CHRISTMAS MARKETS: Discover Europe’s secret gems



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LATVIA: head to the home of the Christmas tree in Riga, the capital of the Baltics

Legend has it that the first Christmas tree was assembled in Riga’s city centre in 1510, and there’s no doubt that Yuletide festivity is deeply rooted in Latvian life. Explore Riga’s treasures of Baltic culture by foot to experience the charming capital under fluffy layers of snow. Immerse yourself in the city’s authentic Christmas markets, taste traditional Latvian flavours such as smoked fish and delicious hot potato pancakes. Located in the distinctly European squares of Doma laukums and Līvu laukums, the markets are overlooked by breathtaking architecture such as the iconic Riga Cathedral and the Three Brothers, the oldest three houses still standing in the city.

Stay: Rixwell Old Riga Palace Hotel

The centrally  Rixwell Old Riga Palace Hotel is situated on one of the picturesque streets of the Old Town. Dine in the elegant four-star hotel’s restaurant and enjoy a rich breakfast buffet selection. Relax in its spa area complete with a sauna and jacuzzis. Prices start at £39 per night based on two adults sharing when booking direct.

GERMANY: astonishingly ornate architecture and the country’s oldest Christmas market in Dresden

Located in eastern Germany, Dresden is rapidly picking up recognition for being one of the most charming cities in Europe thanks to its stunning architecture and must-see sights including its huge-domed baroque Frauenkirche church. During the winter months, the city hosts Germany’s oldest Christmas market, celebrating its 585th anniversary this December, the Dresden Striezelmarkt. Enjoy authentic cuisine including Dresden Stollen cake, mulled wine, live music and plenty of après-ski charm in the city’s Altmarkt square. The Dresden Striezelmarkt is open to December 24.

Stay: Vienna House QF Dresden is a stylish boutique hotel that showcases the best of European design. Located in the heart of the baroque Old Town, next to the famous Frauenkirche church, QF Dresden is the perfect base for exploring the city.

Rooms start at £120 per night based on two adults sharing.

Christmas market in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Traditional products at the Christmas market in Ljubljana, Slovenia (Image: Marco Secchi/Getty Images)

SLOVENIA: fall in love beneath festive lights in Slovenia’s fairy tale capital

Absorb the advent atmosphere of Slovenia’s capital and its glowing lights as they illuminate the Ljubljanica River throughout December. Climb to the peak of Castle Hill where you will be rewarded with stretching views of snowy roofs and twinkling lights that fill the winter city below. Enter your own ice fairy tale on Kongresni Trg, where more than 60 tons of ice has been transformed into an array of incredible statues. Check out the wealth of holiday market stalls, enjoy live music that echoes throughout the city’s squares or indulge in a rich hot-chocolate from one of the many cafes which are dotted along the banks of the river.

Stay: Vander Urbani Resort

Treat yourself to the modern luxuries of Vander Urbani Resort, a spacious destination formulated of four townhouses nestled in the heart of the city. Dine on inviting meals made with local produce in one of the two charming in-house restaurants or treat yourself to a glass of champagne at the bubbles bar. Prices start at £109 per night based on two adults sharing.

POLAND: have yourself a happy holiday season in the hipster haven of Lodz

Head to the up-and-coming Lodz and embrace Poland’s happy holiday season. Treat yourself to a seasonal shopping spree along Poland’s longest shopping promenade, Piotrkowska Street, where you will find one-of-a-kind Christmas gifts and wintery goodies. The 4.9km street brings together artist studios, fashion designers, boutiques, bars, clubs and restaurants to create a vibrant, eclectic atmosphere. Alternatively, head to Manufaktura for their annual outdoor fair hosted inside the courtyard walls of the 19th century former textile factory. Immerse yourself in the unique, cheery celebrations including performances from local carol singers beneath twinkling lights. Outdoor Christmas at Manufaktura continues to December 23 from 12pm until 10 pm daily, offering Christmas gifts, decorations and food.

Stay: Vienna House Andel’s Lodz is an impressive unison of industrial history and modernity, offering luxury bedrooms within the grounds of the former spinning mill Manufaktura. Rooms start from £69 per night throughout December based on two adults sharing.

Outdoor Christmas at Manufaktura

Outdoor Christmas at Manufaktura (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

CZECH REPUBLIC: experience traditional advent festivities in the Czech city that invented modern beer

A former European Capital of Culture and a worldwide beer landmark (Pilsner Urquell Brewery opened its doors here in 1842), the Czech charm of Pilsen runs deep. Head to the historic city centre to absorb the Czech advent atmosphere, soak up the festive decorations and catch one of the carol singers performances, or maybe meet the cast of the live nativity scene including donkeys and sheep. Afterwards, visit the world-famous Pilsner Urquell brewery, the birthplace of pilsner lager, where you can warm yourself over a drink and tour the 177-year-old business. The Pilsen Christmas Market is open to December 23.

Stay: Vienna House Easy Pilsen, the perfect base for exploring Pilsen situated opposite the world-famous Pilsner Urquell brewery and just a short walk from the city’s old town. The hotel features wellness facilities including a sauna, bold design and 144 stylish rooms. Rooms from £56 including breakfast

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