Almost every self-respecting European capital upholds Christmas traditions – Christmas lights, skating rinks, markets and holiday concerts. But each one prides itself on something special you won’t find anywhere else. Perhaps it’s a dessert in the shape of a log, or a Christmas tree, covered in Swaroski crystals. In this edition, we’re letting you know what the Christmas spirit hunters are in for in Brussels, Zurich and Paris!
A Christmas light show, an ice skating rink just across the opera, Smurfs, waffles and beer – that’s what you can expect in Brussels around Christmas.
Central Brussels turns into a winter wonderland at Christmastime, with more than 200 craftsmen stalls spanning the distance of 2.5 kilometres. Every year, one country gets honoured there, and this year it is Finland’s turn. The first hint is the 20 m tall Christmas tree in the Grand Palace square by the palace, decorated in the colours of the Finnish flag – blue and white. This is the perfect spot to have a taste of the pride of Belgian cuisine – beer, French fries, waffles and praline. If you’re looking to warm up a bit, try one of the Flemish gins, like FM 20-3, said to contain the essences of 23 different herbs. Just don’t do it right before hitting the ice skating rink, like the one right across the opera Place de la Monnaie, where during the winter season ice discos, shows and extreme sports parades take place on the regular. To get some of that Christmas adrenaline, take a ride on the Ferris wheel in the St. Catherine’s Square; it reaches the height of 55 metres and provides an amazing view of the city from a Christmas angel’s-eye view.
Praise Nicola Tesla, Thomas Edison and all the scientists who contributed to discovering electricity and making Christmas brighter in the downtown of the European capital – Palais de la Bourse. Every day from 4 PM to 10 PM at 20 minute intervals there’s a 360-degree show “Christmas Lights” that presents an exciting story of the history of this city. Brussels is famous for Art Nouveau and Art Deco, but Belgium as a country – for its comics. Christmas is no exception, and during the festive season there’s a good chance you’ll catch a glimpse of Tintin or the blue Smurfs trotting along Santa Claus, elves and angels. How about a trip to a lovely Christmas market? Hop on a train and find yourself in Liège in an hour, a city with a great holiday atmosphere. The locals and visitors of Brussels welcome the New Year in Place de Broukère, where the DJ plays sets until one in the morning. There’s a 60 m2 screen right up there, streaming festive tweets and selfies sent by the party people themselves, while at midnight fireworks light up the sky.
In Zurich, Christmas is celebrated by a Christmas tree clad in Swarovski crystals, making beeswax candles and eating cheese fondue on a tram.
Europe’s largest indoor Christmas market takes place at Zurich Main Train Station, and a huge Christmas tree stands in the middle, decorated with… no, not the Swiss watches, but Swarovski crystals! You can feel the city’s love for jewels at Banhofstrase where Lucy’s lights are switched on to kick off the Christmas season, named in honour of the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
For the locals, beeswax candle-making is almost as important as decorating the Christmas tree. Every year before Christmas, they hold a special event Lichterschwimmen, during which 800 Christmas candles are released onto the river Limmat. You simply must try the cheese fondue if you’re in Zurich, and there are plenty of unusual spots to enjoy it – like by the river or at a party on a tram. If you’re in Zurich with kids, go for a ride on the Jelmoli Märlitram, the Santa Claus’ tram, where angels read Christmas tales to passengers, or visit the Conelli Christmas circus.
Of course, there are magnificent skating rinks in Zurich – in forests, on lakes, or just across the opera; the city has its own singing tree (at least 80 children can squeeze around it, so they say) and countless Christmas markets. The oldest is said to be Niederdörfli, while Sechseläutenplatz is rumoured to be the most exciting one. If it’s something non-traditional you’re after, check out the Cabaret Voltaire cafe in the Niederdorf district – it’s the birthplace of Dadaism, and a huge number of events are hosted there around Christmas. For those with a fondness for interesting towers, head to the 26 m high Freitag flagship store in the west of Zurich, that is made of, no, not the Swiss watches, but manufacturing waste and ship containers!
Oysters, champagne, and a skating rink by the Eiffel tower are just a handful of reasons to spend the end of the year in Paris.
What images come to mind when you think of Paris? Pretty impressive, huh? Now, add a million Christmas lights to these visions. Christmas in the most romantic city of Europe is an aesthetic and gastronomic pleasure. During the festive season, oysters from Bretagne are served, along with fois gras, truffles, chestnuts, champagne and bûche de noël that means “Christmas log” in French.
Get it at the sweets quarter on Rue Montorgueil from one of the Stohrer bakeries that have been perfecting their recipes for almost 300 years. Paris is a child-friendly city, and not just because Disneyland is here. Window displays are much loved here, and the most famous are the ones at Galeries Lafayette. This year, they have been inspired by the drawings of 5 to 11 year olds, bringing the best of them to life in the form of dolls and other elements. Meanwhile, Le BHV Marais window displays are devoted to the all-time best nanny Mary Poppins. There is a private holiday carousel collection in Paris, with the oldest specimens dating back to 1850. Usually, this museum is only open by appointment, but between December 26 and January 3 it welcomes everyone as the Festival du Merveilleux happens there, and magicians, doll makers and other wizards put on shows. The skating rink next to the Eiffel tower or in the Grand Palais, or one of the Christmas concerts, like at the Sainte-Chapelle church, will add a touch of festivity to your spirit. If you’re looking for a gift for a fan of antiques or just a hipster, head straight to the Saint-Ouen flea market, that has a huge selection of old vinyl records, books, garments and design objects.