The Roemerberg and its traditional Christmas market in the historic center of Frankfurt always boasts a tall and well-lit tree.

The Roemerberg and its traditional Christmas market in the historic center of Frankfurt always boasts a tall and well-lit tree. (iStock)

Once all the presents have been opened and the festive meal devoured, the days between Christmas and the New Year can feel a little flat. Add to that mix the children off from school and visiting relatives, there’s an urge to get out and do something at a time of year when the offerings seem slim.

Luckily, there are solutions in sight. With business travel nearly at a standstill, overnight accommodation in hotels catering largely to cooperate guests can offer surprisingly good rates, making a city break an attractive option. And with Christmas decorations remaining up and illuminated at least until New Year, festive backdrops are in ample supply. Why not use the time and circumstances to capture snapshots for the family photo album by calling in at these iconic metropolitan locations?

Brussels, Belgium: Although its Grand-Place has to count among the most beautiful squares in Europe, a much more whimsical location for a photo shoot is in front of Manneken-Pis, a small statue of a peeing boy located at the junction of Rue de l’Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat. Every few days, the dapper young lad is dressed in a new look, and his present-day wardrobe includes more than one thousand outfits. Some of the stranger fashions he’s sported through time include outfits inspired by Dracula, Mickey Mouse, Elvis, and an astronaut. The schedule for his wardrobe can be found online at

Prague, Czech Republic: Towered over by the Old Town Hall and the Tyn Cathedral, Old Town Square’s Christmas market appears straight out of a postcard. Iconic snaps to be taken here will certainly feature wooden huts laden with characteristic products such as scarves, lace, crystal or ceramics, or better yet, ones selling the city’s signature dishes, from vast caldrouns of carp soup to fat juicy hams or trdelnik, the famous chimney cake, so named for its cylindrical shape. A soaring tree bedecked with red and gold bulbs and 100,000 lights is the square’s crowning glory. The exceptional scene can be captured from an observation bridge that’s free to enter. The theme of this year’s market is Cinderella, chosen on the 50th anniversary of the release of a Czech film about the fairytale princess. The market remains open through Jan. 6. Online:

Frankfurt, Germany: Germany’s city of ultra-modern skyscrapers can also boast of a more traditionally picturesque corner. The Roemerberg, a square surrounded by stately gabled houses and a magnificent Town Hall, becomes all the more stunning for the presence of the city’s most statuesque Christmas tree. The 85-foot-tall spruce gracing the square in 2023 has an interesting backstory. As the tree’s roots were encroaching on a nearby road, it was necessary to cut it down, lending good use to a sad inevitability. The tree was nicknamed Sonny by its sponsors, members of the Frankfurt Eintracht soccer team. The name is in reference to a longtime fan of the team, Helmut Sonnenberg, a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor who passed away earlier this year.

Heidelberg, Germany: Any snapshot taken in Heidelberg will be instantaneously recognizable when it features the image of the castle ruins high above the town. The castle, razed many times and rendered uninhabitable after being struck by lightning in 1764, makes up part of the backdrop for photos taken at Karlsplatz, a square featuring one of the country’s most beautifully placed ice-skating rinks. Skaters can enjoy a turn on the ice daily (expect for Dec. 24) through Jan.7. Skate rentals are available on site. Online:

Trieste, Italy: The city’s Austro-Hungarian heritage which shines through in its architecture, combined with a location directly on the Adriatic Sea, provides a unique backdrop for Christmas markets, seasonal décor, a skating rink and stages offering live performances. Stalls set up alongside the Grand Canal and Piazza delle Borsa offer artisanal crafts and gourmet treats, both locally produced and from around the world. Your best photo moment is likely to be had at the Piazza Unità d’Italia, a vast square abutting the sea. Here, artfully illuminated buildings stand in deference to a towering Christmas tree. The Christmas market remains up and running through Jan. 7.

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