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.
Ah, tourists, you can’t deny they get the best of everything just by dint of sheer volume and an almost supernatural ability to queue.
There they are. All over the Eiffel Tower in their cheery Crocs like demented toddlers. They’ve nailed every palazzo and plaza. The Blarney Stone is a personal photo opp. And, unless you know a night watchman at any of Europe’s museums (or you’re in a Woody Allen movie), buy some postcards; the real thing usually looks about the same size over a sea of heads.
But should we be beaten?
The Eiffel Tower attracts almost 8 million visitors each year. Image by Dunnock_D.
Should we resign ourselves to solitary armchair travel, trying to replicate the magnificence of Europe with nothing more than a few soggy chips, a jar of mayonnaise and a sachet of cappuccino mix?
No we should not. The time has come to take back the cobbles, the castles, the cathedrals, the architecture and art, in fact anything that’s even had a brush with a pair of Rohan convertible chinos in the past decade is now fair game. Because if there’s one thing tourists like even less than trousers that don’t turn into shorts, it’s winter.
Royal Palace of Madrid. By Martin Hapl.
This is the season to actually visit the visitor attractions and not stand in line for hours with people who look like they were knitted out of rough, brown wool. You can take guided tours and hear the guides. And you know all those things like funiculars and covered boats and miniature trains? They’re really quite good fun when they’re not packed. So what three cities might win you over this winter? We thought, Prague, Madrid and Florence.
Piazza della Signoria, Florence. By Gaspa.
Yes, we are actually going to suggest that you stroll across the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (in winter there’s even enough room for a skippity run if you like). Have a look at Michelangelo’s ‘outdoor’ David. Make your way to the Uffizi – less of a gallery and more ‘most famous museum in the entire known universe’. And get in without having to queue.
There are 45 rooms in the Uffizi so this is the perfect place to try out a guided tour. Make sure it includes ‘Cosimo’s Commute’ AKA the Vasari Corridor, designed by Cosimo I to let the Medici Family travel from Palazzo Vecchio (work) to Palazzo Pitti (home) in blissfully commoner-free 16th century style. Part of the Vasari crosses the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge and still home to the city’s goldsmiths and frighteningly expensive jewellers – nigh on impossible to get near in summer.
Uffizi Gallery all to yourself. By funebre.
When you’ve ‘done’ the Uffizi it’s just a short walk to the Galleria Accademia. This is where they keep the real David and yes, he’s much taller than all those plastic statues would lead you to believe.
Have a drink on at least one of Florence’s piazzas. The Signoria and Repubblica might be like all ten circles of hell in summer but they’re very pleasant on a winter afternoon. Not warm of course, but it’s advisable to wear clothes in most public places these days. And you can watch the Fiorentini; a uniquely courageous people brave enough to live in this beautiful city even during the summer.
Piazza della Signoria. By Gwenaël Piaser.
The Madrileno are a little more elusive during the winter months. The capital of Spain can be chilly and the lure of some rich Rioja and a plate of tapas hard to resist. But don’t worry the city itself isn’t holed up in a bar. In fact it’s business as usual in Madrid, just a lot less people to share it with.
Parque del Retiro. By Alex E. Proimos.
One thing we know about tourists; they don’t like wandering too much. Handily enough Madrid has three of the world’s most famous museums forming a triangle in the city centre; Museo Reine Sofia, Museo del Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo del Prado.
Reine Sofia is where you’ll find Picasso’s Guernica. The Thyssen-Bornemisza collection covers the 13th to late 20th century. And Del Prado, what can we say? Unless you live under a stone, you’ll recognise the masterpieces in this museum. And, even if you ignore our advice on guides elsewhere, the ones in Madrid really are extraordinary.
Picasso’s Guernica. By Tab59.
Churros and hot chocolate on the Plaza Mayor is a winter box you have to tick. But don’t eat on the Plaza. Leave through one of the square’s Arco and look for somewhere small and busy, in winter that means it’s full of locals.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid. By Bjørn Giesenbauer.
You want Calle de Preciados for shopping and Plaza de Santa Ana for bars, cafés and flamenco. Yes, it’s the dreaded ‘F’ word. And winter in Madrid means not only can you see the great dance in action you can take classes too. A great souvenir is the mark of a true tourist and we can’t think of anything more delightful for your family and friends than the gift of seeing you Flamenco.
Flamenco. By somebody_.
