If you have a penchant for rocking around the Christmas tree in a beautiful city lit up with festive glow and Christmas lights, this is the post for you. We’ve gathered ten of the best urban Christmas trees already shining brightly as this festive season begins. Which one would you like to go to first?
Rockerfeller Center, New York City, USA
Let’s kick off with a king of Christmas trees. Already up before Thanksgiving turkeys were on the table, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center is almost as much of an institution as Christmas itself. With an ice skating rink at its foot and accompanying decorations as far as the eye can see, the Christmas tree at Rockefeller is a must see if you find yourself in New York at this time of year.
Trafalgar Square, London, UK
Creeping up behind NYC with its Christmas tree traditions, is London, a city full of beautiful trees. However, the Norwegian spruce that is donated to London by Norway in a tradition that began in 1947 is considered the city’s centrepiece. It will be revealed on 5th December and you can head there to enjoy carols being sung under the tree every evening from 9th – 22nd December 2013.
Galleries Lafayette, Paris, France
Arguably Paris‘s most famous Christmas tree is housed in the centre of the glamorous Galleries Lafayette department store. It has already been on show since early November and this year’s tree was a collaboration with watch brand Swatch, with time being the main theme. Suspended from the store’s famous art deco dome, the animated tree is decorated with pink flowers and a fairy tale village scene at its base. Stay for long enough to see the characters and tree come alive on the hour, every hour.
Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany
Stood in front of the symbolic Brandenburg Gate, Berlin’s Christmas tree is uncomplicatedly decorated but still beautifully drenched in light. While the city is flooded with Christmas trees standing along the many miles of the city’s Christmas markets, the Christmas tree at Brandenburg Gate is where most people gather for quiet reflection during the holiday season, oh and for the not so quiet fireworks on New Year’s Eve.
Old Town Square, Prague, Czech Republic
One of Europe’s most popular spots for gothic winter wonderland scenes, the Christmas tree that stands in Prague‘s Old Town Square comes from the Krkonose Mountains in the north of the country and can be admired every night while you eat and drink treats from the Christmas market also held here.
Terreiro do Paço, Lisbon, Portugal
There’s not a pine needle in sight with Lisbon’s giant Christmas tree, a structure made out of metal and lights. Fireworks were set off as the tree was lit for the first time last weekend, but with giant red baubles and the sparkle of hundreds of fairy lights bouncing off the marble mosaic floor, Lisbon’s main town square will be lit up for the remainder of the festive season.
Floating Christmas Tree, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro got into the Guinness Book of Records with their giant floating Christmas tree, and every year in Brazil Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without it. Currently found floating on Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas, the huge tree is lit up with over 3 million light bulbs and this year will also be moved to different locations in the city so as many people as possible can gawk at it.
Vatican City, Rome, Italy
Thousands of Catholics descend on the Vatican City in Rome for Christmas and the tree that stands in the centre of St Peter’s Square is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Traditionally the Vatican’s Christmas tree is donated by a region or city in Europe and this year, it’s – delightfully drolly – the turn of Bavaria, homeland of ex-Pope Benedict XVI. Decorations will feature both a Bavarian and a Neapolitan theme, as Naples has donated the Vatican’s nativity scene this year.
Martin Place, Sydney, Australia
Image from kidsizeliving
Despite soaring temperatures and bright blue skies, Australia doesn’t hold back with the Christmas decorations and Christmas has already arrived in the Central Business District in Sydney. This year’s tree in Martin Place is already shining brightly surrounded by Christmas lights and decorations. Just don’t expect anyone to be standing underneath it on Christmas Day, they’re all at the beach, including Santa.
West Palm Beach, Florida
Made with more than 650 tons of sand and standing at over 36 feet, in Florida, West Palm Beach’s sand Christmas tree is one of the area’s most popular attractions and while it may not see any snow it isn’t without lights or sparkle. A lighting ceremony will take place on the beach this evening, the 5th of December 2013. Click here to learn more.
Prince Bishop’s Shopping Centre, Durham, UK
credit: The Crystal Gazer
Every year Christmas prompts people to discuss how commercial and consumer-focused the festive season has become. Durham – an historic north English city – has erected a tree designed to highlight this issue as part of its recent Lumiere Festival. This 9 metre tall tree is made of discarded plastic shopping bags donated by members of the public and is the work of Spanish art collective Lutzinterruptus.
Which other cities have great Christmas trees or decorations? Feel free to share your recommendations and maybe your photos in the comments.
Happy New Year! (just getting ready, don’t worry you haven’t drifted off and skipped December)
It might be a bit early to be hurling streamers and kissing complete strangers, but New Year’s these days is all about preparation. Because, at some point in the past couple of decades, the mysterious ‘cash in on anything’ crew spotted New Year and thought, kerching!
It started small: a few bands, a few fireworks, a few clubs, a few dj’s then it just grew and grew. Now there isn’t a city on the planet that doesn’t have a New Year party. And most of them are ticketed in some way, hence our kindly advance warning – leave it too late to decide what to do at New Year, and you’ve got more chance of getting a taxi at 3am on January 1st than finding a place to party.
Naturally everyone says they’ve the ‘biggest and best’ event but, despite tireless efforts, we couldn’t come up with a reliable benchmark. So we’ve based our choice of New Year Celebrations 2013/14 on budget – from low to high (ish) – missed out the parties that start crowd-herding at 2pm on New Year’s Eve and there isn’t a single one that’s only low-cost because it’s you, three crofters and an illegal Still.
Bulgaria’s capital might be Europe’s best value travel destination 2013 but it certainly doesn’t come across as cheapskate, especially not at New Year. Turning the entire city centre into a ‘people only’ zone would be inspired enough even if Sofia didn’t score 100% on our ‘TRANSPORT PUMPKINOMETER’ (based on Cinderella’s cautionary tale of carriage woe, this is an official measurement of late night/early morning transport for revellers who didn’t think they’d ever be too tired to walk). Not only is there public transport in Sofia for New Year party people until 3am, it’s free and plentiful. The importance of this might only become truly apparent after you’ve spent 12 hours with the live music, fireworks, dancing and general Bulgarian-style New Year carry-on. Almost every nightclub in the city is partying but the main celebrations (crowds of 80,000 last year) take place in Batenberg Square and Knyaz Aleksandar I Square. No tickets needed but get there early it gets busy!
It’s plenty cold in Budapest in December, so a rule of ‘eat lots and keep moving’ is liberally applied to the 3-Day Party the city hosts to celebrate New Year. Starting on 30 December and running through to midnight on the 1st of January, everything centres on the fireworks, music and outdoor events at Nyugati tér and Vörösmarty Square. Cafes, bars and restaurants on Liszt Ferenc Square are teeming with locals on the 31st December. And if you want to take a step back and quietly observe the old year’s demise, New Year’s Eve Danube cruises are very traditional and very romantic.
The annual Hogmanay Street Party in Edinburgh promises the biggest ‘Midnight Moment On The Planet’ this year. 80,000 plus are expected to descend on Scotland’s capital on 31st December 2013 with Street Party tickets clutched in their excited little hands. It’s no ticket, no party for this huge event but just £20 gets you hours of live music, fireworks, lots of people to kiss at ‘the bells’ and one of Europe’s most gorgeous cities all gussied up and looking amazing. Edinburgh’s also the venue of the UK’s largest outdoor ceilidh ‘The Keilidh’ – buy tickets for that and you get into The Street Party too.
Apart from the strange worship of all things sausage, Berlin is pretty much always given to achingly cool and New Year is no exception. The Brandenburg Gate is where you’ll find the fireworks and kissing crowds at midnight on the Eve itself. DJ’s love Berlin so if you love DJ’s this is your place to party. And there’s obviously some unwritten club code in the city with high scores given for endurance, so be ready for some long, long, long nights of New Year partying – stoke up on sausages is our advice!
Dublin’s not a city known for restraint so you won’t be surprised to find it celebrating New Year as if the end of the world was nigh and the best partyers were the only ones with a chance of salvation. Getting down to business as soon as darkness falls with the traditional city-wide Torchlight Procession, Dublin then goes all out with as many fireworks and projections as it can manage for as long as it can manage. And, for the big midnight moment itself, it’s over to College Green and the massive, annual Countdown Party with live music, dancing and all sorts until all-hours. College Green Countdown Party is tickets only.
Venice is one of the most romantic cities on earth, so naturally it bids farewell to 2013 with a celebrated ‘Group Kiss’ on St. Mark’s Square, accompanied by fireworks, champagne, live music and thousands of beautifully dressed people. But if you’re looking for the ultimate, splurgy, extravagant, once-in-a-lifetime New Year in Venice, you want tickets to La Fenice Theater on December 31st for the Concerto di Capodanno. Not cheap (tickets live on another continent that hasn’t heard of cheap) the Concerto di Capodanno is part of one of the city’s most celebrated New Year traditions and worth every penny for the outrageous theatre alone.
