Where is best to go on holiday in December? Reigo Eljas, Country Director for lastminute.com, advises travellers to try York, Vilnius and Dominican Republic for a break and great last minute deal.
When it comes to Christmas in the UK, few cities do it better than York. Strolling down streets like The Shambles in December can feel like you’ve just stepped into a Charles Dickens novel.
The dramatic York Minster dominates the skyline here and gives the city a true gothic feel – and there’s carol concerts and other events going on there in December to enjoy. They’ve also got special Christmas markets to visit, where you’ll find the best local crafts and produce lined up to buy and give you a real taste of Yorkshire. So here’s what else is happening in this historic city in the run up to Christmas.
What to see and do
There’s more than 2,000 years of history to discover within the ancient city walls here – and if you love all things Viking and Roman, you’re in for a treat. This place oozes the past – and you can find out more at places like the JORVIK Viking Centre or The Yorkshire Museum.
But it really is beginning to feel very festive here. The St Nicholas Fair is the real showstopper in the city centre – they’ve got all the pretty traditional German-style chalets selling gifts. It’s open from 10am to 8pm from Thursday to Saturday and shorter hours the rest of the week.
If you want a space to skate, head a little out of town to Yorkshire’s Winter Wonderland which has a massive open-air ice rink and a giant Christmas tree. If you don’t have a car you can get a bus out there – and there’s designer shops, apres-skate huts and a vintage funfair waiting for you.
What to eat
While it’s not technically from Yorkshire – if you’re visiting at Christmas you really should get stuck into the food and drink at the markets. We’re talking mulled wine (Glühwein – if you want the German version) to warm you up for a nights browsing the stalls. Hot chestnuts have to be done and if you want to go a bit more local – then Parkin is the most famous local cake. Winter is the perfect time to taste a proper Yorkshire pudding.
And Yorkshire has more microbreweries than you can shake a stick at – so check out all the Real Ale and Bitter options in one of the 350 pubs you’ll find in the city. The Shambles Food Court is open longer for Christmas – and you can try cuisine from around the world here, every day of the week.
Of course we can’t mention York without it’s most famous tea rooms. Betty’s is a total institution and the place to take afternoon tea and update your Instagram.
4* Mercure York Fairfield Manor hotel. 1 night, staying on 16th December, from £59 per night
5* The Principal York. 1 night, staying on 6th January, from £169 per night
The Churchill hotel. 1 night, staying on 18th December, from £89 per night
It’s been quite a year for Lithuania, with the country celebrating 100 years of independence in 2018. So join them for a festive finale – they love Christmas in Vilnius and this city really comes to life in December.
You know it’s going to be cold, but you’ll still be taking the gloves off to light up your social media as the city’s baroque architecture makes it picture-perfect. They have two of the best Christmas markets in Europe, in the Cathedral and Vilnius Town Hall squares.
Not only do they have a spectacular Christmas Tree (it really is terrific) but a 3D light show of a Christmas Fairy Tale just before Christmas Eve. You’ve also got ice rinks and chalets and all the other Christmas accoutrements. You’ll also have plenty of cash for presents as this is one of the best-value cities – you might want to think about taking an extra bag.
What to see and do
There are loads of free walking tours round the pretty Old Town, so take advantage and get a dose of history while you stroll. The UNESCO listed historic centre dates back to the Middle Ages and you’ll feel the medieval vibe wandering round.
While it’s open all year round, climb up the Cathedral Bell Tower, for a great picture of the Christmas Tree. Gediminas Tower, which is on the hill near the main square, is a huge highlight. You can get a great view from there once you’ve visited the museum (and when you’re done there visit the Hill of the Three Crosses for the opposite view). Užupis neighbourhood is a cool place to walk around, full of trendy cafes and art galleries.
What to eat
Like our countries, Lithuania has its own special dishes in the festive season. Try and buy some Kūčiukai – the translation is “Christmas Eve cookies” but you can buy these doughy snacks with poppy seeds throughout December. Another poppy seed-based dish is the milky drink – Aguonų Pienas – they pop in some sugar to sweeten it up.
