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7 of Europe's Best Winter Celebrations and Festivals

By Jeanette Zinno
October 25, 2019
Pedestrians mill about a beautiful Christmas Market on the South Bank in London, with the Elizabeth Tower visible in the background.
For a festive winter break, here are some of the best Christmas markets, celebrations and festivals in Europe

Europe is one of the most enchanting places to visit during the winter and holiday season. With its winding streets filled with glimmering lights and decorations, friendly locals and endless tables of holiday treats and gifts for sale, who can resist?

If you’re planning a festive break, here are some of the best Christmas markets, celebrations and festivals to look for across the pond. Just don’t forget to leave space in your suitcase for all the souvenirs and gifts you’re going to buy!

London, England

Running for more than a decade, London’s Winter Wonderland exudes Christmas spirit through the city during the winter. The attraction hosts Christmas-themed fun and activities, including an enormous ice skating rink, rollercoaster rides, street food stalls, a Ferris wheel, a Bavarian-themed beer hall with live music and a huge Christmas market.

Looking for a hotel near the Winter Wonderland? The Crowne Plaza London is a 20-minute walk from the festivities and a five-minute taxi ride to the shops and restaurants in Mayfair and Knightsbridge.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Amsterdam Light Festival is known near and far as one of the best winter events in Europe. In December and January, around 250 light installations of all shapes and sizes are on display illuminating the town. This all happens in the city center along the waters of Amsterdam’s canals during the dark winter months.

Preparations for the exhibit go on the entire year, so you can imagine how magnificent the displays are. Lights adorn everything from the bridges to the trees and beyond. Take a canal boat for a magical look at all of the light art in the evening. It will be a highlight of the season.

Strasbourg, France

Opening at the end of November, the festive Strasbourg market is a favorite for Christmas lovers with its four Advent converts and Living Nativity, along with authentic live music. Having first launched back in 1570, travelers come from around the world to visit this magical place!

Experience all that it has to offer, from its famous Christmas tree and scenic wooden chalets to the delicious mulled wine. If you’re looking for lodging, consider the Holiday Inn Express Strasbourg, an adorable hotel in the city center and only a short stroll away from the Christmas market.

San Sebastian, Spain

Move over Christmas markets. San Sebastian’s Tamborrada de Donostia, aka festival of drums begins on January 19th at midnight when the flag of San Sebastian is raised and signifies the start of the celebration. Thousands of locals and tourists gather in the city center to sing, dance, play drums and march for the next 24 hours.

The festival is free and open to anyone to attend, but as with any festival the area is extremely busy. Many locals go out for a seafood dinner to celebrate the city, so make your reservations for dining and lodging ahead of time.

Munich, Germany

Head down the cobblestone streets of Munich to witness the Christmas spirit at the famous holiday markets. Various markets pop up throughout the city, but Marienplatz is the legendary one everyone visits, right in the heart of the city. You can expect a massive Christmas tree decked out in holiday garb; stalls galore filled with handmade trinkets and you may even catch carolers singing. Well, let’s be honest – you’ll definitely see carolers in this jolly town.

Bergen, Norway

There’s a gingerbread town in Norway, tell all of your friends. But seriously, the world’s largest gingerbread town is constructed every year in Bergen. Students and volunteers put together a full town composed of houses, boats and cars. There’s even a Ferris wheel made of cookies and icing. When do we get to eat it?

Visit the mini version of Bergen from mid-November through December for around $10. Plus, there are a variety of Christmas markets throughout the town, so you can combine your tour with a visit to shop until you drop.

Warsaw, Poland

The post-card perfect market within Warsaw’s Old Town walls is home to more than 60 traditional wooden huts. They’re nestled among the snow and sell traditional mulled wine, adorable figurines and basically everything you could ever want to remember this fascinating city by. And if you’re looking for a white Christmas, it’s almost guaranteed in Warsaw.

There are a variety of markets throughout the city that are either traditional or modern, but you’re guaranteed to find what you’re looking for during the month of December. So, grab a few pierogies and maybe some vodka and get in the holiday spirit Polish style.

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Budget Travel Lists

8 Best Cycling Routes in North America

Whether you’re looking to take a cycling-centric vacation or just include some skinny-tire time while you’re out exploring, the best routes are those that combine moderate climbs (and the blissful descents that follow) with natural beauty and an ineffable sense of wonder. With that criteria in mind, we’ve assembled some of our favorite rides—including a range of geographical regions in North America from eastern Canada down to Mexico City. These are intended for road bikes (a.k.a. the bikes with thin tires), and for cyclists with some experience—though each of these cool routes can be managed by newbies who are traveling with relatively experienced cyclists.Going-to-the-Sun Road Montana When it comes to pinch-me vistas and wildlife encounters, it’s difficult to beat the Going-to-the-Sun Road, in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Start your trek at Apgar visitor center, not far from the park’s West Glacier entrance. You’ll cover 32 miles from Apgar to the continental divide at Logan Pass, climbing around 3,000 feet over the course of the ride. Plan on several hours to reach Logan, because you’ll encounter many fine reasons to stop along the way: Avalanche Creek, the Trail of the Cedars, and many scenic overlooks where you’ll see the valley below growing smaller and smaller, snowy peaks (often even in July), and chance sightings of black bears, grizzlies, and moose. If you still have the legs for it, there’s a great hike at Logan Pass up to Hidden Lake Overlook, where you’ll almost certainly spot mountain goats. And, of course, the ride down from Logan back to Apgar is all downhill. When you arrive back at Apgar Village, celebrate with a feast at Eddie’s restaurant, and save room for a huckleberry ice cream or pie. Green Mountains Loop Vermont, New Hampshire, New York The Green Mountains, with their gentle slopes and namesake hue (which transforms into blazing reds, yellows, and oranges in autumn), define much of Vermont’s landscape. Even folks who have yet to visit will recognize the mountains as the backdrop of many of Grandma Moses’s most famous paintings. The Green Mountains Loop goes well beyond the mountains, allowing cyclists to begin in Burlington and, if they choose, end there as well, having explored not only Vermont but also portions of New Hampshire and the Lake Champlain shoreline in New York. The loop comprises more than 370 miles, and there are also alternates and offshoots worth seeing if you have time. The East Alternate, for instance, passes through the charming small town of Peacham, the kind of Platonic ideal of a New England town you might expect to see in a Norman Rockwell. Natchez Trace Parkway Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee This may be the most ancient cycling route you’ll ever attempt. The Natchez Trace Parkway essentially existed centuries before the notion of a “parkway,” as a trail through the forest used by Native Americans. These days, you’ll share the road with relatively moderate or sparse auto traffic, and you’ll savor the forestland, waterways, and waterfalls along the way. Rest your head at an array of B&Bs along the way, grab ample Southern cuisine, and choose campsites that will be populated by fellow cyclists—and some campgrounds are actually bicyclists-only. If you make the entire trip, which connects Natchez, MS, to Nashville, TN, you’ll cover 444 miles of gentle grades. Katy Trail Missouri A great route for outdoor enthusiasts and historians alike, the Katy Trail runs more than 230 miles across the state of Missouri, about half of it following the route that Lewis and Clark tpokl up the Missouri River on their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. Keep an eye out for eagles as you cycle this relatively flat trail that takes you past farms and fields and small towns. It’s the longest rails-to-trails project in the U.S., having converted the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) railroad line into prime space for hikers, runners, and cyclists. (If you’re keen on traversing the entire continential U.S. on two skinny wheels, the Katy Trail is often included in cross-country treks along the Lewis & Clark route and the American Discovery Trail. Mount Lemmon Arizona Tucson, AZ, is something of a cyclists’ mecca, with a great climate for outdoor activities snd some spectacular scenery and mountain trails. You’ll ascend the Catalina Highway to the top of Mount Lemmon—wear layers, because you’ll likely pass through a range of temperatures and weather conditions, including the possibility of snow at the Summerhaven resort at the top. You’ll enjoy coasting on the ride back down as well, but avoid the temptation to take the hairpins at top speed—you’ll want to arrive back in Tucson in one piece for dinner. Camino Cielo California For anyone who has ever visited Santa Barbara, on the southern end of California’s central coast, the Pacific Ocean vistas and the Santa Ynez Mountains behind the city can be unforgettable. But there’s at least one cool secret up those mountains: Camino Cielo (“skyway”) is a ridge road with sweeping views. Of all the routes recommended in this story, Camino Cielo is the one that will demand the most energy and attentiveness: Expect steep climbs, switchbacks, and some rough terrain on your way to the top of Gibraltor Mountain. You’ll almost certainly agree it was worth the climb. (And on your way back to SB, you can reward yourself with a visit to one of the region’s excellent wineries.) Route Verte Québec Canada’s finest cycling can be found in Québec Province, and the crown jewel is Route Verte (“greenway”), covering more than 3,000 miles (yes, you read that correctly) that includes mixed-use trails and cycling paths, and roads from the coast all the way to Montréal. As you might expect, the route offers many reasons to stop along the way, including Québec’s historic cities with their array of French food, wine, and friendly locals, and the extraordinary Parc National du Bic along the St. Lawrence Estuary, with its mountains and islands and capes. Desierto de los Leones Mexico City How many national parks can you name that are located entirely within a major city? Desierto de los Leones is all within the Federal District of Mexico City, and the park supplies everything a cyclist might crave: the Sierra de las Cruces Mountains, scenic waterways, forests, and ample trails for cyclists. If cycling in a big city seems less adventurous than you might wish, bear in mind that hitting the open road in Mexico is often not as safe for inexperienced cyclists as it might be in the U.S. or Canada. Desierto de los Leones provides natural beauty in a setting where visitors can relax and enjoy the sights. And, contrary to what the park’s name might suggest, it is neither a desert nor a haven for mountain lions.)

