Discover five top European Christmas markets

Experience magical sights and sounds this festive season

Marcus Webb – Virgin Money Living Mentor

by Marcus Webb | Independent Money Mentor

Editor of Delayed Gratification and independent journalist

Nothing brings the seasonal glow quite like a Christmas market. Whether you’re looking for festive food, unique decorations, stocking fillers like no other or just want to throw yourself into another country’s traditions, you can find all you want for Christmas at one of Europe’s markets. Here’s our pick of the very best. 

1. Bath

22nd November to 9th December 2018

With its Georgian architecture, cobbled streets and twinkling lights, Bath starts to feel Christmassy from the moment the clocks go back. But come 22nd November things really kick up a festive gear when wooden chalets and the smell of mulled wine fill the courtyard between the imposing Abbey and the perma-steaming Roman Baths. This year’s market promises to be bigger than ever, expanding up Milson Street, the city’s main thoroughfare. If you want a guaranteed warm glow, plan your trip to coincide with the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah in the Abbey on 7th or 8th December. You’ll need to book ahead, but an afternoon spent wandering round the market followed by an evening of soaring solos will inject some old-school Christmas joy into hearts of any age.

2. Cologne

26th November to 23rd December 2018

In November Cologne becomes a whirlwind of lights, cinnamon-scented steam and rosy-cheeked locals and tourists as it turns into Christmas city. There are seven separate Christmas markets in Cologne: the oldest, the Markt der Engel (Angel Market), is a joyous festival-like affair that takes over Neumarkt, the city’s main shopping square. With people more interested in eating, drinking and socialising than actually buying anything, it harks back to a time when Christmas was to be celebrated, not just consumed.

3. Copenhagen

17th November to 31st December 2018

For those sick of their dreams of a white Christmas being dashed by uncooperative cold fronts, Copenhagen is the place to get your Yuletide kicks. The city is a snowy wonderland come mid-November when the central Tivoli Gardens are transformed into a Christmas grotto inhabited by hundreds of nisser (Danish Christmas pixies). Food and drink highlights among the 60 cosy booths include flæskesteg (roast pork) and gløgg, the Danish take on mulled wine which sees red vino, brandy and sherry warmed up with cloves and cinnamon before being served with slivered almonds and raisins. There are also stalls selling impeccably cool Scandinavian decorations, an ice rink and even a rollercoaster (which is best enjoyed pre-gløgg). This year’s highlight promises to be a special ballet performance of the Nutcracker, with the set and costume designed by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe.

4. Prague

1st December 2018 to 6th January 2019

Held on Wenceslas Square (as in Good King…), Prague’s Christmas credentials are second to none. The setting is about more than name-dropping though, since this is a beautiful corner of the city and throughout the market the stunning architecture is illuminated by a dazzling light display. Stalls are geared more towards food and drink than gifts and decoration, with tubs of carp – a traditional Czech Christmas dish – being pored over by locals and given a wide berth by most tourists. The steaming mugs of grog and honey appeal to both groups though, and may be responsible for the gusto of the Czech carols which can be heard echoing around the square.

5. Vienna, Austria

16th November to 26th December 2018

Vienna throws itself into Christmas with all the enthusiasm of a particularly excitable elf. The city has more than 20 Christmas markets to choose from, making it one of the few cities where you can pull off a legitimate Christmas crawl. The star of the lot is the Wiener Weihnachtstraum Christkindlmarkt, which holds court on Rathausplatz in front of City Hall from 16th November. There are over 150 stalls, a reindeer train and a gigantic 3,000 m² fairy-tale ice rink. It is music that really makes a Viennese Christmas special though, and with gospel choirs in the squares and candlelight concerts in the surrounding buildings you can feast on the food of love.   

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