Magical world of Christmas markets in Europe

The Christmas market in Bath.

The tradition of Christmas markets dates back to the late-Middle Ages throughout the German-speaking regions of Europe, but these days they pop up all over the world. Tony Clayton-Lea chooses the best and most atmospheric to visit in the UK and Europe.

BATH, ENGLAND

We know by this stage that the World Heritage city of Bath is a wonder to behold during the summer, but it’s just as beautiful when the weather turns. Its 18-day Christmas Market — operating out of 170 traditional wooden chalets tucked between the splendid Bath Abbey and the city’s world famous Roman Baths — features unique artisan-made trinkets, toys and whatever-you’re-having-yourself. If you have tiny tots with you, there’s family fun to be found in nearby Stall Street, which hosts the festive Victorian carousel.

Where to Stay: Guyers House Hotel ( www.guyershouse.com ), a regal 17th-century country house with an award-winning restaurant. Eight miles from Bath.

Details: November 27-December 14; www.bathchristmasmarket.co.uk 

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

It really is straight from a fairy tale. Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens is the must-visit location for visitors and residents alike, as it’s renowned for its sparkly lights (at the last count it was a tad over 500,000 — and no, I’m not counting them again), hundreds of Christmas trees, over 50 stalls, Father Christmas handing out presents from a 19th century theatre, a Russian basilica and one of the biggest Christmas trees you’ve ever seen. Oh, and real living and breathing reindeer.

Where to Stay: The 4-star Copenhagen Plaza (copenhagen-plaza.hotel-rez.com) is located across the road from the Tivoli Gardens, so you won’t have far to walk with your trinkets and gifts.

Details: November 15-January 4; www.visitcopenhagen.com ; www.tivoli.dk 

NUREMBERG, GERMANY

This is one of the most famous Christmas markets in the world; it’s also one of the oldest (aka the Christkindlesmarkt), as the first official record dates back to the early 17th century.

In strict keeping with tradition, however, there is none of the contemporaneous shine and sparkle here, so if all you’re after is glitter this one might not be for you. Still, with over 180 stalls to shop in, you probably won’t have time to notice. Younger visitors can look forward to the Kinderwelhnacht (Children’s Christmas Market), which has archaic steam-powered merry-go-rounds and other old-world-charm rides.

Where to Stay: The 3-star Leonardo Hotel Nurnberg ( www.leonardo-hotels.com ), is mere minutes walk away from the Old Town and the famous city walls.

Details: November 28-December 24; neurnberg.

VIENNA, AUSTRIA

Think of all the European cities you’d like to spend some Crimbo time in and we’re betting that Vienna is first on your list. Several of the city’s prettiest squares receive the sparkly seasonal treatment — these include Rathausplatz, which hosts the Magic of Advent fair, Maria-Theresien-Platz, on which stands the wonderful Christmas Village, Karlsplatz, which focuses on children’s baubles, and Freyung, which houses the Old Viennese Christmas Market, an historic hive of stalls offering traditional handicraft such as glass decorations, ceramics, cribs and so on.

Where to Stay: The Radisson Blue Style Hotel (radissonblu.com/stylehotel-vienna) is smart 4-star contemporary living in a charming old-world city, and is located in the centre of Vienna’s 1st District.

Details: November 15-December 24; www.wien.info 

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

The Belgian capital is lovely during any time of the year, but it is arguably much prettier with crispness around its neck and crunchy snow at its feet. The city delivers much Christmas cheer throughout the full month of December. Highlights include a market of about 250 chalets, a fairground Ferris Wheel, various merry-go-rounds, a skating rink, a slalom, and— right in the centre of the city, at the wondrous Grand-Place — a sound and light show.

Where to Stay: Oh, it’s Christmas, for goodness sake, so go for broke and check into the 5-star Royal Windsor Hotel Grand Place (warwickhotels.com/royal-windsor/), which is a few minutes walks from Grand Place. Sink your feet into the carpets and feel the warmth while it’s blowing snow outside!

Details: November 28-January 4; www.visitbrussels.be 

KRAKOW, POLAND

Is Krakow the world capital of the fabled ‘White Christmas’? You’d be hard pressed to deny it, and even further burdened by the question when you take into account the city’s fairyland architecture of Baroque palaces and Gothic churches.

Krakow’s Christmas market takes place in the Old Town’s immense Rynek Glowny square, which is bedecked with all manner of seasonal attractions such as carol concerts, world renowned cribs, folk dances and Nativity puppet plays.

Where to Stay: Hotel Saski (hotelsaski.com.pl) is bang in the centre of the Old Town, and is about 70 metres from Rynek Glowny square. In essence, it’s 3-star belle époque, Central European style, but minus the accompanying weighty price per room.

Details: November 29-January 6; www.krakow-info.com 

PRAGUE, CZECHOSLOVAKIA

If, for some curious and possibly unforgiveable reason, you have never been to Prague, then Christmas time might just be the hook for you.

While the Prague Christmas markets take place in up to six locations around the city centre, perhaps the most engaging of them are to be found at Wenceslas Square and at the Old Town Square. The latter, in particular, is world renowned as a truly breathtaking example of distinctive fairy-tale European architecture.

You have the gothic Tyn Church, the baroque St Nicholas Church, and the Old Town City Hall (in which resides the world’s oldest working astronomical clock) vying in competition with the stalls, the gifts, the atmosphere, and the fun.

Lucky you.

Where to Stay: Hotel Hastal Prague (hotelhastalprague.com) is a centrally located 4-star establishment in the heart of the Old Town, and while it’s the oldest family run hotel in the area it recently underwent extensive renovation, which indicates you’ll enjoy the best of old and new.

Details: November 29-January 4;

DORDRECHT, HOLLAND

You can’t go wrong with a visit to this somewhat underrated Christmas market in this exceptionally pretty city (the oldest in Holland).

At 2.5 kilometres in length, strolling along the historic city centre and its inland harbours is almost as atmospheric as the wide range of gifts on display and for sale at the market’s 200-plus stands.

Factor in the city’s beautiful winter garden, Holland’s longest shopping street (Voorstraat), choirs, bands, a Santa orchestra, an ice-skating rink, and a large Retreat Tent housing hundreds of fairy lights and warm seating areas, and you’ve got one of the most admired Christmas market experiences in Europe.

Where to Stay: InnerCity Hotel Dordrecht (innercityhotel.nl) is modern and comfortable, reasonably priced, 3-star hotel, and is located conveniently close to the centre of everything

Details: December 12-14. www.visitdordrecht.nl 


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