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Walking in a winter wonderland

As winter blows its icy breath, plan a winter holiday to beat the post-festive season blues. Whether you are looking at a skiing trip or a different take on city life there is a great European winter break out there for you. Check out some of our favourite destinations, snow or sunshine.

24 December 2015, 9:52am
Lisbon, Visto Almada
Lisbon, Visto Almada
Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki
Lutheran Cathedral in Helsinki
Prague
Prague
Helsinki

There is no place in the world that does winter wonderland like Finland. Whether you’re planning on skiing or taking the kids to see Santa Claus, this is the place to zip up, keep warm and enjoy the snow. 

In Finland the skiing season can last way over six months – from late October all the way until May. During the darkest winter days the ski slopes are lit and in the spring the sun shines until late at night. If you fancy going cross-country, there are hundreds and hundreds of kilometres worth of ski tracks in Finnish Lapland. For example, Ylläs’ 330km of tracks are more than any one place has to offer in Europe. 

If you are travelling with kids then a trip to Unique Lapland Winter World, the home of Santa Claus is a must. This indoor facility brings Lapland into the heart of the city. Experience winter in the middle of summer in this treasure trove of all-year-round winter. Snow attractions and activities will entice the young and the young at heart. Check out the igloos and the ice sculptures, the toboggan hill or kick sledding and tandem skiing in an environment where everything is kept at -3°C for an authentic winter feel without the biting wind. Book a ride on a husky sledge or arrange a visit with the real Santa Claus, while grown ups enjoy a drink at the ice bar.

Lisbon

If that all sounds a bit cold and dark for you why not try Portugal’s capital, Lisbon. With temperatures of around 15C between November and February this is the perfect spot to catch a few rays of winter sunshine. 

Explore Lisbon’s historic streets on board Tram 28, which trundles past cobbled streets, pretty piazzas and the Romanesque Lisbon Cathedral to the labyrinthe streets of Moorish Alfama. The route ends at Calhariz, with panoramic views across the Tagus River. 

Witness the annual influx of migrating birds on the wetalnds and sand dunes of the Tagus Wstuary Nature Reserve where you’ll get to see flamingos, ergets, mallards, geese and avocets by the thousand. 

Lisbon is the spiritual home of the mournful, nostalgic laments of fado. Hear it in the streets of Bairro Alto or Alfama or by night try tiny A Baiuca for  intimate performances or at the Clube de Fado for fado sung among Moorish ruins and candlelight.

The sales in Lisbon, western Europe’s most inexpensive capital, hit the shops early January. Pick up antique glassware, soft leather gloves, hand-painted tiles and exotic soaps in Chiado, bargain hunt among the vintage stores of the Bairoo Alto or head to Avenida da Liberdade for expensive designer boutiques. Lisbon’s trendiest food market, complete with a gourmet chocolatier and organic food stalls, is undercover at Campo de Ourique.

Prague

Winter is a beautiful time to visit Prague. The bare trees and the speckles of snow on the many church spires give the city a raw, chilling beauty.

You’ll fully appreciate the rib-sticking Czech cuisine in deep winter in the cosy confines of a traditional pub. With crackling fires, svařák (mulled wine) and grog (hot rum and honey), roast duck and dumplings never tasted so good. Sidle into a booth at U Provaznice near Wenceslas Square or further afield to Pivovar u Bulovky, a microbrewery. 

St Nicholas or Mikuláš Day (December 5) marks the beginning of Christmas for Czechs. You’ll see many figures of Mikuláš, accompanied by an angel and the devil finding out if kids have been good or bad. Songs are sung and sweets – or coal – handed out. 

Traditional wooden chalets spring up across Prague’s squares for the Christmas season serving up handmade ornaments, souvenirs and seasonal culinary treats. Spit-roast pork, hot chestnuts and mulled wine warm even the chilliest of winter days, and the giant Christmas tree on Staroměstské Náměstí (Old Town Square) is beautifully lit and decorated.

The vision of fireworks exploding over Prague Castle is quite a way to herald the New Year. Join throngs of revellers on one of Prague’s seven hills for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve. A cannon announces midnight at Riegrovy park in Vinohrady. The streets are full of crowds and fireworks too, so do be careful. 

Leave your winter hotel in Prague for a dawn walk through the deserted city to appreciate fully its architectural wonders. The statues of Charles Bridge emerge from the mist as the snow crunches underfoot; you’ll feel as though Prague were there just for you. Continue your slice of Prague life and warm up with breakfast at the traditional Café Louvre.

If you don’t have your own skates to take out to outlying lakes, skating rinks pop up in Prague’s squares for the duration of the Christmas markets. Ovocný Trh behind the Estates Theatre has one, and other squares often host them too. Alternatively, pick up a cheap sled from a toy or sport shop and go sledding at Riegrovy Sady park.

Watch a thrilling match of the national sport and experience a true Czech event. The game is played to the sounds of drums and trumpets from the fans and the tastes of beer and klobasa (sausage). Prague hosts two teams with a bitter rivalry in the O2 Extraliga; Sparta, whose rink is at Holešovice’s Tesla Arena, and Slavia, at Českomoravská’s O2 Arena. Any match is worth the low ticket price, but a local derby between these two is unforgettable.

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