Tag: Scandinavia

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Five of the best Christmas Markets in the World

The closest most Aussies have come to a white Christmas is buying ice for the Esky. That’s why the thought of a twinkly, snow-covered Christmas is like something from a fairytale. The good news is that many of the world’s best Christmas markets are included in November and December touring itineraries making them super easy to access.

Here are five the of the best Christmas markets in the world:

1. Nuremberg, Germany
Aldi shoppers will have probably noticed that Germans are big into Christmas. No other nation has quite so many kinds of Christmas biscuit.

Nuremberg – the second largest city in Bavaria – is home to two Christmas markets that run alongside each other in the medieval old town (Aldstadt). They are the Christmas market of the baby Jesus and the Christmas market of the child that features lots of rides and photo opportunities with Santa. This market is also the home of pyrography (the art of decorating wood with markings from a hot poker) and bricolage (a form of mixed media craft).

2. Salzburg, Austria
If you read lots of Northern European fiction as a child, you have probably wondered what a hot roasted chestnut smells likes. Now you can find out at one of the many Christmas markets held around Salzburg. Shop for toys, Christmas decorations and knitwear, enjoy the smell of baked apples, hot punch and roasted almonds and chestnuts, and listen the bells of the Cathedral or carollers on the church steps.

3. Prague, Czech Republic – Old Town
The Czech Republic does a lot of things well – namely Pilsner beers – but the locals also excel at Christmas fare. And let’s face it – wandering around in the snow is a lot more fun with a mulled wine, honey wine, hot chocolate or ‘grog’ – a mixture of rum, water, lemon and sugar – in your mittens. Popular food on offer includes large hams roasted on spits (Pražská Šunka), sausages (klobása), Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup (langoš), pancakes (pala
inky), and a variety of sweets and cakes, such as spicy gingerbread and ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar coated pastry.

4. Strasbourg, France
The Christmas markets in Strasbourg – arguably the Christmas capital of France – date back to the 16th Century. The centrepiece of this famous market is a whopping great tree that is a tourist attraction in itself. Why? Because it’s one of the few real Christmas trees of its size. A forestry representative starts searching for this special tree in March every year. Come December, the 30 metre tree is craned into position and wrapped in seven kilometres of Christmas lights.

5. Helsinki, Finland
Everyone who thinks Santa lives at the North Pole are wrong – he lives in Finland. The Finnish capital of Helsinki puts on a great show for its annual Christmas markets and also hosts a number of wacky celebrations such as Tiernapojat, a uniquely Finnish ritual where boys dress up as soldiers and kings and run around the streets singing. The good news? If you get really cold outside, you can always head back to your sauna to defrost.

If you’d love to experience a white Christmas in Europe Gate 1 Travel can take you there. Click here to find out more about our Christmas Markets escorted tours or learn more about our Christmas Markets River Cruise here.

Click here to find out how you can save up to $700 per person on our 2019 Christmas Tours & Cruises!


The Perks of Work: Travel in Iceland

Iceland is a travel destination that has grown in popularity over the last few years, and for good reason. Adventure, natural beauty and local culture make it the perfect new destination to explore!

Candice, from our Gate 1 Travel Marketing team, discovered Iceland in January and after this Q&A highlighting her experience, you’ll probably feel like the rest of us in the office and be ready to pack your bags and see this captivating country for yourself!

Q: Why did you choose the Iceland trip and what had you heard about these places that made you decide to visit?
A: Seeing the Northern Lights and swimming in the Blue Lagoon were on my Bucket List, and Iceland is a place where I could potentially do both, so this trip was perfect.

Blue LagoonQ: Iceland is becoming one of the most popular international travel destinations, how was that reflected in your trip?
A: There were tour buses and tourists in most of the spots we visited, but it did not feel crowded at all. The bars, restaurants and city streets were not crowded either. The airport is very small so it felt a little full because of its size and the amount of people that want to visit the country! Other than the airport, it was very easy to get around.

Q: What were some of the highlights of your trip?
I wanted to be sure to go swimming in the Blue Lagoon while it was still dark out. It was amazing to see the mist and steam coming off of the water, then to watch the Gulfoss Falls2progression as the sun rose. I also wanted to get an in-water massage while snow was falling on my face. I then drank champagne immediately after in the lagoon, which was definitely a highlight! Gullfoss Falls were so beautiful and incredible to see as well.

