The idea of spending a white Christmas or simply escaping the London crowds at this time is definitely worth considering. Over the years, I've been lucky to check out various cities from December to January, and there's something extra special about escaping London for a long weekend.
Somehow, the idea of visiting an even colder country in December might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me, doing escapes at this time of the year gives me an immense sense of cosiness, best found in the concept of Hygge. In Danish culture, this concept refers to everything from the art of creating intimacy, to the cosiness of the soul or to taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things (quoted from the book of Hygge by Meik Wiking).
Hygge is basically that comfy feeling when you're snuggled up on a sofa with someone special, sharing comfort food with friends, or just hanging out in a warm spot by the fire.
For Danes, the Christmas period is the ‘Hyggelig’ time of the year, and instead of being put off by the weather conditions, there’s a way to find comfort and cosiness in simple things. Me? I find my Hygge in walks through historic city centres until the cold starts creeping through my jacket and my toes start feeling numb. That's my cue to find a cosy, warm spot. The fun begins with a quick stop at a café leading to an enjoyable pub crawl that takes me to local canteens, famous bars, and hidden gems.
And you know what else? The Christmas period in other European countries can be just as good, if not better, than in London. You get to explore some of the most picturesque Christmas markets in Europe too, which it's like stepping into a festive wonderland.
7 amazing European cities for a spontaneous and long weekend escape
Below, I'm sharing some of my favourite and easily accessible European cities where you can soak in the Hygge vibes without much hassle – all within a two-hour journey and without a hefty price tag. While these cities might not be surprising choices, what I do have are fantastic recommendations for bars, cafés, restaurants, and spots for a memorable night out.
Freiburg | Germany
My other family lives in Germany, specifically in one of the most beautiful regions in the country, the Black Forest. Freiburg, the capital city of this area, provides the perfect combination of natural beauty, picturesque old town and delicious comfort food.
Spending a long weekend here will also give you the chance either to check out Ravennaschlucht, a one-of-a-kind and funky market under a bridge or a famous restaurant, which is listed below. And of course, there are plenty of bars serving up local beers and Schnapps to keep you warm. Cheers to that!
Spielweg - Just a short half-hour drive from Freiburg, you'll find Spielweg, a famous family-run hotel and restaurant nestled in the heart of the Black Forest. This place is all about those comfy German flavours with a twist.
Schlappen - In the heart of the old town is Schlappen, a traditional canteen serving classic Badish nibbles and offering a good selection of beers. As the sun sets, this place transforms into a buzzing pub, frequented by the large student population of the city.
Goldener Anker - This traditional gastropub offers some of the most renowned and delicious dishes from the area such as Maultaschen, Schnitzel and Käsespätzle.
Pictures: Ravennaschlucht Instagram, Spielweg and Spielweg restaurant
Budapest | Hungary
Retek - What started as a modest family restaurant with a few tables, has now evolved into a well-established spot that requires advance booking. Despite its growth, the restaurant has managed to maintain its commitment to quality and traditional recipes. Dining there felt like a journey back to my Grandma's kitchen which says a lot about its authenticity .
Szimpla Kert - A pub / party place like no other, I discovered this gem during my first visit to Hungary in 2011, back when it wasn't as popular as it is today. On my last visit and despite its gained popularity, Szimpla still has managed to retain its original vibe. What's truly remarkable is that even if you wrap up your night there in the early hours of Sunday, they magically transform it within hours to host a Sunday morning farmers market and breakfast spots, adding a unique touch to the whole experience.
Reteshaz (Strudel House) - What would a visit to Budapest be without trying their famous Retes? Finding decent strudels in the capital isn't easy, but Strudel House comes close to capturing those original flavours. Their mission is simple: to preserve the true Hungarian tradition of strudel-making
Pictures: Strudel House, Szimpla and Retek
Amsterdam | Netherland
Pesca - Welcome to the seafood theatre, a place like no other. It easily ranks among my top favourite seafood restaurants because it's not just a meal; it's a 'performance' full of freshness and flavour. The experience begins with a glass of bubbles as you browse the counter to select your fish. Next up is a visit to the wine section, where the staff assists you in pairing your chosen fish and seafood with the perfect wine. Finally, you take centre stage in the main dining area, where the culinary experience unfolds, all in a chill setting.
De Hallen - Located in the heart of West-Amsterdam is located this former tram depot which has now been converted into a social and cultural hotspot. This space offers the whole package, a mix of food stalls, art and shopping.
Wilde Zwijnen - Just a short 10-minute ride from the city centre, Wilde Zwinjen is the perfect spot for a cosy and delicious meal. They've only got a few set menus, ranging from 3 to 5 courses, promising a laid-back yet tasty dining experience.
Pictures: Pesca, Wilde Zwinjen and Amsterdam
Pizzeria Laezza - Located in the heart of the Quartieri Spagnoli, one of Naples most notable and popular neighbourhoods, I had my first Napoletana pizza which gave a fresh perspective on this Italian staple dish.
Tandem - Tandem is synonymous with Ragu in Naples and with 7 restaurants in the city, a visit to their flagship location in Via Paladino is a must. I had the joy of savouring the best Ragu I've ever eaten.
La Locanda Gesù Vecchio - La Locanda has been voted as one of the best traditional restaurants in Naples - you can’t go wrong with this one!
Camarotta Spritz - This is a bonus track because it’s a buzzing little spot in the Quartieri Spagnoli offering Aperol Spritz starting from just €1.
Pictures: Pizzeria Laezza, Camarotta Spritz and Ragu at Tandem
Vienna | Austria
Schnitzel Wirt - One of the many great restaurants to savour one of Austria's staple dishes, Schnitzel.
Cafe Zehnsiebzig - This café, founded by two farmers, has a crystal-clear mission: to deliver Vienna's best breakfast and brunch. And what can I say, my brunch experience was fantastic.
Ice Skating - Each January, Vienna sets up an ice rink and little market in front of The City Hall, which is absolutely stunning.
Pictures: Schnitzel Wirt, Cafe Zehnsiebzig, Ice Skating
Prague | Czech Republic
Wine O'clock - This wine and tapas bar is a cosy spot for some nibbles and delicious wine, while not being pretentious.
Hemingway Bar - One of the best cocktail bars I've visited in Europe. There's something unique about the décor and atmosphere but most importantly, the professional mixologists deliver epic cocktails. Make sure to make a booking to avoid disappointment.
U Kroka - Away from the old town and situated in the residential district of Vyšehrad is U Kroka, a charming restaurant that brings traditional Czech cuisine to life. Here you can try some delicious Czech dishes like beef goulash, Svíčková, and confit duck leg.
Pictures: Goulash soup, U Kroka, Hemingway bar
Dublin | Ireland (bonus track)
Having lived there for a year between 2013 and 2014, just before it turned into the new European Silicon Valley, this city holds a special place in my heart. Irish people are renowned for their amicable spirit and endless energy, particularly when it comes to drinking. Although my last visit was in 2017, there are a few gems from that time that are worth sharing.
Fumbally cafe - One of my favourite breakfast places in Europe. I lived only two blocks away and this trendy café consistently delivered Hygge in all its glory.
Bar With No Name - This was my after office bar, the first stop before dinner or a night out - always great fun!
Whelan's - An institution in Dublin and an unmissable place to watch live music. Almost every weekend, I used to stop by to watch up-and-coming bands as well as celebrate nights out with friends. This is a must when in Dublin.
I know there are plenty of other amazing European cities easily accessible, but for me, the ones mentioned above bring joyful memories.