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They say that Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, so why not celebrate it in style at one of Europe’s traditional Christmas markets? Now, I’m not adverse to spending the holidays on the beach (I’m from the Bahamas, after all) but if you truly want to get into the Christmas spirit, Europe is the place to go. The Europeans really go all out when it comes to Christmas festivals, and the cold weather makes it feel especially magical. The twinkling lights, cheerful music and sugary treats will charm even the staunchest of Scrooges, which is why I’ve compiled a list of the best Christmas markets in Europe to help you get in the holiday spirit.
Cologne’s oldest (and arguably best) Christmas market feels like a festive fantasy come to life. Angels wander between the gingerbread-like stalls and fairy lights cover virtually every surface. Make sure to treat yourself to a warming cup of hot chocolate – it’s thick, rich and totally out-of-this-world.
Dates: 25 November – 23 December
Another of Cologne’s incredible Christmas markets, Heinzel’s is perfect for families with children – not least because there’s a post office where they can mail their letters to Santa. There’s a beautiful ice rink to enjoy and you can watch artisans crafting their wares as you wander around this winter wonderland.
Dates: 25 November – 23 December
It’s easy to get into the Christmas spirit at Salzburg Advent Market. This chocolate-box city is the home of none other than legendary Austrian composer Wolfgang Mozart. On top of that, The Sound of Music is set here – both the real-life story and the movie version. Salzburg’s advent market is one of the oldest in the world and it feels very authentic rather than gimmicky. Each stall sells a fairly small range of carefully selected handmade goods and there’s a wholesome, family feel to it all.
On Tuesday evenings, visitors can enjoy a carol singalong session and a brass band plays every Thursday and Saturday at 6.30pm. Perhaps the highlight of the market, however, is the Krampus run which takes place in early December – exact dates may vary from year to year.
Krampus is essentially a Christmas demon. He’s the bad guy of the festive season, who punishes the naughty children in all sorts of evil ways. Basically, he’s the anti-Claus. Each year, people don Krampus costumes and charge around the city – all in good fun, of course. There are several Krampus runs across central Europe, but Salzburg’s version is perhaps the most popular.
Dates: 19 November – 26 December
Budapest is a beautiful city to spend Christmas in, not least because its legendary Vorosmarty market is so spectacular. There are over 100 adorably festive lodge-like stalls to explore. The market is also a fantastic place to discover traditional Hungarian cuisine. From goulash to strudel and clay-baked flat bread, you’ll find plenty of delicious, hearty food to fill up on. On the centre stage, there’s an array of entertainment to enjoy including folk, jazz and blues performances. As we get older, Christmas often loses that magical feeling it once had. I promise you, this market will help you recreate that childlike sense of holiday wonder.
Dates: 6 November – 1 January
Prague is a postcard-perfect city at any time of year and the holidays take it to a whole new level. The bustling Old Town Square market is a visual feast, with lots of live performances, hand-crafted gifts and decorations. Temperatures get pretty cold, so it’s worth trying a warming cup of Grog, which consists of Czech rum, lemon and sugar.
Dates: 28 November – 6 January
There’s no denying that the French have got style and that’s particularly evident at this wonderfully tasteful advent market. Strasbourg Christmas Market is the oldest in the country, dating back all the way to 1570. As you’d expect, this market is rich in tradition. It consists of five smaller markets which are as follows:
Dates: 20 November – 30 December
Tivoli Gardens is a theme park in Copenhagen that’s believed to have been the inspiration for Disneyland. It’s a pretty magical place to visit at any time of the year but the holiday season is truly sensational. The Gardens are decorated with over 1,000 Christmas trees and a whopping 70,000 baubles. There are light shows, live performances and best of all, you can visit Santa and his reindeer. The usual rides are in operation, so you’ll have the chance to ride one of the world’s oldest roller coasters.
Dates: 13 November – 3 January
Estonia’s medieval capital city is the perfect backdrop for a charming Christmas market. If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll absolutely adore this one. It’s got a myriad of nostalgic European pastries, hard candies and gingerbread creations to enjoy. This is also one of the most affordable Christmas markets to visit thanks to Estonia’s low cost of living. It also won the title of Europe’s Best Christmas Market in 2019.
Dates: 15 November – 7 January
You’ve probably been waiting for me to spill the tea on Europe’s most overrated Christmas market, so here it is: Winter Wonderland in London’s Hyde Park.
London is a fantastic city but its annual Winter Wonderland festival feels like a cheap imitation of the Christmas markets listed above. It’s overpriced, overcrowded and on the whole just feels like one big gimmick. There are many luxurious experiences to enjoy in London, and Winter Wonderland just isn’t one of them.
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