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?
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
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.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing