If you don’t fancy elbowing your way around your local high street this Christmas to stock up on the usual gifts, you still have time to take in one of the best of the European Christmas markets, to combine your Christmas shopping with a festive mini-break.
Europe’s Christmas markets are now open, selling everything from wooden toys and hand-dipped candles to woollen hats and hand-crafted Christmas decorations, along with a massive selection of traditional food and drink – including the ‘glue’ that holds it all together, Gluhwein.
There are seasonal stalls all over Europe from Prague to Paris, and Barcelona to Berlin, but I’ve picked my top three classic festive markets; each offering the perfect scenic backdrop to really get into the festive spirit!
Brussels Christmas Market – Best for Scale & Splendour
The Plaisirs d’Hiver market is a whopping 240-stall, 2km-long Christmas shopping extravaganza. The chalet-style stalls are decorated to look like gingerbread houses, complete with twinkling fairy lights and snow top roofs. The city goes all out, hosting two ice skating rinks (one for beginners and a separate rink for experienced skaters) an Ice Monster and merry-go-round for the kids, a City Ski slope, a giant Ferris wheel and the pièce de résistance, a spectacular nightly light & laser show at the Grand-Place set to music and projected onto the gothic Hôtel de Ville.
Market Dates: November 26-January 1
Location: Place Sainte Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons
Opening Times: Monday-Thursday, 12:00-21:00, Friday-Sunday, 11:00-22:00 (and until 18:00 on Christmas and New Years’ Eve)
For a Stylish Stay: Be Manos
More Info: Visit Brussels Winter Wonders
Strasbourg Christmas Market – Best for Scenery & Snacks
The Alsace region of France is a spectacular place to celebrate Christmas, combining the best of French and German festive traditions. Strasbourg, the region’s Capital has been holding its famous Christkindelsmärik around the awe-inspiring cathedral since 1570. The highlight of this quaint capital is La Petite France, a cosy medieval neighbourhood of enchanting twisty streets, filled with timbered buildings straight out of a fairy-tale, and the food is some of the best you can hope to taste at Christmas Markets – from wines and beers to jams, biscuits and cakes. A full programme of concerts runs over the weekends, and there’s an ice garden and rink as well as festive boat rides on the city’s charming waterways.
Market Dates: November 26-December 31
Location: Place Broglie and Rue de la Comedie and additional Christmas markets all over the city
Opening Times: Monday-Thursday & Sunday, 10:00-20:00, Friday & Saturday 10:00-21:00
For a Stylish Stay: Grand Hotel
More Info: Strasbourg Noel
Frankfurt Christmas Market – Best for Tradition & Romance
Frankfurt hosts Germany’s oldest and largest Christmas market on the Römerberg, the city’s historic square. The 200 traditional wooden stalls sell everything from crafts and traditional gifts to delicious culinary specialties, such as pretzels, bratwurst and Bethmännchen (marzipan) but here it’s the local Apfelwein that keeps the winter chill at bay as you shop. Set around a huge Christmas tree, Frankfurt’s festive market fills the air with the aroma of baked apples, roasted nuts and gingerbread and the sound of carol concerts and church bells.
This market is so popular that for the last 10 years a version has been exported to the city of Birmingham in honour of the two cities’ twinned status.
Market Dates: November 30-December 23
Location: Römerberg, Paulsplatz & Mainkai (Main quay)
Opening times: Monday-Saturday, 10:00-21:00, Sundays 11:00-21:00
For a Stylish Stay: The Adina
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