Winter Break in Europe: Festival Hopper’s Guide
September 9, 2018
A Two-Week Winter Break Itinerary Visiting Christmas Markets and Celebrating New Year’s in Europe
If I had to choose a favorite season, it would be summer no doubt. But, there is something magical about winter if you choose to really embrace it and enjoy the cold and the holiday cheer for what it is. Consequently, in this itinerary, I am not shying away from the cold and suggesting you go to tropical islands in Europe (although that would absolutely be nice too). Instead, I am taking you into the heart of winter and the festivities that celebrate this magical time with a two-week winter break itinerary focused on Christmas markets and New Year’s celebrations.
MUNICH —— NUREMBERG ——- COPENHAGEN ——EDINBURGH
Fly into Munich, Germany.
While you will have time for sightseeing, you are mainly here to enjoy the incredible Christmas markets in Germany. In Munich, there are over 20 markets alone! Be sure to check out a bird’s eye view of the beautiful Marienplatz’s Christmas market by climbing up the steps of the Church of St. Peter. The Christmas market at Sendlinger Tor is another favorite. You should definitely try Gluhwein which is a mulled warm wine and the signature ginger bread!
Take a day trip to Nuremberg, Germany to explore the largest Christmas market in Germany! It is best to go on a weekday since the market can be very crowded. Train travel from Munich to Nuremberg takes roughly about an hour and a half and there are multiple trains a day. There are also bus options that take a little over two hours, but are definitely a cheaper option. Be sure to try the figures made from prunes commonly known as “Nuremberg’s Plum People,” traditional sausages, and sweet roasted almonds.
Spend the day balancing your time between exploring Munich’s sights and indulging at the multitude of markets.
Fly to Copenhagen, Denmark. Personally, I prefer to fly on Christmas because the airports are much less crowded. However, depending on your degree of religiosity you may want to fly in on the 24th. There is a nonstop flight on Transavia on the 24th at 10:45 AM and a nonstop on SAS at 12:00 PM on the 25th that are currently both around the same price.
Many Christmas Markets close on December 24th; however, the markets at Tivoli Gardens stay open until early January. Tivoli Gardens is truly the stuff of fairy tales. Even for those of us who have grown up at Disneyland or Disneyworld, the indistinguishable charm and picturesque setting makes this theme park an ideal place to explore during Christmas. It certainly makes sense as to why Walt Disney based his parks after Tivoli. Daytime is not quite as crowded as it is at night at Tivoli Gardens, so I suggest going on the rides earlier and then walking around and admiring the lights and the intricate details on the holiday decor at night. On days not spent at Tivoli, spend time along the canal on the historic cobblestone streets of Nyhavn.
Fly to Edinburgh, Scotland for Hogmanay on the 28th. There are nonstop flights on Ryanair, Norwegian, and easyJet. Personally, I would go with one of the latter airlines. Spend these next two days exploring the city and doing a bit of sightseeing because once the Hogmanay festivities begin on the 30th, you won’t have nearly as much time to explore. For all Hogmanay details including a website to purchase tickets, check out the main site.
Hogmanay is a New Years celebration that takes place over the course of 3 days. The Torchlight Procession begins today which is one of the best events of Hogmanay. Thousands of people dressed as vikings parade through the streets holding torches lit by fire. Make sure to cover up and wear clothes you wouldn’t mind getting dirty with wax as there is a strong possibility the wax based torches will drip. Tourist kiosks also sell disposable kimonos/ponchos that you can purchase. The Torchlight Procession begins at 7:30 PM and tickets will be on sale soon. If you will be carrying your own torch, you can exchange your pre-purchased Torch Voucher at a designated collection point which is highlighted on your ticket starting at 2:00PM on the 30th.
During the day, hang with your friends, family, significant other, or hostel mates because the party really doesn’t get going until 9:00PM. Unlike Times Square in New York City, you don’t have to stand out in the freezing cold all day to get a view of the ball drop. Just make sure you purchase drinks earlier in the day before the market sells out since it is BYOB. Head to a nearby pub around 7/8 o’clock so that you can be close to the Street Party once you are allowed in at 9:00PM. Don’t eat too much pub food…you have to save room for a deep fried Mars Bar! Street Party is like a mini music festival with multiple stages, food trucks, and pop-up bars throughout the streets. Tickets are 25 Euros. Should you wish to see one of the musical performers, make sure you check the times and if you are more casual about the whole thing, just walk around and take in the scene. Entrance to the event stops at 11:00PM so make sure you are inside the gates by that time. The fireworks are visible throughout the entire night sky, so don’t worry too much about where you are standing. Party well into the night as there are free buses available for you to take back to your hostel, hotel, or airbnb. For tips on how to choose which kind of accommodation is best for you, check out my post here.
The Hogmanay festivities continue on New Year’s Day with Scot: Lands a creative culture crawl from 1:00PM-5:00 PM as well as the Stoats Looney Dook, an annual dip in the freezing River North. I obviously only recommend the plunge for the most ambitious and looniest of us out there, but if you do decide that you would rather be a participant as opposed to a spectator, get your tickets early since they sell out! Please keep in mind that most businesses including restaurants are closed today, so it might be a good idea to speak with your hotel or hostel ahead of time to determine your plans for the 1st.
Fly home exhausted, but hopefully reinvigorated for the next semester or the upcoming work week. If you are one of the lucky ones who are able to take more time off this winter break, I highly recommend flying to Interlaken, Switzerland and going night sledding along the Alps. More specifics here. Until next time!
Have you been to Europe during the winter? What was your favorite place to visit?
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