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Journey Through Europe’s Most Charming Winter Markets with Hilton

MD Staff

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As temperatures drop and days get shorter, cities and towns across Europe are stringing outdoor lights and erecting wooden stalls to prepare city centers and squares for the arrival of winter markets. The markets attract locals and tourists alike who are free to explore clusters of charming booths filled with arts and crafts, glittering decorations and culinary delights. Hilton has hotels on the doorstep of some of Europe’s best winter markets, allowing travelers to easily gain authentic experiences that can enrich their travels.

The tradition of winter markets dates back to the late Middle Ages, spanning many parts of Europe from Germany to France and Switzerland, but the markets have gained international appeal thanks to the growing ease and popularity of global travel. Historically, the markets traveled from city to city, providing residents a chance to stock up on seasonal food and supplies for the colder months. Over time, they’ve evolved into the elaborate winter markets they are today, drawing tourists by plane, train, automobile and boat, especially during the holiday season. They are also sometimes part of market-hopping tours travelers combine to create a vacation with a one-stop-shop cultural experience. These markets generally open in mid-to-late November and stay open through the holiday season, closing at the end of December or early January.

To provide a guide, we have selected top-notch winter markets across Europe, including several with holiday themes, along with recommendations for nearby hotels that travelers can retire to after a long day of shopping and sampling local delicacies.

Among our list are traditional favorites in places such as Germany and Hungary, and others in more unusual market destinations like Spain and Italy.

Tallinn Christmas Market | Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn is home to one of the most renowned Christmas markets in Europe. The Tallinn Christmas Market is situated in the heart of Tallinn’s Old Town, which boasts a towering Christmas tree and 500-year-old buildings decorated for the holidays. It’s a festive atmosphere where Santa Claus is on site for younger visitors, and there are plenty of kiosks selling cozy sweaters, wooden handicrafts, traditional sour cabbage and warm gingerbread. Set in the heart of Estonia’s capital city, Hilton Tallinn Park is located on the eastern side of quiet Politseiaed Park (Police Garden Park). Guests can take in wonderful views of the harbor and the enchanting Old Town from the hotel, and they’re an easy walk of less than a mile to Old Town, where shops, restaurants and the charming Tallinn Christmas Market await.

Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square | Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is home to the Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square, the oldest and largest Christmas market in this capital city. Located in the courtyard outside St. Stephen’s Basilica, guests can take in the iconic church before exploring the unique market stalls selling wooden crafts alongside savory fish and Hungarian chimney cake — a hollow cinnamon-sugar pastry. Travelers can also enjoy free late-afternoon concerts as they sip on mulled wine at this nostalgic Christmas market. Hilton Garden Inn Budapest City Centre is centrally located near the Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square and near Andrassy Avenue, with high-end shops, restaurants, cafes and major attractions nearby, including the Hungarian State Opera House, St. Stephen’s Basilica, Hungarian Parliament and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge that crosses the River Danube.

Hyde Park Winter Wonderland | London, UK

London has many holiday markets to get in the season’s spirit, but the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland is our top choice. The market offers everything from the UK’s largest open-air ice rink to quaint holiday market stalls selling traditional crafts. It also has a large variety of dining and bar options, including a Bavarian village complete with a beer hall and an ice bar, where everything is made of ice. A mile away from the famous winter wonderland is the Conrad London St. James, which sits on the doorsteps of Westminster, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. The hotel is in the heart of the city and offers easy access to some of London’s most iconic sights, including other holiday markets across the city such as the Southbank Centre Winter Market and the Leicester Square Christmas Market.

Fira de Santa Llúcia (Also known as The Market of St. Lucia) | Barcelona, Spain

Head to Barcelona for a milder holiday experience on the Mediterranean Sea. La Fira de Santa Llúcia, the oldest Christmas Market in Barcelona dating back to the 18th century, is in the charming Gothic quarter and shares a square with the staggering Barcelona Cathedral. Instead of the traditional glühwein (mulled wine), sip on Spanish cava while perusing the craft stalls selling glass figurines, ornaments and musical instruments. Stay at the centrally located boutique hotel, Alexandra Barcelona Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton, which is an easy 20-minute walk (about a mile) from the quarter. In addition to the holiday market, the adjoining neighborhood, Eixample, is home to other popular attractions, such as La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous Roman Catholic minor basilica, and the Passeig de Gràcia, which is an avenue lined with shops, restaurants and some of the city’s most well-known architecture.

Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market | Berlin, Germany

Beautiful architecture of the New Church (also called the German Cathedral) and French Cathedral surround this classic holiday market in Berlin. While exploring, guests can sample white-chocolate milk, local sausages, fried apples and cheese from around the world. Visitors can shop for handmade goods, including artwork, wood carvings and clothing. Hilton Berlin is the perfect jumping-off point to the holiday cheer. Located in Berlin’s historic Gendarmenmarkt square, the hotel is steps away from the market — Berlin’s most famous — and other sites like the French and German Cathedrals and Konzerthaus (Concert House) Berlin.

Christmas Market – East Princes Street Gardens | Edinburgh, Scotland

The traditional Christmas Market at East Princes Street Gardens in the heart of the city offers a unique shopping experience for every visitor, with a fair that boasts crafters, artists, gift shops and gastronomic surprises. A light snowfall turns this marketplace into a magical holiday experience. Waldorf Astoria Edinburgh – The Caledonian is located at the west end of Princes Street, just a short walk from the holiday market. The hotel is also centrally located near some of Edinburgh’s most iconic attractions, including Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile, a thoroughfare lined with eclectic shops, restaurants and attractions.

The Ultimate Winter Experience | Amsterdam, Netherlands

This winter, the RAI Amsterdam, a large convention center, will be transformed into a winter wonderland both inside and out. Visitors can skate under a blanket of lights, enjoy the sights from a Ferris wheel and experience go-karting on real ice. They can warm up for a bit inside and then try cross-country skiing, curling on the ice rink or roasting marshmallows over an open fire. Hampton by Hilton Amsterdam Centre East is about 4 miles from the magic at The Ultimate Winter Experience and is close to the tram, where guests have easy access to the city center and the main Central Station.

Prague Christmas Market | Prague, Czech Republic

Traditions abound at the Prague Christmas Market in the Old Town Square. Visitors are treated to a winter wonderland complete with caroling, local food and drinks, as well as top-notch shopping. With mulled wine in hand, travelers can shop for gingerbread, glassware, wooden toys and tree decorations. For those looking for an alternative to mulled wine, Czech beer pairs well with other traditional market foods like spit-roasted ham, barbequed sausages and salty potato pancakes. Situated at the gates of Old Town, the newly renovated Hilton Prague Old Town offers travelers the perfect launch point to the Christmas market in the Old Town Square. After a day of exploring the markets and the winding streets of Prague, visitors can find a sophisticated retreat from the busy streets. When up for more exploring, sites like Wenceslas Square, a main city square, and Charles Bridge, the historic bridge that crosses the Vltava River, are just a 10-minute walk away.

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Top 10 Cheap Vacation Destinations in Spring 2020

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This is going to be a nice, long, relaxing spring. You will get some sun, explore a new destination, and use the awakening force of Nature to recharge your batteries.

What’s your plan for spring break? How about something different this year? You don’t have to choose the nearest beach again. There are wonderful places you can explore. Don’t worry; they won’t be expensive!

You can have a great adventure with a limited budget, only if you plan it well.

We’ll list 10 impressive destinations that give you the feel of luxury travel without eating up your entire savings.

Best Cheap Spring Vacation Destinations for 2020

1. Marrakech, Morocco

Spring is the perfect time for seeing Morocco. You can find affordable accommodation in Marrakech and have day trips from there. The street food is lovely, but most travelers can also afford the cozy restaurants.

Make sure to check the calendar, since Ramadan is in spring. Many restaurants will be closed during the day over that period of time.

 2. Alaska

You can hardly think of something more beautiful than Alaska in spring.

Large ship cruises will cost from $100L per day, but keep in mind that food is included so you won’t spend much more than that.  Late May belongs to the so-called shoulder seasons, so the prices will be lower than usual.

3. Sonoma, California

Napa doesn’t seem like a place we’d feature in a top list for budget travelers. It’s known for its luxurious restaurants and hotels. But Sonoma, Napa’s neighbor, is much more affordable. You can still enjoy exploring Napa, but you won’t spend too much money.

Calistoga is a small town that’s breathtaking in spring. You can search for accommodation there. But hey; camping is also an option.

4. San Juan, Puerto Rico

San Juan is a well-known spring break destination. Mid-April is the best time to go to Puerto Rico. you’ll avoid the summer rains and winter crowds.

The beaches are so beautiful and the food is so cheap that you’ll consider staying longer. That’s always an option! You can hire a service that writes research papers to complete some of your work, and you’ll extend the vacation a bit. In Puerto Rico, it seems like time takes another dimension. Everyone is cool and relaxed.

5. Turkey

Go ahead and google this: Cappadocia. Can you already visualize yourself in one of those balloons?

But that’s not the only important sight to see in Turkey. Istanbul is a story of itself. It’s a beautiful blend between Eastern and Western culture. The food is out of this world. The restaurants are not expensive, but with so much food on the streets and markets, you won’t even think about getting into a restaurant.

Turkey also has beautiful beaches, which are ready for you during the spring months.  

