The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

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Immerse yourself in the season’s spirit with a trip to the most festive cities on earth. From the most picturesque destinations in Europe to second summers in Australia with a feast of cultural offerings, these are the best cities to visit at Christmas.

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Kraków, Poland

    Easily one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, Poland’s former royal capital offers a veritable feast of architectural styles – Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau – spanning Krakow’s 1,000-year history, providing the perfect backdrop for atmospheric wintry strolls and some Christmas shopping in centuries-old market squares.

    Bedding down in the sleek and stylish Puro Hotel places you in the heart of the Old Town, a stone’s throw from the 16th-century Renaissance Cloth Hall, Sukiennice. Rynek Glówny is Europe’s biggest medieval square, and in the run-up to Christmas the vast Christmas market puts Western European offerings in the shade. Linger over comfort food in the traditional Pod Wawelem, then wander the winding streets of Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, ducking into old cafés, jazz bars and converted theatres for nips of the potent local brandy, slivovitz. Before calling it a night, stroll the banks of the Vistula, with views of soaring Wawel Castle.

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    New York, USA

    A thousand rom-coms can’t be wrong. The Big Apple is at its most romantic in the run-up to Christmas. Stay right in the middle of things by booking into The New York EDITION, Ian Schrager’s new flagship property on Madison Avenue. This will be the hotel’s first Christmas, and we’re predicting it will go all out with the lobby decorations, even outdoing The Plaza’s Palm Court.

    Madison Avenue’s elaborate Christmas window displays will stir up the festive spirit – every year Barneys and Hermès have something of a stand-off over whose window can stop more shoppers in their tracks. Tiffany, Cartier and Harry Winston on Fifth Avenue are landmarks in their own right, and the tree at the Rockefeller Center is always a showstopper, looming over skaters on the rink. By now you’ll be ready for some seasonal cheer, and Christmas pop-up bar phenomenon Miracle is back in its original location this year – although there are more than 100 Miracle pop-ups worldwide today. For even more razzle dazzle, book tickets for The Nutcracker at the Lincoln Center, or keep your New Year’s Eve classy with the New York Philharmonic’s end of year concert.

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    Where to eat in New York

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Bruges, Belgium

    It’s easy to imagine that Bruges spends 11 months of the year waiting for Christmas, the time of year when this picture-perfect Belgian town is suddenly bang on trend, virtually unrivalled in terms of festive cheer, wintry romance and all the cosy comforts of the season. Bruges revels in its relevance every Christmas, a

    festive wonderland with one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets, and virtually every window decked with holly and fairy lights, the cobbled medieval lanes and step-gable façades aglow, and Grote Markt, or Market Square, lined with stalls selling those Belgian staples, hot waffles, chocolate and beer. Duck into dimly lit brasseries for moules frites and hearty beef stews all washed down with heady De Halve Maan (Half- Moon) brews. Despite its 16th-century exterior, Hotel Sablon offers a respite from formality, fuss and festive twee with bold, contemporary rooms and a bohemian vibe.

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  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Sydney, Australia

    There’s something deliciously rebellious about jetting off to Australia in December, cheating your way into a second summer, flouting Christmassy convention. The sun might be shining brightly over Christmas, but Sydney also offers travellers a feast of cultural offerings and decadent drinking and dining, so it still feels thoroughly festive. And thanks to the weather, much of the action takes place outdoors, with open-air carol concerts, dinner cruises to catch the lights from the river and jazz quartets entertaining shoppers at the newly reopened Pitt Street Mall. But the real attraction, for those in town for the 25th, is Sydney’s beaches, where families and friends gather to barbecue burgers and fish fillets and celebrate the fact that they’re not stuck indoors in front of the TV, like much of the rest of the planet. The Ovolo Woolloomooloo offers harbour views from a heritage building, but the vibe is thoroughly beachy, fresh and fun – exactly what travellers come here for.

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    The best shopping in Sydney

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Belfast, Ireland

    The Northern Irish capital reliably delights visitors, being a much more relaxed, friendly (and affordable) Irish weekender than Dublin or Cork. The city is in the throes of a cultural and culinary resurgence, and is attracting a creative international community of artists, musicians, chefs and writers with its friendly vibe and dedication to craic. St George’s Market, dating back to 1890, is particularly atmospheric at Christmas, with live jazz music or folk sessions providing the soundtrack, and stallholders showcasing the best artisan produce. Belfast is a city blessed with parks and riverside walks, and a stroll along the towpath of the River Lagan is particularly pretty when frost covers the surrounding woodland. But if the weather gets a little too wintry for your liking, there’s plenty to duck indoors for. Titanic Belfast, the city’s dazzling museum dedicated to Ireland’s shipbuilding heritage and the famous ship, occupies the city’s regenerated shipyards, known as the Titanic Quarter. The city’s cosiest digs are still the Merchant Hotel in the Cathedral Quarter, and for a bite of the city’s emerging food scene, go for lunch at Root & Branch on Ormeau Road.

