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Journey Through Europe’s Most Charming Winter Markets with Hilton

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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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Travel & Leisure

Best Restaurants and Bars of Downtown Calgary

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Located on the prairies, Calgary receives the most sunlight of all of Canada’s major cities. Summers can be hot and humid, while winters are generally mild especially in contrast to the rest of Canada. The city receives so much sunshine throughout the year, even during the winter months, that living there is a desirable option for many looking to relocate.

Although this expanding metropolis is wealthy, living expenditures in Calgary are lower than in its coastal neighbor Vancouver. Calgary Homes for Sale are selling at an all-time high, with individuals migrating from townhouses and condominiums to single-family homes, and those who already own a home are choosing to upgrade.

Calgary has achieved significant progress in the culinary business during the last decade. The city is presently thriving with a rich restaurant culture that rivals that of any other big metropolis. Below are some of the best restaurants and bars of downtown Calgary.

Ten Foot Henry

Healthy eaters typically develop a big craving for Ten Foot Henry. They provide a fresh veggie menu and family-style eating, and they’re open until 11 p.m. every day to accommodate those who might have a late-night yearning for really tasty (and healthy) cuisine. Also, if you’re in a hurry, you can stop by the Little Henry café for a quick bite.

Holy Grill

Holy Grill is a must-visit if you’re in the downtown area and searching for a decent lunch spot. They understand that your lunch break is limited with work or personal obligations, but that you don’t want to trade outstanding taste for convenience. Customers can order hot meals from the grill, which are cooked using fresh ingredients. Meals are carefully prepared and the service is generally quick so you can return to work or get back to touring Calgary’s streets as soon as possible.

Betty Lou’s Library

Betty Lou’s Library is considered Calgary’s best kept local secret because discovering the library’s entrance is half the pleasure. You’ll need to remember the password given to you while making a reservation to get through the concealed doorway. Once inside, you’ll be transported to the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, where you’ll be able to relax on classic furniture while sipping cocktails named after notable 20s-era icons such as Zelda Fitzgerald. When you’re here, you can snack on little dishes of wonderful cuisine while reading The Great Gatsby, or enjoy stimulating conversation with members of your party.

Taste

Taste Restaurant serves tapas and specialty cocktails in a trendy and modern setting. The cozy and low-lit atmosphere is ideal for a date night. Visitors have the opportunity to observe their cuisine being prepared in the open kitchen. The tiny plates of food are designed to be shared and are brought to the table on a regular basis throughout the night. Taste’s menu changes seasonally to reflect the availability of local and seasonal products, ensuring that you always receive something new every time you visit.

The Lake House

The Lake House is a beautiful restaurant perched above Lake Bonavista with large glass windows lining the building’s façade, providing panoramic views of the lake and surrounding landscape. The menu features distinct rocky mountain cuisine, reflecting Western Canada’s regional tastes that are so flavorful that you’ll certainly return for seconds. 

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The future of travel – an all-hands-on-deck effort

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The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly shaken up the world, with travel and tourism, a major global growth driver accounting for 10 per cent of the world’s economy, one of the hardest-hit industries. The outbreak has in its wake created severe domino effects in the ecosystem; not only the major airlines or chain hotels affected, but also the 80% of the tourism sector made up of smaller accommodation providers plus the peripheral services associated with tourism, including food and beverage, cleaning service providers, local tour guides and transportation. With World Travel and Tourism Council’s latest forecast that up to 75 million jobs will be at risk, it begets the question: Is the industry going to recover?

The answer is yes, but it will take all hands on deck, and a strong collaboration among all parties.

