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Bosche Bollen - a huge ball of the creamiest sweet cream encased in a layer of chocolate. A fabulous Dutch dessert.

Two Dozen of the Best European Desserts You Need to Try

Ahhh…. European desserts. Lives there a woman traveler who can resist them? Certainly not me. Because one of the great joys of traveling is… eating. And one of the great joys of eating is… dessert!

A plate of poffertjes in Amsterdam, slathered in butter and hidden under a thick coat of powdered sugar.

A whole lot of travel and food bloggers seem to be just like me—unable to resist desserts in Europe. So I asked some of them to share their favorites with us. Together, we’ve come up with a list of an even two dozen of the best European desserts you need to try on your next trip. Let’s begin with one of my own personal favorites.

Poffertjes in the Netherlands

Poffertjes come directly from the gods, I swear it. These little pockets of heaven are small, puffy buckwheat pancakes (seen in the photo above), baked in a special cast-iron pan with shallow spherical depressions. Once baked, they are slathered in butter and covered in large driftings of powdered sugar. When I first went to Amsterdam, more than 45 years ago, poffertjes were usually bought from special circus-style stands that set up around town at various holidays. Today, you can find them at the street markets, such as the Albert Cuyp Market, and in many cafes. I’ll eat them anywhere I find them, but one of my favorite poffertjes stops is Café De Prins at Prinsengracht 124. This really is one of my very favorite European desserts. You need to try them. Trust me on this.

Lebkuchen in Nuremberg, Germany

By Sage Scott from Everyday Wanderer

A plate of lebkuchen in Nuremberg, served as a traditional Christmas treat.

Lebkuchen is a traditional German Christmas treat. Although the word kuchen means cake in German, I would describe lebkuchen as the love child of a gingerbread man and a spice cake. These German sweet treats are baked on a thin, white, edible wafer called oblaten that always reminds me of a Communion wafer. As it turns out, that’s because the 13th Century German monks who invented lebkuchen in Nuremberg used larger, unconsecrated hosts to structure the cakes and keep the dough from sticking to the baking surface. The cake itself can range from sweet (also known as honigkuchen or honey cake) to spicy (also known as pfefferkuchen or pepper cake).

Typical lebkuchen ingredients include some combination of honey or molasses, spices (like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg), nuts (like almonds or hazelnuts), and candied fruit (like dried apricots or candied lemon peel). As a final step, lebkuchen is dipped in a glaze or dark chocolate. In the country that invented the Christmas tree and is the setting for the Nutcracker Ballet, no Christmas would be complete without soft, sweet, and spicy lebkuchen! They are available at every bakery and every Christkindlmarkt (Christmas market) in Germany throughout the holiday season.

Follow Sage on Instagram

Skyr in Iceland

By Danielle Desir from The Thought Card

A cup of Skyr, a yoghurt-lilke snack or dessert available all over Iceland.

Skyr is one my favorite treats in Iceland. Pronounced “skee-er,” skyr is a dairy product that resembles yogurt but has a milder taste. It is one of Iceland’s oldest dairy products and has been around for nearly 1,000 years. Instead of having a sour and tart taste like yogurt, the cultures that make up skyr have a rich and creamy flavor. Skyr is also very good for your health. It contains more protein and less sugar than yogurt. In Iceland, you can find all sorts of flavors like peach cloudberry, strawberry, banana, apple, raspberry, coconut and more.

Trying skyr is one of the inexpensive things I recommend doing in Iceland on a budget. It costs around 200 ISK or $2+ USD. You can find Skyr at grocery stores, gas stations and even some restaurants.

Churros and Chocolate in Madrid

By Tom Bartel & Kristin Henning from Travel Past 50

A plate of churros and a cup of thick, dark hot chocolate makes a perfect Spanish breakfast.

For your morning coffee or chocolate and churros in Madrid, you must visit Chocolatería San Ginés in the center city. It’s just off Calle Arenal about halfway between the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza de Ópera. If you go at the typical breakfast time of mid-morning, you’ll stand in line for a few minutes to order at the cashier. You pay, get your ticket, and then wait a couple more minutes for a table to open up. The place has seating on two levels in the main shop, and another large room next door. The turnover is quick, so the wait is never long, but even if it were, it would be worth it.

Basically, there are four combinations that are the standard fare. You can either have coffee with milk or hot chocolate, and you can either have churros or porras, which are basically just bigger churros. Churros are the Spanish equivalent of donuts. They are fried dough, usually sprinkled with powdered sugar, although they are so delicious, you can certainly forego the sweet garnish. I do. However, the essence of the Spanish churro breakfast is not the churros. It’s the chocolate. This isn’t the thin gruel that Americans call cocoa or hot chocolate. This is a thick, dark, bitter chocolate that comes in a cup, but is really too thick to drink. It exists solely for dipping your churros. Enjoy.

Read more about Tom & Kristin’s take on Madrid with this Madrid mini guide.

Sebada in Sardinia

By Claudia Taviani from My Adventures Across the World.

A popular European dessert is Sebada in Sardinia. Served with honey.

One of the yummiest sweet treats in Sardina is the sebada (or seada), generally referred to in its plural form—sebadas or seadas. These are made by preparing a very plain dough which is then laid very thin and filled with a mild cheese (it can be Dolce Sardo, but it should traditionally be a sweet and fresh pecorino cheese) and grated lemon or orange rind. The pastry is then folded together carefully, and deep fried. It’s cooked until crispy and then served with honey. The end result is a sweet, salty and at the same time crispy and tangy dessert that makes any mouth water. A classic among European desserts.

Read more about Claudia’s favorite food destinations around the world.

Snow-White Cake in Bucharest, Romania

By Iulia-Alexandra Falcutescu of The Traveling Tulip

A plate of rich and creamy Romanian Snow White Cake, cut into small squares for serving.

When you visit Bucharest, one of the “must have” sweets is a typical Romanian cake called “Snow-White.” I know, it has a funny name, but it is so delicious, light and sweet, that you will immediately fall in love with it, just like the Prince did with the real Snow-White. This is my childhood’s cake. My grandma used to make it, as it is a favorite amongst children and adults alike. It is a layered cake, made from three thin sheets of cake with vanilla-lemon cream in between them. That fresh cream perfectly balances the sweetness of the pastry layers to create a fresh dessert.

Typically, this is not found in your average cake shop in the city, but look for the cake shops that sell “home-made” cakes. It’s a must for them to have it and for you to enjoy it! Better yet, find a Romanian grandma to make one for you. If you can’t manage that, you can always try Lulu’s Cake (located at Strada Bogdaniţa, Nr. 8-10, in Bucharest). It’s a cake shop that makes “home-made” cakes, and they are my favorite when it comes to bringing me back to my childhood.

Follow Iulia-Alexandra Twitter at @thetulipjul.

Gelato in Florence, Italy

By Dhara from It’s Not About the Miles

Gelato in Florence comes in a wide variety of flavors, like these.

Florence, Italy, is considered the birthplace of not just the Renaissance but also my favorite sweet treat, gelato. Story has it that in 1565, Bernardo Buontalenti, the man in charge of setting up fabulous events for the Medicis, decided to chill pastry cream for a dessert offering at a banquet. And that’s how gelato made its debut! Without a doubt, Florence is home to some of the best gelaterias on the planet. But even in this land of plenty, there are standouts that you absolutely must not miss when you visit. Stop by Vivoli for unsurpassed renderings of classic flavors. Pay Gelateria dei Neri a visit for daring and contemporary flavor combinations. Stand in the inevitable line at La Carraia for gelato that oozes decadent richness. Visit Carapina for the most purist take on gelato artigianale. And why not stop by Perchè no! for its cute name and delicious gelato?