Q: What was your favourite location on the trip?
I would have to say the Blue Lagoon because it was a lot of fun and gorgeous setting at the same time. I also enjoyed roaming around the streets of Reykjavik, which are very walk-able, and peeking into the shops. I loved wandering around the neighbourhoods to see how the Icelandic locals live and move around their city.

Q: Did you enjoy the food and try any dishes that you felt were very authentic?
I loved my last meal in Iceland at Sægreifinn. It was very picturesque and I loved that it was right by the Seaborrn2water. It also has a cozy, fisherman’s feel inside and their lobster soup was delicious. I also enjoyed the caramelized popcorn and avocado fries at Sætasvínið, a delicious hot dog with onions two-ways from Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur and the Fisherman’s Stew at Icelandic Street Food.

Q: How was the shopping and did you visit anywhere specifically great for shopping?
I didn’t do much shopping at all. I did purchase a lava rock necklace to put my essential oils in. I purchased birch, volcanic ash, glacier ice soap, and dried fish treats to bring home as a souvenir. Also, Icelandic beer!

Icelandic Street FoodQ: What travel tips would you give to someone preparing to go on this trip? 
Save up – the food and beverages are expensive in Iceland because most things are imported. Also, make sure to pack layers, as you can experience all four seasons on some days, especially if going in the winter and going on excursions. Try and visit a natural geothermal pool, such as the Secret Lagoon, so you can experience both a smaller more private pool in addition to the Blue Lagoon. Book excursions, but don’t be disappointed if they are cancelled. The weather in Iceland during the winter is very finicky and weather conditions may affect what you’re able to do while you’re there, but if you go with the flow it’s still a fantastic experience at that time of year.

ChurchQ: How did you prepare for this trip?
I packed warm clothing (wool socks, fleece undershirts and leggings, hand and feet warmers, etc.). I also set proper expectations regarding spending money while in Iceland, and was ready to have a good time!

Q: Would you go back to Iceland and would you recommend this trip to family/friends?

Q: What did you feel was the overall theme of your trip?
Winter – Snow, ice, wind, sleet and clouds. But it made everything so beautiful and authentically Icelandic!


Scandinavia In A Word: Spectacular

Lovers of European history and culture can’t get enough of the continent. But many gravitate toward central and southern Europe. And as many Gate 1 travellers will tell you, they’re missing out.

In the continent’s northern reaches, sweeping vistas and rich cultures unlike anywhere else on Earth are begging to be explored: deep, dramatic fjords and colossal glaciers shimmer in untouched splendour. Charming farmhouses dwarfed by soaring peaks nestle in gently sloping valleys of green … cosmopolitan cities and quaint villages are married to the ebb and flow of the sea … a fascinating past stretches all the way to the Viking Age. What’s more, it’s all celebrated in some of the world’s most magnificent painting, music and literature borne from passionate national pride.

Norway’s Rich Culture and Magnificent Fjords

Norwegian Oslo exudes all the flair of any major European capital. The city takes full advantage of its seaside location, boasting a beautifully restored quay and a modern, world-class Opera House that slopes dramatically into the water. This innovative structure only hints at the city’s – and the nation’s – deep desire to stay connected to the natural world. You can witness the full expression of this desire at Vigeland Sculpture Park, a stunning outdoor installation of 212 bronze and granite sculptures depicting various stages of life. The artist behind these figures, Gustav Vigeland, is also beloved as the designer of the Nobel Peace Prize medal, which is awarded each year in Oslo’s City Hall. To glimpse Scandinavia’s Viking past, you can opt to visit three restored ships used by the explorers 1,200 years ago.

If the cosmopolitan beauty of Oslo takes your breath away, Norway’s natural beauty will send your spirit soaring. Lillehammer, situated at the northern end of Lake Mjosa, hosted the 1994 Winter Olympic Games and you’ll understand why when you witness its alpine setting. The town of Lom is home to one of the best preserved stave churches in the country, its wooden structure taking inspiration from its woodland surroundings. It was built without a single nail! But perhaps there is no more inspirational feature of Norway than its fjords.

