I love Christmas! It is my favourite time of the year, and I start counting down to Christmas around September every year! Christmas trees, lights, food, champagne, Santa, carols, movies, shopping, and the festive cheer around every corner makes me warm and fuzzy. London is AMAZING during Christmas time, but I always wanted to experience the festivities in some of the other European cities that are famous for their winter celebrations. So, in 2014, I decided to spend my end-of-the-year holidays in 3 beautiful and festive European cities.
Paris: As Audrey Hepburn famously once said, “Paris is always a good idea“. As clichéd as it may be, it is true that Paris is beautiful in every season. It is one of my most-loved cities in the world, and the city personifies ‘magic’ during Christmas time.
- Go to the shops. Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are two major department stores in Boulevard Haussmann. As you walk down the boulevard, the glittering lights, dazzling store displays, and hustle and bustle of Parisians doing their Christmas shopping will make you feel festive in no time. Galeries Lafayette is also known to have some of the most famous Christmas trees in the world! In 2014, they had a gigantic, upside-down, bejewelled tree that had sound and light displays every hour! Printemps had decked out their entire store facade with glittering Parisian icons, and twinkling lights across its impressive entrance. It is truly the city of blinding lights!
- Eat festive food. Paris is one of the gastronomical capitals of the world, and you will find the best of Christmas fare in its restaurants and cafes. If you like ogling at delicious food as a pastime however, go to Le Bon Marché. Le Bon Marché is an upmarket department store in the 7th arrondissement. It is home to the Grande Epicerie, which is its spectacular food hall that has every type of ingredient, meat or treat imaginable to man. Start off in the fresh produce aisles, where you will find the best fruits, veggies, meats and cheeses for your Christmas table. The array of french delicacies such as foie gras, paté, and escargot is overwhelming! Then move on to the wine cellar, storing the most impressive collection of wine and spirits from the finest chateaus and producers in the world. Finally, make your way to the patisserie; a word of caution here – you will want everything! From the pastel macarons to the decadent éclairs, I wanted one (or several of each). I settled for a nice box of chocolate and salted caramel macarons which were absolutely divine!
- Go to the Christmas markets. I love visiting Christmas markets for their delicious food, cute gifts and cozy atmosphere. My favourite one in Paris is the market on Champs-Elysées. There are chalets lining the entire avenue, decked out in fairy lights. The crêpe I had here was the best one I have eaten in my life; light and filled with warm, home-made chocolate. Champs-Elysées oozes Parisian charm, and makes you fall in love with the city all over again.
Brussels: As the capital of the EU, Brussels is at the centre of European culture and influence. It is only a short train journey from Paris’ Gare du Nord, so it seemed like the obvious next destination for my Christmas city-hopping expedition.
- Chocolates, chocolates, chocolates. Christmas is all about indulgence, and Brussels is the right place for that. Belgium is world-famous for its chocolates, and you cannot walk two steps in Brussels without passing a chocolate shop. There are loads of small shops with bargains and discounted chocolates, but when in Brussels, go for the grand masters! Pierre Marcolini and Godiva are my favourites. Pierre Marcolini’s window display was like a page from Hansel and Gretel – entire winter landscapes made out of chocolate. The chocolate houses, trees and snowmen are enough to draw you into the shop. On the other hand, Godiva uses a more straight-forward form of temptation, where they have chocolatiers standing in their window displays, dunking fresh strawberries into a tub of melted Godiva milk chocolate right in front of your eyes, luring you in to try some!
- Watch a light show. Brussels’ Grand Place is the central square in the city, surrounded my beautiful architecture. In the lead-up to Christmas, they put on a spectacular light show, illuminating the opulent buildings in the square. Go to see the buildings light up in festive hues of red and green, making the entire place look like Santa’s grotto.
- Do some Christmas shopping. Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert is a lovely shopping arcade very close to the Grand Place. It is filled with luxury shops and chocolatiers, but also vintage bookstores, where you can find unique gifts, and my personal favourite, Tintin comics.
Copenhagen: For a city that manages to stay ‘happy’ all year round, Christmas is especially a jolly time to visit Copenhagen. I love winter in the Scandinavian countries, as they really know how to make everything seem warm, snug and cozy. The Danish term ‘hygge’ became mainstream in 2016. Hygge (pronounced hooga) refers to overall coziness and a lifestyle that emphasizes making every day moments more special and enjoyable. It’s all about warmth, happiness and the little things in life that give you comfort. So, Christmas is really lovely in the Danish capital.
- Enter a magical land. Tivoli Gardens is a famous amusement park in Copenhagen with great rides and family entertainment. During the festive period, it is converted into an enchanted winter wonderland. Covered in winter foliage and bathed in warm lights, it is like taking a walk la-la land. Find a cozy nook in one of the many cafes onsite and sip on some Irish coffee surrounded by twinkling mini Christmas trees.
- Take back a piece of Danish ‘hygge’. You can quite literally do this. I found a great brand selling amazing candles; Skandinavisk‘s Hygge scented candle is perfect for chilly winter evenings. It has a subtle, calming, fragrance and lovely packaging. After my trip to Copenhagen, I spent several nights in, wrapped up warm in bed, with the candle burning on my nightstand, reading a book. This was the start of me bringing hygge into my life.