Top ten Christmas Markets in Europe

Now is the time to head for a Christmas market, let me tell you, there are plenty that are just a quick plane trip from the UK, (and even a few genuine local ones.) It’s the *only* way of getting in the spirit of Christmas. Get away from the crazed Christmas shoppers and head for the spicy gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and the big man himself, Santa Claus in our top ten Christmas Markets around Europe.

Image under Creative Commons by @ Dave_B_

Europe’s Christmas markets are all about reclaiming the magic, seeing the pixie dust in the air and soaking up the atmosphere, sparkle (and bargains.) And the best bit? (Apart from meeting Santa?) The arts and crafts. These aren’t just your regular old tourist tat, these are genuine crafts made with love and affection, that’ll look perfect on your tree, or passed on to a lucky loved one.

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Out of 2,500 markets all over Germany, Czech Republic, Austria and France, these are our favourites.

1. Nuremberg, Germany
The Nuremburg Christmas market might just be the most famous one going. Around 180 cute wooden stalls line the main square and there’s even a prize for best design. Don’t panic if you’re thinking it’s all tinsel and plastic, this is the good stuff. There are beautiful carved wooden children’s toys, handmade candles, Christmas tree decorations and bucket loads of the city’s famous gingerbread spicing up the air. The dedicated children’s market, the Kinderweihnacht is really something, with old fashioned steam trains and cookie making courses.

When? November 30 to December 24.

2. Cologne Christmas Markets, Germany
Up to two million Christmas fans pack out Cologne’s four traditional markets every December to take advantage of friendly atmosphere, yuletide tradition, great food and shopping. The centrepiece is the Am Dom market, set right in front of Germany’s most visited monument, the twin spired cathedral. A great choice for little ones too, the city’s old fashioned Alter Markt in the heart of the town is a treasure trove of puppetry, old fashioned merry-go-rounds, candy floss, and the ultimate symbol of the Christmas market: gingerbread.

When: November 26 to December 23.

3. Dresden Christmas Market, Germany
This one goes way back, to 1434, meaning Dresden’s Christmas Market is the oldest in Germany. It’s absolutely drenched in tradition from the stalls offering textiles, hand carved toys, seasonal decorations and lots more, to the locals’ love (obsession?) with Striezel. This is the local fruitcake baked as a loaf and dusted with icing sugar. The highlight has to be the second Sunday every December, when the market holds the Stollen festival. A giant 3,000kg version of the cake is made, harking back to a 16th century tradition where the prince would cut it with a five-foot knife and hand it out to the poor. Nowadays it’s a little more civilised with the glamorous Stollenmadchen, or ‘Miss Cake’, keeping an eye on things.

When: November 30 to December 24.

4. Vienna Christmas Market, Austria
Austria practically makes an art form out of its Christmas markets. The Viennese one dates back over 700 years and is an early starter, meaning it kicks off in November. Here’s how the locals do it: they get all cosy and snug in furs, sip on some of the famous glühwein and moon shaped cookies called Vanillekipferl and wander through the squares. They’ve got lots to see on their stroll, from the spectacular advent windows, the handmade gifts and decorations everywhere you look. The festival also draws choirs from all over the world to perform in the main hall. For little ones there’s plenty to do too, with daily workshops on offer.

When? From November to Christmas

5. Brussels Christmas Market, Belgium
This is one for the foodies. Along with the gorgeous traditional atmosphere, complete with twinkling lights strung along chalet style wooden huts, you’ll find some of the best Christmas fare going. There’s mulled wine, juicy olives, and of course heaps of Belgian chocolates and special speculoos, these are gingerbread biscuits shaped like Santa. However, the piece de resistance must be the moules or snails, served steaming hot. It might not scream Christmas at you but just wait until you try it.

When? November 30 to January 6, 2013

6. Copenhagen Christmas Market, Denmark
The deliciously romantic Copenhagen Christmas market is right out of a storybook. Set in Europe’s oldest amusement park, the 19th century Tivoli Gardens, it’s filled with Christmas trees, fairy lights and fairground rides. The main lake becomes an ice rink and the smell of spiced mulled wine, known as glögg fills the air, as you visit among 60 colourful, hand painted stalls with porcelain dolls, rugs, wooden furniture and silver jewellery. There is even a ‘Pixie Ville’ where you’ll find over 130 mechanical pixies; these are famous in from Danish Christmas folk stories and a 95 year old wooden rollercoaster.

When? November 16 to December 30

7. Innsbruck Christmas Market, Austria
Austria’s Innsbruck makes the ideal choice for a little exercise in the morning and a little shopping in the afternoon. Right up in the Alps, it’s got nine ski resorts to pick from, while the snow peaks mean it’s a perfect Christmassy scene to get you in the mood. Filling the old town’s main square there are plenty of stalls to pick up some crafty Christmas treats, like traditional cribs, decorations and fabrics. Of course, it being a Christmas market, there are plenty of warming mugs of glühwein and roasted chestnuts by the bucket load.

When? November 20 to December 27

8. Prague Christmas Market, Czech Republic
The glowing, Christmassy atmosphere of Prague’s medieval Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square are the perfect backdrop for the classic yuletide market. In front of the famous Astronomical Clock tower, you’ll find plenty of stalls selling all sorts of jewellery, handicrafts, toys and decorations. While the Prague Christmas market is another foodie favourite. There are lots of local favourites like váno?ní cukroví (Christmas cookies) and váno?ní rybí polévka (Christmas fish soup) Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.

When? November 27 to January 2, 2013

9. Budapest Christmas Markets, Hungary
Budapest might just provide the setting for the ultimate treat Christmas Market break. The city is already famous for its spas and history and it really comes alive at Christmas, with around 100 stalls selling decorations and toys made by local craftsmen. There is a huge advent calendar, and delicious festive treats like rétes, a kind of strudel and kenyérlángos a sort of flatbread and of course the infamous Hungarian version of glühwein all to be found in the Vörösmarty.

When? November 18 to December 30

10. Barcelona Christmas Market, Spain
Although maybe not your first choice, Barcelona has a great Christmas tradition and its market dates way back to 1786. There are over 300 stalls selling all sorts of Catalan gifts, decorations and handicrafts, while the 30 miles of ligths that are piled in Fira de Santa Llucia are sure to impress the biggest Scrooge.

When? November 27 to December 23

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