HE air is crisp, the nights are long and the fire is crackling – what better time of year to visit the winter wonderland of Europe’s best Christmas markets this year? Here are our top picks.
Dating all the way back to the 14th century, Frankfurt’s Christmas market is one of Europe’s most popular festive destinations, and attracts around three million visitors every year. Open from November right through to Christmas Eve, the market is renowned for its marzipan-based delicacies, which are traditionally given as Christmas love gifts by men to women on their radar. Set in the historic quarter of the city, around Römerburg and Paulsplatz, the market offers a fabulous starting point for anyone looking to explore this historic city on foot.
The Grandhotel Hessischer Hof is owned by the Landgrave and Prince of Hesse family foundations and is as palatial as this suggests. Consider heavy hanging window dressings and deeply piled carpets — this is old school luxury. www.grandhotel-hessischerhof.com
For those on a budget check out 25Hours Hotel by Levis, a supremely funky spot that’s walking distance from the train station and has comfy beds, great rain showers and a roof terrace to drink a hipster cocktail in peace. http://www.25hours-hotels.com/en/hotels/frankfurt/by-levis.
Aer Lingus, Lufthansa and British Airways all run regular flights from Dublin to Frankfurt.
The Christmas market in Austria’s Salzburg has been known as the Saint Nicholas’ Market since the 17th century, when it ran for two weeks before and after St Nicholas Day on December 6. Today, it is known as The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt and runs from the first Sunday of Advent and closes on December 26, selling handmade gifts and hot seasonal food to visitors from all over the world. One of the big attractions of The Salzburg Christkindlmarkt is its daily programme of choral performances, guided tours and festive story time for children.
If you want to be ultra fancy, book into the Hotel Villa Auersperg, where you will enjoy modern luxury (think antique desks with Eames chairs) and an organic, locally sourced breakfast. www.auersperg.at
On the more modest end of the scale, Alderhof is a traditional-style pension within walking distance to both the train station and the old town. Rooms are simple and traditional, but homey and welcoming. www.pension-adlerhof.at.
Ryanair flies direct from Dublin to Salzburg.
Budapest plays host to two of Hungary’s biggest Christmas markets from early November right through to the end of December. The market on Vorosmarty Square is renowned for its range of handcrafts and Christmas gift ideas, as well as being the oldest festive market in the city, while the market on St Stephen’s Square is held in the shadow of the stunning St Stephen’s Basilica and sells festive treats like Hungarian Chimney Cake as well as hundreds of gift ideas from the National Association of Folk Artists.
5 star luxury abounds at The Boscolo Budapest, where sweeping staircases lead the way to bedrooms that are so luxurious; you’ll find it hard to leave.
Be prepared to fall in love with the spacious bathrooms, clad in marble. www.boscolohotels.com
Gerlóczy is a small hotel over a fantastic café in the heart of the city.
Its rooms all boast a king-size bed and mod cons, which defy its modest price tag. www.gerloczy.hu/rooms
Both Ryanair and Aer Lingus have regular flights from Dublin to Budapest.
There are over 20 Christmas markets which take up residence in Vienna each November, all offering a charm of its very own. Expect proper roasted chestnuts and an extensive array of heavily decorated Christmas cookies at the market in front of City Hall, and don’t miss out on the carol concerts which take place each Friday until the end of December. The Christmas Village at Belvedere Palace is a must see, as it transforms the palace grounds into a fairytale wonderland of candlelight and festive cheer. Spittelberg is the market to visit for ceramics, warm jumpers, rugs and jewellery made of silver, enamel and brass and handmade ornaments and nativity sets can be found at the market in front of the Schönbrunn Palace. www.austria.info.
The Guesthouse might sound like a pension-style hotel, but to stay here is to experience extreme luxury. Designed by Terence Conran, there are incredible touches all over the hotel, and each room has a wine cooler stocked with free wine and beer – bonus! www.theguesthouse.at
Hotel Kunsthof offers a range of room sizes, from king size to single, all at affordable prices. The walls are covered with artwork that is available to buy, and after a long day perusing the Christmas market, their fully stocked Honest Bar is always welcome. http://www.hotelkunsthof.at.
Aer Lingus flies direct from Dublin to Vienna.
Amsterdam embraces a citywide festive atmosphere come November, with six main Christmas markets taking over the city.
Head to the WinterVillage at Amstelveen Square where over sixty stallholders ready to sell you your entire Christmas list surround an ice rink. Hipsters will love the Funky Xmas Market, where designers, artists and other creatives sell their wares directly to the public.
From mid-December, Museumplein is transformed into a wonderland with Christmas games, markets, entertainment and near constant carol singing and Kromhouthal hosts a market especially for last minute gift inspiration on December 22 and 23. www.iamsterdam.com.
The Hoxton Hotel in Amsterdam oozes cool. All rooms have double showers and super sophisticated finishes, and the bar and restaurant areas are like the sitting room you always wished you had. www.thehoxton.com.
