Sidestep the long queues and the glare of department store lights this festive season. Instead, head abroad for a more traditional Christmas shopping spree…
Twinkling fairylights, steaming mugs of mulled wine, a light dusting of snow… it’s all a bit more inviting than a soulless shopping centre that’s bursting at the seams isn’t it?
And that’s the kind of Christmas card scene you can step into if you head to one of these festive markets…
You’d expect Father Christmas’ homeland to have a pretty spectacular Christmas market, and you’d be right. Right up in Finland’s northernmost climes, Lapland – or, more specifically, Rovaniemi – is home to the Santa Claus Village, which is open most days all year round. Head here and you can stock up on the likes of traditional wooden drinking cups (begging to be filled with mulled wine), unusual nick-nacks like gold nuggets, and rugs and slippers made from reindeer skin.
The added bonus is you get to spend time with Father Christmas himself. And if kids want to remind him what presents they want, they can always post their Yuletide wish list at Santa’s Post Office – if they haven’t emailed it already, that is…
You half expect to see Harry Potter swooping among the Hogwarts-style buildings in Prague’s Old Town Square, which plays host to one of the city’s biggest markets. The other biggie is in Wenceslas Square.
Crunch your way through the snow at either one (if the weather’s playing ball, that is) and you’ll find wooden huts selling stocking fillers like tiny glass figurines, bobbin lace and hand-carved wooden puppets with noses that’d put Pinocchio to shame.
Keep your hands warm with a steaming cup of svařené vino – hot Czech red wine. It tastes as rich and fruity as it smells. And, of course, there’ll be a big selection of beers on offer – this country produces some of the best in the world. Look out for Budvar, the original Budweiser. Find out more about our Prague city breaks.
The markets are open until 8th January.
With the city’s reputation for grand opera and imposing imperial buildings, you’d expect Vienna to have a Christmas market in a regal setting – and it doesn’t disappoint. Right in front of the Baroque Schönbrunn Palace is a huge market, with stallholders proudly displaying everything from ornate decorations to hand-made jewellery. Chances are there’ll be some singers adding a bit of drama, too. After Christmas, it transforms itself into a New Year market – less Santa and more handicrafts – so you can pop over and spend some of the money you got from granny.
Head to Rathausplatz Square, meanwhile, and you’ll soon clock a gigantic advent wreath that’s 12 metres wide. It stands guard over a mishmash of stalls brimming with things like sugared fruits that make perfect finger-fodder when you’re slumped in front of the telly come 25th December. Plus, you can buy woolly hats in myriad colours that’ll keep you snug in the snow. Look out for the little wooden houses and toys, too – they make great decorations.
While you’re in the Austrian capital, it’s worth having a ride on the giant Ferris wheel – you’ll see the whole city lit up for Christmas. Why not consider a city break to Austria.
When it comes to sheer variety, Berlin beats them all. Come December, Germany’s capital is home to around 60 markets. They’re pretty easy to find – just follow your nose. You’ll smell bratwurst sausages sizzling on hot coals, apples baking with cinnamon, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire. The hot chocolate’s pretty hard to resist, too.
For the biggest and best, head to Charlottenburg Castle – it’s all lit up in coloured lights, which makes it looks really magical. And at the Gendarmenmarkt Market, you can pick up traditional German handicrafts like flax embroidery and stone carvings.
Other good take-homes include cosy lambskin shoes that leave Ugg boots in the shade in the tootsie-toasting stakes, and lebkuchen, a kind of gingerbread invented by Medieval German monks.
Have you been to a Christmas market? Can you give us any top pressie tips? Let us know below.