Just in case you haven’t seen the endless supermarkets and store campaigns, Christmas is well on its way. At a time when shopping for presents can feel like an arduous chore, there is a way you can inject some travel into the experience.
Nothing says Christmas better than a visit to a Christmas market, and in Europe we’re spoiled for choice. From traditional gift ideas to sampling the festive treats on hand, it’s guaranteed to bring the fun into the holidays.
With a selection of fine pickings around the European continent to choose from, below is a list of my top 5 destinations on where to not only pick up gifts, but the Christmas spirit too. Wrap up, wear comfortable shoes and prepare to transport yourself to a European winter wonderland.
The top of the European Christmas market travel tree
Old Town Square Market, Prague
A UNESCO heritage site with Romanesque and Gothic historic buildings, Prague offers a wide choice of Christmas markets. The one in Old Town Square however (Staroměstské náměstí) is an annual favourite for locals and tourists alike.
If it’s your first time in Prague, the market’s close to nearby attractions such as St Vitus Cathedral and the Lesser Quarter. Colorful wooden huts offer everything from traditional handicrafts and glassware, to Christmas tree decorations. But hold on, as the goods aren’t the only things for sale.
Forget the diet and indulge in some local Czech delicacies such as barbecued sausages and hot sugar-coated pastries. While in Prague, it’d be a crime not to have a traditional Czech beer to wash it all down with. With an impressively tall Christmas tree erected in the centre of the square, it’s impossible not to feel Christmassy here.
Berliner Weihnachtszeit, Berlin
With around 50 to 70 Christmas markets in Berlin, finding which one best suits you can be tough.
However, if you’d like to visit one of the oldest markets in the city, you might enjoy visiting Berliner Weihnachtszeit.
It’s incredible easy to soak up the festive spirit here. With the help or barrel organ music and mulled wine, there’s also a medieval style bakery that bakes fresh bread. Stock up on traditional gifts or wines and liquors to take home with you. In addition, there’s usually a large ice rink with free admission, 50m high Ferris wheel and a petting zoo for the children.
Spittelberg Market, Vienna
Famous for being the birthplace of Sigmund Freud, and Sachertorte, Vienna is also famed for its pretty display of Christmas markets.
Stepping away from the busier choices of Schönbrunn Palace, the market at Spittelberg appeals to the more artistic eye.
With more than 100 stalls on offer, this market not only ups the Christmas vibe, but also the romantic ones too. Go for a wintry stroll down the Beidermeier lanes, and stop in one of the many restaurants for a satisfying supper. You’ll find everything from candles to sculptures and jewellery, and can easily tick off the shopping list. Just 10 minutes from the city centre, this market, with its own outdoor wintry cafe, is worth the visit.
Gamla Stan (Old Town) Stockholm
Another Old Town, but this one’s in the heart of Stockholm, and promises an authentic Swedish Christmas feel. The most famous, and most traditional market, Gamla Stan’s the first choice to turn up the festive spirit.
The Christmas market in Gamla Stan (Old Town) has been a favorite haunt for locals since its first appearance in 1915. Among Swedish Christmas sweets, other delicacies on offer include smoked sausages and reindeer meat. Better you don’t think about Rudolph here!
An absolute Swedish Christmas market experience must is warming up with a glass of Glögg. It’s the Swedish version of mulled wine, bursting with fragrance and spices. Quaint red wooden huts sell traditional Swedish products, along with gingerbread and cheeses.
Valkenburg Market, Netherlands
An underground cavern is home to the Christmas market in Valkenburg. This fascinating shopping stall mecca’s known as the ‘Christmas town’ of the Netherlands.
The market has more than 50 stalls selling traditional goods, but that’s not the only attraction. Visitors can admire the bright Christmas decorations, the mural paintings, sculptures and the 18th century chapel inside.
Another great benefit to visiting, and buying gifts, is that all the proceeds go to the Valkenburg Castle Foundation. Any funds go into maintaining the castle ruins and the underground caves. It actually captures the true spirit of Christmas, the gift of giving and receiving, and that’s only ever a beautiful thing.