Category Archives: Travel Planning

How To Plan A Trip + Free Planning Spreadsheet 

How.to plan a trip

Wondering how to plan a trip? Whether you are planning a vacation, a weekend away, long-term sabbatical, ski break, road trip, couple, family, group or solo adventure, our guide details the stages of planning from inspiration to saving, planning to surviving on the road. So let’s get you moving from armchair to airport with our eight practical steps.


Trip Planner: How to Plan the Best Trip Ever

1. Travel Inspiration

Firstly, where to go and what type of trip to take?

Inspiration comes in many forms like movies, books, word of mouth, discounts, YouTube, social media, Pinterest and blogs.

You can check out all the destinations I’ve written about here. From Cuba to Canada, Northern Ireland to Nicaragua!

When I see a destination that looks fun or interesting I either save it to an inspiration board on Pinterest or a Collection on Instagram.

Rishiri Island Japan

Gemma in Rishiri Island, Japan

How to Save to Pinterest

Pinterest is a visual search engine used by millions of people all over the world every month.

Marketing-savvy websites play on this and include a ‘Pin it’ button which either pops up when you hover over an image or is placed at the top, bottom or side of the post/page.

To save, click the P button, a Pinterest box will pop up, save to an appropriate folder. You have to have an account set up in order to do this. Sign up here, it’s free.

Some website articles will have a ‘pin’ image which is a vertical image with some kind of text overlay. They are usually found near the bottom of the post and useful because the text on the pin will act as a reminder to where you found the inspiration.

On Pinterest itself, when you click the image you pinned, the link with click through to the post or page you saved it from. Neat eh?

How to Save to Collections on Instagram

I absolutely adore this feature on Instagram and have lots of folders covering everything from photo spots to holiday nail art.

When you see an image you like on Instagram…

  • Tap the ribbon type symbol at the bottom right-hand side of the app.
  • The option to ‘Save to Collection’ then appears to the left. Click this.
  • If you then hit the big plus sign to the right you can create a new Collection such as the name of the destination you want to visit.

I first discovered the hot air balloon rides in Cappadocia, Turkey on Instagram and booked up a balloon ride the following year.

Visual platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and other social media channels are the culprit for many credit card bills!


2. Budget Your Trip

So now we are talking about cash and credit cards we need to discuss how to save money for a trip.

There’s no point having destinations in mind if you don’t have the budget for it.

I have six tips to help you at this stage of planning.

How to Save For a Trip

Tip 1: Location, Location, Location!

Plan wisely. Choose destinations that meet your bank balance and/or go in low season.

Avoid big events and festivals unless this is the main reason you want to visit the destination.

As an example, take the film, interactive media, and music festival, South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Each March, thousands of business people and visitors move into the city while many of the locals move out because they can charge three times the amount on their properties.

Be wary that the time of year can and will impact on the weather.

While many popular destinations in Europe such as Paris enjoy four seasons in the year, countries such as Thailand experience monsoon season and different parts of the country get it at different times.

A cheap trip to a city might not work out cheap if you have to spend money on indoor activities to stay comfortable.

Don’t be put off by winter, I especially love cities and towns at Christmas time.

Love winter travel too?

You can check out our festive guides to:

Here’s some roundup posts on the most magical places to spend the winter period in Europe, popular winter destinations in the Americas, Europe’s best Christmas markets and what to pack for a ski trip.

Finally, don’t miss our guide to fun New Year’s Eve parties around the world!

Vienna in Winter December Christmas World on Rathausplatz

If you can, avoid school and public holidays. This will help keep the flight and accommodation costs down.

We’ll talk about this more below.

Budget airlines don’t always end up being cheap if you land far away from the intended destination.

Check the distance, mode of transport to get between the two and how long it takes. If it adds on another three hours by bus it might be worth paying the additional money to fly closer.

Overnight flights can rob your sleep. Factor this into your planning.

If you are keeping costs down, here are the best places to travel on a budget, from our experience:

Camper Van Big Bend Texas

Texas Road Trip

Tip 2: Canada or Crap?

Canada or crap was our philosophy while we were saving for our 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe. If it couldn’t fit in a backpack, it wasn’t being bought.

If you are thinking of taking a sabbatical, here’s how I applied for mine.

Tip 3: Three Bank Accounts For Saving

Open three bank accounts. Have your income enter one. Work out how much you spend, identify your needs (housing, bills, food) and wants (clothes, huge TV packages, nail art).

Create a livable wage and put the majority of the rest of your pay into another savings account. Do not touch these savings.

But why three? In the third account move some money over. This is the account that you can take money out from if you are struggling. Maybe you need to buy a gift, a kid needs new shoes, the washing machine goes, etc.

Saving shouldn’t be stressful when it is for the end of goal of the dream trip.

» Read our 5s of savings strategy which saved us £20K for travel

Tip 4: Cards With Extras

There are many credit and debit cards on the market that offer a bonus if you shop with them.

For example, you can accrue airline points with while you shop or enjoy free cash withdrawals abroad.

Some monthly accounts offer free cell phone insurance or even better, travel insurance for short trips.

We currently use a UK Nationwide account which includes travel insurance and free ATM withdrawals abroad for £13 per month. We also use the Halifax Clarity for credit transactions.

We’ve previously used the Lloyds credit card but since losing the American Express portion of the dual card deal we no longer support it because you can’t take money out abroad without charges. The Avios points are lower with Mastercard than with Amex too. Find out more in our travel cards guide.

→ Note: Usually you will find that the airline points are for one airline only and you can often get cheaper flights with a budget airline. It really depends if you are loyal to one airline carrier to make points cards work. The industry has really cracked down on people abusing the system.

Tip 5: The Travel Essentials

There are some items you must fork out for.

Firstly, travel insurance.

While some banks accounts may offer insurance for short term travel trips, you will need more coverage if going away on an extended trip, to a certain location it does not cover or if you plan to do an activity it doesn’t include like high altitude hiking or winter skiing.

We use True Traveller which is a company for Europeans. Many others use World Nomads.

I claimed through True Traveller when I was sick in Canada with no issues. You can read about my experience and our comparison guide here.

Secondly, injections and medicine.

There may be vaccinations you have to get to stay safe during your trip and to keep your travel insurance working.

Some companies don’t have to pay out if you are do not have the correct vaccinations, and they won’t.

Check with your health care provider to see which vaccinations you need for your destination.

Finally, gear. Buy cheap, buy twice! There are some items you need to invest in depending on the seasons, if you are moving around with luggage, or taking a long travel trip.

Tip 6: Travel Gear Essentials

  • Waterproof outerwear – We wear Moutain Equipment US / UK and Marmot Precip US / UK
  • Gore-Tex hiking boots or shoes – Salomon Ellipse trek shoes or boots US / UK&nbsp for me
  • Durable luggage – carry-on sized bags or rolling cases?

 » Read next: Every item we travel with + the ones we dropped

Mt Asahidake Craig and Gemma at Summit_

Hiking Mount Asahidake, Japan


3. Planning Your Trip

OK so now we’ve progressed onto the fun part: destination trip planning!

Open up a spreadsheet or the free online Excel, Sheets.

Title tab one, PRICING. Add a new tab and call it ITINERARY.

On tab one, column one, write out the step-by-step way to get the destination from your doorstep. Add each leg to a new line.

For example, ‘bus or taxi to airport’, then on line two, ‘flight one’. Line three might be ‘flight two’ depending on how far you are going or ‘private hire to hotel’. You get the point.

In column two, write out how much that portion of the trip costs. Use Google Maps and Skyscanner to help price the journey.

In column three, add the dates out and in four, return dates. The final column, five, should be the total. Total up each section individually then total everything together.

Use the code =SUM( then highlight the amount in the row ) for easy addition.

Open up tab two, ‘Itinerary’ and add your intended dates along the top giving each day one row.

Add a rough note of the kind of things you think you will do on each day. Use your notes from Instagram Collections and the posts you saved on Pinterest. This will change so don’t stress about it.

Go to a tours website like GetYourGuide. Add the destination to the search bar.

→ WARNING: This may take you back to the inspiration stage!

Pull up the tours and fast passes that grab your attention.

Go back to your planning spreadsheet. On tab one, ‘Pricing’

Create a new section underneath transport for tours and activities.

Add each tour/activity that you plan to do to its own line. Type in the price in column two.

Alternatively, just use the one I made earlier! Click here to access it, you will have to save it to be able to edit it.

Travel planning spreadsheet

Google Maps Trip Planning

I honestly love planning trips and one of the best tools to use is free, as long as you have a Gmail account.

Go to My Maps by Google. Click create a new map. In the search bar, type in one of the areas you want to visit such as the Louvre in Paris. Hit search and a pin will appear.

  • Click ‘add to map’ and then edit the colour, the icon if you wish, and add a note if you have any. For example, the Louvre is closed Tuesdays
  • On the left-hand side of the map you should change the name of the map
  • Also, edit the name of the ‘layer’ to activities or similar
  • Go through the same process with all the other things you want to do
  • Keep the same colour and icons and save to the same layer. This will help you visually plan what you can feasibly do in one day and also how to group activities

Google Maps

I also use Google Maps to work out timings between places and then save it to my homepage on my phone.

To add multiple stops to Maps make sure you are using the walking option.

To save to your phone homepage, click the three dots next to the top location and choose ‘add route to Home screen’.

I tend to have one for each day and use it to help get around when I’m on the trip.

Go back to the planning spreadsheet, select tab two ‘Itinerary’ and move about activities.

 » Here’s our recommended apps for staying in contact

Booking Accommodation

The type of accommodation you book is very much dictated by your budget.

We’ve done everything from volunteering for our keep to dorms in hostels progressing to apartments, B&Bs and now since we mostly do shorter trips, affordable hotels.

I tend to only rent apartments if I know that the city doesn’t suffer from ‘buy to rent’ issues which are out-pricing locals for example in Venice or Lisbon. Sometimes having my own apartment is necessary if I need to work or require a kitchen.

Booking Hotels

Go to Booking.com, type destination into the search bar along with the dates. The most popular properties tend to appear at the top.

You can filter to read ‘hotel only’ and your price point. You can also request details such as hotels with parking, etc.

Browse through the hotels, look at the reviews, double-check how much the room you require costs and then add to ‘My List’ which is done by hitting the heart.

Create a destination folder in My Lists or they will all appear in the next trip section. No biggie.

Go back to My Maps. Click on the left-hand table and choose ‘add layer’. Name it ‘accommodation’.

Copy and paste the addresses of the hotels you like into the search bar. Choose a colour and icon.

Make sure that only the accommodation layer is ticked or the hotel pin will save to every layer.

If you do add to the wrong layer, just click on the name of the left-hand side table and then edit on the pin. You’ll find the delete symbol there.

Once you have added the accommodation layer, tick the boxes for both activities and accommodation and check which hotel is best for your itinerary.

Go back to Booking.com and book.

The more you book with Booking.com, the cheaper the prices get as you unlock Genius points. It does pay to be loyal.

I’ve tried other platforms such as Hotels and Expedia but I prefer Booking.com because it allows you to cancel trips up to a certain time frame.

Add the hotel fees to the planning spreadsheet. Do you need to lose a tour? Can you budget another night or better transport option?

Las Vegas strip with hotels and landmarks at night

Keep Accommodation Costs Down

Learn from my mistakes, here are some ways to enjoy low-cost travel when it comes to booking accommodation:

  • Check that airport hotels are actually at the airport and have a 24/7 shuttle inclusive of price
  • Book hotels near transport lines if in big cities
  • Avoid hotel breakfast unless it seems worth it and you will be up/in for them
  • If you are into photography/avoiding crowds book hotels near an activity, we did this in Japan for sunrise shots
  • Pay extra to stay in hotels that are experiential like Sultan Cave Suites in Cappadocia for the views

La Vista Hotel Asahidake Onsen Hokkaido

Getting Around

We tend to use our feet to get around during long weekend trips but sometimes areas are too big, the weather is torrential or we’re running late.

Check out the bus and train systems and also weigh up whether Uber is cheaper than national taxi services. In some cases, it will be, in others won’t.

You might find that taxi drivers straddle both badges and take hires through taxi apps and also at taxi ranks.

Work out if buying a city transport pass is cheaper than doing it trip by trip.

Rent bikes or electric scooters.

If taking a multi-destination trip, consider whether budget airlines which save on time are worth the money. If you have time, take the train or bus for a different, cheaper and often more environmentally friendly experience.

Research car share schemes in bigger cities if you want to make day trips.

Car rental abroad really isn’t as scary as you think and is often the more affordable option. Read our guide weighing up the pros and cons here.

Kamikawa Bike Ride Hokkaido_


4. Keep Costs Down On the Road

While you are on vacation, there are a number of ways to keep costs down.

  • Walk, everywhere
  • Attend tip-based ‘free’ tours
  • Pack a filter water bottle and fill up at the tap
  • Have a big lunch instead of dinner
  • Bring collapsible Tupperware and take a doggy bag home from meals
  • Search for deals, coupons and 2-4-1 but look out for added taxes
  • Get out into nature, hiking is free

Stac Polliadh hike Ullapool Scotland Highlands, Craig, Gemma posing._

Stac Pollaidh, Scotland


5. Examples of Trip Budgets

We religiously keep a record of what we spend during our trips as it helps us to inform future plans. Why not add a tab to your planning spreadsheet and do so too?

Here’s an overview of some of our trips. We’ve not included flights since the price differs depending on long you are going for and where you are departing from.

The below travel budgets are for two people unless otherwise stated.

How Much Does Vienna Cost?

  • Hotel: £377 (three nights in November)
  • Taxi: £22.71
  • Transfers: £48 (from airport to city)
  • Food: £100 (food tour included in activities, we pretty much ate from stalls)
  • Drinks: £141.92 (£4-6 glass of wine/we went to bars every night)
  • City Cards: £30 (discount to top attractions)
  • Activities: £334

Vienna Rathaus

Vienna, Austria

How Much Does An Iceland Road Trip Cost?

  • Accommodation: £484 (four nights in September)
  • Car rental: £270 (includes airport pick up/drop off)
  • Petrol/Gas: £244 (ouch!)
  • Food: £116 (eating out and food shops)
  • Drinks: £85.50 (a few drinks, not cheap/not a drinking holiday)
  • Activities: £50 (one spa/lots of free stuff)

Reynisfjara Icelands Black Stack

How Much Does Kyiv Cost?

  • Apartment: £254 (three nights in September)
  • Food: £98 (for one, wine included)
  • Activities: £100 (Chernobyl day trip and Kyiv walking tour tip)
  • Uber: £17 (one ride to the airport, a few in the city)
  • Transport: £10

St Andrews Church Kiev

How Much Does the Scottish Highlands Cost?

  • B&Bs: £400 (5 nights in July)
  • Food: £250
  • Petrol: £143 (used own car)
  • Activities: £5 (1 x Smoo Cave)

Achmelvich Beach NC500 Motorhomes

How Much Does One Week in Japan Cost?

