London the new bargain basement destination for Europeans

It has been a very tough year for London – not only has it been rated as having the worst hotels in Europe, it also lost its spot as one of the most expensive (and profitable) in Europe.

Of course, the people that benefit this most from this are people that don’t live in the UK. Prices in London are so low, that many Europeans are turning to the British Capital for its cheap shopping opportunities. The combination of a weak Pound and ultra cheap airfare is sending 100’s of planeloads of Europeans to London each day.

With plane tickets being sold for as little as $1 (Thanks Ryanair!), it can be cheaper to fly to London, than to load up the car and drive to many traditional shopping destinations. The Dutch used to drive to German Christmas markets to do some shopping, but now many of them head to the nearest airport and spend the day walking up and down Oxford Street.

Five years ago, one Pound would cost about one and a half Euros – at the current exchange rate, they are almost on parity with each other. Combine this with stores offering steep discounts, and you have a country that has become one big outlet mall. Items that cost EUR1500 in Europe, are selling for GBP450.

Berlin’s best way to shop for the holidays

Need a change of pace for your holiday shopping? Try Berlin! A new deal from the Hotel Concorde will make this year’s hunt for the perfect Christmas present more exciting than ever. The “Shop in the City” package starts with luxurious accommodations and includes plenty of discounts and other shopping perks to help you get the most from your trip.

The Hotel Concorde is right on Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm shopping boulevard, so you won’t have to go far to kick off the spending. In addition to staying in this part of town for two nights, the “Shop in the City” deal includes a buffet breakfast for two every day, dinner at Brasserie Le Faubourg and special gifts from Barbour and Lacoste. You’ll also get to enjoy a champagne reception and gift at the Bally boutique, a 10 percent discount at KaDeWe Berlin and 20 percent off at Galeries Lafayette — with a personal shopping appointment that you can wash down with a glass of champagne. Top it off with a 35 euro voucher at Montblanc.

Rates start at $275 a night. If you can’t make it in the next month and a half, don’t sweat it. Berlin’s Hotel Concorde is running it through the end of March.

Five ways to make a dollar go further in New England this holiday season

New England was made for the holiday season. Sure, it’s a bit chilly up there in the winter, but bundle up, and it’s impossible not to be sucked in by the charm of one of the oldest corners of America. If you’re looking for a great way to maximize your spending power this Christmas (who isn’t?!), check out five great ideas from New England Inns and Resorts. There’s plenty of variety … but little room for Scrooges.

Cut your own Christmas tree
This is a tough one if you’re traveling any distance, and trying to cram a fir into the overhead bin will not help you win friends and influence others. But, if you’re within driving distance, check out The Beachmere Inn in Ogunquit, Maine. The holiday package gets you two nights in an ocean view room and a fresh-cut Christmas tree from nearby Bragdon Farms. Fortunately, they’ll wrap it and fasten it to your car. Back at the inn, you’ll also get two hot chocolates and use of the sauna and spa – you’ll need this to warm up a bit; Maine gets pretty cold.

Shop ’til you drop
At the White Mountain Hotel & Resort in North Conway, New Hampshire, you’ll be close to the outlet stores (famous to anyone who grew up in an adjacent state). The package includes discount coupons to make the savings even greater, and you’ll also get breakfast every morning (two-night stay required). So, instead of cramming into the local mall, dash off to do your shopping this year, and make it an experience worth remembering.

No stress involved
Up in Lyndonville, Vermont, The Wildflower Inn wants to make your holiday season as easy as possible. Rather than worry about fold-out couches and relatives lurking in your kitchen in the middle of the night, invade the Wildflower and occupy its 570-acre resort. Stay for three nights, get a full breakfast every day and unwind. Every room has a Christmas tree that’s ready to be decorated. And, the inn will serve dinner on Christmas Eve and Christmas day itself. Don’t worry: Santa goes to Vermont (hell, he doesn’t live far from it). Every room can be expected to have packed stockings!

Movie marathon by the sea
Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit, Maine is offering a low-key holiday that will make any holiday host drool. Instead of fussing over guests, take advantage of the “Ho-Ho-Ho Package,” and enjoy a holiday movie marathon, caroling and a visit from Santa himself (he doesn’t live far from Maine, either). Bring an unwrapped gift for Meadowmere’s Toys for Tots tree (do it), and relax be the fire.

Think past Christmas
There’s more to the holiday season than Christmas. For the next big event, skip the mayhem of Times Square (or the boredom of watching the ball drop on television), and go to Adair Country Inn & Restaurant in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Spend two or three nights at the inn, and sit for a four-course dinner on New Year’s Eve. Bring your tux; formal attire is encouraged. A party will follow, with dancing, champagne and a fireworks display. When the festivities are over, scarf down a late-night snack. Drag yourself out of bed the next day for high tea.

