Whether you’re seeking Christmas gift ideas or just fancy a weekend break where you’ll start to feel festive, many beautiful European cities are about to transform their central squares and cobbled streets into Christmas market destinations.
You could pick Prague, select Salzburg or choose Copenhagen. We’ve spoken to tourism team members in three of the most popular places for your pre-Christmas fix of carols, gluhwein and gingerbread.
Steffi Gretschel says Leipzig’s Christmas Market has been running for centuries. “It dates back to 1458. During the GDR years it was forgotten by Western visitors but it’s definitely back now,” she says. “Our Christmas market is one of the largest in Germany with over 250 stalls embedded harmoniously in our historic centre, around a 20m high Christmas tree.”
Saxony is known as the home of traditional festive products like the Christmas pyramid – a traditional illuminated ornament – and painted, wooden nutcrackers carved in the shape of soldiers, handcrafted in the nearby Ore mountains. The event starts on November 22nd and it runs on each day from at least 10am until 9pm and with later weekend opening.
There’s a model railway and a fairytale forest as part of the overall display. There’ll be lots of music too, particularly choral performances featuring the music of Bach – he was once the city’s musical director. “Leipzig is also a city of music. St Thomas’ boys choir performs regularly during Christmas at the church near the market,” Steffi adds.
Leipzig is on the eastern side of Germany and to reach the city you can take the 100-minute flight from Stansted with Ryanair.
Heading to the western side of Germany you’ll find another Christmas market in the historic city of Aachen near the Belgian and Dutch borders. Aachen is also very pretty and offers an atmospheric setting for your shopping. It was the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Germany.
Vera Hendrigs told me that Aachen’s market is popular, with 1.5 million people visiting each year. “Shoppers return year after year because of the choice and because they like the colourful stalls,” says Vera. Regional and local stallholders are given priority and Vera recommends sampling the local speciality, liver sausage.
Aachen is the easiest market to reach by rail from the UK, especially if you want to carry kilos of shopping that will bust your airline allowance. Getting there from London takes around four hours by train.
Finally, to the east of France, and not far from the German border is the beautiful walled mediaeval city of Strasbourg. Again, it’s a gorgeous town, filled with colourful, half-timbered buildings set alongside a river.
Annie Dumolin told me that Strasbourg has a distinct identity. “It’s changed hands between Germany and France over the years so you’ll find an interesting mix of foods.” French cuisine sits side-by-side with sauerkraut and German sausages.
Annie adds that, “the city makes an exceptional effort with a number of events’ during the Christmas market period.” You can buy everything you need to decorate your tree and handicrafts from Saturday 25th November.