European Christmas Markets

Christmas is coming, which means it’s time to plan a European break to one of the many fantastic Christmas markets and savour a taste of festive tradition.

1. Strasbourg

It goes without saying that Strasbourg, the Capital of Christmas, has an exceptional market, set in front of the Gothic style cathedral. It’s the oldest in France, founded in 1570, and features over 300 stalls selling mulled wine, sweets, decorations and gifts. A huge tree towers above the shoppers, and at the foot of the cathedral is an ice skating rink. With events and concerts taking place during the season, it’s no wonder 2 million visitors flock there each year.

2. Valkenburg

Comprising four markets located in a network of underground caves, the Valkenburg Christmas market is as much about art and history as it is gifts and trinkets. In addition to the stalls, there are numerous murals and sculptures depicting the Christmas story and the history of the caves. It’s a truly atmospheric place to explore. Above ground is Santa’s Village, complete with wooden chalets selling delicious treats and a giant singing Christmas tree adorned with 5,000 lights.

Cologne Christmas Market

3. Cologne

There are no fewer than six markets in Cologne, each with its own atmosphere and character. Children will love the Märchenweihnachtsmarkt, or Fairytale Market on Rudolfplatz, which features characters from the Brothers Grimm fairytales, a twinkling carousel and stalls selling wooden toys. The Alter Markt in the Old Town is a picture of rustic stalls and cobbled streets, with themed alleys such as Futtergasse, which sells speciality foods, and Glitzergasse, where you can find fashion accessories. There’s also the Angel’s Market, adorned with glittering lights, and the Cathedral Market, with its impressive Christmas tree and live music performances.

4. Amiens

Home to the largest Christmas market in northern France, Amiens is a delightful spectacle in winter. Visitors enter through a huge archway into a village of stalls offering locally produced treats and gifts, and the cathedral is lit up at nightfall, bringing its stonework to life through the son et lumière. Carol singing and children’s activities take place throughout the period, and visitors can buy everything from traditional wooden crafts to hand-made glass and Angora sweaters.

Prague Christmas Market

5. Prague

Prague’s picturesque charm is enhanced during the festive period, with a nativity scene and huge Christmas tree taking centre stage in the main square. Both here and Wenceslas Square are packed with stalls selling crystal, jewellery and nibbles, and in the week leading up to Christmas, tubs of water containing carp dot the streets. Or leave the crowds of the city centre behind and visit the market at Namesti Miru, where carol singers serenade the shoppers and leather gloves, winter woollies, biscuits and tree decorations can be found on the stalls.

Going on holiday alone? Ten must-see destinations

Looking at going on holiday alone? In days gone by, such trips may well have been seen as the refuge of the lonesome – generally bearded – traveller with a large carriage-filling rucksack in tow. Not anymore. One-in-three of us now are planning on going on holiday alone, with both genders and travellers of all ages happy to board a flight solo. Of course, while solo travel isn’t for everyone, for many others it is the very definition of freedom.

Below, we take a look at ten of the best places to go if you’re setting out on your own to experience the world.

Czech Republic

Soon to be renamed Czechia (we won’t go into the absurd details), the Czech Republic has much for the solitary traveller, from vast natural beauty to fantastic nightlife and culture. For nightlife, capital city Prague is ideal, with unique nightclubs (Cross Club is the best) and traditional beer houses, or pivovary. However, the Czech Republic is more than just beer and partying (though neither are to be sniffed at). The small country has some of the best scenery and nature the world has to offer, particularly Český ráj (translated as Czech Paradise) and České Švýcarsko (Czech Switzerland), which boasts beautiful mountains and great photo opportunities. Make sure you Czech them out. Sorry (he’s not sorry – Ed.).

Plan your visit with a Czech Republic travel guide.

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels hasn’t enjoyed the best publicity in the last year, which is a shame as it’s a fantastic and often overlooked city, particularly if you’re aim is to wander around rather than plan a strict itinerary. The Sint-Katelijne district is filled with hip bars, restaurants and clubs where the staff are more than happy to chat and introduce you to the city’s culinary specialities. Stop in at Monk bar, try fresh seafood or, if you’re feeling adventurous, take a daytrip in the nearby Wallonia region, which has excellent opportunities for cyclists. In general, Brussels may be more suited to ambling than it is rambling, but that sounds ideal to us. More frites anyone?

Get your Brussels travel guide today.

Sarajevo's Turkish Quarter

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo has topped many Top Ten lists in the last decade – due to its resurgence following a brutal siege in the 90s – and the city is perfect for the more adventurous solo traveller. Modern shopping streets sit literally yards away from medieval markets which have barely changed in hundreds of years. The best way to enjoy it? Sit in an open-air souk cafe with a traditional Bosnian coffee. A tad on the bitter side, they’re nonetheless delicious and a great accompaniment as you jot down your thoughts and take stock of your solo adventures.

Purchase your Sarajevo travel guide today.

Lake Bled, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

In reality, we could put any part of Slovenia in here, but it’s Lake Bled we’re going to focus on. An hour away from the capital, Ljubljana, Lake Bled is a breathtaking place. Both families and sports enthusiasts make the most of the crystal clear waters but the best way to enjoy it, in our opinion, is to simply walk around, before hiring a rowing boat to the country’s only island. Home to the Baroque Church of the Assumption of Mary, it’s about as picturesque as you can get. From there, a calf-troubling jaunt up the hills to Bled’s 11th-century castle is a must, where stunning scenery awaits. Bled, sweat and tears, yes, but well worth the hike.

Find a Slovenia travel guide online today.

Boston, USA

It may be further afield, but it’s well worth the journey. New York may have the reputation, but it also has the crowds. Boston is a more relaxing, though no less vibrant, city. The Athens of America, as William Tudor put it, Boston has a fantastic mix of architecture, from colonial to modern day, and an extremely friendly population for a large American hub. With bustling Somerville and Cambridge just over the water, it’s a fantastic city to walk around if you have a decent amount of time on your hands. Just don’t expect to have enough time to remember how to spell Massachusetts… no one’s got that much time to kill.

Buy a travel guide to Boston today.

Killarney, Ireland

Killarney, Ireland

Dublin isn’t the only town in Ireland, you know. Killarney, in County Kerry, is perfect for solo travellers. The town itself has a bustling, youthful vibe, with great restaurants and typically Irish bars offering live music every night of the week. What’s more, Killarney National Park sits right beside the main town. With 100km2 of countryside, it has beautiful castles, many lakes, and an abundance of wildlife including deer. Dublin who?

Find a Killarney travel guide now.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin may have gained a reputation as the hipster capital where picky nightclub bouncers dictate who’s in and who’s out, but there’s far more to the city. For those who like to walk around, the city has an array of wonderful street art and great cafes, while culture vultures can lose themselves in Berlin. From art galleries to historical museums, there’s something for everyone. Our pick? Unlike Checkpoint Charlie itself (a tourist trap), the Checkpoint Charlie Museum is a fascinating window into Berlin’s post-war years. Oh, and yes, do eat currywurst. Food might be better shared with others, but that’s just the sort of thing people who have to share would say.

Plan your visit with a Berlin travel guide.

Nimes, France

Nimes, France

Paris is for lovers, and if you’re travelling alone, you’re likely single or in need of some much needed breathing space from him/her/them. A beautiful city on the French coast – such as Nimes – will prove ideal. The climate is perfect for those who like to travel alone without wearing ten layers of clothing, and its Coliseum is one of the oldest in the world without suffering from ‘Rome prices’. And as for the ruins, well, let’s just say that blog of yours is going to have a fair number of new photos soon. Watch the likes roll in. Just remember your old pals at Road Less Travelled when you’re famous, yeah?

Find out more with a Nimes travel guide.

