Although a marvellous city at any time of year, it’s in the dark winter months that Riga shines. Famed for it’s magnificent Art Nouveau architecture it’s only when the city is obscured by a deep blanket of snow that it’s true beauty is revealed.
Like most Eastern European cities, Riga is a city of two halves. In amongst the rigid Soviet remnants lies the Old Town and it’s maze of alleys and squares. Head out early and be the first to leave you tracks in the snow.
It’s not a difficult city to tackle on foot and, when it’s frozen over, nor is the river Daugava. Although it takes some courage to head over to see what the local ice fisherman have caught.
A better bet to find some local produce is to walk over to the central market, located in a series of giant airship hangers. Here you’ll find all manner of the winter fuel that so many Latvians call food and possibly another sweater should you need it.
When the cold does becomes all too much, dive into the nearest bar and order a shot or two of the traditional Latvian liqueur, Black Balsam. This little devil may leave a curious expression etched across your face but you will leave the bar positively glowing.
A few too many and you may find yourself taking a bus into the hills to nearby Sigulda, where a short walk through the ankle-deep snow will lead you to the Sigulda Bobsleigh Track. Five minutes instruction and you’re off at breakneck speed. By the time you’ve managed to open your eyes you’re at the bottom – shaking, struggling to stand, wondering how the contents of your nose has traveled up your face but warmer, and for that you’ll be grateful.
Google map: bit.ly/dvI63t
Perched at 5000ft on the plateau of nothern New Mexico, Santa Fe quite literally takes your breath away. With its low rise adobe architecture, artist colony feel and cafe culture it feels like a Mediterranean town dropped into the Wild West. But the presence of Native American influence on almost every street corner soon reminds you of where you really are. Choose an in-town spa resort or, alternatively, head to an out-of-town ranch to watch overnight desert snow vanish almost instantly in the first glow of the rising sun. Magical.
Edinburgh is world famous for it's New Year's Hogmanay celebrations with the wild street party, the electrifying concert in the gardens and the magical torch light procession but the christmas season in general in the city is one of the best winter experiences to be found in Europe. Princes Street Gardens are transformed in to a Winter Wonderland complete with a snowball arena and an ice rink, situated in between the the traditional German Market and the fairground. The German Market is open from November 26th until Christmas Eve and is perfect for present and souvenir shopping with mulled wine and international food stalls dotted around when you are in need of a rest. The fairground lights up the city centre and the helter skelter and flying chairs make it fun for all ages. With all of the action going on in the centre there are hotels to be found all along Princes Street and North Bridge.
Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, United Kingdom, EH2 2AA
Google map: bit.ly/cLS90w
Malaga, like most airport cities, is often overlooked but as we found last year, it makes a great and accessible winter city break, especially if you time it for the first weekend of December when some of the best and most tasteful Christmas lights you could hope to see are switched on. Don’t miss the huge nativity scene at the meeting point of Alameda and c/Larios, then explore the marbled pedestrianised streets festooned with red green and gold lights. The atmosphere in the city centre is truly festive, with street entertainers to keep the kids happy and a free rock concert in the Plaza Constitucion. There are many cosy authentic tapas bars where you can drink Malaga wine and eat delicious tapas, such as Malaga Cod (a sort of potato salad with cod and oranges). Drink with the locals at the Casa Guardia, which Picasso frequented. During the day you can visit the Picasso Museum, the Moorish fort and the Alcazaba palace and then return to soak up the carnival atmosphere in the evening.
Malaga centre is pedestrianised and easy to find. Access from the airport is easy - from the central staion it is a 15 minute walk to the centre
Hamburg is our favourite winter city break; we've been there for crisp autumn weekends and for snowy weeks in January. Hamburg is a cosmopolitan city with plenty to entertain, whatever the weather. Wander through the Alter Elbtunnel (old Elbe tunnel) at 426 m long and marvel at the magnificent tiling; climb to the top of Michaeliskirche for an excellent view over the city; try ice skating in the old botanical gardens; take a boat trip around the huge port. There are streets of smart shops, as well as weekly fleamarkets and more museums and culture than you can fit into a weekend. On Sunday morning don't miss the Fish Market, from 7am in winter, a festive and crowded shopping experience; you can buy almost anything and enjoy beer, sausages and dancing for your breakfast. Later stroll around the two lakes; the Binnenalster and Aussenalster, and warm up with hot chocolate and Cointreau.
Poprad in N.E. Slovakia is a great winter city break.
I recommend staying at the wonderful AquaCity hotel spa resort.
You can sit outside, wallowing in the healing thermal waters and gaze at the snow-capped High Tatra mountain peaks in the distance, or move into the watery cocktail bar and try a typical - and very warming Demanovka liqueur while still wallowing in the water.
Aquacity even offers cryotherapy, a subzero healing treatment recommended for sportsmen and women, which is said to prolong life!
Budapest is THE perfect destination for a winter city break. Accessible all year round on cheap airlines (Wizzair does returns for less than £50), but especially inviting in winter. Sit outside in the hot thermal water of the gorgeous Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő Baths, luxuriate amongst the yellow Baroque walls and watch old guys play chess on floating boards. Visit the steamy Turkish baths of the Rudas or Gellért Hotel, then chill out with a hot coffee and a chaser of the national drink Unicum, sitting amongst Hungarian poets and writers in the Művész (Artist) coffee house on Andrássy út, Pest's grandest boulevard.
Széchenyi Gyógyfürdő (health spa)
1146 Budapest, Állatkerti krt. 11.
Telefon: 06 1 363-3210
Művész eszpresszó kávéház és cukrászda
1064 Budapest, Andrássy út 29.
Open daily 9am-11.45pm
Walk up and down one of the most iconic and politically historic city of all, well wrapped up in your gloves and scarf (the Potomac chill can really bite!) Escape into warmth, by visiting the superb, several and free Smithsonian Museums, undoubtedly one of the greatest collections of culture and history in one place. Must visits include the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the newer Museum of the American Indian, within which the Mitsitam Cafe provides amazingly rich and the most authentic hot food in the area. Winter months means you will escape the heavy crowds which are overwhelming in the summer. Enjoy the twilight photography from Capitol Hill, or the Lincolm Memorial with the demon-eyed Monument foreboding in the centre. If you get chance take in a free performance at the stately JFK Center for PErforming Arts, every day at 6pm on the Millenium Stage. Enjoy the views from its terrace too. Plenty of things to see, and lots to do in a city, that lives needlessly in the shadow of New York for any transatlantic tourist
The best city to visit in winter is St Petersburg, Russia. People enthuse about the White Nights in midsummer, but winter is the time when the sky really is white (or pink or orange or purple) at night from the reflected snow lying on the ground. The combination of pinky skies and light-blue Baroque and yellow Neoclassical architecture under a blanket of white snow (which hides all the dirt you would otherwise see in other seasons) makes for a truly magical sight. The theatre season is in full swing, so this is the best time to catch a world-class opera or ballet at the Mariinsky every night, when prices are at their most reasonable (no festivals to inflate the prices). That nip of vodka or tea round the samovar is all the more welcome when it is freezing outside. The summer residence of Peterhof is actually best visited in winter, when the fountains are switched off and there are no crowds at all in the gardens – only you and the silent pavilions next to the frozen sea, a white blanket extending as far as the eye can see, to the other side of the Gulf of Finland. Rainer Maria Rilke was so entranced when he saw the Grand Palace in winter that he exclaimed: "Das ist ja das Schloss der Winterkönigin!"
Take the TGV from Paris (or hop on less green but slightly quicker flight from Gatwick) to the capital of Languedoc-Roussillon - a city where eating well, drinking local wine and relaxing seem to take priority.
You'll want a good day or two to explore the dizzying warren of medieval streets, mostly car-free, in the miraculously preserved old town (known as 'l'Ecusson').
I lost count of the hidden squares complete with fountains, cafés, quirky boutiques and restaurants; you could spend hours just watching the world go by - or a small fortune on chic Christmas presents.
