They’ve never been more popular — so pour the gluhwein and wrap up warm as Europe’s cities twinkle with lights, stately trees and a million-and-one Yuletide shopping opportunities.
From Strasbourg to York, here’s our pick of the best Christmas markets for 2018 . . .
Winter wonderland: Haumpmarkt square in Nuremberg, pictured above
POLISHED IN POLAND
Krakow’s seasonal shindig — when 80 stalls cram into its 13th-century market square — promises choral music, horse-and-cart rides and a ‘best nativity’ competition. There’s fall-off-the-bone pork knuckle and morsels of Tatra mountains sheep’s cheese. A dusting of snow usually ramps up the festive-o-meter too.
STAR BUY: A tiny, blue and white Boleslawiec pottery Christmas tree.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 30 to Boxing Day, Rynek Glowny (discovercracow.com).
BOOK IT: Doubles at the five-star Hotel Stary on December 14 cost £251, hotelstary.com. Ryanair flies to Krakow from £130 (ryanair.com).
GO FOR EXPERIENCE
Self-styled capital of Christmas, Strasbourg’s sprawling 300-chalet tinsel-fest is so impressive visitors often stay three days. The centuries-old market has French and German influences in bretzels (doughy pretzels), foie gras, sauerkraut and tarte flambees.
STAR BUY: Tins of bredele, Alsace biscuits.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 24 to December 30, across the city (noel.strasbourg.eu/en/accueil).
BOOK IT: Doubles at the four-star Le Moon hotel from £171 (lemoon-strasbourg.com). Go to Strasbourg in December on Eurostar from London’s St Pancras from £198 return (eurostar.com).
York’s medieval streets, circled by 13th-century walls, provide an atmospheric spot for the St Nicholas Fair. Imaginative gifts abound too; from hand-made puppets to Viking-style drinking horns, a nod to the city’s erstwhile inhabitants. And York Minster is always within view.
STAR BUY: Crumbly Christmas Wensleydale.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 15 to December 23, Parliament Street (visityork.org).
BOOK IT: Five-star Principal York from £179 a night on December 14, (phcompany.com, 01904 653 681).
Advent brings a village of little red huts to Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. Beat the cold with toasty Swedish dishes like lussekatter (saffron buns), glogg (mulled wine) and — gulp — reindeer meat served with almond potatoes.
STAR BUY: Traditional hand-carved wooden Dala horses.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 24 to December 23, Gamla Stan (visitstockholm.com)
BOOK IT: Sunvil has three-night breaks to Stockholm in December for £650pp, based on two sharing at Nobis Hotel. Price includes breakfast, flights, private transfers and a 48-hour Stockholm Pass (sunvil.co.uk, 020 8758 4722).
Winter warmer: These Christmas markets are sure to get you feeling festive (stock image)
A happy collision of cultures takes place in late November when Florence’s central piazza transforms into a German Weihnachtsmarkt.
The 55-hut market, close to the Duomo, has plenty of traditional Bavarian fare but Firenze — and Italy — is well represented, too, with delicious Florentines and soaps infused with Tuscan herbs among the retail delights.
STAR BUY: A divinely-boxed panettone (festive Italian cake).
WHEN AND WHERE: November 28 to December 20, at the Piazza Santa Croce (visit florence.com).
BOOK IT: Citalia has a three-night break to Florence from £408 pp, flying BA from London on December 1. Price includes B&B at the four-star plus Hotel Brunelleschi, (citalia.com, 01293 831 970).
Bavaria is aglow with festive cheer come early December and Nuremberg leads the way with its Christkindlesmarkt in historic Hauptmarkt square. Candy-striped huts serve up rum-laced Gluhwein and small mountains of Lebkuchen — soft, spicy gingerbread. Check out the international market for gifts from further afield.
STAR BUY: A Drei im Weggla (three sausages in a roll), the city’s signature festive snack.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 30 to Christmas Eve, Hauptmarkt (christkindlesmarkt.de/en)
BOOK IT: Two nights at the five-star Meridien Grand Hotel Nuremberg costs £448 based on two sharing, marriott.com. Flights with BA to Nuremberg in mid-December cost from £100, ba.com
As enchanting as it is huge, Basel’s market is among the most visited Christmas attractions in Switzerland. Across its 180 stalls, melting cheese features heavily, with giant fondues and raclettes offering bubbling hot sustenance for shoppers. There’s a fairytale forest attraction for children too, with candle and decoration making.
STAR BUY: Bespoke baubles glass-fired while you watch.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 22 to December 23, on Barfüsserplatz and Munsterplatz in the old town, (basel.com).
BOOK IT: Stay at the five-star Hyperion Hotel Basel from £120 a night for a double room, h-hotels.com. Fly to Basel with Swiss from Heathrow for £207 in mid-December, swiss.com.
A CHILD’S DREAM
Merry: The traditional Christmas market is held in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square in Estonia
There’s been a Christmas tree in Tallinn’s Town Hall Square in Estonia since 1441, and the market now forms a star shape around it, with rustic huts often cloaked in fresh snow. An authentic-looking Old Saint Nick welcomes children into his festooned house, and there’s Baltic winter specialities including hearty portions of steaming black pudding and cabbage.
STAR BUY: Fruit bowls crafted from pine, cosy felt slippers.
WHEN AND WHERE: November 16 to January 7, Town Hall Square (visitestonia.com).
BOOK IT: Two nights at the boutique five-star Three Sisters Hotel costs £339 including breakfast, relaischateaux.com. Air Baltic flies to the Estonian capital from £112 based on December 11 flights, airbaltic.com.