5 ways to... Visit Christmas markets
Browse the food and craft stalls to stock up on holiday cheer this year
Chris Leadbeater is a full-time travel journalist who has written for The Independent since 2009. He specialises in the USA, South America and Europe, but has covered destinations as varied as Mozambique, New Zealand, Indonesia and Lebanon. Prior to becoming a travel journalist, he worked as a music writer and for men's magazines.
Tuesday 12 November 2013
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.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Drugs Live cannabis trial: Hash is less harmful than any other drug, expert claims
- 4 Turkish Airlines flight TK 726 crash-lands on Nepal runway amid dense fog
- 5 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...
£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...
£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...