Vin-chaud? Gingerbread men? Roasted chestnuts? Whatever you want from a Christmas market, here’s our guide to planning your festive jaunt
1. Cologne, Germany
Throughout the festive season, Cologne offers no fewer than four sparkling Christmas markets to its visitors. The most spectacular of these, Am Dom, hosts 160 tempting stalls in front of the towering twin-spires of the city’s cathedral. Stalls with handmade decorations, sweet gluhwein and candy surround a giant Christmas tree in the centre of the square.
Cologne Christmas market (Shutterstock)
After you’ve filled up on sticky treats and several alcoholic beverages to ‘warm yourself up’, head to the heart of the Old Town to the Alter Markt. Be prepared for your inner child to make an appearance here, as traditional merry-go-rounds and puppet theatres dot the market, while Father Christmas sits in his grotto amid wooden toys and scrumptious boiled sweets.
2. Budapest, Hungary
This winter wonderland in the centre of Budapest is a haven for food-lovers – fresh bread is baked in clay ovens, traditional pastry makers work their magic on glazed delights, and goulash is gobbled by almost everyone. If you choose to indulge in a little gluhwein, each serving comes with a free Christmas market mug for you to take home.
Christmas market at St Stephen’s Basilica in Budapest (Shutterstock)
In the windows of Gerbaud House – the most beautiful building in the main square – you’ll see the Budapest Advent Calender. Here, 24 artists showcase their work and everyday a new one is revealed in the count down to Christmas.
3. Vienna, Austria
Little wooden huts selling hot punch and roasted chestnuts pop up around Vienna in the run-up to Christmas, tempting you to the main event of Christkindlemarkt on the main square in front of the City Hall.
Vienna Christmas Market (Shutterstock)
Take a stroll between perfectly decorated trees in the city’s main park and forgive yourself if you momentarily feel part of your favourite Christmas rom-com. Keep an eye out for Herzerlbaum – the tree with hearts – while you’re there stop-off for a romantic moment under the illuminated hearts.
4. Venice, Italy
The Venice Christmas market is the perfect place for something a little different for your loved ones to unwrap on December 25th – from traditional carnival masks to Murano glass jewellery and marbled paper gifts.
St Marks square decoration at Christmas (Shutterstock)
One section of the market is dedicated to Italian foods. Look out for creamy almond-studded nougat, fruit-filled panettone from Verona, and delicacies made with white truffles from Alba. The vintage balsamic vinegars and fine olive oils are sure to go down well when you return home too…
5. Prague, Czech Republic
The Czechs are extremely serious about Christmas and take pride in their chocolate-box style markets that spring up all over the country. The capital hosts a number of low-key, family-friendly Vanocni trh (Christmas markets), which all have folk displays, concerts and carol singers to enhance the festive spirit.
Prague at Christmas (Shutterstock)
The Prague Christmas markets are not the place to find elaborate presents, but there are plenty of stocking fillers for you to choose from. Keep an eye out for hand-carved wooden puppets and Bohemian crystal.
6. Berlin, Germany
Let yourself fall under the festive spell with horse-drawn carriage rides through Christmas tree-clad streets, ice skating at the Berlin Fairy Forest, and carol singers galore. Most bars around the markets have outdoor seating with blankets and heating to offer you even more opportunity to soak up the seasonal atmosphere.
Christmas market in Berlin (Shutterstock)
The usual stocking fillers can be found in almost all of the markets around Berlin, but watch out for the rare stall with scarfs and handbags, which make ideal gifts.
7. Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen’s magical Christmas market sits in The Tivoli Gardens amidst hundreds of Christmas trees and thousands of twinkling fairy-lights. The Garden’s main lake is transformed into an outdoor ice rink where you can hire skates. There are plenty of food stalls here too, but the main attraction is Danish glogg – a mulled wine mixed with liquor and spices. Hot apple dumplings also make for a warming mid-shop snack.
Christmas at the Tivoli (Shutterstock)
If you’re travelling with children, they’ll love the pony rides that take place in the market, as well as a jolly Father Christmas who does the rounds of the stalls, posing for photos with visitors.
8. Tallinn, Estonia
It doesn’t get more fairytale than Tallinn during the Christmas season. The town square is lined with 15th-century buildings, and the underground candlelit bars are perfect for cosying down with a boozy hot chocolate.
Tallinn, Estonia (Shutterstock)
shopping in Tallinn is delightfully quirky – think thick knitted jumpers and scarves, Russian military fur hats, and lots of vodka. Handmade chocolates can also be found, as well as amber necklaces and bracelets.
9. Dunster, Somerset, UK
On the first Friday and Saturday in December every year, the town of Dunster turns off the lights, travels back in time and lights its streets with candles. There is no parking or access to the village by car during these two days, but Park & Ride is an option. However, for a real time-travel experience, hop on an old-fashioned steam train from Bishops Lydeard in Somerset to the medieval village.
During the event, there are a variety of street entertainers including carol singers, Morris Dancers and hand bell ringers. Grab a bag of roasted chestnuts, a hot-choc in a paper cup and walk up to Dunster Castle, where the atmosphere and festivities play out in the town below.
10. And a winter warmer: Morocco
For an alternative -shopping experience, head to the souks of Marrakech for some tempting winter sun. Everyone at home may be jealous of your December tan, but they’ll be delighted with the range of scarves, spices and handmade trinkets they unwrap on day.
Marrakech souk (Shutterstock)
Swap mulled wine for a spot of sweet cinnamon tea at the Djemaa el Fna and watch the greatest show on earth unveil before your eyes – snake charmers, fortune tellers and henna artists work their magic on by-standers while food merchants tempt you with tantalising tastes.
Main image: Christmas market in Vienna (Shutterstock)
As Seen On BBC News