Nowadays, most cities want to muscle in on the magic that Christmas markets can bring, but it takes more than a few fairy lights and overpriced trinkets to make one truly special. You want the right combination of fantastic food stalls, a few places to buy presents beyond the usual wooden toys on offer, and an atmosphere that will get even the grumpiest Grinches in a festive mood. Here are 10 of the best options in Europe.
They like to kick off the Christmas season early in Budapest, where food and gift stalls pop up in Vorosmarty Square from early November. The square in front of St Stephen’s Basilica also joins in the fun, with ice-skating and more luscious Hungarian food and trinket stalls, along with smaller markets in Deak Square and Fovam Square. Just follow the scent of cinnamon-heavy chimney cake mingled with mulled wine.
When: 4 November 2022 to 31 December 2023
Stay: D8 Hotel is a simple but trendy three-star not far fromVorosmarty Square; doubles from £70.
Croatia’s capital goes into a six-week festive frenzy, when at least a dozen Christmas markets take over Zagreb. They’re everywhere – in parks, along hilltop paths, in tunnels, in squares and pedestrianised streets. Not surprisingly for Croatia, you’ll find many more food stalls than gifts, so let your nose be your guide. Afterwards, join the ice skaters gliding around the rink that twists and turns in Ledeni Park.
When: 26 November 2022 to 7 January 2023
Stay: Hotel 9 is a contemporary boutique hotel with free breakfast and a rooftop terrace; doubles from £78.
A quick nip across the Channel on the Eurostar or Eurotunnel and you’re in the heart of French Flanders. Rustic wooden chalets fill Lille’s Place Rihour, selling toys and gifts along with tempting vats of cheesy tartiflette and sweet waffles dripping with chocolate. Around the corner in the stately Grand Place, go for a ride on the giant ferris wheel before checking out more stalls and the Christmas grotto.
When: 24 November to 30 December 2022
Stay: Mama Shelter Lille brings couples fun and funky design with a chic bar/restaurant; doubles from £76.
More than 70 Christmas markets spread across Berlin and its suburbs, giving you a mind-boggling choice. The biggest is in the old town of Spandau, a historic suburb on the west of Berlin. For something more central, check out the stalls in Gendarmenmarkt for the classic German Christmas market experience. Hop through the centuries at Alexanderplatz, where there’s a medieval market as well as a ferris wheel offering fabulous views.
When: 21 November to 26 December
Stay: The four-star Hotel NH Collection Berlin has modern rooms a stone’s throw from Gendarmenmarkt; doubles from £95.
Elegant Vienna gets a glittering makeover as 14 markets pop up around the city. If you want a full-on traditional Christmas, stroll around the market in front of the Schönnbrunn Palace and the Christmas Village taking over Maria-Theresien-Platz. Join the ice skaters on the rink at Vienna Christmas World in Rathausplatz after you’ve sampled all the Austrian culinary treats sold at the Advent pleasure market by the Opera House.
When: dates vary from 11 November 2022 to 8 January 2023
Stay: Elegant, spacious rooms are on offer atfour-star Parkhotel Schönbrunn, near Schönnbrunn Palace; doubles from £86.
Picturesque Bruges has bucketloads of Christmas charm, with its gingerbread house-esque medieval buildings strung with fairy lights. Known as “Christmas Glow”, its celebrations go beyond the Markt – where you’ll find craft and food stalls, with more pop-up bars and stalls around the corner in Simon Stevinplein – and extend to a light experience trail and ice skating on the rink in front of the belfry. Best of all, this quaint city can be reached by train from the UK in just 3hr 30m by catching the Eurostar to Brussels and an onward service to Bruges.
When: 25 November 2022 to 8 January 2023
Stay: Three-star Martin’s Brugge is just behind the famous 13th-century Belfry and 50 metres from the Central Market Square; doubles from £76.
The wonderfully over-the-top Tivoli Gardens gets even more delightfully kitsch when the Christmas market takes over. As well as checking out the food and gift stalls, you can have a whirl on the ice skating rink. And if you happen to be in Copenhagen on 13 December, you can catch the Santa Lucia floating parade of light-festooned kayaks on the canals.
When: 19 November to 31 December 2022
Stay: Within a three-minute stroll from Tivoli Gardens, millennial-favourite citizenM’s Rådhuspladsen outpost offers stripped-back sophistication at affordable rates; doubles from £74.
Smaller in scale but full of charm, Basel’s Christmas market sets up 155 stalls from Münsterplatz to Barfüsserplatz, where the range of food stalls will tempt you with gooey raclette and chunky sausages. If you haven’t had enough snacking, check out the food stalls along the right bank of the Rhine at Claraplatz.
When: 24 November to 23 December 2022
Stay: The Passage has urban design plus a fitness room and sauna; doubles from £107.
France’s oldest and biggest Christmas market turns this exquisitely pretty city into something quite extraordinary. Once you’ve marvelled at the Christmassy scene in front of the towering cathedral, browse the 100 or so stalls in Place Broglie before tasting Alsatian delicacies in the market in Place du Marché-aux-Poissons. Strasbourg also holds the OFF Market, a socially responsible way to celebrate the season, with second-hand stalls and fair-trade products.
When: 25 November to 24 December 2022
Stay: The four-star lifestyle hotel BOMA is all boldly coloured rooms, with a fitness room and lively bar/restaurant; doubles from £155.
Germany comes to Britain when the Frankfurt Christmas Market takes over Victoria Square. It’s the biggest German market outside Germany, and the place to fill up on bratwurst, glühwein, schnitzel and every other kind of winter comfort food. Just next door is the Christmas Craft Market, with more than 80 stalls to browse.
When: 3 November to 23 December 2022
Stay: Malmaison Birmingham brings sleek rooms to a canalside location not far from Victoria Square; Doubles from £85.