Make room in your suitcases and start planning a festive weekend break to one of Europe’s best Christmas markets
1. Vienna, Austria
When: 14 November – 24 December
Don’t miss the Rathausplatz ‘Christkindlmarkte’ in Vienna, held in the square in front of the gothic Rathaus City Hall. At night, the whole area is beautifully lit-up and you’ll feel like you’ve been transported into a fairy tale. Throughout December the windows of the City Hall become a giant advent calendar and each day a new picture is revealed. As well as fantastic nativity displays and concerts, there are more than 150 stalls, selling everything from puppets to leather goods (including some truly decadent handbags). There’s a strong coffee culture in Vienna and it boasts many coffee houses, so swing by Cafe Mozart behind the Opera House and sip a cup of cocoa to warm you through.
Flight time: Two hours.
2. Barcelona, Spain
When: 27 November – 23 December
The Fira de Santa Llúcia market, found outside Barcelona’s Cathedral, is the biggest and best on offer in the city. It’s where locals buy their Christmas trees, mistletoe sprigs and Christmas Caga Tios (pictured above); a log with a smiley face that symbolises all the gifts waiting to be received. The whole area is lively, with around 300 stalls and regular music processions. If you’d rather explore a less touristy spot, check out the Mercat Gòticantique market in the Plaza de Catalunya for vintage jewellery and ornaments; definitely worth a rummage.
Flight time: Two and a half hours.
3. Berlin, Germany
When: 24 November – 26 December
For those after a city where you can explore a variety of Christmas markets, head to Berlin; the German capital has fifty (yes, really) to choose from. The most famous is the Kaiser Wilhelm market (pictured above), held in front of the Memorial Church in the main square. Here you’ll find everything Christmassy and a huge twenty metre, Instagram-worthy Christmas tree. The Potsdamer Platz market is a great choice for families. As well as 500 fab stalls, there’s an ice rink and even a toboggan run. If you’d rather spend time rummaging for a fashionable gem than Christmas wreaths, then check out the vintage store Humana; you’ll find three dotted throughout the city.
Flight time: One hour and 45 minutes.
4. Brussels, Belgium
When: 27 November – 3 January
Christmas is celebrated twice in Belgium; once on the 6th of December for St. Nicholas’ Day, and again on Christmas Day, so it really is a fantastic city to visit to get you in the festive spirit. The Winter Wonders market stretches for over a mile between the Place Sainte Catherine to Grand Place and is lined with around 240 market stalls selling handmade crafts, decorations and ornaments. There’s also many tempting food stalls selling pots of moules frites, chocolate covered waffles and sugared doughnuts – all too good to resist. Be sure to wash it all down with a bottle of famous Belgium beer.
Flight time: One hour and ten minutes.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
When: 30 November – 12 January
There are two main markets in Prague, the first is in the Old Town Square, where you’ll see one of Europe’s largest Christmas trees, which is transported down from the nearby Krkonose Mountains. The second, just around the corner, is Wenceslas Square (pictured above), where stalls sell tubs of water filled with carp – the staple Christmas food in the Czech Republic instead of turkey. The markets have a whole range of traditional food, such as hog roasts and Trdelnik, a hot sugar coated pastry to keep you warm in the evenings. Be sure to squeeze in a trip to St Vitus Cathedral where you’ll be able to get a great panoramic view of the city; head up just before sundown for a wonderful sight to remember.
Flight time: One hour and 50 minutes.
6. Paris, France
When: 16 November – 3 January
The largest Christmas market in Paris can be found on the Champs-Élysées (pictured above), one of, if not the most, beautiful avenues in the world. Work your way through more than 100 chalets and stalls offering various French delicacies and handicrafts – perfect if you’re still looking for last-minute Christmas gifts. Stop off and have something sweet in the popular Ladurée luxury bakery, where you can enjoy a delicious crepe or macaroon. Another favourite in Paris is the La Defense market, which is located near the Grande Arche with over 350 stands to browse.
Flight time: One hour ten minutes.