One of the tests for whether a gelateria is great is supposedly to see if it carries nocciola (hazelnut) gelato as a stand-alone flavor. Hazelnut is an expensive ingredient, and only top gelaterias offer real hazelnut on its own. Fior de latte, translating literally to flower of milk, is another test…if a shop can do a great sweet cream flavor, which contains nothing but milk and sugar, you can be confident its offerings will be delicious. Happy tasting, and happy gorging on gelato in Firenze! One of the best European desserts in one of the best cities!

Learn more about Dhara’s fave places to try gelato in Italy.

Kürtőskalács in Hungary

By Gábor Kovács from Surfing the Planet

Hollow tubes of the crisp pastry called kurtoskalacs, sold in Budapest, Hungary.

The Hungarian language is full of words that are very hard to pronounce, but one of these unpronounceable words, kürtőskalács, quickly becomes part of the vocabulary of those who visit Hungary. Kürtőskalács is a cake that comes originally from the Hungarian speaking part of Transylvania in Romania, but it is one of the favorites not only in Hungary, but also other places in the region. During your walk around Budapest, you will easily find a food stall that sells this beauty, and you will also find another version in Prague that is called trdelník.

Kürtőskalács is a spit cake (sometimes they translate it to chimney cake), prepared in a special oven where the dough is wrapped around a wooden spit. The cake is baked slowly over a wood fire and then is glazed in sugar. There are different versions with cinnamon, vanilla, or even walnut added to the sugary glaze. A new trend is to put ice cream in the middle, but that cools it down, and I think it’s much tastier when it’s warm.

Follow Gabor on Twitter at @surfingplanet

Brunsviger in Funen, Denmark

By Line Olesen from Nordic Travellers

Danish Brunsviger with its think, gooey topping of caramelized brown sugar.

Brunsviger is a Funen cake that will make your blood flow a little slower due to a butter and sugar overload, but boy is it good. The cake is a yeast dough covered in a sugary mass made out of butter and brown sugar. The icing has to be soft, smooth and without crunch; the sugar grains have to be melted. If you get a piece of brunsviger with a crunch, the baker didn’t do a good job. On Funen, it is customary to have the baker make a brunsviger shaped as a boy or girl and decorate it with candy for kids’ birthday parties. The name of the cake is derived from the German city Braunschweig, but other than that the connection is uncertain.

Although the cake is hugely popular on Funen, people from other parts of the country don’t really understand it. But if you have grown up with brunsviger, you will keep craving it for the rest of your life. I, the writer, was once forbidden to eat brunsviger in the car by my boyfriend because he was tired of putting his hands on a sticky and greasy steering wheel every time I had been to the bakery. Have I stopped? Only I and the car know.

You can follow Nordic Travellers on Facebook.

Sticky Toffee Pudding in England (one of the best European Desserts)

By Claire Sturzaker from Tales of a Backpacker

A rich, cake-like sticky toffee pudding topped with vanilla ice cream and sitting in a luscious pool of caramel sauce.

Sticky toffee pudding has always been one of my favourite English desserts. It is one of those desserts you can find in all kinds of restaurants, from pubs and chains, to high-class gourmet restaurants. The combination of gooey sponge pudding with a sweet toffee sauce and ice cream or custard is hard to beat, and the perfect way to finish any meal!

There is something incredibly satisfying about a warm, sweet sticky toffee pudding which never fails to put a smile on my face—British comfort food at its best. There is some contention about the best recipe of course, mainly whether to include dates in the sponge mixture. Personally, I prefer it without, but there is no right and wrong when it comes to a good dessert. Either way is delicious! The most recent sticky toffee pudding I had was in London, in a restaurant on the South Bank of the Thames, as part of a food tour. Even though I was already stuffed, I still found room for it, and am so glad I did!

Follow Claire on Twitter at @clairesturz

Cranachan in Scotland

By Kirstin McEwan from The Tinberry Travels

I pretty glass full of cranachan, with layers of goodness.

Cranachan is a traditional dessert well worth a try if you find yourself in Scotland. A classic after-dinner accompaniment, a cranachan (occasionally spelled crannachan and pronounced kran-nuh-kun) encompasses a whole host of local produce that make it a quintessentially Scottish pudding. The layered dessert was originally made at the end of summer to celebrate the harvest but is now served at any time of year. It contains layers of toasted oats, cream, honey, fresh Scottish raspberries, and of course a little dash of whisky!

You’ll find this on most Scottish restaurant menus and it is certainly a staple at many occasions such as a Burns Night or at a Hogmanay meal. We even had it at our wedding! There’s also plenty of variations on the standard recipe, but you’ll usually have a tall glass with layers of each ingredient. It should be made with fresh raspberries, local honey, and should be light and sweet rather than heavy, but don’t be surprised if it has a kick as some places can be a little liberal with the whisky!

Follow Kirstin on Instagram.

Hungarian Dobos Torte in Budapest, Hungary

By Eric and Lisa from Penguin and Pia

This multi-layered slice of Dobos Torte shows the hardened caramel topping that seals it and keeps it fresh.

Exploring the Hungarian capital city and looking for something sweet to eat? If this is you, then trying a slice of Dobos Torte in Budapest is the answer to your cravings! This classic cake contains 7 spongy layers with chocolate buttercream icing in between each of them. The top decoration is where Dobos gets its signature look: a hardened, shiny caramel layer is waiting for you to break through when you enjoy a slice.

The cake itself was created by József Dobos. a Hungarian pastry chef. in the late 1800s. As the legend goes, József was a creative baker who was tired of his creations going stale shortly after baking them. His solution? Create a dessert where all the exposed cake was covered up! He whipped together (pun intended) a chocolate buttercream icing and covered all the layers and the exterior edges of the cake. Finally, he drizzled and spread the caramel until it hardened on the top. This combination sealed the cake inside, keeping it moist and fresh. From that experiment, Dobos Torte was born! Whatever you have planned for your time in Budapest,, there are lots of confectionery shops around the city that serve a great slice of Dobos. We’d recommend Café Gerbeaud for an authentic Hungarian experience.

Berliners in Lucerne, Switzerland and Germany

By Halef and Michael, The Round the World Guys

A plateful of Berliners, the popular donuts filled with jelly , marmelade, or cream, one of the most common European desserts in the German areas.

The world was introduced to the complicated German Berliner dessert in 1963. That year, John F. Kennedy made a famous (and what some considered to be erroneous) speech. “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Urban legend has it that he stated, “I am a jelly donut!” That’s because the Berliner is a popular pastry you can get in any German region. It is a sweet dough, fried in oil to create a donut. Instead of a hole in the middle, the Berliner is typically filled with marmalade or jam. You can also find Berliners with chocolate or custard fillings. Obviously, there are many versions of the Berliner, including with powdered sugar toppings or icing.

In parts of Germany, including in Berlin, the Berliner pastry is more commonly known as Pfannkuchen – literally “pancake.” In Switzerland, however, you’ll find the true and classic Berliner, filled with jelly (hence the jelly donut). I had my first Berliner in Lucerne, Switzerland. Because Lucerne is quite culturally German, you can find many pastry shops and cafes which have their own Berliner specialties.