Bagpipes and reels, DJ’s till dawn and beyond, classical Venice, over the top everything Dublin, generous Sofia and eat all you can Budapest – that’s our pick for New Year this year. But, wherever you go, whatever you do and whoever you’re with, have a great time and don’t do anything we wouldn’t do – which leaves the field wide open!
Featured image: Torchlight procession in Edinburgh, credit deradam…
If your children are animal lovers, care for a treasured pet or deliver heartfelt speeches on the terrible effects of whaling on the sperm whale population; they’ve probably already told you that today is World Animal Day.
To celebrate a day of caring for the cute and fuzzy, the feathered and winged, even the scaly and slimy; we’ve put together some pictures ideas for your next holiday break, if you want to centre your holiday around getting your little activists enthused about some of the amazing creatures to be found in all corners of the globe.
When some animal rights lovers think of a zoo, they sometimes think of dank, dark cages and sad animals in wretched captivity. But the truth is that many zoos around the world are beautiful places to live, dedicated to animal conservation and providing their fluffy guests with plenty of room to roam and live free-range, as it were. These are some of the best.
Chester Zoo, Chester, England.
credit: Adam Foster
Tiergarten Schönbrunn, Vienna, Austria
National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Bronx Zoo, New York City, United States
Berlin Zoological Garden, Berlin, Germany
credit: Tambako the Jaguar
Apart from the only way for many of us to experience incredibly tough to spot deepwater fish (such as the rarely-seen-in-captivity Sunfish which you can find in Valencia or Lisbon) – and the slow, otherworldly elegance of the earth beneath sea-level, aquariums are homebase for many marine biologists, whose jobs are to try and keep the oceanic ecosystems in balance.
Dubai Aquarium and Discovery Centre, Dubai, U.A.E.
The Deep Aquarium, Hull, England
credit: Bruce Stokes
L’Oceanogràfic, Valencia, Spain
credit: Jofre Ferrer
Turkuazoo, Istanbul, Turkey
Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal
Featured image of Squid, the HouseTrip office dog, by reversepanda.
They’re all doing it in Berlin, even now as the sun is losing its power and the days start with a chill in the air, they’re still doing it. And you can do it too. What crazy new Berlin hipster trend am I talking about? Long-boarding? No. Hip-hop karaoke? Nope. Swimming. That thing you used to do.
Believe it or not, Berlin is one of the best cities for finding somewhere special to swim, from forest-lakes to quirky floating pools. Here are ten of our favourites that you should consider if you’re heading to Berlin and want to pack your goggles and swimming trunks. But please, leave the Speedos at home.
The ultimate swimming pool in Berlin, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg’s Badeschiff is the one that everyone knows about, which can be both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because it provides a lively atmosphere and the ultimate people-watching location, with lots of splishaing and splashing and laughing. But if you’re looking for something a little more clandestine and hidden away, or if you’re nervous about getting your spandex on in front of the whole city, it can be a bit of a downer. That said, the Badeschiff, or “swimming ship” which relates to its origins as the hull of a 32-metre long ship, presents a unique swimming experience and many will go just for the striking views across the Spree as night falls.
Bad am Spreewaldplatz
One for families to seek out, Bad am Spreewaldplatz is a swimming complex tucked away in the corner of Spreewaldplatz in Kreuzberg. With a wave pool, a couple of saunas and deckchairs to relax on, this is a great spot for children of all ages to escape the cold weather or take a break from sightseeing.
credit: Isabel desde Berlin
Out on the western fringes of Berlin lies Grunewald, a picturesque forest that Berliners often escape to. While home to a number of lakes that aquatic types enjoy swimming in, Schlachtensee is one of the cleanest. It can be reached in less than 30 minutes from Berlin’s city centre on the S1 train.
Like Ferrero Rocher: strikingly stark on the outside, but stunningly grand inside. Stadtbad Neukölln is one of Berlin’s most beautiful public swimming baths, steeped in neo-classical design. It was reopened (in 2009) after massive refurbishment and you should go more to soak than to swim, as it’s really a place for relaxation with a thermal bath, saunas and jacuzzis on offer too.