Five ways to rock Idaho for the holiday season

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho may not be the first destination that comes to mind for holiday travel. I mean … who jumps to Idaho?! Well, this is a problem that needs to be remedied. If you’re looking to take off for a few days between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, there’s a lot happening in Coeur d’Alene.

1. Holiday Light Show: More than 1.5 million lights are hung along the Coeur d’Alene waterfront every winter, creating the largest on-the-water holiday light show in the United States. The festivities kick off the day after Thanksgiving with a parade through downtown with more than 5,000 candles. One button is clicked at the end, bringing the waterfront to life with white lights, a 30-foot wreath and a fireworks display. This event runs through the end of the holiday season.

2. Fantasy Cruise to the North Pole: Cross the water by boat to visit the workshop run by the esteemed Santa and Mrs. Claus. On display, you’ll find a 161-foot Christmas tree with north of 30,000 sparkling LED and colored lights. The lights themselves take on the shapes of nearly 150 characters, from fire-breathing dragons to dancing elves to giant snowflakes. You can take advantage of this from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day. Set sail at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

3. Migrating Bald Eagles: Watch the bald eagles stop in Coeur d’Alene every winter to dine on Chinook salmon near Wolf Lodge Bay. From Thanksgiving until the end of the year, you can see up to 100 eagles hanging out on the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

4. Shop for the Holidays: Stop by Sherman Avenue, where you can find plenty of unique shops and art galleries. Add a local flavor to the gifts you give this year — a great alternative to the big box stores (and their online equivalents).

5. Parks of All Types: At Silver Mountain, a half hour from Coeur d’Alene, you can do some skiing or tubing — or throw on a swimsuit to splash around at an indoor water park, despite the freezing temperatures outside.

[Photo by Jami Dwyer via Flickr]

Ten Finnish festivals to finish the year

We’re into the home stretch on 2009, with only three months left to enjoy. Then, the calendar page flips over, and we take on 2010. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways left to make the rest of this year memorable. In Finland, home to some of the strangest celebrations on the planet, you can find a few interesting distractions – and they’ll make for great stories when you get home. Of course, there are a few mixed in that aren’t so strange but could still be pretty interesting.

1. Rovaniemi Design Week
Head up to the capital of Lapland to enjoy its first ever design week. On its own, this seems pretty mundane … until you get a sense of what’s scheduled to happen. The event will host the 24th Design Challenge, which involves competing to develop the Arctic Circle: Santa’s home base.
September 28-October 4, 2009

2. Baltic Herring Fair
This festival dates back to 1743 in Helsinki and is the oldest event dedicated to Finland’s most important marine product fish. Look for it in the Old Market Square.
October 4-10, 2009

3. Carnival of Light at Linnamäki Amusement Park
The Carnival of Light involves fire acrobats and the Pumpkin Fest parade, not to mention an array of ghosts and witches. A laser show and Harry Potter-themed skating rink tie it all together.
October 8-19, 2009

4. Skiexpo
This is the largest winter sports fair in the Nordic corner of the world and includes downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and other bone-chilling experiences.
October 30- November 1, 2009

5. Etnosoi! Festival
Listen to Hungarian Gypsy music groups Romengo, Nadara (from Transylvania) and Dobet Gnahoré from Ivory Coast thanks to the Global Music Centre and Centre for Romany Art.
November 4-8, 2009

6. Moving in November
Like to dance? Or, just watch? The Moving in November festival brings contemporary dance acts from across Europe. This year, enjoy two Finnish premieres: riffy by Tommi Kitti (love the name) and Moe by Heli Meklin and Michael Laub.
November 3-8, 2009

7. Helsinki Motor Show
This is the only annual auto exhibition in Scandinavia! Go to the Helsinki Fair Center where you’ll see the work of Finnish importers and manufacturers from around the world. Look for a few concept cars while you’re there.
November 26-29, 2009

8. Ladies’ Christmas Market
Load up on locally made products from the women of Finland at The Christmas Market at Wanha Satama. On the shelves, you’ll find plenty of jewelry, ceramics, leather, woodwork, clothing, baked goods and Christmas goodies.
December 2-6, 2009

9. The Declaration of Christmas Peace
Spend Christmas Eve participating in a tradition seven centuries old: the declaring Christmas peace in the Turku Cathedral.
December 24, 2009

10. New Year at the Senate Square
Ring in the new year at Senate Square, where you’ll be treated to professional firework displays and all the liquor you can store in your pockets.
December 31, 2009