Christmas markets: Let there be festive lights

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Gingerbread, mulled wine, baubles galore – Christmas markets are a chance to get into the spirit of things. Rhiannon Batten wraps it all up


We Say

Originating in Germany and Alsace but now found rather further afield, these seasonal street markets held during Advent typically sell nutcrackers, toys, tree decorations and local crafts. A visit to a Christmas market promises the perfect short winter break: you get to combine some downtime in an atmospheric, often architecturally inspiring location with the chance to pocket some more authentic stocking-fillers than you're likely to find on your local high street. And with glühwein and gingerbread as part of the deal, there's no danger of dropping from exhaustion while you shop.



They say

"Nor was it that the figs were moist and pulpy, or that the French plums blushed in modest tartness from their highly decorated boxes, or that everything was good to eat and in its Christmas dress; but the customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other". From A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

"My Nana took me, balaclava'd from the cold/To where stalls shimmered in a splash of gold/Buttery light from wind-twitched lamps and all/The Christmas hoards, were heaped above my eyes". From "Christmas Market" by Mike Harding.



For the sweet-toothed

With hundreds of markets to choose from across Europe, deciding which to visit is a stickier prospect than a slice of stollen. If you're looking for history and charm, however, Aachen ( www.aachen-tourist.de) is hard to beat. Open until 23 December, this is not only the closest German market to the UK but also one of the prettiest. The market is set around the cathedral (a Unesco World Heritage Site) and town hall, and is known for its confectionery. Alongside traditional crafts are stalls selling specialities such as Aachener Printen (a type of gingerbread), Spekulatius biscuits and marzipan bread. Some are prepared using 19th-century machines.

The German Travel Centre (020-8429 2900; www.german-travel-uk.com) is offering three-night breaks from £215 per person, including Lufthansa flights from Heathrow to Cologne or Düsseldorf and room-only accommodation in Aachen.



On a grand scale

First held in 1570, Strasbourg's Christmas market is simply huge. It takes place around the city's cathedral until 31 December. The stalls offer Alsatian specialities such as Brédalas cakes, as well as crafts and decorations. For extra Christmas cheer, don't miss a visit to the city's Petite France district; its half-timbered buildings are also home to shops and bakeries.

Strasbourg has lost its flights to London, but you can get there in under six hours by train from St Pancras; return fares with Eurostar cost from £99 (08432 186186; www.eurostar.com). Double rooms at the Hotel Cardinal de Rohan cost from €77, room only (00 33 3 88 32 85 11; www.hotelrohan.com). For more information on Strasbourg, see www.tourisme68.com.



For the indecisive

If you're not sure whether to opt for the Christmas markets of buzzing Berlin or fairy-tale Prague, Railbookers (020-3327 0748; www.railbookers.com) has a possible solution: see both on a combined trip. It's one of several twin-city Christmas market trips the company is offering, starting at £479 per person including two nights' accommodation in each city, outward rail travel and a return by air on BA from Prague to Heathrow. If you can arrive in Berlin on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday, you get an extra night in the German capital for the same price.



A 21st-century twist

Vienna ( www.vienna.info) plays host to a myriad of different markets, all with a slightly different slant. The largest is at City Hall Square, the most traditional at Freyung and the prettiest at Spittelberg. New this year, however, is Kubik, in front of the Votive Church at Sigmund Freud Park. Here, 5-10pm daily until 31 December (except 24-26 December), you can shop while admiring a light installation, listening to live DJs and feasting on snacks from Neni restaurant ( www.kubikwien.at). Dertour (020-7290 1104; www.dertour.co.uk) is offering Christmas market breaks to Vienna from £265 per person, including flights from Heathrow on BMI and two nights' B&B .

In search of some Nordic cheer

BA resumes flights from Heathrow to Gothenburg on Sunday, making it easier to visit Scandinavia's largest Christmas market. It takes place in Liseberg amusement park until 23 December, and visitors can expect five million twinkling lights, 700 Christmas trees, stalls selling Nordic handicrafts, seasonal Swedish fare, an ice rink, ice sculptures and an ice bar. Entrance to Liseberg is included in the Gothenburg Pass, which costs from Skr245 (£22) per adult and Skr170 (£15) per child for 24 hours ( www.goteborg.com). Alternatively, book a Christmas shopping break with Simply Sweden (0845 8900 300; www.simplysweden.co.uk) and you'll get a pass thrown in. The deal costs from £310 per person for two nights, including flights from Manchester or Heathrow and B&B accommodation in a four-star hotel.



Closer to home

This year, Chester's Castle Square is playing host to a Victorian Christmas market for the first time www.chestermagic.co.uk. Until 3 January, visitors can take their fill of roasting chestnuts, Victorian arts and crafts and mulled wine. There's also an ice rink and a big wheel. Chester's ABode Hotel (01244 347000; www.abodehotels.co.uk) has a cringingly named "Shop till Yule drop" package aimed at visitors to the market, with prices starting from £99 per person. The offer also includes mince pies and mulled wine on arrival, accommodation with breakfast, and a "pamper survival pack" for weary shoppers.



What Google will tell you...

"Weekdays are the best time to visit the markets. But if only Saturdays or Sundays are available to you, at least try to get there early. The weekend crowds can be fierce. The booths also have the best selection when you get there early. A word of caution: the big attraction of the market is atmosphere. There are no bargains there. You'll pay just what you would pay elsewhere. And the selection is limited, so don't think you can do all of your Christmas shopping there."

www.howtogermany.com

"Most German Christmas markets will have beekeepers selling the finest hand-made beeswax candles... [they] burn with a bright golden halo and exude a slight fragrance of honey."

www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk

What Google won't tell you... until now

Germany's most unusual Christmas market is to be found at the fishing port of Emden on the North Sea coast ( www.emden-touristik.de), west of Bremen. The stalls are scattered around the city's harbour but also spill onto pontoons and boats moored up there, including a lovely 19th-century sailing ship. Stranger still, among the usual Christmas market fare of bratwurst (sausage) and lebkuchen (gingerbread) you'll find matjes (soused herring). The market runs until 23 December.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Software / Web Developer - ASP.NET

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company produces a wide ra...

    Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

    £22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

    Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

    £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones