With only a few weeks left before that most magical time of the year, there are plenty of activities within easy reach that will get you into the festive spirit. From winter festivals to Christmas markets we’ve chosen the best Christmas escapes within a 4-hour drive of your arrival ferry terminal.
Originating in Germany the Christkindlmarkt (Christ Child’s Market) or Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) is now a mainstay of many European Christmas events. However, no one else does a Christmas market quite like the Germans, so within a 4 hour drive from Dunkirk and Calais or just over 3 hours from Hook of Holland you can see an original Weihnachtsmarkt in one of Germany’s biggest and most vibrant cities – Cologne.
Cologne hosts a number of Christmas markets around the city from 25 November to 23 December 2019, the most striking has its famous Gothic cathedral as the backdrop and boasts the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland. Heinzel’s Winter Fairyland is the kids’ favourite in the Old Town, complete with house elves and a Christmas Post Office directing wishes straight to the Christmas Angel or Father Christmas.
The enchanting Christmas markets and activities are spread across Antwerp’s historic squares. On Grote Markt in front of the Town Hall you’ll find the enchanting hanging winter garden, on Steenplein the Fire Tree and in front of the cathedral on Handschoenmarkt a magical illuminated winter forest. Finish off your day by skating under the all-weather starry sky at the ice rink on Groenplaats. Antwerp Christmas Markets are open from 7 December to 5 January 2020.
Drive to Antwerp from Calais (DFDS or P&O Ferries) or Dunkirk (DFDS) in under 2 ½ hours, or from Zeebrugge (P&O Ferries) in 1h45mins. Brittany Ferries are offering a special 3-night festive cruise to Antwerp on 24-27 December.
With over 2km of market chalets, Amiens Le Marché de Noël offers an array of handmade crafts, gifts and food and drink stalls from 25 November – 30 December 2019. The young and the young-at-heart can ride on the merry-go-round and skate on the ice rink before indulging in some French treats: tartiflette, crêpes and mulled wine or even locally-made mulled beer. At 7pm every evening, you can enjoy the amazing light show at the Notre-Dame Cathedral. And the best thing? You can stock up on French goodies to indulge in during your own Christmas celebrations.
London pulls out all the stops to provide a magical Christmas atmosphere: from the sparkling Christmas lights and dramatic shop windows that turn Oxford Street, Regents Street and Covent Garden into a Christmas extravaganza, to the atmospheric open-air ice-rinks that pop up over the city at locations such as Tower of London, Somerset House, the Natural History Museum, Canary Wharf and Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, to name a few.
Southbank Centre Winter Festival, running until 5 January, features a Thames-side Winter Market as well as an exciting family arts programme with the daredevil entertainment of the turn-of-the-century-style circus – Circus 1903, and the retelling of Black Beauty – blending storytelling, puppetry and music.
For a different take on Christmas illuminations book a Thames Clippers Illuminated River tour and see the ambitious public art commission which is transforming the capital at night, lighting up 14 bridges along the Thames.
Thames Clippers’ River Bus operates services along the river so you can soak up the atmosphere and see the sights as you travel around.
Isle of Wight
There’s fun for all the family on the Isle of Wight this festive season, from Osborne House’s Victorian Christmas (30 November – 1 December), where you can take part in traditional games, sing carols, be inspired by Victorian toy makers and be privy to a fast paced and humorous retelling of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, to Christmas markets and events at the Donkey Sanctuary and The Quay (23-24 November). At Santa Specials at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (weekends from 30 November) be prepared for Christmas music, a seasonal Christmas market, and lots of entertainment and magic shows just for children, before going to see the big man himself. Then the family can relax in a steam-heated compartment during a 10-mile round trip through the Island’s winter landscape.
Isle of Arran, Scotland
In terms of unique festive experiences, it doesn’t get more authentic than Hogmanay in the Scottish Isles. Forget the crowds at festivities in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Stonehaven and celebrate the NewYear with the islanders on the Isle of Arran. Book yourself in to one of the island’s hotels for a New Year celebration, or try the Hogmanay Hoolie at Shiskine Hall from 10pm, bring your bottle of Arran Single Malt and throw yourself into the ceilidh – get tickets from the local village post office. Don’t miss the Kinloch Hotel fireworks at Blackwaterfoot at 00:45 where the party will continue into the wee hours To clear your head the next day you can maybe take part in the New Year’s Day Dook (a dip in the refreshing coastal waters) in Blackwaterfoot Beach or from Brodick’s Douglas Hotel, (The Douglas Dock), before putting on your walking boots for an invigorating scramble up Goatfell or a hike to the Machrie Standing Stones.
Blackwaterfoot is a 20 minute drive from Brodick, total journey time from Glasgow including the CalMac ferry is around 2 hours 300 mins.
Waterford is home to Ireland’s largest Christmas festival Winterval, with a programme of over 60 free and ticketed events between 23 November – 23 December 2019. Enjoy the Christmas markets, craft fairs, outdoor cinema, storytelling, Winterval on Ice, Santa’s Grotto and new for this year – an interactive Wizards and Dragons exhibition featuring animatronic dragons.
The Hague – the city of peace and justice, the official seat of the Dutch government and home to some must-see attractions such as Binnenhof, Mauritshaus Museum and the Peace Palace. See the sights and visit the Royal Christmas Fair, one of the largest Christmas markets in the Netherlands, featuring over 80 stalls with gift ideas, design decorations, winter fashion and a cultural programme of theatre, choirs and storytelling. Royal Christmas Fair is open from 14-23 December 2019.
The Hague is a 30 min drive from Rotterdam (P&O Ferries) and Hook of Holland (Stena Line), an hour’s drive from Amsterdam (DFDS) or around a 3-hour drive from Dunkirk (DFDS) or Calais (P&O Ferries, DFDS).
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