Nothing says Christmas is on its way like a Christmas market. Whether you’re travelling across Europe or staying in the UK, we challenge you not to be tempted by our guide to the festive fun on offer this year.
Traditional Christmas Markets
November 22 to December 26, 2019
At around two hours from London airports, Saltzburg is perfect for a winter break, and the run-up to Christmas has to be one of the best times to visit the place where ‘Silent Night’ was written and first performed. The Christmas markets run from 22 November – 26 December, and music features prominently – there are free concerts at 5.00 pm every day in front of the cathedral and carol singing on Tuesdays between 6.00 and 8.00 pm.
November 30 to January 6, 2020
Staying with the picture-perfect theme, Prague’s Christmas markets are open from November 30 – January 6. A good place to start has to be the highly topical square named after ‘good King Wenceslas’of carol fame. He is celebrated every Christmas, having travelled through the snow to help his poor subjects on the feast of Saint Stephen. Wenceslas Square features a magnificent tree and festive stalls with Christmas delicacies available from 10.00 am until midnight. Five minutes’ walk away, Prague Old Town Square hosts the biggest market. The centrepiece is a live nativity scene under the Christmas tree, complete with nativity animals surrounding the manger.
7 November – 23 December 2019
You don’t have to leave the UK for an authentic Christmas market experience. 2019 is the 20th year anniversary of Birmingham’s famous Frankfurt Christmas market – and it’s the largest of its kind outside Germany and Austria. Bavarian-style stalls are set up in Victoria and Chamberlain Squares and vendors bring their hand-made and personalised gifts and decorations from Germany. Don’t bother to eat before you get there – it would take an extremely strong will to abstain from the schnitzels, bratwurst, gluhwein and weissbeer on offer.
If you find yourself with energy left over, head over to Centenary Square where an outdoor skating rink and big wheel will pop up from 7 November until 12 January 2020 – open from 10.00 am until 10.00 pm daily.
November 28 to December 15, 2019
If you’re staying in the UK, it’s hard to beat the Christmas markets in Jane Austen’s hometown of Bath in south west England. For a start, the Georgian terraces and historic street scenes are picturesque at any time of year, and the Roman Baths are always worth a visit. During Advent, however, the streets are transformed by the inviting wooden chalets twinkling with Christmas lights. The vast majority of stallholders are local to the area, and proudly showcase the best of their homeware, fashion, accessories as well as Christmas gifts and decorations. Feast your senses on the food and drink on offer – the Lodge on Stall Street can offer mulled cider and hot chocolate as a starting point. Alternatively, you may not have packed your salopettes, but don’t let that stop you enjoying the Abbey hotel’s Aprés Ski Bar on North Parade. Alpine goodies such as goulash, bratwurst and mulled wine are served at the chalet, which makes is appearance from 21 November until 23 December.
The Scandi Experience
December 6 - December 22, 2019
Scandinavia is famously dark during the winter months, but locals don’t let that dampen their spirits. In the capital of Finland, Helsinki, Christmas is usually a quiet, family occasion, so the partying, known as ‘pikkujoulu ‘, or ‘little Christmas’ takes place in bars, restaurants, and the Christmas markets which are held between 6th and 22nd December. In the run up to Christmas the streets are filled with the aroma of the warmed wine drink, glögi, flavoured with almonds, raisins and sometimes extra-heated with a splash of vodka. Other Helsinki attractions include an outdoor sauna, free for anyone to try, Jääpuisto Ice Park in Railway Station Square and the ritual of the Tiernapojat (star boys) – a cross between busking and carol singing in honour of the Three Kings.
November 15 to December 30, 2019
For a truly authentic Scandinavian experience, Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg’s, St Lucia’s day celebrations are hard to beat. These take place across the city on 13 December and commemorate Lucia, an early Christian who secretly helped the persecuted Christians hiding in the catacombs under the streets of ancient Rome. Lucia is said to have worn candles around her head to light her way underground and these days, St Lucia’s Day is a festival of light in the midst of winter, and food features heavily. You can expect to be offered seafood, specialities, gingerbread cookies, saffron buns and Swedish mulled wine.
Perennially popular with locals and visitors alike, Liseburg, Gothenburg’s amusement park becomes an ultra-chic Christmas market from 15 November. There is an entrance fee, but this winter wonderland is open from 4.00 until 10.00 pm. Visitors can browse the stalls, warm up by one of the many fire pits and snack on festive treats.
16 November to 5 January, 2020
Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens offers an alternative to Lisburg, and is just one of the festive attractions in Advent in the Danish capital. The city’s cobbled streets and picturesque squares could have been designed to be strung with fairy lights, and are not complete without the stalls selling gløgg
(Danish mulled wine) and æbleskiver (sugar-dusted apple doughnuts) on every corner.
If you would like to take advantage of Copenhagen’s design-led scene, aim to be in town from 30 November to 2 December. The Christmas markets at Flids and Jægersborggade will host a wide range of craftspeople and vendors selling unique goods perfect for superior stockings and gift solutions for the very hard to please.
22 to 24 November, 2019
If you can’t made it to Finland or Norway this year, don’t despair. You can enter into the Scandi spirit without leaving the UK. Head to Rotherhithe, south-east London where, believe it or not, Albion Street is home to both a Finnish and a Norwegian church. On Friday 22, Saturday 23, Sunday 24 November, the annual Scandinavian Christmas market offers traditional treats, homewares and gifts, with a musical soundtrack provided by the two churches.
And how about these?
November 15 to January 7, 2020
A little further afield, Tallinn offers a truly Estonian answer to the Christmas market experience. You’ll be one of only a handful of tourists at the picture-perfect market. And if you’re busy in the run-up to Christmas, Tallinn is the gift that keeps on giving! The market remains open well into the New Year – you have until 7 January 2020 to try a cup of hot Vana Tallinn, the rum-based Christmas drink which accompanies the seasonal delicacies of black pudding, sauerkraut and gingerbread specialities.
November 22 to December 29, 2019
London-based travellers should definitely overlook destinations served by Eurostar. Close to the Belgian border, the French city of Lille is only 1½ hours away from St Pancras. Place Rihour is jam-packed with traditional wooden stalls full of festive goodies from as far afield as Russia, Canada and Poland.
November 16 to January 4, 2020
As we know, New Year – ‘Hogmanay’ – is a very big deal in Scotland. In fact, until very recently, the Scots didn’t even ‘do’ Christmas. Things have changed no though, and both Edinburgh and Glasgow city centres play host to their own Christmas markets. Edinburgh’s Is particularly quaint, with an Elf workshop nestling in the Christmas tree maze, a traditional carousel and a whole array of gastronomic delights.
8 November to 22 December 2019
If you’re in Northern England in November or December this year, you may be able to forget the whole Brexit debacle for a few hours at an authentically European Christmas market. Manchester hosts several markets throughout the city, with French and German themes as well as fairground rides. From 9 November to 22 December, Leeds Millennium Square becomes home to Christkindelmarkt. Between 11.00 am and 1.00 pm every Sunday, there are free children’s activities, including face painting and winter wonderland games.
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