Government support is crucial

The travel industry supports one in 10 jobs within the global workforce in Asia Pacific, the Americas and Europe, and rising to 13.3% of total employment in Southeast Asia. Governments can and are playing a critical role in supporting the industry to protect individuals’ livelihoods and in turn lead to economic recovery. Several governments have already announced stimulus packages to cushion the impact of the outbreak. This funding is proving crucial for the travel industry to maintain business continuity in the short term, but further to that, collaboration and cooperation with key industry players is important to help drive sustainable recovery within this sector. And the industry has not waited for smoke to clear to commence such conversations. For example, governments have already started working with key players and SMEs to develop and promote new, transparent safety and hygiene standards across tourism-related businesses, which will be crucial in driving traveler confidence again. Tourism ministries and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) can partner with online travel agents (OTAs) to inspire desire to travel and attract travelers to destinations right across their markets in a sustainable way, which supports communities outside of key tourist destinations that were also impacted by COVID-19. These digital travel platforms, with their expansive reach and marketing tools, act as a bridge to help DMOs reach domestic and international travel audiences, while DMOs can encourage future travel planning by funding traveler incentives, while properties offer flexible cancellations.

 Role of industry players

Agile travel players can take the opportunity to improve their offering and build new capabilities, preparing for when travel picks up again. In fact, the recent guidelines from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to help the global tourism sector re-open smoothly and safely, emphasised the importance of innovation and technology in building the industry’s resilience. Accommodation providers, airlines and tour operators need to be attuned to changing travelers’ expectations, which may look quite different post-pandemic. Innovation to anticipate these evolving needs is essential and identifying solutions that prioritize safety and flexibility now during travel downtime, will go a long way to rebuilding confidence.

Research from Agoda.com shows that travelers expect more from their travel experience in the 2020s with advances in technology improving the efficiency and ease of booking and traveling. In fact, aside from improving payment options and booking processes, one in two South East Asians anticipate that mobile app check-in will become the norm at hotels or holiday accommodation this decade. This desire may be even more prevalent for travel post-COVID, as people may demand contactless processes as far as possible.

In addition, hoteliers and airlines for example, are reviewing and updating their cancellation policies and procedures to align with travelers’ new expectations. These updates will likely to include more flexible booking options, making use of data analytics to better review occupancy levels and pricing strategies according to demand, as well as working with different distribution channels to reach travelers with their accommodation offers or flight deals. Other players, such as credit card networks and banks, have a role to play as well and can support by promoting safe travel campaigns.

Most importantly, across the travel ecosystem, all parties should work in tandem to not only align the conditions for such new policies and strategies, but also coordinate on campaign themes and periods, making it easier and more attractive for travelers to plan and book their travel. OTAs are well positioned and equipped to connect these players, from DMOs, hotels, airlines, activity providers, and other supporting partners, to a wider consumer audience.

Travelers also have a part to play

Last but not least, travelers fuel the sector. People will want to travel again, to explore the beauty of the world on their doorstep and further afield, though we expect the pace of travel industry recovery will differ across the world. However, without the collective understanding for responsible travel once governments begin to lift travel restrictions, the recovery process will be a slow and arduous one.

Agoda’s Next Decade Survey found that more than 25% of people want to make more eco-friendly travel choices in the next decade.  The pandemic may make us reflect even more on sustainable travel; travelers may become more aware of the impact of their decisions and habits, which may lead to seeking out more environmentally friendly hotels, or picking destinations in less visited secondary cities to help spread tourism dollars and rebuild local communities.

Travel was one of the fastest-growing industries and over the years we have seen that the industry is resilient in bouncing back from crises. People’s desire to travel will not be quelled. However, bringing back tourists and re-building confidence in travel is going to take new approaches and collaboration. Like the story of the bundle of sticks, where a single stick can be easily broken but not when held in a bundle, it will take a collaborative effort from all players to pull through this together and reinvigorate the travel sector in a safe and sustainable manner.

Agoda.com

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Travel & Leisure

Sea Adventures: Athens Riviera

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Athens may be known for its archaeological attractions, but it’s also one of few European capitals blessed with a swimmable coastline of EU-designated Blue Flag beaches and idyllic coves.

For those yearning for adventures on the water, you’ll feel spoiled for choice. Greece is home to some of the world’s most desirable sailing grounds, so there’s plenty of boating fun to be had, starting with the Athens Riviera. And there’s no better jump-off point than Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, which sits at the edge of a secluded peninsula that juts out into the Saronic Gulf.

Choose between the slow and steady rhythm of a sailing yacht and the adrenaline rush of slicing through the water in a high-powered RIB. Whatever it is that floats your boat, a private yachting trip is the best way to reach the nearby islands of the Saronic.