7. Munich, Germany
When: 27 November – 24 December
The main Munich Christmas market is held in the heart of the city in the stunning Marienplatz square, with carol singers, nativity displays and, of course, plenty of stalls selling crafts and delicious food. Be sure to try some traditional German Christmas cuisine, such as weihnachtsplätzchen (cookies), Christstollen (cake filled with marzipan) and Kletznbro (bread with fruit and nuts in). If you’re a fan of beer, why not check out the Hofbräuhaus Brewery, one of Germany’s most famous attractions and drinking spots? Munich has some fantastic shops to explore in between markets and sampling local cuisine, so make sure you check out 7 Himmel, a boutique shop selling quirky accessories and hip labels at discount prices.
Flight time: One hour and 20 minutes.
8. Lisbon, Portugal
When: 30 November – 8 December
Lisbon’s Christmas celebrations are fairly modest when compared to its European rivals, however, the saying ‘good things come in small packages’ really rings true with the Portuguese capital. The Christmas fair is popular with locals buying their trees and fireworks but there are still plenty of craft items and food stalls for tourists to get involved too. It’s a great city if you want to escape the mulled wine and roasted chestnut frenzy that most other cities offer at Christmas, as Lisbon is where you can enjoy cherry liqueur, honey cakes and egg custard tarts instead. Check out avenue Da Liberdade (pictured above) at night for a fantastic Christmas light display.
Flight time: Two and a half hours.
9. Belfast, Ireland
When: 14 November – 20 December
Located at one of Belfast’s famous landmark buildings, the City Hall, this continental Christmas market provides an ideal backdrop to give you that festive feeling in the true Irish style. The market is renowned for being a brilliant shopping experience, with numerous stalls offering all sorts of stocking fillers. As well as this, you can enjoy a few of the culinary pleasures, such as cheeses from all over Europe, olives, nougat and, naturally, Irish coffee. To help keep you warm, the market features a number of refreshment tents where you can enjoy a beverage or two. A favourite amongst locals is the traditional Irish Bar, where you can listen to live music throughout the day, a perfect setting to enjoy a glass of mulled wine.
Flight time: One hour and a half.
10. Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When: 20 November – 3 January
During the Christmas period, Amsterdam is awash with festive fun. The bargain hunters among you will welcome the fact there are 26 affordable markets waiting to be discovered. In the city centre, the Leidestraat area is brought to life with colourful decorations and market stalls which surround a popular ice rink. Here you’ll be able to sample the Christmas treat ‘olliebollen,’ a pastry ball topped with icing sugar. On the Saturday leading up to Christmas, there’s a pink market, which is LGBT-friendly, and features a fashion show, as well as numerous stalls full of goodies. Just outside Amsterdam is the Christmas market at Castle Keukenhof. A market set in a castle? Yes, amazing, we know.
Flight time: One hour.
11. Gothenburg, Sweden
When: 2 December – 30 December
The Liseburg market, held in Gothenburg, is the largest in Sweden with over 60 stalls, themed areas and an ice skating rink. The markets sell everything from birch tree reindeers and cross stitched gnomes, to decorations and St. Nicolas figurines. Keep your eyes out for a number of culinary highlights and don’t miss sampling glögg, a spicy mulled wine. To accompany your drink, why not try Swedish delicacies such as smoked sausage, reindeer meat or traditional Christmas sweets?
Flight time: Two hours and 15 minutes.
12. Venice, Italy
When: 3 December – 24 December
Italian Christmas markets, known as Mercatino di Natale, are a lot smaller and less extravagant than their European counterparts, but don’t let this put you off. One of the most stunning markets can be found in the floating city of Venice. The Campo Santo Stefano square is transformed into a Christmas village for three weeks, where wooden cabins sell Murano glass jewellery, decorative carnival masks and delicious Italian food you just won’t be able to resist. The main streets are decorated with Christmas lights and the echo of gospel songs from churches ring throughout.
Flight time: Two hours.
Words: Megan C Hills