Christmas markets in Europe and at home

Visiting a traditional Christmas market in Europe has become an increasingly popular part of the festive season and a popular way to take a short break as winter sets in.

The ‘Christkindlmarkt’ tradition originated in Germany, Austria, South Tyrol and Alsace in Medieval times and many of today’s most famous ones keep their historic flavour and traditions alive. The tradition has now spread into the Scandinavian countries, Belgium and France.

It may seem a little early to be mentioning the “C” word in October, but many of these markets begin operating from mid to late November and hotels can get booked up quickly.

A selection of European Christmas markets:

Prague, Czech Republic:  The heart of the Christmas market in this beautiful and historic city is Old Town Square, around a huge tree adorned with lights. Among the attractions are a stable with live animals for children to pet, rows of red-canopied wooden huts, displaying wooden toys, embroidered lace and traditional Christmas decorations. Along the way for the hungry and thirsty try klobása (barbecued sausages), trdelník (sugar coated dough, roasted over hot coals) and medovina (hot honey wine). This year’s dates are 1 Dec 2018-6 Jan 2019.

Vienna, Austria:  In Vienna the Christmas Markets are at the Vienna Rathausplatz and in front of Schoenbrunn Palace offer fairytale settings, choirs singing carols, the smells of crystallised fruit, candy floss, the delights of a hot cup of mulled wine and traditional Austrian sweet pastries as well as plenty of stalls to browse for gist ideas. The Vienna “Christmas Dream” market runs from 17 Nov-26 Dec this year.

Brussels, Belgium:  there are more than 200 chalets selling all kinds of festive goods – and if you just love Belgian chocolates, where better to go?  The Christmas market also has a fairground and ice rink. This year’s fair is from 30 Nov 2018-6 Jan 2019.

Sweden’s capital of Stockholm, Maastricht in the Netherlands, or even Paris are also possibilities for a festive weekend – or longer – pre-Christmas market break.

For those who love the whole tradition but don’t want to travel to Europe, there are plenty of Christmas markets throughout the UK.

The original Christmas markets dating back to medieval times were banned during the era of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans, and although markets in the run-up to Christmas were popular in the Victorian era they were not specifically Christmas markets.

However, plenty of towns and cities have now revived the tradition and the first was in Lincoln in the 1980s. The setting of the cathedral and its ancient surrounding streets is perfect for a Christmas market that last year had 600 stalls offering all kinds of food and drink, gifts and crafts.

Leeds’ Christmas market is modelled on the traditional German ones complete with quaint wooden stalls, twinkling lights, festive greenery, German sausage and a Bierkeller.

Edinburgh, York, Winchester, Exeter, wherever you fancy for a short pre-Christmas break the Christmas Market offers great atmosphere, plenty of ideas for presents and a good deal of festive good cheer.