Travel: Christmas in the big city…

By: Editor-in-chief Lenush Lebedeva

No not New York… somehow whenever thinking of the perfect destination for Christmas, the first thought is always a ski or beach resort. There is even the common question “you’re going skiing or to the beach this Christmas?”. I for one had this dilemma my entire childhood, my parents were big fans of tropical destinations during the winter holidays, as we lived in cold Countries. Every year around the time we planned our vacations I begged to go skiing as I love snow, but it was four against one so naturally we always ended up going to Barbados or Maldives or to another beach holiday destination. I must admit though I kind of understand them now that I live in Cyprus, because when it comes to planning my trips, the last thing on my mind is a tropical Island or a sea front location for that matter, in fact I will go out of my way to make sure we visit a cold Country, preferably where it snows, but moreover a big City. There is something so real about a busy City decorated with Christmas lights and decorations, a massive central City square with a tall tree perfectly lit at the center, residents and tourists alike taking photos. Almost every City in the World has the obligatory Christmas season ice skating rink where joyful children are gliding along their parents dressed in down coats, scarves and earmuffs under the sound of Christmas carols. Hearing the echo of a toddler’s cheerful laugh and the expression on their face when enjoying his or her first marshmallow hot chocolate, the young couple snuggling by the snack station bar table with rosy cheeks and winter pink noses, the group of local university students sipping their mulled wines and laughing a little too loud, but barely bothersome. Yes, if anyone were to illustrate happiness, this would be it. Is there really anyone who wouldn’t want to join different cultures in sharing these lovely yearly traditions? Traveling to big cities gives one the perfect combination of education, culture, and fun. There are countless options to choose from for both Christmas Eve and day, New Years’ Eve parties, dinners, galas and other events to cater to every taste. There is a long list of Cities besides the popularized and most elaborately decorated Moscow, New York or London. I for one am an advocate for the least obvious choice this time around.

Christmas travel destination

Stockholm. A City famous for many things. It is home to some of the top universities in the World, it hosts Nobel Prize ceremonies, and is considered the center of Scandinavia. Some even claim it is the most stylishly dressed City in Europe. It is considered to have one of the best standards of living within the EU. Stockholm is a city on water, it is basically a collection of small islands connected by bridges, which gives it an instant charm, what is more romantic than a bridge in the dusk? A lot of the traveling is done by water, especially if it concerns the locals traveling to their Country houses. Most residents who own Country houses also own a small boat to be able to reach the city. Stockholm city center is fully pedestrian, so visitors should expect a lot of walking. During the Christmas season Stockholm is richly decorated and offers scrumptious Christmas markets for the locals, normally situated in ‘Gammelstad’ which is the old town, in fact the exact translation is ‘old city’, which offers a nice festive pick me up and atmosphere in-between museum or palace visits and boat rides around the Riddarfjarden the bay of Sweden’s largest lake Malar. The widely popular Vasa maritime museum being the most visited one in the area displays a wrecked warship, which is quite captivating as it is the only ship that has been salvaged after wreckage to be featured as a museum artefact. A wonderful activity while visiting Stockholm during the holidays is the ‘Grona Lund’ luna park, situated on a separate island, accessed by the fairy or bridge which is closed on weekends. Already an impressive sight given the history of the ‘Grona Lund’ dates all the way to the 1800’s, but once ornately decorated during the holidays, the intimately sized attraction park becomes a cozy Christmas wonderland. Stockholm has a wide variety of options when it comes to dining, whether casual and trendy or fine dining Michelin restaurants, you will not be lost for choice. The most recommended include the Aira which is a fine dining option, Bla+ is a popular choice among vegetarians, as the restaurant does not serve meat or fish and Brasserie Astoria which on the contrary is a fine-dine steak house. When visiting new places however, I enjoy digging into the national dishes as much as possible. We are so spoiled for food in western society that I find it a waste of time to travel and not experience the local cuisine and expand my palette, especially when food is one of the pillars of culture. Nomad and Tradition are commonly recommended restaurants for national Swedish cuisine, but I would suggest asking the concierge at your hotel, as the likeliness of there being many local tavern style restaurants near your accommodation would be the more sensible choice. If you opt to stay at the Nobi Hotel, be sure to eat at the Bino restaurant, which is a mouthwatering fusion restaurant which combines several different cuisines in its plates. Nobi is a gorgeous, elegant, and minimal hotel – it is one of the most stylish hotels one can stay at. Although, while succeeding in design it lacks in suite size, unfortunately the maximum number of rooms per suite is two, which can be limiting for large families traveling with children and childcare providers. However, there is a true hidden gem for travelers who appreciate their privacy above everything else. The magnificent Ett Hem is a boutique hotel situated right in the center of Stockholm, it offers true luxury and comfort. A townhouse with a beautiful courtyard transformed into a hotel with just 12 rooms is designed in a subtle and calm manner, echoing a traditional Swedish home. The Ett Hem interior is not overly lavish on the contrary it is cozy as true luxury should be. It is a shining star of comfort – a home away from home. The small team of exceptionally detail oriented staff will take care of your every need, the restaurant if you can call it so, is splendid. Guests remain in the dark about the menu for the duration of their stay, the head chef creates a ‘carte du jour’ every morning taking into account food dislikes and allergens of course, so each day is a gastronomic experience like no other. While there are many other hotels to choose from in Stockholm, just like any other capital city, I am after experiences not just accommodation. And Ett Hem is that. The Grand Hotel is a very popular choice, Hotel Reisen by Hyatt, and Berns Hotel are also frequently recommended options. Since New Years Eve, is one of the main objectives for most vacationers when planning their trip, there is a cool experience on the stranger side that one can partake in… ever heard of Skansen? The open-air museum and zoo… Well guess what this is not only an incredible landmark to visit while in Stockholm, but also a NYE venue! Every year a massive celebration is held at the Skansen zoo, obviously covid regulations may have restricted the possibility of the usual festivities to take place but usually before this horrendous virus came into our lives it was quite the popular choice. The Skansen is accessible by a funicular as its location is above the city, naturally this provides amazing firework views. Skansen is anything but luxurious though, the park is full of people and performers, food and drink stations – it is an experience but do not expect comfort. There is no food or drink service and in order to access the bar and snack stations you will need to go through queues of hundreds of people. If looking for a classier New Years’ Eve setting, I would choose from a list of Gala dinners at the previously mentioned big hotels or once again ask for suggestions from your hotel concierge. Stockholm obviously offers a vast number of choices whether cultural, educational, or gastronomic and retail. If visiting this magical City, regardless of the itinerary you choose, you can be sure that it is a beautiful experience worth the time and money.

Just the level of the quality of life in Stockholm is enough to place it on the list of the must-visit luxury travel destinations of Europe. It is a beautiful city which offers scenic views, exquisite restaurants, charming Christmas markets, and delightful experiences for visitors of any age. Stockholm is a breathtaking destination for anyone looking to expand their horizons and experience a new culture within Europe.