Follow the Round the World Guys on Facebook at Facebook.

Pastel de Nata in Lisbon, Portugal

By James from Portugalist

A pastel de nata, or Portuguese custard tart, with its flaky, layered crust and egg custard filling.

Portugal’s best and most well-known pastry is the pastel de nata (often called a Portuguese custard tart). Made from layers of filo pastry and egg custard, this sweet may be simple in its ingredients, but its flavors are complex. It’s best enjoyed with a small black espresso (called a “bica” in Lisbon) outside a small cafe, as you sit and watch the world go by. You’ll find pastel de nata in just about every cafe in Portugal, but the best ones come from the city where the recipe originates: Lisbon.

Pastéis de Belém is credited with the original nata recipe, and it’s definitely worth making a special journey to this pastelaria. Recently, however, a number of newcomers have sprung up and many have even won the coveted annual “melhor pastel de nata” award. Which is the best? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to work your way through the entire city.

Read James’ take on pastel de nata.

Also, read about my own NomadWomen love affair with Pasteis de Belem when I was in Lisbon.

Strudel in Italy (and other places)

By Margherita Ragg from The Crowded Planet

Strudel is one of the European desserts you can find in Italy, Germany, Austria and other places.

One of my favorite sweets ever is strudel, a roll of pastry cut into slices and served with whipped cream, custard, or ice cream. It’s found all over the Alps. You can also find strudel filled with ricotta cheese, forest fruits, or other types of fruit; but the best and most common filling is definitely apples and cinnamon.

I love to eat strudel after hiking because I found it satisfies my cravings for carbs and sugar without feeling too heavy on the stomach, like many other types of sweets and cakes. Recently I went on a three-day hike around the Brenta Dolomites, staying in mountain huts, and while everyone was having beer or radler at the end of the day, I was happily munching away on a huge slice of strudel! The best strudel I’ve ever had was at Rifugio Alimonta in the Brenta Dolomites, but I think the fact I had it after hiking for seven hours is part of the reason why I found it so delicious!

Bosche Bollen in Den Boscch, Netherlands

By Karen Turner from WanderlustingK

Bossche Bollen - a huge ball of the creamiest sweet cream encased in a layer of chocolate. A fabulous Dutch dessert.

Bossche Bollen are the traditional sweets from Den Bosch, the Netherlands. ‘s-Hertogenbosch (Den Bosch) is a beautiful city in Brabant about one hour from Amsterdam with a rich culture. Their own delicious pastry is one you’ll want to try, especially if you love chocolate and cream. This Dutch sweet is made with cream and melted chocolate in a giant ball.

When visiting ‘s-Hertogenbosch, you can find these delicious specialties all over the city, although the most famous come from a bakery close to the central train station, Banketbakkerij Jan de Groot. Most of the cafes around town will serve fresh Bossche Bollen, so don’t worry about finding them within the city. Even outside of Den Bosch, you can find them at some bakeries around the Netherlands. I recommend sharing one with a friend and saving plenty of room for later as they’re quite filling.

Learn Karen’s advice on how to spend a day in Den Bosch.

Rote Grütze in Northern Germany

By Cate Brubaker from International Desserts Blog

Servings of very berry Rote Grutze, topped with whipped cream and a chocolate garnish--a traditional German dessert

One of my all-time favorite European sweet treats is Rote Grütze, a delicious traditional summer dessert from northern Germany. If you like berries, you’ll love Rote Grütze! It’s basically a compote made from simmering blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and red currants in red fruit juice and a bit of sugar. When I was served Rote Grütze at a friend’s house, it was typically served warm with a small pitcher of cold, fresh cream to pour over the top. SO good! However, if you order it in a cafe or restaurant, they’ll probably serve it cold or at room temperature and topped with vanilla sauce, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Don’t worry, no matter how it’s served, it’ll be amazing! Rote Grütze is super easy to make from scratch, but if you’re in Germany (especially northern Germany) you’ll find a jar of it in any grocery store. Rote Grütze: the perfect local sweet treat to enjoy in your AirBnB!

Check out Cate’s recommendations for things to do in Hamburg, Germany.

Trdelnik in Prague, Czech Republic

By Kris from Nomad by Trade

Trdelnik, cooking on a hot rod over the grill, is one of best desserts in Europe, found on the streets of Prague.

I love trying new foods when I travel, especially when they’re sweet, and I fell in love with trdelnik in Prague during my first visit there. Trdelnik are pastries made by wrapping dough around a spit and then roasting it over a grill. Once cooked, they’re coated in sugar and nuts. Nowadays you can even get them filled with chocolate, pie filling, and whipped cream. My favorite version has melted white chocolate drizzled all over the inside.

Watching them being made is almost as fun as eating them. They’re a great snack to eat while walking around Prague’s historic streets, though if you want to minimize the mess while you explore, opt for one of the simpler flavors, because the fancy ones full of creamy fillings can definitely get messy. You can find variants all over central Europe, but they’re absolutely everywhere in Prague. Don’t miss out on a chance to sample these tasty treats during your visit.

You can follow Kris on Twitter at @nomadbytrade13

Schwärzwalder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cake)

By Erin from Erin at Large

A slice of Black Forest Cake includes layers of chocolate cake, buttercream, and tart cherries laced with Kirschwasser.

Black Forest Cake is indeed from the Black Forest region of Germany, but there is debate about in which town it originated. Some of the first published recipes for the cake date from the late 1920s. You can see one of these recipes at the Black Forest Open-Air Museum, in the town of Gutach. You can have a large slice of the cake in their lovely restaurant as well.

The Black forest region is famous for its cherry trees, so much so that the women’s traditional local costume includes a hat with giant red pom-poms on top, resembling cherries. It’s no wonder the cherries and Kirschwasser (cherry liqueur) made their way into the famous dessert. A proper Black Forest cake layers light chocolate cake with whipped cream or buttercream, with one layer of sour cherries and Kirschwasser. It’s then topped with buttercream dotted with chocolate swirls.

Read about Erin’s trip to the Black Forest Open Air Museum.

Lokum, aka Bulgarian Delight, in Bulgaria

By Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad

Squares of Bulgarian Delight are coated with powdered sugar for eating.

Bulgaria has been conquered and ruled by many over the centuries, so there’s little wonder that her rulers left their culinary influences on the country. Lokum/Bulgarian Delight may be presumed to have arrived with the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Bulgaria from late 14th century to 1878, but it also could have arrived earlier, as Middle Eastern cuisine features heavily in Bulgarian food. Bulgarian Delight is, like its Turkish neighbour, made of a gel of starch and sugar. The primary Bulgarian Delight flavour is rose—for which Bulgaria his famous. Bulgarian Delight is eaten in small cubes dusted with icing sugar. You’ll find boxes available in tourist stores and be able to spend your last Leva on it at the Airport.

As in Turkey, Bulgarian Delight is known as lokum, and in the Bulgarian alphabet is written as “локум.” The sweet is served at room temperature and often given as gifts.

Learn more from Sarah’s guide to Bulgarian food.

