9 of The Most Magical Christmas Markets in Europe

OK, I'm going to go ahead and do this, brace yourselves!  Christmas.  Not much more than 100 days to go, the toy adverts are upping their pace on TV, and the weather might even have decided its autumn already.  The holidays are coming as a certain soft drink manufacturer tells us.  If you really want to get in the festive spirit this year, why not book a trip to one of Europe's most magical Christmas markets?

Mulled wine, roasting chestnuts, spiced sugary cookies, a nip in the air, hot chocolate, ice skating, and even some snow maybe.  You'll come back full of the Christmas spirit and stocked up with wonderful gifts and unusual decorations.  Just remember to take an empty suitcase for all those must-haves, and pack your EHIC card in case of any icy slips!

So, where should you go?

Zagreb, Croatia

Advent in Zagreb is regularly voted the best Christmas market destination by visitors, and with good reason.  It has a delightful festive atmosphere and a real laidback festive feel.  It's great value too.

Centred around Jelacic Square, the nearby streets are host to a wide variety of attractions and entertainments, including outdoor music performances, live ice carving demonstrations, pop-up bars and street food offerings, and an ice rink.  There is even an area dedicated to fuliranje (fooling around) where revelers can dance in the street and eat and drink to their heart's content.

The shopping includes good quality crafts, delicious sweets, and great coffee.  Do not miss a ride on the incredible Jolly Christmas Tram where kids of all ages get to ride through the city centre with Santa and his elves.

Vienna, Austria

Think of Christmas markets and Vienna is sure to be one of the images you conjure up.  A huge ice skating rink, endless Gluhwein and hot chocolate, and carved wooden delights everywhere, not to mention all the wonderful gifts you can bring back - and the ubiquitous Sachertorte and schnapps, of course.

Vienna is a city that wraps itself in festive spirit and carries its cloak well, from cosy coffee houses to open air spectacles, it's Christmas all the way.  Vienna's traditional Christmas markets have a history of more than 700 years, so they certainly know what they are doing.  It's almost as if the whole city transforms itself into a giant Christmas market for a few weeks.  Austrian Christmas markets are just wonderful, always our favourite.

Start with the glorious Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall, and work your way some of the other 20 markets if you have time.  The markets at the Belvedere and Schönbrunn Palaces are highly recommended, as is the smaller Spittelberg Christmas Market in the cobbled streets near the Museumsquartier, which has a friendly atmosphere and more artisan craft stalls.

At the Viennese Market you will find more than 150 stalls with carved gifts and tree decorations, Christmas foods and drinks, that huge ice rink, a delightful Nativity, and entertainment for the children including a wonderful carousel and the opportunity to make their own Christmas cookies.

Barcelona, Spain

Perhaps not the first city you think of for Christmas shopping, but southern Europe goes big on Advent too, especially the Catholic countries of Spain and Italy.  The Fira de Santa Llúcia, which  dates back to 1786, is a three week market held in front of Barcelona Cathedral (Gothic not Gaudi) every year.  Don't miss the caga tio, a kind of piñata-style Christmas log containing sweets and gifts.

With more than 300 stalls selling handmade puppets, jewellery, musical instruments, Christmas decorations and miniature trees, and beautiful nativity figurines, there will be something for everyone on your list.  Not to mention the usual wonders of Barcelona shopping such as antique jewellery and art-related paraphernalia.  And don't forget to sample lots of churros, the perfect chocolatey treat for Christmas or any time!

Strasbourg, France

If you fancy a nice, easy Eurostar trip, Strasbourg is the market for you.  One of the oldest Christmas markets, Christkindelsmärik dates from 1570.  Nowadays there are 10 locations across the beautiful medieval city with more than 300 stalls.

Traditional charm abounds across the city with half-timbered houses bedecked in giant red and white hearts, and cobbled streets garlanded with stars, angels and snowflakes.  There are also delights such as a Living Nativity, concerts and plenty of  cultural events to entertain you.

