Take a chocolate-box setting, add tooth-cracking pastries and turn up the novelty tunes for the best reason to leave home when the nights are 16 hours long. Christmas markets are the lifeblood (with an especially high alcohol content) of European towns and cities come winter. You could be sampling pralines from a 500-year-old shop in Bruges, or sipping manzanilla sherry in Seville as a snow machine triggers flurries overhead. November is cheaper than January (when some countries gear up for Epiphany), should you already intend to splash the cash on stocking fillers and gifts. So read on to get inspired by our pick of Europe’s best Christmas markets.
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The best Christmas markets in Europe
Good for: a huge tree
Photograph the gabled buildings of Town Hall Square while you can. After the sun goes down and the lights blink on at 3pm, it’s all about the massive Nordic tree, a feature since 1441 – years before any other European nation began putting them up. Between hot wine, Baltic cheese and the traditional black pudding with sauerkraut, you can pay a visit to Santa positioned fireside in his plush grotto. Bonus twofer: hop the No 19 ferry at the port and you could be at Helsinki’s Christmas market in Senate Square within two hours.
Raekoja Plats, 10146 Tallinn. Nov 15-Jan 7. Daily 10am-7pm.
Good for: a funfair
For a seven-week stretch, Copenhagen’s most fashionable fairground becomes a carnival with Hans Christian Andersen-themed funfair rides and nightly tree-lighting ceremonies. Get your glögg from candlelit wine bar Nimb and your traditional apple-filled æbleskiver donuts from the Waffle Bakery. If Copenhagen’s traditional cabbage-stuffed pork sandwiches aren’t your thing, a new gourmet food hall offers burgers, pizza, tacos and Chinese street food.
Vesterbrogade 3, Copenhagen. Nov 16-Jan 5. Sun-Thu 11am-11pm; Fri-Sat 11am-midnight.
Good for: fairytale vibes
Wood-cabin stalls fill Simon Stevinplein square, set between medieval townhouses that look like they’re straight from a picture book. Bop to the strains of europop as you shop for crystal ornaments, hand-knitted woollies and waxy cheese. The kiosks facing Steenstraat offer tasters of jenever gin and waffles drowned in whipped cream. Or warm up with deep, steaming bowls of mussels and Flemish chicken stew at nearby bistro Poules Moules.
Simon Stevinplein, 8000 Bruges. Nov 22-Jan 5. Mon-Thu 11am-8pm; Fri-Sun 11am-10pm.
Good for: snacks
The wooden kiosks go up at Münsterplatz, a cobbled town square facing the baroque cathedral where ninth-century King Charlemagne is buried. This is one of the nearest European markets to London – accessible in less than four hours by train from St Pancras – and it specialises in a distinctive anise-flavoured gingerbread called printen. Vendors also dish up mulled-wine-flavoured candy and a crisp-edged potato fritter called kartoffelpuffer that gives a latke a run for its money.
Münsterplatz, 52062 Aachen. Nov 22-Dec 23. Daily 11am-9pm (December 22-23, 11am-8pm).
Good for: choice
Colmar’s sixteenth-century half-timbered streets already deliver a fairytale vibe. But with six Christmas markets taking over virtually the entire town, it’s like a nativity scene come to life. Artisan huts strung with lights and stocked with Alsatian crafts cluster around the Gothic Dominican church, the medieval Maison Pfister and Colmar’s own Little Venice canal district. Don’t miss spiced vin chaud at the market in Place Jeanne d’Arc.
Various locations, Colmar. Nov 22-Dec 29. Mon-Thu 10am-7pm; Fri-Sun 10am-8pm.
Good for: shops
When the steam from a dozen kielbasa grills dissipates, get a good look at the medieval city walls, the ombré-effect brick tower and the enormous Renaissance bulk of the Cloth Hall. In the midst of Krakow’s treasures, sellers put out kitsch displays of glass baubles, ceramic figurines, furry hats and a thousand flashing gadgets. All the while, white horses and their carriages stand by to whisk you around town.
Rynec Glowny, Krakow. Nov 29-Jan 7. Daily 10am-8pm.
Good for: tipples
The ornate spire of Nuremberg’s Schöner fountain overlooks a market square fragrant with gingerbread (and bratwurst, the city’s most famous culinary export). Families pitch up on Saint Nicholas Day (December 6) to pose for photos with golden-haired ‘angels’ who work the crowds. After hours, the grown-ups prop up the bar with take-home mugs of glühwein and the local smoked beer.
Hauptmarkt, 90403 Nuremberg. Nov 29-Dec 24. Mon-Sun 10am-9pm (Christmas Eve 10am-2pm).
Good for: sunshine
Jesus wouldn’t have wanted you to freeze your whatsits off in his name. In Andalusia, where temperatures hover in the mid teens winter-long, you can skate round an ‘ice rink’ beneath palm trees dusted with fake snow, or ride a camel down Avenida de la Constitución to view the famously elaborate nativity scenes. Locals make the pilgrimage between December 6 and 8 to see musicians serenade the Virgin Mary at the cathedral, with the Moorish Giralda tower in the background.
Plaza Nueva, 41001 Seville. Dec 17-Jan 5. Mon-Sun 11am-3pm and 5pm-9pm.
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