It's that time of year again when everyone is thinking about what to buy their loved ones for Christmas, but how about ditching the high street this year for a more authentic Christmas shopping experience?
Europe, in particular, boasts some of the most traditional and festive markets in the world, where you can pick up a whole host of unique goodies, from decorations, candles, woodcarvings and handmade gifts to tasty treats and festive tipples. Here is our definitive guide to some of the best Christmas markets around Europe:
The Cologne Christmas market
Germany, in particular, really knows how to do the Christmas market right, and The Cologne market is one of its largest - enticing over a million visitors every year. The market is split up into six sections, each with a slightly different ambience. A favorite is the Cathedral market which is set against the dramatic backdrop of Cologne's gothic cathedral. Here you can see artisans at work and choose from a variety of sweet delicacies or warming mulled wine.
Schonbrunn Palace Market
Vienna's Schonbrunn Palace Christmas Market allows you to fully immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit. Positioned in a UNESCO World Heritage site, the 14th century monument comes alive with festive cheer every year. Visitors can pick through hundreds of handmade Austrian gifts and meander through the endless exhibitors selling Christmas themed goods to the delightful sound of carol singing. To complete the festive atmosphere, sample some locally produced Christmas cake or enjoy the warming scent of gluhwein (hot spiced wine). Kids will also be entertained by special weekend activities which include games and cookie decorating classes.
Brussels Winter Wonderland
Located on the festively decorated Place Sainte Catherine, this fantastic Christmas market comes alive with a diverse array of stalls and mouth-watering aromas each year. One of the best features is the ice skating rink which this year will even be extended for the use of toddlers who can join in on the fun.
Tivoli Christmas Market
Set up in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens, this merry market offers a multitude of sweetmeats, Danish specialties and seasonal handicrafts, as well as a buzzing ice-skating rink. Children particularly love it for its costumed characters which include Father Christmas and his litter of leprechauns, along with the time-honored amusement park which is festively transformed into a Yuletide Paradise. Check out the charming 150-year-old double-decker merry-go-round which is the oldest carousel of its kind in the world.
Piazza Navona Christmas Market
Rome's Piazza Navona is home to one of Europe's most popular Christmas markets every December. Choose from sweets, candies, liquorice, sugared apples, chestnuts and the famous torrone (an Italian nougat cake). Yum!
Prague Christmas Market
The Old Town Square is transformed into a winter wonderland every year with various Christmas markets selling a whole host of Czech specialties. The stalls are perfect for stocking fillers, selling goods such as scented candles, traditional puppets, Bohemian Crystal and wooden toys to hand-made jewellery and ceramic mugs. There is also plenty of hot food on offer (corn on the cob, sausages and local delicacies), as well as local beers and warm drinks. A huge spectacle is the gigantic tree which is shipped from the Krkonose mountains in the North of the Czech Republic, and then heavily draped in a blaze of twinkling lights for all to admire. Stunning!
Strasbourg Christmas Market
As the biggest Christmas market in France, you can be guaranteed plenty of Yuletide cheer in this opulent Cathedral market, which incredibly has been going from strength to strength since 1570! Visitors should make sure they check out the Bredle Market where they can take home some traditional French 'Bredle' cake which is customarily prepared during the advent period.
Belfast Christmas Continental Market
Every December, Belfast's City Hall gardens are magically transformed into a lively alpine village which offers a novel European shopping experience for its visitors, complete with an authentic Irish welcome. You can take home everything from quaint crafts, handmade gifts and delicious food to traditional Irish ale.
As always if you know of any more Christmas markets we can add to the list then let us know in the comments below..
Manchester Christmas Market
A little bit closer to home for us is Manchester, thanks Rick! This year’s Christmas markets in Manchester are spread over five locations with Albert Square being the main on. This year they are running from the 18th November till the 21st of December, so go and visit to sample some of Europe’s tastiest Christmas treats!
We have another three suggestions to the list now from Barbara! All close to Montreal in Canada.
Marché de Noël Féerique, Abbaye d’Oka
The Marché de Noël Féerique à l’Abbaye d’Oka opened on December 4th and lasts until December 23rd. During this time Christmas stalls can be found in the barn selling food and crafts. There are also a number of concerts that take place in the abbey featuring opera singers and harpists.
Marchés de Noël Joliette-Lanaudière, Place Bourget, Joliette
The highlight of Marchés de Noël Joliette-Lanaudière is when the visitors get to try the giant ginger cake baked by a local hotel. The cake has three layers, making it 20 inches tall!
Marché de Noël et des Traditions de Longueuil, St. Mark Park, Longueuil
This Christmas market is one for the foodies! It involves local chefs handing out recipes showing you how to cook Christmas treats and cooking demonstrations are also held by celebrity chefs!
Munich Christmas Market
The Munich Christmas market is one of the oldest around as it has been going on since the 14th century! The gifts on sale at this market are very traditional and include gingerbread, wax candles and glassware. There is also a mini Christmas music concert held every day from the balcony of the town hall!
As Christine mentioned this year is the Dresdner Striezelmarkt’s 575th year! In November they opened the world’s largest Christmas arch which will be entering the Guinness Book of World Records. The new Christmas arch means that visitors can take great pictures of the Strezelmarkt!
The name of this Christmas market translates to “Little Town from Wood and Cloth”, it is one of the prettiest Christmas markets around. Every year a competition is held between the stall holders for the most beautiful stall design, the prizes include gold, silver and bronze “plum people” (little figures).
Aachen Christmas Market
During the 20th November till the 23rd December the streets of Aachen are transformed into a sea of lights for their Christmas market. Some of the Christmas food traditions in Aachen include potato fritters, printen (soft gingerbread) and spekulatius (cinnamon, almond and ginger butter cookies)!
Goslar Christmas Market
Every year people travel to the Goslar Christmas market to see the Christmas Forest on Schuhhof, where over 30 fir trees are decorated with fairy lights - it’s such a beautiful sight that it really does get everyone in the Christmas spirit!
Graz Christmas Market
The Graz Christmas market is most famous for its giant advent calendar that is projected onto the front of the City Hall. Another great site to see in this Christmas Market is the giant nativity scene constructed out of 50 tons of ice!