Volkshotel used to be a newspaper headquarters and is now home to lots of quirky hotel bedrooms, ranging from teensy to small apartment-sized. It has a sauna on the roof terrace, which is the best place to start the day from in this city. www.volkshotel.nl
Aer Lingus flies direct from Cork to Amsterdam.
Expect a Smorgasbord of festive fun at Gothenburg’s famous Christmas market.
Sweden’s largest festive market takes over Liseberg Amusement Park and welcomes over half a million visitors each year. With over 80 stalls and a special design market, it’s a shoppers dream, but children will adore the traditional Santa House, where the man himself is on hand to make Christmas as magical as possible for little visitors. www.goteborg.com.
Upper House is exclusive and expensive, but you get what you pay for here — it is located in the poshest area of Gothenburg and is replete with all kinds of mod cons and really lovely beds. It has an indoor and an outdoor pool for water seekers. www.upperhouse.se
City Hotel offers a range of room options from a single room with a hand basin to a double deluxe with ensuite. It’s located on a quiet central street and all room rates include breakfast. http://cityhotelgbg.se
Aer Lingus flies from Dublin to Stockholm and from there, get the train to Gothenburg. Alternatively, fly from Cork to London Standsted and catch a Ryanair flight from there to Gothenburg.
Expect the waft of warm mulled wine to warm your cockles as you wander around Dresden’s 12 Christmas markets.
Famous for candles and hand carved wooden figures, it’s an ideal spot to pick up Christmas gifts, but whatever you do, don’t miss out on trying Stollen, the festive cake which Dresden is famous for.
If you happen to be in the city on December 9 you’ll be treated to the Dresdner Stollenfest, where after a parade, a giant stolen is cut into thousands of pieces and distributed amongst visitors. www.dresden.de
Rich with the Baroque interiors that Dresden is famous for, the Bülow Residenz is a testament to velvet and tapestried upholsteries. www.buelow-residenz.de
The B&B Hotel in Dresden is centrally located and offers brightly coloured basic rooms at an excellent price. Staying at this hotel is kind of like staying in a modern university dorm — bright and clean but with no free extras. www.hotelbb.de
There are no direct flights from Irish airports to Dresden, but you can fly to Berlin from Dublin with either Aer Lingus or Ryanair and catch the Intercity Express train, which will bring you to Dresden in around two hours.
If it’s grown-up Christmas-ing you’re after then there is no greater spot Paris.
Unfortunately the famous market on the Champs-Élysées has been cancelled this year, but the one at the Notre Dame Cathedral is just as magical.
With over 50 stallholders selling crafts, toys and festive food, this is a fabulous way to kick off the Christmas celebration. The market opens from mid-December until Christmas and is well known for its glass sculptures, so be sure to keep an eye out. www.en.parisinfo.com
If you are combining romance with Christmas shopping, then a splurge at Hotel Particulier in Montmarte is a must. Housed in an 18th century mansion and surrounded by a private garden, this hotel has only five suites and is attended to by discreet and highly trained staff. www.en.hotel-particulier-montmartre.com
Hotel des Grandes Ecoles is a pension-style hotel on the Left Bank that has been in operation since 1927. Expect old-fashioned hospitality, a good bed and a decent continental breakfast that will set you up for the day.
Aer Lingus flies direct from Cork to Paris.
With a whole month of free events taking place in the run-up to Christmas, Edinburgh is an ideal place to get your festive fix. It is hosting two Christmas markets from the middle of November until January, in Princes Street Gardens and George Street. Both markets promise to offer a unique and totally Christmassy experience for their visitors, with hundreds of craftspeople, artists and food producers selling their wares. www.edinburghschristmas.com
The G&V Royal Mile Hotel is homage to muted splendour. Expect textural throws and tones of grey in your room, which comes with a Nespresso machine and a fabulous bathroom. www.quorvuscollection.com/en/gandv-hotel-edinburgh
German brand Motel One has made its mark on Edinburgh with two hotels in the city. Their hotels are stylish and luxe, despite a low price point, and offer mod cons, great rooms and excellent service. www.motel-one.com
Aer Lingus flies from Cork to Edinburgh.
The city is home to three separate Christmas markets which are open for the whole of Advent. Cologne is world famous for its festive celebrations. Specially constructed huts or Buden sell arts and crafts, toys and Christmas decorations to millions of visitors each year. Famous for gingerbread and mulled wine, the Cologne markets are open from the end of November right through to Christmas. www.cologne.de
Housed in a disused water tower and featuring a roof terrace that offers panoramic views all over the city, the rooms at the Wasserturm are chic, modern and ultra comfortable. See www.hotel-im-wasserturm.de.
The Dom Hotel is centrally located, newly renovated and has rooms that are comfortable and welcoming.
Best of all, the Cologne Christmas market is literally moments away from its front door. See www.domhotel.com
Ryanair flies direct from Dublin to Cologne.