Christmas markets have long been a staple of winter travel to Europe, and it's easy to see why. Sparkly lights; outdoor stands selling everything from traditional food and drink to handmade tree ornaments and holiday-themed gifts; costumed singers and performers; and a general air of festivity add up to the kind of Old World charm that drives many of us to Europe in the first place.
But while countries like Switzerland, Austria, Germany and France are known for their iconic markets, here are a few suggestions that might not be top of mind.
Insight Vacations, for example, has put together a weeklong Easy-Pace Russia with Christmas Markets package that showcases Russian Orthodox Christmas festivities in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
In addition to the palaces of the czars and the country's great museums, the itinerary includes the annual International Winter Festival in St. Petersburg, along with a guided historical tour of the imperial tombs. In Moscow, participants can enjoy the street music, art and food marking the season and even take a walk inside the walls of the Kremlin.
Other Insight Vacations Christmas-themed itineraries include Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Meanwhile, the Corinthia Hotel Budapest is celebrating the Hungarian capital's main Christmas market on Vorosmarty Square, which will open Nov. 9 with some 100 wooden stalls and two outdoor stages for live entertainment. To attract visitors to the event, the hotel is offering a Great Festive Getaway Package, priced from about $165, double, which includes accommodations, breakfast, room upgrade if available, admission to the Royal Spa, free WiFi and a bottle of locally made sparkling wine.
The package is valid for minimum two-night stays between Dec. 1 and Jan. 31.
If Christmas markets are a bit too traditional for some clients, there are other ways to celebrate the winter holidays in Europe.
For example, if Scotland doesn't immediately come to mind as a likely destination for the season, Audley Travel is highlighting Edinburgh's Hogmanay as a centerpiece for its custom tours.
The somewhat wild Hogmanay celebration includes a torchlight procession; a traditional ceilidh dance party in the streets, featuring lively Gaelic music and no shortage of "refreshments" (Johnny Walker is a sponsor, just to give you an idea); a wacky cold water plunge at South Queensferry; concerts; a dog-sledding competition; and plenty of activities for the kids.
Most of the events take place from Dec. 30 to Jan. 1, but some, including the Message from the Skies, which comprises works of literature illuminated on buildings around the city, run through most of January.
The company is also highlighting a New Year's Eve concert in the Colosseum in Rome as well as other celebrations to ring in the new year in Italy, including a bull parade in Bologna and fireworks over the Venice lagoons.
If kids are going to be in tow, maybe it's time to bundle up for a True Luxury Travel Father Christmas experience in Finland, now easier than ever to reach, thanks to expanded airport facilities in Rovaniemi, the capital of Lapland, and increased air service from European gateways. A new EasyJet flight from London's Gatwick, for example, will debut Oct. 31.
A sample tour could include an airport pick-up by elves, reindeer interactions, husky sledding, baking with Mrs. Claus and the highlight, a private meeting with Old St. Nick himself.