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Headed to Europe to enjoy the wonder of the holiday season? Then read on as TPG International Correspondent Lori Zaino and TPG Contributor Lane Nieset share their picks for the most dazzling Christmas markets on the Continent.
Prague, Czech Republic: Old Town Christmas Market
November 29, 2014 – January 11, 2015
10 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily
Set in Old Town Square and decorated with glittering lights and a nativity scene, Prague’s huge, festive Christmas market is one of the most famous in Europe – and quite possibly the cheapest. For about $4 US, you can enjoy a barbequed sausage, a delicious trdelnik (a Czech sugar-coated cake), and a cup of hot chocolate, a Pilsner beer or a glass of mulled wine. Purchase lace, toys, ceramics, candles, Christmas decorations or puppets at one of the many wooden stalls, and listen to the sounds of carolers and street performers as you inhale the deep scents of pine and spices. Kids will be delighted to pet baby goats, sheep and donkeys as well as visit the Three Kings. Swathed in bright lights and décor, the market’s beloved giant Christmas tree, imported from the pine forests of the northern Krkonose Mountains, is switched on daily at 5 p.m.
Tip: On the hour, look up at the tower of the Old Town Hall to catch a fun display pop out of a trap door in its famed Astronomical Clock. If after you’ve enjoyed the Old Town Market you’re still itching for more, visit the markets in Wenceslas Square, Namesti Republiky and Hevelske Trziste. – Lori Zaino
Cologne, Germany: Cathedral Christmas Market
November 24 – December 23, 2014
Sunday-Wednesday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
One of the largest in Cologne, this market is set under the city’s landmark Gothic cathedral. Its centerpiece, an 82-foot-tall Nordmann fir, is the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, lit up with 50,000 LED lights and located beside a stage that hosts 100 holiday performances troughout the month. The market also features 160 wooden stalls selling crafts like ceramics, Christmas ornaments, and wood carvings from Germany and other parts of Europe, as well as regional and organic specialties like the “Original Christmas mulled wine,” served in special mugs.
Tip: While shopping in the center of town, stop at Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, the charming Angel’s in Neumarkt, where girls dressed as angels wander through the stalls and stars hang from trees overhead. Open November 24-December 23, Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. – Lane Nieset
Berlin, Germany: WeihnachtsZauber
November 24 – December 31, 2014
11 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily (open until 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve)
One euro entry fee ($1.24); kids under 12 free
With 60 markets spread throughout Berlin, you’ll run into a Christmas-themed fête in almost any neighborhood. While some focus more on handmade crafts and others have carnival rides and ice skating rinks, one of the most beautiful markets in the city is in Gendarmenmarkt Square, tucked between the domes of the German and French cathedrals. While this market requires a small entry fee (1 Euro), it’s worth it to stroll underneath the sea of white, pointed tents topped with stars and more than 1,000 strings of lights. Of course the scene is especially stunning come nightfall, but this market is also a great one to visit during the day to explore the artisan goods crafted by jewelers, embroiderers, and glassblowers. Escape the cold in one of the heated tents with Michelin-starred chefs preparing meals, or sit back with a glass of wine and French food at Galeries Lafayette’s wine cellar. Don’t forget to get a glass of glüwein (mulled wine) and take home the souvenir mug.
Tip: Another of Berlin’s top Christmas markets, Wintertraum am Alexa, near Alexanderplatz, is more of a fun fair filled with carnival rides and street-food vendors serving bratwurst and mulled wine. The market is open November 24 – December 28, 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays; noon to 10 p.m. on weekends. – LN
Basel, Switzerland: Basel Christmas Market
November 27 – December 23, 2014
11 a.m. – 8 p.m. daily
The largest in Switzerland, Basel’s Christmas market stretches over both Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz squares. Over 100 pine trees line the two squares, and there are over 180 wooden market stalls selling items like Christmas ornaments, folk art, pottery, linen, spices, toys, and clothing. Delicious aromas and live music waft through the market, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere amidst dazzling lights. Though this market has more of a focus on crafts and gifts, food and drink are still available.
Tip: Although the Hilton Basel seems to be geared more towards business travelers, it’s only a 15 minute walk from the Christmas market, and room rates in December start at about $150 US or 60,000 Hilton HHonors points. – LZ
November 14 – December 21, 2014
German: November, 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.; December, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.; food and drink areas open until 9 p.m.
