It’s only October, but time is already running out to book flights to Christmas markets. Arlene Harris has the lowdown on the options across Europe.
Christmas is a time of giving, but for many people (myself included), the thought of battling through overheated, brightly lit department stores with cheesy cover versions of Yuletide tunes being blasted on a loop is the stuff of nightmares.
But magic still exists away from the stores and out in the chilly streets and squares of Europe, as stallholders switch on their twinkling lights and lay their festive wares out for us all to browse in a leisurely fashion.
Much as I am appalled by the bright lights and tinsel on the main shopping drags, I am enthralled in equal measure by the traditional simplicity of the Christmas market — whether at home or abroad, there is nothing nicer than wrapping up and heading out after dark to peruse the offerings of the traders.
Not only are the goods on display more unique and individual than anything you will find on the high street, you will be helping small businesses rather than conglomerates and to top it all, it’s a really nice experience.
So we have compiled a list of suggestions to help take the stress out of your Christmas shopping.
The Austrian capital is probably the first place which springs to mind at the mention of Christmas markets — and for good reason. From mid-November the whole city becomes a magical winter wonderland.
Everywhere you look there are markets offering different types of gift ideas — from traditional crafts to artisan foods and over in the museum quarter, a funkier, more modern approach to Christmas presents are on offer.
With baubles and trinkets, foodstuffs and crafts at every turn, visitors will also be glad of the opportunity to take the weight off their feet and enjoy a cup of gluhwhein or a helping of thick broth served in a huge crusty bread roll from one of the abundant food stalls.
And while the weather will be cold and crisp and there will be reminders of Christmas everywhere you look, Vienna couldn’t be further away from the commercial frenzy we have become so used to — it’s definitely one for the bucket list.
The Palais Hansen Kempinski Hotel is a great choice if you want a little luxury. Located just a few minutes by foot from all the action, the old world charm of this luxurious 5-star venue will knock your socks off — rooms from €336 per night — www.kempinski.com
If you want to keep your funds for shopping, try the Hotel-Pension Bleckmann, a good, comfortable bargain from €82 per night — www.hotelbleckmann.at
Sticking with colder climes, the Danish capital is trendy, historical, and cultural and has some great shopping options, particularly during the run up to Christmas.
The Tivoli Gardens are famous worldwide and during the festive season they come alive with magic — from the 60 stalls selling everything under the wintery sun to spectacular light shows and of course, the fun fair — making it a must for all age groups.
The picturesque harbour at Nyhaven will also play host to Christmas market stalls, while the Hans Christian Anderson market at Kultorvet is perfect for the young at heart.
If you fancy splashing out, The Nimb Hotel is an elegantly sumptuous yet very personal boutique hotel located just a few steps away from the main train station.
The Hungarian capital is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year, but even more so in winter when it is transformed into a food lovers’ Christmas paradise — from goulash to gluwhein, there is undoubtedly something for everyone.
A trip would not be complete without a boat ride down the Danube followed by a visit to Gertbaud House where a giant advent calendar is on display — with 24 artists revealing their work each day in the run up to Christmas.
The Bohem Art Hotel is a trendy venue very centrally located just minutes from the bustling Danube River and given the temperature for the next few months, their policy of free tea, coffee and snacks for guests in the lobby is very welcome.
Bed and breakfast is from €204 for two people sharing – www.bohemarthotel.hu, or if you are looking for something a little more basic, Prince Apartments have accommodation from €39 per night — www.princehotelbudapest.com
For anyone who wants to do their Christmas shopping in temperatures well above freezing, this is just the city for you.
Barcelona’s main Christmas fair has been going for over 225 years and is located underneath the city’s imposing gothic cathedral with the majority of stalls selling arts and crafts and decorations.
There is also a market in front of the famous Sagrada Familia Church and food lovers should head to the Gothic District, where a wide array of artisan goodies can be found.
The Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos hotel is the perfect venue for anyone visiting Barcelona. Located in the Diaganol district, this uber-chic hotel is glamorous, well-priced and central.
Renowned for its unique location, Venice isn’t the first place which springs to mind when thinking of Christmas markets, but it sure is different.
While this watery idyll is packed full of tourists during the summer, this time of year the pace is more leisurely — offering visitors the chance to really explore the tiny cobbled streets.
While taking a gondola through the network of canals may be a chilly experience, what could be more romantic than wrapping up against the cold and enjoying the spectacular views?
St Mark’s Square, which is usually thronged with visitors, plays host to a wonderfully artisan market offering a variety of unusual gifts from Murano glass jewellery and marbled paper to traditional carnival masks.
Being Italy, there is of course a huge amount of food on offer including traditional pantone from Verona, locally-made olive oils and balsamic vinegars, almond-studded nougat, white truffles, handmade chocolates and a delicious array of cured meats and cheeses.
If you really want to push the boat out (pun intended) head for the sumptuous San Clemente Hotel located on its own island in the lagoon. This plush venue was once a palace.
Rooms from €380 including breakfast and complimentary transport — www.kempinksi.com
Hotel Belle Epoque has rooms for €80 per night — www.belleepoquevenice.com
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved