Canterbury is officially Christmas ready. The Christmas lights are on, illuminating the festive high street. The Christmas market stalls are up, and our everyday existence is fuelled by Costa’s gingerbread lattes. We’re on the home straight, people.
We all have Christmas traditions that never get old, but why not spice it up a little this year? Try experiencing Christmas in a different country! Canterbury gives you easy access to a multitude of countries in central Europe; within 20 minutes on the train you can be at Ashford International, where you can board the Eurostar. So, whether you’re looking for the perfect Christmas markets, a calm city break, or an exciting and bustling atmosphere, here are my top picks for places you can easily travel to from Canterbury this winter.
Bruges at Christmas is what Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland can only dream of being. Just a two-hour journey from Ashford International, your Christmas dreams can be realised. Everywhere you go, you will smell hot chocolate, fresh waffles and the famous Belgian beer. The beautiful Christmas markets run from the 24th of November to the 31st of December, leaving plenty of time for you to plan your trip before they start.
The main square (Markt) is filled with brightly lit stalls, selling everything Christmassy, from sweets to decorations. So be sure to stock up on Christmas presents for your friends and family back home; you’ll be everyone’s favourite person. The smaller markets nearby are not as focused on culture, so unless you have come to Bruges to buy emoji pillows, stick to the main ones. The Bruges Christmas markets are particularly well known for their fantastic food and drink, but the restaurants around the square tend to be expensive.
Other attractions in Bruges include a romantic horse and carriage ride through the city centre. From around 15€, you will be taken on a tour through the beautiful back streets of the city. Don’t restrict yourself to the markets, there are some hidden gems to be discovered.
Bruges is a fantastic place to visit at Christmas time, but be aware of terrorist attack warnings for Belgium. Read up on it before travelling: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/belgium/terrorism.
As much as I love Disneyland, Paris has so much more to offer. No matter how many times you travel to Paris, there are always more nooks and crannies left to be discovered. In less than two hours from Ashford International, you’ll be transported to one of the most famous cities in the world, at the best time of year.
A stroll through the city centre is all you need to see a free exhibition of mesmerising Christmas lights, and fantastic displays in shop windows. Parisians love Christmas!
The best view of the city can be seen from the top of the the Sacré-Cœur in Montmartre. Yes, I know it’s a lot of steps, but I guarantee –it’s worth it. Trust me. The view is particularly spectacular at night, when the Eiffel Tower is lit up and all the other Christmas lights are on. However, when sightseeing in Paris you are particularly vulnerable to pickpockets and other types of crime; especially around the very busy Montmartre district.
So check https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/france/safety-and-security for advice on how to stay aware of your surroundings.
Another huge part of Christmas in Paris is chocolate. Paris is similar to Bruges as both cities are full of chocolate shops and cafes, so why not indulge? My personal favourite is the chocolate museum, Choco-Story, along Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, which has an interesting museum on the history of chocolate but also gives out cheeky free samples and demonstrates the making of chocolate. Is it really Christmas if you don’t treat yourself?
Dotted around the city there are hundreds of secluded parks to relax in and get away from the chaos that can sometimes be Paris. For example, Jardin du Luxembourg has fantastic autumn colours in the colder months, making it the perfect place to stroll through with a hot chocolate and wellies.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
I’m sure lots of Canterbury residents, especially students, are familiar with National Express already, but something that might not be so well known is that a National Express coach can take you from Canterbury, St. George’s Lane, straight to Amsterdam. The downside is it takes almost 12 hours to get there, so you might want to bring a book or two for the journey. If you’re looking for a slightly quicker way to get to city, the Eurostar from Ashford is always an option.
When people think of Amsterdam, more often than not it will be associated with its lively atmosphere and culture of partying. Coffee shops such as The Bulldog are particularly popular amongst travellers looking to have a chill evening, but make sure you check https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/netherlands/local-laws-and-customs for the rules on drugs in Amsterdam before going.
The most exciting time of year to visit Amsterdam is New Year’s Eve. The fireworks are completely over the top but in a good way – they should definitely be on your not-to-be-missed list. To get the best view possible, find a hotel bar or a restaurant with a balcony and watch the craziest fireworks known to man unfold.
However, if you’re after a more low-key trip, Amsterdam is full of history. From the beautiful canals that wind through the city to the famous Anne Frank or Van Gogh museums; Amsterdam could not be more diverse. Why not hop on a bike like the locals do, and explore the city that way, if you find there’s too much to fit in by foot?
Canterbury is in the perfect position for travellers; it has amazing travel links to several countries in Europe. Get online and book the Christmas you desire!