Sample bredele, a festive biscuit flavoured with orange or cinnamon, and perfect for extra Christmas decorations to hang on the tree back home, or attach to a Christmas stocking.  Expect to find beautiful decorations and gifts, Belgian chocolates, an amazing towering Christmas tree in Place Kleber, a network of delightful narrow alleyways and squares to get lost in, pretzels and plenty of delicious Alsatian wine.  Strasbourg's Christmas illuminations are amongst the best in the world, so do linger and enjoy.

Krakow, Poland

If you would like a more simple market, perhaps like they used to be before they became a 'thing', head to Krakow.  This simpler offering has all the hustle and bustle, plenty of festive cheer and treats, but also cheap antiques and amazing ephemera and bric-a-brac.  You're very likely to get some much-wished for snow too, making it all even more magical.

Local specialities at the market Rynek Glowny, the city's huge 13th-century main square, include sweets, nuts, candies, grzaniec galicyjski (mulled wine), sausages, oscypek mountain cheese, knitted slippers and stunningly beautiful hand-painted Christmas baubles.

Prague, Czech Republic

With its main square sharing its name with a Christmas carol, Prague is a city that takes Christmas seriously.  The wonderful Christmas markets on Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square in the city centre are open every day over the holidays right up to Epiphany, including Christmas Day itself.  If you fancy Christmas away this year, Prague could be the perfect destination.

This compact capital has much to offer, with its romantic credentials rivaling those of Paris.  It also offers something a bit different to the other European markets with Czech treats such as klobása (barbecued sausage), Trdelnik (a hot sugar-coated cake) and Pilsner Urquell instead of the usual festive fare.  They still have mulled wine though - phew.

Don't miss the lovely nativity scene and beautiful Christmas tree in Old Town Square, then head towards Wenceslas Square.  Stop at red-canopied wooden huts to buy wooden toys, glassware, embroidered lace and traditional Christmas decorations.  The Czech glass baubles and ornaments are renowned for their  quality and beauty and will be a souvenir to treasure for years to come.  In the evening, visit the Charles Bridge and don't forget the stunning castle.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is home to no less than 12 Christmas markets, but it's the Gendarmenmarkt which beats them all.  Set against the imposing background of the Deutscher and Französischer Doms, the incongruous traditional wooden huts offer welcoming Gluhwein and sausage before you hit the vast craft tents.

Crafts offered include carved wooden animals, decorations, paintings, and a host of unusual and different presents - I told you that empty suitcase was a must!  The shopping is definitely amongst the best available.  Take your purchases back to the hotel and head back for dinner and drinks while you browse some more and listen to the excellent nightly concerts featuring choirs, jazz and more.

Florence, Italy

If you fancy something a bit different, but with the German touches we have all come to know and love such as gingerbread, Gluhwein and strudel, head to Florence.  Held in the spectacular Piazza Santa Croce with the Franciscan Basilica as its backdrop, this smaller market has around 50 stalls of Italian - and German - delights.

Perfect for Italian foodie treats, stocking fillers and more unusual gifts, it is less commercial and more local than many of the bigger markets.  For added festive flurry, and to perhaps remember what it's all really about, time your visit for the nativity scene and the lighting of the tree in Piazza del Duomo on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Brussels, Belgium

With a gorgeous, lavishly decorated Christmas tree, magical light and sound show, a festive parade, ice rink, Ferris wheel, toboggan runs, and traditional carousels, Brussels has everything you want in a Christmas market.  Plus it's a nice, easy trip for those of us in the UK.

250 stalls along a 2km stretch offer all kinds of gifts, decorations and souvenirs, with the ever-present aroma of chocolate urging you on.  You'll find plenty of delicious Belgian chocolate to fill stockings, gift bags and grace your festive table, as well as some more unusual eco-conscious gifts.

A great first market to visit, or perfect for those travelling with children, Brussels has everything you need and then some.  Gingerbread, chocolates, crepes, frites, mulled wine, beer, hot chocolate, wine, and just as much variety in the shopping.  It's definitely one to add to your must-visit list.

Wherever you chose to visit, prepare yourself for the aroma of pine, the sound of carols and sleigh bells, and a treat fro all the senses.  Europe's Christmas markets are truly magical and the perfect way to get into the Christmas spirit.  And, if you can't venture abroad this year, check what's on in the nearest city to you, or treat yourselves to a trip to London's Winter Wonderland.

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