If you're after culture, there are plenty of churches to discover and the impressive and recently renovated Musée Fabre, as well as regular festivals (and Christmas market) in the nearby Place de la Comédie, the heart of the city that constantly teems with life.
For tea, the prettiest spots are around the Eglise Saint-Roch (pronounced "Saaa-Rock"), or the Place de La Canourgue, where a café/restaurant called Le Comptoir de l'Arc was peopled by the fashionable but (relatively) unpretentious.
For dinner, a great little Japanese restaurant called Mayumi Izakaya is tricky to find, but well worth it for simple, fresh sushi.
Best of all is the twice-weekly organic market (Marhcé des Arceaux), where the finest breads, cheeses, honey and other local produce made me wish for a portable fridge and a larger luggage allowance.
Few small cities have perfected the art of living quite like Montpellier: the inhabitants seem to know instinctively what's worth hanging on to, and yet nothing's preserved in aspic. An ancient town full of young, open-minded people, new shops, fast trams and that indefinable French knack of making everything look effortless.
Accommodation: Hôtel Le Guilhem
18 Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau
34000 Montpellier, France
+33(0)4 67 52 90 90
Google map: bit.ly/b3WOl4
Dinner: Mayumi Izakaya, 26 Rue Terral
+33(0)4 67 63 12 25
Google map: bit.ly/cdGZbY
Bar: Le Comptoir de l'Arc, 2 Rue Hôtel de Ville
Market: Tues & Sat 7am - 1pm, Place des Arceaux
Enjoy strolling past the White House, and then down to the Mall and Capitol Hill, well shielded from the Potomac chill, wrapped up in your North Face, gloves and scarf. DC is a museum lovers dream, and escape the crowd at the several brilliant, free and well heated Smithsonian Museums. The Holocaust Memorial Museum (www.ushmm.org/) is as about a powerful a museum experience can offer, and the newer National Museum of the American Indian (www.nmai.si.edu/) offers in addition one of the more delicious, diverse and vegetarian friendly lunches in its Mitsitam café.
Enjoy the opportunity for night photography from the Lincoln Memorial or Capitol Hill, as the evening draws in, and appreciate the stature of the demon-eyed Washington Monument at night.
Perhaps take in a performance at the stately Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (Amazing and Free Daily Performances at 6pm www.kennedy-center.org/programs/millennium/) the terrace of which offers lovely views across the Potomac River.
As for a drinking spot, there is no better place than to take the metro train to the cosmopolitan melting pot at Dupont Circle. Drink a steaming mocha at Kramerbooks just right across from the station, which also doubles as a bookstore, and a lively late night café/bar. The place is open till 1am every night, offers a great selection of books and nearby Embassy Row adds to the cultural mix, as you are likely to be soon mingling with a US Congressman, a Kenyan diplomat or a Georgetown graduate student.
DC is a diverse, iconic city, steeped in rich political history with people equally eager to talk and listen, and more than enough indoor attractions to escape the chill when you need to. Whether alone or with a family, you will certainly want to return. (I know I do.)
Last winter, during the height of the worst winter Britain had endured in decades, we were more or less marooned in a holiday cottage on the outskirts of the city. We couldn’t have been stranded in a better place! We were within walking distance (along picturesque riverside paths) of all that this compact city has to offer in terms of bars, bistros and boutiques. For its size Durham packs a lot in – with magnificent historic buildings, plenty of independent shops and restaurants, an interesting market hall as well as the usual high street stores and eating places. Make sure that you check out the Durham Deals to get the best value from your stay (see the website below).
Perhaps one of the most romantic places in Germany, Baden-Baden ('name so nice, you say it twice' as Moto-Moto says in Madagascar 2)is perfect for a wintery break. Chic and swanky (check out the fur on the snooty, evidently rich ladies! Don't forget to gawk at their egg-sized diamonds too!), the town stops just shy of being exclusive, thanks to those cavernous, fairly egalitarian, wonderfully-soothing baths. With the BlackForest at the door-step, and the "Schwarzwaldhochstrasse" (panoramic road to Freudenstadt) taking you high into the neighbouring hills, there are plenty of opportunities to ski. If, however, you can't or won't, drag yourself uphill, then slide down on traditional, wooden toboggans.