Greece’s culture and way of life is inextricably tied to the sea, therefore, adventures on the water are a signature resort experience. Here, water therapy comes in all sorts of forms, from scuba diving and kayaking to open water swimming and beyond. Consult our concierge, who can tailor the experience to your specific interests.

Sail Your Way to Serenity

Few moments in life invoke a sense of freedom and serenity like casting along the water in a sailboat, the wind rushing through your hair. There’s something about being on the water and relying on the wind to chart your course that allows you to rediscover your spontaneous side. You’ll set off from Astir Marina for a half-day skippered sunset catamaran cruise around the islets of Hydrousa and Fleves, whose crystalline waters are ideal for swimming. Raise a toast to the generosity of Mother Nature with a glass of prosecco along with finger food, traditional Greek delicacies and fresh fruit. Make the experience even more memorable with a candlelit dinner at anchor in a sheltered bay.

Reach Remote Coves in a RIB Boat

Not only are RIB boats the fastest mode of marine transport, they also allow you to reach the most remote coves located along the Riviera and off the Saronic islands, many of which are inaccessible by land. Hop aboard and, in no time, your skipper will have you flying across the water, jetting between secret bays and inlets. You’ll be surprised to find aquamarine waters reminiscent of the Aegean, in locations such as tiny, pine-dotted Agistri island, situated a relatively brief boat ride away from the resort. All you need do is drop anchor and take a soul-reviving dip. As late afternoon rolls around, dock outside casual seaside taverna Apónēssos at the southwest tip of Agistri and sample grilled sardines and tuna carpaccio, the house specialty.

Take to the Sea on a Traditional Caique

One of the most unique ways to sail the Saronic is aboard a traditional Greek caique, or trehandiri, with a captain who knows these waters like the back of their hand. Powered by motor and, in some cases, sails, these boats are renowned for wide wooden hulls that are specifically designed for navigating Greece’s waters in safety and comfort. Guests can choose between lovingly-refitted wooden motor sailing boats such as the 48 foot (15 metre) Faneromeni, which was built from pine on the Sporades island of Skiathos in 1945. Like most of these hardy vessels, there’s a story behind each one: Faneromeni originally transported food and other goods to the islands. Today, many caiques feature cabins, dining facilities, deck lounges and water toys such as SUPs and snorkelling gear. Ask our concierge about packing a Four Seasons picnic basket filled with culinary delights. You may prefer one of our chefs to join you on the trip to prepare a delectable menu on board.

Scuba Diving for Everyone

Newbie scuba divers often find it hard to paint a picture of what it is like to see the underwater world for the first time. Below the sea surface, the world falls beautifully silent. Looking at the delicate marine ecosystem up close, one feels a deep sense of peace, wonder and delight. For those wanting to try scuba diving during their stay in Athens, the calm, protected waters of the Saronic make for ideal conditions. Our expert team can provide a one-hour taster lesson in the basics of diving close to shore, whereas private dive sessions further out at sea can be arranged for the more advanced.

Kayak to Cape Sounion

Test your form and explore the spectacular coastline around Cape Sounion, at the southeastern tip of greater Athens, on a guided sea kayak tour. Our kayak experts will show you rugged cliffs, take you to hidden caves and introduce you to Archi islet and the sand dunes of wild Legrena beach. You’ll have the opportunity to swim in refreshingly cool seas and fuel up with a snack before you continue to Cape Sounion. There, you’ll park your kayak on the shore and take a wander around the painstakingly-preserved fifth-century BC Temple of Poseidon, dedicated to the Olympian god of the sea. British poet and philhellene Lord Byron was so impressed that he carved his name on the white marble structure when he visited in the 19th century.

Swim Freely in the Open Sea

Recruit our professional swim coach, who is also a trained lifeguard, for an open water swimming session in the exceedingly safe, shallow Blue Flag waters of Vouliagmeni Bay. Treat it as a training session as part of your regular program or make it a leisurely swim in the sunshine, taking in sweeping views of the verdant peninsula. Your coach will wear a floatable safety device for the duration of your swim to ensure added peace of mind.

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