Scones in England

By Liliane Fawzy from My Toronto, My World

Scones with jam and clotted cream--the traditional Afternoon tea in London

Now when you think of British desserts, I’m sure a couple of them come to mind. But the one that typically instantly comes to mind? Scones! If you for some reason happen to not know what scones are, they’re a baked good made of wheat or oatmeal and baked in the oven. There are many varieties of the scone. Some scones come flavored with things like lemon. Some contain fruits like berries or raisins mixed into the dough. While there are savory versions (total sacrilege in my opinion), scones are usually sweet and best eaten with jams and/or clotted cream.

The actual best way to take in a scone is with an afternoon tea. Afternoon teas typically serve you scones with an assortment of jam flavors in addition to clotted cream. It’s a great way to try scones for the first (or tenth) time as you get to try a couple of different flavors. Plus you get to drink tea and dress up!

Read about a unique way to take tea—with scones—in London, on a double-decker bus!

Kaiserschmarrn in Austria

By Linda de Beer from Travel Tyrol

Kaiserschmarn are shredded sweet pancakes covered with powdered sugar and served with fruit compote.

Traveling to Austria and not trying Kaiserschmarrn, the favorite dessert of Emperor Francis Joseph, would be like going to Paris and not having crêpes. Kaiserschmarrn is a thick, fluffy shredded pancake dusted with icing sugar and traditionally served with raisins and fruit compote. It’s so filling that many Austrians even have it as their main meal. There are different stories as to how Kaiserschmarrn was named after the emperor. A favorite is that it was prepared by a nervous farmer who served it up after Francis Joseph and his wife unexpectedly stopped by for lunch.

The secret to making the perfect Kaiserschmarrn is in preparing and frying the batter just right. To ensure the thick and fluffy texture, many eggs are used with the whites beaten stiff before gently stirring it into the rest of the batter. Generous helpings of the batter are then fried in real butter while “shredding” it into pieces with a fork. Not everyone likes raisins in their Kaiserschmarrn, so there’s often an option to have it without. The most popular kinds of fruit compote to accompany the pancakes are plum and apple. A traditional Austrian restaurant without Kaiserscmarrn on the menu is just as unusual as one without Wiener Schnitzel!

Follow Linda on Facebook.

Cannoli in Sicily, Italy

By Steph Edwards from The Mediterranean Traveller

Cannoli, filled with sweetened ricotta with chocolate chips and disted with powdered sugar--a delicious Sicilian dessert

The sweltering Sicilian capital of Palermo is a paradise for foodies with a sweet tooth. Sicilians love their sugar, and its capital city is the spiritual homeland of one of the island’s most famous exports: cannoli. These iconic, deep-fried tubes of pastry adorn the windows of bakeries and patisseries around the island. The tasty tubes are filled with a sweetened sheep’s milk ricotta and topped with a variety of crunchy chunky things. The most common is chopped chocolate chips with candied peel or a glacé cherry.

Although you can now find cannoli (the word is plural) around the world, the freshness of the ricotta in Sicily ensures these will be the best you’ll ever taste. Fresh quality produce is a serious business on this island. Rumor has it that the best cannoli is to be found in the twin villages of Piana degli Albanesi and Santa Cristina di Gela, just south of Palermo. Cannoli is just the beginning of Sicilian sweets and desserts though; don’t miss a helping of gelato wedged into a brioche bun for breakfast (yes!), or its famous sponge cake cassata with its neon colors, or the utterly divine setteveli chocolate hazelnut tart. They are all exquisite european desserts.

Follow Steph on Facebook.

Kremna Rezina in Slovenia

By Kay from Jetfarer

A view of Lake Bled, in Slovenia, the perfect backdrop when eating a Kremna Rezina cream cake.

Many people flock to Lake Bled for its spectacular views and historic marvels, but fewer people know about its best-kept secret: kremna rezina or kremsnita, a traditional Slovenian cream cake. Among one of the best things to do in Lake Bled, trying a slice of this cake is a must for visitors to the region. Between layers of fluffy, soft cake is some of the most delicious and drool-worthy sweet cream in the world. Whether you’re trying to satisfy a sweet tooth craving after dinner, or as a reward after a taxing hike in Triglav National Park, kremsnita is definitely a treat you can’t pass up if you’re visiting the area.

Several cafes in the town of Bled serve kremsnita, but the original and best variant is at the Park Hotel. Here, you can order a slice of cake with a coffee or tea and admire the amazing views of Lake Bled from the hotel terrace.

So….what’ll it be? What will be the first of the many delicious European desserts you’ll try on your trip around the continent? Calories? What are those? You’re a Nomad Woman, an adventurer. It’s your duty to try everything, taste everything. And you know, really, calories don’t count when you’re traveling.

What are your all-time favorite desserts in europe. Let us know in the comments.


Pin It for Later (so you remember all these wonderful European Desserts!)

Pin with sticky toffee pudding - two dozen Best European DessertsPin with Rote Grutze from Northern German - 24 of the Best European Desserts you need to try.

Main Street USA in Fort Collins, Colorado

Spend an Afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

Welcome to Main Street USA, the Real One

If you’ve been to any Disneyland anywhere in the world, then Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, might look familiar. Disney’s Main Street USA was partially modeled after the picture-pretty historic center of this northern Colorado college town. Restored 19th-century brick and red stone buildings, mansard roofs and lacy Victorian ironwork highlight streets filled with eclectic shops and art galleries, craft breweries and pubs, and more than 80 unique restaurants, bars, and cafes.

The F.Miller Block, a restored 19th-century building in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado, is lined with dozens of restored 19th-century buildings,
like the F.Miller block, giving it a real Main Street USA look.


It’s a town with a hip and happening vibe, huge civic pride and a lot going for it. Downtown Fort Collins puts on more than 100 days of free events every year. Yes, there’s a lot to do here. And you really should go do some of it.

I spent an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins recently with family. We ate and drank, walked and shopped, enjoyed the historic architecture and learned about single-origin chocolate. We were all charmed enough to want to return.

During my Colorado visit, I stayed with family, but if you don’t have that opportunity, a great option is to rent one of many beautiful private cabins in Colorado. Check them out and stay in private luxury.

A Great Place to Live, Work, Retire, Study & Visit

Old Town Square is the heart of the Downtown Fort Collins area, and the Downtown Visitors’ Center, at #19 Old Town Square, is a perfect place to start your afternoon. The maps, brochures, and friendly helpers with lots of information you’ll find there will point out the best direction for your afternoon of discovery. Or if you’re an advance planner, go to www.visitftcollins.com

Fort Collins is famous as Colorado’s craft beer epicenter. In fact, it’s been called the “Napa Valley of beer.” There are more than 20 craft beer breweries in town, and a few of them are right in the historic downtown. Whether your taste is for India Pale Ale or amber, wheat ale or stout, you’ll find a very good example of it here.

We had our first taste at Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewing, directly across Old Town Square from the Visitors’ Center. It’s a great place to start your exploration of Downtown Fort Collins. It’s the longest-operating brewery in town with a wide range of brews available. I especially loved their Poudre Pale Ale.

The redbrick building of Coopersmith's Pub & Brewery, right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

Coopersmith’s Pub & Brewery is right on Old Town Square, the happening heart of the neighborhood.

Besides all that great beer, you’ll find that walking, window shopping, and browsing the boutiques and galleries is the #1 recommended activity for an afternoon in downtown Fort Collins. As you stroll, you’re likely to come across more than one gaily painted upright piano. The program “Pianos About Town” rounds up donated instruments and asks local artists to transform them into unique pieces of street art. They are there for anyone to play. Pull up the whimsical metal chair and set your fingers flying across the keys.

