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European Christmas markets

Europe’s cobbled squares, stunning architecture, snowy weather and combination of edible and artisan delights make for some perfect picture-postcard Christmas markets. Embrace the festive spirit by paying a visit to some of the continent’s best.

City Guide

by Verity Hogan
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Cologne

Weihnachtsmarkt am Kölner Dom, the Christmas market situated in the shadow of Cologne Cathedral’s impressive twin spires, is easily the most impressive of the city’s eight seasonal markets. Over 160 stalls showcase a host of gifts, many of which are handmade by artisans while you watch. Keep warm while wandering with a mug of hot mulled wine, served in hand-painted Christmas cups, or satisfy a sweet tooth at one of the many confectionery stalls found in the square.

Brussels

Family-friendly Brussels market offers a wealth of outdoor activities. A vast ice skating rink dominates the square and the Ferris wheel, roundabout and large ice dinosaur are sure to delight children and adults alike. Entertainments are equally varied; brass bands serenade shoppers with carols, while ice sculptures provide visual stimulation. This vast market features 240 chalets adorned with fairy lights and filled with souvenirs, local crafts and delicacies.

Nuremberg

Germany’s most popular Christmas market in Nuremberg is opened each year by the Christmas Angel and runs until Christmas Eve; over Advent it attracts more than two million visitors. Wooden stalls with vintage-style red and white cloth canopies offer a variety of festive foods, from spiced gingerbread and fruit loaves to delicious sausage rolls. Tree decorations and traditional children’s toys are also available in abundance, perfect for lending old-world charm to Christmas celebrations.

Prague

The Gothic architecture of Prague’s medieval town square is a bewitching backdrop for its equally picturesque Christmas market. Each year a tree from the snowcapped Krkonoše mountains in the north of the Czech Republic provides a centrepiece around which brightly coloured huts and a life-size Nativity scene are clustered. The gifts on sale are refreshingly traditional and in keeping with the historic surroundings; Bohemian crystal, wooden toys and handmade jewellery all make ideal stocking fillers.

Tallinn

Thanks to its latitude, a thick blanket of snow is virtually guaranteed at Tallinn’s Christmas market every year. This wintry setting is perfect for its chocolate-box chalets offering local delicacies and hand-made Estonian crafts. Snuggle up in woollen hats or an embroidered quilt or stock up on decorations while devouring delicious sauerkraut and a mug of mulled wine served from rustic wooden barrels. Don’t forget to visit Santa Claus and send a postcard home via the Reindeer Express.

Copenhagen

With fairy lights designed by Tiffany’s John Loring and the oldest double-decker merry-go-round in Europe, Copenhagen’s Christmas market in the city’s Tivoli Gardens has become something of a Scandinavian sensation. Children will love exploring the vintage roller coasters and toboggan rides while adults will appreciate the ornate ice sculptures and culinary delights on offer. Traditional æbleskiver, apple pancakes dusted in powdered sugar, are a particular delight, especially when served alongside a glass of gløgg, which combines warm red wine with aquavit, cinnamon, cloves and shaved almonds.

Munich

Munich has held a Christmas market since the 14th century and this yuletide tradition has remained virtually unchanged ever since. Local products are celebrated, with ornate glassware from the Bavarian forests and woodcarvings from Oberammergau appearing on many stalls. Musicians play carols from the balcony of the town hall while children are invited to explore arts and crafts at the Heavenly Workshop. Book a guided tour to find out about the history of this long-standing event from knowledgeable local experts.

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