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Festive holiday destinations to get you in the spirit

Travel is so sensational around the holidays, and these European cities make for some of the most festive destinations. | By Paul Oswell | November 5, 2021

London, Paris and Amsterdam truly come to life during the holiday season. These European capitals are aglow with elaborately festive lights, and holiday markets spring up all across the city centers. We know of a few special experiences that will make your trip to these cities even more memorable. Here are our recommendations for an unforgettable European holiday vacation:

  • London lights: Enjoy an aerial view of Westminster Abbey from 400 feet in the air or take in a festive ballet from a private box

  • Paris presents: Admire the city’s lights from the river, taste the most decadent cheese and chocolates and wander around historic palaces

  • Amsterdam allure: Cruise the city’s canals, warm up with winter spirits and indulge in culinary delights


The English capital comes alive during the holiday season, with beautiful light installations on the main shopping streets that give off a festive glow. There’s also an Old World feel to some of the West End’s historical streets, creating an ambience straight out of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

For an unforgettable overview, hire a private pod on the London Eye to take in the city from more than 400 feet (135 m) up. Sip Champagne as the city’s lights spread out beneath you, and enjoy 360-degree views while you float above the festivities. When you’re back on the ground, there’s nothing more fun than ice skating around the gorgeous 40-foot Christmas tree in the neoclassical courtyard of Somerset House. Post-skating, indulge in fine dining at the pop-up Chalet Barragiste with Jimmy Garcia, which serves up hearty Alpine treats from November until January.

For a cultural night out, you can choose from multiple celebrations at the Royal Albert Hall, one of the city’s most famous music venues. For a truly memorable night, you should rent a private box and enjoy everything from famous opera stars to variety shows and performances of The Nutcracker, Tchaikovsky’s festive ballet.

Conrad London St. James goes all out with its holiday decorations. You can give yourself the gift of a festive meal at award-winning restaurant, The Pem, where consultant Chef Sally Abé has curated a menu offering a contemporary twist on traditional British flavors. The property is less than a mile from the Christmas carol services of Westminster Abbey.

Father Christmas himself delivers cheer and children’s gifts at The Biltmore Mayfair, LXR Hotels & Resorts and you can enjoy a decadent, seasonal meal at Café Biltmore, overseen by the acclaimed Chef Jason Atherton.


Paris lives up to its nickname, The City of Light, especially well around the holidays. A million lights twinkle like jewels all along the Champs-Élysées, from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. You can savor the city’s golden glow from a grand boat, one of the Bateaux Parisiens, as you cruise along the River Seine.

Dining on French cuisine will likely be high on your list, and while there are plenty of samples and snacks to be had at the many holiday markets, enjoy the tastiest delicacies on a private tour. Take an insiders’ tour (with a company such as Paris by Mouth) of the best cheese-aging caves in the Marais and pair their most irresistible creations with the best French wines. If you have a sweet tooth, a chocolate and pastry tour of high-end patisseries will delight you even more.

The State Apartments at Palace of Versailles are even more evocative at this time of year. If you book a VIP tour, you can skip the long entrance lines and linger in iconic rooms such as the entrancing Hall of Mirrors. Guides will then take you and your party around the Gardens of Versailles, which sparkle in the winter light. Your personal concierge will be happy to help arrange the tours in Paris and Versailles.

Nestled between the Palace of Versailles and the Grand Trianon, Waldorf Astoria Versailles - Trianon Palace illuminates its beautiful gardens with stylish holiday lights. For the ultimate indulgence, book a seasonal dinner at the Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay au Trianon, where you can savor seasonal delicacies such as venison Wellington and decadent deserts. Book a restorative treatment at the hotel’s Spa Guerlain or head to the hotel’s pop-up Winter Chalet for a glass of mulled wine or a tasty waffle.


The Dutch go all-out to create a majestic, fairy-tale atmosphere in their capital city during the holiday season. From the proud Christmas trees on Dam Square to the dozens of bustling markets to celebratory concerts, there’s plenty to get you into the holiday spirit.

The best way to appreciate Amsterdam at any time of the year is to get out onto the canals, and during the holidays you can let the lights and decorations float past you as you sit back on a private cruise in a classic wooden saloon boat. Of course, you can arrange to have lunch or dinner on your boat, but it’s also fun to visit some of the city’s most famous establishments during this festive time of year.

You can take private food tours with a local host, where you’ll sample some of Holland’s best cheeses and authentic sweets, or have a private tasting at Wynand Fockink, where a selection of jenevers (a gin-like spirit) will warm you up.

If you're an art enthusiast, you will love taking a private tour with your own art historian at the Rijksmuseum or the Van Gogh Museum to help you appreciate even the best-known works on a deeper, more satisfying level.

Waldorf Astoria Amsterdam has a wealth of treats for visitors, including the Culinary Christmas special, with the pinnacle being the seven-course dinner by Chef Sidney Schutte at Spectrum, the hotel’s two-Michelin-starred restaurant. The festive magic continues the next day over a joyful Christmas brunch.

The holidays are such an evocative time in European cities, and London, Paris and Amsterdam are atmospheric and exciting options at this time of year. All three cities boast more festive lights and markets than you could ask for on a getaway, and all offer exclusive Yuletide experiences that will create wonderful holiday memories for years to come.

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Paul Oswell is an award-winning travel writer, and has been reporting from all seven continents for over twenty years. He is based in New Orleans and is the author of “The Bucket List North America: 1,000 Adventures Big and Small.”

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