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks


    Celebration is something of an art form in this South-east Asian city state. The mishmash of cultural influences – Chinese, Malay, Indian and British – simply means all the more traditions to draw upon. And to a Singaporean, any celebration calls for superlative food, culture and spectacle. The festive lights of Orchard Road are among the best Christmas lights on any shopping street in the world, the historic shophouses (turned cocktail bars and galleries) of Joo Chiat are decked out with fairy lights and red lanterns, and every grand hotel lobby becomes a wintry wonderland. The city’s smattering of hawker centres, or food stall halls, are always smoky and vibrant and atmospheric, but during the weeks before Christmas the sight of family and friend gatherings only adds to the charm. The grandest digs in town are still in the neoclassical Fullerton Bay Hotel but Singapore is best experienced with a couple of nights in the middle of the action, followed by a little R&R on an island retreat. One of the most charming spots is Capella Singapore, a perfect blend of contemporary style and colonial charm set in 30 acres of historic lawns with roaming peacocks and knotted trees on the island of Sentosa, set against the backdrop of the South China Sea.

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  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Edinburgh, Scotland

    With its grand Gothic-revival architecture, melodramatic cliff-hugging castle and winding medieval lanes, Edinburgh is not short of romantic atmosphere at any time of the year. But the Scottish capital is at its most charming at Christmas and Hogmanay: when nips of whisky in cosy pubs off Cockburn Street seem all the more inviting; when the Grassmarket’s vintage stores are brimming with Sixties faux furs and aran sweaters; and when a brisk hike up Arthur’s Seat offers a twinkly view of the city aglow below. Fuel up with hearty vegan comfort food at the perennially festive Paradise Palms, catch a classic matinee film at The Cameo, and bunker down at The Witchery, Edinburgh’s most atmospheric hotel and restaurant.

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  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Cape Town, South Africa

    There won’t be much in the way of snow in South Africa’s eternally sunny and thoroughly cosmopolitan city, but Christmas is taken seriously in this food and wine obsessed destination. Stellenbosch, the surrounding wine region, has pretty shops, which are lovely to browse before curling up with a South African full-bodied Shiraz, which tastes like Christmas in a glass.

    For European shoppers bored of craft markets closer to home, Cape Town’s versions have pieces by artisans and vendors from rural South African and Namibia, with an emphasis on textiles, leatherware and woodwork. The prettiest Christmas market is in Kirstenbosch botanical gardens in Newlands. Keep things traditional by booking into Kensington Palace, Cape Town’s original boutique hotel, and if you overindulge at the restaurant the night before, charge into the sea at Camps Bay for a bracing dip before braving the city streets again.

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  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Birmingham, UK

    This rapidly regenerating and thrillingly innovative city continues to draw weekend visitors with its affordable hotels and dining hotspots, world-class museums and grand industrial architecture. Winter lends even more romance to Birmingham’s elegant Victorian-era galleries and museums, restored factory and warehouse buildings, and regenerated canals areas. And with craft breweries to duck into, hidden cocktail bars, cosy speakeasies and innovative (yet pleasingly priced) restaurants, dining and drinking is a gloriously democratic privilege here. This Christmas, Centenary Square will once again have an ice rink and big wheel, and Brum’s Frankfurt market – the largest authentic German market outside Germany or Austria – sees more than 80 stalls line the city streets, attracting some 5.5 million visitors every year. City Social has a more hipster vibe, where chalets take over an underpass and Sunday film screenings add to the cosiness. The 20-room Art Deco Edgbaston Hotel also houses the city’s best cocktail bar, for a warming nightcap after pounding the city streets.

  • The world’s most atmospheric Christmas city breaks

    Vienna, Austria

    This is simply one of Europe’s most elegant cities, with imperial palaces, baroque churches, opulent coffee houses and world-class museums and music venues that underscore Vienna’s hefty cultural heritage. The Austrian capital is where café culture was born, and inviting living room-like spaces provide a welcome respite from the cold streets, as do cellar wine taverns and Beisln (pubs) where comfort dishes such as goulash and Wiener schnitzel are served up alongside equally hearty local beers. In winter, locals and visitors alike gather to sample the wares of the Naschmarkt stalls. And, befitting a city with a musical heritage including the composers Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, Strauss, Brahms and Mahler, free choral concerts and performances abound throughout the festive season. Staying at the centrally located, Terence Conran-designed Guesthouse means you have the Albertina museum, State Opera and legendary Sacher Hotel as neighbours.

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