Rather than battling with frustrated shoppers this Black Friday for your seasonal gift haul, consider a weekend break to one of Europe’s most picturesque Christmas markets: the perfect combination of culture and retail therapy. Here’s our pick of the best.
If you’re not au fait with Zagreb’s Christmas market, it’s time to familiarise yourself: this was voted the best Christmas market in Europe for the third year in a row, according to European Best Destinations, which collated votes from over 131 countries.
What makes Zagreb’s Christmas market so special is the sheer range of festive activities on offer throughout the city. In addition to classic Christmas shopping in Zrinjevac Park, visitors can skate at the Ice Park at King Tomislav Square, sample culinary treats at European Square, watch a live Nativity Scene at Zagreb Cathedral and enjoy a mix of everything at Grič Tunnel. Lights, decorations and open-air entertainment combine to create the ultimate Christmas market experience.
1 December 2018 to 6 January 2019
Located in the historic Old Town, Basel’s Christmas market at Barfüsserplatz includes more than 180 traders selling clothing, food, gifts and traditional festive wares. Kids are well served at the Fairytale Forest on the Münsterplatz, where they can decorate gingerbread, drink hot chocolate, make, pour and decorate candles and bake cookies. And that’s just for starters: foodies can enjoy feasting on Swiss raclette, Basel Läckerli (a kind of gingerbread), glühwein, waffles and sausages.
22 November to 23 December 2018
Visitors to the 46th Aachen Christmas market in Germany will find over 130 stalls selling clothing, soaps, accessories, Christmas decorations and leather goods. Foodies can purchase spices, honey and oils, with carnivores and vegans alike catered for on the food and drink front. Those seeking a more unique Christmas market experience can either watch or participate in the first ever Aachen curling championship, which takes place on 28 November.
23 November to 23 December 2018
Boldly billing itself as ‘The Capital of Christmas’, Strasbourg has long been a popular destination for festive fun. Home to France’s very first Christmas market, back when it was still part of the German Rhineland, Strasbourg now gives over the entirety of its historic centre to seasonal markets each December. At the Christkindelsmärik at Place Broglie, shoppers can browse crafts, regional products and traditional Alsatian Christmas decorations at over 300 wooden chalets. Each year, Strasbourg invites a guest country to participate in the celebrations; 2018 is Iceland’s turn, with an Icelandic village located at Place Gutenberg. As one would expect from a French market, Strasbourg’s includes an extensive food offering, with both traditional Christmas fare and regional delicacies up for grabs.
23 November to 30 December 2018
A Christmas market has existed in Vienna since 1298, when Viennese citizens were granted permission to hold a December market or “Krippenmarkt”. This year, more than 20 official Advent markets are due to take place around the city selling gifts, food and drink. The Viennese Dream Christmas Market takes place in front of the City Hall, which contains a children’s area where kids can learn how to make Christmas cookies and candles, while the Spittelberg heritage district has ceramics, objects d’art, clothing and rugs for sale. Those seeking a more contemporary twist on the Christmas tradition should head to the Museums Quartier, which will host live music, DJ sets and a design market.
17 November to 24 December 2018
While beer lovers will find plenty to occupy themselves in Belgium, those seeking some festive retail therapy will also come away with lighter pockets. Incorporating a Christmas market with more than 200 chalets, an ice-skating rink at the Place de la Monnaie, fairground attractions such as a Ferris wheel and merry-go-round, and a giant Christmas tree with a sound and light show on the Grand-Place, Brussels’ variation of the festive event has something for all ages.
30 November 2018 to 6 January 2019
Voted number two in the European Best Destinations list of European Christmas markets, Colmar’s six Christmas markets include a range of arts and crafts, food and drink. The Place Jeanne d’Arc and Place de la Cathédrale play host to all manner of culinary treats, including oysters, cured meats, wines, Christmas bredele, gingerbread, wine and Alsace specialities. Wine lovers can head to the Alsation vineyards where the cellars have undergone a seasonal makeover. Colmar is located just under an hour’s drive from Strasbourg, meaning true Christmas fanatics can hit both markets over two days.
23 November to 30 December 2018
Those looking for authentic and local handiwork should head to Hungary’s two Christmas markets. Based in Vorosmarty Square and Basilica, the emphasis is on maintaining and showcasing traditional Hungarian folk arts, such as glass blowing, leather and wooden goods and knitwear. A range of food and drink is available at both locations, such as Hungarian pastries, roast chestnuts and sausages, which can be enjoyed while listening to one of the city’s free folk concerts.
9 November 2018 to 1 January 2019
Those wanting to save their cash for the markets rather than splurging on travel and accommodation should head to Tallinn in Estonia, which was voted the best-value travel destination for 2018 by Lonely Planet. Located in the Town Hall Square, at the centre of which sits a Christmas tree claimed to be one of the first erected in Europe, this cosy collection of chalets offers artisanal handicrafts, such as rugs, lamps and clothing. Traditional Estonian cuisine, including black pudding, sour cabbage and blood sausage, is available for purchase, alongside gingerbread and gallons of mulled wine to wash it down. The Christmas market in Tallinn also offers good odds of snow – just don’t forget to pack your gloves.
16 November 2018 to 7 January 2019
Prague, Czech Republic
If your family Christmas is more of a nightmare than a carol, escape to Prague’s Christmas market, which is open every day from 1 December until 6 January, including Christmas Day. Visitors can feast on Pražská Šunk (large hams roasted on spits), sausages and Hungarian flatbreads topped with garlic and cheese. There’ll be no shortage of beers to accompany a meal, after which shoppers can walk it off with a browse around the wooden chalets selling jewellery, embroidered lace, Christmas tree ornaments and accessories. The main markets are located at the Old Town Square and – fittingly – Wenceslas Square.
1 December 2018 to 6 January 2019