You might not be ready to let go of Summer yet, but now is the time to plan your ideal festive trip. Snow-covered mountains and magical forests surround Europe’s best Christmas Markets – which are all just a short flight away.
1: Verona, Italy
Each year, Verona hosts a Christmas Market in the central Piazza dei Signori. The German styled market will have all the traditional huts, elegantly illuminated and decorated selling typical food, handicrafts, Christmas tree decorations, cribs and serving specialities such as mulled wine, Stollen and Lebkuchen cakes, bratwurst and more.
2: Prague, Czech Republic
Christmas markets are a key ingredient of the festive magic in the Czech Republic, and the Prague markets are the most impressive in the country. They light up the city, bringing locals and tourists together in a true 'winter wonderland' setting.
There is a wide selection of local food and drink to sample, much of it prepared at the stalls in front of you. Popular food on offer includes: large hams roasted on a spit, terribly unhealthy but wonderfully tasty barbequed sausages, Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup, pancakes, and a variety of sweets and cakes, such as spicy gingerbread and a hot sugar coated pastry.
3: Brussels, Belgium
Belgium's largest Christmas Market, with more than 200 chalets selling all manner of seasonal souvenirs and serving up no end of foodie treats, from tartiflette and pretzels to oysters and delicious Belgian chocolates. You also get an ice rink, fairground (complete with steampunk carousel and giant Ferris wheel) and a whole constellation of Christmas lights. Check out the glittery makeover of the normally formal-looking Bourse and don’t miss the nightly spectacle in the Grand Place, when the beautiful buildings around the UNESCO World Heritage-listed square form the backdrop for a choreographed display of lights and music.
4: Zagreb, Croatia
The Croatian capital has previously been crowned Europe’s best Christmas market and more and more people are visiting the city every year. Here, tourists and locals alike take to the streets for singing and dancing, themed walking tours and dozens of Christmas concerts.
In Ban Josip Jelačić Square there is a huge Christmas tree, the fountain is transformed into a light display and there is a cosy, heated, covered conservatory serving food and drinks. There’s also an ice rink, an enormous market, kids’ art workshops and pastry chef demonstrations.
5: Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen may be as cool as capital cities get, but that doesn’t stop it coming over all warm and fuzzy in the run-up to Christmas. In its cobbled streets and squares the air is scented with mulled wine and roasted almonds, the trees are strung with fairy lights and cosy, candlelit bars are filled with people soaking up lashings of spicey mulled wine.
The gardens provide a wonderful fairytale setting with colourful stores selling traditional handicrafts and festive food and drink as well as a spectacular light show over the beautiful Tivoli Lake.
6: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Boasting endless waterways and beautiful architecture, Amsterdam is the city that keeps on giving. You’ll soon find yourself surrounded by iconic canals and bright, eclectic architecture, made on the more special by the festive spirit that runs through the streets during Christmas time. Head to the magical Christmas markets and go crazy for homemade gifts, steaming hot mulled wine, decadent food and lights galore! Hit the ice for a romantic skate a rink under the stars and travel across the city’s many different markets in search of something special. After you’ve had your festive fill, there’s plenty more to be discovered in the cosmopolitan city.
7: Nuremberg, Germany
Some Christmas markets are more tat than tasteful – but that’s not an accusation you could level at Nuremberg, the Bavarian town that’s home to one of the oldest and best-loved of German festive markets. Here, there’s a strict ban on modern, mass-produced goods, so the orderly rows of wooden stalls are filled with traditional goods. Look out for gold foil angels, carved wooden candle stands and the quirky local speciality of Zwetschgenmännle – little figures with prunes for bodies and walnuts for heads.
For the little ones: Nuremberg Children’s Christmas Market! A nostalgic merry-go round, a child-sized steam train and visits from the Nuremberg Christkind are rounded out by fantastic hands-on booths for little ones.
8: Vienna, Austria
The Old City and shopping streets are decorated with festive lights that create a Christmas atmosphere in Vienna.
A tall arched gateway with candles receives visitors at the entrance to City Hall Square for the Vienna Christmas World on Rathausplatz. The 150 sales booths at the traditional Christmas Market offer Christmas gifts, Christmas tree decorations, handicrafts, culinary treats, confectionery and warming drinks. The trees in City Hall park and along the Ringstrasse boulevard radiate a festive glow. A special attraction for couples in love is the tree of hearts. Visitors can skate over a 3,000 m² ice rink and along numerous paths through the park. The Children's World offers a carousel, a reindeer train and wonderful light installations in the park, which are based on Christmas stories for children.
9: Düsseldorf, Germany
The Christmas markets of Düsseldorf transform the metropolis at the Rhine into a magical festive world. Discover all kinds of Christmas delights at over 200 lovingly decorated huts and explore the vast array of theme worlds in numerous parts of the city. You will find glittering Christmas tree decorations, distinguished handcrafts and plenty of tasty seasonal treats offered simultaneously at seven different locations, all within easy walking distance.
While on the square, a lovingly restored almost 100-year old merry-go-round will be the attraction for both young and old. Also, the hand-carved life-sized manger from the Bethlehem is always a major attraction.
10: Rothenburg, Germany
Rothenburg is also home to one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Germany. Known for its medieval setting, Rothenburg is a walled city that has been left largely untouched for hundreds of years.
While Christmas decorations can be bought all year long in Rothenburg, the Christmas holidays are a special time to view the city and the market in its illuminated splendour. A local specialty that shouldn’t be missed is the "Schneeball" or snow ball, made from strips of sweet dough fried and covered with powdered sugar or chocolate.