It’s all too tempting to start the doom and gloom chat as soon as the leaves start to turn and Autumn sets in. You say how cold it’s getting, they say how dark it is, you return that you won’t see the sun again til May, they mention the amount of rain. And before you know it you’re off into a spiral about how rubbish nearly half of the year is.
Enough is enough! It’s time to make a new resolution, to enjoy winter for its charms, like being able to snuggle up in a cosy café with coffee and cake, wearing your favourite woolly hat with the bobble on, and the fun of an impromptu snowball fight with strangers.
With that in mind, how about visiting somewhere that seems tailor-made for winter, the Christmas season, and all things cosy?
Shhh, don’t tell anyone, but St Petersburg is wonderful in the winter. It’s quiet, stunningly snowy, and has so many amazing places to go you’ll be raving about it all 2013. Must-dos include exploring the State Hermitage which rivals The Louvre in both size and breadth, marvelling at the splendour of the Yusupov Palace and the multi-coloured onion domes of The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, and going to the Kirov Ballet. Sure, it will be cold, but that’s what warm clothes and all the cosy cafes are for!
Tallinn is enchanting in the winter, and the Medieval centre is where you’ll find the highest concentration of atmosphere, charm and warm treats to thaw you out. There’s a long Christmas legacy too – the first public Christmas Tree in Europe was decorated in Town Hall Square in 1441. You’ll find ice-skating, Christmas Markets, a busy schedule of music festivals and film screenings, and even a snow and ice town in Kadrioru Park.
The festivities kick off early in Amsterdam with Sinterklaasavond on 5th December, which is the evening St Nicholas visits – so presents happen on 6th. Throughout December and into January the whole city is filled with twinkly lights and a warm a welcoming feeling. Cafes and restaurants are bright and warm, whilst hot and sweet street food will keep the chills at bay as you stroll along the romantic canals.
Salzburg may in fact be where you think of when you conjure up that perfect winter city in your head. The entire centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site so expect stunning views at every turn, topped off with Hohensalzburg Fortress which looms over the city from a nearby hill. The city is the home of Mozart and where Silent Night was composed, so you’re almost duty-bound to listen to some classical music. Eat plenty of lebkuchen, drink plenty of gluhwein, and join in with some of the other traditional events too, like the Salzburger Adventsingen featuring local children and nativity scenes.
You won’t find many locals leaving the city in the winter, and we can see why! Ice skating, sledding and even skiing will help you work up an appetite, and you’ll be sure to find tasty treats at the Viktualienmarkt, the gourmet food market. Another must-see is the Christkindl Markt, in the heart of the Old Town – this Munich Christmas Market has been running since 1642. Don’t miss out on Bavarian choirs singing in the Frauenkirche throughout December, and remember to enjoy an afternoon in a Bierkeller, the winter version of the beer garden!