Have you ever noticed how every year without fail, as Christmas approaches, people like to comment on how “it doesn’t feel like Christmas?” It’s as if our memory curates a mental gallery of Christmas, a Tesco’s finest selection of snow-blanketed villages, lavishly decorated cities, gargantuan town Christmas trees and festive cheer that reality rarely lives up to.
That ‘Christmassy’ feeling is like any other. It comes in stolen moments, like the heat from a steamy mulled wine flaring up into your nostrils, the elegant quiet of the first fall of snow, the sound of the school choir filling the air in the town centre. If this year isn’t feeling like Christmas, nowhere are you more likely to catch it than at a Christmas market. And nowhere does them better than Europe. We’ve selected what we feel are the top destinations to visit this winter solely based on that Christmassy feeling they evoke in us.
Edinburgh, Scotland, UK
Christmas markets in central Europe are well documented in travel guides, but Edinburgh, in Scotland is a winter destination deserving of a few more column inches. What the city might sometimes lack in snow, it makes up for in an abundance of festive festivities, from the traditional European market which stretches from the Mound to Princess Street Garden Terrace to the Scottish market which specialises in locally produced gifts, gastronomy, handmade crafts and crafted brews. Their programme of winter festivities expands beyond the market to include a popular night light show and is this year welcoming a brand new ice-rink. It’s unbeatable for children, with Santa’s grotto, a vintage train, an ice wall, face-painting, amusements and even reindeer rides.
This quaint Finnish village 50km from Helsinki in Finland instils you with the old spirit of Christmas, before farting Santa toys and Justin Beiber Christmas cover albums. It earns its charm in its emphasis on organic, locally produced crafts and cuisine, its hobbit-sized stores and warm, relaxed vendors, more eager to have a hearty chat than a hard sell.
Situated in the beautiful province of Tyrol is the town of Bolzano in Italy, which transforms itself into a fairytale definition of a winter wonderland when November falls. With over 80 market stalls, charming little tented huts, shopping takes centre stage and you can find the most exquisite handcrafted decorations to take home. The sweet spiced smell of baked goods and mulled wine permeate the air and hit the right spot when you’re looking for a way to warm up your mittens. If you want to add a sprinkle of romance to the evening, you can take a horse-drawn carriage through the streets and allow yourself to be enchanted by the almost dream-like surroundings.
The largest Christmas market in Switzerland and the most impressive, Basel the ideal setting for a Christmas break. Set against the backdrop of the snow-capped French Alps, Münsterplatz and Barfüsserplatz open its doors to Christmas from the 27th November to 23rd December, officiated by the president who switches on the Christmas lights every year. The town square fills up with over 180 custom built stalls, beautifully decorated with acute attention to detail. As one might expect in Switzerland, their trees rival the best in the world and the Christmas tree, perched in front of the cathedral makes the perfect photo opp. When you’re not soaking in those home-brewed aromas that float through the streets, join in on what’s known as the Robi-Game-Actions for fun and entertainment that kids and adults can enjoy.
Forget Vienna. Graz in Austria has a total of fourteen Christmas markets, all within walking distance of each other, and each one has its own focal point. The town hall transforms itself into a warm refuge from the frosty chill. Heat up your jugular with a cup of brandy punch while the kids ride the carousel at the Engelsspiel-Pavillon. Head to the arts and crafts market on Farberplatz square for some truly original artistry of all manner and material. Ceramics, wood, metal, glass, stone, textile, you’ll find it all here. And if you’re just browsing, you can keep cosy in the charming little huts and enjoy the improvisational theatre, music and readings on the bill. Don’t miss the oldest Christmas market in the country in Fransiskanerviertel, or the views from the Ferris wheel at Wonderland on Mariahilferplatz. Aufsteirern Christmas market on Schlossberg hill has all the best handicrafts from Syria, Karmeliterplatz the ice rink, and Joanneum Quarter the culture, art and cuisine.
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