There’s no better way to embrace the joy of the festive season than by taking a weekend break to one of Europe’s many Christmas markets. Jo Roberts takes us on a tour of the very best...
Nothing captures Christmas better than the lavish decorations and delicious aromas of Europe’s festive markets. While some are a vast spread of colours, sounds and flavours, others are diminutive, but what they each have in common is that they perfectly reflect the culture of their individual regions. Not only will you get to soak up the local atmosphere of celebration, you can also pick up some quirky gifts for your friends and family that can’t be bought elsewhere.
Vienna’s Christmas market is one of Europe’s oldest, having been in operation since the 13th century. The Rathausplatz, located in front of the glorious neo-Gothic City Hall, is where all the main action happens – 150 or so stalls will entice visitors with an array of wood crafts, traditional puppets, candles, baked delights such lebkuchen (German traditional gingerbread) and hand-knitted hats and gloves. The aroma of gluwein or roasted chestnuts is omnipresent and all of this is accompanied by the undeniably Christmassy sounds of the local choir, on weekends. This is also a great destination for families. The traditional carousels and the dazzling lights will delight younger visitors. Open until 23 December.
Where to stay?
Hollmann Beletage is a super-stylish hotel located right in the centre of Vienna and is ideal for all your festive needs.
The Sans Souci hotel is perfectly located between the traditional and fashionable areas of the city and offers luxurious rooms and suites, all individually designed, resulting in the ideal blend of boutique charm and modern convenience. There is also an outstanding spa and fitness centre here. www.sanssouci-wien.com
Located in the heart of the Old Town at Stortorget Square, near the Royal Palace, the Stockholm Christmas market offers up a range of traditional, Swedish handicrafts, pottery and jewellery and food stalls serve up local delicacies such as smoked sausage, reindeer and elk. The beverage of choice here is glögg (mulled wine) and those with a sweet tooth will enjoy sampling pepparkakor – thin ginger biscuits. You’ll more than likely see at least a dusting of snow here, providing that picture-perfect Christmas scene. Open until 23 December.
Where to stay?
The Lydmar hotel is a boutique residence, centrally located close to the market, Royal Palace and museums. Each beautifully designed room offers a view; many overlook the waterfront. The staff are professional yet welcoming and love to offer advice and insider tips on exploring Stockholm. Five-star luxury, but with a slightly more informal approach. www.lydmar.com
If you’re looking for something truly different, then head for this snow-clad Arctic city and seek out Torvet, the main square, where you’ll be greeted by row upon row of wooden chalets and ‘lavvos’ (teepee-style tents), with open fires: a cosy atmosphere for sampling mulled wine and waffles. Ceramic wine goblets or traditional tree decorations make for ideal Christmas purchases. The food is something of an acquired taste for some, with moose burger being the local specialty. You can even take a sleigh ride to add to the truly Norwegian experience. Be sure to take a stroll across Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge) to the brightly painted timber houses of Bakklandet, the city’s former working-class district. If you’re lucky, you may just catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, too. Open until 9-18 December.
Where to stay
The Britannia Hotel, Trondheim’s most luxurious – and famous – hotel, is currently closed for refurbishment until August 2018. However, there are a number of very comfortable options, including the Scandic Bakklandet, which is centrally located near the old town and the best rooms boast lovely water views. The breakfasts here are also hard to beat, with everything from caviar to fried eggs and delicious, gluten-free breads and cakes on offer. www.scandichotels.com
There are several Christmas Markets dotted around beautiful Budapest, but the oldest, biggest and best known takes place on Vorosmarty Square. This isn’t just for visitors – the locals flock here too to stock up on traditional gifts of fur hats and gloves, handmade chocolates and cakes and other specialty craft items. Feast on cinnamon-pastry chimney cakes (kurtoskalacs) and toki pompos, a Hungarian-style pizza – and wash it all down with mulled wine. When it’s time to rest, head to the contemporary Varosliget café, which overlooks the ice rink. Open until 1 January.
Where to stay
Visitors to Budapest are spoilt for choice when it comes to luxury hotels. However, you can’t go wrong with the Four Seasons Hotel Gresham Palace, a beautifully restored art deco palace which has it all: a perfect location, gorgeous suites with stunning views, impeccable service, fine dining and a world class spa. www.fourseasons.com
Germans do markets better than anyone and Hamburg is the place to go for its sheer diversity. You have the traditional stalls of sweet treats, crafts, ornaments and leather goods, which are located by the grand city hall square. Spielzeuggasse (Toy Street), as the name suggests, is the place to go to buy gifts for your younger family members. The Jungfernstieg market is a foodie heaven, while romantics may prefer the more intimate Fleetinsel market by the water, which is adorned with tasteful Christmas lights. Open until 23 December.
Where to stay?
The exquisite Fairmont Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten is the epitome of European luxury. Since opening its doors in 1897 it has welcomed guests from all over the world to enjoy the timeless elegance, impeccable service and enormous suites which all lie within. There is an impressive rooftop spa and fitness centre and a choice of four top class restaurants. www.fairmont.com
Prague is undeniably spectacular at any time of year, but Christmas time is extra special. The Old Town Square, Staromestske namesti, becomes home to a giant nativity scene (where children can happily stroke animals in the stable), a towering, glittering Christmas tree and daily performances by local choirs and folk bands – and it’s all surprisingly tasteful and rather delightful. Stalls straddle both this square and the neighbouring Weneceslas Square and you’ll find perfect gifts in the shape of crystal, garnets, traditional wooden toys and other handicrafts. Be prepared to ditch any diets as you enjoy sampling traditional Polish sausage (klobasa) and hot, sugary pastries (trdelnik). While you’re here, it’s definitely worth seeking out a concert in one of the city’s churches or grand concert halls. Open until 1 January.
Where to stay
The Hotel Paris is a masterpiece of art nouveau architecture. Renowned for its fine dining, which effortlessly blends French and Czech classics in the stylish Sarah Bernhardt Restaurant and Café de Paris.
Or head to the baroque-style Alchymist Grand Hotel and Spa is a 5-star, boutique residence. The gorgeous rooms and suites have been lavishly decorated, featuring original 16th century painted wooden ceilings, crystal chandeliers, oak flooring, Persian carpets, period pictures and large, marble bathrooms. There is also an opulent spa and health club, which offers a range of first class treatments. www.alchymisthotel.com
Rynek Glowny, the enormous market square in the old town’s centre, provides the setting for Krakow’s gorgeously snowy Christmas Market, with the splendid backdrop of the ancient, majestic Cloth Hall. The traditional wooden stalls sell a wide range of Christmas decorations (hand-painted glass baubles are a particular specialty), gifts, toys, sweet treats and other local delicacies. The square becomes the focal social scene for locals at this time of year, so it’s not just a place to shop but one to hang out, enjoy the food and drink and mingle with the crowds over a cup of hot, mulled wine. Entertainment is usually provided by children’s’ ensembles and carol concerts. Open until 26 December.
Where to stay?
You can count your steps from the stylish 5-star Radisson Blu Hotel Krakow to the Christmas market in Rynek Glowny making it the perfect base for your festive excursion.
Alternatively the Hotel Wentzl couldn’t be better located. Situated directly opposite the Cloth Hall, in a refined, 16th century building. While it is relatively small, with just 12 rooms, each has been tastefully designed to reflect the building’s history, yet every modern comfort is catered for. There are suites available for those who prefer extra living space. www.hotelwentzl.com