5 ways to... Visit Christmas markets

Browse the food and craft stalls to stock up on holiday cheer this year

There is something vastly appealing about the concept of the Christmas market. While this winning mix of craft stalls and food sellers, slotted into city-centre squares, seems to be ever-more visible amid the grey of November as well as the tinsel rustle of December, it offers a less nakedly commercial take on the year-end shopping frenzy than a Saturday in a shiny mall.

Here is a chance to buy quirky gifts - wooden toys, tree trinkets - while leavening the process with a mug of glühwein or a mustard-drowned bratwurst. And it is also, of course, an excuse for travel, to urban hotspots across Europe - or even further afield...

By heading to a true classic

The idea of the Christmas market is distilled to its essence in Prague (praguewelcome.cz), a city whose cobbled medieval core is an ideal framework for the soft-focus, children's-choir vibe of the season. Pockets of festive commerce are dotted across the Czech capital at this time of year - although the motherlodes are found in Old Town (30 November to 1 January) and Wenceslas (30 November to 12 January) squares.

A three-night stay at the five-star Aria hotel in the Mala Strana district costs from £539 per person, with flights, private transfers and breakfast, via Kirker Holidays (020 7593 1899; kirkerholidays.com).

By heading south, not east

Though tradition seems to demand it, a Christmas market does not have to be staged in a former Eastern Bloc piazza. Madrid (esmadrid.com) offers a Latin variation on the theme with an annual flurry of stalls in the iconic Plaza Mayor - the rectangular space which, with its elegant three-storey buildings on each side (and the modern cafés that lurk under its cloisters), has been the heart of the Spanish capital since 1576.

A two-night break with breakfast at the five-star Ritz Madrid, departing Heathrow on 6 December, is £259 a head (two sharing), with British Airways Holidays (0844 493 0772; ba.com/holidays).

By quick-hop rail journey

One of the most accessible markets on foreign soil is in Lille (lilletourism.com), a mere hour-and-a-half train ride from St Pancras in London to the city in the northern-most corner of France. This highly rated Christmas bonanza will fill the central Place Rihour with the aroma of gingerbread and sugared gaufres from 20 November to 30 December. Those who want a lofty view of proceedings can find it on the giant ferris wheel stationed in the adjacent Grand Place.

A two-night trip, leaving on 6 December, staying at the four-star Suite Novotel Lille Europe (room only), costs £258 per person (two sharing) via Eurostar (08432 186 186; eurostar.com).

By crossing the Atlantic

America is, of course, the home of Christmas with maximum dazzle. So it proves in New York (nycgo.com), where Manhattan is festooned with festive markets in the run-up to 25 December. Two of the best are held in Columbus Circle (at the south-western corner of Central Park - 3 to 24 December) and at Union Square (21 November to 24 December - see urbanspacenyc.com for details on both). A three-night jaunt, flying on 6 December from Heathrow and staying at the four-star Refinery Hotel in Midtown, costs from £932 per person (two sharing, room only) through Virgin Holidays (0844 557 4321; virginholidays.co.uk).

By staying on home turf

Contrary to opinion, Britain can rival continental Europe for frosty al fresco shopping. Birmingham's "Frankfurt Christmas Market" is the biggest event in the country, its odd name a tribute to both the event's ambience and the city's twinning relationship with the German metropolis, which has endured since 1966. Now into its 12th year, the market envelops Victoria Square, New Street, Centenary Square and Chamberlain Square - and will be in situ from 14 November to 22 December (birmingham.gov.uk/frankfurtmarket). Doubles at the Hotel Du Vin (0844 736 4250; hotelduvin.com) start at £135, room only.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot