Jaillen Yehia

All I want for Christmas is……To Visit 10 European Christmas Markets

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Brussels at Christmas

Brussels at Christmas

At the start of winter I usually struggle with the idea of weekends away to colder European countries – ever clinging onto that last bit of winter sun.

But that all changes come Christmas when I’m a sucker for short breaks to snowy cities and can’t wait to hit the European Christmas markets to stock up on stockings, buy more bobbly hats and glug down some Glühwein.

Here are my recommendations for the best Christmas markets in Europe

Seasonal stalls selling everything from wooden toys and hand-dipped candles to knitted scarves and rustic Christmas decorations spring up all over Europe at this time of year and make the ultimate excuse for a festive weekend away – and the debate over which is the best Christmas market destination is often as heated as the mulled wine that they all serve in bucketloads.

Yes, Christmas shopping is much more fun when done outdoors while enjoying traditional hearty food to keep the cold at bay – all washed down with the glue that holds the whole European Christmas markets experience together, Glühwein.

I’ve picked my top 10 classic European festive markets – each offering something slightly different but all providing the perfect scenic backdrop to get into the holiday spirit.

And to be scrupulously fair, they’re listed in alphabetical order by city…

1. Weihnachtsmarkt, Basel, Switzerland

Basel

Basel in the snow

Experience a Christmas market that’s simultaneously cute and quaint while also ticking the largest Christmas market in Switzerland off your wish list: that’s the beauty of Basel’s swish Swiss Yuletide offering.

Basel’s Christmas market is in two locations, including the longest Christmas street in Europe, and the city on the banks of the Rhine delivers for good looks as well as the array of wares on offer, from hand-blown glass and an exceptional array of ornaments to edible goodies like roasted chestnuts and cookies.

Why It gets My Vote:

I spent a lot of time in Switzerland while I was growing up and will always have a soft spot for Swiss cities; beautiful Basel makes the perfect backdrop for a traditional Christmas market.

Where To Stay: Radisson Blu Basel

Radisson Blu Basel

Radisson Blu Basel

Market Location: Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz

2015 Market Dates: 26 November – 23 December

Market Opening Times: 12:00-20:30

More Info: Weihnachtsmarkt

2. Bratislava Christmas Market, Slovakia

Bratislava Christmas Market

Bratislava Christmas Market

The unique atmosphere of the Baltic is a wonderful backdrop for a Christmas market and a great opportunity to branch out from the bratwursts and soak up Christmas snacks Slovak style – try potato pancakes and honey cakes or taste the local Christmas mead while enjoying the pretty squares of pint sized Bratislava’s old town as they’re adorned with candy stripes and timber stalls.

Why It gets My Vote:

Bratislava is one of the smallest European cities I’ve ever been to, and the best thing about visiting during Christmas market season is that you’ll have enough time to cover the entire city and do up the Christmas market all in a weekend.

Where To Stay: Carlton Hotel Bratislava

Carlton Hotel Bratislava

Carlton Hotel Bratislava

Market Location: Hlavné, Františkánske and Hviezdoslavovo Squares

2015 Market Dates: 20 November – 2 January

Market Opening Times: 10:00-22:00

More Info: Bratislava Christmas Market

3. Plaisirs d’Hiver, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels' Plaisirs d'Hiver

Brussels’ Plaisirs d’Hiver

Brussel’s Christmas market is on a truly awe-inspiring scale and if you only have time for one Christmas market, I’d make this it one.

There are chalet-style stalls decorated to look like gingerbread houses, adorned with twinkling fairy lights and snow top roofs: this city goes all out to wow you for Christmas.

Brussel’s Market Square is the epicenter of the Christmas celebrations but there’s a range of attractions across the city including an ice-skating rink and the gothic Hôtel de Ville makes a storybook style backdrop to the festive light show.

Why It gets My Vote:

I visited Brussels in the run up to Christmas one year, taking the Eurostar from London’s King’s Cross  – and found myself magically transported into a Christmas-lovers paradise in just a couple of hours. Ever since, Brussels Plaisirs d’Hiver has been one of my most treasured Christmas memories.

