Experience a white Christmas and swap the sizzling summer heat for snowflakes and mulled wine with a European Yuletide.
One of the great features of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas are the iconic Christmas markets that are found throughout Europe - from the Nordic realms of Copenhagen to the Mediterranean areas of Spain and Portugal, those Europeans really know how to embrace the festive spirit. We have selected the top ten that will have you soaking up all of the very best of European Festive tradtions, plus help you to get your Christmas list ticked off with a whole host of thoughtful gifts that can only be purchased at these very special markets - you are sure to be the envy of all your friends and family.
1. Barcelona - Fira de Santa Llúcia
For markets with a little history head to Fira de Santa Llúcia in Barcelona that date all the way back to 1786. Its origins relate back to the one-day celebration of the feast day of Santa Llúcia on December 13. Since that time it has developed into a three-week Christmas market extravaganza. Located in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, the market has over 300 stalls selling everything from Christmas decorations, trees and nativity figurines to musical instruments, handmade puppets and hand crafted jewelry.
The festivities begin on November 24, finishing December 23 with an enormous piñata-style Christmas log that, after being struck with a stick, spills out colourful sweets and small gifts.
2. Dresden – for the Striezelmarkt
Another Christmas market with an impressive vintage is the Striezelmarkt that has been a fixture in Dresden since 1434. If your friends describe you as a Christmas devotee, then you’ll love Dresden.
From late November to Christmas Eve each year this is Christmas market central, with a grand total of eleven quite different Christmas markets that cover a range of themes - from the Dark Ages to the après ski charm of alpine huts. You will be able to gather up bespoke gifts that are sure to suit a broad range of tastes.
Strasbourg, in eastern France, is home to one of France's oldest Christmas markets, with the first one held in 1570. Today there are 10 locations with 300 stalls, so allow a few days to enjoy the end-of-year festivities, purchasing decorations and presents and sampling the delicious local wine.
Be sure to explore Strasbourg's narrow alleyways and beautiful squares, and visitors should to head to Place Kleber, where they'll find the Great Christmas Tree – well worth the detour.
Good King Wenceslas (and you will be humming this all day) had a square named after him in Prague where one of Europe’s top festive markets takes place. The beautiful city of Prague has two main Christmas markets, one in Old Town Square and the other in Wenceslas Square. Only five minutes' walk from each other they both stock a lot of the familiar Central European market gifts, but it is the Czech dining treats that are the real stand out.
Visitors can sample the local klobása (Czech sausage) over lunch and combine with it a Pilsner, before settling down with a mulled wine for the main tree to be lit up on Old Town Square. Both markets have the added bonus that they are open every day over the festive period until January 6.
The Austrian capital's first Christmas Market was held in 1298 and today the city has more than 20 events to choose from. For first timers, though, head to the main Viennese Christmas Market, which takes place in front of City Hall. It runs until Christmas Eve, with 151 stalls serving everything from Christmas punch to authentic Austrian sausages. To enhance the winter Yuletide feel, there's a large ice-skating rink, reindeer rides and a classic nativity scene.
Located in the city centre is Belvedere Palace that hosts a Christmas village with more than 40 stalls selling traditional handicrafts and decorations, and Schönbrunn Palace has even more stalls along with, you guessed it, warm mulled wine.
There is no mistaking that it’s Christmas come December in front of Budapest’s grandest cathedral during the annual Advent Feast at the Basilica. This market features a huge range of mouthwatering Hungarian and international cuisine. In adddition to the more typical Central European holiday traditions, the markets have included in recent years more modern elements such as flash mobs, a wide range of the best Hungarian contemporary hand-craft products - plus light shows held each evening with 3D glasses give the façade of St. Stephen’s Basilica a more 21st Century perspective.
Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark with its fairground rides and warren of shops and stalls, is a year-round destination but truly comes alive with Christmas each December. As well as the usual stands selling Christmas decorations and nibbles, there are three different light shows which take place in the park, as well as a traditional Pixie Band playing festive songs at various points around the site.
Copenhagen maintains its reputation as a true design city, so you'll find no tacky gifts here. Instead shop for beautifully knitted crafts, fine leather goods and chic Christmas decorations. Check out the market down at the harbour in Nyhavn too, for Danish specialities and plenty of mulled wine.
Albeit small, Tallinn’s Christmas market is located in the centre of the UNESCO-listed old town square. The market stays open well into the New Year because the Russian Orthodox Church designates Christmas Day to fall on 7th January. Visitors can imbibe in plenty of mulled wine and gingerbread whilst picking up some local handicrafts and sampling some of the traditional festive delicacies on offer. There’s a merry-go-round for the kids, and the town square stage hosts folk dancing and choir singing to complete the scene.
Advent in Zagreb has been voted the "best Christmas market destination" for two years running. And for good reason - located on the streets surrounding Jelacic Square, there are numerous attractions on offer that include an ice rink, live ice sculpture carvings, pop-up bars, street food stands and outdoor music stages.
Yuletide revellers can also enjoy the Jolly Christmas Tram cruises through the city centre where passengers are accompanied by Santa and his elves - this is an added bonus for lovers of all things Christmasey.
10. Brussels, Belgium
With over 250 chalets selling all manner of seasonal souvenirs, plus a fairground and a stellar array of Christmas lights, Brussels Christmas market is Belgium’s biggest and an absolute Nirvana for Christmas shoppers. By the fairytale lights on the Ferris wheel and in the close proximity of the vast Christmas tree – soak up the joyful atmosphere and stock up on delicious Belgian chocolates and creative gifts with an eco-friendly slant.
All images courtesy of Getty.