 6. Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is quite possibly the most beautiful European city. Forget Paris; it’s expensive, crowded, and overestimated. Budapest is full of museums and mesmerizing architecture. You’ll love the nightlife, too! If you like Budapest and you would like to write an essay about it, you could use topicsmill to generate a good and suitable topic.

7. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

It’s not about the weed. You don’t have to be high to experience Amsterdam as the most exciting city, ever. The parties are out of this world, and they make Amsterdam the best destination for young people during spring break.

But you’ll also enjoy the cultural tours, parks, and art museums. TripAdvisor offers a great list for Super Savers in Amsterdam. Check it out!

8. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

The fact that many students choose it as their spring break destination is no coincidence. Puerto Vallarta attracts with beautiful weather, affordable accommodation, and great food. Make sure you plan your vacation during April or early May, so you’ll avoid the hurricane season.

9. Hawaii

Can you imagine the breathtaking Kahului without the crowds?

That’s what your spring break in Hawaii will be like. Spring is awesome because it turns your vacation into a budget-friendly experience. The accommodation will be more affordable when compared to high season. But you can also consider activities labeled as “luxury,” such as scuba diving.

10. Thailand

It’s beautiful and affordable throughout the entire year. Koh Samui and Phuket are great with their fancy resorts, but those are not the only places where you can stay. Even backpackers travel to Thailand. They can still experience the fun in Phuket, but they choose Koh Chang or Koh Phayam for affordable accommodation.

Are You Ready for the Best Spring Ever?

The first thing you need to do is identify your budget.

Then, explore the destinations listed above. Find information about flights, accommodation, food, and all other expenses related to trips. Some of them will probably fit in your budget. Choose the one that attracts you the most!

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Is it safe to travel to Iran as a solo female traveler?

Anna Karsten

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Before I started reading more into Iran, all I heard about this country were stories about its politics. In the media, Iran seemed like a place where no one would ever want to visit. Can you imagine solo female travel in Iran?

After my trip to Iran, I can tell you now that Iran has the most hospitable people and great architecture. Traveling to Iran as a solo female traveler has been safe, rewarding and fun.

Iran is safe, accessible and totally easy to navigate as a solo female traveler. Sure, you might experience some inconveniences, but for every annoying man you get 3 nice ones, just like anywhere else. Iran is a destination you must see for yourself to see what I mean.

While organized tours are still dominating Iran’s tourism, it’s not uncommon to find another person traveling solo. Backpackers and hostels can be found anywhere on a tourist route from Tehran to Shiraz and Yazd.

Plus, if you can’t find a hostel, a cheap guesthouse is also an option. No matter which way you travel in Iran, you can always find an affordable place to stay for less than $30 a night for a double room.

Iran in Western media

Traveling to Iran or anywhere in the Middle East independently, especially as a woman, isn’t perceived well these days. Some time ago an article about a woman cycling through the Middle East alone went viral. People were wondering whether it’s safe for a woman to cycle alone across the Middle East? The comments weren’t pleasant:

‘It’s foolish and she was very lucky not to get herself raped or killed or both. I hope this article won’t encourage other solo female travelers to visit these countries alone’ – 400 upvotes

‘Not impressed. Putting oneself in harm’s way, which then puts potential rescuers in harm’s way makes little sense.’ – 170 upvotes

But how can we talk about media coverage of safety in Iran when BBC, that published the article, doesn’t even bother to check the facts. The article states: ‘In Iran, I was given more freedom. Yet foreigners are not permitted to stay with locals without permission, and several of my hosts endured an intense grilling by police.’ None of the above is true.

Staying with locals is only forbidden for British, Canadian and American citizens. Anyone else can stay with locals wherever whenever and no police will come and check on you.

U.S. government currently warns against travel to Iran for obvious reasons, these two countries don’t get along. It says that U.S. citizens may be subject to harassment or arrest while traveling in the country.

Again, I’d say that this statement is very exaggerated. Especially after Argo – the film exaggerating the seizure of the American Embassy in Tehran won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

My Advice is: don’t believe what you hear on the news. Explore the place, talk to locals and come to your own conclusions. Come to Iran with an open mind and I guarantee you’ll make many great friends in Iran.

Is it safe to travel to Iran in 2020?

Many travelers, including myself, describe it as one of the ‘safest countries I’ve ever been to’. You’ll be much more likely to get mugged in Europe than in Iran.

Violent crimes against foreigners are extremely rare and, indeed, if you do your best to fit in with local customs (read more on the dress code and how local women fight it), you are unlikely to be treated with anything.

In fact, I’ll be returning to Iran in 2020 to explore even more of its natural beauty.

My experience of traveling solo in Iran

I traveled to Iran solo and later teamed up with another girl whom I met at the hostel. I traveled around the country, in the same way, I would anywhere else in the world.

Wandering around in the evening, taking the metro, using local taxis and buses, going to markets etc.

