Christmas is coming early to Europe’s cool capitals and big cities, bringing with it a flurry of illuminations, stalls, parades and firework shows to startle, surprise and delight both young and old. Whether or not you’re travelling with children, spend your winter break away from home, to savour some healthy Christmas spirit and cheer at these most magnificent markets across the continent.
Viennese Christmas Market
12 November – 26 December 2016
With more than seven centuries of Christmas market history behind it, Vienna has without doubt perfected the art of festive fairs. Based on Vienna Rathausplatz and backed by the stunning town hall, its particularly majestic venue is sure to charm any admirer of fine architecture. Each year, this market draws in more than three million children and children at heart from across the world, to delight at tin solider stalls and feast on pretzels and pastries aplenty. Opening times vary, so click here for more information.
Tivoli Christmas Market
19 November – 31 December 2016
Nowhere in Copenhagen is quite as gorgeous as the mid-19th century Tivoli Gardens during the end of year: hand-crafted to perfection and the result of 10,000 hours of work, the market here features 30,000 baubles, an array of adorable stalls, and a breathtaking show of 16,000 lights in the Chinese-themed area. Make your way to one of many restaurants (we’re tempted by smørrebrød for lunch at Fru Nimb and the chic, white-walled interiors at Brdr. Price at Tivoli), watch a hundred young girls in song during the Lucia parade, and see fireworks colour the sky on Christmas Day.
Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik Christmas Market
25 November – 24 December 2016
With 300 stalls dotted across more than 12 locations in the city centre, Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik is not just one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe – it is what transforms the entire city into a magical space, worthy of making every festive obsessive’s bucket list. Look out for traditional bredele cakes and gingerbread biscuits, mesmerising shop window and light displays (those along Rue des Orfèvres are particularly captivating), and sweet artisan-crafted decorations to brighten your own Christmas tree with.
Cologne Cathedral Christmas Market
21 November – 23 December 2016
An imposing cathedral sets the scene for downtown Cologne’s Christmas market, making it quite a sight to behold. Quaint booths crowned with red roofs surround the Rhineland’s largest Christmas tree, itself adorned with a brilliant cobweb of fairy lights, and mulled wine is served to the sound of live music performances. If this central spot ever proves too overwhelming, make a trip to the city’s many smaller markets, where skating rinks and gay-lesbian-themed parties await.
Bath Christmas Market
24 November – 11 December 2016
A definitive shopper’s paradise, Bath’s Christmas fair brings more than 170 traditional wooden chalets to the streets of this refined city, conveniently near to its Roman thermal spring baths. Running for just over two weeks, this unmissable market is a quintessentially British haven of culture and seasonal spirit. Put crafted candles, felt accessories, glass art and lovely lanterns at the top of your shopping list – without forgetting canine biscuits for your pet pooch, of course. This year’s market also features The Lodge, a rustic indoor venue where you can get your fill of tasty cakes and locally-produced real ales.
Prague Old Town Square Christmas Market
26 November 2016 – 6 January 2017
At Prague’s Old Town Square market, traditional themes come together in family-friendly style, with a Bethlehem display and animal stable both guaranteed to keep the kids thrilled. Wooden huts burst with Yuletide trinkets, glassware, ceramics, embroidered lace and other pretty presents for you to bring home. You can savour barbecued klobása sausages, Czech beers and sugary pastries from under a tall tree, brought in straight from the Krkonoše mountains.
Tallinn Christmas Market
18 November 2016 – 7 January 2017
A fun and packed programme awaits in Estonia’s snowy capital, as the Town Hall Square plays host to an events-filled market. Pick up a gift-wrapped present or two, try local black blood pudding and sour cabbage, and tune in to the calming sound of Christmas carols. Children won’t have any trouble keeping busy, what with Santa Claus, snow sculptures and a games-organising head dwarf at the ready. Some rather imaginative contests will also take place, where writers of the best Christmas poems and makers of the most beautiful gingerbread will be selected. The cherry on this very merry cake? Warm drinks are served until 11pm each day, up to four hours after the market stalls close.
London Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland
18 November 2016 – 2 January 2017
An end-of-year treat for Londoners, Winter Wonderland brings impressive attractions to Hyde Park – from a ferris wheel and fairground rides, to circus shows and an incredible ice kingdom. The markets here are particularly exciting, what with their Bavarian-style set-up and stalls offering handmade crafts, candy floss, marshmallow-topped hot chocolate and heart-shaped message biscuits for your loved ones. Getting there early in the day will help you steer clear of the big crowds.
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