Prague doesn’t offer much in the way of dance instruction but in winter it really doesn’t need to. With freezing temperatures, almost certain snow and some of Europe’s most ethereal architecture, dancing would look a bit show off. Happily, tourists seem to prefer Prague’s unbearable summer humidity which leaves winter free for you to do what they normally do, in peace.
St. Vitus Cathedral. By James Whitesmith.
Unlike Florence and Madrid, Prague doesn’t have hugely famous art collections, but what it lacks in paint on canvas it more than makes up for on its streets.
Take advantage of the Old Town Square’s relative calm and even if you don’t go into any of the buildings just wander about. It looks strangely like a movie set, but in a good way – especially once you get over thinking of the 14th century Tyn Church in terms of Cinderella’s Castle. On the hour be sure to stand in front of the Astronomical Clock and see the Apostles – it shouldn’t be cute, but it is.
Old Town Square. By james_clear.
Winter’s also the time to cross the famously famous Charles Bridge and ascend to Prague Castle. If you’re lucky the bridge will be snow covered for extra drama and Prague Castle is the biggest in Europe so it’s not too shabby either.
Pont Charles. By Panoramas.
And of course there’s the beer. Visit Prague in summer and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the rest of Europe was dealing with the problem of binge drinking by giving out free tickets to the Czech Republic. But winter’s perfect for enjoying some of the country’s most famous export without a stag party chaser.
So find a cosy bar, place your order and have our permission to feel just a little bit smug.
You made it as a tourist, you saw what all the fuss was about and now you’ve got the hang of it you can start planning next winter’s invasion.
Image by Mait Jüriado.
Featured image by zabozrut.
In this week’s Flickr Friday, we’re taking a look at Christmas trees in cities across the world. Many urban centres try to outdo each another with the biggest, brightest and most cleverly designed Christmas trees that their top creative minds can come up with. A lot of the time there’s also a story behind them; like the tree in London’s Trafalgar Square which has been donated to the city by Norway every year since 1947, for services rendered in the Second World War.
Please enjoy this collection of festive and arboreal images, and have a joyful weekend.
Rio de Janeiro © alobos Life
Berlin © fotoeins
Tokyo © toooooool
Prague © hdc.
New York © Luke Redmond
Madrid © alvarezperea
Strasbourg © hoosadork
Warsaw © Daniel*1977
Vienna © rabasz
London © micamica
Wrap up warm and pop your wallet in one of your most accessible pockets as Christmas market season is upon us. With wooden huts popping up in more cities than you can count these days, here’s our handy guide to some of the best Christmas markets in the world this year.
Image © LenDog64
Prague. With bone chilling temperatures almost guaranteed, Prague’s Christmas markets or “Vanocni trh” as the locals call them are mixed with other festive events like nativity scenes and carol singing. Descend on the Old Town Square for the most lively of the city’s Christmas markets and try local pastries, Czech beers and heart and stomach warming sausages while listening out for the chimes of the stunning Astronomical Clock. With a mini zoo and locally made puppets for sale this is a very family friendly Christmas market.
Prague Town Square © ninjapotato
Berlin. Germany is considered the home nation of Christmas markets and evidence suggests that the Germans are among the best at organising a plethora of Christmas markets across the country. With markets being held across Berlin, it’s well worth heading to the one that takes place within the grounds of Kaiser Wilhelm Gedaechtniskirche, a church bombed during the Second World War that has been left in partial ruins as a memorial. Here Berlin in its typically hipster way has reinvented the Christmas market with local artists, designers and other creatives selling a wide range of contemporary goods alongside the typical Christmas Kuchen and gingerbread hearts.
Weihnachtsmarkt © Gertrud K
New York. The inclusion of New York City in this list not only changed the title of this post from Europe to World, but also opened eyes to the spread of Christmas market fever to the shores of the USA. With several popping up throughout Manhattan – including the civilised indoor Holiday Gift Fair inside Grand Central Station – there is also the popular Christmas Market on Main over in Brooklyn keeping families warm with hot cider and craft stalls.
Image © WanderingtheWorld
Bath. Set against a backdrop of the regal Regency properties surrounding Abbey Churchyard and spilling out down winding back streets, Bath’s Christmas market adds extra character to a city already dripping in romance and charm. Choose from several different streetfood ‘huts’ to have something sweet or savoury (or both) to nibble on while admiring locally crafted goods on sale. A must visit at night when the winter sky is lit up with bright white lights reflecting off the Abbey.
