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Festive forests and seasonal soundtracks: Europe’s best Christmas gardens from London to Madrid

Festive forests and seasonal soundtracks: Europe’s best Christmas gardens from London to Madrid

December is just around the corner and Europe’s cities are beginning to sparkle with festive decorations.

From Covent Garden to the Eiffel Tower, iconic tourist attractions are getting glow-ups that draw huge crowds. But what if you want to channel the Christmas spirit without the frenzy?

Head to these peaceful parks and botanical gardens for magical light trails and festive installations.

London: Stroll through festive forests at Kew Gardens

From Carnaby Street to Winter Wonderland, London is packed with visitors seeking spectacular lights and festivities. But travel a little way out of the city centre and you’ll find an enchanting display that’s more ‘Silent Night’ than ‘Fairytale of New York’.

Every year, Christmas at Kew transforms southwest London’s Royal Botanic Gardens into a dreamscape of twinkling forests and installations.

This year’s display opened on 15 November, revealing candle-lit walkways, spectacular fountain shows and colourful projections with an environmental message. The 3 km trail is free from single-use plastic and the majority of the lights are energy-efficient LEDs.

Be sure to go hungry - and thirsty - as the walkway is dotted with food stands serving tempting treats like Yorkshire pudding wraps and mince pies, as well as bars serving mulled wine and hot chocolate. There’s even a fire pit for roasting marshmallows and a small fairground for little ones.

Christmas at Kew runs until 7 January 2024.

Walk through twinkling light tunnels at Christmas at Kew.
Walk through twinkling light tunnels at Christmas at Kew. - RBG Kew

Paris: Get lost in a glowing tropical jungle at Jardin des Plantes

Lights illuminating the Champs Elysées, ice skating in Tuileries Garden, festive window displays on Avenue Montaigne: Paris is dreamy in December. But nothing is quite as breathtaking as Jardin des Plantes’ Festival of Lights.

This year’s light walk opens on 22 November and will feature giant illuminated sculptures that pay homage to the jungles of Asia, Oceania, South America and Africa. Wander through glowing tropical forests to take the edge off the winter weather, and pose next to giant bugs, flowers and even some animated exhibits.

Although the festival draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every winter, tickets come with a specific date and time slot, preventing it from feeling overcrowded.

The Festival of Lights will run until 21 January 2024.

Berlin: Immerse yourself in a festive soundscape at Botanischer Garten Berlin

Nowhere does Christmas like Germany, its iconic markets serving as the blueprint for festivities around the world. While the best way to experience them is to venture into chocolate-box towns like Heidelberg, the buzzing capital Berlin has plenty of winter cheer to dish out.

If you’d rather avoid the mania of Winter World and Potsdamer Platz, the city’s Botanical Garden offers a more peaceful alternative. It unveiled its illuminated circular trail on 17 November with beautiful light installations set to seasonal soundtracks.

With endless photo opportunities along the route, the garden is running a festive photo competition with a trip to Windsor Castle’s 2024 light show in England as the prize.

Tickets for the Christmas Garden are available until 14 January 2024.

Madrid: Enter a luminous world of insects at Enrique Tierno Galván park

You’re unlikely to experience a white Christmas in Spain’s capital, but it doesn’t lack festive spirit. From the end of November till the beginning of January, Madrid’s streets, buildings and squares twinkle with colourful lights and luminous nativity scenes.

Once you’ve visited the tree at Plaza de España and seen the arches lit up at Plaza Mayor, dial it up a notch at Naturaleza Encendida. Usually held at Jardín Botánico, the annual light show will move to Enrique Tierno Galván park this year.

Last year’s display paid tribute to fungi, while this year will celebrate the wonderful world of insects. The ticketed event opens on 21 November and runs until 22 January 2024.

Rome: Experience a modern take on Christmas at l'Orto Botanico di Roma

From the nativity scene in St Peter's Square to Christmas Eve Mass at the Vatican, Italy’s capital draws crowds seeking the true meaning of Christmas.

For a more modern take on the festivities, head to l'Orto Botanico di Roma, where you’ll find a multi-sensory, immersive light-art exhibition.

Rome's annual ‘Trame di Luce’ (Textures of Lights) features illuminated sculptures, 3D installations and special effects accompanied by music. Wander through the botanical garden’s enchanted woods, LED tunnels and magical caves before stopping for Roman street food and cocktails.

The event opened on 16 November and runs until 7 January 2024.