On a cold winter's morning, there can be nothing lovelier than ambling through a historic city, hot chocolate/wine in hand at one of the world-famous European Christmas markets. Full of food, music, shopping, drinks, and joy, cities hold markets to celebrate the festive-season as well as display local goods and produce. Christmas markets are the perfect way to find gifts for those "hard to buy for" friends, enjoy traditional food and drink, and finally appreciate the plummeting temperatures and crisp air. Here are the top 10 markets to see this season.
Freiburg is Germany's southernmost city and the gateway to the fairy-tale-lovers favourite Black Forest. It is also popular with German's who want to get out of the busier cities of Strasbourg and Basel.
Every weekend throughout the year the lively Weihnachtsmarkt that's centred on the Rathausplatz, (City Hall Square) comes alive with food, craft and beer stalls. But it's during advent that the markets really come into their own, vendors come from all over the country to exhibit art, glass and furniture as well as countless stalls selling food, sweets and the all important beer. The city is also full of quaint charm; the 17th century buildings were untouched by the bombings and the relaxed, alpine vibe reigns supreme. With all over 130 stalls and over a million visitors, Freiburg is one of largest and most authentic of European markets.
A medieval city that offers true picture-book scenery, Innsbruck is a lovely location for holiday. In addition to Innsbruck being a popular skiing destination, there are three markets all within walking distance. Marktplatz has a merry go round for children, and the market at Altstadt is located in front of the Golden Roof which is considered the most famous attraction in Innsbruck. Maria-Theresien-Strasse is the third market, and you can see them all in one day.
15 November – 6 January
The winter months are when Switzerland really comes alive, when the temperatures plummet the activities and sights on offer multiply. If you need a weekend away from the ski-slopes then you can do no better than to take a look round one the country's legendary festive markets. The largest and best of which is undoubtedly Basel. Situated on the Rhine, this magnificent market houses a enormous tree decorated by locals and over 200 traders, artisans, chefs and performers offering up their talents throughout December and January. In a country of wealthy people who have everything, Basel is the place to come for gift ideas, games or a romantic weekend away. Culinary delights also abound with waffles, glühwein, genuine Basel "läckerli" (gingerbread biscuits), delicious Swiss raclette or the popular grilled sausages.
27th- November 2014 until mid January.
The Dolomite town is beautiful any time of year, but truly spectacular when it comes alive for Christmas markets each December. The buzzy, vibrant crowds mix with the area's historic and cultural past in a festive celebration that is one of the best in Italy. With it's 80+ stallholders, everywhere you turn you confronted with new sights, smells and sounds of the season, as well as street performers, artists and music. As well as the traditional seasonal fare of vin brulé (mulled wine) and sweet treats, local cuisine is on sale and for sampling.
When trawling the stall gets too much you can hop into a horse-drawn carriage for a tour of the cities antique streets and enjoy the vibrant, enchanting atmosphere.
27th November to 6th January in Piazza Walther
Visitors from all over the world come to see this romantic winter fairytale. All the usual food, mulled wine, and arts and crafts are available, but there are a few highlights that set Baden-Baden apart. Exclusive boutiques in the "Kurhaus Colonnades," are the best locations for gifts and decorations. In addition to the markets, visits to the Caracalla Thermal Bath and the Black Forest will make your trip to Baden-Baden unforgettable.
24 November – 30 December
The beautiful Flemish city springs to life towards Christmas, with its medieval heart transformed into a centre of light. Bruges' Christmas market it situated around its huge ice-rink, which is perfect for when you need to skate off the delectable hot chocolates, pastries and biscuits the traders encourage you to sample. The city is a labyrinth of historic little streets, during the Christmas season the restaurants and cafes offer local delights traditional Flemish dishes, the scent of which wafts through the streets and air.
Hand-picked exhibitors, a unique location, and a real open-air ice rink; what more could you want from a Christmas market. The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market and Ice Rink is inspired by the original German tradition, but you will still find traditional British crafts created by jewellers, painters, glass markets, and textile artists. It will be easy to enjoy this trip while finding unique gifts and decorations, taking a skate around the ice rink, and warming up with festive food and drink.
20 November – 21 December
The seven Graz advent markets are all located within walking distance of each other in this charming city where Christmas lights are lit daily from 4:30pm to midnight. A few of the markets really set Graz apart. Since 1996 a unique nativity scene carved from ice is displayed in Landhaushof with life size figures and is always a crowd pleaser. The Advent market in front of the City Hall offers "Feuerzangenbowle," a blend of wine and rum set on fire, which is sure to keep you warm, and children always love the carousel. Last, the City Hall Advent calendar is illuminated from 1 December to 24 December on the façade of the Graz City Hall, and it's the site to see.
21 November – 24 December
At the Düsseldorf Christmas market you will find 200 decorated huts and a variety of themed worlds scattered throughout the city, and a 450 square meter ice rink. Some of the best known huts have traditional names and are sure to give any visitor a unique experience. The "little angel market" called the Engelchenmarkt on Heinrich-Heine-Platz, distinguished by its Art-Nouveau setting and heavenly atmosphere. The "little stars market" called the Sternchenmarkt will transport you to a winter wonderland. It is located in Stadtbrückchen square where visitors can view the giant crystals and sparkling blue stars.
21 November – 23 December
Nothing goes together better than champagne and Christmas time. Reims is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as the capital of champagne and therefore making it the perfect place to celebrate. 135 chalets fill the city in different locations with the main market running alone d'Erlon and on rues Condorcet, de l'Etape and Buirette. You can look forward to street entertainments, carol siingers, jazz bands, magicians and more.