a deposit on your first drink which means you can keep this mug. If you don’t want to keep it, simply return to the bar at the same market for your deposit back.
2. You can walk between most of the markets, or catch the bus or special Christmas Market Express train. Visit Koeln also offers a Koeln card to get around the city. Visit the tourism centre for more details on this when you’re in the city.
3. An extremely comprehensive resource on the Cologne markets can be found at fromrealpeople.com– locals in Cologne who share helpful information about the markets, the food and treats to be found and importantly, transport. We got a lot out of this blog post (thanks team!).
Cologne has proven to be one of the best places to visit in winter, in our opinion. We love Amsterdam and Paris too, even Mallorca for some wintersun, but for a Christmas city break you can’t really go past this!
My brother and I recently popped up to Scotland for a couple of days away from London and discovered some excellent things to do in Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands.
While I am absolutely a seeker of Nessie (the Loch Ness Monster) and all good things that are the Highlands, like exquisite landscapes and interesting history, it hadn’t even occurred to me we could get to Inverness so easily.
Yet, just one hour’s flight from London (we made our way from Luton on EasyJet) you can find yourself amongst the fresh air and friendly people of Inverness.
Things to do in Inverness
The city of Inverness is quite small and easy to get around on foot.
There’s plenty of things to do and see in Inverness, and we started with a walk through town to get our bearings. Inverness is well signed, so you can easily find your way around from its older areas and Victorian market, down to the shopping pedestrian high street area and the helpful visitor information centre.
From Inverness’ shopping strip, you can wander up to Inverness Castle, and then down the hill toward the Ness River; explore beautiful churches, Inverness castle and take photos from the pretty bridges that link both sides of the city.
Exploring the area
Inverness is a tour hub, of sorts, with numerous tours on offer that you can pre-book or sort when you’re there – head as far out as Skye or back down to Edinburgh or Glasgow.
While in the city we stayed on foot which was fine.
Our two day itinerary was carefully considered so that we could take in a taste of Inverness without exerting ourselves.
Urquhart Castle ruins and Loch Ness
A visit to a castle is a must, and the ruins of Urquhart Castle area easily accessible by car or coach.
For about £10 you can take a coach from Inverness’ bus station (the transport centre is near/behind the train station, but is signed), half an hour along the shores of Loch Ness, to Urquhart Castle.
This medieval castle’s ruins date from the 13th to the 16th centuries, and set on the shores of the loch, it’s a fabulous experience.
You can also reach and view the castle by taking a cruise on Loch Ness, which again, you can arrange when you’re in Inverness.
En-route to Urquhart you pass the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition which will fulfil all your Nessie needs – find out more about the story behind the folklore and buy souvenirs here.
You can also wander underneath the store and the road to the banks of the loch for more beautiful photo opportunities.
We did this trip in an afternoon and I’d highly recommend the experience as part of your ‘things to do in Inverness’ list. Just be organised with when the coach is due to return because they only run every hour or so.
Culloden and Clava Cairns
For a true slice of Scottish history as well as some unbeatable landscape view, get out of the town about half an hour to the Culloden Battlefield and visitor centre.
Culloden Battlefield is the site of the 1746 Jacobite Rising that came to a brutal head in one of the most harrowing battles in the history of this region.
There is an immersive cinema experience as well as café and rest spot, and of course you can respectfully visit the site yourself.
When we were heading out this way we got to chatting to a local on the bus, and she told us about an incredible ancient site called Clava Cairns.
As a fan of the series Outlander, I was actually aware of the site and to discover it was so accessible (with a little adventure along the way), we decided to go and explore.
Bus no. 5 gets you to Culloden Battlefield’s visitor centre, from where you can walk to Clava Cairns. The return trip was about £5.
Be mindful not to get other buses that say they are going to Culloden, as they are going to the residential area, not the destination intended if you’re seeking the experience outlined above.
This experience is well worth it. The weather can change though so be prepared. It’s the best part of a day trip from Inverness, but still close to town which is very handy.
Eat and drink in Inverness
I’d recommend trying a Scottish whiskey at a pub around town – there’s plenty to choose from.
Our favourite pub is The Castle Tavern, which is positioned just above Inverness Castle, and has a delicious menu, nice drinks including local options, and a cool view across the city.
We found transport in Inverness easy and reliable. While you do need to be prepared ahead of time and know when your bus to the airport is due, for example, we found it all ran efficiently to time.
Buses to and from the airport run every half an hour or an hour at quieter times, at just over £4 each way (2018).
There’s plenty of other ferry and bus or coach options that will help you discover things to do in Inverness and on the town’s outskirts. You can find out more by dropping into the train station, bus station or the visitor information centre in the middle of the mall in town.
You’ll also find many tours that will take you around the region and up to Skye, ranging from periods of one day to three or four – these can be booked in advance online, or ask for more information in the tourist information centre.
And if you’re an Outlander fan like me, there are indeed a number of tours that will show you around famous filming sites.
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