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🎄12 of the best Christmas markets in Europe 2018

OK, we know Germany has brilliant Christmas markets. But did you know about the amazing markets in Valencia? or Venice? Or Birmingham? Here's our guide to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe in 2018, from the wonderfully warm festive fairs of Madrid and Valencia to the advent extravaganzas of Berlin and Paris.

1. Berlin, Germany

When: November 26th to December 23rd

Germany leads the pack when it comes to traditional Christmas markets, and Berlin has an embarrassment of them – there are well over 50 markets taking place across the city, from tiny local events to festive extravaganzas. Two of the highlights are Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz, which boasts a huge toboggan run, ice rink and fairground right by the Brandenburg Gate, and Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmenmarkt, a really beautiful traditional market where choirs sing as you shop for handmade gifts.

Where to stay

The Sir Savigny Hotel has some amazing decor – huge prints adorn the walls of guest bedrooms, and the interior design throughout is impeccable. It’s also highly rated, earning 9.1 out of 10 from traveller reviews.

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2. London, UK

When: Late November to early January

The Winter Market on the South Bank has become something of a Christmas tradition in London – beautiful wooden market stalls line the River Thames, and all sorts of entertainment is on offer, from circus acts to children’s plays. But there are all sorts of other markets to discover across the city, from the enormous Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, which features around 200 stalls and a huge funfair, to the decidedly non-traditional Hyper Japan Winter event (November 16th-18th), where you can tuck into hot ramen while admiring traditional Japanese crafts.

Where to stay

The Alma Hotel is a beautifully furnished Victorian pub in Wandsworth with 23 guest bedrooms – all within easy reach of craft ale and sumptuous roast dinners.

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3. Prague, Czech Republic

When: December 1st to January 6th

With its ornate turrets and spires, Prague looks like a fairy-tale city at the best of times, but it becomes truly magical at Christmas. Traditional wooden stalls take over the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square selling local handicrafts, and there’s even a petting zoo featuring sheep, goats and donkeys. But it’s the smell of the food that really makes these markets so tempting: the waft of giant roast hams (Pražská Šunka), sausages (klobása) and sweet walnut cake (trdelník), not mention the honey wine.

Where to stay

Hotel Residence Agnes is the highest-rated hotel in Prague by travellers, thanks to its beautiful rooms and amazing location right near to the Old Town Square.

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4. Edinburgh, UK

When: November 17th to January 5th

A huge Christmas market will once again take over Edinburgh’s East Princes Street Gardens in November, with a ferris wheel, carousel and the terrifying Star Flyer, a chair-o-plane ride that takes you 60 metres up. If you can stand the heights, you get an amazing view of the Scott Monument and Edinburgh Castle looming overhead. There are dozens of stalls selling food and handicraft, and if it gets a bit nippy, you can always head to the Johnnie Walker Bothy Bar to grab a warming hot toddie.

Where to stay

The Sheridan Guest House is the top-rated hotel in Edinburgh, with an impressive traveller rating of 9.8 out of 10. And it’s good value, too: a four-night stay will only set you back around €408.

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5. Vienna, Austria

When: Mid-November to December 26th

Christmas markets are an age-old tradition in Austria’s capital – they were first held there back in the 13th century. Nowadays there are around 20 different markets to choose from, with the most picturesque undoubtedly being the Viennese Christmas Market held in front of the soaring spires of city hall. A huge Christmas tree dominates the Rathausplatz, and inside the city hall itself children can learn to make cookies and candles. But for something a bit different, head to Art Advent on Karlsplatz, which showcases arts and crafts produced by local craftspeople.

Where to stay

The Hollmann Beletage Design & Boutique Hotel is a very swish-looking place to stay right in the centre of the city, and it comes with all sorts of perks – including a free iPad for the length of your stay and leisurely breakfast hours that go on until 11.30am.

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6. Manchester, UK

When: November 9th to December 22nd

Manchester has been holding massive Christmas markets since 1998, and this year there will be 300 stalls spread across nine different sites. Starting at Cathedral Gardens, you can wind your way along the trail of stalls all the way to Albert Square, sizing up potential Christmas presents as you go. And there’s always plenty of choice – everything from amber jewellery and French soap to Japanese bonsai trees. There’s an eclectic mix of international food, too, including bratwurst and goulash as well as lots of sweet treats.

Where to stay

The excellently named Hotel Gotham is one of the highest rated hotels in Manchester according to traveller reviews, and offers a little bit of five-star, Art Deco luxury in the heart of the city. The top-floor restaurant has fantastic views across the Manchester skyline.

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7. Madrid, Spain

When: November 24th to December 31st

If you like Christmas markets but don’t like being cold, then Madrid is the place to go. Whereas Berlin has a frosty average December temperature of 1°C, Madrid sees December highs of 11°C – positively baking by comparison. The big traditional market is held on Plaza Mayor, and dates back to the nineteenth century. More than a hundred stalls will be selling all sorts of gifts, from musical instruments to toys, and there’s a carousel to boot. But we’re more excited about the Feria Dulces de Navidad over on Plaza de Opera – a.k.a. the Christmas Sweets Fair. Time to gorge yourself polvorón (shortbread) and turrón (nougat).

