The fairytale landscape of Bruges, with its winding canals, intoxicating waffle scent and festive ambiance, is at the top of the list for a festive getaway in Europe.
Wander through the twinkling Grote Markt, complemented by a backdrop of spinning ice skaters. Peruse traditional Belgian wares such as handmade wooden toys and decorations and, of course, endless varieties of chocolate.
Walk off gastronomic indulgence by climbing the 336 steps up the Belfort Tower, or stroll along the canal towards the Minnewater Lake — the perfect way to admire the traditional medieval architecture.
Bruges’ Christmas market runs from November 22, 2015 through January 2, 2016.
For those in search of the real spirit of Christmas, why not go direct to the source” Santa Claus Village in Lapland is a genuine (and all year-round) winter wonderland. Explore the fir tree-laden village, complete with a joyful band of elves to take you to Santa’s Office, open all year long (excluding public holidays). What better present to give your children than a meeting with Saint Nicholas himself.
Lapland is, of course, home to a host of festive experiences, including reindeer sleigh rides, husky safaris and playing on snowmobiles. Explore the Arctic Circle and its wildlife as well as the region’s most popular attraction, the Northern Lights.
Santa Claus Village, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland, +358 16 356 2096
England’s capital makes for a unique and thrilling city break during the festive period. From November 1st, the legendary Christmas lights that illuminate Oxford Street will enhance your Christmas shopping to no end.
For a traditional winter pastime, why not take to the ice” Rinks at Somerset House and the Natural History Museum are two of the city’s prettiest skating backdrops (be warned, booking is essential to secure a spot). Hyde Park plays host to Winter Wonderland every year (Friday November 20, 2015 to Sunday January 3, 2016) — a Bavarian-style village complete with fresh brezels and as much glühwein as you can handle.
Also, make sure you include a trip to famed department store Harrods; its Christmas lights and theatrical window displays are unrivaled.
The Czech Republic capital is one of Europe’s most spectacular cities during the festive period.
While the largest of the Christmas markets are located in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, there are also more intimate versions in the Republic Square, Havel’s Market and Prague Castle, a new addition for 2015.
Here, you’ll find a plethora of traditional handcrafted gifts, including embroidery, ceramics and the essential Yuletide decorations. Not forgetting the delicious local produce on offer, spit roasts, kielbasa (a traditional Polish sausage), as well as mountains of cakes and pastries are also available. Enjoy the daily carol singing in the company of a cup of hot mulled wine and soak up the atmosphere.
Prague Christmas’s markets are open daily from November 28, 2015 until January 6, 2016.
There are a huge range of seasonal markets to visit in Berlin, but the following are must-visits.
WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt is particularly known for its homemade products, with artisans from all over the country coming to show-off their wares. There’s a 1€ admission fee that goes toward staging the market and charitable projects; however, entrance is free between 11am and 2pm, Monday to Friday. The market runs from November 23rd until December 31, 2015.
A short walk from Alexanderplatz in the city center, Berliner Weihnachtszeit is the perfect family experience. The children will love the traditional band music, Santa visits and animal rides. A giant illuminated Ferris wheel and 600-square-meter ice rink complete this vibrant setting.
Berliner Weihnachtszeit is open from November 23rd to December 29, 2015.
Located in France’s Alsace region near the German border, Strasbourg’s cross-cultural blend make for a unique city break at any time of year. However, Christmas is when the city really shines.
Dating back to 1570, Strasbourg’s Christmas market is the oldest in Europe and voted the continent’s best two years in a row. From November 27th to December 31, 2015, the Main Square is packed with charming wooden huts, staged in front of the majestic Gothic cathedral.
Wander the pretty cobbled streets filled with traditional boutiques or venture out to the Parc de l’Orangerie for a longer walk. Hungry” The hearty traditional meals, tartes flambées or choucroute for example, will keep the chill at bay. Or pick up an authentic Alsatian brezel or roasted chestnuts for an on-the-go snack.
No visit to Strasbourg is complete without a stroll along the canal to the historic Petite-France, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
A historic city in southwestern England, Bath is amongst one of the country’s most frequented tourist spots. From the iconic Roman Baths to the magnificent Royal Crescent, Bath’s rich Georgian architecture makes it the ideal setting for a Yuletide break.
Boasting 170 wooden chalets, Bath’s adorable Christmas market (November 26th to December 13, 2015) will definitely get you in the festive mood. With 80 percent of the stall owners from the local area, you can be sure you’ll get an authentic English shopping experience. Sample hot mulled cider, classic mince pies, and stock up on foodie essentials and decorations for the winter period.
Fancy a sing-along” Head to Bath Abbey’s regular carol service to warm up those pipes.
This 2,000-year-old city located around the River Rhine in western Germany is home to several Christmas markets, each with an inviting and lively ambiance.
With 150 wooden pavilions, one of Cologne’s largest markets takes place in the impressive cathedral square. Browse the regional specialities, from festive pastries and children’s toys to handmade glass ornaments and wood carvings.
One of the city’s oldest, Angel’s Market is the perfect place to enjoy a cup of eggnog or hot chocolate while watching the bedazzled angels that make their way through the market to spread Christmas joy.
As Germany’s gay and lesbian capital, Cologne has a Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market found on Christmas Avenue. Pink and purple chalets hold a range of extensive gifts, and there’s a series of live events throughout the period.
Cologne’s Christmas markets run from November 23rd until December 23, 2015.
The Culture Trip recommends the Hungerburg Christmas Market with its panoramic views over the entire city. Take the hybrid funicular railway (designed by acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid) up to the top where a multitude of artisanal products and foodie delights await. There’s also the Christmas market at Marketplatz, complete with a carousel, petting zoo and puppet theatre, that will entertain the entire family.
Innsbruck is also the place to try the Austrian speciality, kiachln, a steaming doughnut covered with sauerkraut.
The Christmas markets are on from November 15, 2015 until January 6, 2016.
In Stockholm, a very different Christmas awaits you.
Embrace Sweden’s festive culture with one of the knowledgeable and festive city tours, such as the Christmas Spirit Tour where you’ll learn about Swedish Santa, how Christmas is celebrated, and taste the region’s delicacies, such as a traditional julbord (the Yuletide version of a smörgåsbord). The Strömma dinner cruise is also very popular — take in the stunning scenery of the archipelago on a vintage boat while enjoying a Swedish spread.
Be sure to head for Stortorget Square where you can find glögg, smoked reindeer, and unique handicrafts at the Old Town Market. Ice skating around Kungsträdgården in the center of town is also a must for first-time visitors.
Viennese Christkindlmarkts, where the smell of sausages and hot chestnuts will tempt you from every corner, are not to be missed. The Alt Wiener Weihnachtsmarkt is a favorite, with its beautifully handcrafted ceramics, decorations and toys.
Celebrate the festive season with song at one of the city’s classical or Italian opera concerts; there’s also a Hansel and Gretel opera for children to enjoy.
Really want to penetrate the Austrian culture” Book a slot at the Vienna Coffeehouse Conversations where you can chat with a local during one of these popular social dining events.
The Viennese take their ice skating seriously, so don some skates and head to the colossal 6,000-square-meter rink laid out in front of Vienna Concert Hall.
By Alice White Walker