It’s one of the most popular traditions of the festive season – that leisurely wander past colourful stalls, wrapped up against the cold, mulled wine in hand. Even if you’re not shopping for gifts, the food and drink stalls are a big enough attraction in themselves. Christmas markets are found all over Europe – and there are more popping up every year. But there a few that stand out and become an unmissable part of the season.
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Not one but two Christmas markets take over the streets of this beautifully preserved medieval city. Join the skaters on the giant ice rink in the shadow of the imposing Belfry in Grote Markt before browsing the stalls housed in cute wooden huts. If the chilly air builds up your appetite, have one of the hefty braadworst sausages smothered in mustard and fried onions. Then head around the corner to the more intimate market in Simon Stevinplein, whose pop-up bars are an appealing place for an aperitif. This year’s markets run from 25 November to 1 January 2017.
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France’s oldest Christmas market has been going on since 1570, and since then 12 markets have taken over the city’s most picturesque squares. Visit the original Christkindelsmärik Alsatian market in Place Broglie before checking out the magical market in front of Strasbourg’s impressive Gothic cathedral. Get your fill of delicious (and filling) Alsatian delicacies in the food market in Place d’Austerlitz as well as the best fayre from local producers in Place des Meuniers. The markets run this year from 25 November to 31 December.
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Britain’s second city holds the largest German market outside Germany and Austria. Its Frankfurt Christmas Market takes over Victoria Square, offering an alluring array of gift stalls as well as a mouthwatering display of German food and drink – all to a bouncy soundtrack. For more craft stalls, wander down to Centenary Square where you can find gifts from all over the world as well as the chance to try some local craft beers. Both markets start on 19 November, with the Frankfurt market finishing on 29 December and the craft market winding up a little earlier on 20 December.
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Gather round the enormous Christmas tree in front of Cologne Cathedral for one of the most lavish seasonal markets in Europe. Listen to live bands while strolling around the stalls before having a whirl on the ice-skating rink in nearby Heumarkt. Cologne’s choice of markets is a huge one, including a lively LGBT market in Rudolfplatz and a maritime-themed one at the Harbour Christmas Market. You can visit them from 21 November to 23 December.
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Unless there’s a freakish change in the weather, Christmas in Dubrovnik means pleasantly mild temperatures and a transformed Old Town that’s even more exquisite than usual. Lights and laurels are everywhere, as is the sound of carollers who serenade people making their way past the stalls along Stradun, the pedestrianised main thoroughfare. Visit the Christmas Fair in the historic atrium of the St Claire convent, where crafts and tasty goods are on tantalising display. The fair runs from 2 December to 6 January.
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The porticos of the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi become the enchanting setting for Bologna’s Christmas fair. Soak up the relaxed atmosphere of this tradition that goes back to the 16th century as you browse stalls selling delicately crafted Christmas decorations and gifts. This being Italy’s food capital, you won’t go hungry either, with plenty of places to pick up festive treats as well as the local specialities of parmigiano reggiano and prosciutto. This year’s festival runs from 17 November till Boxing Day.
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The splendid baroque buildings of Wroclaw’s Market Square – called Rynek – are given an extra sparkle during the Christmas market when you can’t move for fairy lights everywhere. It’s jauntily festive, with carousels, live music and, of course, the stalls selling Christmas gifts as well as tempting and hearty Polish food. And looming over it all is a giant Christmas tree dripping with lights. This year’s market runs from 18 November to 22 December.
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The hills are alive with the sound of children’s choirs during Salzburg’s Christmas market, which takes place in Residenzplatz in front of the handsome cathedral. While you explore the twinkling stalls selling crafts and edible goodies, you might spot white-clad angels walking serenely through the market. On certain days throughout Advent you’ll spot the fearsome-looking Krampusses and Pechten, the mischievous spirits that can tell if children have been naughty or nice. The market is on from 17 November till 26 December.
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The festive season is celebrated in animated style in Budapest’s Christmas market – and, as it goes on for nearly two months, it’s one of the longest. Running from 13 November till 6 January, the market takes over the wide expanse of Vorosmarty Square just a few minutes from the banks of the Danube. There’s a huge space set aside purely for food, and the main stage is the setting for all styles of music, from pop and jazz to folk and soul. And there’s no doubting the quality of the goods on offer in the market – all the stalls are vetted by a special panel of experts.
Prague, Czech Republic
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Prague’s historic centre is pure romance, and its charms go into overdrive when the Christmas markets bring their bewitching glitter and lights to Wenceslas Square and the Old Town Square. Kids will love the giant Nativity scene with real animals they can stroke, and the warming food and mulled wine will keep the grown-ups happy. Check out the wooden huts selling handcrafted toys, jewellery, ceramics and other gifts before visiting the other markets dotted around the city, including ones at Republic Square and by Prague Castle. The fun starts on 3 December and goes on until 4 January.