Where to stay

Gran Hotel Inglés is a real looker of a five-star hotel. And its 1920s Art Deco-style Egoïste Spa was voted as one of the best luxury spas in the world. It’s pretty reasonably priced, too: a three-night stay will set you back around €695.

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8. Venice, Italy

When: December 1st to January 6th

Venice looks amazing at Christmas. The twinkling Christmas lights are reflected in the water of the canals, and the city is blissfully quiet, with the tourist hordes of the summer season long gone. You’ll find Christmas markets in several of the main piazzas, with Campo San Polo offering lots of local craft goods and an ice-skating rink and the Christmas Village at Campo San Stefano providing all sorts of Italian speciality foods, from panetone to nougat to white truffles. You’ll also find plenty of decorative masks on sale ahead of the famous Venice Carnival in February.

Where to stay

Al Ponte Antico is one of the best hotels in Venice according to guest reviews, and it’s in an amazing location – the restaurant terrace provides a fantastic view of the Rialto Bridge.

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9. Birmingham, UK

When: November 15th to December 23rd

The Frankfurt Christmas Market in Birmingham bills itself as “the largest authentic German Christmas market outside of Germany or Austria”, although I’d take that claim with a pinch of salt. Still, it’s definitely big: the 80 stalls are packed with pretzels, schnitzels, gluhwein, weissbeer and all the accoutrements you’d expect of a Deutsch-style Chrimble extravaganza. It’s packed with stalls selling traditional gifts, toys, craftwork, handcrafted decorations and jewellery, and takes over most of Victoria Square and New Street.

Where to stay

Staybridge Suites Birmingham is the best hotel in Birmingham according to traveller reviews, and it’s just a short walk from Victoria Square and the enormous Bullring shopping centre – the perfect base for an epic shopping trip!

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10. Valencia, Spain

When: December 1st to January 6th

With it’s mild Mediterranean climate, Valencia is a wonderfully pleasant place to get your Chrimbo shopping done. Average December temperatures hover at around 10°C, with highs of 15°C, so you might not even need to wear your coat as you peruse the wares. Imagine that! The main Christmas stalls are clustered around the Central Market building, and they’re packed with all the traditional gifts you’d expect, as well as a range of sweet treats like marzipan and sugared almonds.

Where to stay

Hotel Boutique Balandret is an incredibly stylish boutique hotel with sea views. The restaurant has an amazing beachfront terrace, so you can enjoy local cuisine like calamari and grilled cuttlefish while admiring the ocean.

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11. Cologne, Germany

When: November 26th to December 23rd

Any German town worth its salt will be putting on a dazzling Christmas market come December, but Cologne stands out thanks to its picturesque town square. In front of the cathedral you’ll find 150 stalls selling sweets, mulled wine and Christmas decorations under what the local tourism agency claims is “the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland”. I love it when municipalities get competitive over Xmas decorations, it’s the true meaning of Christmas. The Cathedral Market is only one of a dozen or so markets taking place across the city, which also include the Gay and Lesbian Christmas Market between Schaafenstrasse and Pilgrimstrasse – Cologne proudly declares itself to be Germany’s gay and lesbian capital, with an estimated 10% of the population identifying as gay.

Where to stay

The Qvest Hideaway is a stunningly unique hotel. It’s run by the German travel and design magazine Qvest, and it’s located in the old city archives building, so the rooms are enormous spaces overlooked by ornate nineteenth-century windows. Take a look at the photos in the link, it’s amazing.

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12. Paris, France

When: Early December to January 1st

Of all the many Christmas markets that pop up across Paris every year, the one in front of Notre Dame Cathedral is undoubtedly in the best location. It’s packed with artisans selling decorative ironwork, jewellery, ceramics and all sorts of arts and crafts – as well as the essential mulled wine. And after taking a year off in 2017, the massive Champs-Élysées Christmas Market is back this year with around 100 stalls plying festive food, wine and wares, along with accompanying fairground rides and an ice rink.

Where to stay

Hotel Fabric is a fancy four-star hotel in the 11th Arrondissement. The funky decor is inspired by the area’s industrial past, and it has an on-site hammam so you can have a luxurious rubdown after a long day hitting the markets. It’s not too expensive, either: a three-night stay will set you back around €538.

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Let’s get Christmassy! Here are a few more ideas for festive fun:

A Guide to the Best Christmas Markets in Ireland 2018

‘Tis the season to be jolly and there really is no better way to get into the festive spirit than to take yourself to one, or more, Christmas markets or fairs. And just like its European cousins, Ireland has become no stranger to this Christmas tradition. Across the Island of Ireland, from bustling cities to country towns there are Christmas markets and fairs to suit everyone’s taste.

Top 10 Christmas and New Year holidays for 2018/2019

Have you thought about what you’re doing for Christmas yet? Sneaks up on you, doesn’t it? Why not do something spectacular this year – like visit the Christmas markets of Berlin or Prague, see in New Year with a bottle of cava in Barcelona, or have Christmas dinner on the beach in Sydney?

Boost your winter rays on these short-haul getaways

Ireland gets a paltry three hours of daily sunshine in February. But you can escape the grey on a weekend break to these sun-drenched destinations. Hop on a plane for a top-up of Vitamin D in four hours or less.

Published October 2018. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.