Six Places To Visit For A Christmas City Break

Consider this your go-to guide for planning a Christmas city break. From re-visited festive favourites to smaller locales that might have flown under your radar until now, here’s where to head for a buzzy festive escape

Whether you're seeking a dose of winter sunshine, some old-fashioned nostalgia at a Christmas market, or just hoping to escape the chaos of Christmas with a far-flung escape, now is an excellent time to plan a city break. Scroll down for a snow-dusted round-up of our favourite destinations for a December adventure.

The best places to visit for a Christmas escape

Vilnius, Lithuania
Loky, Vilnius

Vilnius, Lithuania

Baroque Baltic beauty Vilnius that flies under the radar for most travellers. Their loss. As Advent arrives, this pocket-sized city blossoms to its most beautiful. Vilnius residents are extravagant Christmas decorators: in the Old Town - a district of distinctively angled red roofs, townhouses painted in Love Hearts hues and church spires that seem more like elaborate cake creations than ecclesiastical architectural additions - and the Glass Quarter, shopkeepers and hoteliers go all out, festooning facades with fir garlands, vast glass baubles and larger-than-life plastic macaroons. Don your Heattech and fuel up on "little scarves" pastries at one of the city's numerous coffee shops (note, this proud coffee city doesn't have a Starbucks) before heading out to explore the food scene. Taste-test everything at legendary patisserie Ponių Laimė, before swinging into the Senatorių Pasažas down the road - a courtyard of cheese, wine and deli shops - plus restaurants - that sources ingredients from a farm just outside the city. Next, head for a traditional Lithuanian lunch at cosy Lokys - the vividly pink cold beetroot soup, Šaltibarščiai, is a much-loved favourite. Make time, too, to scope out MO Museum, a privately owned modern art museum where the entire collection is constantly on display in exhibitions as well as on wire frames in storage units downstairs. Then, head to the bohemian (and self-proclaimed) Republic of Užupis, a 19th-century district beyond the river Vilnia which, as Lithuania became an independent state, became a thriving creative community with its own constitution, now published in numerous languages on polished plaques down Paupio Gatvė. Tired? Us too. Crash at the Artagonist, an intimate Old Town stay that offsets its monochrome colour palette with playful modern art additions. Ask for the giant teddy bear room. No questions.

New Orleans, USA

No need for a scarf on a festive getaway to New Orleans; temperatures average around 18ºC in the Big Easy during December. And the weather isn't the only Christmas anomaly in the US city. New Orleans switches up the typical festive trimmings for outlandish traditions unique to the Louisiana capital - and most kick off at the start of the month. First, those iconic streetcars get a festive makeover - think, garland-hung and glittering - which, combined with the larger-than-life decorations along St Charles Avenue, Fulton Street and Canal Street, bring some serious Yuletide vibes. Second, the big "thing" around here come Christmas is the bonfires. Across the city, flames light up the levees on the opposite side of the Mississippi, in a tradition thought to date back centuries. Then there's the hour-long free festive concerts at St Louis Cathedral - a rip-roaring tour of jazz, gospel, folk and more. Finally, there's the distinctive food. You haven't had a Big Easy Noel until you've feasted on Christmas King Cake (a sprinkle-encrusted danish pastry ring that's sticky with cinnamon and sugar) and enjoyed a Réveillon dinner. The creole meal, originally served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve, has become an opulent set-menu celebration at city restaurants. Head to Luke brasserie anytime during December from 4pm onwards for a three-course feast featuring the likes of smoked oysters with cajun caviar, and a Pedro Ximénez-infused turtle soup. End your evening at the plush Hotel Saint Vincent's Chapel Club bar - open to hotel guests only, it serves a killer smoky old fashioned.

