The traditional Christmas market has existed for centuries, and for the most part has remained relatively unchanged. Nativity scenes depict the birth of Jesus Christ, carol singers drop festive beats and boozed up revellers stave off the freezing temperatures with Gluhwein and roasted chestnuts.
But while London has certainly enjoyed its own festive renaissance of late, the oldest and greatest Christmas markets take place in mainland Europe, attracting millions upon millions of visitors from across the world. Whether you’re some sort of weird Santa-fanatic, or just looking to get away from the city over the holidays, here’s our selection of the best Christmas markets happening on the continent.
Gendarmenmarkt, until 30 December
Essentially the birthplace of the Christmas market as we know it, Germany is still the big daddy when it comes to festive fun. There are more markets in Berlin than you could shake a yule log at, and the one at Gendarmenmarkt is considered the most stunning of the lot, with hundreds of stalls to explore. The surrounding architecture is as much a treat as the Gluhwein, as the towers of the adjacent French Church loom over the market like a pair of festive sentinels. Climb them just before the sun sets and you’ll be treated to a stunning view over the market, and then, as the cold sets in, duck inside a heated tent to enjoy beer and live music. Nearby you’ll also find the Christmas markets at the Opera Palace, the Red Town Hall and Alexanderplatz. visitberlin.de
Tivoli Gardens, until 22 December
Denmark’s capital goes big on Christmas. The entire city becomes a glowing shrine to yuletide merriment, festooning itself with Christmas lights and decorations that illuminate the streets and lift the spirits of the millions of visitors the city attracts in the winter. Tivoli Gardens is the place to experience Christmas at its most Danish. First opened in 1843, the theme park is the second oldest in the world, and its mix of rides, attractions, performances and culture is beloved by tourists and locals alike. Sixty stalls dish out the Christmas treats, including Gloeg (the Danish take on mulled wine) and aebleskiver (an unspeakably delicious kind of doughnut ball). visitdenmark.com
Liseberg, until 30 December
The jewel in Sweden’s Christmas crown, Liseberg hosts the biggest Christmas market in the country, with more than half a million visitors descending upon the unsuspecting theme park every year. More than 80 different stalls and shops provide revellers with more mulled drinks and hot nuts than they could ever possibly need, while a smattering of restaurants offer up a festive buffet of local winter delicacies. Little ones will be enamoured with treasure hunts and bona-fide reindeer tromping about the place, while all can enjoy the world-renowned ice skating show, which this year sees 29 figure skaters performing The Nutcracker on ice. Truly a Christmas market to remember. liseberg.com
La Défense, until 27 December
Paris undergoes a transformation with the approach of the festive season. The city’s most beautiful monuments are illuminated, Christmas decorations adorn the streets and department store windows are filled with animated displays. Markets, nativity scenes, open-air ice rinks, merry-go-rounds and a host of other activities and events take over the city, offering fun for all the family. Restaurants keep the festive spirit alive all the way into the New Year, with special menus for an unforgettable New Year’s Eve celebration. The market on the esplanade at La Défense is the city’s largest Christmas celebration, comprising an entire pop-up village of 350 log cabins. The French don’t mess about when it comes to ol’ Noel. en.parisinfo.com
City Hall Square, until 26 December
The largest Christmas market in Vienna has had a huge revamp for 2016. Visitors to Vienna Christmas World are greeted by the stunning new lighting display in the surrounding City Hall Park, which has transformed the Ringstrasse boulevard into a kind of festive runway that leads into the heart of the market. More than 150 stalls are selling decorations, handicrafts, gingerbread, chocolate and hot drinks. A new addition this year, two giant ice skating rinks connected by numerous paths allow skaters to traverse the park in style, while a new curling rink invites the adventurous to try their hand at winter’s coolest sport. For the kids, an arts and crafts area offers gingerbread cookie decorating classes. wienerweihnachtstraum.at