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If you love the spirit and sparkle of Christmas, but dread the drudge of navigating congested streets, why not head abroad for fabulous shopping and festive flair? Here's our pick of the best places to go and stay this festive season...
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Charming Prague's fairy tale backdrop of cobbled streets and elaborate architecture makes for a magical Christmas setting. With a history spanning ten centuries, a host of superb hotels and a wonderful classical music scene, the jewel of the Czech Republic is both a joy to explore and easy to reach thanks to short flight times from the UK, making it the perfect festive break. Prague's Christmas markets, or Vanocni trh, are the country's most impressive, lighting up the sky and the towering buildings of Old Town Square and St Wenceslas Square, selling local crafts, wooden toys and traditional food.
With its grand Austro-Hungarian boulevards, Art Nouveau architecture and lively cafe culture, Budapest is a city of immense visual charm. Located at the start of the city's most famous shopping street, Vorosmarty Square is taken over every Christmas by more than 100 brightly decorated wooden pavillions. Adorned with locally produced designs, they offer a wide variety of goods including Christmas decorations, candles, gloves, woollen hats, wrought iron and woven products. As you wander around, you can indulge in kurtoskalacs (sweet Hungarian pastry) and roast chestnuts, washed down with a glass or two of warm gluhwein.
Berlin's modern, sophisticated vibe lends itself to an exciting city break any time of the year, but the city still embraces Christmas traditions with gusto. Boasting over 50 Christmas markets, from the trendy to the unashamedly naff, there's a taste to suit everyone. Breitscheidplatz is home to one of the city's most popular markets and is dominated by a 20m high Christmas tree; WeihnachtsZauber is brilliant for food, offering roasted almonds, bratwurst and the ever-popular Gluhwein.
Christmas is the perfect time to be a tourist in New York: skate at the Rockefeller Center under the colossal tree before zipping up the Empire State Building to admire the views. Get a culture fix at the Guggenheim or MoMa, the Met or Museum of Natural History, featuring some of the most progressive exhibitions in the world. From the brilliantly naff to the ultra-hip, there's a Christmas market for everyone in NYC. We're big fans of the much-loved Union Square Holiday Market, with over 100 merchants and a buzzing atmosphere.
Just a short hop on the Eurostar, Paris is the perfect destination to escape to for a festive holiday, and ideal for families. Little ones will enjoy sipping chocolat chaud in its many cafes, twirling on the pop up Christmas carousels and admiring the lights adorning Boulevard Haussmann. The Champs Elysees Christmas Market has improved in recent years to include artisanal food producers, shucking oysters, roasting chestnuts and stands whipping up freshly made crepes. After taking your fill, try the ice skating rink on - yes, on - the first floor of the Eiffel Tower.
Romantic Salzburg is famous for its festivals all year round, and Christmas is certainly no exception. Dating back to the 15th century, its Christmas festivities are located at the foot of the Hohensalzburg Fortress and include choral singing, Alpine wares and nativity exhibits. On Mirabell Square you can sample culinary delicacies such as Sacher-Torte and mulled wine, while perusing lovingly decorated stalls. Getreidegasse, where Mozart was born and lived, is bustling with shops and restaurants serving nockerl and strudel; Café Tomaselli is where you'll find the best hot chocolate.
Scandinavia is becoming an increasingly popular holiday destination and Stockholm's wintery landscape only enhances the city's chocolate-box buildings and cobbled alleyways. Gamla Stan (Old Town) is a slice of genuine Stockholm Christmas; the little red stalls crowd into the colourful square, selling traditional Swedish products like gingerbread, cheeses, crafts and the inescapable glōgg. Spread over 14 islands, Stockholm is a delight to explore, and the winding streets of the Old Town are packed with eclectic cafes, bars and authentic Scandi shops, with the famous Sami patterns adorning everything from sweaters to baubles.
Steeped in history and art, and famous for the great romance of its café society, the Austrian capital comes to life in the winter. Christkindlmarkt, in the Town Hall Square, in the best-known and the oldest at around 700 years old, with an ice rink, mulled wine and freshly baked cookies just an amble away. By contrast, the Spittelberg market winds its way through narrow streets, alleyways and courtyards, dedicated to an eclectic and extensive collection of wares, from exotic Far Eastern artefacts to locally-produced crafts.
Augustine, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Prague
Four Seasons Gresham Palace
Mandarin Oriental New York
New York, New York
Hotel Adlon Kempinski
Hotel Sacher Wien
Hotel Sacher Salzburg
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