December in London is a wonderful time of year for festive occasions, radiant holiday lights, delicious traditional food and so much more. One of the biggest holiday attractions – Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park – is already in full swing with ice skating, Christmas markets, a Christmas circus, amusement rides and a fascinating Magical Ice Kingdom. Not to be outdone by Hyde Park is Victoria Park’s Winterville, another admission-free winter festival with a host of holiday-themed activities such as live entertainment, traditional fare and horse-drawn carriages. Other major holiday events in London include the Charles Dickens Christmas Festival, performances of “A Christmas Carol” at Middle Temple Hall and Christmas at Kensington Palace, where admission is free for children under 16. Visitors in London over the holidays must also not miss the famous Christmas tree at Trafalgar Square and the holiday lights on Oxford and Regent streets, in addition to a possible visit for the world famous Christmas Concert at Westminster Abbey and the Christmas services.
Related: A Travel Guide To London England
The holidays in Germany began November 11, with the start of Fasching, the centuries-old, pre-Lenten tradition also observed in Austria and Switzerland. But German cities become far more enchanting in December, with delightful Christkindlesmarkts opening (Christmas markets) across the country, most notably in Cologne, Frankfurt, Dresden and Nurnberg, considered the most famous in the country. A holiday tradition that has been celebrated for nearly 500 years, the Christmas markets are held during the four weeks of Advent and feature traditional holiday treats, live music and arts and crafts. Cologne has the largest Christmas market in Germany but Nurnberg’s is widely acknowledged as the most famous in the country. A side trip to the Bavarian capital of Munich to see the city’s own Christmas Market is just 80 minutes away by train.
Paris becomes even more mesmerizing during its glorious and spectacular holiday season. The City of Lights shows off its trademark name as all of its major attractions are adorned with dazzling holiday lights, in particular the Champs de Elysées and the indisputable symbol of Paris, the Eiffel Tower. Paris also has its share of uniquely crafted holiday display windows, brilliantly lit Christmas trees and Christmas fairs, in addition to a bevy of ice skating rinks and seemingly endless choices for delicious holiday treats and engaging beauty. Paris will also host an assortment of holiday concerts, including the Christmas concerts at La Sainte Chappelle, “The Nutcracker” featuring choreography by the late Russian ballet star Rudolph Nureyev at the Paris Opera and the Christmas concert at the world renowned Notre-Dame de Paris.
Holiday lights, Christmas markets and one of the world’s most famous nativity scenes makes visiting Rome a superb destination over the holidays. On December 8, Pope Francis will lead a prayer and lay a wreath on the statue of the Madonna in Piazza Mignanelli in celebrating the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This important national public holiday kicks off the holiday season in Rome, in Italy and in other locations all over the world. One of the largest Christmas trees in Europe will be on display in St. Peter’s Square, as will the beloved nativity scene beginning on Christmas Eve. Also on Christmas Eve, the Pope will lead the Christmas Mass inside the cavernous St. Peter’s Basilica, with a worldwide audience watching a telecast of the event and thousands more in St. Peter’s Square. On Christmas Day, the Pope will deliver his Christmas speech in front an expected crowd of over 150,000 people.
One of the world’s most romantic and fascinating cities is, not surprisingly, also a fabulous destination over the holidays. The crowds are much thinner in winter and Venice becomes even more of a fairytale scene with colorful lights, charming stores to shop for holiday gifts and the ever present, iconic gondolas. As in Rome, the holiday season commences on December 8 for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and the start of Chanukah will start on December 16, with the first lighting of Venice’s public menorah in the historic Jewish Ghetto brilliantly recreated in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.” On Christmas Eve, a midnight mass will be held at the breathtaking St. Mark’s Basilica and visitors are encouraged to arrive early in order to be seated for the mass that purportedly begins at 10:30 p.m. On Christmas Day, another Christmas Mass will be held inside St. Mark’s Basilica, considered one of the world’s most beautiful examples of Byzantine architecture.
Randy Yagi is a freelance writer covering all things San Francisco. In 2012, he was awarded a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. His work can be found on Examiner.com Examiner.com.