Fall brings change, and well, winter brings the colder days and nights. While you may want to hibernate throughout the winter in your flannel pajamas while binge watching those shows your friends won't stop talking about, here are three great winter vacation spots you can use to combat the winter blues! Take advantage of the low-tourist season and check a few of these winter-friendly cities off your European bucket list.
1) Prague, Czech Republic
There's just something about the snowy ground and grey skies of winter that give Prague an extra touch of medieval romanticism. You are never far away from a great vintage shop or a café where you can warm yourself up with a Becherovka (a delicious, traditional, Czech drink made with herbs and spices).
If you're on the side of the Old Town (usually the more affordable area to stay), you'll want to set aside a few hours to take a Jewish History tour, preferably through one of the affiliated guided tours for the best access and the most information (the tour, though informative, is heavy. Plan for some lighter entertainment for the rest of your day). The next day take a walk across the famous Charles Bridge and take a tour of Prague Castle. Note: If you want to take beautiful photos of the bridge with no tourists, arrive around dawn. As for the castle itself, you'll mainly be walking up hill and up a few sets of stairs, so if you're traveling with children or someone that needs a little extra help, be sure to leave yourself some extra time.
Afterwards, you can cruise the Na Prikope, one of the main streets in town, modeled after the famous Champs Elysees in France, for some luxury shopping or a leisurely cappuccino.
Honorable Museum Mention: The Museum of Communism - The museum should really be titled the Museum of (Anti) Communism. You are never in doubt where the opinion of this kitschy collection of communist propaganda stands. However, once you push past the cluttered-ness of the space, you'll walk away with a greater understanding of the The Communist Era, Prague Spring, and the years following the Velvet Revolution.
Where to stay:
Maximilian Hotel - A luxury hotel with a modest price. With a sprawling breakfast, that is reasonably priced, and beautiful spa, a free wine and cheese reception most nights, and the (again, free) option to have a fish tank in your room, The Max is a great place to stay and get a little more for your money. You're within a 5 minutes’ walk to Old Town Square and close to such attractions as the Jewish History Museum and the Prague Beer Museum.
“A Pagan Christmas” at Bethlehem Church - Nov. 24 - Jan. 3
Prague Christmas Market - Nov. 26 - Jan. 1
Ice Rink in Old Town - Jan. 1 - 31
2) Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is a small port town packed with endless discoverable corners and alleyways. Once the center of European trade and fishing, walking through Burges is like taking a walk through Medieval Europe. Because of the city's slow rehabilitation after the closure of the ports, much of the Burges' architecture remains intact, making it a perfect backdrop for falling snow and icicled rooftops.
You'll want to start your tour in the Markt Square, featuring the famous Belfry Bell Tower and the crow-steeped gabled building. Here you can take a horse-and-carriage ride around the city. All tour guides speak English and most also speak French, Dutch, and German. You'll also want to spend some time walking the canal-lined streets of Bruges going towards the Church of Our Lady, which features "The Madonna and Child," one of the few Michelagelo paintings to have permanent residence outside of Italy. Afterwards, stroll across to the covered square and check out the local artists and artisans for some handmade soap or a cute wooden toy. You'll also find many lace shops (a Bruges tradition) in the vicinity. If you're in need of a drink, head over to "De Halve Mann Brewery" for an energetic and informative brewery and beer history tour ending with a draft pint of your choice.
Now that you've had a bit of culture and a drink, run to Chez Albert for a traditional Belgian Waffle (Trust me, you won't want to run after you've finished!). Before leaving Bruges, don't forget to stock up on your share of Belgian chocolate. Tourists will flock to Chocolatier Dumon, a solid choice, but also swing by Chocoladehuisje on the other side of the Markt Square (next to The Bottle Shop) for a more humorous, fun and delicious approach to Belgian chocolate.
An Important Note on Chocolate: Tell your chocolatier if your flying or mailing your purchase. Some stores have mailing services (for a fee, of course) and most will have packaging specifically to keep the chocolate secure through rough travel conditions.
Where to stay:
Hotel Adornes - A quaint hotel with a gorgeous canal view. Very knowledgeable staff and a fantastic morning breakfast. Rooms can be a little ...cozy...so bring as few “extras” with you as possible. There are rooms on the ground floor to keep items like strollers and large (unpacked) suitcases. Deals are always available, but you are paying a bit extra for the beautiful view in a quiet neighborhood. Be sure to have a nightcap at "Cafe Bistro Terrastje" directly across the canal.
Floris Hotel - This "outside the walls" hotel is actually closer to the action than many of the interior hotels are. Only a 10 minute stroll to Markt Square, the hotel features an indoor pool, a large children's play area, lobby bar and a decent (and free) morning breakfast. The staff is young but eager to make your stay as relaxing and "kept" as possible. There is city parking down the street for $8/night or you can park on-site (book in advance) for $15/night.
Brugge Christmas Market - Nov. 25 - Jan. 1
Les Costumés de Venise: Costume Parade & Fashion Show: Jan. 14 & 15
Bierfest Brugge - Feb. 4 & 5
3) Amsterdam, Netherlands
The wonderful thing about Amsterdam is there is never a shortage of people to see or places to go, and the winter season is no exception. You could spend the days staying warm inside any of the 100+ museums in Amsterdam proper, and then spend your nights in awe as you admire the Amsterdam Lights Festival. The Water Colors canal tour will give you the most comprehensive view of the city, but make sure to check out the small side streets during your nightly strolls as well.
Amsterdam Museum Tip: Museums like The Nemo Science Centre (a MUST see) and the EYE Film Museum are great pop-in museums you can fit around your schedule. If you're looking to visit places like the Anne Frank Museum, Van Gogh Museum and The Rembrant House Museum, purchase your tickets online well in advance. Time slots book up quickly and entrance wait times can be upwards of two hours during peak times.
Where to stay:
Hotel Espresso, City Center - A trendy hotel very close to public transportation and a less than 15 minute walk to the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. There is 24hr complementary coffee and tea on-demand in the lobby with plenty of space to sit and enjoy as you watch the bikes go by. The breakfast is not the best you'll have, but you can get a fix from any one of the fabulous cafés in the area (Or, you can always run to the Starbucks across the street). If driving in, the hotel has parking directly across the street. Book early by calling the hotel directly.
ICE Amsterdam City Center Ice Rink - Nov. 18, 2016 - Feb. 5, 2017
Amsterdam Light Festival - Dec. 1, 2016 - Jan. 22, 2017
Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival - Dec. 10, 2016 - Feb. 5, 2017
Cross-linx Music Festival - Feb. 24, 2017
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