I met many women whose lives didn’t seem very different from the women I know at home. At the birthday party, it was actually men who had to clean after, not women.

Young girls told me they date the same way people date in the Western world, they just don’t announce it anywhere and keep it to themselves.

I only felt uncomfortable twice in Iran – once in Esfahan (Isfahan) and once in Kashan. In Esfahan a man in a car started driving next to me and my friend in the evening. Every time we moved, he moved. It scared my friend and me for a bit, but the moment we approached another traveler the car left.

Another unpleasant situation I encountered was while walking around the narrow streets of Kashan. I was filming with my DJI gimbal with my iPhone attached to it when I fell someone approaching me on a scooter.

To me, being uncomfortable once or twice doesn’t mean that the place is dangerous. I never once felt physically threatened, unsafe, or at risk, even when I was wandering the streets of Iran.

I felt safer in Iran than if I was walking around in NYC. Even the tap water was safe in Iran!

People believe that Iran is full of moral police watching your every step, ready to arrest Westerners at the slightest provocation. In my experience, this couldn’t be further from the truth.

While cases or reporting and arrests occur, it’s not as common as it’s being portrayed outside of the country.

Everyone I met was extremely helpful and treated me like I was an expensive piece of jewelry. Escorting from one place to the other, while feeling responsible for me. And that’s the people I met on the street for 5 minutes! So unless you’re planning on running around naked with a bottle of smuggled vodka in hand, don’t be afraid.

From our partner Tehran Times

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Culture Vulture Alert: La Candelaria, the Historic Heart of Bogota

MD Staff

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The capital of Colombia counts 20 localities, from Antonio Nariño (#15) to Usme (#5). While comparisons are tricky and inevitably a matter of taste, there is no question that the city’s 17th locality, La Candelaria, belongs on the “must-visit” list of every guest of Four Seasons Bogota.

Essentially the “Old City,” La Candelaria is believed to be where Bogota began, founded in 1538 by the Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada y Rivera in an area known as El Chorro de Quevedo, now a magnet for street performers and college students.

Most of the architecture throughout La Candelaria is of colonial or Republican-era style and has been declared of historical and cultural interest. Meanwhile, there are some 500 cultural institutions for travellers to explore throughout the locality, including artistic groups and theatres, research centres and libraries, universities and museums, and more.

There is also Monserrate, a high mountain rising 10,341 feet (3,152 metres) above sea level in the centre of Bogota, with a 17th century church and a restaurant on top. A destination for pilgrims and tourists alike, the mountain offers views all over the city, and can be accessed by aerial tramway, funicular, or climbing.

La Candelaria is easily accessible, just 20 minutes by car from Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota, and 25 minutes from Four Seasons Hotel Bogota. It’s a pleasure to walk in comfortable shoes, with narrow cobblestone streets and much to discover. Here is just a smattering of what culture-seeking guests can look forward to on a day trip to the 17th locality of Bogota:

One year after Bogota was founded, the city was re-founded in what is now Plaza Bolívar in the heart of La Candelaria. The city’s main square is named for Simón Bolívar, one of the country’s most important historical figures, who led Colombia and other South and Central American nations to independence from Spanish rule in the early 1800s. The square is surrounded by several monumental buildings, including the Palace of Justice, the National Capital where both houses of the Congress of Colombia are located, the Cathedral of Bogota, and the Museo del 20 de Julio, named for Independence Day. Bustling year round, in December locals and travellers fill the square to celebrate the holidays.

The Gold Museum – aka, Museo del Oro – is one of Colombia’s most impressive. Behind steel-plated doors lie some of history’s most incredible works of sculpted gold, depicting life and culture of pre-Hispanic societies. Altogether, the museum’s gold collection runs to more than 55,000 pieces, from simple-but-stunning jewellery and ornaments to masterful works from some of Colombia’s oldest and most talented welders. Descriptions of all of the above are printed in English as well as Spanish, and private tours are available in many languages. Put the Gold Museum on your calendar, especially on Sundays when entrance is free.

If you aren’t already a fan of artist Fernando Botero, you will be after a visit to the Botero Museum. Located in a colonial mansion transformed for its collection by the artist himself, the museum houses more than 120 works by Botero and another 80-plus by artists including Salvador Dali, Edgar Degas, Joan Miró, Henri Matisse – even Picasso. One of Colombia’s most accomplished artists, Botero’s work and style – called Boterismo – is unmistakable, typically depicting people and animals in exaggerated proportions and volumes. While Botero’s work can be found in museums across Colombia and the world, the collection in Bogotá is the largest. If all that weren’t enough, entrance to the Botero Museum is free.

Pop by the Concierge Desks at Four Seasons Hotel Bogota and Four Seasons Hotel Casa Medina Bogota for tickets, dining reservations, guides, and more to make your tour of La Candelaria one to remember.

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