  • Accommodation: £434 (six nights in September)
  • Food: £391 (drinks mixed with some meals)
  • Drink: £133
  • Trains: £456 (JR pass)
  • Transport: £45 (metro/buses)
  • Taxi: £49 (avoid taxis if you can)
  • Activities: £153

Fushimi Inari Shrine Camera Shot

 » Looking for more inspiration? Check out our bucket list


6. Packing For a Trip

Hands up who is an over-packer?!

What to pack for a trip will very much depend on the length of time, climate and intended activities and tours.

First, you need to think about the luggage.

How much weight and what size of bag are you permitted to take? Check individual airline regulations but on the whole, dimensions for carry-on luggage maxes out at 22″ x 17″ x 8″/56 x 45 x 25 cm.

Cabin-only baggage also restricts the amount of liquid you can take to one small plastic bag with a limit of 100ml per product. Read our review of the best hand luggage backpacks/cases here.

Switch to solid toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner and soap to get around this regulation, save the plastic tide and prevents spillages.

To wheel or not to wheel? That is the question.

If you are simply taking a vacation which involves moving luggage from a bus to a resort then the quality of wheels shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

If you are planning a multi-location trip, you will have to invest in a sturdy wheelbase. I recommend something by Eagle Creek like the Expanse US / UK which is what I now use for weekend trips.

Eagle Creek has a lifetime guarantee but you won’t need it because their cases are built for off-road situations so no cobbled street or sandy road can beat it.

Unlike the super affordable IT case! I’ve burnt through two cases now. Terrible for the environment. I returned one and use the other for storage.

Eagle Creek are not cheap but you get what you pay for. Remember, buy cheap, buy twice. You can check out the latest wheeled bags review here.

Eagle Creek Expanse

If you are backpacking you might want to consider a backpack instead of a suitcase. They are easier to manoeuvre around places with, give you hands-free walking and are pretty much the done thing when backpacking.

The downside is you have to carry the weight on your bag. Some people can’t believe this but Craig uses an 80L backpack and he fills it to the brim. If you can pack lighter, go for a smaller 60L or 40L.

When carrying your backpack on your back you put your day bag on your front. It looks silly but it does help balance the weight.

There are two main types of backpacks, top loading and front loading.

Top-loading bags tend to have a drawstring at the top and some kind of side and bottom access if designed well.

Front-loading open up like a suitcase so you have easy access. I much prefer this version and used it during our big backpacking trip.

Vango Rucksack I Women Packing Guide

Please excuse the plastic bottle! This was 2016. We did re-use it

How to Pack

There are two ways to pack a case or bag best.

Firstly, the rolling method. This involves rolling items up and placing in the bag. This method also avoids lines which you can get from folding.

Secondly, the folding method which you will be familiar with.

Whichever way you go with you will want packing cubes or large zip lock bags to separate items. Avoid bags that make a noise, especially if booking in communal rooms. You might like our guide on tips for staying on hostels.

I stuff shoes into the sides of the bag/case and pack walking boots in a bag to avoid things getting dirty.

I then close the luggage and pull it by the top handle and shoogle it.

This then creates more space at the top for a waterproof toiletries bag. If you are road tripping and/or using communal showers you will want to a hanging toiletry bag. Check out our road trip packing list for more essential items.

I tend to pack electronics in my day bag, using makeup bags and packing cubes to organise. Our large tripod has to go in the hold, it wouldn’t get passed security in carry-on luggage.

 » Read more: Our packing list, item by item.


7. Meet New Friends

Are you going solo or are you fed up with your travel partner? It is relatively easy to make friends when on a trip. Here are a few ideas:

  • Volunteer with the likes Workaway or HelpX
  • Get friendly on tours, free walking tours are a great way to meet like-minded people
  • Book into social accommodation like hostels. Private rooms are mostly available as well as dorms
  • Do a bar hop, pub crawl or craft beer/gin/wine tour
  • Attend festivals or workshops
  • Learn the language! Here’s how to learn Spanish without leaving your home

Instagram Collections is also great for remembering the people you meet on the road. Just ask for their Instagram and save an image you will remember from their profile to the destination/event collection board.

Halong Bay Castaways Island Friends I First Time Visitor Tips- Hanoi & Halong Bay

Halong Bay, Vietnam


8. Staying Safe On The Road

Regardless if you are going solo or in a group staying safe is paramount.

Be cautious of super cheap accommodation, double-check that the area is right for you. Can you walk around in the dark? Are there certain streets you should stick to? Is a hotel with a reception desk a better option than a self-service apartment? If it doesn’t feel right, get out. I left a sketchy hostel in San Francisco and didn’t regret it.

Take a photo of car plates and let the driver see you do this if you are on your own. Use legit apps that inform you when the driver is on the way and what car they are driving.

To keep belongings safe, consider the PacSafe net US / UK which ties around bags and secures to non-moveable items. They also have bags but I find them too bulky.

Share your itinerary with family but don’t broadcast it live on social media. Give yourself a day or two delay.

Switch on a phone tracking device like Find My Phone.

Avoid large crowds like at street performers in cities, there is a chance thieves are operating.

Take photos of your ID, passport and medical records if applicable. Keep a note of your bank lost card contact number. Check your bank statements often and report anything that seems dodgy. Most banks will call you on a landline if you DM them on Twitter.

Drink booze and have fun but know your limits. Stick to the group especially in areas you do not know well.

Use a filter water bottle, here’s our review, to avoid getting sick. If you do get sick don’t be stubborn about seeking help from health care professionals. You have travel insurance for a reason!

Speak to people about the local scams. Here’s a list of the ones in Cuba. You might think some are laughable but they all happened to us to people we met. Cuba is safe by the way, there’s just a lot of economical scams that happen to trusting tourists.

Do as Paris from Gilmore Girls and Kevin from Home Alone does, talk to your invisible friends if you have to answer the door while alone.

Colca Canyon, Craig, refilling filter water bottle, day bag, Salomon walking boots

 » Planning a long-term trip? This guide tells you everything you need to know


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Final Words

I hope that this has helped you during your research on how to plan an overseas trip. Please do share your planning tips in the comments below or leave any questions.

35 Best Cities For Christmas Markets in Europe

Best Christmas Markets in Europe

The festive market phenomena has taken Europe by (snow) storm! Every November to January, stalls, huts, rides and smells blend together to create markets which take over popular cities. Some of these European Xmas markets are older than the USA as we know it! This guide details the best cities for Christmas markets from the traditional twenty in Vienna to Edinburgh’s cosy bothie bars.


» You may also like: The top Christmas destinations in Europe


Note: A decision about Europe’s Christmas markets and events will be made by each country individually. Please keep us updated if you hear of any decisions. Thank you.


Best Christmas Markets in Europe By City

Austria

Vienna Christmas Markets

Plural! There are twenty Christmas markets in Vienna, Austria’s capital.

The biggest, and most touristy, is Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz which is usually the first stop for tourists.

Under the curved sign which exclaims ‘Frohe Weihnachten,’ you’ll find hundreds of huts decorated in lights. These stalls sell typical Christmas gifts, some made by locals, others mass-produced. After Christmas, this market becomes a New Year one so you can visit after the 25th.

For more authentic gifts, check out the market at Karlsplatz which has a strict application process so it is guaranteed that all sellers are producing and selling local and genuine products.

Each of the Austrian markets in Vienna sells Glühwein and Punsch. You’ll be familiar with glühwein (mulled wine) as it is is sold at all of the Christmas markets in Europe but punsch is different as it is made with rum!

The markets operate a Christmas mug exchange process where you pay a deposit for a jazzy Christmas cup, drink until feeling warm and fuzzy then return the mug for your deposit back. Alternatively, keep the mug as a Xmas souvenir.

If you are feeling very indulgent you should try the Bailey’s with cream punsch at Schönbrunn Palace. You can also enjoy live music and eat Maroni (roasted chestnuts) or thinly sliced potatoes on a stick here.

  • Dates: Varies by market. Around about the middle of November until Christmas or New Year’s Day
  • Read about the markets and other things to do in winter in Vienna.

Christmas Markets Vienna Austria


Salzburg Christmas Market

Just before you turn the corner to Salzburg’s Old Town into Residenzplatz, the smell of candied apples, hot Glühwein, and sizzling sausages will fill the air.

Add that to the explosion of color and beauty in the form of Christmas market stalls selling everything from advent wreaths to tree ornaments, it’s obvious that visiting the Salzburg Christmas market is bound to be a festive time.

At nearly 500 years old, Salzburg hosts one of the oldest European Christmas markets, and it has definitely learned something in all that time!

The market is cheerful and stunning, and near-nightly carolers and events make the market a unique and fun place.

While tourists do love the market, locals do as well, and you’ll almost always find a great mix out and about as the sun sets in Salzburg during winter.

The market is the best mix of food and shopping you could ask for, with plenty of food, drink, craft, and decor stalls to keep you busy regardless of what kind of Christmas market you’re looking for.

While it does get busy, you won’t end up in line for hours here as there are enough stalls that there’s room for everyone to explore.

Insider tip: Hoping to stay on a budget in pricey Salzburg?

Consider eating dinner at the Christmas market. A kasekrainer (cheese-stuffed sausage) and a pretzel chased down with gluhwein is a tasty yet affordable dinner.

Once you finish up stuffing your face and shopping your heart out at the market, be sure to leave time for more of Salzburg’s Christmas festivities such as the birthplace of Mozart, concerts of his music are always popular, for example.

The famous Christmas Carol “Silent Night” was also invented nearby. Consider taking a tour to learn more about the history of the carol when visiting Salzburg!

Salzburg’s Christmas market runs from 22nd November to 26th December, and lodging does tend to get booked up during this time of year, so if you’re planning an epic European Christmas market getaway and want to include Salzburg, be sure to plan ahead!

Salzburg Christmas. Market decoration


Rattenberg Christmas Market, Tyrol

The Christmas market of Rattenberg is one of a kind in Europe and a local insider tip.

The medieval city of Rattenberg is known as the smallest city in Austria with its 400 inhabitants situated by the river Inn in the breathtakingly beautiful Alpbachtal in the alps.

The city hosts a medieval-themed Christmas market without the conventional stalls and settings as we are used to in Christmas markets across Europe.

This year, the market will be held again in the fortress city center on all four advent weekends (Fridays included), from the 29th November onward up to the 22nd December.

No Christmas lights are used in Rattenberg but instead, candles, torches and open fires will light up the setting and get you into a more quiet and relaxed Christmas mood.

Fire has traditional importance in the region of Tyrol, which makes its appearance in various ways during the Christmas celebrations. Rattenberg is known for its glass art and for hand worked items from the region such as wood items and gourmet delicacies.

You will be able to watch glassblowers create delicate and unique glass pieces in the hot fires at the Christmas market. Chorals, Christmas story reenactments will enthral you while enjoying a hot Glühwein (mulled wine) or a Punch and you won’t be able to resist local food delicacies such as cured meats.

The Rattenberg Christkindlmarkt is your choice if you want a more romantic and authentic Christmas market setting.

  • Dates: 23rd November to 22nd December
  • By Helene, Masala Herb

Belgium

Antwerp’s Kerstmarkt, Flanders, Belgium

Antwerp’s Kerstmarkt covering the area between Groenplaats to Handschoenmarkt and Grote Markt to Steenplein) has a feel-good vibe unlike any other I’ve experienced, and it has to be said I’ve done my fair share of research.

Whether it’s the beautiful setting on the Scheldt river or the vast range of live music and funfairs, you’d struggle not to have a good time.

I love the castle Het Steen lit up as though Disney took inspiration from its perfection.

There’s plenty of opportunities to grab a feast of bitterballen, hot chocolate and some of the local Antwerp hands which is the city’s symbol based on a legendary giant encounter, available in biscuit or chocolate.

Wander around this stunning city among the happy crowd.

Don’t forget that this is a city of diamonds, fashion, chocolate and Belgian beer when it comes to your gift shopping.

There are two best times to visit; during the day for epic river and skyline views from the top of the Ferris wheel, and then in the evening, when the spectacular lights will induce a warm fuzziness and a feeling of goodwill.

As the Kerstmarkt covers most of central Antwerp it manages to retain a buzz without ever seeming uncomfortably busy.

Don’t forget to make like a local and wish while kissing under the mistletoe sculpture.

A whirl around the ice rink afterwards will put even more pink into your cheeks.

→ Top tip: If you’re someone who feels a bit let down when the Christmas and New Year festivities are done, Antwerp is your city.

There’s a traditional burning of the Christmas tree at the end of the Kerstmarkt, making a celebration all of its own.

  • Dates: Saturday 5 December 2019 – Sunday 5 January 2020.
  • By Bernadette Jackson, A Packed Life

Antwerp's Kerstmarkt Ferris Wheel


Bruges Christmas Market

Against a stunning medieval backdrop, visitors are treated to two separate Christmas markets in Bruges. The first one can be found at the Markt, Bruges’ main square.

A collection of chalet-style stalls with mouth-watering treats and Christmas gifts attract visitors from all over the world. Climb the steps to the top of the Belfry of Bruges for a mesmerizing view over the Christmas village.

The second Christmas market takes place at the Simon Stevinplein and consists of two rows of Christmas stalls back to back in a more intimate and very inviting setting.

The strings of Christmas lights in the trees create a fairytale-like vibe and light up the surrounding historic buildings.

The Christmas markets in Bruges are collectively referred to as Wintermarket (Wintermarkt in Flemish).

The city’s medieval architecture creates a wonderful setting for the Christmas festivities with the twinkling lights adding even more charm to the gorgeous gingerbread houses.

Waffles covered in Belgian chocolate sauce, bûche de Noël, Belgian fries with mayonnaise and bratwurst are the most popular treats.

Wash that down with hot chocolate, glühwein (mulled wine), jenever and Christmas beers such as Bush De Noël and Glühkriek.

The best time to visit is during the week before Christmas, you can watch a folkloric re-enactment of the Christmas story, called the “Christmas Star procession”.

The Bruges Christmas markets are usually pleasantly busy but it never gets too packed.

→ Top tip: Should you be there on Christmas day, then make sure to attend the Christmas singing event at the Basilica of the Holy Blood, one of Bruges’ most renowned monuments.

Or, head to one of the many chocolate shops and admire the sparkling Christmas packaging. Can you resist buying one of these beautifully designed boxes for your friends and family?

Minnewater is the new location for the artificial ice-skating rink this year. It’s one of the most picturesque and romantic places in Bruges and I’m very excited that it’ll be included in this year’s festivities.

Belgium is a tiny country so why not visit another Christmas market while you’re there, such as the one in Brussels?

Bruges Christmas Market


Brussels Christmas Market

If you’re wondering what to do in Brussels, you’re in luck, because Belgium’s capital boasts a number of quirky attractions and a Christmas market that gives centuries-old German Christmas markets a run for their money.

In the 17th century Grand Place, locals and visitors surround the Winter Wanders event where you can see huge Christmas tree on display.

You’ll find hundreds of stalls selling anything from Christmas ornaments, jewelry, accessories and warm clothes to toys, crafts, and scrumptious food.