European: 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. daily
Manchester’s original market, the German Christmas Market in St. Ann’s Square, has been going strong for years. The event features delicious German fare like mulled wine, bratwurst, schnitzel and Bavarian strudels, and there’s plenty to shop for, including sheepskin products, paper lampshades, doorknobs, Christmas decorations, faux fur hats and scarves, and hot water bottles.
The Albert Square European Market is the biggest in town, and you can find a wide variety of jewelry and leather goods, as well as gourmet foods from all over Europe, such as Dutch cheese, Italian nougat and panettone, French patés and Spanish charcuterie.
Tip: Enjoy market-hopping throughout the whole city of Manchester, as there are also Christmas markets located in Brazennose Street (World Christmas Market), King Street (French Market), Exchange Street (Arts & Crafts Market), New Market Street and New Cathedral Street. – LZ
Brussels, Belgium: Winter Wonders
November 28, 2014 – January 4, 2015
Monday-Thursday, noon – 10 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, noon – 6 p.m.; Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, 1 – 10 p.m.
The entire city of Brussels transforms for the Christmas season, and this year’s Winter Wonders celebration is honoring other cultures, with art installations from Quebec City, market fare from Lapland, and wrapped in one thousand lights and erected in the Grand-Place, a 72-foot-tall fir tree from Riga, Latvia, the city said to have been the first to decorate Christmas trees. The Brussels Christmas market spans almost 1.5 miles and features 230 different chalet-style stalls filled with crafts, beer and wine, and holiday cuisine, as well as an ice rink in the Place de la Monnaie, a stage for DJ sets and dance shows, and a Ferris wheel and fair rides.
Tip: The “Electrabel Nights” show takes place every 30 minutes from 7-10 p.m., transforming the 19th-century Sainte Catherine Church into an “ice cathedral” through lights and video. – LN
Tallinn, Estonia: Traditional Old Town Christmas Market
November 21, 2014 – January 10, 2015
10 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily; drinks served until 11 p.m.
Tallinn claims to be the first city to have created a public Christmas tree display in Europe, set up in the Town Hall Square in 1441. Today the tradition continues in the same square, though now the tree is surrounded by more than 20 stands selling handicrafts and gifts such as wickerwork, quilts, wool items and candles, all of which can be gift wrapped for you on the spot. Kids will love the mini-zoo featuring rabbits, goats, lambs, geese, even reindeer, and they can also have pony rides, play games, and visit Santa.
A full cultural program runs on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, showcasing song and dance groups and choirs from several countries. Feast on sauerkraut and black pudding, followed by some gingerbread and a hot glass of mulled wine as you admire the various intricate ice/snow sculptures.
Tip: After you visit the market, stroll around the medieval center of Tallinn to see some of the city’s most beautiful architecture. Spend the night at the Radisson Blu Sky Hotel which is just a 10-15 minute walk from the Town Square and the Market. In December, rates start at €95 ($120 US) or 38,000 Club Carlson points per night. – LZ
Paris, France: Montmartre Christmas Market
December 5, 2014 - January 4, 2015
10 a.m. – 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. on weekends
The market running along the Champs-Élysées may be the largest one in town, but you’ll get the best views of the city from quaint Christmas village in Montmartre, known as the highest Christmas market in Paris. Stroll around the base of the Sacré-Cœur through the 50 stalls of traditional handicrafts and holiday fare like beignets, canneleés (pastries), and vin chaud (hot mulled wine).After grabbing a bite to eat at the market, make your way to the artists’ square, the Place du Tertre,filled with Christmas lights and artists working and selling their art. The smaller Place des Abbesses market, also in Montmartre, runs from November 28-December 31, featuring 20 wooden stalls surrounding the carousel selling gifts and holiday favorites like roasted chestnuts.
Tip: Stay in the only five-star hotel on the Champs-Élysées, the Paris Marriott Hotel Champs-Elysees, a Category 9 Marriott hotel requiring 45,000 rewards points (or rates starting at 549 Euros or $682). You’ll be in a prime location to set out and explore the Christmas market and 150,000 Christmas lights running along the Champs-Elysées and into the Place de la Concorde, where you can take a ride on the Ferris Wheel. – LN
Vienna, Austria: Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace
November 21 – December 23, 2014
Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.; weekends and holidays, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.