Strictly speaking, the Straußsee is not in Berlin but in the nearby city of Straußberg, but it’s still worth visiting if you’re looking for a child-friendly spot for open-air swimming. This lake is popular with families who enjoy the clean waters and beaches (and the water slide!), set against idyllic views of Straußberg on one side and the Straußberger Wald on the other.
Another centrally located public swimming pool, Stadtbad Mitte is also housed in a memorable building that is flooded with light thanks to the tall windows that line the walls and ceiling. This is a good place to get a few laps under your belt (the pool’s length is 50m) while also admiring some incredible Bauhaus architecture that any non-swimmer will miss out on seeing. Who says it’s a waste of good travelling time to exercise?
If you’re looking for a beach near Berlin, Kleiner Müggelsee is as good and sandy as you’re going to get and is surprisingly authentic. Found in the southeastern suburbs of Berlin, expect yellow sands and blue water that create a beach-like atmosphere along the banks of the Müggelsee, the biggest of Berlin’s lakes.
Berliners have a love-love relationship with disbanded airport Tegel and if you head there for a visit on a sunny day you’ll find locals and tourists hanging out and hoping for its eventual reopening. But bring your swimmers with you as nearby is Flughafensee (Airport Lake), much more pleasant than it perhaps sounds, with sandy banks and boat-free waters.
Also known to some as Prinzenbad, this open-air swimming pool in the heart of Kreuzberg should be top of your list for some serious swimming as it consists of not one, but two Olympic-sized swimming pools. Open from late April to late September each year, reward your butterflies and backstrokes with coffee and cake, as it’s close to some of the most popular cafes and bars that Kreuzberg is famous for.
Considered the oldest “beach” in Berlin, swimming at Strandbad Wannsee has been a Berlin institution for over a century. With a swimming area of over 80m, it’s also one of the biggest lidos in Berlin and many locals will embark on the two hour bike ride to get there just to take a dip in the waters and have an ice cream on its shores after. Fear not, public transport will also take you there.
There are many more opportunities to soak or swim in Berlin at any time of the year but we hope this list goes a little way to whet… or wet… your appetite.
Staying at a vacation rental has many benefits, amongst which the opportunity for guests to quickly gain local knowledge and tips about the area from their host. In my experience, a host can do more than provide their local insights to make a guest feel welcome. To me, being a good host is all about attention to detail, the little touches that make me feel right at home. A host may not speak the language of the guest but this can be more than compensated by good, old-fashioned hospitality.
A good host is, in my book, one who combines the comforts of home with great hospitality. The latter can be shown in many ways; welcoming guests with a beverage (or even a bowl of fruit) on their arrival. Sitting with them to provide local tips and ideas are excellent ways to quickly make guests feel right at home. I like hosts who are welcoming, easily reachable for assistance, helpful but not intrusive.
One of the most hospitable HouseTrip hosts I’ve met was Stephan in Berlin. Stephan owns several gorgeous lofts in the Moabit district in Berlin and is a very experienced and amicable host. He was there to greet me with a big smile when I arrived at the apartment. I appreciated the friendly welcome but more importantly, the fact that he was there upon my arrival. I’ve sometimes had to wait for the host and though it’s seldom an issue, after a long journey it’s just nice to have your host open the door the moment you arrive.
When I walked into Stephan’s loft, there was a board hanging on the wall with a personal welcome note, and in the kitchen, a bowl of fresh fruit awaited. While I was in the kitchen, I also noticed how well-stocked it was with utensils and all sorts of spices and herbs – some other apartments I’ve stayed at don’t go much further than the customary salt and pepper shakers. This kitchen is absolutely perfect for guests who like to cook their own meals.
Stephan also had a little reading corner where he had all sorts of brochures, city guides and maps neatly arranged on a shelf. We chatted for a bit about my plans in the city – I wasn’t sure what my plans were at that point. He nodded, then guided me to the reading corner where he told me to go through the information at my own leisure and if I needed any suggestions, he was no further than a call away. Helpful, not intrusive and easily-reachable.
So, how do you spot a good host when you’re making your booking? From my experience, two factors are important: the time a host takes to respond to a booking request, and more importantly, the number and quality of the reviews by previous guests. I find that I’m more motivated to write a review if I’ve had a great experience dealing with the host. I also pay special attention to the apartment description provided by the host; I like to see sufficient information about the apartment, its facilities, location and a bit about its surroundings. A host who has made the effort to provide all the relevant information I need, and tops it off with extra information about the neighbourhood and its attractions will easily grab my attention.