Where to go for Christmas (if not Prague)
August 12, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend and I went to Prague for Christmas last year and really loved it. Where else might we like? [Special snowflake requirements inside.]

We had a great time last Christmas in Prague and we're wondering whether there is somewhere else we might like

Location - We'd only be going for a few days so we don't want to head too far away from the UK. A two or three hour flight at the most.

Language - like a lot of the UK population we don't speak any foreign languages with any real proficiency. I can muddle through in Spanish and she speaks a little French but we'd rather go somewhere where English is widely spoken. For reference, the Czech Republic places 19th in the EF English Proficiency Index.

Openness - in the sense of things being open at Christmas. In Prague we went to the Zoo on Christmas Day and had Christmas dinner at TGI Fridays. We'd like to go somewhere that doesn't shut down on Christmas Day in the same way the UK does.

Stuff to do - We'd like to go somewhere where there's stuff to do: museums, zoos, cinemas, shopping, eating etc.

Christmasyness - Despite everything being open at Christmas Prague still felt very Christmassy with lights, and trees and stuff. We liked that.

All the general nonsense about friendly people and good public transport that goes with any holiday also applies.

Thanks, MeFi.
posted by alby to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Everybody speaks English there, and there's some really nice Christmas markets and such.
I don't specifically remember how many places closed down on Christmas Day though ... but the part of town I lived in (Neukölln) had a big Turkish population so most of the small corner stores and falafel places were open.
posted by mannequito at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2011

Bavaria? Especially some of the smaller towns like Rothenburg or Garmisch-Partenkirchen? May rank a little low on the "stuff to do" scale -- but probably quite high on the "Christmasiness" scale.
posted by chasing at 12:19 PM on August 12, 2011

Stockholm? You'd have to like cold, and I'm not actually sure about things being open on Christmas, hopefully someone else can check that, but the season there is lovely, English is not an issue, and there's lots of stuff to do.
posted by brainmouse at 12:20 PM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: You'd have to like cold,

This is not a problem; we're not looking for a hot and sunny Christmas.
posted by alby at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2011

Turkey fails a bit on the English-speaking scale, but holy shit is it gorgeous.
posted by kate blank at 12:26 PM on August 12, 2011

I'd recommend Tallinn. It's awesome, although I can't vouch for the Christmassyness of it, and there's not really a huge need for public transport at all if you stay in the Old Town. Will probably snow for Christmas too, which is Christmassy. Everyone everyone everyone in the old town speaks English. Tallinn is cute as all get out, too.

If you do go, stay in the Old House apartments. They are as awesome as they look on that webpage and quite cheap.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:31 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, depending on your threshold for Christmassyness, southeastern Europe might fit the bill. The countries of the former Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, for instance, have plenty of people who are competent-to-excellent in English in the cities and tourist areas. Serbia, Macedonia, and Bulgaria are predominantly Eastern Orthodox, which means that most years they don't celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but there's a tradition of decorating for New Year's with lights and such that feels Christmassy, but there isn't the same extent of decoration as in western Europe.

I'm not sure about countries like Slovenia and Croatia that are predominantly Catholic in terms of religious identification, but celebrating religious holidays was discouraged or forbidden under Communism, so if they haven't done a complete 180 from that, near-total city shut down should be less common.

I would expect Greece wouldn't shut down on December 25th, either, but I don't know about how "Christmassy" it would feel. (This would also be my only hesitation about suggesting Istanbul, which I love.)
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:39 PM on August 12, 2011

If you are looking for a christmas trip I could recommend munich? Lovely city, and you won't need to speak a word of german because everyone's english is so much better than your german. There areplenty of interesting touristy things to do in munich, (parks, cathedrals, museums ect) but I would say that up to a week is the most you could stay without getting bored. I was not there at christmas, but I am told the christmas markets are a special attraction.

If you like jazz I remeber going to a amazing jazz club in munich that is underground in an old WW2 bomb shelter, also, and this may be more of a recommendation for you than your wife, but the beer is cheaper than water in every restaurant.

