Pottering around Christmas markets is one of the most fun parts of the holiday season and definitely the best way to find unusual and unique gifts.
We've rounded up our favourites for this year both at home in the UK and on our European doorstep.
One of Germany’s biggest and best (two million visitors each winter) boasts 160 stalls spread over seven markets in the shadow of Cologne Cathedral and the largest Christmas tree you’ll probably ever see. Kids will enjoy Alter Markt for its puppet shows, roundabout and Santa’s grotto, while the whole family will want to get involved at Rudolfplatz which, this year, has been transformed into an extraordinary fantasy world of fairytales from the Brothers Grimm. Hunt out festive momentos like nativity figures, nutcrackers, frosted bells and baubles, then warm your hands round a mug of Gluhwein and tuck into Bavarian treats like cinnamon stars, baked apples and gooey pastries.
When: Until Dec 23
This Czech city of a hundred spires really goes to town at Christmas. It’s hard not to feel in a festive mood when you step into The Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square (as in carol Good King Wenceslas) and see the enchanting light display, hear carols and buy a glass of svařák (warm wine) or honey liquor. Stock up on traditional gifts like frankincense, homemade soap and handmade wood toys.
When: Until 12 Jan
More than 80 pretty market stalls selling artisan food, wines and hand-made decorations are dotted around the French city. The main square boasts an 18-metre high Christmas tree and a 50-metre high Ferris Wheel from which you can gaze out at the snow-capped roofs of all those cute gingerbread house stalls. If you want to impress the kids, don’t miss Father Christmas dropping in from the towering belfry of the Chamber of Commerce, which happens on the last Saturday before C-Day.
When: Until 30 Dec
If Christmas markets conjure up images of frosted windows and snowy rooftops, then imagining festivities in this sunny Spanish city is probably quite a leap. But the Fira de Santa Llucia Christmas market has been staged in the city since 1786 and boasts 300 stalls selling nativity scenes, Christmas trees and mistletoe. The indoor market La Boqueria is great for picking up Catalan gifts, the most popular of which is the caganer (crapper), a small figurine crouching over a turd (yes, really).
When: Until 23 Dec
The Austrian Christkindlmarkts date back to 1294, some of the oldest in Europe, and there’s a good chance of snow (yes!). Markets here are as much about socializing as they are buying, so expect mulled wine to be flowing am to pm. At the Rathausplatz Market outside the neo-Gothic city hall (checkout the advent windows) there are 150 stalls laden with decorations, gingerbread and toasted almonds and in Old Vienna you can listen to the advent concert held every day at 4.30pm.
When: Until 24 Dec
The Christmas Market at Winter Wonderland Hyde Park has become a popular winter fixture, with more than 200 wooden chalets selling everything from jewellery to cakes and decorations. There’s also big top shows, an observation wheel and the chance for kids to meet Santa in his grotto between 10am and 6pm (though be warned parents, the queue is very, very long…).
When: Until 5 Jan
A little bit of Germany has come to Leeds this winter in the form of Christkindelmarkt in Millennium Square. Highlights include an (increasingly raucous as the evening lengthens) Bierkeller next to the ice rink, more than 40 wood stalls selling handcrafts and decorations and even an Alp Chalet where you can eat and drink seasonal fare including schnitzels, gingerbread and Gluhwein.
When: until 18 Dec