Christmas Holidays: 12 Classically Festive Experiences
Christmas is a magical time of year to travel. Streets are draped in festive finery, windows glow with candlelight and festive markets fill city squares with wooden stalls and scents of spiced wine and roasted chestnuts.
In the spirit of the 12 days of Christmas, we’ve picked out our top 12 festive holiday experiences – those classically Christmassy things that we think will really get you into the spirit of the season. Read on to find out our ‘12 experiences of Christmas’ (and where you can have them this year)…
Sing along at a carol concert at the Royal Albert Hall
Where: Kensington, London
A carol concert is a classic Christmas experience – and where better to experience one than in the majestic surroundings of London’s Royal Albert Hall?
Sing along to festive favourites with the National Youth Choir and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and take in the grandeur of this Grade I-listed building. The programme is a mix of traditional carols and more modern arrangements, all brought to life by world-class musicians.
On 'Christmas in London', we’ll enjoy the concert (and a two-course lunch), before embarking on a festive drive to see London’s famous Christmas lights.
Enjoy a sleigh ride through the countryside
Where: St Wolfgang, Austria
You’ll be dashing through the snow on a one-horse open sleigh for real on our ‘Sparkling Salzburg’ Christmas holiday. While the snow can’t be 100% guaranteed, what we can promise is a truly magical festive experience.
Step out into the crisp mountain air, nestle in under a thick, warm blanket, hug a warming mug of glühwein and listen out for the ting-a-ling of the horses’ jingle bells. It’s the only sound that’ll break the perfect silence as we glide past glorious mountain and lake scenery near the picture-book village of St Wolfgang. Can you think of a more perfect Christmas scene?
Admire a cathedral Christmas tree
Where: Ely, Cambridgeshire
Ely Cathedral dates back to the 11th century, when Benedictine monks built it on the site of a former monastery to serve the small settlement of Ely.
The building is spectacular on its own, with its grand Romanesque and Norman architecture. But we think it’s at its most beautiful at Christmas, when a huge 30-foot-high tree stands proudly beneath the medieval Octagon Tower, decorated with stars, baubles, angels and sparkling lights.
On ‘Cambridge Christmas’, we pay a visit to the cathedral on Christmas Eve, where you’ll have the chance to see the tree in all its finery – a wonderful way to welcome in the festive season.
Sip mulled wine in a historic city square
Where: Krakow, Poland
Christmas and mulled wine are a classic pairing – and a festive market is the perfect place to enjoy a mugful.
Krakow’s Christmas market is one of the loveliest in Europe. It’s set up right in the heart of the medieval old town, in the 13th-century main square. Traditional wooden stalls sit in the shadow of the Cloth Hall, Town Hall Tower and Basilica of St Mary, laid out with hand-painted glass baubles, wooden sculptures, embroidered linens and heart-shaped gingerbread.
We stroll down here on 25 December on 'Christmas in Krakow', enjoying a mulled wine tasting before meandering through the market.
Attend a show-stopping festive performance
Where: Thursford, Norfolk
Three hours. A hundred and twenty performers. More than 5.7 million visitors to date. Thursford’s Christmas Spectacular is the biggest festive show of its kind in Europe – and fantastic for getting into the seasonal spirit.
We’ve secured tickets for this non-stop entertainment extravaganza on our ‘Norfolk Christmas’ short break. On 23 December, we’ll stroll through the gardens (where trees are illuminated with thousands of tiny lights) before taking our seats for a show-stopping celebration of singing, dancing, music and variety.
Tour a German Christmas market
Where: Along the Rhine
When it comes to Christmas markets, no-one does them better than Germany. Our festive Rhine river cruises take you to four of the region’s prettiest riverside towns and cities: Koblenz, Rüdesheim, Mainz and Cologne.
You can spend hours browsing the stalls and picking up handcrafted gifts, refuelling with roasted chestnuts and fruit-studded stollen cake. Back on board, decorations, entertainment and perhaps a few festive cocktail creations at the bar will help ensure you’re truly feeling the Christmas spirit.
Pick up unique handmade gifts at a craft fair
There’s nothing quite like finding that perfect gift for a loved one – especially when it’s one of a kind. The Christmas market outside Vienna’s magnificent Schönbrunn Palace specialises in handicrafts, with stalls displaying beautifully made glass ornaments, carved-wood trinkets, painted ceramics and more.
We’ll spend Christmas Eve at the palace on our ‘Viennese Christmas’ tour, so you’ll have the chance to stock up on unique presents to give friends and family on your return. The market has plenty of food stalls too, so you could indulge in a few treats for yourself if you fancied – think sweet chestnuts, gingerbread, chocolate-dipped strawberries and cheeses produced in the surrounding mountains.
Ride in a horse-drawn carriage
Where: Interlaken, Switzerland
It’s a moment worthy of a Christmas film – bundling up in coats, scarves and hats to travel through the streets of a pretty Swiss mountain town by horse-drawn carriage, with a mountain backdrop and perhaps a few flakes of snow falling.While we spend the Christmas period in lovely Interlaken (a picture-book town nestled between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz), we’ll cosy up for a carriage ride through the quaint streets, admiring traditional timber houses and pretty parks dusted with fresh snow.
Tuck into warm mince pies
Crumbly pastry, a boozy, fruity filling and a dusting of icing sugar – for a tasty festive treat, is there anything better than a warm mince pie (or two)?
On our ‘Lincolnshire Christmas' short break, we’ll dig in to freshly made mince pies on Christmas Eve afternoon (accompanied by a steaming cup of mulled wine, of course), before we go for a lantern-lit walk through some of our hotel’s 475 acres of grounds.
Savour a Venetian Christmas
Where: Venice, Italy
Venice is magical at Christmas time, with craft markets set up in little piazzas, strings of fairy lights draped across historic canals and decorations adorning grand palazzi. On our ‘Christmas in Venice’ holiday, we’ll stay right in the heart of the city in a beautifully restored palazzo.
Spend Christmas Day strolling along the famous canals and getting lost in atmospheric backstreets, before sitting down to a traditional Italian Christmas lunch. Later, we head to St Mark’s Square together for afternoon tea and biscuits in ‘Europe’s drawing room’.
Explore Longleat’s Festival of Light
Where: Longleat, Wiltshire
It’s the UK’s biggest lantern festival – and a Christmas must-do if you’re in the West Country around the festive season.
Thousands of silk and steel lanterns fill Longleat’s 30-acre grounds, gently glowing in the darkness. Explore the Elizabethan house (dressed up in its Christmas finery), then venture out into the Capability Brown-designed gardens to take in the incredible lantern displays.
We spend Boxing Day here on our ‘Bath Christmas’ holiday – it’s the perfect finale to our festivities.
Toast to the festive season with new friends
Where: Melk, Austria
For many people, Christmas is all about spending time with others, whether that’s dinner with friends, a long walk with a partner, or perhaps a day volunteering for a local charity.
Our ‘Christmas on the Danube’ cruise offers plenty of chances for you to get to know your fellow passengers, starting with a cocktail reception to welcome you on board. One of the highlights, though, is on Christmas Eve – while in the pretty town of Melk, we’ll enjoy a glühwein party. With hot, spiced wine in hand, we’ll toast to health, happiness and a fantastic Christmas with new friends.
Want to find out more about our festive holidays? Have a browse of our Christmas breaks collection.
Article published on: 20th September, 2019
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.