Take a festive break (and crack the Christmas shopping, too)

Get ahead of the game and have some fun. Turn the present-buying chore into a holiday and fill their stockings with treats from a traditional market
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The Independent Travel

1. See Lincoln in luxury

The biggest traditional Christmas market in Europe takes place in Lincoln from 4-7 December (lincoln. gov.uk). Travel in style on a day trip from London on the Orient Express British Pullman to browse the 300 stalls that transform the cobbled Uphill shopping area, selling quality handmade goods in ceramic, glass, wood, leather and wax, as well as gourmet gifts. The trip departs London on 5 December and costs from £310 per person, including a bellini brunch and a four-course supper with wine (0845 077 2222; orient-express.com).

2. Take to the water in Vienna

Shop for handmade toys in Vienna's markets, then cruise along the river to the Slovakian capital, Bratislava, or the spa town of Baden, where more seasonal stalls groan with goodies. Voyages Jules Verne's Christmas Markets and Music in Vienna tour also takes in Beethoven's house, and offers a Mozart lecture and a performance of Gypsy music. The trip departs Stansted on 5 December and costs £549 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, four nights' full-board accommodation on MS Beethoven, transfers and all taxes (0845 166 7035; vjv.com).

3. Get cultured in Oslo

There will be something for everyone at the seven markets that spring up in Oslo from late November. The Christmas Fair at the Museum of Cultural History sells homemade gifts, decorations and cakes, while the streets of the Baerums Verk area are populated by fairy-tale characters and its 17th-century buildings house craft shops. Head for Bla and DogA Norwegian Centre for stylish design and architecture markets, too. The tourist board is offering deals where two children stay free in their parents' room, and a Christmas walk and Oslo Passes are part of the package (visitoslo.com).

4. Stay single on the Rhine

Leger is offering lone travellers the chance to explore the Christmas markets of the Rhine and Moselle valleys without having to pay out a single supplement. Wander around the markets of Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, Koblenz and Rüdesheim – in the last, life-size figures inhabit Europe's largest nativity scene and 120 stalls sell goods from 12 countries. The three-night Christmas Markets of the Rhine and Moselle Valley tour departs on 5 December and costs from £365 per person, including coach travel, half-board accommodation with one lunch and river cruise (0845 458 5599; leger breaks.info).

5. Follow tradition in Alsace

Alsace in France is home to some of the oldest markets in Europe: the Christkindelsmärik, in its capital Strasbourg, dates from 1570. Visit from 25 November and you'll be spoilt for choice with almost 100 authentic markets across the region to visit, which sell everything from jewellery and glass to spicy sausages. Head to Thann in the south and you can bag 1,001 varieties of bredele, the local Christmas biscuit, for your festive table. Travel by Eurostar from London to Strasbourg from £89 per person return (08705 186186; eurostar. com), onward connections in Alsace are available.

6. Do the Continental cruise

Cruise the classic Continental Christmas markets in relaxed style with specialist operator Saga, which has devised an eight-day festive itinerary aboard the Saga Rose. Leave from Southampton and hop on and off to shop at five ports of call – Lille, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Hamburg and Bremerhaven – all of which offer their own take on seasonal celebrations. Continental Christmas Markets departs on 4 December and costs from £857 per person, based on two sharing an outside cabin. Excursions cost extra (0800 056 5880; saga.co.uk/travelshop).

7. Entertain the kids in Holland

It'll be fun time for the kids at De Efteling, one of Europe's oldest theme parks, just over an hour's drive from the Hook of Holland (efteling.nl). The fairy-tale forest of pine trees twinkles with thousands of lights from 6 December and you can even stay on site. Combine it with a trip to Maastricht's Winterland to stock up on sack-fillers (holland.com). Stena Line offers return car crossings from Harwich to the Hook of Holland for a family of four from £146 from 5-7 or 12-14 December (08705 707070; stenaline. co.uk). Accommodation costs extra.

8. Think pink in Munich

Munich sees the opening of no fewer than 74 Christmas markets in and around the Bavarian city from late November. One of them is The Pink Christmas Market, organised by the city's gay community, who fill the Stephansplatz with their stalls and cabins, competing to be the most flamboyant (muenchen.de). The Charles Hotel is offering a "Winter Dreams" package which costs from £185 per person per night, based on two sharing, includes B&B accommodation, a glass of mulled wine on arrival, a guide to the markets and a gift-wrapping service (0800 988 4040; roccofortecollection. com).

9. Tell tales in Denmark

Odense, Denmark's third city, is the birthplace of the father of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen, and its Christmas Fair and Market takes place in the cobbled streets around the writer's house and the City Museum Montergarden area. Keep an eye out for fairy-tale characters, which include the Little Match Girl and the Snow Queen, and visit Lotze's Garden, which sparkles with illuminated trees. The Hans Christian Andersen Christmas Market takes place on 29-30 November and 6-7 December (hcajulemarkedet.dk; visitodense. com).

10. Feast on Prague

Visit Prague's Wenceslas Square from 29 November to enjoy one of the city's markets, which feature Czech glass handicrafts. And hear choirs sing around the Christmas tree in the Old Town Square. The Riverside MaMaison Hotel Christmas package costs from £145 per person, based on two sharing, and includes two nights' B&B accommodation, transfers, a free minibar and Czech cookies (00 420 234 705 155; mamaison.com).

11. Cool it in Montreal

Europe doesn't have the exclusive on these seasonal celebrations. Montreal, a great alternative to New York for shopping, offers a snowy setting for the Salon des Métiers d'Art, 5-21 December, where visitors can buy handmade gifts by more than 450 Quebec-based artists (metiers-d-art.qc.ca). Thomson Worldwide offers four nights' room only, departing 4 December, at the four-star Delta Centre-Ville, from £599 per person, based on two sharing, including Air Canada flights from Heathrow (0871 230 2770; thomsonworldwide.com).

12. Take a pew in Bethlehem

A trip to Bethlehem at Christmas is a no-brainer. But this Bethlehem is in Pennsylvania, founded by Moravians on Christmas Eve 1741. Still, it has one of the best seasonal markets in the world, the Christmas City Christkindlmarkt (christmas city. org), from 28 November-21 December. Tag on a trip to the nearby city of Philadelphia and you can get in some tax-free shopping , too. Bon Voyage offers five nights' room only, departing 1 November to 15 December, at the three-star Comfort Suites Bethlehem, for £615 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights and car hire (0800 316 0194; bon-voyage.co.uk).

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