But perhaps the most unique feature is the incredibly cool steampunk themed carousel.
Unfortunately, the carousel is only for the little ones, though I can’t say I didn’t see an adult or two (including myself) looking at it with envy.

While most Christmas markets are organized around the main town square, the one in Brussels is 2km long, going all the way from the Grand Place to Marché aux Poissons.
You’ll find an amazing variety of local products, from cheese, waffles, and chocolate to fries, mulled wine, and fondue. Arrive on an empty stomach because there’s a lot of delicious food to try.

→ Top tip: Make sure you don’t miss the amazing light show organized in the Grand Place every night, the 3D video mapping on the facade of Sainte Catherine Church and the Christmas carol concerts organized inside churches around the city.


Czech Republic/Czechia

Prague Christmas Market

Prague Christmas Markets have some of the most enchanted settings in Europe.

There are six different markets held across the city between November and January.

The most popular of these is in the magical Old Town Square. The Christmas tree and stalls are surrounded by the fairytale Gothic spires of Our Lady before Tyn Church, medieval houses and the Old Town Hall.
The other main Christmas market in the centre of Prague is a five-minute walk away, in the less inspiring, modern setting of Wenceslas Square.

The most attractive of the other Prague Christmas markets are in St George’s Square on Castle Hill (Hradcany).

The Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square markets run from 30th November 2019 to 6th January 2020. The St George’s Square market runs from 23rd November to 6th January.

What’s different about them? The Prague Christmas Markets bear some similarities with others around Europe but come with a Czech twist.

The biggest difference you see is in the food and drink at the stalls, which include popular Czech food, snacks and, of course, beer.

Food and drink? The most common food stalls are the trdelnik ones, selling fresh spit-roast cake common in the Czech Republic and throughout Central Europe.

Best time to visit? The markets get busiest in the evenings, but this is the most atmospheric time when the stalls and surrounding buildings are lit up. It’s quieter earlier in the day, or towards the end of the evening.

→ Local tip: The busiest spot is the belfry of the Old Townhall, where crowds come for the bird’s eye view of the Market and Square. It’s not somewhere to venture if you struggle with claustrophobia, vertigo or a combination of both.

Wait for the crowds to thin out before venturing up.

Prague Christmas Market


Brno Christmas Market

There is little doubt that one of the best things to do in the Czech Republic in the winter is visiting Christmas markets.

While most people just visit the many markets of Prague, Brno, the second-largest city in the country, is a great destination that is significantly less touristy and where the Christmas markets will give you much more of a local feel.

The markets in Brno officially start on 29th November until 1st January. They are a fantastic place to look for souvenirs, buy Christmas presents and to enjoy Christmas decorations.

It’s the best way to get an idea of what Christmas culture is all about in the Czech Republic.

The atmosphere at Brno Christmas markets is very festive: there are Christmas carols, street performances, musicians, nativity scenes and beautifully decorated trees.

The nicest market is the one close to the City Council, that’s where you are bound to find the biggest selection of food stalls to try all the local Christmas specialities and drinks.

For drinks, make sure to try mulled wine, which in fact will be a great way to keep warm in the cold winter weather, mead, a drink made of honey and water.

For food, enjoy trdelnik which is a sweet pastry topped with sugar, cinnamon and almonds. It is occasionally filled with cream and other sweet goodness. This is a popular Czech snack found throughout the year but tourists love it at Xmas.*

→ Insider tip: For a fantastic view of the market, make sure to walk up the tower of the City Hall.

Brno Christmas Market


Denmark

Copenhagen Christmas Market

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Christmas market has to be one of the most Christmassy places on earth. Thousands of fairy lights twinkle around the theme park, which inspired Walt Disney to create Disneyland.

Pick up a gift at one of the high-quality stalls and pop-up shops, sip on some Gløgg, enjoy the traditional funfair games and ride the rollercoasters.

There’s no other Christmas market like Tivoli. Set in the Tivoli theme park in the centre of Copenhagen, the Tivoli Christmas market lets you eat, drink and shop – and then scream your head off on one of the many rides.

The theme park restaurants are all open for the Christmas period, so there are plenty of options, from fast food to a sit-down meal. Traditional Danish gløgg (mulled wine) is sold at stands around the park.

Visit after dark to make the most of the thousands of fairy lights and beautiful illuminated displays. If you can, try to catch one of the parades.

The Christmas market lasts into early January and is even open on New Year’s Eve, for a particularly magical experience.

I went on a weeknight and didn’t find it to be too busy, I can imagine that weekends close to Christmas do get busy though.

→ Top tip: Tivoli is Copenhagen’s main Christmas market but there are smaller ones held across the city centre. You can even get a taste of a Swedish Christmas on your trip to Copenhagen by crossing the Øresund Bridge to Malmö


England

York Christmas Market

Away from the cute cobbled streets and Gothic architecture, York, a city with vast Viking history and Roman roots sure knows how to compete in the competition for Europe’s best Christmas market!

Home to Kathe Wohlfahrt, the UK’s only year-round Christmas shop, York’s Christmas Market is a festive highlight and a firm favourite with tourists in the UK and beyond.

The award-winning St Nicholas Fair boasts over 100 alpine chalets, which is the place to head to purchase a unique range of Christmas gifts and if you’re feeling adventurous, brave the funfair rides.

Celebrating the best of local retailers and independents, The Made in Yorkshire Food Market is a festive foodie phenomenon with an array of Christmas favourites such as cheese, spiced mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.

Not to mention, locally made arts and crafts showcasing and supporting York’s local businesses.

The York Christmas Market not only includes a visit from Father Christmas, festive attractions such as an ice skating rink, carol singers and a pantomime; it also enables visitors to appreciate this medieval city under the glow of the twinkling Christmas fairy lights.

A must visit, The York Christmas Market will be held between the 14th November – 22nd December 2019 and is within walking distance of York Train Station.


Birmingham Christmas German Market

The Birmingham Christmas German Market is one of the main highlights of the city during the festive season.

Hailed as the biggest German Christmas Market outside Germany! People from around the world enjoy the festive cheer in town.

The market is filled with the festive log cabins shops that serve German beer, Bratwurst, German Gingerbread cookies, crepe (with fruits and Nutella), Mulled wine, hot chocolate, Nutcracker, sweets and up to various bric-a-brac. They also have some festive fairground rides for the kids.

The Birmingham Christmas German Market will be open from 7th November to 23rd December 2019. The market is open from 10 am until 9 pm every day.

Guaranteed to have plenty of time to have fun and be merry with friends and family. The Christmas market is typically busy on the weekends and every happy hour around 5 pm onwards.

You can enjoy your visit to the Birmingham Christmas market by starting your stroll from the Bullring shopping centre and make your way down to the Birmingham City Hall.

→ Top tip: During this festive season, Birmingham also arranges various lantern display in front of the Birmingham Library!

The German Market is one of the great things to do in Birmingham during the Christmas season.

Birmingham-Christmas-German-Market-mugs


Lincoln Christmas Market

Set against the stunning backdrop of the city’s Gothic cathedral and Norman castle, the Christmas market in Lincoln is one of the oldest and most popular in the UK.

It first took place in 1982 and now attracts around 250,000 visitors a year.

There are over 250 outside stalls selling everything Christmassy, from traditional snow globes to personalised Santa sacks.

A German food market dominates Castle Square, whilst the castle grounds are filled with prettily-lit wooden huts offering endless gift ideas.

More than fifty local artisans also sell their handmade creations inside the hall of the Westgate Academy behind the castle.

Due to the size of the market, a pedestrianised circular route has been put in place which funnels visitors from the cathedral, across the square, through the castle to the funfair behind and back again.

Families drink steaming cups of spicy mulled wine and eat hotdogs and toffee apples as they meander through the stalls.

Aromas of roasting chestnuts and candy floss fill the air. Oompah bands, carol-singing choirs, rock groups and folk singers entertain the crowds.

The festive atmosphere is all-embracing; I defy anyone not to be infected with the Christmas spirit by a visit to the market!

In recent years, Lincoln Christmas market has spread from the cathedral quarter at the top of the city, down Steep Hill, to the High Street at the bottom.

Every business in the town gets involved and mini street markets have popped up all over the place.

For fewest crowds, the best day to visit is Thursday when the market is open from 12 noon to 9.30 pm. Friday (open 10 am to 9.30 pm) is ‘coach day’ when busloads of visitors arrive from all over the country! The busiest days are Saturday (open 10 am to 9.30 pm) and Sunday (open 10 am to 7 pm) when you’ll experience the longest queues for the food stalls and fairground rides.

If you’re after a bargain, you should go on Sunday, though – stallholders tend to reduce their prices a couple of hours before the market closes!

Whenever you visit Lincoln Christmas market (and I hope you will!), don’t attempt to drive into the city. Police close the roads all around the centre and make all of the residential streets no parking for anyone except those with a resident’s permit.

→ Top tip: Lincoln City Council runs a very well-organised ‘park and ride’ scheme for visitors.

You park on the Lincolnshire Showground (well signposted from all routes into Lincoln) and then transfer to the market by bus.

Whilst you are in the city, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Lincoln Cathedral.

It is always beautifully decorated and illuminated for Christmas and carol concerts take place every day.


Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk Christmas Market

For three and a half days at the end of November, the small town of Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk is overtaken by one of the biggest Christmas markets in the UK.

The Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre attracts vendors from far and wide.

Two indoor venues, The Apex and The Atheneum, house small craft stalls. Here you can buy beautiful handcrafted pottery, textiles, works of art, jewellery and so much more.

The town centre is pedestrianised for the weekend to fit more stalls in the market place down some smaller streets.

The main event takes place in the historical centre of the town. Angel Hill and the Abbey Gardens are transformed into a World Market with crafts and food from around the globe. Meanwhile, the Cathedral gardens host a food market with plenty of free samples to keep you going.

Food is central to all the best markets, and this one is no different.

I always make sure to carefully choose the Christmas cheese from the locally produced selection on offer. Many of the local cafes set up tables outside to take advantage of the passing trade. This makes it easy to pick up mince pies and hot chocolate.

However, I prefer to head for the stall that specialises in mulled cider, selling it by the bottle as gifts or by the cup to help warm your fingers.

For children, there is a whole host of entertainment including a funfair, Santa’s Grotto, reindeer and more.

There’s even a nativity scene with real farm animals and alpacas dressed up as the three wise men. The charity stalls are also keen to put on a show, especially the ever-popular Doctor Who themed tent.

The Christmas Fayre does get busy, and because it’s only for a limited time, it pays to plan your visit.

The Fayre opens Thursday afternoon, and this is the best time to go as the crowds have not built up. If you can only go on Saturday then be prepared to get your elbows out.

The indoor venues, in particular, become so busy that it can be challenging to browse.

It is almost impossible to park in the town during this weekend unless you know a local willing to lend you their driveway then head to the park and ride.

Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre - Churros


Estonia

Tallinn Christmas Market

By far the cosiest Christmas market we have ever visited was the one in the Old Town Square in Tallinn, Estonia.

It was the highlight of our winter trip to Tallinn. We visited the market every night throughout our stay because the ambience was so welcoming and relaxed.

It is a small Christmas market which makes it super cosy but not over-crowded, perfect for families, couples or anyone wanting to enjoy the Christmas spirit.

The location of the market is just amazing.

Not only it is central but the charming Town Hall Square, surrounded by century-old buildings, makes you feel like you are in a fairy tale story.

You can enjoy the market for several weeks, even after the Christmas season has passed. This year the market will be opened from 17th November 2019 to 6th January 2020.

In the market, you will see many local artists displaying their beautifully handcrafted products and there is a variety of food and drink stalls offering local Christmas delicacies and the local Glogg (or Glühwein), with a variable amount of alcohol, from zero to 21%.

There is also entertainment for the little ones with a few fair stalls with games, a small carrousel and the Christmas road train which will take you around the town.

Tallinn is a lovely place to visit around the holidays.

  • Dates: 17th November 2019 to 6th January 2020
  • Thassia from Family off Duty

Tallin Christmas Market


Finland

Helsinki Christmas Markets

Helsinki, Senate Square

Tuomaan Markkinat, in English known simply as Helsinki Christmas Market, is the largest and oldest holiday market in the Finnish capital.

In 2018, Tuomaan Markkinat was listed among the best Christmas markets in Europe by Condé Nast Traveller and The Guardian.

With Scandinavian design items, traditional crafts, regional Christmas delicacies, glögi (Finnish version of mulled wine), and its own pop-in sauna, Tuomaan Markkinat is a distinctively Finnish holiday market.

Grab a seat in the heated café and taste Finnish Christmas brews while gazing at the cheerfully lit, old-fashioned carousel and the white cathedral overlooking the market. There are more than 100 booths selling food, gifts, and crafts.

Helsinki Christmas Market is open from the 6th December until the 22nd and although open from Tuesday to Sunday 11am until 8pm, the magical setting is best enjoyed after dark.

The market rarely feels too busy, except during special events, such as Finnish Independence Day on the 6th of December, and the last weekend before Christmas.

If you come with kids, make sure to arrive during the daily visits of Santa Claus. Did you know that Santa is originally from Finnish Lapland?

Helsinki Christmas Market is located in Senate Square, in the middle of the historic area of Helsinki. Be sure to stroll there through Aleksanterinkatu, the official Christmas Street of Helsinki, to admire the festive lights. Get to know all Christmas markets in Helsinki.

  • Dates: 6th December to 22nd December
  • By Niina Lehikoinen, Bizarre Globe Hopper
  • Photographer: Jussi Hellsten/Helsinki Christmas Market (Lehikoinen’s credit)

Photographer- Jussi Hellsten Helsinki Christmas Market


France

Paris Christmas Market

If the smell of French cheese or hot roasted chestnuts doesn’t get you in the Christmas mood, not much else will.

Christmas is a real festive time in Paris with the city’s squares and streets all lit up and adorned with Christmas trees, lights, and garlands.

There’s no better way to join in the festivities than a visit to one of the Christmas markets scattered across the city.

The biggest, Jardin Des Tuileries Christmas Market, can be found at The Tuileries Garden. 

Here you will find festive gifts, souvenirs, and decorations by artisans from across France. There’s an ice rink for kids too.

In addition to the French cheese and roasted chestnuts, keep an eye out for other delicious treats the likes of Nutella-filled crepes, macarons, and spice bread. Find out more at Two Scots Abroad’s guide to Paris in December.

→ Top tip: The market does tend to get busy immediately after dinner, so it’s best to visit during the day or early evening by taking the Metro to Trocadero to avoid the crowds.

Rai Suliman blogs at A Rai of Light Travels


Colmar

The historic town of Colmar in France becomes a total winter wonderland each November, with six Christmas markets popping up around the city squares.

Names of Markets

  • Place de la Cathédrale – Gourmet Market
  • Place des Dominicains
  • Place de l’Ancienne Douane
  • Place Jeanne d’Arc
  • The Petite Venise – Children’s Christmas Market
  • The Koïfhus – Indoor Craft Market

Each of the festive mini-villages has its architectural style, magical winter charm and a range of individual vendors selling their unique Christmas wares.

This sprawling market complex makes Colmar one of the best European destinations for a winter city break, allowing you to enjoy the colours, lights, cuisine and crafts on sale throughout the Christmas market.

The Christmas markets are even open on Christmas Day (2pm-7pm) allowing you to enjoy some festival family cheer after you’ve eaten your delicious Christmas Day lunch!

They differ to other European Christmas markets in that there are six different sections each offering their unique charm and creativity.

Rather than one line of market stalls, Colmar Christmas Market is split into six sections allowing you to roam for hours on end. The picture-perfect buildings in between the market stalls are also part of the attraction with advent images and lights creating an all-encompassing Christmas atmosphere.

Place de la Cathédrale is the place to go to try some local Christmas food and drink specialities.

This gourmet section of the market is bursting with festive food, divine drinks and some traditional Alsatian treats that will make you glad you came!

This foodie haven serves up starters, mains, desserts, drinks and snacks so there is always something to tickle your tastebuds.

Crepes, oysters, foie gras and cheese are, of course, French favourites, and local Christmas classics here include mannele (man-shaped brioche), vin chaud, pain d’epices (spiced bread) and bredele cookies.

As part of the winter festivities, the town also runs Christmas Cellar events which allow you to try the local wine, join in workshops and enjoy gastronomic food and wine pairings by local connoisseurs.

It’s a good idea to try and see the market both during the day and at night so you can get a glimpse of the different lights and events on offer. The first week of the event is probably the quietest, with more and more people visiting the market in the lead up to Christmas Day. The week before Christmas is likely to be the most popular.

Even though the Colmar Christmas market is consistently voted one of the best Christmas markets in Europe is it not as busy as the nearby Strasbourg Christmas Market, probably due to the six different

→ Top tip: Unless you want to stay in the hustle and bustle of Colmar during the Christmas markets, it might be a good idea to base yourself in the nearby town of Obernai.

This allows you to enjoy a quieter stay while being within reaching distance. Obernai also has a festive market throughout late November and December.

Visitors to Colmar may also want to explore the Unterlinden Museum, see a Christmas concert at Saint Matthieu’s Church or go wine tasting in the Alsatian vineyards surrounding Colmar.

Nearby Kaysersberg, Riquewihr and Turckheim are all picturesque towns that look like they’ve jumped out of Beauty and the Beast and each offers Christmas charm during the festive season.

Colmar Christmas Market


Germany

Cologne Christmas Market

For more than a decade, we’ve traveled extensively in Europe in winter. One of the reasons we love traveling during the colder season is Christmas Markets.

We love everything about them; the hot Glühwein, the spectacular displays, and mostly the overall feeling of joy and merriment that abound. Over the years, we’ve tried valiantly to become Christmas Market experts.

And after visiting many markets in different cities and countries, we can confidently say that the best city to visit for Christmas Markets in Europe is Cologne, Germany.

There are not one or two but seven major Christmas Markets in Cologne.

They each have a different theme so they look and feel very distinctive. The most eye-catching market is the one directly under the Cologne Dom, one of the tallest cathedrals in the world.

The cathedral makes for a most majestic backdrop. It’s worth going inside to see the beautiful vaulted ceilings and stained glass, and if you’re fit enough, climbing up to the top of the tower to see the gorgeous views of the city.

Our favorite is the Christmas Market at Alter Markt. It’s the largest in the city, and is nestled among the atmospheric Old Town buildings.

It has a super fun ice skating rink and alpine huts where you can sip your Glühwein if it gets too cold outside. We found one of our favorite treats at this particular market.

At most Christmas Markets you can get Schupfnudeln (flour or potato dumplings) with sauerkraut and speck.

But here, they serve some more gourmet options, including a truly delicious and decadent version with spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and crème fraîche.

Another fun and unique market is the one at the harbor. It’s appropriately nautical-themed, with huts shaped like ships and a good deal of seafood on offer.
It’s also near the Chocolate Museum, which is great fun for pretty much everyone. You can also see some nice views of the city and the Rhine River from its roof (which is free). Read more about the seven Cologne Christmas Markets.

With so many markets in one city, you don’t have to worry about one particular market getting too busy or waiting in lines. If there are too many people, you can just move onto the next one.

Cologne’s center is relatively compact and easy to get around on foot or by public transport. You can definitely hit all the markets during one visit.

There’s also a special trolley bus called the Christmas Market Express that takes visitors to see the four biggest markets (the above three plus the Angel’s Market).

This is especially great for people with mobility issues and kids.

Top tip: a can’t-miss thing to do in Cologne is walking across the Hohenzollern Bridge. It’s great any time of year but is especially scenic during Christmas Market season with all the lights.

The view of the Dom and the Old Town from the other side of the Rhine River can’t be beaten.

Cologne Christmas Market tree


Weihnachtsmarkt Karlsruhe

In the city of Karlsruhe, you will find three Christmas markets with different options.

The market at Friedrichsplatz is the best for all the family as it puts on a daily show with a flying Santa Claus!

Karlsruhe Schloss Market is popular because it has one of the biggest ice-skating rinks in southern Germany at 1200 m².

There are two areas, one for beginners and one for more experienced skaters.

Durlach Market is my favorite as it is a Middle Age Christmas market featuring campfires, candlelight, jugglers, traditional games, sword fighting, handcrafts and musicians.

As in most of the Christmas markets in Germany, you can find a wide variety of drinks and food.

From sausages, barbequed meat and the much loved Langos; deep-fried dough with sour cream.

You can also get Flammkuchen, a thin-crusted style of pizza, lots of candies and chocolates and roasted nuts and almonds.

For drinks, the star is the Glühwein or mulled wine in English, which you’ll find in every restaurant during the festive season and, of course in the Christmas markets.

Trust me, you will need it to survive the cold temperatures out there.

You can also buy sparkling wines and non-alcoholic beverages at the markets.

The beautiful pottery mugs will have a deposit, usually of 2€, so remember to keep the chip or think about them as a very special souvenir.

The Christmas markets in Karlsruhe are usually quiet until people finish work, then everyone goes to meet up with family and friends.

After 6pm, you can expect to find crowded areas and lines making you wait around 5 to 10 minutes to get drinks or food.

→ Insider tip: If you want to take pictures with light, consider the winter days are short and sunset is around 5pm during December.

If you go during the day, the markets will be almost empty them but they will have less charm as the lights are an important part of the decoration.

Girl with Christmas mug at Karlsruhe Christmas Market


Nuremberg Christmas Market

With records dating back to 1530, Nuremberg’s Christkindlesmarkt is one of Germany’s oldest holiday festivals.
The 2019 Nuremberg Christmas Market opens on 29th November and runs continuously until 24 December, featuring more than 150 vendors offering gifts, souvenirs and local food specialities.

Must-tries include the famous Nuremberg sausages (served as a set of three in a bun, Drei im Weggla, best topped with plenty of mustard!), and Lebkuchen, Nuremberg’s traditional gingerbread.

Be sure to try Elisenlebkuchen, which is made with almonds and spices for a flourless version of the baked treat and is considered the most premium of gingerbread.

And, of course, don’t miss the Glühwein, or hot mulled wine, perfect for warming up on a chilly winter evening.

A highlight of the Nuremberg Christmas Market is a special area for Sister Cities.

After World War II, Nuremberg wanted to boost international relations and help drive human rights activities, and the Markt der Partnerstädtequickly became a beloved element of the season’s festivities.

Enjoy browsing the booths from cities like Atlanta (USA), Nice (France), San Carlos (Nicaragua), and Shenzhen (China), among many more.

Given its long history, the Nuremberg Christmas Market draws visitors from all around the world and can be quite crowded. Saturdays tend to be especially packed with tourists and locals alike, sipping Glühwein and wandering among the many vendors.

Weekday afternoons are often much quieter and still very cozy. Do be sure to have cash on hand as very few booths will accept credit cards, though prices for food and drink are quite reasonable.

Expect to pay 3-4€ for mulled wine, with an additional 3€ deposit (Pfand) on the mug itself, and about the same cost for sausages and other snacks. As the wares on offer around the market are usually handmade or specially sourced for the event, prices will, of course, vary.

→ Top tip: Local oddities like Zwetschgenmännle, or Prune Men, small figurines made of dried prunes and walnuts, can be had for just a few euros and make excellent souvenirs or fun gifts.
While in town for Christmas festivities, do make the trek uphill to visit Nuremberg’s imperial castle, where you can overlook the city from its historic heart.


Celle Christmas Market

If you’re looking for a low-key Christmas Market with traditional charm, the display in the small town of Celle in northern Germany will check all your boxes.

Celle’s historic town square is known for its iconic half-timber houses, and paired with twinkling lights and smells of gingerbread and glühwein, this is a fairytale setting for a Christmas Market.

Each of the 80 huts clustered in the center must be of the traditional wooden design, making market-goers feel as if they’ve stepped back in time.

This Christmas market is intimate and charming, especially if you’re lucky enough to visit after a fresh dusting of snow.

Unlike the more commercialized Christmas Markets in Germany’s big cities like Berlin and Munich, the small town of Celle puts together a market that retains a traditional atmosphere.

There are a variety of traditional foods for sale like sausages and kraut, creamy mushrooms, and pretzels.

Try sweets like glazed almonds or the traditional treat schmalzgeback, which are fried pastry puffs served in a cone and topped with powdered sugar. Oh, and don’t forget to get a hot mug (or two!) of glühwein!

Weekday evenings will be the least crowded, but if you want a truly festive feel, the weekends can be quite fun as well.

Since Celle is a small town, you’ll find this Christmas lacks the crowds of the big cities. Weekends tend to be busier, as with all Christmas Markets, but it is still quite manageable.

→ Top tip: Don’t miss the traditional crafts section of the market. Located near the Stadtkirche church, this area has a makeshift forest of thoughtfully-arranged Christmas trees, between which wooden booths house artists making items like blown glass, candles, and silver. Some of the artisans even allow visitors to join in.

Pop into cute boutiques for some Christmas shopping and to view the living Advent Calendar inside some of the town’s shops. During the holiday season, you can attend Christmas concerts and tour the Baroque-style Celle Castle, which is decked out in holiday spirit.

Snow at Celle Christmas Market Germany


Konstanz Christmas Market

The market’s official name, Weihnachsmarkt am See, translates to “Christmas market on the lake”.

As the name suggests, the unique feature of this market is that it takes place right on Lake Constance. In addition to the 170 stalls that line the streets of the city center all the way down to the shore, the festivities continue onboard the “Christmas Ship” that are moored in the harbor.

On the ship, you’ll find even more craft and food stalls, along with a 360° panoramic ice bar.

One of the most common dishes served at the market is Käsespätzle, a southern German dish made with a special type of fresh pasta mixed with cheese.

Vegans should also be able to find plant-based options at some of the stalls, particularly the ones serving international cuisines like Moroccan or Indian.

The market is open every day of the week, but it’s best to go on a weekday if possible to avoid the crowds. People do come from neighboring countries Switzerland and Austria as well as from other parts of Germany to visit the Konstanz market.

That being said, I visited on a weekend, and the lines weren’t overly long.

→ Local tip: If you happen to be coming from Switzerland, keep an eye out for special deals from SBB, the Swiss railway company. Every year, they offer discounted train tickets to cities in and around Switzerland with great Christmas markets. I managed to score a half-price ticket to Konstanz from Geneva and a free bottle of gluhwein!

Lake Constance is primarily thought of as a summer destination, but nearby villages like Arbon and Stein am Rhein are also beautiful in the winter.

And while you’re in Konstanz, be sure to check out the Imperia Statue, a controversial work of art that features a naked Pope Martin V and Emperor Sigismund.


Goslar Christmas Market

The South of Germany is famous worldwide for its cute little towns, snowy mountains, and stunning Christmas markets.

Little do many travelers know that the North of Germany is full of gorgeous fairytale-like Christmas markets. The best example might be the Goslar Christmas Market.

Goslar is a little town, near the Harz mountains full of narrow streets and old half-timbered houses.

Its Christmas Market perfectly fits the medieval charm of this little sleepy town. It is located right in the city centre on the market square surrounded by historic and impressive buildings.

In its center, you can find the arguably most popular sight of the city: a beautiful fountain with a golden eagle on top of it.

The Christmas market is full of little stables offering all kinds of food, handicrafts, souvenirs and more. What makes this market so special is not its size (it’s much smaller than other popular Christmas markets in the area) but its medieval small-town vibe.

After enjoying some freshly baked hot bread prepared in the small medieval bakery stable, you can sip some mulled-wine in the so-called Goslar Christmas Forest.
This is an artificial forest built out of real pines that you can find every year on the little square right next to the market as an extension to the annual Christmas market.

But my favorite treat on the market is definitely still the boozy hot chocolates.

Since this little Christmas market usually is voted as one of the most beautiful in Germany, it can get pretty crowded on the little market square.

So, you might want to avoid visiting on the weekends if possible. Also, if you come in the morning or early afternoon, you will find much fewer people. On the other hand, the market looks even more beautiful with all of its Christmas lights illuminating the little stables.

Goslar Christmas Market at night with crowds


Dresden Striezelmarkt Christmas Market

Dresden’s Christmas market is the oldest in Germany, starting in 1434, which means it has been an ongoing tradition for 585
years in 2019.

There are actually several smaller Christmas markets in Dresden, but the main one is known as The Dresden Striezelmarkt.

It’s open every year from 27th November to 24th December, from 10am to 9pm.

It’s located at the Dresden Altmarkt square (old town center).

At the market you can find all the traditional things in a German christmas market, such as freshly grilled sausages and other types of local food as well as Glühwein, artisan shops and of course an endless amount of Christmas decorations.

The Striezelmarkt is definitely one of the best places to go in Europe if you like Christmas. What’s even better is that not only tourists from all over the world come here, but also the locals themselves, which means it still holds that genuine Christmas market feeling.

If you want to avoid the most crowded times I suggest to come on weekdays at the beginning of December. Every shop seller will also be enthusiastic because the market hasn’t been open for long.

→ Top tip: Don’t forget to get your own Striezelmarkt mug for hot beverages. When you order a hot beverage you will get a ceramic mug and pay a small deposit. If you don’t want the mug, you will get the money back when you return it. Otherwise, the mug is yours, which makes a great souvenir, and the Striezelmarkt mugs are quite famous.

The other Christmas markets in Dresden are also nice, but has a more local neighboorhod feeling to them.

Dresden Christmas Market during daylight with crowds


Stuttgart Christmas Market

The Stuttgart Christmas Market is a renowned and well-known market in Baden-Wurttemberg.

Known as the Stuttgarter Weighnachtsmarkt, it is over 300 years old and is still going strong. Here you can shop at nearly 300 stalls from soap makers, ornament makers, toys, household goods to many food and beverage stalls and a lot more.

As one of the largest Christmas markets in the region, Stuttgarter Weighnachtsmarkt has a lot to offer visitors.

It stretches across several squares in downtown Stuttgart and has an ice rink, a train display, kids rides and a host of decorative stalls.

Many of Germany’s typical foods are available at the market, but due to its size, you will also find Italian, Greek and American food within the many food stalls.