Where To Stay: Royal Hotel Brussels

Royal Hotel Brussels

Royal Hotel Brussels

Location: Place Sainte Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons

2015-2016 Market Dates: 30 November – 6 January

Opening Times: 12:00-22:00

More Info: Visit Brussels Winter Wonders

4. Vorosmarty Square Christmas Market, Budapest, Hungary

Christmas Market fayre

Christmas Market Fayre

Here in Hungary the mulled wine is known as forró bor not glühwein but other than that there’s everything the traditional European Christmas markets of Germany and France have to offer – from handmade arts and crafts to ice skating rinks.

There are actually three distinct Christmas markets here in Budapest  – the most popular is the tourist-friendly market at Vorosmarty Square, but also there’s a second at St. Stephen’s Basilica and a third worth checking out at Obuda. There are a further 2 design-led contemporary arts markets which run at Christmas – WAMP and Design Terminal.

Why It gets My Vote:

Budapest is well-known for being an exceptionally atmospheric city and add to this the fact that it hosts one of the longest running of the European Christmas markets, opening on November 13th, and you have a recipe to get your Christmas shopping done – and get into the Christmas spirit – nice and early.

Where To Stay: Beke Hotel Budapest

Beke Hotel Budapest

Cakes at Beke Hotel Budapest

Location: Vörösmarty Square

2015-2016 Market Dates: 13 November – 6 January

Opening Times: 10:00-22:00 (23:00 on weekends)

More Info: Budapest Christmas

5. Rynek Glowny, Krakow, Poland

Polish Christmas Traditions in Krakow

Polish Christmas Traditions in Krakow

The Gothic and baroque architecture of Krakow makes the historic central European city the location of Poland’s most popular Christmas market.

Krakow’s Christmas market is centred on the majestic Cloth Hall on the medieval marketplace of the Rynek Glowny where stalls offer a large selection of regional food and drinks, including Polish handicrafts, made from wood, glass or cloth.

The main tradition which makes Poland a unique European Christmas market location are the colourful nativity scenes known as Szopki, which can be seen all around the city at Christmas and are unique to Krakow – and there’s been a competition for the best hand-made Christmas crib since 1937.

Why It gets My Vote:

If you’re in search of a white Christmas Krakow is the perfect place to head for – while most European cities are hit and miss when it comes to the white stuff, Poland’s medieval city is known for having snowy scenes as a Christmas norm.

Where To Stay: Radisson Blu, Krakow

Krakow by Radisson Blu

Krakow by Radisson Blu

Location: Rynek Glowny Market Square

2015-2016 Market Dates: 27 November – 26 December

Opening Times: 10:00-20:00 (22:00 for food stalls)

More Info: Krakow Christmas

6. Christmas Markets of Kiev, Ukraine

Sophia Christmas Market

Sophia Christmas Market

Kiev’s completely unique Christmas traditions are celebrated in five of the city’s squares from mid-December until well into January. Visit the giant Christmas tree on Sofiyivska Square, meet Santa Claus or go ice skating – a visit to Kiev is more than just a shopping trip to one of the European Christmas Markets, its a chance to really explore Christmas in a different culture – with guaranteed snow.

Why It gets My Vote:

This is one of the only European cities I haven’t visited but it’s been high on my wishlist for some time  – and what better time to take in the unique Russian Orthodox churches than by combining a visit with the Orthodox Christmas traditions and markets (complete with Julian calendar – Christmas is celebrated here on January 7th).

Where To Stay: Radisson Blu, Kiev

Radisson Blu Kiev

Radisson Blu Kiev

Location: Sofiyska, Mykhailivska, Poshtova, Kontraktova, Troiytska and Spivoche Pole

2015-2016 Market Dates: 19 December – 16 January

Opening Times: Vary

More Info: Kiev City

7. Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, London, England

London's South Bank at Christmas

London’s South Bank at Christmas

For years Londoners took advantage of their proximity to the European Christmas markets and didn’t really do a dedicated chalet-style outdoor Xmas extravaganza of our own.

Enter the Winter Wonderland Christmas market, which has a host of traditional edible offerings like smoky sausages and hot cider, and plays host to England’s largest skating rink and gives families plenty to entertain the kids, from amusement rides to a Magical Ice Kingdom.

