Hop over to the continent and get into the Christmas spirit with a visit to one of Europe’s colourful Christmas markets.
Copenhagen, Denmark: 13th November – 30th December 2009
Surrounded by 1,000 Christmas trees and illuminated with thousands of lights, the market is held in the enchanting Tivoli Gardens – Europe’s oldest amusement park.
It’s fantastic for families; while parents splash out on porcelain and stylish modern Scandinavian glassware, children are spoilt rotten with the amount of amusements on offer.
Not only is there an ice rink, but also a giant funfair, elf train and pony rides. For those who have a head for heights, there’s also the world’s tallest swing carousel, the Star Flyer, which spins passengers around 80 metres up in the air. Alternatively, visitors can get a bird’s-eye view of the city lit up in lights from the more sedate big wheel!
Lille, France: 18th November – 30 December 2009
This Market is extremely popular with the British because of the Eurostar link. Visitors to this market quickly get into the festive spirit with Lille’s month-long Christmas market, held in the Place Rihour in the centre of town.
The whole of the Place is taken over by stalls selling arts and crafts and local cuisine. There’s entertainment for children in the shape of theatre and games and a chance to sample traditional French Christmas delicacies.
Visitors with children can have photos taken with Father Christmas, who attends the market and participates in a spectacular event on Saturday 19th December – when he “falls” from the Chamber of Commerce’s 80 metre-high Belfry.
Salzburg, Austria: 19th November – 26th December 2009
The main market, which dates back to 1679, is held on the Domplatz in front of the Baroque cathedral. Other smaller markets are peppered throughout the city, illuminated by candles and bulbs.
Stock up on wooden crafts, tree decorations and knitwear, and make sure you try the Hussar rounds – almond and apricot cookies.
As the city where Mozart and the carol Silent Night were born, it’s not surprising that music plays a big part in the whole affair. While brass bands enthrall crowds in Residenz Square, the steps of the cathedral become a stage for children’s choir concerts. Add to all this a light dusting of snow and you have yourself one breathtaking city this time of year.
Brussels, Belgium: 27th November 2009 – 3rd January 2010
Set around the beautiful buildings of the Grand Palace in the heart of the city, Brussels’ Christmas market attracts millions of visitors from across the globe every winter.
Often hailed as Europe’s most original Christmas market, 240 wooden chalets are spread around the Bourse (Stock Exchange), Place Sainte Catherine and Fishmarket.
While traditional arts and crafts, jewellery and handmade tree decorations can be found in abundance, this is really the market for gourmets – think marzipan, gingerbread, waffles and, of course, plenty of Belgian chocolates.
Skate off some calories on the open-air ice rink, before taking a ride on the magnificent 48-metre-high Big Wheel illuminated by 18,000 lights – a spectacular sight when night falls.
Cologne, Germany: 27th November – 23rd December 2009
Attracting over two million visitors every year, the city has not one but six markets, each with its own unique character.
One of the most popular is located in the Roncalliplatz, which boasts the largest Christmas tree in Germany – a 24-metre fir tree that stands beneath the imposing gothic cathedral.
There’s also a medieval market located in front of the Museum of Chocolate and, most outstanding of all, a floating market on the MS Wappen, which drops anchor at the Rheinpromenade.
There are over 40 stalls on board, selling plenty of culinary treats as well as many regional crafts, including wooden carvings, dolls and ceramics. Every afternoon the ship’s Santa reads fairy tales for the younger visitors.
Prague, Czech Republic: 28th November – 1st January 2010
The markets, which take place in the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, with smaller ones at Namesti Republiky and Havelske Trziste, give the city a wonderful air of romance this time of year.
Brightly decorated wooden huts offer everything from Czech glass to scented candles and handmade puppets. Warm your cockles with a cup of svaree vino (mulled wine) and listen out for the sound of music resonating throughout the Old Town Square. School children from throughout the country, dressed in traditional costume, dance and sing for the crowd.
If that’s not captivating enough, there’s also a stunning Christmas tree, shipped from the Sumava Mountains, which is draped in a blaze of lights. Set against the dark gothic skyline, it makes for a stunning sight.
Don’t forget your holiday insurance!
You can purchase great value travel insurance direct at 24/7 travel insurance. For a 3-day break in Europe, it will cost you just £5.32* – a small price to pay to really relax and enjoy your Christmas shopping all the more!
*Premium £5.32 includes Insurance Premium Tax based on an individual aged under 55 taking out a Standard Single-trip 24/7 travel insurance policy for 3 days in Europe excluding personal possessions cover and purchased within 14 days of departure date. Cover details and prices are correct at time of going to press (November 2009) and are subject to change.