There’s nothing like wandering through twinkling Christmas markets. The big ones are brilliant and awe-inspiring, but there are some real gems off the beaten track. Here’s a list of some of the best lesser-known markets where you can escape the crowds and enjoy an authentic Christmas market experience.
Strasbourg Christkindelsmarik, France
Strasbourg’s celebrations date back to 1570, and the city claims to be the ‘Capital of Christmas’. The ancient markets have a gorgeous setting in the UNESCO Grand Ile Quarter. You’ll see colourful garlands and strings of lights everywhere, and the wooden huts bulge with Alsatian decorations and speciality bredele cake. There’s also a Sharing Village set up by humanitarian groups to help those in need.
Bologna Christmas Markets, Italy
Brimming with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the medieval city of Bologna is perfect for a spot of pre-Christmas indulgence. There are two markets to explore. You’ll find one in the piazza in front of the ancient San Pietro Cathedral, while the other lies hidden in the atmospheric cloisters of the ancient Santa Maria dei Servi. There’s a strong nativity tradition, so you’ll find stalls adorned with cribs and figurines. You can also indulge in some of Bologna’s gastronomical specialties such as torrone (nougat) and croccante alle mandorle (almonds and sugar).
Mount Pilatus Christmas Market, Switzerland
You can combine skiing or snowboarding with shopping atop Mount Pilatus, the highest Christmas market in Europe! Set at an elevation of 2000 metres and overlooking Lake Lucerne, you can enjoy spectacular Alpine views as you venture up the mountain. Reaching the summit is a novelty in itself: you chug up aboard the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. Once there, you can browse for gifts of candles and gingerbread from twinkling mountaintop stalls.
Padstow Christmas Festival, Cornwall
Held on 7–10 December, the Padstow Christmas Festival should be on every foodie’s calendar. You can pick up Christmas cooking tips from live demonstrations by famous chefs such as Rick Stein and Michael Caines, while delicious produce from across the West Country will give you great gift ideas. You’ll also find craft pop-ups and food trucks offering tempting treats such as lavender and nectar fudge, and award-winning pies.
Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival, Hungary
Pigs knuckles and rooster testicle stew are some of the gourmet dishes on the menu at Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival this year. It’s held on Vorosmarty Square between 10 November and 31 December. Visit on a Sunday to see the traditional lighting of an advent wreath candle amid beautiful choral singing. Kids can learn the art of beading or candle-making at craft workshops and return home with handmade Christmas tree ornaments. You can also enjoy puppet theatres, an ice-skating rink and music shows.
Krakow Christmas Markets, Poland
Dreaming of a white Christmas? A visit to vibrant Krakow’s Christmas markets might just be the answer. Often treated to a generous dose of the white stuff, Poland offers a magical getaway for shopping in snowy surroundings. The city is brimming with gothic and baroque architecture, and the market can be found in the Rynek, an enormous square in the historic district. From sculptures and tablecloths to jewellery and trinkets, there’s plenty to browse.
Christmas Market Velvet Cave, Netherlands
How about visiting a cosy cave for your Christmas market fix? The Velvet Cave is at the foot of Cauberg hill and is an attraction in itself. Highlights include an 18th century chapel, beautiful murals and impressive sculptures. From November 17 to December 23, the cave is transformed into a subterranean Christmas wonderland featuring stalls of Christmas crafts and delicacies set to an atmospheric soundtrack. Entry is €5 for children aged 5–12 and €7 for adults.
La Grand Marche De Noel, Montreal
The arrival of December sees Montreal’s busiest public square explode into a colourful celebration of all things festive. Running right up until Christmas Eve, the action is at Place Jacques Cartier, which sits in the old town between Notre-Dame E and De La Commune E. There you’ll discover stylish boutiques offering unique stocking fillers such as sunglasses crafted from sustainable bamboo and natural Quebecan cocktail syrups. Microbreweries also play a big part in the festivities, and beer fans can buy a tasting package to sample a selection.
Copenhagen Christmas Markets, Denmark
Tivoli Gardens is magical at any time of the year with its historic amusement park and entertainment, but during the festive period it becomes a real wonderland. You’ll see thousands of twinkling lights, Santa’s reindeer and snow-topped trees alongside wooden chalets packed with treats and stocking fillers. You can also enjoy an impressive light show over the lake. It runs from 18 November to 31 December and admission is 99 DKK.
Lisbon Christmas Markets, Portugal
The hip Portuguese capital hosts many Christmas markets, and a lovely one runs from 29 November to 3 December in the Campo Pequeno arena. You’ll find unique Christmas decorations and plenty of craft stalls to pick up a gift or two. ‘Second Chance Lx’ is a new addition for 2017 – offering vintage items and costume jewellery. Be sure not to leave before trying Lisbon’s speciality cherry liqueur paired with a delicious egg custard.
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main image: Strasbourg Christmas Market, image courtesy of LenDog64, Flickr creative commons