The coolest places around the world for some chilled-out culture and Christmas cheer
As the colder weather starts to set in, seasoned skiers flock to the slopes and winter sun seekers escape to far-flung islands. But winter city breakers will be rewarded with quieter, snow-sprinkled streets, festive markets, and hearty food – not to mention more affordable fares. If copious amounts of hot chocolate and mulled wine are on your mind, read on for 10 of our favourite cities to cosy up in when the temperatures start to drop.
When you visit the capital of cool and birthplace of hygge, you know that your winter holiday is going to be something special. The brightly coloured buildings of Nyhavn stand out all the more in the snow, best enjoyed with a freshly baked cinnamon bun in hand. Home to high-end shopping in its medieval centre and boutique design-hunting in its vibrant urban districts, world-class cuisine and on-the-go street food, this multifaceted metropolis has something for every on-trend or off-beat traveller.
A long standing Christmas attraction for both locals and tourists, Tivoli Gardens have been the centre of Copenhagen’s festivities since they opened in 1843. During the annual Christmas lights ceremony, Tivoli lake is illuminated with a dazzling display of lights and fireworks. Little ones will love visiting Santa Claus in his grotto at Honey Cake Castle for some hot chocolate and to decorate their very own honey cake hearts, while grown-ups can cosy up with some gløgg in one of the many Nordic-style cabins.
Where to stay
Nimb Hotel…A masterclass in Moorish romance and hygge-luxe, this striking palace faces Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens which means every suite comes with twinkling views of the festive displays (not to mention four-poster beds, original artworks, log fires, and Cakenhagen treats).
With Christmas celebrations that fill the Dutch capital with festive spirit throughout the entire month of December, Amsterdam is truly magical during the holidays. Canals glitter with ice, and sometimes freeze over for skaters to glide beneath the famous bridges, while the city’s countless bicycles are blanketed in snow. Hole up in a local ‘brown’ café, which serve craft beers from around the world, or in one of the many art galleries or museums which tend to be less crowded at this time of year.
If visiting during December, pop into the Ice Village held in front of the Rijksmuseum for some finger-licking food in cosy chalets, or wander the twinkling streets during the Amsterdam Light Festival when dozens of artworks and installations light up the city.
Where to stay
The Dylan Amsterdam…an elegant former 17th-century theatre situated on one of Amsterdam’s main canals with a Michelin-starred restaurant and charming courtyard garden.
Canal House…a design-led hotel which comprises three historic 17th century merchant houses overlooking the Keizersgracht, one of the city’s major canals.
TwentySeven Hotel…where a head-in-the-clouds location on Dam Square meets above-and-beyond service and Michelin-starred dining.
Charming cobbled streets brimming with independent shops, quaint cafés, artisan markets, and tucked-away treasure troves of antiques. Row upon row of grey-washed Georgian townhouses, sitting prettily along picturesque crescents and well-kept gardens. There is something soul-stirring about Edinburgh whatever the season, but there’s a touch more magic when the Scottish capital has a dusting of snow.
Highland pipers serenade the start of the new year at midnight during the city’s legendary Hogmanay celebrations, accompanied by a dazzling firework display best viewed from the top of Calton Hill. Soothe sore heads with a crisp walk through the winter-flowering plants at the Royal Botanic Garden, or shop for some cashmere and homemade fudge along the Royal Mile. You can even ski in the nearby Pentland Hills Regional Park, and hike up Arthur’s Seat for a misty morning sunrise.
Where to stay
The Roseate Edinburgh photographed by Kira Turnbull
The Roseate Edinburgh…Two meticulously restored Victorian townhouses – just across the street from each other with complimentary parking – come together to create a homely haven of freestanding bath tubs and heritage tweeds, blending the natural beauty of the Orkney Isles with the neoclassical design of Old Town Edinburgh.
Nira Caledonia…Bright and airy suites flooded with light from floor-to-ceiling sash windows await guests staying within the eclectically-filled walls of these twin Georgian townhouses, perfectly positioned in the heart of Edinburgh’s New Town.
4. New York City
We’ve all seen the movies. New York City is the place to be during the holiday season. Ice-skating amidst the frost-tipped trees of Central Park is practically a Christmas rite of passage, while visiting the iconic Rockefeller Center tree – which has stood as a holiday beacon for New Yorkers and visitors alike for more than eight decades – remains a quintessential New York holiday experience.
