Five of the best Christmas markets

Published on: Monday, December 1, 2008

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Miss the high-street mayhem and head to one these traditional Christmas markets to stock up on all your festive needs.

1. Budapest

Budapest exudes romance throughout the Christmas season, with twinkling lights and snow-blanketed squares setting the scene. The biggest market is at Vörösmarty Square and is the only one to hold an official certificate from the Hungarian Society of Folk Arts & Crafts, meaning that all of the products sold at the market have to be handmade and traditional. Visitors can pick up wrought-iron candlesticks, tree decorations, brightly painted wooden toys and glassware, all in the shadow of the snow capped Buda hills. Get into the festive spirit with a touch of ice skating in the Városliget city park or relax in the open-air Széchenyi Baths. The festivities kick off on November 29 and stalls open from 9am until late daily.

For more accommodation and travel information see our Budapest city guide.

2. Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens embrace the absolute essence of Christmas. Europe’s first amusement park opens its gardens each December with throngs of brightly painted stalls selling all manner of festive accoutrement from hand-carved angels, to candles and wooden dolls. Try a glass of glogg (mulled wine with liquor and spices) or aebleskiver (hot apple dumplings). Rides are still open during the day, however it’s after dark when the Christmas charm comes to life as the park glitters with thousands of lights and knit-clad ice skaters glide around the lake. The market is running until December 28 and opens from 11am until late daily.

For more accommodation and travel information see our Copenhagen city guide.

3. Barcelona

Each year since 1786 Barcelona’s glittering Fira de Santa Llúcia market kicks off on December 13. The gothic cathedral and its surrounding cobbled streets become entrenched in the Christmas spirit with stalls selling handmade artefacts and nativity scenes carved out of clay. The Catalan-inspired fair adds a quirky twist to the traditional festivity, with figurines of the defecating caganer (‘Christmas Crapper’) – fashioned in all its squatting glory. The tradition dates back to the 18th century and the bizarre statues are thought to symbolise hope and fertility for the coming year. The market is open until Christmas Eve from 10am-8pm daily.

For more accommodation and travel information see our Barcelona city guide.

4. Vienna

Christmas is serious business for the Viennese, with the inhabitants of the Austrian capital opting for traditional and refined rather than tacky and commercial. In fact, they have completely outlawed the notion of red-suited Santa Claus and have created their own icon – Weiner Christkindl, a blond-locked maiden. In homage to the city’s creation, the Christkindlmarkt opens on November 15 in Rathausplatz. Looming over the square is the neo-gothic building of the town hall, which opens its numbered curtains one by one in advent calendar fashion. On sale are beeswax candles, decorations and wooden toys, as well as warming drinks and kitsch charms.

For more accommodation and travel information see our Vienna city guide.

5. Berlin

With around 60 markets across the city, Berlin does Christmas full pelt. The most popular market is the one around the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche, which attracts around four million visitors each year. Around 100 stalls cluster around the Memorial Church, selling traditional arts and crafts as well as more radical artworks from some of the city’s cutting-edge artists and designers. The interesting collection of antique and contemporary jewellery make perfect Christmas gifts.

For more accommodation and travel information see our Berlin city guide.

Best of the rest:

Tallinn – Grab some quirky hand-knitted jumpers and juniper wood toys from one of the 50 stalls in the Town Hall Square.

London
– Borough Market on London’s Southbank may not technically be a Christmas market (since it’s a year round fixture), but it does conjure the festive vibe with the scent of mulled wine and holly-strewn stalls. Pick up all your food treats, from hand-reared meats to artisan cheeses.

Nuremberg
– The Nuremberg Christmas market is the best known in Germany. Around 200 stalls are crammed into the cobbled square beneath the gothic church of Frauenkirche.