Q&A: An old-fashioned Christmas, and Athens in November

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

Send your family travel questions to S F Robinson, The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS Or crusoe@independent.co.uk

Q. I have noticed, to my horror, that Christmas decorations are already creeping into the shops. In protest, we would like to escape for a weekend in December with our two girls (Louise, 11, and Sophie, eight) to do our Christmas shopping in a more old-fashioned style. Please could you advise us when and where we can find the best Christmas markets, preferably within easy reach of the UK?

James Whitaker, by e-mail

A.During November and December, there are many traditional Christmas markets throughout Europe, although those in Germany are probably the best-known. Some of these historic markets originally specialised in one product, such as the Munich Crib Market, which sold figures for cribs, or the Dresden Striezlmarkt, which sold Stollen, the traditional cake stuffed with marzipan. Nowadays, however, most markets sell a wide range of traditional Christmas goods; typically, handmade wooden toys and decorations, woven straw stars, gold-foil angels, candles and candle-holders.

If you really want to get away from it all, you could try visiting the Christmas markets in the silver-mining region of the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) at the heart of Saxony, such as Freiberg (29 November- 21 December) or Schneeberg (particularly the festival of light on the 8-9 December). This region is known as "Christmas country", not only because it produces wooden decorations, but also because of its mountainous snowscapes, picturesque villages and pretty, floodlit churches. Buzz (0870 240 7070; www.buzzaway.com) flies to Berlin Schönefeld airport, just south of the city, from £70 return. Hire a car, and drive southwards for about an hour and a half. Car hire with Sixt (00 49 180 525 2525; www.e-sixt.com) costs from around DM75 (£24) per day, with fully comprehensive insurance for another DM46 (£15) per day. Be aware that you may encounter snow on the roads once you reach the Erzgebirge. If you opt not to drive, it is possible to travel by train to Freiberg from the airport, changing at Dresden, or to Schneeberg by transferring to another station in Berlin on the S-Bahn.

From Berlin airport, it is also about an hour and a half's drive to the restored city of Dresden. Since reunification in 1990, many of the original baroque buildings of this beautiful city on the Elbe have been painstakingly restored, creating an ideal backdrop for a culturally rich Christmas market that dates back to 1434. Open from 26 November-24 December in 2001, highlights include the Stollenfest on 8 December, and the singing of the Kreuzchor in the Kreuzkirche. If you don't want to drive to Dresden, a train goes direct from Berlin Schönefeld. It takes about an hour and a half and costs DM53 (£16.80). DER Travel Service (020-7290 1111; www.dertravel.co.uk ) offers a two-night break at the Hotel Ibis in Dresden in December from £320 per person, based on two sharing on a bed and breakfast basis, and including indirect flights via Frankfurt.

Another of Germany's oldest Christmas markets, famous for its magical atmosphere and particularly appealing to children, is the Christkindlesmarkt ("Christ Child Market") in Nuremberg, which dates back to 1639 (open 30 November-24 December in 2001). In the middle of the Market stands a huge crib scene, surrounded by wooden booths covered with red and white striped canvas. The Market opens with a "Christ Child" reciting a prologue from the outside gallery of the neighbouring Church of Our Lady.

Other events include a procession of children holding home-made lanterns from the Market Square to the Castle, where they perform the Christmas story, carol singing, and the daily appearance of horse-drawn coaches, announced by an old-fashioned bugler.

Even closer to home is the Christmas market in Bruges, a short hop by SeaCat, Eurotunnel or ferry, where traditional stalls and an ice rink are based around the Market Square from 29 November-31 December (closed Christmas Day). A Hoverspeed ( www.hoverspeed.co.uk, 0870 240 8070) five-day return from Dover to Ostend takes a mere two hours, with a short drive on the end taking you on to Bruges. Prices start from around £89 for a car and three passengers, but you should more than make up for this with the lower prices on the Continent.

Q. We're off on an easyJet cheapie to Athens with Dan, age nine, and Richard, age seven. What is there for youngsters there?

Mike and Jane Howell, by e-mail

A. With all the "Fly anywhere for £10" bragging from Ryanair, it's been easy to overlook the cheap flights being sold by the other no-frills airlines, Buzz, Go and easyJet. Yesterday I looked ahead a month from now, and found flights from Luton to Athens for £55 return, which would add up to £220 for the whole family – presumably roughly what you paid. This compares with a total of £370 with the current British Airways "Kids fly free" promotion (which, as Simon Calder points out elsewhere is an ambitious but not entirely accurate claim; on the Heathrow-Athens flight you would pay £28 for each child). But the advantage of the BA deal, apart from inflight meals, is that it applies right through the school holidays when easyJet's fares start to rise.

The Greek capital can be lovely in November – with clearer air and streets than in summer – but it can also be bitterly cold and wet. For such days, there's a Museum of Children's Art in the old Turkish quarter, Plaka. Whether the boys will enjoy the rather more stern National Archaeological Museum depends on how much you can enthuse them about the wonderful antiquities it contains.

On sunny days, Aeros Park is handy for the museum, and the National Gardens behind the Parliament Building has room to gallop. Best of all is the Parthenon, but it's a long, tiring climb, so make a couple of visits to make the most of it.

To make the most of the city, you should let the boys stay up late; Athens comes to life after dark.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss