There are dozens of ways to escape the madness and have a few days peace and quiet. Annabelle Thorpe of 101 Holidays shares her favourites.
City BreaksOnly the Scroogiest of Scrooges would fail to be charmed by a proper German Christmas market; gluhwein on tap, all the lebkuchen you can eat and endless stalls full of naff gifts you can take home as presents. Avoid the bigger cities and instead go for small and authentic; the main square in Wiesbaden, the Schlossplatz, comes over all Winter Wonderland with thousands of fairy lights, and carol singers by a huge Christmas tree, while in pretty Koblenz visitors can take a carriage ride, listen to festive tales or try the white-knuckle toboggan run.
If you want somewhere that has a more hip, contemporary vibe, there’s nowhere in Germany to rival Berlin for Christmas with a twist. Brave Europe’s longest snow-tubing run on Potsdamer Platz, party in the city’s iconic clubs and take a twirl around the Horst-Dohm ice rink.
For something a little more dramatic than fairy lights, head to the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, where the winter skies glow with the extraordinary colours of the aurora borealis. Take a night tour into the countryside for the best chance of seeing the Northern Lights, and by day explore the Christmas Forest at City Hall, the snow-draped Botanic Garden and the city’s Christmas markets.
Luxembourg may be home to some of the EU’s institutions but, as a city break destination, it’s one of Europe’s hidden secrets. Stay at the luxurious and eclectic Hotel le Place d’Armes, explore world-class art collections, dine in one of the city’s 12 Michelin-starred restaurants and, from 21 November to 5 January, get your skates on at the city’s festive 80sqm ice rink.
Of course, a Christmas city break doesn’t have to be all snow and gluhwein; Seville offers a hit of warm, Mediterranean sunshine (temperatures can reach 17 degrees, even in December), fantastic food and the chance to explore the city’s most beautiful sites, including La Giralda and the Royal Alcazar, relatively crowd-free.
Cold and WintryIf you want to take the family away for a Christmas break, there are few better options than a ski holiday. Create a home from home with your own private chalet or choose a company specialising in family skiing holidays, with catered chalets, daily childcare and beginners ski packs all on offer.
For the ultimate kids’ crowd-pleaser, there’s nothing to beat a visit to Lapland for an ‘at home’ with Santa Claus. Besides meeting the man himself, there’s the chance to try husky sledding, reindeer sleigh-rides and snowmobiling.
For those who love the mountains but aren’t keen on hurtling down ski slopes, there are plenty of other ways to have a wintry break; try snowshoeing in Switzerland – a fantastic way to discover the hidden landscapes beyond the pistes, or try cross-country skiing (langlauf) in the beautiful Austrian Tyrol. Many Austrian resorts have langlauf trails – the perfect way to work up an appetite for hearty Tyrolean treats; try germknodel – a warm doughnut in butter sauce – or kaiserschmarrn – sliced up crispy pancake slices, smothered in jam and sugar.
If you’re looking for a romantic escape, there are few places to stay more extraordinary than Sweden’s unique ice hotel – rebuilt at the start of every season, with suites sculpted by international ice artists. Or how about a wilderness lodge buried deep in Finnish Lapland – the perfect place to hole up with your loved one, watch the northern lights and enjoy the beautiful snowy landscapes in complete peace and isolation.
Closer to home, Christmas can be a fantastic time to rent that dream cottage whether it’s a thatched-roof bolthole in the Cotswolds, a waterfront billet in Cornwall or a cosy retreat in the Peak District. Book a dog-friendly house and the whole family – both two and four-legged – can have a Christmas to remember.
If you prefer the idea of someone else doing all the work, hole up at the Gilpin Hotel in the Lake District. This is no ordinary hotel – it magically combines a low key atmosphere with spectacular service, comfort and style. Christmas, New Year and ‘Twixmas’ packages are available.
SunshineIf the long December evenings make you long for a Christmas in the sunshine, there are some guaranteed sunspots that don’t require a long-haul flight. Head to the Portuguese island of Madeira, which still has warm temperatures in December, and offers fantastic walking along ancient levadas, beautiful gardens and one of the world’s most bonkers toboggan runs (through the back streets of Funchal). Or hop the three-hour flight to Marrakech for a very different kind of Christmas, with days spent haggling in the souks or lazing on roof terraces, and evenings listening to the drummers and storytellers in the historic main square, the Jemaa el Fna.
Too hectic…? If the most action you fancy is choosing which sunlounger to laze on, then try The Gambia – just six hours away, with guaranteed sun and no jet-lag. Or head to Egypt for an unforgettable cruise down the Nile – a perfect mix of history, culture and snoozing on deck in the sunshine.
Christmas can also be the perfect time to gift yourself the trip you’ve always longed for; maybe a trip to Sri Lanka, to immerse yourself in temples and subtropical landscapes. The island is also one of the best places in the world to see blue whales, and December is at the heart of their migration season.
If you have always longed for an adventure at sea, set sail on a Tall Ship – all the luxuries of cruising, on board an elegant three or five-masted sailing ship.