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Holiday Travel: 9 Places to Eat, Drink and Be Merry

By Linnea Covington
December 2, 2013
Photo by: Bumpy Tours via Flickr

Explore 63,000 ft. of Italian food and drink in Chicago, the world's best fruitcake in Germany and a boisterous beer-cation in the Midwest. Here are nine food-centric destinations that are perfect for celebrating the holidays. 

  • Photo by: Nick Murway

    Chicago

    Despite the frigid temperatures in Chicago during the holiday season, this city is one of the best places for getting into the yuletide spirit and meeting all your Christmas shopping needs. The city's boldest opening is the new branch of Eataly, Mario Batali’s 63,000-sq.-ft. Italian superstore that carries sweets, meats, cheeses, wines, olive oil, pasta and more.

    You can also hit up the German-style Christkindlmarket downtown for mulled wine, apple pastries and goulash, then go ice-skating and get hot chocolate in Millennium Park. Afterwards, take a break with high tea at The Drake Hotel. For more tasty holiday fun, hit up Irish saloon Butch McGuire’s, where the over-the-top Christmas decorations are an annual tradition. For something a bit fancier, try Lawry's Prime Rib, which is housed in an 1890s-era mansion.

    Where to stay: Indulge in the luxurious world of The Drake Hotel, which has single, double and family-sized rooms complete with a mini bar, large HDTV and cozy bathrobes to lounge in. Sip a bit of history at the speakeasy-style Coq d’Or bar, a classic spot that opened its doors right after Repeal Day in 1933, the same year the hotel opened the seafood restaurant Cape Cod. Rates start at $199

  • Photo by: Zach Klein

    Prague, Czech Republic

    For a fairy-tale Christmas, head to Prague, where the ancient city embraces the holiday with yuletide markets and stunning decorations. Make sure to take note of the magnificent Christmas tree in Old Town Square: it’s shipped in from the Krkonose mountains and glitters like gold. There are three main markets: the one in Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and the smaller Havel’s market, all open Christmas Eve and Day and New Year’s Day.

    At all three, you can find brightly decorated wooden huts brimming with handicrafts, glassware, jewelry, embodied lace, ornaments, hats, puppets and plenty of food stands. After all, the people of Prague know shopping makes one hungry, so you can fill your belly with spit-roasted ham, sausages and fresh pastries like the trdelnik, which is grilled and then dusted with hot sugar and walnuts.

    For a sit-down restaurant, head to Café Slavia, a classic establishment that overlooks the NárodnííTrída and the grand castle. Later, opt to take the Advent River Cruise, a relaxing way to see the sights of Prague with a hot cup of mulled wine, cake and plenty of Christmas carols. 

    Where to stay: Since most of Prague exudes old-world charm, balance that out with a historical place that displays a modern sensibility. Located near all the holiday action, The Old Town Square Hotel offers clean, chic rooms done in black and white. Rates start at $250

  • Photo by: Rob Sumner

    Seattle

    Though heavy snow is rare in Seattle, the city is still an excellent place to get into the holiday spirit. For starters, you can work up an appetite at the Great Figgy Pudding Street Corner Caroling Competition (December 6 at the Westlake Center), an event that’s basically karaoke with Christmas songs. Sadly, they won’t be offering any real figgy pudding; however, you can indulge in a fresh, fruit-filled cream puff at nearby Crumble and Flake Bakery afterwards. After a nibble here, you’re ready to explore Seattle’s Victorian Country Christmas Festival (December 4-8), an event featuring handicrafts, local winemakers, horse-drawn carriage rides and cooking demonstrations. Next, get some liquid cheer and tasty eats at Gastropod, a food-focused pub that opened up this year. Other worthwhile stops: chef Renee Erickson's Walrus & the Carpenter for oysters and warming mussel stew, or her new small-plates bar, Barnacle, right next door.

    Where to stay: When in Seattle, it’s good to be close to the Pike Place Market, a great spot to pick up food for your holiday feast or for food-themed gifts. With that in mind, book a room at Inn at the Market, a quaint boutique hotel with complimentary wireless and views of the water. During the holidays, the hotel sets up a free gift-wrapping station in the lobby. Rates start at $265

  • New York City

    In December, New York City goes Christmas crazy. There's the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, the annual Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, and Macy’s iconic Santa’s workshop. For something a bit more off the beaten path, check out the charming gift and food markets that pop up in Union Square and Columbus Circle (see here for more information). For cornea-blasting lights displays, check out the Time Warner Center, or head to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they host their annual yuletide tradition of staging a 20-ft. Christmas tree decorated Neapolitan Baroque crèche figures (now through January 6).

    For a taste of Scandinavian holiday foods, try one of the three locations of Smorgas Chef, which is also offering diners a complimentary glass of their classic glögg. Another NYC tradition is the ultracreamy hot chocolate from City Bakery, which you can accompany with fluffy housemade marshmallows. If you happen to be around on Christmas Eve, book a table at chef David Santos’ Louro for an elegant three-course prix fixe menu with chestnut soup, octopus bolognese, suckling pig and dry-aged rib-eye. Plus, if you opt for the white-truffle supplement, you can let it snow onto your meal and truly have a white Christmas.