A pair of colorful artist-painted pianos on the streets of downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

The program “Pianos About Town” has placed donated pianos, custom painted by local artists, on the city’s streets.
On the right is “Octopus Octaves” by Ren Burke. Pull up the chair and play!

More than a dozen art galleries invite you to get your art on in Old Town. One of our favorites was Trimble Court Artisans (118 Trimble Court), an artist-operated co-op of fine art and craft. The more than 50 co-op artist members also staff the gallery, so a visit is even more interesting. They show very high-quality work in jewelry, ceramics, painting, fused and blown glass, fiber arts (like the simply delicious painted silk scarves by Susie Hardy), metal work, and other media.

Colorful blown glass olive oil bottles by Dottie Boscamp from Trimble Court, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

I loved these hand-blown glass bottles by Dottie Boscamp at Trimble Court artists’ co-op.
Too bad I was traveling with just a carry-on bag.

Another shop I didn’t want to leave was Nature’s Own (201 Linden St.). Look for it on the corner in the beautifully restored Art Deco Linden Hotel building. An enormous selection of science and nature gifts and jewelry: fossils, crystals and other minerals and gemstones, bones, scientific items. We also loved that Nature’s Own gives significant financial support to a wide array of organizations working toward conservation, sustainability and wildlife survival and rehabilitation. You can shop till you drop and know you are helping maintain a healthy and sustainable environment

A huge amethyst geode and fossils at Nature's Own in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

Look a this amethyst geode. Is that not gorgeous? Find fossils, minerals, bones
and other science and nature items at Nature’s Own.

Next we browsed through the delightful Ten Thousand Villages (113 Linden St.), a non-profit store staffed by volunteers, with amazing displays of fair-trade crafts created by artisans in developing countries around the world. The range of items offered is staggering, a veritable mall of the hand-made world. Journals to jewelry, skincare to stationery, baskets to bags of every size and shape. And all at very fair prices. If you can’t find something you need and covet here, you’re not looking closely enough.

Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado–a Heaven for Foodies

Shopping is all well and good, but we were a group of serious cooks and foodies. What did Downtown Fort Collins have to offer us? The answer: a staggering banquet of tastes, textures and tools, sweet and savory flavors, and delicious libations of every variety.

Of course, we needed to stop for coffee. Fort Collins is a college town, home to Colorado State University. And where there are college students, there is sure to be good coffee and a lot of it. The “third-wave coffee” movement has made great inroads here. We had lots of fine choices and settled on Bean Cycle Roasters (144 No. College Ave). They’re major roasters as well as having an on-site café. After we sated our need for caffeination, I bought a 12 oz. bag of freshly roasted Ethiopian beans, which turned out to be some of the best coffee I’ve ever had.

The chalkboard menu at Bean Cycle, in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado

We had rich, deep-flavored, fair-trade coffee at Bean Cycle in Fort Collins.

All the serious cooks in the group went a bit wild in a few shops. Savory Spice Shop (123 College Ave.) hits your senses the minute you walk in with its heavenly fragrance. Just about every herb and spice and blend you could want is here, lining the shelves. They specialize in mixing there own custom spice blends for rubs and sauces and pre-measured packets of single-serving spice blends for recipes they provide. If you’re not vegetarian, don’t miss the Chicharron salt. It’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted.

Down the street at The Cupboard (152 S. College Ave.) you can pick up any and every kitchen gadget you could want. You can even bring your dull knives in for sharpening. Upstairs, browse through a huge selection of cookbooks.

Sweet and then Savory in Fort Collins

Now, how to describe my personal highlight of our afternoon in downtown Fort Collins? Let me just say–chocolate. Heavenly chocolate. Single-origin craft chocolate. Chocolate bars made onsite with beans from Belize and Venezuela, Madagascar and Tanzania, Papua New Guinea and the Dominican Republic. Drinking chocolate and chocolate bars and hand-rolled truffles. The shop is called Nuance, and their range of chocolate will challenge your palette and your ability to choose. Find it at 214 Pine Street. Owners Toby and Alix Gadd will educate your chocolate palette, occasionaly waxing poetic about this wonderful food of the gods. Here’s how Toby described the Trinitario Cacao 70% pure dark bar: “An especially capricious chocolate that shifts its character depending on your mood and mouth temperture. Subtle and earthy with a fickle note of dried apples, licorice, meadow herbs, winter spice and stone fruits.” And damn… I could actually taste all of that in it

Chocolate truffles at Nuance Chocolate, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Chocolate truffles at Nuance, my favorite stop in downtown Fort Collins, Colorado,
and perhaps the best chocolate shop I’ve ever entered.

My niece had the Ecuador sipping chocolate and described it as “like a chocolate bar you can drink. Not too sweet.” It is actually made with half a bar of chocolate melted with heavy cream. My other niece ordered a “flight” of bar chocolate. It came in small, star-shaped bites of six different flavors, with printed cards describing each one, a nice way to compare types.

Eat Dessert First: Oh, We Already Did That

Having thus finished a wonderful dessert, we decided we should probably have dinner. We walked around the corner to The Welsh Rabbit Cheese Bistro. And oh my, what a wonderful decision it was. If Nuance is all about chocolate, this place is all about cheese, and anything that makes the cheese even better… like wine, olives, warm baguettes with balsamic drizzled olive oil for dipping. We ordered salads and a wooden platter of cheeses with some meats.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit, downtown Fort Collins, Colorado.

Our shared cheese and meats platter at The Welsh Rabbit. Every single bite was wonderful.

Samples we tried included Lavender Cheddar with embedded lavender buds; Apple Cinnamon Chevre Spread with small bits of apple on top (my favorite of all my favorites); a Parmesan-Reggiano that was mild at first bite but developed its flavor in your mouth. We also tried the Powerful Welsh cheddar, grassy and nutty, and Hoja Santa, a mild, creamy chevre wrapped in hoja santa leaves.

For something more substantial, you can order from the “small bites” menu. It includes some inventive dishes like bison tongue, sage quail, beet polenta and a traditional ploughman’s lunch. Or order their classic Welsh Rarebit, made with their Powerful Welsh cheddar melted with dark beer and poured over grilled sourdough. Oh my!

From the long wine list, you can choose a flight of three 2-oz pours. There’s also a nice list of beers and ciders from local breweries. We lingered long, until we could no longer deny it was time to head back to my niece’s home 45 minutes away. And drove back wondering how soon we could come back again.

For an even more complete look at this enviable eatery, check out my review of the Welsh Rabbit on theyums.com.

I hope I’ve convinced you to spend an afternoon in Downtown Fort Collins, Colorado the next time you’re in the area. It is a pretty, interesting and definitely filling way to add to your Colorado trip.


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I bite into my first ever Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

Hooked on Lisbon’s Delicacy: Original Pastéis de Belém

When in Lisbon, Portugal, eating Pastéis de Belém, the iconic Portuguese egg tart, is an absolute requirement, whether you’re a foodie or not. Here’s why you must try it and how to enjoy it at its best.

I admit it. Last year in Lisbon I became a junkie. Obsessed. Hopelessly addicted.

My drug of choice? The Portuguese egg tarts that fall under the general term Pastel de Nata. And for the best fix of all? The original, the only, the best… the supreme Pastéis de Belém.

Portugal is famous for Pastel de Nata, and you’ll see them all over Lisbon. Most are good, a few are great. Some are just… meh. But once you learn to spot the good ones—and it’s not hard to do—it’s near impossible to pass them up. Or at least it was for me.

A plate full of Pastéis de Belém egg custard tarts of Lisbon.

The beautiful, delicious and iconic original Pastéis de Belém egg custard tarts of Lisbon. Photo by Jordiet on flickr, CC license.


A Religious Source-Tarted Up Like Sally Fields

So how did these pastry treats come to be an almost universal symbol of culinary Lisbon?

Back in the day, say in the 17th century or so, many priestly garments, nun’s habits, headdresses and such were heavily starched. (For our generation, think Sally Fields lifting off as The Flying Nun and you get the idea.) Can’t you just imagine the intimidating “swish” of the stiffened underskirts as they glided past? Anyway, to get that desired stiff and glossy finish, they used beaten egg whites.

But this practice of basically painting their clothes with meringue made for a whole lot of leftover egg yolks lying around monastery and convent kitchens and laundry rooms. What to do? Wasting them would surely be a sin, would it not? Such thrifty folk couldn’t simply toss such golden goodness down the drain.

So the nuns in the kitchens began inventing a lot of special dishes to use up all those otherwise-to-be-wasted egg yolks. (Apparently gluttony must have been seen as a sin of a lesser order than waste.) As it happens, there was also a sugar cane refinery next door to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, a monastery in the Belém area southwest of Lisbon, so sweet desserts, cakes and pastries became the use-up-the-egg-yolks recipes of choice. Convenient how that worked out, no? Clearly, the religious folks there dined well and often.

Skylinde detail of the wedding-cake Manueline style architecture of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery.

Detail of the elaborate Manueline architecture of the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos monastery in the Belém section of Lisbon, where the famous Pastéis de Belém egg tart was created and just 100 meters from the bakery where it has been sold since 1837.


Pastéis de Belém as Financial Savior

The sweet egg tarts might have remained safely hidden away within the walls of the convent and monastery of Jerónimos forever, fattening only the prayerful and lucky few. But in 1820, there was a liberal revolution in Portugal, and things did not go well for religious institutions. By 1834, monasteries and convents had been closed down and the inhabitants lost all public and government support. The days of dining on sweet pastries were over. They were left to fend for themselves and hunger was looming.

In order to survive, the nuns from the Jerónimos monastery had the idea to begin selling their delicious egg tarts. The sugar refinery had a small store attached, and this became the first outlet for the Pastéis de Belém (Pastéis is plural for pastel, which means cake or pastry in Portuguese.) Eventually, the nuns sold the recipe to the refinery bakery.

At around that same time, the grandeur of the Manueline architectural style of the monastery itself (which is beyond amazing in its size, wedding-cake ornamentation, and beauty) and the nearby Tower of Belém, became popular tourist attractions with the good folk of Lisbon. They could take a steamboat from the city for a day excursion and sail right up to the monastery’s own docks. The fame of the delicious sweet treats sold at the sugar refinery store, now officially known as Pasteís de Belém, began to spread. By 1837, their popularity had outgrown the small store, and the baking moved to larger premises about 100 meters away. The visitors quickly made their pilgrimages to the new location.

They are still doing it today. Now they come in hordes, both locals and tourists. But these tarts are so good almost nobody minds standing in line for them.

Bue and white sign of the Pastéis de Belém bakery with the date, "since 1837"

In 1837, the business had outgrown the tiny refinery store next to the monastery. They moved 100 meters down the street
to a larger location, where they are still do business today.


A Secret Signed in Blood?

Even 180 years ago, when the recipe was first passed on to the sugar company, the secret of making the perfect Pastéis de Belém was entrusted only to a few “master confectioners.” That still holds true today. And those few who do know it are sworn to secrecy. One guide told me, in hushed tones, that it is a blood oath. Another said it was a signed and sealed sacred legal contract. Then he added that the few people who know it are never allowed to all travel together. Imagine if they were all lost! He rolled his eyes and shuddered quite dramatically while telling the story. Apocryphal or not, it’s a good one, you must admit.

There was a line outside when I got to the Café Pastéis de Belém, just as I had been told to expect. I had also been told it would move pretty quickly. But I was hungry, my feet hurt from wandering the vast halls and lovely cloisters of the Monastery, and I felt like sitting down. So instead of getting in the take-out line, I went in the door to its left, which had no line at all, and into the café itself.

The place is much larger inside than it looks from the street, with many tables winding through several small rooms. Except for the very busiest times of day, it’s generally possible to find a seat without much of a wait. If it looks full, just keep wandering through the corridors towards the back, through room after room, until you find a free table.

You will also find clean bathrooms inside as well as a glass window where you can watch the magic happening in the kitchens as the bakers produce dozens upon dozens of tarts as well as other bakery treats.

I found a seat at a table in a front room, beside a wall covered in traditional blue-and-white Portuguese tiles. In only a few minutes, I’d ordered a pastel and a galea—a tall glass of milky coffee. There are also beer, soft drinks and other options on the menu, but for me, a coffee drink is the perfect accompaniment.

As I bit into this warm piece of heaven, the look on my face must have been like something out of a movie—a sort of Meg Ryan look in “When Harry Met Sally” prompting the woman at a neighboring table to say “I’ll have what she’s having!” The young German couple at the next table started to chuckle. Then with sign language, they offered to take a photo of me enjoying my treat. How could I refuse?

I bite into my first ever Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

As I bite into my very first original Portuguese Pastéis de Belém, I am tasting a bit of heaven. I will never be the same!

First, you realize your tart is so fresh it is still warm, just out of the oven. The first thing your mouth encounters is the crust. It’s super flaky, like a thousand layers of phyllo-type dough have been gently laid atop each other, with crispy bits offering gentle resistance. Then you reach the warm custard, soft, almost-but-not-quite runny enough that you think it really has melted in your mouth. The top is lightly blackened is spots, like the best crème brulée. Shakers of powdered sugar and cinnamon are offered on the table. Add them if you like—or you must—but necessary they are not.

Ordering a single tart was a mistake obvious from that first bite. It was never going to be enough. I ordered another as soon as the waiter passed by. When I asked him how many of these delightful treats are swallowed here or toted out the door every day, he happily answered. “We bake 20-22,000 on a normal day.” While I was still blinking at that enormous number, he added, “but on special days, holidays and such, it can be 40,000.”

Yeah, you might say that Pastéis de Belém are just a mite popular.

If your goal on heading to the Café Pastéis de Belém is to have some of the tarts to take home for later, my advice is still to go inside and find a seat, order a pastel and a coffee, enjoy it at your table, order more to go, which your waiter will happily bring all wrapped up in a lovely box, and then go on your way. You’ll have your pastéis to take home, you will have had a nice break and a treat, and you will probably still have saved time!

If you can’t wait until you get back to your hotel to tuck into that pretty blue-and-white box for more, the tranquil Jardim de Belém park, directly across the street from the café, makes a refreshing spot to sit and down another one—or more.

Pretty take-out boxes await customers buying Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.

Pretty take-out boxes lined up and ready as the crowd throngs the counter at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.
There’s always a line, but it moves quickly. Photo by Andres Monroy Hernandez on flickr CC license.