The market is very large and attracts many visitors, and it is best to visit the market during the daytime. The market can get very crowded late into the evening and particularly on the weekends. The closer to the holiday, the busier it gets.

→ Local tip: Pop into the City Hall building for a few minutes to warm up on cold days.

If staying in the Stuttgart area, be sure to visit places including Hohenzollern Castle or Ludwigsburg Palace, both great day trips from Stuttgart.

There are also plenty of other Christmas markets nearby to enjoy including the Esslingen Christmas market as well as the Nuremberg Christmas Market.


Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Located at the crossroads of both the Romantic Road and Castle Road, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is one of Germany’s prettiest towns and its annual Christmas market attracts visitors from all over the world.

Held around the Old Town’s market place, the market, known as the Reiterlesmarkt, has been running since the 15th century.

Wooden chalets are erected in front of the town’s fairytale-like Medieval buildings, a giant Christmas tree is installed and with snowflakes dusting the rooftops, it’s a real-life Christmas card scene.

Traditional German Christmas specialities like mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, gingerbread, sausages and pastries are just some of the delights to tempt your tastebuds, whilst other stalls sell handcrafts and Christmas decorations which make perfect souvenirs of your visit.

A unique feature of the Reiterlesmarkt is the appearance of the Rothenburger Reiterle (horseman), for whom the market is named.

Legend has it that he was a messenger from another world who carried the souls of the dead across the skies in winter, but these days he’s not a feared mythical character but someone whose arrival is eagerly awaited. The Rothenburg Christmas Market is officially opened each year by the Reiterle.

To add to the festive atmosphere, there are daily concerts and Santa Claus makes an appearance each afternoon.

As well as attracting visitors from near and far, the market is also popular with locals who come to shop and catch up with friends after work over a glass of mulled wine.

Whilst you are in Rothenburg, be sure to visit the magical Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village on Herrngasse.

Filled to the brim with Christmas decorations and ornaments, the shop is open year-round but with the festive spirit in the air, there’s no better time to visit than in the lead up to Christmas.

Adjoining the Christmas Village is the German Christmas Museum where you can learn about the history of Christmas in Germany across the centuries.


Hungary

Budapest Christmas Market

Budapest has two notable markets, Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market and Basilica Christmas Market.

While the oldest and most popular is at Vörösmarty, the biggest sits in front of the famous St. Stephen’s Basilica.

Both markets sell typical Christmas gifts and souvenirs which you will be accustomed to elsewhere but what makes these markets stand out is the local food.

Try the Instagram-worthy Chimney cakes or poppy strudel, washed down with Gluhwein or Hungarian palinka, if you are feeling brave.

After hours at the busy markets, what better way to relax than in one of Budapest’s baths? Culturally the baths mean a lot to Hungarians as they not only provide medicinal benefits but also play a big part in their social lives.

Budapest Christmas Market in front of St Stephens Bascillica


Italy

Christmas Markets in Italy are just as popular with both locals and visitors from around the world.

The markets, known in Italian as Mercatino di Natale, are not as numerous or on the same grand scale as the Christmas markets in Germany but they are quaint and festive nevertheless.

Verona Christmas Market

Verona, which is the backdrop to the story of Romeo and Juliet, will be dressed in lights and colors of Christmas during November and December.

The Christmas Market in Verona is held at Piazza dei Signori, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been a meeting point for culture and traditions over centuries.

The entrance to the city is illuminated by hundreds of lights, all over the streets of the historic center and onto beautiful Piazza Bra. They also run along the Roman Arena which is decorated with a huge Christmas tree on the square.

The Italian stallholders at the Christmas Market will have mouth-watering displays of local food and drinks plus the usual array of locally manufactured seasonal gift items including truffles.

Yes, you read that right – it is truffle season in November around these parts. We loved stopping at the different stalls tasting the freshly baked potato pizzas, truffle laced bites, homemade chocolates and mulled wine.

The markets run from 16 November to 26 December.


Netherlands

Valkenburg Christmas Markets

This unique Christmas market in the Netherlands takes place within “caves.”

Although these are called caves, the Netherlands doesn’t have any caves that naturally exist and these are old quarries that have been mined since Roman times.

Within two of the many “caves” in Valkenburg, you’ll find two Christmas markets.

The largest and the most famous market in Valkenburg is the Gemeentegrot Kerstmarkt while the smaller market is the Kerstmarkt Flueweelengrot, which takes place in the historic Velvet cave near the Valkenburg castle.

Within the quarries, you can admire carvings from medieval times, see an old chapel within the caves, and see where people lived during World War II.

Within the markets, you’ll find standard Christmas market fare, but it’s more about the location that truly makes this Dutch Christmas market stand out from the rest.

Within the market, you’ll find typical Dutch snacks along with gluhwein, a warm mulled wine made with spices.

The best time to visit is first thing in the morning although you’re best off visiting on a rainy day.

The Valkenburg market is well-known in the Netherlands, so expect significant lines.

The is a limit on how many people are allowed in the caves, however, it’s possible to skip the line by buying tickets in advance.

If you’re considering visiting Valkenburg during the Christmas season, book your hotel early as Valkenburg and Maastricht are popular December weekend trip favorites with Dutchies, Germans, and Belgians.

It’s much easier to visit by train to avoid pricey parking although those on a budget might prefer one of the cozy accommodation options, which include castles, in the beautiful Limburg countryside.

The entire city of Valkenburg turns into the Christmas City of Valkenburg during this period, so if you check the schedule, you can enjoy parades, fresh food stands, and other cute Christmas themed attractions.

The most famous attraction of Valkenburg is the Valkenburg castle ruins, which can be toured during this time on a combination ticket with the Christmas markets. Maastricht is also nearby.

  • Dates: 15th November – 30th December 2019
  • By Karen, Wanderlustingk

Poland

Krakow Christmas Market

The Krakow Christmas Market runs from November 29th 2019 until 26th December and then reappears as the New Year Market on 27th December until 7th January 2020. The market is open from 10:00-20:00.

Held in the Rynek, Krakow’s main market square this marketing has been running since the 1930s.

It did stop for a while during the countries communist regime, but is well and truly up and running now.

Enclosed by the glorious St Mary’s Basilica and the stunning Cloth Hall, while encircled by beautiful horse-drawn carriage rides, and usually blanketed with at least a photogenic cover of snow, this is a feast for all the senses, but wrap up warm it can get bitterly cold here!

There are wooden stalls with wooden children’s toys, sweets, knitwear and jewellery as well as art and pottery.

The food here is what you’ll come for though. Grzaniec or hot mulled wine is served from massive wooden barrels, or a cold beer is also available.

The absolute must-have food is Smalec, a traditional Polish spread of spices and lard, topping thick slices of fresh bread and itself topped with sausage and fried onions. It is surprisingly delicious.

The best time to visit depends on the weather, try and come when it’s not bitterly cold, otherwise, you’ll be cutting your visit short!

Late afternoon and early evening make for the most atmosphere time to visit.

→Top tip: You’ll be able to warm up in one of the Pijalnia Wódki I Piwa bars – a hangover from communist Poland, where the beer is cheap, the vodka is cheaper and the budget snacks will fill you up for pennies. They’re usually open until 06:00.


Romania Christmas Markets

Bucharest Christmas Market

The Bucharest Christmas Market has a more recent tradition – as it was launched just a few years ago. But, since it launch, it became a huge success, both among locals and tourists. Hosted in front of the heaviest building in the world – the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest, the capital of Romania – in Constitution Square, this Christmas market is open from December 1st (Romania’s National Day) until December 26th.

While there are a few more Christmas fairs in Bucharest – at University Square, in big parks and malls – this is the biggest one and one to visit on your Bucharest trip. There are many things to do in Bucharest in December.

There are almost 130 small cottages where you can find numerous Christmas-related and traditional products. From Christmas food from all over the country to traditional costumes, Christmas decorations (including hand-made ones), to jewelry, paintings, pottery and more, everything is here. There’s also a food court.

Another great thing: concerts! Each weekend, from Friday to Sunday, in the evening (starting at 6 PM) you have concerts. Each evening has a theme and you’ll be able to listen to Romanian singers of all ages. During the concerts, there are bigger crowds, so consider that when visiting.

Children have Santa’s House – and they can meet Santa from December 17th to December 24th. There are also train rides for them and a carousel. You’ll also find here an ice skating ring for people of all ages. All the activities are free.

I visit the Bucharest Christmas Market each year – it’s a family tradition. We go and admire the city lights as well – Bucharest is decorated each year with new wonderful holiday lights and it’s a pleasure to see them all. I hope you’ll enjoy this market too!

  • Dates: 1st December to December 24th
  • By Lori from Travel – Moments in Time

Scotland

Edinburgh’s Christmas Market

Edinburgh plays host to the world’s biggest Hogmanay party, which means New Year’s Eve to non-Scots, and although this event brings in the 1st with a bang, the month run-up is filled with festivities in Scotland’s capital.

The Christmas market at Princes Stree Gardens is similar to other markets in Europe in that it sells Gluhwein in rented mugs, bratwurst in rolls and there is an ice rink but what makes it differ, slightly, is the Scottish twist.

You can expect haggis dogs sold alongside German sausage and a bothie bar selling whisky cocktails!

A bothie is a small hut or very small cottage which is used by hikers in Scotlands. Edinburgh’s Christmas has put a festive spin on the bothie and here you can get the best views on the market from this pub.

Warning: the market is super busy during the weekend so much so we gave up trying to enter one Saturday in December.

→ Top tip: If you are a fan of heights, ride the Star Flyer which soars at 60 metres above the market!

Edinburgh’s Market doesn’t just stop at Princes Street Gardens. George Street and St Andrews Square also play host to festive events.

Edinburgh Christmas Sign Market Things to do in Edinburgh in winter


Glasgow

Glasgow’s Christmas Market is tamer than its Edinburgh counterpart.

You can find huts selling food and crafts at both George Square and St Enoch Centre (Argyle Street).

For the kids, the George Square market has a Helter Skelter and carousel and for the big kids, a beer hut which also sells Glühwein.

→ Local tip: If you are visiting with an Autistic child, there is a quiet room at George Square.


Spain

Barcelona

If you like tapas with your tinsel then consider a warm Christmas trip to Barcelona. Nights are balmy but dark does fall on and the Catalan city makes a huge effort with Christmas lights in every area and shopping street.

Passeig de Gràcia is the most popular with its hanging lights.

There a handful of Christmas dotted around the city with the most notable being Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market which sits underneath Barcelona Cathedral.

Stalls sell Catalan traditional toys (?) such as the Christmas poo, Caga Tió and The Caganer pooing ornament.

I know, so much poo! Find out more about Barcelona in winter at our festive guide.

The Tió de Nadal Barcelona Christmas Tradition

Switzerland

Montreux Christmas Market, Montreux

With an average of 550,000 visitors each year, the Montreux Christmas Market – locally known as Montreux Noel – is one of the most popular Christmas markets in all of Switzerland.

Located on the shores of Lake Geneva, this waterfront Christmas market definitely has a unique location – and it makes use of it.

The 160 artisans and merchants, who sell everything from Christmas ornaments to wood carvings to nativity scene snow globes, are all steps away from the shoreline.

In the lake, there are even star-shaped lights floating around, giving the space a magical glow.

We certainly can’t forget about the food at the Montreux Christmas Market!

In addition to the Christmas market staples of roasted chestnuts, freshly-made churros, and mulled wine, the Montreux Christmas Market also has over half a dozen restaurants.

The vast majority of these restaurants serve Swiss or Vaud (the canton or state) specialities, such as raclette and rosti.

→ Top tip: Before heading to the market, check the website to see the opening hours for the individual vendors or sections. Certain sections open at different times of day than others.

In my opinion, the best time to go is around 5 p.m., just after the sun has set. You’ll be able to see the market and its view of Lake Geneva and the French Alps with the beautiful orange sunset glow.

Besides, the vast majority of the vendors will just be opening up, so the lines won’t be as long, the market won’t be as packed, and you’ll be able to enjoy the Swiss Christmas spirit.

If you’re looking for other festive activities to do in Montreux, head over to Chateau de Chillon – the castle that The Little Mermaid castle was based on – for some Christmas-themed workshops, stories, and shows!

Montreux-Christmas-Market


Frequently Asked Questions

When do Christmas Markets in Europe start?

Most markets open around the mid to end November and close for Christmas or New Year’s Eve.


Pin for future planning

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Final Words

The best cities for Christmas markets have to be found in Europe since this is where the concept originated from! Sip Glühwein like locals, dine on cuisine unique to specific markets and support local makers while you Christmas shop to get you in the Christmas spirit.


» Read next: Where to spend Christmas in the Americas (USA, Canada, South and Central)


Work Exchange: Workaway, HelpX or Hippohelp?

Workaway HelpX

Want to travel but can’t afford to? Work exchange programs like Workaway and HelpX and Hippohelp may be the solution. If you want to do volunteer work abroad for free travel and accommodation, have time to offer and basic skills to swap then you, like us (Gemma and Craig), could experience travel through a local’s eyes while on a budget.

Here are the benefits, the downsides, and the process of work abroad programs such as Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp and Volunteers Base for those who have considered work and travel.


What is Workaway, HelpX and Hippohelp?

Programmes such as WorkawayHelpX, Hippohelp allow travellers to live with and work for hosts all over the world.

Generally, the volunteer does not pay the host, financially, for the opportunity and the host does not pay the traveller a wage (salary) for the use of their time, skills, and experience. 

Workaway, HelpX and Hippohelp differ from housesitting as there is an element of work involved.

Are you at the planning stages of your trip? Don’t miss out our guide to how much long-term travel actually costs and also what to expect to pay for one month of travelling in Europe.

Workaway and HelpX | Jobs HungaryLearning new skills in a Hungarian village near Eger

Who Are Workaway Hosts?

My personal experience is with the website Workaway. Workaway hosts come in all shapes and sizes! Some are hostel/hotel owners, others are organic farmers. Families often need some help with childcare, sometimes stables need people to muck them out!

We have lived in a beach hotel in Nicaragua, with a (mostly) self-sustainable household in the Hungarian countryside, I’ve volunteered my services as an English native, and we’ve been dog walkers in Granada, Spain.

I do like the fact some of the Workaway hosts that we met also travel and work abroad for free then go home and invite the likes of us into their homes and businesses. 

Workaway does not hold the monopoly on travel exchanges, there are alternatives! HelpX has been mentioned often on the road, whereas I’ve not met anyone in person who has used Hippohelp or Volunteers Base.

Types of Jobs for Work Exchange  

The type of work you do will depend on the host and the time of year. Hostel and hotel owners may expect you to clean, cook, and interact with guests. We’ve planted potatoes, flowers, and painted fences (all of which was new to me!)

Craig has made furniture out of crates and fixed water systems (he’s a gas engineer to trade).

I’ve dabbled in social media promotion and website help. Sensible hosts will tap into your skills base and utilise them!