The sun might set early in these parts, but there's always deliciously heart-warming gluhwein from ridiculously pretty Christmas markets,sinfully-rich Blackforest cakes (yes, the real ones!) and, to top it all off, a gloriously gilded Casino to keep you going!
We found our lovely apartment on the www.baden-baden.de/en/tourism/ website.
Fly into Basel/Strasbourg, or take a train to Baden-Baden.
Best buys - cuckoo-clocks, Christmas kitsch.
Famous for - wonderful, warming baths, what else?!
With its dark history, haunting Robert Louis Stephenson and Conan Doyle atmosphere, Edinburgh is the ultimate city for spooky Autumnul and Winter experiences. The narrow, winding closes, dark stone buildings and snow-bound, misty winter nights were the perfect settings for Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and Burke and Hare's sinister graveyard encounters. Many people have claimed to meet with spirits in the streets of Auld Reekie and they were not all in a reviving dram. Brave souls who seek ghostly experience have a wealth of streets to choose from,some of the creepiest and most haunted locations in all Europe. From moss-stained city centre cemeteries to the deep, damp vaults beneath South Bridge, these eerie sites are renowned even today for uncanny happenings. Easily one of the most terrifying places is Niddry Wynd, a once forgotten street running under the Royal Mile. This perilous underground plague passage is renowned for shocking paranormal activity, and each damp, vaulted chamber has a more disturbing story than the next. Niddry Wynd features a Wiccan temple, still used by a coven of witches today. It is also the home of a violent, misogynistic entity that has left visitors with otherwise inexplicable scratches and burns. Winter vistors can then warm themselves with a stiff dram in the Banshee Labyrinth next door, one of the most haunted old pubs in old Edinburgh. Another of Edinburgh’s infamous underground streets is Damnation Alley, supposedly affected by an ancient curse. However, the real highlight is atmospheric Greyfriars Cemetery, in particular a section known as the Covenanters’ Prison. This gloomy row of lichen stained tombs is famously haunted by the spirits of hundreds of Covenanters who were falsely imprisoned and hanged there during the 17th century. It is also the lair of the Mackenzie Poltergeist, whose violent attacks centre on a tomb called the Black Mausoleum. There have been over 450 documented attacks by this angry spirit over the last decade, with visitors reporting mysterious touches and tugs as well as bruises on their bodies. These incidents are taken so seriously The City of Edinburgh Council closed the area after the attacks began. Not least of the winter haunting sites is Mary King's close The adjoining buildings were once part of a densely populated section of Edinburgh covered over when what is now the City Chambers were built in the 18th century. It was rediscovered in the last decade, and now the perfectly preserved underground homes and shops can be seen with their original inhabitants dead but not quite gone. Visitors report violent chills, phantom touches, and shadowy figures where no living person should be. One room is famously haunted by the ghost of Annie, a lonely young girl whose family died in the plague and for whom visitors have built a shrine of toys and dolls. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most haunted places in Britain with well documented public encounters. Brave souls who seek their own ghostly experience have a wealth of sites to choose from, some of the creepiest and most haunted sites in the world. Edinburgh is renowned within Britain and abroad for its uncanny happenings. Book a November Break and shiver on the dark cobbles, if you dare.
After a bracking walk along Lake Zurich in winter this is one of the best places to find a warm drink or even a glass of champagne and while away some time. Set in the heart of the old town this Cafe-Conditorei serves an excellent selection teas and coffees, the hot chocolate with cream on top is particularly good. Set on three different levels, each with a distinct feel, with the cafe at the front with an amazing selection of sweet treats on offer and a smart bar at the rear. My favorite place to find a seat is the luxuriously appointed middle level. Gold-gilted chairs with soft velvety cusions, low-beamed ceiling and plush carpet all add to the cosy atmosphere. If you are lucky someone will be playing the piano to help you while away your time.