    Where to stay: Head to The Wolcott Hotel this holiday season, and take advantage of discounted rates starting at $150. This includes a special in-house shopping suite and complimentary breakfast. The location is very tourist-friendly, being close to the Empire State Building and Macy’s Herald Square. For something a little more upscale, book a room at the stunning Towers of the Waldorf Astoria, close to classic NYC holiday attractions like the ice rink at Rockefeller Center and the flagship FAO Schwartz store. Rates start at $699

  • Photo by: Bumpy Tours via Flickr

    Strasbourg, France

    During the month of December, this city in Northeastern France becomes one of the cheeriest places in the world to celebrate, with lights covering nearly every surface in town. The capital of the Alsace region, near the border with Germany, Strasbourg has plenty of incredible food as well, including beer, heart-shaped pretzels, foie gras and incredible white wines. It also has one of the best and oldest holiday markets in Europe, the Christkindelsmärik, which dates back to 1570.

    At the vast Market of Christmas Delicacies of Alsace, you can buy Bredle Christmas biscuits, Alsatian wines, lots of local beer, and foie gras. For one Euro, pick up a special commemorative cup that acts not only as a reminder of your trip, but also as an eco-friendly way to drink mulled wine. Make sure to visit the Alsatian Museum, where they display antique Christmas ornaments and holiday trees decorated in the traditional way with apples, walnuts, ribbons and candy.

    Where to stay: Located right by the Notre Dame Cathedral and near all the holiday fun, Hôtel Cathédrale is the place to be. The rooms are sleek yet cozy, and they offer family-sized suites. Rates start at $215

  • Santa Barbara, California

    Though it may be sunny throughout December in Santa Barbara, that doesn’t mean the city lacks holiday cheer. For one, there are plenty of Christmas shows to check out, from Mannheim Steamroller Christmas (December 5) and the 16th Annual Dave Koz and Friends Christmas Tour (December 16) at The Granada Theatre, and La Pastorela (aka the Shepherd’s Play) at El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park (December 21 and 22).

    See the city's impressive light displays on the Trolley of Lights' dinner tour (running December 10 to 23), and enjoy a festive ride to Palazzio or Fess Parker’s Doubletree, have dinner, then hop back on the trolley for a 90-minute ride around town.

    Where to stay: Bacara Resort & Spa has partnered this year with a local artist to create a stunning Christmas tree installation. They also offer a caroling extravaganza through the resort’s 78-acre village, holiday movies in a screening room, and traditional holiday feasts in their restaurants, Miro and The Bistro. Rates start at $350

  • Photo by: Amway Grand Plaza Hotel

    Grand Rapids, Michigan

    This Western Michigan city is a great place for a beer-cation: it's one of the best beer towns in the suds-mad state. Warm up with a tasting or tour at one of this city’s 15 craft breweries like Founder’s, HopCat, The B.O.B. and Grand Rapids Brewing Company. Then, get festive with whiskey, country music and scrumptious bar food at the Back Forty Saloon

    To experience Michigan's version of a winter wonderland, head to the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, where they have decorated trees, a miniature railway garden, carolers (Tuesdays from 6-8 PM until December 17), live reindeer (on Saturdays until December 21) and horse-drawn carriage rides amid 300,000 lights. On December 15, the awesome rock opera troupe Trans-Siberian Orchestra will play their album, The Lost Christmas Eve, at the Van Andel Arena.

    Where to stay: With the world’s largest gold-leaf ceiling, the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel is definitely holiday-ready. They offer 682 guest rooms from classic singles and doubles to luxury suites with multiple rooms. Rates start at $174

  • Photo by: Kraetzsche via Flickr

    Dresden, Germany

    One of the best Christmas markets in the world can be found in Dresden, where they call it Striezelmarkt. The market dates back to 1434 and takes place annually in Altmarkt Square in the historical city center. Here you can find plenty of freshly made stollen (German fruitcake), as well as piles of handmade toys, festive decorations and traditional gifts. There are copious amounts of glühwein and bratwurst in the market's stalls, as well as the world’s biggest nutcracker and the world’s largest Erzgebirge step pyramid. Make sure to head there the weekend of December 7 when they host the annual Dresden Stollen Festival, and sample more of this delightful dessert than you thought was possible. Chase that with a fine meal at one of the many top-rated restaurants including Palais Bistro, Intermezzo and Alte Meister, and toast to a perfect holiday.

    Where to stay: If you want to relax in a nice steam room or work off some of those calories from eating too much stollen, stay at the Hotel Taschenbergpalais Kempinski Dresdenwhere they have an indoor pool, spa and fitness facility available for their guests. The hotel - as well as the Semper Opera House and a handful of museums - is located right in the city center so you are close to the market. Rates start at $207

  • Sea Island, Georgia

    Soak in some sun, sand and plenty of yuletide goodies at the Sea Island Resort, right off the Georgia coast. For the holiday season, the hotel has scheduled lots of special activities, including horse-drawn carriage rides, gingerbread-house classes and cookie-decorating workshops. For kids, they offer cookies and milk hand-delivered by an “elf” who also reads to them before bed. And on December 25, the hotel will blast manmade snow around the main lawn, to bring some authentic frosty fun to the Deep South. 

    Where to stay: Rent a private ocean villa for the whole family or check out a luxury room. Whether you choose to stay at the Cloister or Lodge, each property exudes the same country-club charm, just what you would expect from vacationing by the sea. Rates start at $395

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