Meat can sometimes be off the menu in the run-up to Christmas but one thing you will find is herring – its a firm favourite and they pimp it up a little with lots of accompaniments – from beetroot and cabbage to soft potatoes. It’s cold here so there’s lots of hearty fare to be had.
Lithuanian dark rye bread (Duona) is great to dip into the soups. The national dish is considered to be Cepelinai (or Didžkukuliai) – so called because they’re shaped like Zeppelins. These are potato dumplings stuffed with meat.
You’ll get mulled wine at the markets, but do try the locally brewed beer – unique to Lithuania – which is made in micro-breweries. It’s one of the cheapest places to buy beer in Europe – so head to one of the cute cellar bars. For drinks with a view, visit the Skybar at the Radisson – it’s on the 22nd floor and take in the Old Town.
3* Hotel Panorama, 2 nights, departing 10th December, from £129pp
4* Novotel Vilnius Centre (breakfast included), 2 nights, departing 15th December, from £199pp
3* Green Park Hotel Vilnius, 2 nights, departing 28th January, from £79pp
Doesn’t the sound of a Caribbean Christmas sound good – and there’s no better place to round off 2018 then in this island slice of paradise. The temperature averages around 25 degrees at this time of year, with about eight hours of sunshine – they call it “winter”. Of course you’ve got the stunning beaches, but this is also an island that cries out to be explored – the jungle interior is really lucious at this time of year. And do they like to party.
What to see and do
You’ve got the Caribbean Sea at the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the north, so you have plenty of beaches to visit and swim, sunbathe and banish the winter blues. If you want a beach the locals love, try Playa del Morro in Monte Cristi, near the border with Haiti (the north west of the island). It’s also right next to one of their fabulous national parks.
Los Haitises Natural Park is a protected rainforest with a massive bay and if you take a boat trip around you might see dolphins. If you’re feeling energetic, visit the Los 27 charcos (27 waterfalls), and do the hike visiting them all. You’ll be scrambling around turquoise pools up ladders and down shutes.
The Altos de Chavon in La Romana, is a superb folly – a random re-creation of a Mediterranean village – the views are great. If you’re staying in and around the capital, Santo Domingo, visit the Zona Colonial (the historic city centre). It’s really pretty and you’ll get some cracking pictures.
What to eat
If you’re in Santo Domingo and looking for some good local food places, try Adrian Tropical or head to the beachfront and the Octopus Bay Restaurant on Juan Dolio beach. El Meson De La Cava has not only a great menu, but you dine in a cave. And that’s always cool.
If the beaches and weather hasn’t got you licking your lips, then the food certainly will. Let’s start with their flagship dish, Arroz con habichuelas y carne, loosely translated as rice, beans and meat. Make sure you have this at least once on your trip. Sancocho is a big, bowl of heartiness – this soup-cum-casserole is divine. Try some fried plantains, Mofongo – maybe with Pescado con tostones – a whole fried local fish. Yaniqueque takes fast food up a level – you can pick up these doughy fried snacks at the beach.
Pastel en Hojas will help you feel a lot like Christmas. This is the traditional food to eat in the festive period and into New Year – it’s plantain/bananas stuffed with meat and then wrapped in leaves. They also love their desserts, and you should taste Chaca – it’s kind of like a rice pudding. While Habichuelas con dulce is more in tune with Easter celebrations – you should be able to find it on the menu.
Dominican Republic deals
3* Puerto Plata Village. All-inclusive, 7 nights + flights, departing 12th December,from £1029pp
4* Grand Bahia Principe San Juan. All-inclusive, 7 nights + flights , departing 12th December, from £1089pp
4* Confresi Palm Beach & Spa. All-inclusive, 7 nights + flights, departing 10th December, from £999pp
5* Be Live Collection Marien. All-inclusive, 7 nights + flights, departing 10th December, from £1029pp