There is perhaps one season that Europe does better than anywhere else, and that is winter. Across the continent, it is a time to swap presents, share food, and engage in end-of-year revelry with friends and family, as we all seek to ward off the cold and the dark of those long, wintry nights.
Seasonal events are a booming industry: Christmas markets are the perennial favourite, and nowadays you can find stalls and chalets lining the streets of almost every town – from Sheffield to the south bank of the Thames, as well as more traditionally the streets of Germany and Austria.
Yet no matter how much you enjoy shopping for gifts and sipping mulled wine in a rustic marketplace, winter in Europe has much more to offer than this alone. Here are some of the locations that will help to bring an extra touch of magic to your end of year holiday.
A magical family adventure for young and old alike can be found in the remotest part of Finland’s north. According to folklore, Lapland is the traditional home of Father Christmas himself, and the locals have missed no opportunity in bringing this fairytale to life for seasonal visitors!
Direct flights operate throughout December from multiple locations across the UK, and many of our smaller regional airports are the starting point for package deals.
On arrival, there is no end of sleigh rides, mulled wine, and seasonal dinners. While younger visitors may be enchanted by the chance to visit Santa’s workshop, it is usually the prospect of glimpsing the Aurora Borealis (also known as the Northern Lights) which appeals to older travellers.
It is even possible to visit Lapland as part of a same-day return trip, offered by Thomas Cook and others. Do a Google search for “Lapland day trips” if you are interested. Just remember to pack for the cold climate!
The Festival of Light, Stockholm
All across Sweden, the 13th December is the annual festival of light: marking the day of Saint Lucy. For many Swedes, the event marks the true start of Christmas, and families come together to share a festive julbord (the traditional Christmas buffet), drink mulled wine (“glögg”), or indulge in saffron buns baked to mark the occasion – the Lussekatt.
The event is not a public holiday in Sweden, which means shops and services remain open throughout the day. Once night falls though, the city streets are brought to life with music and light, as children sing hymns, put on traditional costumes, and stage a candlelit procession through the streets. It is a moment to see Scandinavia at its most festive and picturesque.
New Year’s Eve on the Seine, Paris
If you are searching for a spectacular destination to bring in the new year, you do not have to look any further than Paris.
Although many of the world’s capital cities will host New Year’s Eve extravaganzas, few can muster the sheer wealth of opportunities that Paris offers: from the Champs Elysées and Arc de Triomphe to the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral, there are countless iconic landmarks to select as the backdrop to your evening of music, light shows, and fireworks.
However, the epitome of Parisian luxury can be found on board one of the fine dining river cruises that sail along the Seine on New Year’s Eve. From the comfort of your dining table, you can take in all of the sights of the city at once, while also enjoying a gourmet dinner service.
For those who enjoy the finer things in life, it is perhaps the ideal way to start 2017.