Winter in Europe is magical. The season begins in the middle of November, with Christmas Markets opening up across all major cities. Houses (and dorm rooms) are decorated with lights, and wreaths are on most doors. It is standard to have an ugly Christmas jumper, with mine featuring sequins and 3D snowballs. If you’re really lucky, like I was in Sweden, there is also a permanent blanket of snow. This proved a great adventure when the number one means of transport is a bike.
The idea of a White Christmas appealed to me greatly given the usual 35-degree Australian celebration. And thus, I spent the entirety of December choosing my travel destinations based on satisfying the stereotype of a European Christmas.
This involved seeing the best Christmas Markets across the continent. Each night consisted of wandering around gorgeous stalls with a cup of mulled wine or cider, buying lots of fun merchandise and delicious treats. The highlight was Strasbourg in France; the European Capital of Christmas. This small town hosts the oldest market in the world, with ten market squares filled with different themed stalls. Every effort had been made to maintain the original charm.
Tivoli Gardens, in the Danish capital of Copenhagen, is also worth a special mention. The park is the oldest amusement park in the world, and they take decorating very seriously. There are special Christmas Markets, in little snow-covered wooden huts, but the décor proves most impressive. The whole park is lit up with fairy lights and Christmas trees, as well as giant reindeers and polar bears in Santa hats. All this combined with 100-year-old rollercoasters made me feel like an excited kid again.
On Christmas Day, I decided to go as far North as possible in Sweden, ending up in a small town called Abisko. The temperature was -15 degrees (considered warm for this time of year), the sun didn’t rise (resulting in a few hours of constant sunrise / sunset), and the snow was multiple feet deep. Rather than a relaxing day of eating and drinking, the day was filled with activities; snow shoe hikes, dog-sledding and snow-mobiling. The evening was topped off with a beautiful display of the Northern Lights, a real bucket list moment that I will never forget.
While this was by no means a traditional Swedish Christmas, with most locals opting for a day inside with family on the 24th December, it was great fun to experience life in the North.
The best part about a European Christmas is the build-up. From the middle of November, the excitement is infectious. It makes the cold evenings more bearable, and creates a sense of community. The experience was magical, and one I would recommend to anyone who is heading north for exchange.