A bonus is that transport links are fantastic, munich airport and metro are super well served and will make you green with envy if you are coming off the tube and heathrow.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 12:53 PM on August 12, 2011

Munich *is* really nice, I interned there one summer and then returned over Christmas and stayed with a friend rather than flying back to the States from my school program in the Czech Republic. Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory isn't kidding about the excellent transportation options, and as a bonus, Salzburg, Austria (also ultra-pretty that time of year) is an ultra-short bus ride away. This website might help you take a peek at what's going on around the city at that time of year.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 1:20 PM on August 12, 2011

You'd be well-served in a non-Christian country if you're avoiding places where Christmas is a public holiday. Sadly I am yet to visit any so cannot help you there, b ut I've always wanted to see Morocco.
posted by mippy at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: You'd be well-served in a non-Christian country

Is there a list of these somewhere?
posted by alby at 1:34 PM on August 12, 2011

Non-Christian countries in/near Europe*:
  • Albania
  • Turkey
  • Northern Cyprus
  • Syria
  • Jordan
  • Israel
  • Egypt
  • Libya
  • Tunisia
  • Algeria
  • Morocco
Of these, in principle either Israel (the Holy Land!) or Egypt (large Coptic Christian community) could be 'Christmassy'. In the others, I'm not sure whether you'd notice that it was Xmas on 25th.

Eastern orthodox countries don't celebrate Xmas on 25th December. These include Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Russia. And actually Russia would probably be a good bet - loads to do in either Moscow or St Petersburg, very cold/snowy and New Year is the big celebration.

*I am not necessarily suggesting that any or all of these are safe destinations for British tourists
posted by plonkee at 1:48 PM on August 12, 2011

Vienna might meet your description. The shops will probably be closed, but all of the museums and palaces are open on Christmas Day (including the zoo). The cafes, pubs, and even the TGI Fridays are also open on Christmas Day.
posted by chrisulonic at 2:00 PM on August 12, 2011

Response by poster: Non-Christian countries in/near Europe*:

Should I really be looking for non-observant or mainly atheist countries, rather than specifically non-Christian nations? The Czech Republic has the fifth largest atheist population (by proportion) in the world.
posted by alby at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2011

I'll add Copenhagen to the mix. Haven't experienced it during Christmas, but it and Prague are my favourite cities and it has everything else you're looking for.
posted by larb at 2:37 PM on August 12, 2011

I lived in Prague for a year in 2005-2006, and Budapest was by far my favorite city to visit. I never spoke Hungarian, and my pigeon Czech wouldn't have helped anyways, and I got through just fine. Budapest has stuff to do, like markets, baths, museums, the sculpture garden, the opera, wine cellars, fun restaurants and bars, and so forth. If you liked walking across the Charles Bridge, you'd love the Széchenyi Chain Bridge that links Buda and Pest.
posted by zoomorphic at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2011

Seconding Copenhagen.

And it is hard to go wrong with Paris.
posted by bearwife at 4:21 PM on August 12, 2011

A word about western Ukraine: Substantial population of Eastern Rite Catholics means some people do celebrate Christmas on December 25th. And stuff really shuts down, because everybody's busy partying. I wouldn't be surprised if the same is true of other ex-Communist states in Eastern Europe.

Christmas issues aside, Kraków is like Prague without nearly so many tourists.
posted by eritain at 6:17 PM on August 12, 2011

Don't forget about Poland! Krakow is a beautiful, fun town. I've only been in the summer, but a quick flickr search for Krakow Christmas confirmed my suspicions that they do it up for the holiday.

I don't speak a word of Polish, but had no problems. Lots of English speakers, and the non-English speakers were very patient while I muddled through with a phrasebook. There are also fantastic English-language book stores.
posted by colin_l at 10:32 AM on August 13, 2011

Never been either place at Christmas, but I really enjoyed both Budapest and Bratislava.
posted by bettafish at 10:35 AM on August 13, 2011

Amsterdam is great around Christmas, and fits your description.
posted by troywestfield at 11:38 AM on August 14, 2011

Ljubljana, Slovenia might be a good option. I was there a few years ago right after Christmas. There were Christmas markets and lots of public performances at night in the main square. Some people I met who'd stayed over Christmas said it was great on Christmas day. They were able to go to a restaurant, sit outside near a heater with a blanket on their lap, and look at the lights and the river.

Everyone there spoke excellent English too.
posted by bubonicpeg at 5:58 AM on August 15, 2011

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