Lincoln is such as magical city and at Christmas time even more so. The 'uphill area' with the Cathedral and castle domintating the skyline makes for the BEST backdrop to one of Eurpoes largest Christmas markets. You can also ice skate by the river, find fantastic Christmas gifs in the independant boutiques and enjoy seriously good food and drink. Loads of lovey B&Bs and stylish self catering places to stay if you can make a break of it. The perfect city for a winter break!
Lincoln station is served by regular trains, travellers from London may change at Newark.
For details of what to see and do in the city visitlincoln.com
Most British people don’t live in London so it’s easy to forget what a great place it is for a City Break. No one wants to be in a stuffy city in the summer, so London is ideal for a winter break: Nov/Dec have the added bonus of Christmas lights and outdoor ice rinks (I’d recommend Somerset House, but book early) and if we are lucky enough to get bright, crisp, sunny days early in the year its perfect weather for a stroll down the South Bank or a clear view from the London Eye, without the summer haze. If it rains then take advantage of the FREE museums – we have some of the greatest art, history and science museums in the world. Then there is the theatre and musicals too –check out cheap tickets online before you go. My personal favourite is Borough Market; a fascinating and atmospheric spot for lunch.
Best of all it’s a cheap and eco friendly destination – no flights and if you plan ahead you can get a decent price on the bus or train. And most of us have a friend or family member who lives in our capital – call them up and bunk down on the sofa for a night. Or if you can’t think of anyone try the newly updated St Pancreas YHA; dorm beds are about £25 a night – get a group together and plan the trip.
I believe this italo-germanic speaking region is an unknown face of Italy that has so much to offer. I have been twice to Bolzano in winter for Christmas break and I had a great experience skiing as well as sleighing in the Dolomiti. Cities like Bolzano, Bressanone,Brunico and small villages such as San Vigilio di Marebbe have a fabulous Christmas atmosphere with their markets and lights and have so much to offer food and wine-wise. In summer the region transforms into this wonderful 'Heidi' land with beautiful alpine landscapes and so much nature to enjoy. For those looking for a different experience and some fresh air this is the place. It is not overcrowded by tourists (except the main holiday of Christmas and school vacation in Italy- when you really need to book in advance) and therefore keeps a very authentic atmosphere most part of the year. Italy is also slightly cheaper on the food and accommodation side, so for example if you are flexible to stay in small villages rather than ski resorts you can get good bargains. Renting an apartment in one of the main towns and driving to the ski slopes for the day is another solution that works for those who prefer town to villages or ski resorts. The region is north of the Veneto and its wines, but also produces its own varieties which are really nice. The mix of Italian and Austrian influences in the culture and culinary specialties makes the Alto Adige region a fascinating place to discover.
I think the official website of the region is a great way to start www.suedtirol.info/, then there are so many websites linking for ski/ hiking and nature lovers, as well as for fine palates. If you have never been there and want to plan a vacation there is this great agency run by the loveliest couple, Paolo and Keiko. She is Japanese and he is Italian and both enjoy enormously showing the region to visitors. They have great pictures on their website for you to get ideas of things to do and visit in Bolzano and its region. www.oidentour.com/
Google map: bit.ly/aqvXMe
Converted from an old barge, the Badeschiff pool in Berlin floats on the river Spree. In the summer the open-air wooden decks heave with sun and fun seekers. In winter the pool and decks are covered with cocoon-like white canvas pods. You can chill on loungers, indulge in a sauna and dive into the cool blue in the nude if that takes your fancy.
Rooftop pools always do it for me. There is something surreal about sipping a poolside cocktail perched in the clouds. Century Park's pool is a gorgeously appointed, luxurious experience 24 stories above Bangkok's bustling Pratunam District. The pool is a tongue-in-cheek (surely) design classic of its type, complete with a raised infinity-effect platform, mock Buddhist Temple bar and palm fringed seating areas. But the view from the pool seals it. The hotel is located just to the north of the main centre and affords a revealing view of high-rise Bangkok and a bewildering sight of the seething traffic around Victory Monument at sunset.
CENTURY PARK HOTEL
9 Ratchaprarop Road, Pratunam-Victory Monument, Bangkok.
+66 02 246 7800
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