On Manhattan Island lie some of the trendiest places in the world to eat, shop, and sight-see. Come with credit card at the ready to the designer boutiques of Midtown à la Carrie Bradshaw, make like Serena van der Woodsen around the pretty mansions and classic brownstones of the Upper East Side, or mooch about the antique markets and quirky cafés of charming Chelsea and photogenic Greenwich Village. Swanky SoHo and hipster-haven Williamsburg are home to lively music scenes and diverse eateries so can Christmas shop to your heart’s content.
Where to stay
The Iroquois…an elegant oasis just steps from Fifth Avenue, with a hidden speakeasy dishing out light bites and creative cocktails.
HGU New York…a vibrant clash of old and new in the trend-setting NoMad district of Manhattan, with a personal pillow concierge and contemporary art collection.
Refinery Hotel New York…a striking neo-Gothic property in New York’s famed Garment District, boasting a prohibition-style jazz lounge and loft-like atelier rooms.
The Frederick Hotel…this landmark gothic revival building was built in the 1830s and has been welcoming guests since 1845, giving a glimpse into old-time New York grandeur.
WestHouse Hotel…this prestigious Midtown address puts Manhattan’s highlights at your feet, from sauntering through Central Park to browsing the boutiques on Fifth Avenue.
Well, because Paris is always a good idea – and an even better idea during the winter, when queues for the Eiffel Tower and Louvre are virtually non-existent and you can order as many cups of piping hot café au lait as you wish, sans jugement. The City of Light shines all the more brightly during the festive season, particularly down the glitzy Champs-Elysées and along the all-out Christmas displays at Galeries Lafayette.
Wrap up warm in your chicest coat and take an outdoor table at one of the many cafés in Montmartre, one of the capital’s most charming districts, filled with windmills, cobbled streets, and colourful houses. This once rustic outpost still retains its village vibe, with lively bistros, artisan bakeries overflowing with pastries and macarons, and street artists on almost every quaint corner.
Where to stay
Grand Powers…built in the mid-19th century in the Haussmann style, this boutique retreat rubs shoulders with the fashion houses and stately residences of the Golden Triangle while boasting Eiffel Tower views.
Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal…one of the most prestigious addresses in Paris nestled between the Louvre and the Royal Gardens, with a collection of over 30 champagnes to choose from. Santé!
Hotel Maison Souquet…a bohemian townhouse in buzzing Montmartre just a stone’s throw from the famous Moulin Rouge.
Hotel Raphael…a landmark hotel in the 16th arrondissement with a blossoming rooftop garden – complete with panoramic views of the city.
Hôtel Relais Christine…tucked away down a narrow street beside the Left Bank, this medieval abbey turned honey-stone townhouse has a pretty courtyard and private garden terraces off the sumptuous suites.
Hôtel San Régis…a magnificent mansion house with Eiffel Tower views from private balconies, just steps from the designer boutiques and Michelin-starred restaurants of Paris’ 8th arrondissement.
Le Narcisse Blanc Hôtel & Spa…inspired by the famous muse of Belle Époque Paris, ballet dancer Cléo de Mérode, this elegant retreat dances to its own tune with a sleek spa and gourmet restaurant.
Hôtel du Petit Moulin…this historic 17th century building with an original baker’s shopfront conceals flamboyant interiors designed by French fashion legend Christian Lacroix.
Le Pavillon de la Reine & Spa…an oasis set on one of Paris’ oldest and most beautiful squares, this green-clad 17th century residence faces a beautifully manicured garden and has a pretty flower-filled courtyard to escape the hustle and bustle.
Le Pavillon des Lettres…Each one of the 26 rooms at this literary inspired hotel reflects the works of the author after which it is named, from Hans Christian Andersen to Emile Zola.
L’Hotel…Oscar Wilde’s last home in St-Germain-des-Prés is a glamorous, theatrically decorated, secret hideaway set in a quiet street surrounded by art galleries and boutiques.
Stockholm’s beauty is reflected in the Baltic Sea, and never more so than when a thin sheet of ice glistens beneath the Scandinavian sun and, on occasion, the Northern Lights. The annual Christmas markets held in the heart of the Old Town are made for mooching, while countless cosy cafés serving wholegrain breads, smorgasbords, and freshly baked pastries like fika make the perfect pit-stop between festive shopping and museum hopping.
Where to stay
Ett Hem…an impossibly stylish Arts and Crafts townhouse in the embassy quarter of Stockholm, specifically designed by the owners to feel like a home rather than a hotel.
