Whilst there's something to be said for going home for Christmas, the festive season is also a wonderful time to travel. It can certainly be worth taking a year off from your typical Christmas traditions and exploring the way another culture celebrates the winter holidays. Cities and regions across Europe are known for their vibrant, local Christmas markets and unique yuletide customs. Here are three places that put on a particularly good show for Christmas:
This gorgeous coastal city may not be the first place that comes to mind when you think 'Christmas', but Barcelona sparkles during the month of December and with a plethora of cheap package holidays available, it's a quick and low-cost trip to make at this time of year. Ranked number one in Time Out's list of the best Christmas Markets, Barcelona's Christmas Fair features more than 300 stalls of local vendors selling everything from handmade nativity scenes to traditional Catalan cuisine, poinsettias and mistletoe. Backed by Gaudi's jaw-dropping architecture, this is a festive experience worth having.
The Romantic Road – Bavaria, Germany
Unlike Barcelona, Germany's 'Romantic Road' (Romantische Strasse) is exactly what you think of when you picture the cosy charm of Christmastime. The Romantic Road is comprised of a number of small villages, each hosting its own Christmas markets. Extending from Würzburg to Füssen (near Munich), this scenic route takes you through the very best of Bavaria, giving you a real sense of how Christmas is celebrated in this unique part of Southern Germany. Perhaps most famous of all the villages is Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a perfectly preserved medieval town that hosts a fantastic Christmas celebration in the village square.
Of course, a visit to any German market isn't complete without sipping some Glühwein (mulled wine) and eating some Christstollen (a traditional fruit cake with marzipan and powdered sugar).
Budapest is known as one of the cheapest places to travel for the festivities, so budget travellers will be well-catered for in the Hungarian capital. Budapest also hosts a particularly wonderful array of Christmas activities, including around 150 stalls of local vendors selling local arts and handicrafts. You can also expect live music, folk dancing and traditional cuisine on offer daily.
Although leaving home at Christmastime can seem anti-tradition, it's worth remembering that there's an entire world of Christmas customs out there. Visiting Europe's Christmas markets are a great way to harness the Christmas spirit and soak up a new culture at the same time.