Road TripsBudget Travel Lists

6 Secret American Road Trips to Add to Your Bucket List

The United States is renowned for its plethora of jaw-droppingly beautiful stretches of highway. In fact, for many travelers, the very word "America" conjures images not of bustling cities or world-class museums (though the US offers no shortage of them) but of iconic roads such as California’s Highway 1, the Southeast’s Blue Ridge Parkway, and Montana’s Going-to-the-Sun Road. But what about the lesser-known American drives? The ones that aren’t necessarily jam-packed with road trip enthusiasts but nevertheless offer gorgeous scenery, family-friendly fun, education, and even cultural enlightenment? Here, six outstanding “secret” drives that travelers will love to boast about “discovering.” Big Bend, Texas Big Bend National Park, along the Texas border with Mexico, is often overshadowed by its more famous fellow parks like Yosemite and Grand Canyon. But a road trip through this gorgeous environment, with its limestone cliffs, scenic overlooks, and Rio Grande River, is a unique way to experience the American landscape. As with many US national parks, Big Bend includes small “villages” that can serve as handy milestones in planning a drive. One option is the Panther Junction-to-Rio Grande Village drive, about 21 miles (34km) passing ancient limestone, scenic overlooks, and opportunities for stopping for a short hike at Boquillas Canyon or the Rio Grande Village Nature Trail. Cherokee Hills, Oklahoma This is a lesser-known road trip that provides a healthy dose of cultural education as well. The Cherokee Hills Scenic Byway, in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in eastern Oklahoma, runs about 84 miles (135km), so set aside at least two hours for the drive. But the best approach is to make many stops along the way. You’ll see some of the oldest buildings west of the Mississippi River, many predating the state of Oklahoma itself; five small towns; the Cherokee Heritage Center, where visitors learn about the painful history of the Trail of Tears but also about the modern-day initiatives of the Cherokee Nation; and natural wonders including Lake Tenkiller and Natural Falls State Park. Door County, Wisconsin The Door County peninsula, sometimes called the “Cape Cod of the Midwest,” is a narrow, beautiful stretch of land between Lake Michigan and Green Bay. Its Coastal Byway (Highway 42/57) is a Wisconsin Scenic Byway, covering more than 60 miles (97km) passing through the towns of Sturgeon Bay and Northport. Here, visitors discover the natural beauty and relaxing pace of this prized corner of Wisconsin – including farms known for their fresh cherries, a summer theater festival, and charming communities that hug the lakeshore, offering great food (including house-made ice cream), unique shopping, and forests perfect for easy hikes. Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway Sure, Delaware is one of the smallest states in the US, but it packs plenty of history and natural beauty. The Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway, in northern Delaware, takes visitors past sights as diverse as the city of Wilmington and the beautiful countryside. Officially only 12 miles (19km) along the Kennett Pike and Montchanin Road, the byway focuses on the 300-year history of the Brandywine Valley and its role in the industrial revolution and the growth of transportation across the early United States. Consider the byway as your introduction to the larger Brandywine Valley region, which stretches into Pennsylvania and includes an array of important historical homes with great art collections, such as the Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library; the Nemours Mansion and Garden; the Brandywine River Museum; and the Delaware Museum of Art. Beartooth Highway, Wyoming & Montana Warning: once you’ve driven the Beartooth Highway, which adjoins Yellowstone National Park and is surrounded by national forests and the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, you may be spoiled forever. The highway, a National Scenic Byways All-American Road, is a winding route up into the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains – achieving an elevation over 10,000ft (3,000 meters) at its zenith, it’s the highest highway in the northern Rocky Mountains – with peerless scenic overlooks, glacial lakes, waterfalls, and, before you ascend back down, a high alpine plateau above the treeline. Set aside a few hours to truly enjoy the 67 miles (108km) of highway, and get to know one of the gateway communities such as Cooke City and Red Lodge, Montana, or Cody, Wyoming. Mississippi Blues Trail, Mississippi For an immersion in one of America’s original art forms, the blues, head to Clarksdale, Mississippi, gateway to the Mississippi Blues Trail. Although you’ll see the beautiful sights of the legendary Mississippi Delta along the way, the Blues Trail is not primarily a scenic drive but rather a set of interpretive markers and cultural institutions that visitors can navigate to create their own personalized road trip devoted to Mississippi’s incredible musical legacy. The trip’s mileage and time frame are entirely up to you. Highlights include Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum (where you’ll learn about local luminaries Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson) and Ground Zero Blues Cafe; Indianola’s B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and Club Ebony (for blues music and soul food); and Greenwood’s Blues Heritage Gallery and excellent restaurants in the historic downtown district.

