By Aidan Pongrace
If you’re like me and most other meme-obsessed millennials, you’ve probably seen this year’s White House décor. The white branches adorning the hallways of the East Wing are reminding Twitter users more of Narnia in its White Witch phase than Bing Crosby’s Winter Wonderland. I know what you’re probably thinking: does everything have to get political these days?
Well, if you’re looking for some apolitical and adventurous holiday cheer, I’m here to tell you to look no further than the Old World. Yes, Europe. From the Glögg and æbleskiver in Copenhagen’s Christmas markets to the best holiday shopping in Paris, Europe’s cities have all the holiday cheer and none of the Trump-mania. I’ve even made it easy for you, and listed out the top five cities to visit this holiday season.
There’s only one word to describe Copenhagen during the holidays: hygge. Pronounced, hoo-ga, this Danish word best translates to coziness but it is all at once a feeling, an experience, and a sensation. Christmas time is peak hygge season and there’s a reason why. The Danes fight off the long Danish winters by dressing Copenhagen in lights, candles, and Christmas markets. The city seems to adorn itself in Christmas decorations and if that’s not peak hygge I’m not sure what is. Grab a warm cup of Glögg down at the Tivoli Gardens Christmas market as you meander through the stalls filled with decorations, gifts and snacks like æbleskiver, the decadent Danish version of an apple donut dipped in powdered sugar and covered in jam. After a few rounds of Glögg maybe you’ll be up to try out some of Europe’s oldest amusement park rides.
Tromso is situated north of the Arctic Circle and is the perfect spot for any adventure seeking holiday trippers. The gateway to the Arctic boasts a variety of unique activities most notable of which is an excursion to see the Northern Lights. I took a spontaneous trip to hunt the Northern Lights a few years back and found myself inside of a fjord lying next to a fire in my thermal jumpsuit staring up at the Aurora Borealis eating reindeer stew. Nature’s Christmas lights won’t fail to disappoint. Have you ever skied down a fjord at night? Go to Tromso and try it for yourself.
Vienna’s Christmas markets are unparalleled. The old Viennese Christmas market on Freyung is one of the city’s oldest and has been in operation since 1772. Take in the imperial wonders of Central Europe at the market in Maria-Theresien Platz with a mug of weihnachtspunch in hand, the Austrian version of a Christmas punch. Of course, Vienna houses some of the best museums in the world but my favorite at this time of year is the Belvedere palace. For the art lovers, it houses the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings.
While Paris also has a wonderful Christmas Market along the Champs Élysées, at a certain point you’ll need to trade in the glögg for a pinot noir. Café culture doesn’t end when the temperature drops. Sit for a glass or two under the heat lamps of Café de Flore and philosophize on what presents you’ll need to bring back. Embrace your inner bourgeois-bohème and hop in an Uber to the Marche aux Puces of Saint Ouen just north of Paris. Covering over seven hectares, this flea market is the largest of its kind in the world. Its block of mid-century modern antique dealers will have you bidding adieu to your New York apartment as you start to visually furnish that little spot in the Marais you’ve had your eye on. If the vintage couture at the Puces doesn’t satisfy you, check out the Bon Marché on the Left Bank. Even if Dior is out of your budget, the window decorations are a must-see during the holiday season.
If you’re more of a warm weather holiday traveler, Europe still has options for you. The last time I visited Barcelona in December, the temperature stayed in the mid 60’s with lots and lots of Sun. While you may not be taking a dip, the beach culture remains active during the cooler months. La Rambla was always a bit overwhelming for me so I prefer to walk through the mazelike streets of the Gothic quarter, which are covered in Christmas lights of all different shapes and sizes. Christmas in Barcelona takes on a whimsical and exotic feel as the artistic Catalan spirit is out in full display once the tourists fade away. Stick around for Christmas and you’ll witness the Christmas Day group swim. Think of something along the lines of a polar swim but in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean.
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