Budapest, HungaryThe vibrant city of Budapest is revealed as the cheapest European city for winter travel. The capital of Hungary effortless fuses old world charm with a superb cultural offering, with the city renowned for its classical music and culinary heritage.
Budapest’s Christmas Markets:
- Make a beeline for the superb annual Budapest Christmas Fair which is held in the heart of the city in Vörösmarty Square. More than 100 traditional wooden stalls line the square selling everything from candles, decorations, accessories and local handicrafts. Typical Hungarian fare is also on offer, such as kürtoskalács (sweet pastries), roast chestnuts and of course mulled wine. 27 November to 31 December 2013.
Top 5 things to do in Budapest:
- Don’t miss the historic thermal baths that are dotted throughout the city, from the Turkish Rudas dating from the 1560s to the Art Deco gem of the Gellért. It's a well deserved stop-off after all that shopping!
- Take a boat journey along the romantic Danube River, which is a also a great place to ask any important questions (hint hint!)
- Sample some of the unique ‘Ruin Pubs’ which have sprung up in some of Budapest’s abandoned buildings and offer a fantastic atmosphere.
- Explore the heritage contained within the gorgeous Budapest Castle District which forms one of the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
- Get your Christmas shopping underway in style on Budapest’s Andrássy Avenue which was built in 1872 and designed to replicate the Champs-Élysées in Paris – it’s the city’s main shopping district and is home to great little boutiques, quality restaurants and theatres
Riga, LatviaHot on the heels of Budapest is the attractive city of Riga which also tipped as one of our most hot and happening destinations in 2014. The capital of Latvia and arguably the whole of the Baltic region, will host the prestigious European Capital of Culture 2014 – a double whammy of cheap AND exciting! The old buildings are architecturally fascinating and the city is also something of a party capital by night.
Riga’s Christmas Markets:
- There is one main Christmas Market in Riga which sells local crafts in addition to traditional Latvian food and drink. And this destination has an added magic as it’s believed that the time-honoured tradition of decorating Christmas trees originated here!
Top 5 things to do in Riga:
- Soak up the stunning architecture of Riga Old Town, which is a World Heritage Site, thanks to its sheer abundance of charm and heritage – much of the architecture in Old Town, aka Vecriga, dates back to 1860.
- Check out the exquisite Latvian National Opera House, which is both an architectural and cultural masterpiece dating back to the 19th century.
- Explore the Art Nouveau district which, quite frankly, is simply breathtaking! In fact Riga has the most German Art Nouveau architecture, aka Jugendstil, in the world.
- Take it all in from atop St Peters Church Tower, which has the best panoramic view of Riga, bar none.
- Don’t skip the interesting local museums; the moving Museum of the Occupation of Latvia documents both the Nazi and Soviet occupation of Latvia; the somber Riga Ghetto Museum is essential and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Designs is a must for Christmas inspiration.
Lille, FranceAnd our third cheapest European city for this winter is the French gem of Lille, which is bursting with cultural highlights. Wander the handsome old town with its Flemish heritage, browse the internationally renowned art museums and sample some regional cuisine. Lille is located in the very north of France, on the border with Belgium, and thanks to superb transport links via the Eurostar, is easily accessible this winter.
Lille’s Christmas Markets:
- Hop over to Lille and soak up the atmosphere of the city’s Christmas market which is held in the Place Rihour. Over 80 stalls are set up within traditional wooden chalets and sell arts, crafts and foods. There is also a ferris wheel within the square which offers superb views over Lille. And the 18 meter tall Christmas tree is the crowning glory. 20 November to 29 December 2013.
Top 5 things to do in Lille:
- Head to the city’ Main Square to appreciate the exquisite Grande Palace, aka Vieille Bourse, which dates back to the 17th century.
- Lille has a strong Flemish heritage which is amply demonstrated within the Baroque style Old Stock Exchange building, which was designed in 1653 by the architect Julien Destrée.
- The Palais des Beaux-Arts, aka The Fine Arts Museum is regarded as the most interesting museum in France, after Paris’ iconic Louvre. Dating back to 1885, the permanent collections on display are as much of a draw as the exquisite 19th century monumental architecture of the building itself. Don’t miss the European classics from Rubens, Goya, Van Dyck and Delacroix.
- Stop by the birthplace of Charles de Gaulle, which also serves as a museum on the man that served as France first ever President from 1959 to 1969. De Gaulle was born in the city in 1890 at 9 Rue Princesse. Today the building is a French Historic Monument and serves as a museum and faithfully replicates a typical late 19th century home, in the style of the middle classes of the Northern French.
- Admire the triumphal arch of the Porte De Paris on Place Simon Vollant which was built in 1685. The arch honours the capture of Lille in 1667 by Louis XIV in 1667. Within the arch is Hercules clasping a club, Mars who is the god of war and atop the arch are two angels hailing the conquest to the world.