For a truly indulgent Christmas why not enjoy one last short break this year to one of Europe's amazing Christmas markets?
3 October 2012
Forget your local high street, make your way to one of Europe's Chritmas markets and mingle with the locals and meander through the festive stalls, tippling on mulled wine while being serenaded to by christmas carols singers.
So squeeze in a mini festive break and come home with some unusual goodies and pressies.
Where: Vieille Ville (within the walls of the old town)
When: Saturday 15th and Sunday 16th December 2012
Boulogne is magical when the Christmas market is in full swing. Shop to the serenade of Carol singers and breathe in the whiff of mulled wine as it sweetens the frosty air. There is also pleny of entertainment including music, fireworks and the illumination of the belfry.
On sale is a sumptuous choice of local produce, gifts and crafts. A must-buy is a Christmas Pudding. You can find one in most patisseries from late November to January and of course in the market. The recipe is similar to the English version but with added prunes and dry fruits laced (heavily!) with rum. It is then steam cooked in muslin and served flambed. For a taste of this spirited pudding don't miss the traditional Christmas pudding give-away at the Enclos de l’Eveche next to the Cathedral. These look innocent enough, but they are full of rum.
Hotels in Boulogne
Ferry from Dover to Calais
Where: Place Rihour (by the tourist office)
When: 21st November to 30th December 2012
Time: Sunday to Thursday 11am to 8pm, Fridays and Saturdays 11am to 9p, also Saturday 8th, 15th and 22nd of December, until 10 pm, 24th and 30th December, 11 am to 6 pm.
In the run-up to Christmas Lille dazzles with colours and lights. Eighty-three wooden chalet shaped stalls grace Place Rihour, roasting chestnuts and selling jewellery, toys and gifts. Don't go home without trying the waffles and gingerbread.
Just a short walk away in the Grand'Place, offering all the fun of the fare, is a big ferris wheel gives a birds eye view over the city and there's always a merry-go-round dancing to the sounds of Noel. It will be available from 21st November to the beginning of January 2013. It costs 4€ and 3€ for children under 1m 40.
Explore the Old City where each street is decorated with countless evergreen garlands embellished with red and gold ribbons (rue de la Grande Chaussée and rue de la Monnaie, for example).
Hotels in Lille
Flights to Lille
P&O Ferry Dover to Calais
Where: Palais du Tau, Reims & Epernay
When: Reims 23rd November - 30 December & Epernay 14-16 December
Reims holds one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe with from with more than 125 wooden chalet stalls, as well as an open air
skating rink. The market is held in the tree-lined pedestrianised streets
of the city centre, all beautifully illuminated with thousands of lights.
There's also a varied programme of choral concerts, special events and
exhibitions throughout the festive season.
Epernay's 11th annual Christmas extravaganza 'Habits de Lumieres' (14-16 December) includes the lighting up of its elegant Champagne houses, street show and orchestras, champagne bars of course, fireworks, chef demonstrations and a spectacular vintage car parade. Father Christmas will be on hand as well as street entertainment and an open-air skating rink.
The historic town of Fismes too is beautifully decorated for the Christmas period with a fine display of cribs in the superb setting of Sainte-Macre church and hosts the traditional centuries-old Saint Eloi fair.
More information from the champagne tourist board website
It's easy to reach Reims with Eurostar; simply change at Paris and travel on to Reims with on the TGV.
Hotels in Champagne
P&O Ferry from Dover to Calais
Where: Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church - Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche
When: 26th November to 6th January 2013
Time: Sunday to Tuesday 11am-9pm, Friday to Saturday 11am-10pm
The streets of Berlin are transformed for a whole month as Christmas markets spring up arounds Brandenburg gate and other of the city's squares. But follow the aromas of cinnamon Glühwein wine and roasted almonds to Berlin's best Christmas market at Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche the centre of western Berlin on Breitscheidplatz. On offer are handicraft stalls, amusements and a variety of cultural events. When you are done shopping, enjoy more retail therapy at Berlin's best shopping street at the Kurfürstendamm.
Incidentally if you have kids in tow visit the Christmas market on Alexanderplatz, where they can enjoy merry-go-rounds and fair rides while you enjoy picking their presents at the traditional Christmas stalls.
Hotels in Berlin
Flights to Berlin
Where: Market Square
When: 29 November to 23rd December 2012
Time: Monday to Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 11am-8pm
This atmospheric market, hailed as one of Germany's most picturesque takes place in the pretty Market Square of Bremen. The elegant town hall acts as the back drop to 170 lavishly decorated stalls, and Christmas lights. Then there's the amazing atmosphere of the seasonal Christmas bazaars that are held in the lower hall of the Town Hall and in Böttcherstrasse.
What makes this even more special is the Schlachte Magic. This is an amalgamation of riverboats, antique and flea markets along with restaurants an beer gardens. These make this a very vibrant place all year round and especially so in the run up to Christmas.
Hotels to Bremen
Flights to Bremen
Where: Münzgasse Street
When: 30th November to 24th December 2012
Time: Sunday to Tuesday 10am-8pm, Friday to Saturday 10am-9pm and Christmas Eve until 2pm.
Probably the oldest Christmas Market in Germany, the Striezelmarkt (from the word Striezel), is famous for its Stollenfest (a Stollen is the German version of Christmas cake made with fruit and marzipan). Bakers set about baking the world's biggest Christmas cake, which ends up weighing 4 tonnes and which is served to the public on December 5th but not before hundreds of pastry chefs carry the cake through the old town.
Things to buy include nutcrackers, glass art from Thuringia (you may catch glass blowers and woodcarvers doing their thing) and ceramic from Upper Lusatia.
