‘Tis the season to deck the halls with boughs of holly, roast some chestnuts on an open fire and go walking in a winter wonderland.
That’s right; it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas. And while the weather outside may indeed be frightful, Europe’s best Christmas markets are incredibly delightful.
So make the Yuletide gay and jingle-bell rock your way to one of these fantastic Christmas markets.
Prague Christmas Market, Czech Republic
Christmas just seems a little bit merrier in Eastern Europe, which might be something to do with how brutally cold it gets.
Regardless, Prague’s Christmas market is unmissable – partly because it’s in the Old Town Square, and no traveller worth their salt is going to miss taking a walk through arguably the most picturesque part of one of Europe’s prettiest cities. The food and drink is hearty and good, the entertainment is lively and usually there is a little petting zoo.
The market is open daily from 30 November 2013 until 12 January 2014, including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Budapest Christmas Fair, Hungary
From mid-November Budapest’s Vörösmarty Square is home to one of Europe’s prettiest markets – a Christmas extravaganza worthy of the little drummer boy himself.
Everything about the Budapest Christmas Fair is utterly perfect. Think cute little cottages decked out with holly, mistletoe and tinsel, music and mulled wine, giant sausages, arts and crafts, and enough Christmas lights to make Clark W Griswold proud.
The market is open daily from 10am-9pm until Christmas Day, after which time its food and drink stalls will reopen from midday on 27 December. Normal service will then recommence until New Year’s Eve when only the food stalls will be open until 4am the next morning.
Hyde Park Winter Wonderland, United Kingdom
London’s take on the classic German-style Christmas market isn’t the prettiest Christmas market in the world but it is one of the busiest.
From 22 November 2013 until 5 January 2014 hundreds of thousands of Londoners and tourists alike will cram into Hyde Park for mulled wine and German sausages, craft stalls, ice-skating and fair-ground rides. In fact, since the annual Christmas festival first began back in 2007 it’s attracted more than 10 million visitors.
It’s easy to see why it’s so popular. There is plenty to see and do and it makes for a fun day out with friends and family. It’s open every day (except Xmas Day) from 10am-10pm. Gates open 22 November at 5pm.
Vienna Christkindlmarkt, Austria
It’s doubtful there is a city in Europe that boasts more Christmas markets than Vienna, as you’ll discover yourself if you visit the city just to see it’s prettiest Christmas market without a plan or a clue what it’s called.
We must have walked around that city for hours looking for the Christmas market at Rathauspark in front of Vienna’s beautiful Town Hall, passing through numerous lovely but smaller Christmas fairs and markets. This one, though, is worth seeking out.
One of the most popular in Europe – and one of the oldest – the market at Rathauspark is stunningly beautiful. Christmas lights hang from trees between rows and rows of little wooden huts selling all manner of tasty treats.
It runs from 16 November to 24 December 2013.
Bratislava Christmas Market, Slovakia
There is no better time to visit the Slovak capital of Bratislava than at Christmas time, when the city’s historic main square is dominated first by a market and then by a street party celebrating the New Year.
The weather is decidedly frosty – it seems as though there is no escaping a white Christmas here – but the atmosphere is warm and inviting, despite most stall vendors having an extremely limited command of the English language. They’re keen to help, though, even if you have to play charades to order a mulled wine or warm apple cider.
The food here is interesting; you’re more likely to find traditional delicacies like sauerkraut soup and “Gypsy Liver” pork burgers than the quarter pounders and churros you’d find in London, say, but that’s half this market’s charm.
The Christmas market in Bratislava starts in November with the switching-on of the city’s Christmas lights and runs right through December.
Bath is one of Great Britain’s prettiest cities – but it’s prettier still over the festive period, when its sparkling Christmas market takes over much of the city centre.
Get into the festive spirit with a couple of mulled wines with your mates, grab a couple of Christmas presents and just enjoy the entertainment. It’s a popular market so you have to expect a fair-sized crowd but don’t let that hold you back. Bath is a lively place to be at Christmas.
The market is due to kick off on 28 November 2013 but you’ll have to get in early because it ends on Sunday 15 December.
As you might be able to tell, I’m a huge fan of Xmas markets! Have I missed out any other great ones? While you’re here, check out the best places to visit in Europe (according to me).