I have seen call outs for the likes of social media strategists on a near full-time basis – don’t do it! Personally, I think this host was abusing the point of Workaway style programmes, it’s supposed to be a voluntary position, not stealing a paid job from someone with solid industry experience!

 » Sign up for Workaway here
→ Receive three free months on top of your annual subscription

Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base | Jobs HungaryPainting wood for the common good!

Workaway Experiences

Nicaragua

Hotel help in paradise aka Las Peñitas. I served customers, helped in the café, took photos, wrote for the website. Craig made furniture, fixed water issues, made a bathroom roof.

Workaway and HelpX | Jobs NicaraguaLife’s a beach volunteering abroad – Craig made that chair out of crates!

Hungary

After a week partying in Budapest (eating Lángos and drinking pálinka) we moved to the countryside to help a family turn their outhouse into a guest room as well as doing a spot of light farming while eating a ridiculous amount of home-cooked food!

Before the above Workaway placement I left Craig in Budapest and attended an English language programme where I spent about 12 hours a day over five days with Hungarian natives who wanted to improve their language skills. A fun experience with a very impressive and motivated group of adults! Some of the volunteers found this programme through HelpX.

  • Duration: 5 days
  • Reward: private hotel room (some people shared), 3 very big meals, use of the hotel facilities (gym), tour of Budapest before the programme kicks off

Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base | Jobs HungarySometimes hosts feed you, a lot! Hungarian sour cherry soup – yums

Spain

The second last country on our 17-month long-term travel itinerary was Spain. During the 1.5 months in Spain, we moved in with a single parent who had four dogs!

Our main role was to walk our furry friends three times per day and make dinner. The family child was around at the weekends and I walked him to the bus stop for school sporadically but that was the extent of childcare.

This family were not very transparent in their profile, they sold themselves as a three-person family who required childcare help as the mum was sick, we were a bit miffed at not being notified of the changes before we arrived at the house.

  • Duration: 3.5 weeks
  • Reward: private room, swimming pool, 15-minute bus ride from Granada
  • Have a gander at our tips for Granada, Spain

Granda Dog Sitting I Workaway and HelpX | JobsDog – sitting in Spain, HelpX Workaway = travel for longer 

Essential Information

Hours of Work

Hours of work can vary from 2.5 to 5 hours per day / 5 days per week, anything more than that wouldn’t be worth it (unless short-term and unique to you) in my experience.

The expected hours should be stated in the advert, reconfirm on arrival! Obviously, the nature of the business might require flexibility but remember – you are a volunteer, not a paid member of staff!

The Hungarian/English language programme did take place from 8:30 to 21:30+ with 1.5 hours of free time in the afternoon but it was only for five days and the point of the programme was immersion for the participants!

Does Workaway and HelpX and Hippohelp Pay?

Workaway style programmes do not offer paid work abroad. Hosts don’t tend to pay in cash, a bed and sometimes meals are exchanged for your help.

We’ve had everything from no meals, to three meals and plus snacks (so much food)! However, if you do want to earn some cash, here are some ways to earn money and travel.

How Long Are Exchanges?

Length of stay depends on the needs of the host and the availability of the volunteer.

Our longest was five weeks and the shortest five days. We initially agreed on two weeks in Nicaragua but extended this to five. Hosts tend to be ex-backpackers too so they know how backpacking life works, tranquilo!

If you are only in a city for a short period of time it might be worth checking out Couchsurfing, where you stay with a host for a set time, for free, with no work expected.

Accommodation

There is no standard for Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp or Volunteers Base exchange accommodation. We’ve slept in a private garden house with bathroom and kitchen, a private room with shared bathroom (and pool!) and a four-bed dorm. The latter was not really great for us as a couple but would suit others.

There are many hostels which offer a bed in their staff dorm, it all depends on their set up. Sleeping arrangements should be stated in the advert.

If you are staying in a hostel dorm bed our top tip for privacy is to take a bottom bunk and pack a large scarf or flag and tuck it into the bed frame creating a curtain. You’re going to have to live like this for a while so privacy will be required for your own sanity.

How Workaway Works

Click this link to sign up. 

Pay 36 euro per person or 48 euro per couple for an annual subscription. You’ll get three free months added on too as you signed up through me! 

Next, create a profile, add some photos / a video, tick the boxes of the work you would like to do and the countries you are interested in. Be honest!

If you don’t want to get muddy, don’t tick gardening!

A helpful host for both Workaway and HelpX advised us in the comments below that she chooses volunteers based on the detail of their profiles and level of excitement in their pitches.

She also wants to see that you are willing to put the effort in and are not just looking for a free ride! Thanks for the tips, Anke.

Are you a host that wants to help volunteers get the best chances of being chosen? Tell us your tips in the comments below.

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway Profile

Searching for Workaway Hosts

There is a search function on the website. Select the continent and country you are interested in.

This will pull up hosts in that area. Check the calendar for availability (green means the host is looking) and read the advert. Double-check the type of work, sleeping arrangements, hours of work, and perks!

There may also be reviews at the bottom. If that programme seems suitable, use the email system to contact the host. Personalise the email, our Hungarian host says he gets lots of generic emails where the prospective volunteer hasn’t even bothered reading the profile!

Our Nicaraguan (actually Argentinian) friend told us that he was inundated with emails, so you need to stand out! Use the host’s name, tell them why you are suitable for the position, and give your availability. We also stick our availability in the email header.

Workaway Reviews - Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Workaway reviews – for hosts and volunteers 

Another handy function is the ‘wish list’ button which allows you to store adverts you like the look of for later. However, the early bird catches the worm and all that! Fed up of seeing the same adverts?

Select the last minute, new listing or updated listing buttons. This will filter out the older profile.

Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

Select continents, countries, keywords or go anywhere!

Become a Workaway Host

Unlike Wwoofing, it is free to sign up as a host on Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp and Volunteers Base.

Complete the form online, let the company vet your information (Workaway creates a headline for your advert) then wait on the awesome volunteers to contact you!

Remember to update your calendar regarding your availability *pet hate* Adding images will also increase your likeliness of gaining attention. Our host in Hungary, Robert, is also an avid Workaway volunteer!


How HelpX Works

HelpX offers two levels of membership – free and premium.

Under free, you can create a profile and hosts can contact you.

To use the search facilities and wish list similar to Workaway, the price is €20. This will also give you access to previous reviews.


How Hippohelp Works

The new kid on the block, Hippohelp is a free service so this differs from Workaway and HelpX which there is a fee for as mentioned above.

Volunteers can sign up using their Facebook account or if you do not have a Facebook account, sign up on the site.

The first page is a world map which asks about your status – volunteer or host (we’d love to hear from you if you are a volunteer turned host in any of these programmes, I think this turnaround is very in-keeping with the ethos of volunteering and travelling!)

Like the above websites, there is a profile to complete which is always recommended to maximise your chances of being successful. It does not have to be completed initially if you just want to browse options.

Hippohelp

Searching for Hippohelp Hosts

The map indicates where there are volunteer programmes available, most of the hosts have profiles once you click on the marker and scroll down.

You can also read/write reviews, send messages to find out more information and you can save your favourite ’markers’. Hippohelp is a little bit different in the sense that you can use it as a travel buddy service too. You can use the markers to find fellow travellers, not just hosts. You can also switch between being a volunteer and being a host.


Workaway vs HelpX vs Hippohelp 

Workaway vs HelpX, HelpX vs Workaway, how do you choose?

Workaway definitely has a more polished website but is slightly more expensive.

Workaway allows you to upload a video to your profile as well as images. It also runs social activities like photo competitions.

It’s not apparent from the website how many jobs HelpX has on the site, Workaway states ‘1000s of jobs in 135 countries’.

Sonja from Migrating Miss used HelpX to find an exchange in a traditional house in Spain. Here’s her experience. 

The only way in was via Land Rover which drove over a dry riverbed! The hosts invited multiple volunteers to help clean around the house, cook, plant, etc which suited Sonja as she was a solo traveller.

Another bonus of volunteering abroad – meeting new friends!

The reason she chose HelpX over Workaway was simply down to word of mouth, a friend had completed an exchange with HelpX and recommended it.

Sonja also liked how HelpX set out adverts on a map, she said there was plenty of variation in work and that hosts were ‘so-so’ at replying (like Workaway then).

Check out her experience of the work exchange in the Spanish countryside!

Volunteers Base – Workaway Alternative

Volunteers Base sells itself as a free alternative to Workaway, HelpX, and Wwoofing. No one pays, the volunteer or the host. The site covers a variety of positions from farm work to childcare all over the world.

They also claim to check over profiles before they are published live. I’ve not tried this personally, but it does look like a legit free alternative to Workaway and HelpX. Have you used Volunteers Base? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

Personally, I like the idea of paying because there is a level of security with a premium service and the product in question is you. Your safety is paramount. 

Las Penitas Nicaragua | Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers BaseLive here for free! Las Peñitas, a hidden gem in Nicaragua 


Benefits of Work or Volunteering Abroad

  • Local experience. Many programmes give you the chance to work with local people in their own environment so you learn about their culture. We’ve tried heaps of homemade Hungarian food, this wouldn’t happen during the normal hostel hopping type of travel!
  • Hidden areas. Many programmes take you away from the gringo trail; countryside, mountains, islands, and villages that Lonely Planet misses out!
  • Saves money. Volunteering while travelling makes a small budget last longer. We saved £20k for our 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe but without Workaway (and this travel blog) we would have been packing our bags for home by month ten!
  • Slow travel. The one night here, two nights there, type of travel is exhausting. Believe me, we did it for the first three months and it resulted in major burn out by Cuba in June! Not only is stopping to volunteer to reduce your carbon footprint but it’s also a nice way to give back to local communities. Plus, if like me you are a fast fat, there’s more chance you’ll pound those mean streets with your sneaks or hit the gym/pool/sea, when in one place for a period of time.

Downsides of Exchange Websites

Responses. Don’t get your heart set on one advert, there is a good chance they won’t reply! Especially if you are applying for programmes in popular destinations like Costa Rica.

For every one response we received, I had applied for 10 – 15 all over Costa Rica. I imagine lots of backpackers get to Costa Rica, freak out at the cost of living/travel and scramble for volunteer work!

There are, however, extremely cool options in the land of Pura Vida so if you do get one, high five! Apply for more than one exchange your desired destinations, but remember, personalise!

Depending on the cost of living of where you are travelling around, there may be the chance that it is actually cheaper to book a hostel room when you measure how much time you work in relation to how much a stay would cost.

For example, in Hanoi in Vietnam, hostel dorms can be found for under £5 per night. If you work for 5 hours per day with only a bed in the agreement is it really worth it? Something to consider.


Grey Areas of Workaway,  HelpX and Hippohelp 

A couple of things to be cautious of while considering volunteering while travelling. Visas – technically you are working so it’s probably best to omit to immigration control that you are about to set sail in Croatia as a chef or train huskies in Canada (genuinely two opportunists!)

E.U residents – I know we can work in each other’s countries (well maybe we can’t soon) but normally you would give an employer your national insurance number, we’ve never been asked for this (a copy of our passport has been taken).

Get travel insurance. Accidents can happen when climbing ladders, washing sloths or leading a bar crawl! Double-check that your provider covers manual work (and alcohol?!)

We use True Traveller and couldn’t be happier with the service. I had to pay the GP and the physiotherapist a visit to Canada and annoyingly had to pay them! However, I was refunded speedily. Communication has been excellent from the start and I am that annoying traveller that asks questions, a lot!

Read our comparison guide of True Traveller and World Nomads here.

Las Penitas Nicaragua | Workaway Countries | Workaway and HelpX Days off are made for swinging in hammocks – Workaways = Swingaways


Work Exchange Packing List 

This will obviously be dictated by the country, time of year and how long you have been travelling for already (or what you intend to do after). I never travel without the following.

Marmot PreCip Jacket

My Marmot PreCip jacket US / UK is lightweight, folds into its own pocket so neatly into a day bag and is waterproof. I think it looks pretty sharp too, I have the electric blue version.

Hiking Boots/Trainers

My preference is trek/hike trainers/shoes over boots but Craig prefers full ankle support boots. Trek trainers are lighter and look like trainers so are a little bit more flexible if trying to match the rest of your backpacking wardrobe. I take my Salomon Eclipse US / UK which I trekked with to Machu Picchu. 

shoes everywhere. They’ve hiked up mountains, volcanoes (and sledged down it) and through rainforests.

Craig was also team Salomon, like the Quests, (for the entirety of our 5-week Southeast Asia tour and our 17-month career break to travel) but has recently moved over to Scarpa to try out leather boots.

Pacsafe

If you are travelling with expensive electronics it will be worth investing in some form of security protection for your belongings.

We travelled around 16 countries with this PacSafe net US / UK. We packed our electronics, passports, and money into one of our day bags, put the bag in the PacSafe net, closed the net over securing it against a non-movable bedpost or radiator etc and then padlocking.

I’ve not used it on a trip yet and I’m a little miffed at the new flying with electronics laws for travelling to and from the USA as it means I need to put it in hold however at least it will be securer than a normal backpack, everything crossed.

The frame has stainless steel embedded into the cloth in an attempt to make it splash-proof and the padlock which is inbuilt unlike the PacSafe net is secure (I had to get Craig to work out how to open it the first time).

 » » Read next: our guide to backpacks with wheels « « 

Other Budget Tips

We cover this extensively in our long-term travel planning guide but here is a summary of budget tips to help get you on the road, or staying on the road!

Budget versus Destination

Balance your budget against the cost of travel to get to a destination and also how much money you will need when you are there. 

Countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Costa Rica and the US are more expensive than some South American countries such as Bolivia and Peru or Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam and Cambodia.

However, if you live in the States it might be more affordable for you to travel closer to home to skip out on an expensive air ticket. 

Here’s a list of the cheapest cities in the US to visit and National Parks to visit in February and March which is low season for some.

The same goes for European readers, what about an Eastern European inter-rail where you budget stretches?

Budapest is a fun city and Krakow is where you visit Auschwitz, a day trip that will never leave you.

Cheap Flights

Be cautious of red eye flights! If they arrive at 3am how will you get to your accommodation?

Once you get to your accommodation can you hang out before check in?

Kick Costly Habits 

If you smoke, have a sweet tooth or drink most days, you will find your budget depleting rapidly!

Try to give up home habits or reduce the amount you do them to save on your travel budget.


Final Words

If budget dictates or you are thinking ‘I want to volunteer but I can’t afford it’, maybe you are fed up of the booze cruise type of travel, or maybe you are looking to engage your brain again, Workaway, HelpX, Hippohelp or Volunteers Base projects are a great way to enhance your travelling experience in exchange for your time and helping hand.

If you want to gain accreditation for working abroad why not try this cheap TEFL course? Work exchange conclusion: Workaway is worth it but iron out the expectations before volunteering abroad!

 » Don’t forget to claim your three free months with Workaway here


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Travel and Work: Workaway Countries | Workaway, Help X and Volunteers Base

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This article contains a advertisement from Hippohelp however, as always, opinions are mine. If you would like to advertise at Two Scots Abroad please contact us. Readers, if you’d like more information on what this means please read our small print.

