It’s beginning to feel a lot like…
If you want an extra dose of festive cheer this year, why not book a trip to a Christmas market? Travel writer Sophie Pither picks six of the best.
Nuremberg Christkindlesmarkt, Germany
There are records of a Christmas market in Nuremberg since 1628, and today’s 180-stall festive affair retains a charming traditional atmosphere. Each year it begins with the Christkind, a blonde woman in gold robes, reciting a speech from the medieval Frauenkirche church balcony. Buy handmade decorations and toys, gingerbread houses and not-on-the-high-street gifts. Take glühwein breaks and eat sausages galore; the local variety is infused with marjoram. For a sweetener try chocolate covered Nürnberger Lebkuchen.
Fly direct to Nuremberg from London; 1hr 40 mins.
The beautiful cobbled Rynek Glowny central square in Krakow’s old town centre, dominated by the Renaissance Cloth Hall building, is the setting for Krakow’s seasonal market. Stalls sell handmade glass baubles, wood carvings, folk art, amber jewellery, sweets, spiced nuts and speciality foods such as hearty traditional Polish sausages and stews. Cafes around the square serve elegant Viennese pastries and inexpensive flavoured vodka shots to give your shopping experience a pleasant haze.
Fly direct from many regional airports; from 2hrs 25 mins.
Bruges Christmas Market, Belgium
The sweet scent of waffles, chocolate and glühwein are ever present in this market in Bruges’ attractive old town beside the canal. The main market is in Grote Markt surrounding a temporary ice rink and overlooked by a 13th-century bell tower. It’s worth ascending the 366 steps of the belfry to gaze over the twinkling chocolate-box Christmas scene. Another smaller market is in Simon Stevinplein nearby, with numerous chocolatiers and coffee stops to aid you between the two locations.
Eurostar, with one change in Brussels; 3 hrs 30 mins.
Food takes centre stage at French Christmas markets. Set in Lille’s cobbled old town amid old Flemish-designed houses, 80 stalls offer vin chaud, local nougat, pommes d’amour (French toffee apples), Maroilles cheese, macarons and babeluttes (caramel sweets), as well as the usual sausages and crepes. Stalls are dotted around Place Rihour, which is also home to smart boutiques. A Christmas Ferris wheel offers views over the city from the next square along.
Eurostar; 1 hr 20 mins.
In the UK:
In an atmospheric setting below the medieval cathedral walls, Winchester market’s 100-plus chalet-style stalls are positioned around an attractive temporary ice rink. A cathedral team selects stallholders to ensure quality and British craftspeople are encouraged. Food-sellers tempt shoppers with the likes of Hampshire's finest cheese and sourdough toasties, crepes or roasted chestnuts. It’s prettiest at dusk when the cathedral is lit up and mulled wine aromas and angelic evensong waft through the air.
When a herd of reindeer moves into an enclosure in East Princes Street Gardens you know Edinburgh Christmas has begun. The nearby European market, with the castle as a backdrop, offers international craft, art, gifts and food. It stretches along Princes Street to a big wheel and ice rink. And if the cold seeps in, every pub in this richly cultured city promises the bonus of a warming dram of Highland malt.
Most Christmas markets run from mid-November to late December but check exact dates before booking your trip.