What really makes this market stand out is its backdrop: the Baroque Belvedere Palace. Explore 40 stalls from vendors who hail from Austria and nearby countries, with six food stands serving up mulled wine, Austrian punch, traditional sweets and street food such as Kasnocken (cheese dumplings) and Vienna sausages. The market also features a carousel for the kids and music by gospel choirs, Austrian brass bands and tower trumpeters. For a taste of Viennese tradition, visit the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung, which dates back to 1772.
Tip: Just a short walk away, the 138-room Hotel Imperial, a Luxury Collection Hotel is set in Prince Württemberg’s former palace and the design of the regal rooms looks like it’s still fit for royalty. The popular coffee house 1873 Café Imperial (named after the year the hotel opened) is located here, featuring the special Imperial Torte. The SPG Category 6 property requires 20,000–25,000 Starpoints per night, and cash rates start at €425 ($528 US) per night. – LN
Lille, France: Lille Christmas Market
November 19 – December 30, 2014 (closed December 25)
Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Located in Northern France, Lille is about an hour from western Belgium and only an hour-and-a-half from London on the Eurostar. Set in Place Rihour, Lille’s Christmas market features a 164-f00t-high Ferris wheel, a 59-foot-tall Christmas tree draped in sparkling lights, and more than 80 wooden stalls featuring gifts, decorations and handmade goods. Chow down on French cheeses, pastries and mulled wine. Check out the Lille Tourism Web for packages including tours of the city and the market, plus hotel deals and mulled wine tastings.
Tip: Once you’ve shopped ‘til you’ve dropped at the market, pick yourself back up and continue on throughout the city – Lille has over 3,900 shops! – LZ
Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivoli Gardens
November 15, 2014 – January 4, 2015
99 DKK or $17 US (free for children under 8)
The Tivoli Gardens are a must-visit any time of the year, but winter is particularly special as the Christmas market and holiday celebrations take over the gardens and amusement park. Running through the center of the gardens, the Christmas market has 50 booths with traditional holiday gifts and food, including gløgg, the Nordic version of mulled wine. While you’re there, hop on one of the 27 rides, like the world’s oldest running wooden roller coaster, or catch a Danish version of the Christmas classic, The Nutcracker, in the Tivoli Concert Hall. One of the main highlights of Tivoli during Christmas will be the return of last year’s Nordic theme, with cute wooden houses and Christmas decorations. Don’t miss the Christmas Fireworks Festival running Christmas day through December 27 over the Tivoli Concert Hall.
Tip: For a Christmas market that’s a bit more out-of-the-box, head to the hippie town of Christiana and visit Grey Hall, the largest concert hall in town, for a bazaar featuring unique gift options from handmade jewelry to leather masks. The bazaar takes place December 5 – 20 from 2 – 8 p.m. during the week, and from noon – 8 p.m. on weekends. – LN
Budapest, Hungary: Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
November 28 – December 31, 2014
Sunday-Thursday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. or until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday
Open until 2 p.m. Christmas Eve and closed December 25-26; handicraft stalls closed December 25–31
Set inVörösmarty Square centrally located in the Pest side of Budapest, the Christmas market has over 122 stands selling handcrafted leather and bone items, ceramics, jewelry and blue-dyed textiles, as well as gingerbread, chocolate, and lángos, a Hungarian street-food specialty composed of deep-fried flat bread dough topped with cheese, sour cream and garlic. The fair also features other Hungarian holiday favorites like stuffed cabbage, goulash soup, and kürtoskalács, a hollow pastry. If you happen to be collecting mulled wine mugs, the market has three different red and white mugs for sale along with the hot drink. In addition to tasting the local cuisine, check out some of the shows taking place on the market’s two stages, or hop on the vintage merry-go-round decorated with folklore from the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen.
Tip: Le Méridien Budapest on the Pest side of the river is just a short walk away from the Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square, as well as an additional Christmas market with an ice skating rink in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. The SPG Category 4 hotel requires 10,000-20,000 Starpoints or rates start around €121 ($150 US) per night. – LN
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The American Express Platinum card has some of the best perks out there: cardholders enjoy the best domestic lounge access (Delta SkyClubs, Centurion Lounges, and Priority Pass), a $200 annual airline fee credit as well as up to $200 in Uber credits, and mid-tier elite status at SPG, Marriott, and Hilton. Combined with the 60,000 point welcome offer -- worth $1,140 based on TPG's valuations -- this card is a no-brainer for frequent travelers. Here are 5 reasons you should consider this card, as well as how you can figure out if the $550 annual fee makes sense for you.