Bank Hotel…a heritage bank building on Stockholm’s sweeping waterfront, offering private guided sightseeing tours on foot or by luxury limousine, boat trips around the archipelago, and tip-offs for just-opened exhibitions.
Lydmar Hotel…rooms at this art-filled hotel come with breath-taking views overlooking the sea, the Royal Palace, Nybroviken and Strandvägen.
You’d be forgiven for wondering where to start when it comes to a break in London. The city’s size, scale and layers of history mean the options can seem overwhelming. But combine a few famous sights with a sprinkle of lesser known gems and you’ll soon see why London is the city that everyone falls in love with – particularly when you add some festive spirit into the mix.
Home to the largest holiday lights display in the UK, the skies above Regent Street, St. James’s, Oxford Street and Carnaby Street are lit up with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations from November to January, while the picturesque piazza and cobbled market streets of Covent Garden are the perfect backdrop for its annual 60-foot tree (sparkling with some 30,000 lights).
Where to stay
Any of our ten London boutique hotels will put you in the heart of the holiday action – The Capital Hotel, Apartments & Townhouse is literally yards from Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Sloane Street, the luxury stores of Knightsbridge are on the doorstep of The Franklin, while St. James’s Hotel & Club, Flemings Mayfair, and DUKES London are within walking distance of the West End. For a private dining experience with some of the best views over the city, Vintry & Mercer’s roof terrace boasts two winter igloos which can accommodate up to six guests each.
From imperial landmarks and calm Buddhist temples to colourful markets and bustling restaurants, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Beijing. The winter season brings beautiful snow scenes to the red rooftops of the Forbidden City and to the mountains beyond, while fireworks and lanterns light up the sky in February during Chinese New Year celebrations.
Wrap up warm to explore the narrow hutong alleyways, with their pretty courtyard houses and antique markets, or head north to visit the iconic Great Wall of China – the fully restored section at Badaling is the most popular, whereas the further-afield Jinshanling is quieter and surrounded by snow-dusted hilly countryside.
Where to stay
Cours et Pavillons… an enchanting collection of luxury residences amidst the ancient hutong, with temple-like grounds and and Jacuzzis in some suites.
Hotel Éclat Beijing…modern, light and wonderfully spacious, this all-suite boutique hotel houses an astounding contemporary art collection, including pieces by Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol and Zeng Fangzhi.
Whether you seek revelry or relaxation, a city break in Prague offers both in equal measure. Spend your days wandering over the famous Charles Bridge and through the Old Town, with its countless cobbled lanes, bustling squares and medieval gems tracing their roots back over 1,000 years. Or simply take a seat in a traditional coffee shop and watch the world go by after browsing some of Europe’s best Christmas market stalls.
Tuck into Bohemian favourites which include simple, warming specialities such as meat dumplings and tasty stews – perfect with Prague’s famous crisp, cold beers. While you’ll find many of the big names wherever you go, look out for local craft beers from the Czech Republic’s booming microbrewery industry.
Where to stay
BoHo Prague Hotel…a refreshing contrast to the ornate grandeur of nearby Old Town, this minimalistic retreat is as cosy as it is chic.
Dublin has undeniable spirit. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to be met with a warm, Irish welcome. Hop your way around the city’s lively, toe-tapping pub scene, or spend a wintry afternoon in Bewley’s with a good book – this landmark of Dublin café culture has been the haunt of many writers, including James Joyce. On chilly evenings it’s hard to beat a bowl of steaming Irish stew served with a side of champ. Of course, don’t leave without enjoying a pint of the ‘black stuff’ – Guinness is brewed here and is a big part of Dublin’s proud heritage.
If you can, try to time your visit for the Smashing Times City of Dublin Parade, a festival that honours the Winter Solstice on the 21st December each year with céilí dancing, traditional storytelling, and a fire ceremony. And for a blustery coastal walk, take the train to the pretty fishing village of Howth and you might just spot dolphins from the headlands.
Where to stay
Brooks Hotel…this stylish retreat pairs luxury and location like no other right on Drury Street, with a vibrant mix of rooms and suites set in Dublin’s creative quarter.
The Wilder Townhouse…a charming, red-brick Victorian townhouse which fuses a modern minimalist style with original period features, plus sumptuous Gin and Tea Rooms and a Garden Room flooded with natural light.