Forget your local high street this Christmas and make your way to one of Europe’s fabulous Christmas markets. Mingle with the locals and meander through the festive stalls, tippling on mulled wine while Christmas carols singers serenade you.
So squeeze in a mini festive break now and come home with some unusual goodies and prezzies.
1Montepulciano Christmas Market, Tuscany, Italy
The Medieval hilltop town of Montepulciano in Tuscany hosts a free-to-enter Christmas Market every year starting in November. Located in the Piazza Grande and the neighbouring streets, there are more than 70 wooden huts selling traditional crafts, sweet treats, leather goods and Christmas decorations. The market, which overlooks the cultivated hills of Val D’Orcia, also has a carousel and mini ranch with ponies.
Nearby the Poliziana Fortress has been transformed into the Castle of Santa Claus. Children can visit Santa and participate in activities and interactive shows. There is also an ice skating rink in the fortress garden.
When: On certain dates from Saturday 17 November 2018 to Sunday 06 January 2019 (for a full list of dates click here). The market is open from 10:30 to 19:30.
Where to stay: Just a 20-minute drive from Montepulciano is the independent holiday getaway of Cignella. The former Tuscan farmhouse is hosting a special Christmas offer: A three-night half board stay in a double room, with a Christmas themed hamper in your room on arrival and prosecco breakfasts each morning. For just €250 per person only.
2Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market, UK
Winchester Christmas Market attracts more than 400,000 visitors a year and is brimming with festive cheer. Overlooking Winchester Cathedral, the market has more than 100 chalets selling such festive delights as mulled wine, bratwurst, mince pies and stolen. The cathedral is lit up after twilight and casts a beautiful glow over the market. There will also be an open-air ice rink with a huge Christmas tree in the centre.
Be sure to check out the Christmas events in the cathedral including a Christmas Lantern Parade and carol concert.
When: Saturday 17 November to Thursday 20 December 2018
3Tallinn Christmas Market, Estonia
The historic Old Town transforms into a shopping haven where you can buy traditional Estonian food and handicrafts, toys and hand-made 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, 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.
When: Friday 16 November 2018 to Monday 07 January 2019 from 10:00-20:00
4Striezelmarkt, Dresden, Germany
Probably the oldest Christmas Market in Germany, the Striezelmarkt (from the word Striezel meaning long, plaited bun), 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 around four tonnes and 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.
When: Thursday 29 to Monday 24 December 2018 from 10:00-21:00
5Tuomaan Markkinat, Helsinki, Finland
Finns love to celebrate Christmas and Tuomaan Markkinat is the oldest and largest event of its kind in Helsinki. There is also a very good chance the whole of the city will be covered in a thick blanket of snow while twinkling lights float above Aleksanterinkatu, Helsinki’s official Christmas street. The lights are a long-standing tradition that first began in 1949 to signify hope after World War Two. The market is located in Senate Square and is a place to purchase beautifully crafted gifts as well as locally-grown produce, fish, meats and prepared foods. There is also a traditional merry-go-round that provides free rides for children.
When: Saturday 01 to Saturday 22 December 2018
6Geneva Christmas Market, Switzerland
The Christmas Village in the Parc des Bastions consists of a whopping 8,000sq.m of Swiss yuletide cheer. Traditional wooden chalets serve up local specialities such as raclette and apple strudel, or if you’re feeling fancy a luxurious lobster roll. As well as food stalls there will be a fondue restaurant with 150 seats (best booked in advance). If you fancy a mulled wine, there is a special lounge bar serving up a range of Christmas tipples.
For kids and young at heart there’s an ice skating rink, carousel and kids Chalet which hosts a range of stories and festive workshops.
When: Thursday 06 December to Monday 31 December 2018. For a full list of times click here.
7Vienna Christmas Market, Austria
With over a million visitors a year Vienna Christmas Market on Rathausplatz is probably the most popular Christmas market in Europe. More than 100 stalls make up a motley mix of gift ideas from candied fruit, arts and crafts, scented beeswax candles. In Austria, it’s all about baked apples and roasted chestnuts. Nosh these down with a mug of Gluhwein while listening to the chorus of trumpeters to really get into the mood.
Nearby is the Christmas village on Maria-Theresien-Platz between the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum. There are more than 60 stands selling traditional handicrafts.
When: Vienna Christmas Market on Rathausplatz is open from Saturday 17 November to Wednesday 26 December 2018. The Christmas village is open from Friday 23 November to Sunday 23 December 2018.
8Lille Christmas Market, France
In the run-up to Christmas, Lille dazzles with colours and lights. Ninety wooden chalet style 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 fair, is a big Ferris wheel that gives a birds’ eye view over the city and there’s always a merry-go-round dancing to the sounds of Noel.
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).
When: 23 November to Sunday 30 December 2018
9Brussels Christmas Market
If you love Belgian chocolate and are up for trying regional goodies such 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 and enjoy gliding around the ice rink located on the Place de la Monnaie. There will also be a Christmas tree and light and sound show on the Grand-Place.
When: Friday 30 November 2018 to Sunday 6 January 2019
10Tivoli Christmas Market, 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 porcelain 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 a cozy Christmas bazaar complete with a smiley Father Christmas.
When: Saturday 17 November to Monday 31 December 2018
This article was sponsored by Cignella