Munich, Germany

Munich, Germany

There's nothing quite so festive as a Germanic Christmas: cue the twinkling Advent candles and rip-roaring seasonal markets fuelled by ample gluhwein, and that feeling when the first few goosebump-provoking notes of Stille Nacht tremble on a crisp winter's eve. But even in Munich, the country's traditional heartlands, a festive break needn't be fusty. Once you've bedded down at the cool and collected Flushing Meadows in the city's Glockenbachviertel quarter, you'll be ready to explore the city's moodier side. Roll up to the Haus der Kunst in the afternoon - a gallery initially opened under the National Socialist regime that now proudly explores the edges of contemporary art, platforming POC and LGBTQ+ artists - and you'll have just enough time to take in an exhibition before heading to the attached bar. Gilded and glittering, it's a must for an absinthe-infused evening soda. Next, head to Tollwood, a winter festival that swaps the gingerbread hearts of most German Christmas fairs for organic food offerings, handmade arts and crafts, dramatic theatre performances, an "unhinged" cabaret show and neon-lit "museum" under the night sky. In need of sustenance? Swerve the city's typical bratwurst offering for a flavour of its large Italian community. At Trinacria Feinkost, chef Roberto Careri plates up favourites from his Sicilian hometown.

Singapore

Christmas in Singapore? It's whimsical, wacky and wild: we're talking Smurf-themed Christmas trees, eye-poppingly kitsch candy-coloured winter wonderlands and whole roads redesigned solely for the festive period. Alongside more classic Christian rites, you'll find much of the city joining in secular celebrations. Case in point? Some of the best tables in town throw together incredible Christmas offerings: this year, acclaimed Irish spot Cure is running a tantalising festive menu (think, savoury beef porridges and spiced candied pumpkins) over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, while well-heeled Chaleur is swapping turkey for blue lobster in the last week of the festive month. For post-prandial fun, head to Junior The Pocket Bar, a craft cocktail spot that runs a rotating menu - every six months, the crack team behind the Bukit Pasoh Road drinking den reimagines the concept, with past themes including a tiki bar and Swiss chalet experience. Right now, it's exploring the Korean Joseon Dynasty era scene, with K-pop nights fuelled by kimchi-infused gin on the calendar. Headache in the morning? Hop-foot it to the Bearded Bella for hangover-beating dishes such as crab croissants, seared scallops and cold pasta (no, really), and corned beef maple toast. The coffee old fashioned will keep heavy eyelids open.

Bruges, Brussels
Bruges, Brussels

Bruges, Brussels

You know the saying "lit up like a Christmas tree"? That's Bruges at Christmas. The cobble street-filled Belgium city puts on its festive glad rags as the big day approaches, its chocolate-box historic houses, baroque churches and stone bridges over icy canals all garlanded in lights, foliage, ribbons and glimmering decorations. We'd skip the markets in the Flanders town - unless you're stopping by the Grote Market to grab some classic frites and boozy hot chocolate - and instead head up the Unesco-nodded Belfry's 366 steps for a 360-degree view. Then, pile on your thermals for a boat trip around the city's canals - it only costs around £10 and promises photo-ready Christmas scenes of Bruges' most beautiful homes. If your bones start shaking from the cold, a beer could be of use. Belgians are masters of the brewing art: there are two working breweries in town, but we'd just duck into one of the many traditional cafés that serve the city's favourites - the 2BE Beer Wall might be a bit cheesy, but it does promise one of the best views in Bruges from a terrace. There are plenty of acclaimed eating options in the city, but we're inclined to head over to De Republiek for an evening meal: the multi-hyphenated restaurant, cinema, performance space and community centre is open until 10pm, serving plant-forward plates such as haddock with cauliflower risotto, warm pumpkin salads and oyster mushroom burgers.

Florence, Italy

The scent of Florence in December? That warming, nutty smell of caldarroste, or roasting chestnuts, the smoke of which drifts in soft plumes across the Piazza della Repubblica. Winter is an underrated time to visit the Tuscan capital: head here at the tail-end of the year, and you'll be slurping thick, rich cioccolata calda (hot chocolate - try a cup at Cortese 900) and scoffing hearty Tuscan favourites like wild boar ragù and Chianti-infused bean stews at locally run trattoria. Hot-shot visitor sites, like the Boboli Gardens, are almost empty (and incredibly beautiful when frozen by a morning frost), and even gelato shops switch their menus (and trust us, you'll never look back once you've tried some panettone-studded ice cream). The main Christmas market, held in the Piazza Santa Croce, is a nostalgic romp through a traditional Italian Christmas, all sugary pastries, hand-painted decorations and candle votives. Don't bother with mulled wine to warm up, though - much more efficient at setting a fire inside you is the Florentine Christmas tipple of choice, punch al mandarino, a spicy, liqueur-spiked drink served piping hot. To stay, try the quirkily designed rooms at SoprArno.

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