Six Of The Best: Christmas Markets

Get in the seasonal spirit and take a trip to one of Europe's festive markets. Simone Kane chooses her favourites

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The Independent Travel

1. Winter Wonderland, London

Now in its fifth year, this award-winning Christmas extravaganza opened in London's Hyde Park last Friday.

Part of the royal park has been transformed for festive fun, with a new ice rink as its centrepiece. Wrapped around the Victorian bandstand, this is the largest outdoor rink in the UK, taking 10 days and more than 100,000 litres of water to build. Some 120,000 skaters are expected to take to the ice over the seven-week opening period. Other attractions include the Angel's Christmas Market, a giant observation wheel, Zippo's Circus, and free visits to Santa's Grotto. Open daily until 3 January.


2. Christmas City, Esbjerg

From 25 November, the whole centre of this Danish seaside town comes alive with music, spicy aromas and a Christmas village with small booths selling handmade decorations, local crafts and edible treats. This year, the main Torvet Square will be given over to the biggest ice rink in Denmark with an obstacle course for challenge seekers. On 4 December, the city's Fisheries and Maritime Museum hosts an indoor Christmas market. Take a Denmark Mini Cruise with DFDS Seaways, from £99 for two, including return overnight crossings, en-suite cabin and a day to explore. Departing Harwich on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.


3. Christmas markets, Helsinki

You'll be spoilt for choice if you head to Finland's first city. The largest festive market is held from 11 December at the Old Student House, where more than 160 vendors offer candles, knitted goods, ceramics, cards, clothes and much more. The St Thomas Christmas market, 8-21 December, will have 120-plus stalls selling handicrafts, baked goodies and other specialities, while the Ornamo Design Market (first two weekends of December) will feature designer goods such as glass, ceramics and jewellery. The Travel Experience has breaks departing 3, 10 and 17 December, for £261 per person, based on two sharing, including return private transfers, two nights in a city-centre hotel, a guided tour with free glass of Glögi, buffet lunch and a handcrafted gift.


4. Striezelmarkt, Dresden

This atmospheric city on the River Elbe has one of Germany's largest and oldest Christmas markets – it dates back to 1434. It's the place to pick up regional arts and crafts, with more than 230 daintily decorated stalls. Choose from ornaments made by the skilled wood carvers of the Erzgebirge mountain villages, indigo-printed textiles and decorated pottery from Lusatia, and wickerwork, Plauen lace, and paper Advent stars from Herrnhut. Travel with Dertour, which has weekend breaks to Dresden, departing between 25 November and 24 December, from £219 per person, based on two sharing. It includes return flights from Heathrow and two nights' B&B in the Madison Hotel.


5. Marché de Noël, Lyon

Foodies should make a beeline for the culinary capital of France and combine a weekend of Michelin-starred dining with some seasonal shopping. From 29 November to 24 December, Place Carnot is lined with more than 100 colourful wooden chalets, selling arts and crafts from the Rhône-Alpes region and gastronomic goodies that should be a cut above the rest. There are Santa sled rides, children's workshops, puppet theatre and carol singing. During the first weekend of December, you can admire hundreds of Nativity scenes from around the world. Travel with Kirker Holidays get three nights' B&B for the price of two at Grand Hotel des Terreaux, from £589 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow and return private car transfers.


6. Hafnarfjordur Christmas Village, Iceland

Just outside Reykjavik is Hafnarfjordur, known as "The Town in the Lava", due to its volcanic location. Its Christmas Village welcomes visitors every weekend in December. Stalls sell locally crafted gifts and seasonal decorations, as well as typical Icelandic gourmet fare, all set to a soundtrack of live music. Watch out for the Yuletide lads – the 13 cheeky Santas reputed to bring presents to good children. Directline Holidays has a two-night break, departing Heathrow on 16 December, for £365 per person, based on two sharing, with B&B.