Bath Christmas market © Craig Sefton
Lille. Not to be outdone by the Brits or Germans, France has finally established a Christmas market worthy of visiting. Not only does Lille’s market in Place Rihour combine the traditions associated with Christmas markets – mulled wine and hot chocolate hugged in take away mugs, roasted almonds and a celebration of locally crafted goods and grown produce – but there is an undeniable French twist with taste bud enticing pastries and tarts being sold alongside French cheeses and wines. Lille’s Christmas market ‘chalets’ are also next door to a funfair so you have two reasons to brave the chilly temperatures.
Lille Christmas market © darounet
Stockholm. Again a city scattered with Christmas markets, the Swedish ones also adopt a minimalist Scandinavian flair. Perhaps the smallest but most picturesque market in Stockholm is the one in Stortorget in Gamla Stan. Surrounded by bars, restaurants and cafes that you can roll into to warm up it’s easy to make an evening of a visit to these red wood huts. A funkier version of a Christmas Market can be enjoyed at Folkuniversitetet where students sell jewellery, household items and artwork they’ve created.
Image © -12°C
Vienna. One of the prettiest Christmas markets on this list, Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt takes place in the already very beautiful Rathausplatz and is a veritable winter wonderland for children and adults of all ages. With wooden huts surrounding a grand Christmas tree you can pick up virtually everything you need here to make Christmas a truly festive event for all your friends and family while sipping a glass of glühwein, before then hopping on one of the fairground rides that are also featured.
Christmas in Vienna © weisserstier
Cover image © A.Currell
Long gone are the days when Prague was an undiscovered gem of Europe. Instead, a visit to Prague in the Czech Republic can mean more stag-meets-hen drinking culture than the rich east-meets-west history that it is traditionally famous for. While we highly recommend that a Czech beer or two features on your list of things to do and enjoy, here are some of Prague’s best (and more sober) secret sights to explore.
National Theatre in Prague – Image © Jose Maria Cuellar
Prague is known as the city of 1000 spires and the owner of not only some of the most elegant of these and a beautiful view across many of the hundred others is the famous Prague Castle. While the tourists will still surround you as you admire this Czech landmark, it’s what you do afterwards that will mean you avoid the crowds. Rather than follow the herds back down towards the St Charles Bridge (still beautiful, but pesky tourists like beautiful too!) step outside the Prague Castle’s fortification walls to find New World Street, a small, cobbled street heading down hill towards the Stag Moat of the castle. Terraced houses painted in warm pastel shades line your walk and while there are no souvenir shops or even pubs for you to pop into, you must remember that this is precisely why this little piece of Old Prague remains relatively tourist free.
St Charles bridge in winter - Image © Edgar Barany
Image © Miroslav Petrasko
Another spot overlooked by the average tourist is Divoká Šárka. This urban park is hard to beat in terms of its size, easy access from the centre of Prague (a quick tram) and the opportunities for activities and relaxing with open-air theatre in warmer months and hiking trails winding their way around the picturesque reservoir. An open water swimming pool keeps locals happy and the visitors scratching their heads as they watch the bravest of locals enjoying a quick dip in winter months, sometimes only after pushing the surface layer of ice to one side.
Divoká Šárka swimming pool - Image © kh1234567890
Spotted in Divoká Šárka - Image © Lee Martin
Want to explore Prague after dark and risk seeing something scarier than a group of British men on a stag do? Well, you should consider signing up for the Haunted Prague walking tour. With historical facts and tales about Prague’s secret brotherhood and why Prague was built according to a clandestine plan, this tour will show you a secret side to Prague that is only too easily overlooked by those who see the night time as an invitation to party.
One place where you can guarantee combining culture, history, good food and a tourist free morning or afternoon is Brevnov Abbey and Monastery. Within the grounds is the stunning, baroque style St Margaret’s Basilica, which is just a beautiful inside with frescos adorning the vaulted ceiling. Take a quick stroll through the gardens to quickly work up an appetite because the Klašterní Senk restaurant onsite is one of the best places in Prague to get some traditional Czech food.
Save a little room in your tummies for a sweet treat that most visitors to Prague don’t take the time to try. Tredlnik is a type of sweet bread rolled into a cylinder that is then dipped in sugar, nuts or cinnamon. Originally a Slovakian delicacy, locals rely on this afternoon (or morning or evening) treat to keep them warm in the winter months. Look out for vendors selling Tredlnik on street corners and in the Old Town Square, and yes we know there are lots of tourists there, but the Tredlnik here is among the best as they even fill the centre with nutella or jam to keep the pesky tourists happy. So I suppose being surrounded by tourists in Prague isn’t always bad?