Good Pastel de Nata Beyond Belém

While the original Pateís de Belém recipe is so secret is has never been precisely duplicated—and likely never will be—you will find similar egg tarts everywhere you go in Lisbon. These copycats are called Pastel de Nata and their quality ranges from excellent to good to meh to awful… basically a dollop of thickened custard pudding in a pre-baked mini pie crust, and the whole thing’s been in the display case too long. Most of the Pastel de Nata I had was quite good, and I would have been happy to have it every day, had I never eaten the real deal in Belém.

The best Pastel de Nata I ate in Lisbon, almost, but not quite, as good as the original, was at a small café just outside the entry gates to the Castelo San Jorge at the top of the city. Its name, appropriately and accurately, is The World Needs Nata. The tart was served warm, and I had it with a glass of galea. The custard was rich and smooth, the pastry light and crispy. When I came out from exploring the castle a couple of hours later, I sat down and ordered another!

My personal bottom line for Lisbon: Do not—repeat, DO NOT—fail to make the trip out to Belém while you are in this beautiful city. There is much to see and do there, including the Monastery, the amazing collection in the Coach museum, the Monument of the Discoveries, the Belém Tower and the Presidential Palace, among others.

But for me all that is icing on the tart. The TRUE reason to go to Belém is the egg custard bites, the true, the original, the one-and-only Pastéis de Belém, eaten right where they were created some 200 years ago.

Powdered sugar and cinnamon shakers and a box of napkins sit on the table to add to your egg custard tarts.

Shakers of cinnamon and powdered sugar sit on every table for adding to your egg custard tarts–a nice addition, perhaps, but not really necessary. They are perfect just as they are! Photo by Inayaili de León Persson on flickr. CC license.

As for me, I am jonesing for more Pastéis de Belém as I write this. And since I quite fell in love with Lisbon on my last trip and have plans to go back as soon as possible, I have no intention whatever of looking for a recovery program for my addiction. On my next arrival in this gorgeous city on the Tagus River, I’ll hit the ground running—toward the first tram that will get me out to Belém, a tall glass of galea, and a plate full of warm, crispy-crusted, runny-fillinged goodness. With my plate of Pastéis de Belém before me and a look of total joy and satisfaction on my face, I will be fine once more. Just look for me there.

 

For more information about the original Pastéis de Belém and more pictures of the bakery and restaurant, visit their website here.


Café Pastéis de Belém
Rua de Belém, 84-92
Belém, Lisbon, Portugal
Open 8 am -11 pm in winter, 8 am–midnight in summer

The World Needs Nata Café
Rua de Santa Cruz do Castelo 7,
Lisbon, Portugal
Open daily, 9:00 am-9:00 pm


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How to get hooked on Lisbon's genuine egg custard tart - pinnable image

Eating Genuine Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon

Catalan Christmas Tradition of the Caga Tio or Poop Log

Two Dozen Christmas Traditions Around the World

Wherein we learn that Christmas traditions around the world are not always what we think they are going to be…because people are not always the same everywhere. That’s why we travel. To learn the differences!

You probably take the Christmas traditions of your family and your country pretty much for granted. I know I always did… before I started to travel internationally. Once I spent my first Christmas away from home, I realized that the Santa Claus of the Coca-Cola ads, turkey and ham on the table, and stockings by the fireplace were neither the universal nor the only ways to celebrate the holiday around the world.

When I lived in London in 1970, I learned about Father Christmas, stirring the Christmas pudding and Boxing Day. In Amsterdam, I learned about Sinterklaas and Zwaarte Piet and giving gifts to children on December 5th. When I moved to Mexico, the importance of the posadas was a new lesson, and then I learned about Three Kings Day on January 6th. All these new and different Christmas traditions enriched my life.

The celebrations of the holiday are rich and varied, and Christmas traditions around the world run a very wide gamut of food, fun and the frankly odd. Traveling is one of the best ways to experience them. But you can read about them too. Here is a round two dozen you may not have heard about:

1 – A Spicy Drink with a Funny Name in Chile

Cola de Mono, or Monkey's Tail, a delicious drink that is a Christmas tradition in Chile

“Cola de Mono” or Monkey’s Tail, is a spicy coffee drink that’s a Christmas tradition in Chile. Photo by Gloria Apara Paillas.

The most traditional and very popular Christmas drink in Chile is a smooth and creamy concoction called Cola de Mono, or Monkey’s Tail, and not even the locals seem to know where it got its name. It is made with coffee, milk, sugar, spices and aguardiente. Egg yolks are sometimes added. You can buy it pre-made in supermarkets all over Chile at this time of year, just like you can buy eggnog in U.S. supermarkets, but it’s easy to make from scratch at home. Cola de Mono is often drunk with Pan de Pascua, a special holiday fruitcake. You can find a recipe to make your own Cola de Mono on my friend Gloria’s blog, The Nomadic Chica.

2 – Fried Chicken in Japan

Ever since the mid-’70s, fried chicken from KFC has been THE traditional Christmas Eve meal in Japan. The chain’s holiday “Kentucky for Christmas” TV commercials feature pop stars and smiling kids in Santa hats dancing with full boxes and buckets of the holiday treat. The company does so much business on this one day that company execs have to leave their desks to help keep the lines moving in the stores. Many people reserve their buckets of fried chicken months in advance to avoid the waits of up to two hours in line.

3 – A Christmas Tradition of Books and Respect for Reading in the Icy North

In Iceland, it’s a wonderful holiday tradition to give gifts of books on Christmas Eve. And then of course you want to get right into them, so you stay up all night reading them. Of all these Christmas traditions, this one might be my favorite!

4 – Girls’ Luck for the Year Ahead?

The Czech people have a tradition or superstition related to Christmas: A young unmarried women will throw a shoe over her shoulder on Christmas Day. If it lands with the toe pointing towards the door, she will soon be married. If not, she is destined to remain a spinster for another year…. which I don’t actually see as a piece of bad luck myself!

5 – What a Web They Weave

In the Ukraine, the most common decorations for the Christmas tree are spiders and spider webs. This comes from a folk tale about a family too poor to afford any decorations for their tree so they had to go to bed on Christmas Eve with its branches bare. The spiders living in the house felt so bad for them that they worked through the night spinning their webs around the tree. When the children awoke on Christmas morning, the tree was covered with filmy webs, which then turned to gold and silver, assuring the family’s fortunes forever more. These kinds of feel-good Christmas traditions show up all over the world.

A Ukrainian spiderweb Christmas tree decoration.

In Ukraine, it is a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree with spiders and spider webs.

6- Heather and Driftwood in the Arctic

And speaking of Christmas trees…. In Greenland, Christmas trees have become popular, just like in so much of the rest of the world, but every single one of them has to be imported. No trees will grow this far north! Instead of imported trees, many Greenlanders decorate a driftwood “tree” with heather.

7- Home of the US Trees

And still speaking of Christmas trees…. In the U.S., the largest number of Christmas trees are grown in the state of Oregon. Of those, some 80% come from the Willamette Valley, south of Portland… which is also where most of the state’s best wines come from!

Christmas traditions mean Christmas trees. Here is an Oregon Christmas tree farm in front of a snow-covered Mt. Hood

An Oregon Christmas tree farm in Clackamas County with Mt. Hood in the background.
Photo Courtesy of www.MtHoodTerritory.com

8- Keeping the Goblins Away

In Greece, one of the oldest Christmas traditions is to keep a fire burning in the house for the entire 12 days from Christmas to Epiphany (January 6th). This is meant to keep away the killantzaroi or bad spirits. These little bad guys creep in through the chimney, only at this time of year, to wreak such havoc as making the milk spoil and putting the fires out!

9 – Apples for Love

In Croatia, it is a very old tradition for young men to give beautifully decorated apples to their girlfriends on Christmas Day.

10 – Mass and Hockey

In Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Christmas, called Ganna, on January 7th. The people dress all in white, usually in a traditional toga-like garment called a shamma. The people begin arriving early for the Ganna mass, which starts at 4:00 am and can go on for hours. After mass, the men play a hockey-like game, still in their long white shammas.

11 – Unique Transportation

In Caracas, Venezuela, the normally busy streets take on a unique look early on Christmas Day. They are closed off to traffic before 8 am so people can roller skate to early mass! Yep, people don roller blades to glide through the streets to church by the thousands.

12 – Pooping Presents!

Sometimes Christmas traditions are downright silly and even a bit gross. In Catalonia, in the northeastern part of Spain, there is an ancient and popular tradition called Caga Tió, which translates as the “Poop Log” (and yes, it means just what you think it does). It’s a log, traditionally hollowed out, with a happy face on one end and wearing a bright red Catalan hat. Beginning December 8th, the log is pampered by the children and draped with a blanket to keep it warm. On Christmas Eve, they hit it with a stick while singing a special song instructing it to “poop presents” for them. Then the blanket is removed to reveal presents (stealthily placed by mom and dad) of candy, tourrón nougat and small gifts.

Catalan Christmas Traditions include the Caga Tio or Poop Log

In the Catalan Christmas Tradition of the “Caga Tió” or Poop Log, the log is pampered by the children until Christmas Eve then beaten with sticks and ordered to “poop presents.” Photo by Slastic

13 – Burning the Dirt Devils

Guatemalans want their homes really clean for Christmas. They also want to be very sure the devil is not allowed inside. So one of their main Christmas traditions is to sweep the houses very clean just before Christmas, pile up all the dirt and dust and bring it to a communal pile in the neighborhood. Then they add an ugly devil’s head to the top of the pile and burn that sucker up. Ah, the neighborhood is not only clean but safe for another year!

14 – Christmas Specials in a Muslim Land

Indonesia is 80% Muslim, but there are still 20 million Christians in the country and the spirit of Christmas has taken hold throughout the land. Santa Claus, called Sinterklaas, is a holdover from the days when the country was a Dutch colony, and all the kids quite expect him to bring them presents on Christmas Day. Oddly, Christmas music is broadcast on most Indonesian TV stations, and the state-owned channel always shows a big Christmas celebration put on by the Indonesian Government.

15 – Fancy Bread in Hungary

The main Christmas meal in Hungary is eaten on Christmas Eve. It’s a hearty meal of fish and cabbage and also features a special Christmas poppy seed bread/cake called beigli. Another very traditional Hungarian Christmas treat is gingerbread, often wrapped in brightly colored paper and decorated with Christmas scenes and figures.

16 – A Cleanse to Prepare

In Estonia, Christmas Eve is the big event, and it begins with a trip to the sauna! It is important to both relax and cleanse oneself for the celebrations ahead. Whole families will often go together. This is one of the Christmas traditions around the world I think I could really get into. After the sauna, you’re ready for Christmas Eve mass… for which the children will usually receive new clothes and shoes.

A group indulges in the Christmas traditions of saunas before Christmas Eve Mass in Estonia.

In Estonia, it is a long-time Christmas tradition to go to the sauna for a cleanse before going
to Christmas Eve Mass. ©Jorge Royan via Wikimedia Commons

17 – Beach Party Holiday

In Australia, Christmas falls in early summer. The only chance for a “White Christmas” is on a white sand beach! And so on Christmas Day, many Sydneysiders do what they do so well… they head to Bondi Beach for the Sunburnt Christmas Festival. About 4000 party-goers will show up for a day of DJs and dancing, surfing, bikini contests and lunch from the barbie.

18 – The Rooster Mass

Most people in Brazil will go to a Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve or Missa do Galo (Mass of the Rooster). It’s named for the bird because the rooster announces the coming of day and the mass doesn’t usually finish until 1.00 am. After the Rooster Mass, there are usually big fireworks displays in the larger towns and cities. Since it is summertime, and usually quite hot on Christmas Day, the best of all Christmas traditions often means a trip to the beach!

19 – Christmas Witches on Brooms

In Italy, the big day for presents is Epiphany (January 6th) and it’s a witch who brings them! La Befana, complete with hooked nose and long black shawl, rides around on a broom. On the eve of Epiphany, she slides down chimneys to leave candies and gifts in the stockings of good children and lumps of coal for the naughty ones. She will also often use her means of transportation to sweep the floor while she’s at it!

20 – Weird Radishes

In the city of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, December 23rd is known as the Night of the Radishes. For more than 100 years, the city has held this huge festival and competition, where artisans carve scenes and tableaux from giant radishes! The tradition started in 1897 as a way to attract customers to the city’s Christmas Market, held in the zócalo, the town’s main square. Now, the one-day event draws over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors every year and is one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico.

Grand prize winner at Oaxaca's Night of the Radishes, one of the most popular Christmas traditions in Mexico

“Dulces Tradicionales Oaxaqueños” was the grand prize winner in the 2014 Christmas festival
Night of the Radishes in Oaxaca, Mexico. Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia, CC license.

21 – Christmas Traditions for the Dead

Christmas Eve dinner in Portugal is the night to invite the whole family—including those who have passed on. Yes, inviting the ghosts of loved ones lost is a tradition there. Extra places are set at the table for these missing loved ones and some crumbs from dinner are also spread across the hearth to honor them.

22 – Eating Emperors???

A traditional part of the Christmas feast in South Africa is deep-fried caterpillars of the Emperor Moth. Since this is the season for harvesting the bug, which is preserved to eat throughout the winter, there is an abundant fresh supply at Christmas time. The caterpillars have three times as much protein, by weight, as beef! Munching on them is a beloved Christmas tradition. Well…to each his own, I guess.

23 – Lucky Santa

Although you may have grown up leaving milk and cookies out as a treat for Santa—and perhaps as a bribe so he will leave you lots of goodies, even if you’ve been naughty—in Ireland, the traditional Santa snack is mince pies and Guinness Ale. I’d say that was a pretty fine bribe!

Christmas traditions of mince pies to be left for Santa.

In Ireland, Christmas traditions include mince pies. They are left for Santa with a bottle of Guinness.
Photo by Christmas Stocking Images

24- Kissing Bough Christmas Traditions

The tradition of hanging mistletoe in the house figures in many Christmas traditions around the world. It also goes back many centuries, at least to the time of the Druids and the ancient Greeks. It has always been considered a sacred plant and was often believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It has also been associated with fertility, since it remains green all year long. Kissing under the mistletoe may have come from the old Norse belief that it is a symbol of Peace and enemies can safely lay down their arms if they meet beneath it. Today, many countries maintain the custom of kissing beneath the mistletoe for luck and romance.

I hoped you’ve learned a couple of new things about Christmas Traditions Around the World. Have you got other Christmas traditions and stories to share? I’d love to hear them, especially things you’ve learned on your travels throughout the world. Leave them in the comments below and we can all learn more about how the world celebrates this magical holiday. The more we know about each other, the more we understand… and the more we are able to share, to care, to love. And then perhaps the world will know peace.

Merry Christmas!