While lengthy queues in department stores can make Christmas shopping a bore, traditional markets have always been a very different story. Weaving through wooden cabins, while sipping a glass of mulled wine, the experience is about much more than buying gifts.
This year, we’ll all be pulling our belts a little tighter, but that doesn’t mean missing out on a Christmas market getaway.
From spinning around ice rinks to perusing nativity scenes in a horse-drawn cart, these festive trips promise a fun, thrilling and novel shopping experience, without breaking the bank.
When: November 25 to December 25
The pink city dazzles in a multitude of multi-coloured lights at Christmas, when the city’s annual market is held in Capitole square. The townhall provides a backdrop for a Christmas village and chalets with more then 100 stallholders, selling local crafts, regional foods, pottery, jewellery, candles, clothing and leather goods. In between bouts of shopping, skate on a 200sq metre ice rink (€4 for 45 minutes, skate hire included), and warm up with local dish aligot aveyronnais, a cheese and potato puree with garlic.
When: Various dates in November and December
Multiple markets are held in villages on the shores of Wolfgangsee, in Austria’s Lake District. Each is distinctive: in St Gilgen, the theme is Baroque-style art; in St Wolfgang, there’s a focus on lanterns; while Strobl takes great pride in its old-fashioned stalls with wooden roof tiles. To make the trip a real Christmas cracker, head to Salzburg’s famous market, which is less than an hour’s bus ride away. But save some time to go snowshoeing, tobogganing or on horse-drawn sleigh rides.
Stratford upon Avon, UK
When: December 8 to 11
Harking back to a historical era of grand banquets and elegant attire, Stratford’s award-winning Victorian-themed market provides visitors with an opportunity to feel like a character in a Charles Dickens novel. Decked out in fine costumes, traders sell gifts and seasonal produce, while a stage in Henley Street also hosts a programme of festive performances.
A novel way to experience the event is on a canal boat, travelling on a six-hour cruise from Drifters’ canal boat hire base on the Stratford Canal at Wootton Wawen, to moorings in Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford upon Avon. All boats are fitted with hot water and stoves to keep warm.
When: November 25 to December 26
Spread across the Rynek Glowny central square, Krakow’s Christmas market is the oldest in Poland. If you’ve never tasted pierogi (a type of fried dumpling) before, this is the place to do it – along with sweet treats such as colourfully decorated piernik gingerbreads. Clasp a mug of warming grzane (mulled wine) while browsing for handmade decorations and toys, then take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the city to see the Krakow Szopki, a collection of miniature nativity scenes displayed in windows.
When: November 18 to January 6
It’s not the obvious choice for mistletoe and snowflakes, but Portugal’s lively capital is ideal for a festive shopping break in milder temperatures. Wooden chalets are dotted around Rossio Square selling gifts and Portuguese seasonal treats, including salt cod, rabanadas (similar to French toast), porco preto (black pig) sandwiches, dried fruit and mulled wine. A Christmas train provides entertainment for kids, although even bigger rides can be found at Wonderland Lisboa in Parque Eduardo VII, which features a Ferris wheel, ice rink, carousel and trampolines, as well as stalls selling handicrafts, jewellery and local produce.