Cruising the glacier-carved fjords is surely one of life’s most unforgettable and astonishing experiences. Depending on your itinerary, you’ll savour a leisurely cruise through Sognefjord, the longest and deepest of them all, and witness the magnificent natural splendour of these glacier-carved landscapes during a ride on the legendary Flam railway, passing flower-filled pastures, waterfalls and snow-covered peaks. This spectacular train journey, one of the world’s most scenic, climbs to 3,000 feet in 12 miles, delivering you to unbelievable vistas.

Nestled amidst it all is the historic coastal city of Bergen, capital of history’s Hanseatic League, the mercantile trade organisation that controlled much of northern Europe’s trade in the Middle Ages. Its neat and pretty wooden structures recall the heydays when cargo ships unloaded pelts, spice, bronze and countless other wares from distant lands, filling the coffers of local merchants with endless riches. Today’s fish market still bustles with shoppers and made-to-order lunch stalls. Visit the Bergen Museum to learn more about this influential city’s fascinating past.

There is no more breathtaking way to take in the pristine and remote beauty of Norway than on a coastal cruise. You’ll trace the routes of postal ships, stopping at culture-rich cities and charming villages tucked into stunning fjords along the way. Exact itineraries of our multiple-night cruises vary. You might disembark to admire the Art Nouveau architecture of Alesund, rebuilt in this style after a fire destroyed the city in the early 20th century. Explore Trondheim, Norway’s oldest city and original capital. Cross the Arctic Circle, where you might spot sea eagles amidst the dramatic vistas of Bodo. Visit the Lofoten and Vesteralen Islands, known for their soaring granite cliffs and tiny fishing villages. Stop in Tromso, historic gateway to the northerly polar reaches, and witness the northernmost points of Europe during a call to Honningsvag or Hammerfest. Take all these sites in, and so much more, as you cruise among magnificent fjords and past staggering coastal mountains.

Sweden’s Grand Historic Capital

Spread across a vast archipelago, Stockholm is Sweden’s scintillating capital. Three of the city’s historic buildings stand out. The Royal Palace, a vast Italian-Baroque wonder and home to the Swedish royal family, overlooks the water from its perch on the island of Stadsholmen. Riddarholm Church, with its tall spire pointing skyward from the island of Riddarholmen, was the royal burial place until 1950. And the Romanesque City Hall on the island of Kungsholmen, with architectural touches that mirror the great buildings of Venice, hosts the Nobel Prize banquet each year. The city’s Gamla Stan, or Old Town, is a delightful maze of cobbled streets that lead to inviting squares surrounded by gabled houses and grand public buildings.

Second only to Stockholm in size and cultural offerings, Gothenburg is a lively university town. Many call it the friendliest city in Sweden, if not all of Scandinavia. One thing is certain: Its youthful vibe is truly contagious. You can tour this vibrant city via its charming 17th-century canals.

Denmark’s Fairytale Splendour

South of Sweden across the five-mile Oresund Bridge lies the island of Zealand, part of the nation of Denmark and home to the Danish capital, Copenhagen. The city is a delightful amalgam of elegant palaces, fairytale streets and beautiful public spaces. But amidst all the city’s grandiosity, every visitor is drawn to the Little Mermaid statue in the quaint park of Langelinie. The charming sculpture is based on the fairy tale written by the city’s native son, Hans Christian Andersen. During your stay in this pretty city, try a traditional smorrebrod, the Danish version of an open-faced sandwich. And if you wish, venture out of town to visit some of the country’s famed castles, including Elsinor, made famous by Shakespeare when he penned Hamlet.

Iceland’s Primeval Beauty

It’s easy to forget that Iceland is part of Scandinavia. But once you visit, you’ll surely never forget the unspoiled natural beauty that seems to steer you back to the very beginning of Earth’s origins.

