Christmas markets, Germany & Austria
December sees these romantic historic markets pop up all over Germany and other Central European nations. Expect cute stalls selling everything from gingerbread to sleigh bells and plenty of good cheer, toasted with a glass of warming glühwein.
It’s a real downer trying to Photoshop 500 people out of your would-be-prizewinning Parthenon photo, but in winter it’s not an issue. All summer stresses – crowding, tourist pricing, intense heat, queues, air pollution – more or less disappear. It’s the best time to explore the country’s ancient heritage and get to experience local culture.
For fairytale European winter, it’s hard to beat the home of Hans Christian Andersen. Forget the over-hyped Little Mermaid and head to the city’s cosy bars and cafes to watch snow flurrying outside. In the heart of town, the 19th-century Tivoli amusement park is a romantic, kitsch delight around Christmastime, with heartwarming illuminations and body-warming mugs of glögg.
Couples skating hand-in-hand, breath cloudy in the frosty air – there’s nowhere better for it than the Hungarian capital’s picturesque central park Városligeti Műjégpálya, with its enormous outdoor rink. Feeling chilly afterwards? Budapest is famous for its ornate thermal baths.
Hauntingly beautiful and rather weird, Venice’s Carnevale in February is a European highlight. Elaborate costumes and spooky masks bring the canal city’s colourful history to life. Costumed dances are pricey affairs, but you can have a ball enjoying the free events with a mask bought on the street, but be prepared for epic crowding.