Why It gets My Vote:

As a Londoner it’s obvious why this gets my vote – despite being one of the more commercialised of the European Christmas markets it is well worth a visit to see the splendour of Hyde Park adorned with lights, and the shopping and snacks are a delight. While you’re in town there are plenty of smaller Christmas markets to visit, particularly the South Bank Winter Festival which does not charge an admission fee.

Where To Stay: Portman Hotel, London

Portman Hotel, London

Portman Hotel, London

Location: Hyde Park, Central London

2015-2016 Market Dates: 20 November – 3 January

Opening Times: 10:00-22:00

More Info: Winter Wonderland

8. Christmas Shopping in Paris, France

Handmade Christmas decorations

Handmade Christmas decorations

What could be more quintessentially European than to combine the Christmas lights of the Champs-Elysées with the advent decorations of the Galeries Lafayette and shoppping at the Marché de Noël du Trocadéro, followed by a Christmas stroll to Eiffel Tower? Paris is magical at any time of year but the opportunity to do your Christmas shopping at Maison Ladurée and Fauchon as well as at stocking up on handmade local artisan items is not to be missed.

Why It gets My Vote:

I’ve visited paris countless times, and visited French Christmas markets in other parts of the country, most notably Strasbourg but I’ve personally yet to combine Paris with Christmas, an oversight surely – but there’s no reason you have to make the same mistake!

Where To Stay: Hotel Champs Elysées 

Hotel Champs Elysées

Hotel Champs Elysées

Location: Champs Elysées, Gare de l’Est, Trocadero, and other locations around the city.

2015-2016 Market Dates: Various

Opening Times: Various

More Info: Paris Christmas Markets

9. Stortorget Square, Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm at Christmas

Stockholm at Christmas

It’s all about glögg and ginger bread at Stockholm’s Christmas markets – and there’s a lot of them around – along with plenty of other yuletide events throughout Sweden’s wonderfully picturesque city.

The main market to head for is right in the heart of the old town at Stortorget Square but elsewhere you’ll find an ice skating rink, carol concerts and even Christmas cruises around the archipelago.

Why It gets My Vote:

There’s something very special about Scandinavia – I partly grew up there (in Denmark, but who’s counting?) and Sweden’s capital city of Stockholm particularly the old town or ‘Gamla Stan‘ has the perfect palette and architecture to make all your Christmas wishes of shopping on cobbled streets, clutching hot cocoa and tasting smoked elk meat come true.

Where To Stay: Strand Hotel Stockholm

Strand Hotel, Stockholm

Strand Hotel, Stockholm

Location: Stortorget Square, Gamla Stan

2015 Market Dates: 21 November – 23rd December

Opening Times: 11:00 – 18:00

More Info: Stockholm at Christmas

10. Viennese Christmas Markets, Vienna, Austria 

Vienna Christmas Market

Vienna Christmas Market

The city of Mozart, Beethoven Hapsburg Palaces and the River Danube has the most romantic setting you could imagine to do your annual shopathon for your loved ones.

There are actually 6 distinct markets spread across Vienna  –  including the classic traditional Christkindlemarkt in front of the Rathaus (City Hall) complete with choirs, cookies and candles, one nestled among the narrow streets of Spittelberg and a stunning cultural market in front of the unparalleled Schönbrunn Palace – and in between munching on Viennese whirls or Vanillekipferls, you can buy all the baubels and handicrafts you can carry.

Why It gets My Vote:

Vienna was the first place I ever booked a holiday to – as a kid I dragged my mum to a travel agent and begged her to take me to Austria as I was fascinated by the history, culture and architecture  – and so the city will always be on my top 10 list.

Where To Stay: Style Hotel Vienna

Style Hotel Vienna

Style Hotel Vienna

Location: Schönbrunn Palace, Rathaus, Belvedere Palace, Maria-Theresien Platz, the Universitätscampus at Alserstrasse & Spittleberg.

2015 Market Dates: 13 November – 26 December

Opening Times: Varies but Schönbrunn is open 10:00 – 21:00, Christkindlmarkt 10:-00 – 21:30 and 22:00 weekends.

More Info: Christmas Markets in Vienna




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