Reykjavik is the nation’s gateway and the world’s northernmost capital city. You can get a good look at the city layout from Oskjuhlid Hill, where the lookout spot of Perlan provides excellent views. But you’ll want a closer look. As you explore the city, you’ll no doubt notice a charm reminiscent of smaller-scale buildings from the continent’s Old Towns. No grand palaces and enormous open squares here, just a delightful fully functioning city frozen in time that befits the nation’s small population. You’ll see the modest stone Parliament and the adjacent Cathedral, the National Museum, and the Hofdi House, where Reagan and Gorbachev famously met in 1986. Of course, a trip to the Reykjavik area isn’t complete without a soak in the geothermal waters of the famous Blue Lagoon.

Outside Reykjavik, the modern day seems to slip away as you step into an untouched, primitive world marked by volcanic slopes, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers in a starkly beautiful landscape free of trees. Traversing this barren terrain, you can’t help but feel that this is what the earth must have looked like in primeval days. And you wouldn’t be far from the truth: Geologically, Iceland is a young land and its location on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge makes it an active and ever-changing zone. You’ll hear more about this during a visit to Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located right on the ridge.

Witness all this breathtaking natural beauty when you stop to marvel at Dyrholaey Nature Reserve on the South Shore, admire the sheer magnificence of Skaftafell National Park, thrill to the famous Gullfoss waterfall, and explore the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with its colossal Snaefellsjokull Glacier. That’s only a fraction of the unforgettable natural sites you’ll view.

Throughout your exploration on our Classic Iceland tour, you’ll stop to witness Icelandic culture and history, whether at the Skogar Folk Museum, the Fridheimar Tomato Farm, the Bjanarhofn Farm or the Settlement Centre at Borgarnes, which chronicles the history of the Vikings here. Learn about the impact of global warming on the country’s glaciers, and hear how geothermal energy and a thriving greenhouse culture have helped Iceland harness energy in the most efficient manner.

To see even more of Iceland, choose the Kaleidoscope of Iceland tour, which circles the country on its world-famous ring road. See Akureyri, Iceland’s “cultural capital of the north”, and the exquisite Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss waterfall. Or you might wish to join the small group Discovery tour Iceland, Natural Force & Beauty, where you’ll have the chance to explore an ice cave inside Langjökull Glacier, and go on a whale watching boat trip in northern Iceland.

So Many Ways to Explore Scandinavia with Gate 1

The beauty of Gate 1 Travel is the many options you’ll enjoy as you decide how you’d best like to discover Scandinavia. If Russia is on your bucket list, for instance, then you’ll want to join our Scandinavia & Russia trip. In addition to exploring Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Stockholm, you’ll spend one night on a Baltic Sea ferry and two nights in Helsinki, Finland’s stylish and historic capital. Then board a high-speed train for a scenic journey to St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s gilded city and home to the priceless collections of the Hermitage Museum. Continue by train to Moscow, Russia’s fascinating capital, where you can view the magnificent Faberge Eggs at the Armory Museum and explore the nation’s grandest gathering spot, Red Square, with its colourful onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral.

Get a closer look at Scandinavia when you explore with a small group on our Scandinavia, Naturally Charming itinerary. Immerse yourself in the glories of Stockholm, Bergen and Oslo. Plus, in Sweden, explore the architectural diversity of Falun and take in the alpine setting and Olympic venues of Lillehammer. In Norway, marvel at what many have called the most spectacular scenery in the world in Geiranger, nestled in a dramatic fjord, and visit Sogndal, home to a stunning stave church, one of the largest in Norway.

For More Natural Wonders, Look to the Sky

No one brings you this close to Scandinavia. And when you travel to these northern nations at the height of summer, you’ll enjoy them to their fullest, thanks to the near-constant Midnight Sun. Off season, too, has its advantages. The farther north you travel, the more likely you are to view the fantastical Northern Lights, a stunning celestial light show that illuminates the night sky in greens, blues and reds.  Of course, Gate 1 can never guarantee sightings, but should you join us at the right time of year, your Tour Manager will monitor conditions to increase your chances.

Discover Spectacular Scandinavia with Gate 1 Travel!

Join Gate 1 in Scandinavia and add its glorious cultural capitals, astonishing fjords, staggering mountains and dramatic landscapes to your favourite European destinations. And do so knowing that you’ll enjoy the best value in the travel industry, and the most rewarding experience. Join us!