Lake Maggiore, Italy

Yes, the Italian lakes are all beautiful, but Lake Maggiore is the pick of the bunch. Immortalised in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, it’s easy to see why the Italian lake took the novelist’s fancy. Pristine waters sit beside beautiful restaurants and cafes and, unlike Como and some of the busier lakes, Maggiore has a more laid-back feel, ideal for those going it alone. But the cherry on top has to be the cable car up to Mottarone, a mountain with stunning views of the surrounding Alps in Italy and Switzerland. Take as long as like, just don’t forget that camera.

Learn more with a Lake Maggiore travel guide.

Basel, Switzerland

Basel, Switzerland

Believe us, we didn’t think Basel would elbow out the likes of Amsterdam or Barcelona on this list, but that’s before we went. Granted, if you’re not into museums, this one might not be for you, but if you are, well, you’re in the right place. A city of only 300,000 inhabitants, it boasts over 40 of the things; not bad for a town that still can’t decide how it likes to be pronounced (some go for Bah-zel, others Ba-ahl). Museum Tinguely’s our favourite, but the city is also ideal in that it sits at the tripoint of the Swiss-German-French borders. If you’re holidaying alone you want to fit in as much as possible, and with the Black Forest and Saint-Louis nearby, you won’t be short on activities.

Buy a Basel travel guide to plan the perfect journey.

Street Art Around the World

Art, when travelling the world, can give you a real insight into country’s cultures, people, and even politics. But when speaking of art, it’s not always the case that we’re talking about pieces hanging on a wall in a gallery. Some of the most important pieces of art can, in fact, be found decorating the streets that we walk along on a daily basis. And all around the world you’ll find some stunning example of such street art.

BERLIN

You can’t begin an article about street art without mentioning Berlin. This German city is a hub for those wishing to discover (and also try their hand at producing) street art. In the borough of Kreuzberg, you’ll find many large and influential pieces of street art. Victor Ash’s Cosmonaut looms large over Mariannenstrasse, and you’ll find Belgian street artist Roa’s mural of native German animals to have once frequented Berlin, at Skalitzerstraße.

Victor Ash’s Cosmonaut, Berlin. Photo by Sage Fitzpatrick

Most of the street art found in the city, however, is contained to the East Side Gallery. This open air gallery made from pieces of the Berlin Wall is a stark, yet colourful, reminder of Berlin’s history. Painted by 118 artists from 21 different countries around the world, you’ll find that much of the artwork produced is a political commentary of the monumental event that took place between 1989 and 1990. Some of the most famous pieces from the gallery are the images of an East German Trabant car breaking through the wall, and that of Honecker and Brezhnev locking lips.

LONDON

When writing about street art in London, you’ll always hear mention of Shoreditch – home to a number of famous pieces of street art by world-renowned artists. You’ll find Banksy, many pieces produced by Roa – including enormous the crane on Hanbury Street and the aptly placed sleeping pig on Bacon Street – and also Louis Masai, who is known for creating street art of endangered animals.

louis masai

Just this year, Tower Hamlets became home to the Endangered 13 project. Thirteen artists took on the task of covering the 120-metre stretch of railway arches with street art, designed to raise awareness of endangered species around the world. When exploring the quirky area of Camden you will also come across a number of political and celebrity pieces of street art produced by the illusive female street artists Bambi. Amy Winehouse, Nelson Mandela, and even the Queen have all been immortalised on walls around North London.

PRAGUE

When in Prague, there is one place you must not miss if you are looking for street art: the Lennon Wall. Back during the Czech Republic’s communist rule, ‘Lennonists’ used the wall to express their love for John Lennon and what he stood for after he passed away. Many times it was painted over and many times it was painted on once again. Now this once-quiet square, located in the heart of Old Town, is a great spot in the city to read messages of love and peace.

Lennon Wall, Prague

But street art isn’t just limited to these countries. You’ll find it anywhere if you’re looking out for it. Whether it is in Melbourne’s colourful laneways, or hidden in the Tivoli car park in the city of Dublin. So, when travelling next, why not take time admiring the pictures and stencils that adorn the walls, instead of just passing them by? Street art is more than just aesthetic adornments. It is used to make political statements, highlight a worthy cause, and showcase certain parts of history.