Those funny wooden chalets appearing all over the place can only mean one thing; it’s Christmas market time! Even the most hardened humbug can’t deny the magic of those twinkly lights as the aroma of mulled wine and spiced almonds fills the air. So don’t let your festive cheer disappear in some sub-standard marketplace – hire a car and head off to take in the magic of some of the UK and Europe’s best Christmas markets. You may even come across one or two you haven’t heard of before…
Edinburgh pretty much has Christmas and New Year nailed. But its nearby neighbour Glasgow packs a punch in the festive department as well. Pay a visit to Scotland’s west coast for some fantastic seasonal fun, including a huge international market and ice rink, without competing with thousands of other tourists. And once you’ve had your fill of festive treats, head away from the city to take in some wintery Scottish scenery to really get you in the spirit of things.
Pitching itself as “the largest authentic German market outside Germany and Austria”, Birmingham’s seasonal offering is certainly impressive. Nabbing the UK Christmas crown from competitors like London and Manchester is no mean feat. But the Brummies are proving hard to beat, with their huge Frankfurt Christmas market sitting at the centre of proceedings, including 200 stalls of festive treats.
Not to be beaten by its Scottish or English counterparts, the welsh capital offers up a magical flurry of festivities, including over 80 arts and crafts stalls featuring traditional local wares. This runs alongside a German market and Winter Wonderland, continuing on into the New Year.
No Christmas market list would be complete without mentioning what is perhaps the mothership of all Christmas markets. More than 60 are scattered around the city, interspersed with ice rinks, rides and Ferris Wheels. If you don’t know where to start, head to the Gendarmenmarkt, considered one of the most beautiful and iconic seasonal markets in the city.
Take a pre-Christmas break to France and hire a car to head to Strasbourg for some traditional festive cheer. Known as the ‘Capital of Christmas’, the market here dates back to 1570, with the largest natural Christmas tree in Europe taking pride of place in the town centre. A bit different from the markets of its German cousins just over the border, try the spiced Christmas beers in place of mulled wine, produced by Alsatian monks since the Middle Ages. This is a great place to gather some regional delicacies for the Christmas table – but remember, this is France, so less bratwurst, more Chateaubriand.
Gothenburg and Kalmar
Gothenburg isn’t known as Sweden’s ‘Christmas City’ for nothing; the Gothenburg Liseberg Christmas market is a dazzling spectacle of illuminations and Christmas craft goodies. This is also the place to come for a few gift ideas with a difference, with the Julform Popup market offering beautiful and unique Scandinavian design. And the main event? That would be the multi-course Christmas smorgasbord, covered with an array of delectable traditional dishes including casseroles, meats, cheeses and pickled fish.
After taking in the best of Gothenburg, hire a car for the four hour drive to Kalmar at the other side of the Sweden. Sitting at the edge of the Baltic Sea, this city’s Christmas market is one of the best kept seasonal secrets in the country. Fewer tourists find their way this far east and the looming Kalmar Castle overlooks proceedings, giving the whole thing an authentically magical feel.
There’s something about this Norwegian city that makes it look as if it’s teetering on the brink of Christmas all year round. Crooked wooden buildings and cold-looking mountains gaze down on the town, which is tailor-made for festive fun. Amongst the concerts and other holiday delights, Bergen is particularly famous for its Gingerbread Town, a miniature sweet city that’s just as enchanting as it sounds.
The capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina may not be the first place that springs to mind when you think of Christmas cheer. But forget everything you thought you knew about Sarajevo – the city has been reborn since its nomination for European Capital of Culture 2014. From mid-December to mid-January, the Sarajevo Holiday Market takes you away from the tourists and delivers a ton of Christmas cheer, as well as lots of goodies to take home. Get there before everyone else starts hearing about it.
Where’s your favourite Christmas market?