Winter Wonderland: 5 of the best European Christmas Markets

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Whether you’re looking for a festive getaway or an alternative to the hustle and bustle of the high street experience, winter is the perfect time for a mini-break. Christmas markets are the perfect way to get into the spirit of the festive season and make for a great city break or cruise – with delightfully enchanting stalls that whisk you away from the UK to a world of warming mulled wine, delicious treats and intricate arts and crafts.

1. Berlin

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There are around 80 Christmas markets across Berlin.

On the grand boulevards, squares and side streets of Berlin sit some of the world’s most renowned Christmas markets. The German capital’s most famous offering is at Charlottenburg Castle where, for 35 days, it’s surrounded by 150 wooden chalets where you’ll be able to pick up traditional treats such as stollen – a traditional fruit cake often made with marzipan.

If you’re looking for some winter sports action, head to the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market where, alongside handmade trinkets and handicrafts, you’ll find the largest mobile toboggan run in Europe. The Gendarmenmarkt is a must for entertainment as it hosts a variety of acts like jugglers, fire artists, acrobats, dance troupes and gospel groups.

2. Vienna

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The very first Christmas market took place in Vienna in 1298.

Vienna’s Christmas market dates back to the Middle Ages and has a uniquely traditional festive feel making it ideal for couples. Situated in front of the city hall, there’s a dedicated area just for kids – the youngsters can make their own candles and cookies while the adults sip a hot drink and listen to the assembled choirs singing carols.

Take a stroll through the Rathauspark to enjoy decorated trees and pony rides. Then, head to Rathausplatz – a square next to the Rathauspark – to visit Vienna’s largest market, Wiener Christkindlmarkt, which has more than 150 stalls. You’ll be able to buy unique Christmas decorations and arts and crafts. The food won’t disappoint you either – with roast chestnuts, cream-filled pastries, Christmas punch and a mind-boggling array of pretzels.

3. Budapest

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Cottage-style wooden stalls and two outdoor stages take over Budapest’s Vörösmarty.

From crafts to concerts and laser shows, Budapest’s Christmas market has it all. The oldest and most beautiful market sits on Vörösmarty Square in the heart of the city, and is keen to preserve its folk art and traditions – so it only sells quality, handcrafted goods rather than commercialised wares.

Foodies will be in their element too with mulled wines, Hungarian pastries (called Kurtos Kalacs) and traditional street foods. How about taking a winter river cruise? Sail down the Danube or Rhine and take in the sights, smells and sounds of Hungarian Christmas cheer.

4. Brussels

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Grand-Place has an ice rink, Ferris wheel and traditional roundabout for children.

Winter Wonders – Brussels’ aptly named Christmas market experience – is based at the Grand-Place central square – a UNESCO World Heritage site. You’ll find beautiful jewellery, toys, crafts and local delicacies, as well as a first-class shopping experience with more than 230 stalls. You can enjoy an impressive sound and light show lasting for 15 minutes each evening – the show was conceived by one of the country’s most famous light designers, Koert Vermeulen, using 1,600 LED spotlights that dance across the impressive Grand-Place.

5. Prague

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Try a cup of hot wine or svařené víno to help keep warm.

Prague’s Christmas markets are among the best in Europe. With Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square – a five minute walk away from each other – coming alive as a winter wonderland. Open daily, even on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, there’s plenty to admire with glassware, jewellery, embroidered lace, ceramics and scented candles. There’s plenty to see and do too with an animal stable where children can stroke the sheep, goats and donkey – there’s even a large-scale Bethlehem scene depicting Jesus’ birth.

However, the masterpiece is the capital’s Christmas tree, shipped in from the Krkonoše Mountains of the Czech Republic. It’s switched on each night at 5pm and, set against Prague’s gothic skyline, it makes for a spectacular sight. Prague’s city centre is compact, so no matter where you stay, you’ll be within walking distance of the markets and top sights like Prague’s picturesque castle.

Published 1st October 2015

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