Budget Travel Lists

7 Things We’re Most Excited About at The New York City Wine & Food Festival 2019

Food, music, wine, cocktails and celebrities – all plunked in the city that never sleeps. If that sounds too good to be true, you’re in luck. Beginning October 10, the city will host the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival for a whopping four days of star-studded, and delicious, events. Presented by Capital One (cardholders receive benefits like early admission, discounts, priority seating and admission to exclusive events) this culinary powerhouse is not only New York’s largest food and wine festival, it also donates 100 percent of its net proceeds to benefit the Food Bank for New York City and the No Kid Hungry campaign. This year NYCWFF will offer entry into 80 events spread across the city, presenting a diverse mix of dinners, tastings and late-night parties – all while mingling with well-known chefs and culinary personalities. Looking to join the party? Here’s what we’re most excited about. Elvis Duran’s Taste of New York This massive tasting of over 25 of the Z100 radio show host’s favorite NYC spots is also a celebration of his new book, Where Do I Begin?: Stories from a Life Lived Out Loud. The entire crew of the syndicated Morning Zoo show will be on hand as co-hosts and in addition to a sampling of goodies from restaurants like Parm, Freeman’s, American Cut, Carmine’s and Shake Shack, you can enjoy unlimited wine, beer and cocktails. Another perk? Also expect to rub elbows with celebs like Grammy winner Alessia Cara and NBC 4 Big Apple culinary explorer Lauren Scala. October 10, 7pm Oktoberfest Nothing says fall like a giant stein of beer. So, join host of Bizarre Foods and three-time James Beard winner Andrew Zimmern, for NYC’s very own Oktoberfest celebration. Indulge in hearty plates and snacks like soft baked pretzels and wursts of all sorts from haunts like Blue Oak BBQ, Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar, The Leroy House and The Standard Grill. Unlimited pours of frosty brews are a given, but you can also enjoy infinite wine and spirits. October 12, 4pm Fit & Feast This Sunday morning workout slash brunch event is bound to assuage all food festival-related guilt. Join restauranteur and fitness guru Michael Chernov and SoulCycle instructor Roxie Jones for a high energy circuit training class, then feast from eateries like Seamore’s, Broken Coconut and Blank Slate Coffee + Kitchen. Though this is one of a series of four events highlighting wellness and healthy eating, you’ll be happy to know mimosas will be flowing next to the coffee. Don’t worry, you earned it. October 13, 10am Barilla’s Drag Brunch This simply fabulous event is hosted by actress and host of Cooking Channel’s Extra Virgin, Debi Mazar. Though it’s a walk-around affair featuring flamboyant dishes from restaurants like Egghead, Levante, The Meatball Shop and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ Florida Kitchen, you’ll also have a chance to sidle up to famed costume designer of Sex and the City, Patricia Field. Cabaret singer and drag artist Joey Arias will be performing live and you’ll be sharing your brunch bounty and Absolut Juice cocktails with NYC’s best drag queen superstars while they strut their stuff. October 12, 12pm Master Sushi Rolling Class Learn to roll with the best at this super-popular masterclass with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Not only will you work with premium filling ingredients, you’ll learn what items need to be in your pantry to create sushi-bar grade rolls in your own home. The small class takes place at Morimoto, the chef’s flagship restaurant, and you’ll be plied with wine and a sushi tasting when you’re done learning from the master. Oct 13, 1:30pm Broadway Tastes Nothing says New York like Broadway, and this brunch features TONY-nominated actor Alex Brightman as host to a line-up of delicious grub and performances straight from the Great White Way. In addition to unlimited drinks and bites from Big Daddy’s, Breads Bakery, Sylvia’s Restaurant and Park & Quinn, you’ll be treated to live tunes from Broadway favorites Beetlejuice, Come From Away, Dear Evan Hansen and Mean Girls. YouTube personality and comedian Randy Rainbow will also be on hand for some laughs. October 13, 11:30am Grand Tasting The Grand Tasting is a NYCFWW tradition in its 12th year and this six-hour extravaganza gives you access to the city’s best restaurants and some of the brightest culinary stars of our time. Your ticket allows you to sample hundreds of different wine and spirits – including the new almond-flavored liqueur L’Orgeat, brewed in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which will be making its debut at this event – as well as tastings from restaurants like the Atlantic Grill, Dos Caminos, Jams at 1 Central Park and Ani Ramen House. But it’s the culinary demonstrations that make this a truly special event, all taking place in the IKEA Kitchen and featuring over 20 superchefs from the Food Network and Cooking Channel. Get up close and personal with personalities like Geoffrey Zakarian, Rachael Ray, Aron Sanchez, Marcus Samuelsson, Alex Guarnaschelli, Rocco DiSpirito and Anne Burrell. There will also be cookbook signings, interactive experiences and a swag bag with free giveaways. October 13, 12pm

Budget Travel Lists

The 6 Best Places to See Fall Colors

Don’t mourn the end of summer. Swap out that bathing suit for a sweater, ice cream for apples, and make a date with mother nature to ponder the stunning colors of America’s fall foliage. Given the overwhelming number of parks, mountains and forests to choose from, finding the right time and place to see these vibrant displays may seem overwhelming. To get you started, we’ve rounded up six of the best places to enjoy fall’s impressive hues. And though there is an estimated time for peak viewing, it’s all about the weather, so you may want to check the Farmer’s Almanac and The Weather Channel for a quick update before you head out. Catskills, NY New York is one of the most popular states to get a full glimpse of seasonal colors. And this mountain range in the state’s southeast corner is close enough to New York City to drive, train or bus to in just a few short hours. The optimal viewing time in the Catskills is the end of September through October and though you can’t miss the breathtaking changes wherever you end up, we suggest a drive to the Kaaterskill Clove Experience, a hike to Mount Utsayantha or a trip aboard the Catskill Mountain Railroad. Weekend events, like the Hunter Mountain Oktoberfest and the Taste of the Catskills, are a great way to extend your foliage excursion and mix it up with both locals and tourists. Gettysburg, PA Combine your autumn viewing with some American history this season and head to Gettysburg around the third week of October until mid-November to enjoy peak foliage. The Gettysburg National Military Park and the top of the battlefield Little Round Top affords flamboyant views all the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains. You can also choose to see the changing leaves on horseback from the National Riding Stables Horse Rescue or Hickory Hollow Farm, take a drive through Pennsylvania’s Apple Country or visit the Hauser Estate Winery for a taste of wine and hard cider, as well as a view from one of the region’s highest points. The National Apple Harvest Festival runs through the first two weekends of October and will give you a good reason to stay and enjoy the food, crafts, entertainment and, you know, all those apples. Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway, NM The mountains of northern New Mexico are a highlight for leaf gazing aficionados during the first few weeks of October, and this dreamily named route provides an 83-mile loop of what the southwest autumn has to offer. The drive is approximately three hours, though you’ll want to factor in time for stops along the way. The byway begins and ends in the artists’ colony Taos and makes its way through Questa, Red River, Eagle’s Nest and Angel Fire. The sundry scenery includes Taos Pueblo, which houses the country’s first memorial to Vietnam vets, as well as Wheeler Peak, New Mexico’s tallest point, and Taos Ski Valley where you can enjoy the vivid views on a hike, bike or ski lift. Lake of the Ozarks, MS Mid- to late-October is the best tome to see the Ozarks hardwood forests and rolling hills burn with scarlet, ginger and gold on this vast shoreline ­– though it could easily stretch into November with an abundance of cool sunny days. Unfolding across four counties, this summer getaway comes alive in the fall, and there are plenty of ways to enjoy the brilliant scenery in the surrounding Ozark Hills. Take a drive through the Sylamore District of the Ozark National Forest, stop at the Ameren Scenic Overlook, survey the surroundings with a round of golf at the Margaritaville Lake Resort or hop on a boat at Celebration Cruises to see the sites from the water. Columbia River Gorge, OR With over 80 miles of brightly tinted forests to gawk at, this scenic area located along Interstate 84 is at its peak for fall foliage from mid-September to mid-October. The drive is parallel to the Columbia River, but be sure to stop at the Crown Point Vista House for more expansive views of the Cascade Mountains or consider a hike on the popular Dog Mountain Loop. Take a cheeky break for a beverage and panoramic vistas at one of the Gorge wineries or breweries or book a white water rafting trip down the Columbia River to liven things up. Kancamagus Highway, NH This 34-mile drive, nicknamed the Kanc by locals, provides an explosion of brilliant colored leaves come mid-September and lasting through early October. Because this highway cuts through the White Mountain National Forest, there are plenty of points to pull off and enjoy the breathtaking views. The Sabbaday Falls includes a 45ft drop and perfect picnicking options and you can stop at the Lost River Gorge and Boulder Caves to wander off on a hike. Or hop on the 80-passenger cable car at the Cannon Mountain Aerial Tramway to see the spectacular foliage from the air – all the way to Maine, Vermont and Canada.

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