Top Christmas Trips – USA, Canada, Central + South America

Wollman Rink in Central Park with ice skaters

Cocktails by the beach or shopping splurges in cities – there is no right way to celebrate the festive holiday in the Americas. If you are looking for ideas to change up your Christmas trips in the Americas this year, look no further! We (Gemma and Craig) have asked fellow travel lovers and experts where the best places to spend Christmas in the USA, Canada, Central and South America are. If you’ve been nice, Santa will still find you even if you are by the pool, at the poker table or pulling crackers in a winter wonderland!


» Planning on a festive road trip? Here’s our all-season packing list (free)


Note: Check individual locations for updates on their proposed Christmas event plans for 2020.


USA

Chicago

Pull on some skates and spin around Millenium Park at the Mccormick Tribune Ice Skating Rink then visit the famous bean to take a Chicago selfie! Millennium Park is where many of the festive events take place in the city including the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony.

Other hotspots include the 45-foot Christmas tree in the Walnut Room at Macy’s and the European style Christmas market at Christkindlmarket at Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago.

Chicago’s Magnificent Mile (Mag’s Mile) also puts on a great show with lights and Disney characters to celebrate the start of the holidays.

There are a few spots for sledding, check out Cricket Hill at Montrose Harbor, Palmisano Park in Bridgeport, the Dan Ryan Woods and Soldier Field. Lots of choice during your trip to Chicago this Christmas.

Christmas in Las Vegas

No matter what time of year you visit Las Vegas, you’ll find loads of fun things to do. But Christmas in Vegas really is one of the hottest times to holiday. Although the temperature drops to 60 degrees Farenheight, the fun does not stop. 

On the first night of your visit, grab a hot chocolate to go, and head to Lake Bellagio to catch one of the famous fountain shows. It is so much fun to see the water dance to the sounds of familiar holiday tunes! Enjoy the attractions with fewer people, Vegas is noticeably quieter during the holiday season. 

Another delightful holiday-time activity in Vegas is viewing the extravagant displays set up many of the resorts.

You definitely should not miss the lobby of the Wynn Resort and the Conservatory at the Bellagio Resort, where you will find classy depictions of winter and holiday scenes.

It wouldn’t be the holidays without seeing the Nutcracker, but reserve in advance if you want to bag the good seats.

Check out the one million annual holiday lights at the Ethel M Chocolate Factory and Cactus Garden.

Next, head to the Town Square, where man-made snow flurries create magic each night during the holidays!

Just because you are holidaying in Las Vegas, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out on a traditional Christmas meal. Book a table for a holiday meal at any one of several fine dining restaurants or enjoy a buffet but expect long lines. Almost everywhere is open on Christmas Day.

Bundle up, because average temperatures in Vegas can drop from a balmy 60 degrees Fahrenheit during the day to a near-freezing 32 degrees at night.

Dhara | It’s Not About the Miles

Las Vegas sign blue skies


Miami Christmas

One of the good things about holidaying in Miami is the weather. With an average temperature of 80 F (26.6 C) Miami definitely appeals to winter-weary travelers looking for a weather respite.

There is a lot more to the self-proclaimed “Magic City” than the weather. You know the holidays have arrived when you see the blazing, colorful holiday lights at Santa’s Village off Palmetto Highway. Every year it seems the decorations get more and more elaborate.

One of my favorite holiday activities is visiting the Christmas markets that sprout up all over the city like colorful mushrooms.

Miami being the capital of Latin America, there is definitely a heavy Latin – particularly Cuban – flavor that permeates the holidays.

Signs pop up in food stores advertising ingredients for “Noche Buena”  the holiday meal celebrated by many Latin Americans on December 24.

The traditional dishes include lechon (roast pig), moro (black beans and rice) and fried plantains all washed down with Spanish cava. And the music is non-stop! Every club, bar or restaurant with even a couple of square feet of space transforms itself into a dance extravaganza and everyone participates.  

It’s about this time that the announcements for New Year’s Eve parties start hitting the airwaves. And nobody does New Year’s Eve like Miami (well, except for NYC, of course).  On December 31st many streets close and restaurants pour onto the sidewalks festooned with balloons and streamers.

Many restaurants charge an additional 15% holiday fee on this day. The hours count down and, close to midnight, people start heading to the beach where they know the exhilarating fireworks display won’t disappoint.  And they don’t!  

Talek | Travels With Talek

Christmas in New York

Maybe I’m biased as a local, but I think one of the best places to celebrate Christmas is in New York City.

With the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree all lit up, the department store windows decked out in full holiday cheer, and the bustle of the winter markets and ice skating rink at Bryant Park and Rockefeller, you just might find yourself skipping down sparkly Fifth Avenue while humming Deck the Halls!

I love seeing the Radio City Rockettes or the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. A pre-theater glass of wine at the holiday wonderland, Rolf’s, is a great way to round up a festive night in the Big Apple.

Just remember, December weekends in NYC are crowded. Plan extra time to get around and, when possible, travel via the subway underground. It’s by far the quickest way to avoid NYC’s legendary holiday traffic and maximize your time.

If you’re lucky, you just might get some snowfall, which only adds to how pretty the city looks! And, a coating of white absolutely warrants a stroll through fairy tale Central Park. Just be sure to dress for the weather!

Temperatures in NYC in the winter can range from the comfortable 40s and 50s to the downright wicked in the teens and single digits. The best way to make sure you keep that holiday spirit as you walk around the city is by covering your ears, wearing a heavy winter jacket, and warm, waterproof shoes or boots.

Jackie Sills-DellegrazieThe Globetrotting Teacher


» Don’t miss | How to spend 4 days in NYC


Iceskating in New York with skyline


Vermont, New England

There is really nowhere better to spend Christmas than Vermont, USA. I may be biased, having lived here for more than half my life, but Vermont (and the New England region in general) are the ideal spots for a classic Christmas.

First of all, this state is where you want to go if you’re searching for a White Christmas.

Climate statistics point to the chance of snow on the ground in Vermont on December 25th is somewhere around 75% or more. Pretty good odds!

Vermont is like a Christmas village, with quaint main streets, charming steepled churches, and an abundance of Christmas trees.

One of the best traditions for the holidays in Vermont is to pick and cut your own Christmas tree. We recently discovered a Christmas tree farm not far from Vermont’s biggest city (Burlington) where you can ride in a horse-drawn sleigh up to find your tree.

Once you’ve chopped it down, enjoy hot cocoa and cookies by a wood-burning fireplace.

Aside from that, in Vermont, you can enjoy tons of wintry sports and activities, including sledding, skiing, ice skating, and much more. Simply put, Vermont is the Christmas dream here in the USA.

Amy |  Two Drifters

Vermont Horses Snow Christmas

Portland’s Christmas

Portland, Oregon is one of the USA’s coolest cities and as the temperatures drop (and the rain pours), it maintains its core values: craft beer, respect of the city’s makers, and community action.

There are plenty of opportunities to see Christmas lights in Portland. Oregon Zoo puts on a big seasonal show, Pittock Manion is decked out by volunteers and there is even a ship parade where boats sail the Willamette and Columbia River all lit up. The locals at Peacock Lane also light up their houses for you to see.

All of that festive cheer works up a thirst! Don’t miss your chance to try 50 ales at the Holiday Ale Festival at Pioneer Square (image credit).

Washington DC

Often overshadowed by nearby NYC, Washington is one of the most underrated places in the US to celebrate Christmas. Having grown up just outside of the city, Christmas has always been my favorite time of year in the nation’s capital.

For one, there are two national Christmas trees. That’s right, TWO! One of them is located in front of the U.S. Capitol Building and provides one of the most picturesque DC Christmas settings. The other tree is located in front of the White House. That tree is also surrounded by 56 smaller trees, one for each US state and territory.

Speaking of the White House, it gets a makeover each holiday season. The President’s home is open to public tours all year, but Christmas is the best time to visit. The entire building is decorated with a multitude of trees, fresh pine garland, twinkling lights, and a gingerbread replica of the White House itself.

My favorite DC Christmas tradition is the performance of Handel’s Messiah at the National Cathedral. The Messiah was written to be performed in just such a venue, and the annual performance is always a highlight of the season.

Weather in DC in December is usually on the chilly side, but mild. High temperatures are typically in the 30s/40s F. Many restaurants are closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but a number of them do offer special holiday meals on those days.

Maggie McKneely | Pink Caddy Travelogue

Canada

Toronto

Excitement and preparation for Christmas in Toronto starts right after the American Thanksgiving.

For me, Christmas in Toronto starts when the Hudson Bay Company puts up its colorful window displays and Eaton Centre in the adjacent building puts up its gigantic Christmas tree which is covered in red twinkling lights. I visit every year to check them out. They instantly put me in a festive mood.

This is also around the time when the Christmas tree at Nathan Phillips Square is illuminated. The illumination ceremony includes some great fireworks display and performances by Canadian artists.

I also look forward to the Christmas market in Distillery district which opens in mid-November and lasts up to the big day. This gives people an entire month to do their shopping. This year the newlywed couple, Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin also showed up to celebrate. Tip to save money – visit during weekdays when there’s no entrance fee.

If you are looking to enjoy Christmas on a budget, then visit Toronto Waterfront. This is one of my favorite free things to do in Toronto any time of the year. However, during Christmas, the spectacular light display near Toronto’s Music Garden and the Natrel skating takes my sense of awe, for the waterfront, to a whole new level.

Other popular things to do during this season is to visit the flower display in Allan Garden conservatory, joining the festivities and having a traditional Christmas dinner at the Black Creek Pioneer village, seeing the winter wonderland display at Yonge-Dundas square just to name a few.

Pari | Traveling Pari


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Christmas tree TorontoCentral America

Mexico City

Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, however, it feels homely during the winter holidays.

The population of Mexico, in general, is very religious, thus, it’s common to celebrate Christmas with the family. Also, families in Mexico are quite big, so it’s not unusual to see the gatherings of 30, 50 or even 80 people.

When we visit Mexico City (my husband is Mexican/Spanish), we always have a family gathering with a large Christmas tree and a Christmas nativity set up at home.

On Christmas Day, Mexicans usually go to their local church and later stay at home with the family.

Mexico City is a lovely destination for Christmas holidays because it gets decorated for Christmas, but at the same time, it’s very warm in winter (during the day it could easily be 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so it’s quite a unique and unusual situation especially for Europeans and Northern Americans (from Canada and the Northern states in the US).

There 3 major holidays around the Christmas time in Mexico: Christmas, NY and the last one is the 3 King’s Day on the 6th of Dec. It’s common to gather together and eat a special sweet bread called Rosca.

New Year is usually quite calm in Mexico City, however, there are fireworks in the downtown and parties around Zocalo and Angel.

Liza | Tripsget

Ometepe, Nicaragua

One of the most unusual places to spend Christmas is Balgue, the smallest village on the island of Ometepe, in Nicaragua. Famous for the presence of two volcanoes and its natural beauty, Ometepe isn’t exactly a happening destination in terms of Christmas celebrations, which in a way is what makes it completely charming and worth it.

If Ometepe keeps Christmas celebrations low key, in Balgue they almost go unnoticed. It’s all about staying in the family, sitting together playing the guitar and singing traditional tunes.

What I loved about it is that it’s not commercial at all, but it truly is about sharing the moment with people you love and care about and welcoming others into your home. 

As the smallest village in Ometepe, Balgue doesn’t have many sleeping options, most visitors stay at Finca Magdalena, a very modest hostel kind of place at about 30 minutes walk (there is no road access) through the forest. Travelers hardly venture to the village during the night, because walking back means crossing the forest in the dark.

Celebrations at Finca Magdalena are thus very similar to those in the village: a bottle of Nicaraguan rum, a guitar or two, and people gathered around the table for an impromptu jam session. It’s completely free, and a lot of fun.

Claudia Tavani | My Adventures Around The World

Maderas Volcano, Ometepe Nicaragua, Things To Do On Ometepe

South America

Christmas in Medellin, Colombia

After backpacking South America for many years, my favourite place to spend Christmas in Medellin, Colombia.

Medellin has one of the most elaborate Christmas celebrations on planet earth. Not only visible on the streets through the 26 million Christmas lights, but also there are other festive traditions that are religiously celebrated.

The most important tradition of all is spending time with the family. Families celebrate by watching the Alumbrados annual Christmas light display and during Novenas (16th – 24th December), we all get together to eat, pray and recite prayers from a book that is passed around between the family.

Why wait until Christmas day to open presents? Here in Medellin, we open presents on the 24th of December and it’s normal to do secret Santa style gifting.

For Christmas in Medellin, expect a moderate 75c temperature. The Paisas, people from the Antioquia region of Colombia, love to celebrate so you will not be disappointed by this special event. 

Daniel James | Layer Culture

Christmas in Santiago, Chile 

My favorite place to spend Christmas is Santiago de Chile. 

The best part about spending Christmas in Chile is that it is summertime so days and nights are warm which means you can wear light clothes and spend lots of time outside.

There are not huge events for Christmas in Santiago as its mostly a private celebration with family.

People who are very Catholic go to church before having dinner with the family on the 24th of December. 

Then, at midnight Santa Claus, “Viejo Pascuero” brings gifts and the family opens them around the Christmas tree.

We prepare a traditional drink for the season called “Cola de Mono” or literally Monkey’s Tale made out of milk, sugar, coffee, and alcohol, served cold with some cookies or Christmas cake.

If you are not invited to spend dinner with a local family, make sure you make reservations in your favorite restaurant, many actually close for the festive holidays so it could be hard to find a place to spontaneously have dinner.

There’s public transportation running the whole night as well as Uber so you won’t be stuck when trying to get home like in other destinations. 

If you stay until New Year’s Eve you will see beautiful firework shows in several points in the city but my suggestion would be travel to the coastal city of Valparaíso, where they throw one of the best and biggest firework shows in the world. 

Gloria Apara | Nomadic Chica

Christmas Santiago

Final Words

Whether you are looking for a white Christmas in the States or a beach trip to Central America, there are many ways to celebrate Christmas in the Americas! This guide has shared expert advice from travel bloggers on their favourite places to spend time in December.

Where will you be this Christmas?

Best Backpacker Insurance: True Traveller v World Nomads Insurance

Best Backpacker Travel Insurance World Nomads Insurance True Traveller

You’ve saved hard for your backpacking trip and I know you would prefer to spend money on new gear over travel insurance and vaccinations but trust me, you need to invest in both. This guide will detail what to look for in backpacker insurance and compare two leading companies: World Nomads Travel Insurance against True Traveller Insurance. We (hi, I’m Gemma, the other Scot is Craig) will discuss – cost, coverage and provide real-life examples of claiming experiences.

Do I Need Backpacker Insurance?

Easy answer, yes. If you are travelling for longer than a fortnight and are going outside of your home continent/country then it is likely that any current travel insurance that you have for free through the likes of your premium bank accounts will not cover you for a backpacking trip.

Accidents happen (mopeds in Southeast Asia), food can make you sick (Delhi belly is right of passage when backpacking!) and just because you are on the trip of the lifetime it does not make you invincible, you can still catch common flu, get rashes and if stupid, sexually transmitted diseases.

