The holiday season is quickly approaching; everyone is busy with their final preparations – shopping, presents and cards galore! Most companies are used to the fact that December is not the most productive time of the year. Even more are realising that, despite the cold, it’s a great time to arrange a rewarding city or incentive trip for employees. Europe is a special destination from the middle of November onwards, as almost every city has its own Christmas market. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen Christmas Market competitions spike: who can put up the biggest Christmas tree? Who will succeed in transforming their city into a sparkling fairytale and leave behind the best lasting impression? Therefore, if you are an office manager or professional planner who has to (or wants to) organise a city trip, Christmas party or winter incentive, we’ve collected the finest destinations – what you absolutely should not miss!
Let’s start with Nürnberg, home to one of the most well-known Christmas markets in Europe. The first market dates back to 1628. However, it is still not the oldest market in Europe. Nevertheless, the setting is beautiful, with almost two hundred stalls crammed into the cobbled square on the slope beneath the Frauenkirche. As you’re winding your way through the red and white cloth decorated stalls, you’ll feel Christmas is in the air. Breathe in the wonderful aromas: gingerbread, glühwien or the famous roasted Nürnberger Bratwurst. There is also a special tradition in Nürnberg; every two years, a new “Christ child” is appointed – a young man or woman who opens the market and rushes around the town spreading Christmas cheer. This person is dressed in gold and white, complete with a large golden crown. In the evening, the market is softly lit with hundreds of tiny lights, and bands arrive to entertain the punters – you’ll hear anything from brass bands to live jazz.
Aside from the market, the city offers many interesting sites worth exploring: the lovely medieval Old Town with narrow streets and stone houses, as well as Albrecht Dürer‘s beautiful timber-framed residence; he was the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance. For the history lovers, the Congress Hall and the Memorium Nürnberg Trials museum will prove to be an interesting experience, featuring memories from the time when Nürnberg was supposed to be the “City of the Nazi Party Rallies.” If your team is too cold (which means they probably did not drink enough glühwein yet), they can warm up in the world’s oldest sausage restaurant, the “Zum Guldenen Stern.” After all, Nürnberg is a very cosy place for a two-day city trip or medieval incentive. Whatever you will do, there is one thing that is absolutely compulsory to buy: the local Lebkuchen, a special gingerbread, sticky and sweet with honey. It’s absolutely addicting!
Another well-known destination is Vienna, possibly the “chicest” Christmas market in Europe. The “Christkindlmarkt,” located on the square in front of the magnificent Town Hall (Rathaus), is the best hotspot to target. It is certainly one of the oldest markets, founded over seven hundred years ago. The market starts early – mid-November – which is handy for those who want to avoid the pre-Christmas crowds. The closer you get to the holidays, the more crowded it gets. Keep that in mind when organising your trip.
The City Park surrounding the market is also one of the highlights, with its decorated trees and themed lights shaped like hearts or gingerbread men. It is quite likely that you’ll find a white layer of snow, as well. The market itself has a central row of stalls selling hand-crafted decorations, as well as deliciously scented natural beeswax candles. Make sure you drink enough Punsch or Glühwein and grab some chestnuts or spicy Christmas cookies after. A Christmas atmosphere is guaranteed. You can easily spend two days wandering around the city, as you can find other markets with different features too, such as in the Schönbrunn Palace, the Freyung or the Spittelberg market between Burggasse and Siebensterngasse in the 7th district. Need more ideas? The Imperial Palace, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, theSpanish Riding School with the famous Lipizzan stallions’ performance, the Kunsthistorisches Museum or Schönbrunn are perfect places to warm up after wandering around outside for hours. Make sure you purchase your group tickets in advance. It’s also good to make a reservation in the Figlmüller; you’ll find the biggest schnitzel in the business – a must!
If you want a winter wonderland (often referred to as snow or a White Christmas) guarantee, Stockholm is the best option. The most famous attraction in the Swedish capital is the Skansen, an open-air island museum that dates from 1903 (stallholders dress up in 19th century gear). There’s another popular attraction in picturesque Gamla Stan, Stocholm’s old town. Skansen’s ultra-traditional annual Christmas market has been around since 1903.
The city provides a fantastic Nordic experience; surely your team will wait for Santa Claus to appear. Do not miss the opportunity to try local Christmas products like smoked sausage, eel, salmon, pepparkakor (gingersnaps), glögg (hot wine) and saffron buns. Make sure you’re in town on a weekend, as the Skanzen market is only open on those days. If you want to warm up with the team, you can always plan a visit to the Royal Palace, the largest palace in Europe. You can also visit The Vasa Museum, which has the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world; this ship was saved after being buried for 333 years in the harbour. If your team is up for an artistic experience, the Moderne Museet is Europe’s foremost collection of art from the twentieth century to today, featuring works by artists such as Picasso, Dali, Derkert and Matisse. For dinner, the Pelikan, an old beer hall, will cheer up your frozen guests with a delicious Swedish menu and large beers.
The Czech capital is a great destination any time of the year, but if you want a real fairytale experience, Prague is a nice choice as from the beginning of December. If you have a smaller budget, then Prague is definitely suitable, as the prices here are significantly lower in comparison to the Western region. The Czech take Christmas very seriously. The capital hosts a number of cultural events, folk displays, concerts and theatre in the month of December. The unpronounceable Vanocni trh (Christmas market) are scattered all around the city, but the largest is held on the busy Old Town Square. The idyllic Baroque setting of the cobbled square seems perfect to create an unforgettable Christmas atmosphere, aided by the generous layer of snow that you can expect around this time of year.
Beside the markets, make sure to take a walk in the city. The medieval streets and the architectural features are worth a look even in the coldest of temperatures. To warm up, you can visit the Prague Castle and Cathedral. After hanging around the city, you must make a reservation at the Plzenska Beer Hall Restaurant, which is a brilliant venue for groups who want a lively ambience and tasty food. The Beer Hall has a completely individual character – with all the atmosphere of a traditional beer hall but set in a beautiful Art Nouveau building.
The Budapest Christmas Fair has become very popular over the last couple of years; it’s a magical time when the majestic city of the Danube is transformed into a busy Christmas capital. The city’s avenues are all dressed up with thousands of Christmas lights. The heart of the celebration is definitely at the Vörösmarty Square, the lively square at the end of two big shopping streets. Traditional food, folk dances, puppet theatre and live music can be found daily in the cottage-like market stalls as from mid-November, selling traditional handmade products.
But whatever the organisers say, the biggest attraction of the Budapest Christmas Fair is the food: from a vast line of frying sausages, stuffed cabbage, Hungarian goulash and stews to the famous charcoal roasted chimney-cake (kürtőskalács), your team will definitely not be hungry at the end of the day. The mug rental for hot wine or tea is a must! The most famous building on the square is the historical Gerbeaud Cafe, where the façade is turned into a giant Advent calendar. Each day at 5 o’clock, a small celebration occurs; a window opens up and is accompanied by a Christmas balcony serenade. Beside the market, walk along the UNESCO site Andrássy avenue to see fantastic Christmas decorations. Warm up along the way in great cafés till you reach Heroes’ Square. If there is will in the team for some more outdoor walking, cross the Danube; it’s is an unforgettable view, and you can finish the trip up in the Castle. The Halászbástya Étterem(Fishermen’s Bastion Restaurant) will provide you with a great dinner and a fantastic view over the city. Happy Holidays everyone!