Christmas lights are a a failsafe antidote to the winter blues. Here are the brightest cities in Europe this season - get your sunglasses at the ready...
Vienna oozes charm and elegance at any time of year, but come December, it takes itself a little less seriously, with garlands of bulbs bedecked with pine branches and ribbons strung between the exquisite facades of the city's central thoroughfares, and enormous chandeliers illuminating the route to St Stephen's Cathedral. The famous shopping streets of Graben and Kärntnerstrasse are home to the city's most dazzling light displays, whilst in Rathausplatz (Vienna's City Hall Square), the Rathaus, or town hall, is lit up like a fairytale castle. Let the lights guide you to Vienna's legendary Christkindlmarkt in Rathausplatz, sip glühwein, eat Schnitzel and nab a ticket to one of the city's myriad Christmas concerts in Vienna's historic churches.
Copenhagen at Christmas is positively brimming with festive spirit and "hyggelige" (the Danish word for 'cosy') bars and cafes to dive into for hot chocolate. The entire town is dotted with Christmas markets and (typically for Copenhagen) tasteful decorations, but the city's favourite Christmassy spot is the iconic Tivoli Gardens. Every November the second oldest amusement park on the planet (dating back to 1843) is transformed into a winter wonderland with spectacular lights displays, adorable little stalls and fun rides. But this is as tasteful as amusement parks come: the 21-acre park is beautifully landscaped with fountains and flowerbeds, and illuminated by over 111,000 custom-designed lights. Drink glogg (mulled wine) with apple dumplings, and get hygge with it.
If you find most Christmas lights garish, glaring and depressingly commercialised, Madrid comes as a breathe of frosty air. Dating back to 1860 and featuring more than 100 stalls, the Christmas market at Plaza Mayor is the main hub for all things festive, where lanterns illuminate Madrid's achingly gorgeous streets with zero tackiness or glitz, and a Christmas market dating back to the 1800s spills into surrounding plazas and streets. Look out for Belenes, or nativity scenes, dotted throughout the city. A major highlight is the Three Kings Parade, every year on January 5th, the Eve of the Epiphany.
Often overlooked in favour of big sister Stockholm, this majestic port town is illuminated by five million lights this year, including a 3km stretch of lights right down to the harbour. You'll find Sweden's largest Christmas market at Liseberg Amusement Park, decorated with over 700 Christmas trees. The best bit? Wandering the streets and stumbling upon smaller, neighbourhood markets and concerts. Start by strolling down to the old artillery Kronhuset, get lost in the streets in the atmospheric Haga district and peruse unique design items at the Röda Sten Art Centre. Most of the Christmas Markets are open throughout December.
The walled old town of Krakow is one of the most photogenic in Europe, and at Christmas, the cobblestoned streets and baroque architecture receive a picturesque dusting of snow and tasteful smattering of lights, making Rynek Główny, Europe's largest market square, the prettiest place imaginable to do your Christmas shopping. Wawel Castle is lit up like something from Disneyland, the hundreds of stalls sell gingerbread, wooden crafts and local hams and cheese from the neighbouring Carpathian mountains. And we've always felt that a Zubrowka vodka and apple juice, a perennial Polish favourite, makes the ideal winter drink.
No visit to one of these cities would be complete without a chic new coat...