Different cultures have different laws and ways of thinking. There a lot of stray dogs in the likes of Northern Thailand and Peru in South America, these dogs can have rabies and if you get bitten you need to get to an international hospital ASAP, even if you have been vaccinated.

If you have had the rabies jag you need two doses a few days apart, if you’ve not got it, four doses over a month. How doe that fit into your dream itinerary?

A serious point I have to stress here if you do not have the correct vaccinations for the countries that you are visiting your travel insurance does not have to pay out. This means that you will be paying for your health costs yourself.

I am not scaremongering here, we write about affordable travel at Two Scots Abroad but vaccinations and insurance have to be part of your budget for travelling. If it isn’t you are not only going to be short on cash but you are also going to waste a lot of time making phone calls, sending emails and being stressed.

Case Study: Claiming in the USA

To put the price of healthcare into perspective, my friend Kaci went over her ankle at the Grand Canyon. We spent half a day waiting on treatment (we only had one full day at the Canyon), she received an x-ray and crutches. Total cost? $500 USD. Luckily she could claim this back as she had travel insurance.

As a responsible traveller, it is down to you to fork out of these important requirements for travel.

We also advise investing in a good quality medical kit US / UK which includes needles and, if like us, you like a drink, stock up on hydration tablets US / UK.

You can thank us later!

Travel insurance isn’t just about health insurance though. Plans can also include lost, delayed and stolen baggage, protection for electronics and sporting equipment and legal advice if you need it.

What Type of Travel Insurance Do I need?

You should consider the following during your research on travel insurance. The type of travel insurance you need depends on five factors:  

  1. How long are you travelling?

    Companies cater for single and multi-trips, short and long-term travel adventures – offering one-year travel insurance packages (and up).

  2. What type of activities will you be doing while travelling?

    You have to be mindful that some packages do not cover high altitude hikes, diving or winter sports. These adventure activities tend to increase the price of your insurance. This isn’t a reason to leave them off your itinerary, if you are thrill seeker like me you will regret not taking the cover when you are on the road!

  3. Do you have pre-existing conditions?

    Not quite backpacking related but my poor grandparents are doing a cruise for their diamond anniversary and their insurance is going to cost them the same as the cruise. You have youth on your side, enjoy it! Also, your age does matter, most companies will not cover travellers over a certain age point.

    Side note about conditions. If you are sh*t faced when you hurt yourself, you are probably going to get declined. If you’ve had a few glasses of wine and are in control, you might still have your claim accepted.

  4. Do you intend to work while travelling?

    Working holiday travel insurance is a different ballgame! Check out our FAQ section for information on WWOOFing and working.

  5. Are you already travelling?

    Getting travel insurance while abroad is much harder than extending a pre-existing package but it is possible at an additional cost. 

Key Terms For Travel Insurance

There are a variety of terms that you need to be aware of when shopping for backpacker insurance.

  • Excess – this is the amount of money you are responsible for if you need to claim insurance while travelling. You can often pay an excess waiver to bring the amount down (just like with car insurance).
  • Emergency Medical Expenses – the amount of money the insurer will pay towards your medical care, care above this amount must be paid by you privately.
  • Baggage and Personal Belongings – if your bags go missing, are stolen, are damaged or destroyed, this is the amount that the company will cover (add up how much your items cost you). It is likely that there is a limit to the cost of single items.
  • Personal Liability – legal expenses and liability for damage that you incurred by accident or claims made against you. It is unlikely that this will cover vehicle liability.

Companies will then offer ‘add-ons’ such as sport, adventure and extreme activities so if you want to bungee jump in New Zealand (or Scotland like we did, tandem!) you will need to add this package on to ensure you are covered. Winter sports can be added on here too and there is usually a different package depending on the duration of your ski/board trip.

Then there is usually a final tier of additional coverage such as money, individual items like electronics, sports gear, and musical instruments,   

World Nomads Travel Insurance Review

There is no denying that World Nomads insurance is the most popular backpacking insurance company used by thousands of travellers each day.

Unlike True Traveller, it offers coverage to all nationalities making it very accessible to every traveller however, it is not cheap. 

World Nomads Website

The World Nomads website initially prompts you for the following information:

  • Countries travelling to (you can add multiple or ‘worldwide’)
  • Country of residence
  • Start and end date of the proposed policy
  • Traveller’s ages

You then hit get the price button. World Nomads then throws up two pricing tiers – the ‘Standard Plan’ and the ‘Explorer Plan’.

The Standard offers less and is cheaper in comparison to the Explorer.

Side note: World Nomads automatically adds on a charity donation which it defines as a ‘footprint donation’ you can increase, decrease or remove at the bottom of the quote.

World Nomads Website

One Year Travel Insurance

For example, a worldwide policy which covers one resident from the UK aged 33 (still flirting with 30!) comes in at £462 for the Standard Plan and £571 for the Explorer Plan.

The biggest differences between the two are that the emergency medical expenses coverage is £5,000,000 for the Standard but double that for the Explorer, baggage and personal belongings is also double (Standard is £1000 – with limits to single items), personal liability is £2,000,000 for both tiers and if you have to cancel your trip before you leave, the Standard World Nomad policy would not reimburse you whereas the Explorer would offer up to £5000.

World Normas Insurance Rates

World Nomads Insurance Real Example

Getting Medical Care in Developed and Developing World Countries

When I was finishing up my four-month trip around Southeast Asia I was in my last destination, El Nido, Philippines. On an island-hopping day trip, I started to feel quite weak and tired but I blamed it on pushing so hard for the past four months of travel and shrugged it off as I was going home in a week.

The next morning I woke up with a raging fever so I decided to try and sleep it off. Three days later and the fever was only worsening (40°C/104°F), my throat was the sorest it had ever been and my ears felt blocked.

I had the front desk call me a ride and I landed myself in a dusty doctors office where I learned that I had tonsillitis and wax build-up in my ears (most likely from wearing earplugs).

I was prescribed some antibiotics for tonsillitis and some drops to help my ears which cost around $100 CAD/$77 USD/ £50 which was more expensive than I thought it would be for the Philippines.

I went back when the fever didn’t break after another two days and got stronger antibiotics and my ears were cleaned out (thank goodness because I had 24 hours of travel two days later!). All ended well and I was able to travel home healthy though tired.

A year later I found myself sick with a fever yet again but this time in Australia, attempting to enjoy the beaches with chills.

I did everything I could to get rid of it, rested in my hostel dorm for a few days and took medication to get it to go down but nothing helped.

Once in Sydney, I got myself an appointment at the closest clinic, worried because my sinuses were completely blocked and I had 5 flights within the next week.

The doctor saw me with no issues ($75 AUD/ $55/ £43 fee just to see a doctor), prescribed medication for a sinus infection and recommend a nasal spray. Luckily I was fully cleared before my flight to camp in the outback.

Claiming Through World Nomads

I’m happy nothing was more serious and though I could have easily covered the expenses myself I still claimed them through World Nomads on both occasions, including the medication I bought that wasn’t prescribed by the doctor.

I logged into the World Nomads member area on their website, clicked on ‘make a claim’ and entered all the information that was asked for including copies of the recipes that I got on both occasions. Within a month I had a cheque waiting for me in the mail with a full reimbursement.

True Traveller Insurance

True Traveller travel insurance is aimed at residents in the UK so this excludes a number of travellers. However, for those in the UK, you will find that True Traveller is cheaper than World Nomads but does not scrimp on service.

My friend Karen is an over-planner. Karen will research every possible aspect of a trip before leaving and have it documented for leaving (you won’t be surprised to hear that her partner, Craig, is super laid back and does not plan a thing). Karen and Craig’s travelling pattern is pretty similar to mine and my Craig’s.

Karen and Craig were leaving for Canada before us so had all of their travel insurance nailed before us.

She passed on her notes with True Traveller coming out on top because of their affordable price and winter sports coverage.

Never one to rely solely on others advice, I spent days researching the possible insurance companies for our 18-month career break to travel the Americas and Europe, creating pages and pages of notes and tables.

Again, True Traveller was coming out on top so I called them (twice) to probe for reassurance (I’m anxious) and they were patient with me and my variety of questions each time (I am not your ideal customer).

True Traveller Website

The website asks you to complete the following criteria

  • Where you live
  • Are you already travelling?
  • Dates which you would like the insurance
  • Ages of travellers
  • Area of cover – Europe, Australia and New Zealand (duration sensitive stopovers included), Worldwide excluding USA/Canada (duration sensitive stopovers included), Worldwide (all countries)

True Traveller Homepage

The very neat site retrieves a quote which offers three price tiers.

  • ‘Traveller’ is the most popular middle of the road policy.
  • ‘True Value’ for cheap backpacker insurance, ‘no-nonsense budget policy.’
  • ‘Traveller Plus’ offers higher medical cover as well as cancellation options.

One Year Travel Insurance

If we look at the example of a one year, worldwide package for a traveller aged 33 who has not left yet the price comes in at £299.99 for True Value, £393.29 for Traveller and £490.17 for Traveller Plus. 

True Traveller Packages
The biggest differences between the three tiers are that the True Value covers less medical expenses (£2,500,000 compared to £5,000,000 for the second tier, Traveller), optional baggage (£1000 compared to £2,000,000 – with limits to single items), personal liability (£1,000,000 compared to £2,000,000) and offers less cancellation coverage if you have to cancel your trip before leaving your home country (£1000 compared to £3,000,000).

The upper tier, Traveller Plus, naturally offers more but costs more.

Companies offer three tiers to accommodate all budgets but also from a marketing angle, most shoppers choose the middle tier. Craig is a gas engineer and does the same when he is quoting for boiler changes (thrilling eh?!)


True Traveller also offers insurance add-ons for:

  • Sports/activities at differing levels from everyday football playing to extreme skydiving. This is the section you need to consider the altitude of hikes in. For example, the Extreme Pack cover altitudes over 4500 metres which were essential for us for our Peru treks.
  • Winter sports with two different options depending on how long you plan to ski/board for.
  • ‘Baggage, Money & Documents’.
  • ‘Specified Items’ such as electronics, sports equipment and musical instruments.
  • ‘Travel Disruption’ – this avoids getting fobbed off with the ‘act of god’ excuse.
  • ‘Travelling One Way’? Many companies won’t cover you if you can’t prove you have a return flight – True Traveller will – tick the box to see the cost.
  • ‘Already Travelling’? See below section.


Accessing Medical Care Abroad

While living in Vancouver I started to feel dizzy every time I moved from lying down to upright.

Being dramatic, I automatically thought the worst – pregnancy. That was ruled out so I increased my water intake to combat dehydration and cut downtime on the laptop.

When that didn’t work, my medic friend advised me to seek help. I went along to a walk-in GP (with my passport which is essential for ID) who priced the visit at $100 CAD/$77 USD/ £50.

I then bailed after my friend asked via text if I had checked my blood pressure (I really did not want to part with this cash!)

A quick trip to the blood pressure machine at the pharmacy later proved that analysis incorrect – I was healthy so it was back to the GP.

The doctor saw me promptly, asked a few questions, did some eye focus test and felt around my head and shoulders.

The diagnosis? Blogging was causing the dizziness.

Thankfully I was referred to a physiotherapist because that diagnosis was a heap of crap, I had Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BBPV) also known as ear crystals.

At $100 CAD a pop, the physio trip was worth the cash – we worked out the ear crystals (I’ve never had repeat issues) and also looked at my posture from working on the laptop all day (I now have an office at home with a desktop setup).

Claiming Through True Traveller

I retained all the receipt and claimed for the GP visit and the two physiotherapy treatments.

The claim was easy, I used the website ‘make a claim’ section, uploaded copies of the receipts to a provided email address, accepted the waiver fee of £75/$95 and was paid the remaining £74/$96 within three weeks.

You can read more about me claiming in detail here.

Booking Travel Insurance While Abroad

As mentioned above, respectable travel insurance companies will allow you to start a policy which you are already travelling but it will cost you a bit more and comes with the warning that you cannot claim for previous issues.

If we take our previous one-year trip example, ticking the box to say that you are already travelling will add on £30.

I know this does not sound a lot just now while you are looking for insurance but when you are on the road, country depending, this could be one day’s budget. Craig and I survived off £35/$45 per day each on average.


Also, if you are travelling and your policy is about to run out, True Traveller emails to ask if you would like to extend.

True Traveller Book Insurance White Abroad

Backpacker’s Insurance For Pre-Existing Conditions

If you have a condition already, it doesn’t mean you won’t get insured. If just means that you need to complete the basic search on True Traveller or World Nomads and then call the medical screening teams to discuss further.

FAQs

  1. Is cheap backpacker insurance worth it?

    Insurance is like travel gear, it is something you need to invest in. If you don’t need to claim during your travel then cheap insurance is worth it but that’s the risk you take!

  2. What is the best long-term backpacker insurance?

    ‘Best’ comes from personal experience. I can vouch for True Traveller because they paid out in a timely manner and they have 5 stars on Trustpilot. World Nomads has 3 stars but I know that lots of backpackers purchase it and you can read Taylor’s two examples of claiming above.

  3. Can I buy 2-year travel insurance?

    Sure, True Traveller’s search function allows you to search for two years, World Nomads caps at 18 months.

  4. What about travel insurance for electronics?

    Most insurers cover electronics up to a limited value amount which is usually low. For example, World Nomads will cover £100 on their basic tier but no tablet, laptop or phone for that matter is that cheap. Some insurers off additional coverage but again this will not cover a £1000 laptop. World Nomads does offer digital nomad cover package, click here to read more. I have not used it personally.

  5. Can you order travel insurance after departure?

    Yes, see the above section on Travel Insurance While Abroad.

  6. Do I need separate work insurance?

    It is not a given that you can work or volunteer with travel insurance. True Traveller does offer farm work protection through the likes of Workaway or WWOOFing if you choose their Adventure Pack. They also cover the 2-year IECC Canadian work programme which is great because one of the stipulations is that you must have insurance at border control.

  7. What happens if I am intoxicated?

    This is assessed on a case by case basis. If you need to your stomach pumped or are arrested at the time of the claim it is unlikely you will have your claim accepted. If you’ve had a few wines and are still compos mentis you might be get accepted.

  8. Can I trust backpacker insurance reviews?

    This is an important question. Most insurance companies have affiliate schemes so websites can make a small commission on sales and rightly so, no one should pour days over creating great content for readers without some form of payment but the reviews must be trustworthy.

    As mentioned above I have not used World Nomads but Taylor has (I also asked in a female travel Facebook group and out of the five respondents, only one had a denied claim and she said she agreed to an extent) and the True Traveller experience is 100% honest.

Final Thoughts On The Best Backpacker Insurance

The best travel insurance for backpackers really comes down to personal experience, budget and the reasons for needing insurance. This guide has detailed real-life examples of two of the popular insurers on the market and well as setting out the terminology to look out for when shopping. The main takeaway from this guide is not to get caught out, research and book before you go for a stress-free adventure!

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Best travel insurance World Nomads True Traveller