Hotels in Dresden
Flights to Dresden
Where: Around the Bourse, Marche aux Poissons and Place St-Catherine, Belgium
When: 30th November to 6th January 2013
Time: Monday-Friday, 11am - 8pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am - 10pm
If you love Belgian chocolate and are up for trying regional goodies such as as 'klaasjes' - flat hard cakes - and 'speculoos', a hard gingerbread moulded in the form of St Nicholas, then nip over to Brussels for your festive shopping.
Plates of moules or steamed snails are everywhere in case you get peckish. Also, you can get your skates on enjoy gliding around the ice rink located on what is usually the fish market.
Hotels in Brussels
Flights to Brussels
Where: Tivoli Gardens
When: 16th November to 31st December
Time: Sunday to Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday to Saturday 11am to 11pm, 23 December 11am-8pm
Where else can you skate on the Tivoli lake to the walkts underneath thousands of lights but in Copenhagen. Tivoli Gardens is turned into a Christmas wonderland full of Christmas trees, gorgeous lighting, Christmas shows and colourful stalls. Treat yourself or someone else to some Copenhagen procelain or wooden dolls. But don't go home without trying the traditional glögg - a Danish mulled wine mixed with liquor and spices.
There's also various amusements like a skating rink, pony rides and if you head for the Leprechaun tent, you'll find a smiley Father Christmas.
Hotels in Copenhagen
Flights to Copenhagen
Where: Hyde Park
When: 23rd November to 6th January 2013
Time: 10am to 10pm daily except Christmas day
London's Winter Wonderland comes to the city's most famous green space, Hyde Park and brings with it a German flavour. Forty wooden chalets are spread around the bandstand on Serpentine Road offering Christmas fare and gastronomic delights such as warming Glühwein (German Mulled Wine) and “Bratwurst (German sausage). Don't go home without gingerbread hearts as stocking fillers.
As well as Europe's largest outdook ice rink (400 skaters can glide over it as a time) there's also a funfare with a big wheel, a carousel, helter skelter and 'kiddies' ride and even a haunted house.
New this year is the ice and snow sculpture experience.
More information: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland
Hotels in London
Flights to London
Where: Victoria Square and New Street
When: 15th November to 22nd December
Time: 10am to 9pm daily
For the past eleven years, Birmingham has joined it's twinned city, Frankfurt, Germany, to fill the city centre with a huge Frankfurt Christmas Market. It has grown so much that it is now considered the largest outdoor market in the UK.
Buzzing from finding those perfect presents, shoppers can follow the scent of German gingerbread into the world’s largest authentic German market to be staged outside Germany and Austria. Hundreds of stalls line the city streets and squares selling handmade toys, marzipan sweets and traditional food. For locals and visitors alike, the market is the pinnacle of the city’s festive calendar, providing the opportunity to catch up over gluhwein (German mulled wine) or a tankard of German weiss beer.
More information: Visit Birmingham
Hotels in Birmingham
Flights to Birmingham
Where: Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (5 minutes from each other)
When: 1st December to 6th January 2013 including Christmas and New Year's day
Time: 9am to 7pm daily
Prague is a gorgeous city and a top notch city break, but at this time of year the city centre is ablaze with light. Wooden huts sell handicraft such as wood-carved puppets, jewellry, toys, candles and Bohemian crystal.
Carol singers sing out from the central stage while musicians add to the festivity with seasonal music.
There's also a small zoo with ponies, goats and sheep in the Old Town Square. A large Bethlehem scene depicts Mary, Josep, the three kings and of course the baby Jesus, in a wooden stable.
Nearby is the Christmas tree, imported from the Krkonose mountains in the North of the Czech Republic. The tree lights are turned up at 5pm every night.
Hotels in Prague
Flights to Prague
Where: Old Town
When: December 1st to January 8th 2013
Time: 10am to 6pm daily
A lovely market that only came on the scene in 2001. The historic Old Town tranforms into a shopping haven where you can buy traditional Estonian food and handicrafts, toys and hand makde jumpers, sheepskins and felt hats. Choirs and musicians fill the air with music and carol singers entertain throughout the duration.
Temperatures barely hit zero at this time of year and the tall city's spires and colourful medieval houses create a frosty, white-tinged setting. Amid this backdrop, stallholders sell felt hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls and artefacts, wickerwork, beautiful hand-sewn quilts, ceramics and glassware, sea-grass animals, home-made candles, Christmas wreaths, knitted hats, scarves and traditional cardigans. The scent of hot mulled wine fills the air, along with the appetising aromas of Estonian holiday foods that include pork, sauerkraut, blood sausages, hot soups, gingerbread, marzipan, honey, cookies, nuts and sweets.
There will be live music on the market stage and the chance to meet Father Christmas. Activities for children include a mini zoo, a slide, and Santa's House with a post office and reindeer.
More information: Christmas Markets in Estonia
Hotels in Tallinn
Flights to Tallinn
Where: Town Hall Square
When: 17th November to 24th December 2012
Time: Daily 10am-9.30pm. Christmas Eve 10am-5pm
With over a million visitors a year, this is probably the most popular Christmas market in Europe. More than100 stalls make up a motly mix of gift ideas from candied fruit, arts and crafts, scented beeswax candles. In Austria, its all about baked apples, and roasted chestnuts which must be washed down the Gluhwein, to really get into the mood.
There are amusements too like Christmas cookie-baking workshops, choirs and exhibitions.
Nearby is the Christmas village on Maria-Theresien-Platz between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natura History Museum. There are more than 60 stands selling traditional handicrafts.
More information: Christkindlmarkt
Hotels in Vienna
Flights to Vienna
Which one of these 13 European Christmas Markets did you visit? Which would you recommend the most?Show Images