12 of Europe’s most curious Christmas Markets

Issy D’Arcy Clark
13 October 2015

Think all Christmas Markets are the same? Think again. From touring Santa’s bedroom to mastering the principals of feng shui, there’s a whole world of al fresco festive retail out there. Issy D’Arcy Clark picks on for each day of Christmas

1. Skansen Christmas Market
Where? Stockholm, Sweden
When? Every weekend between 29 November and December
Why? An annual event on Stockholm’s Djurgården island since 1903, this is one of the most hyper-traditional markets you can experience. Think snow underfoot, carol singers in cloaks and horse-drawn sleighs. There are workshops to teach you how to make Christmas decorations and, most importantly, gallons of glogg (Swedish mulled wine).
Buy… ‘Julgrans strutar’, traditional decorated cones filled with sweets, nuts and a fir tree branch.

2. Winterwelt in Potsdamer Platz
Where? Berlin, Germany
When? 31 October–3 January 2016
Why? As well as the usual line-up of festive stalls, Winterwelt is also ideal for fans of winter activities. Every year Potsdamer Platz gets transformed into a snow sports heaven, with an ice rink, 12-metre-high toboggan run and curling pitch — perfect for those who prefer rosy cheeks to retail.
Buy… some ice-skating lessons with a professional to free your inner Torvill/Dean.

3. Wenceslas Square Christmas Market
Where? Prague, Czech Republic
When? 28 November–23 December
Why? What could be more festive than visiting a square named after the very saint featured in a favourite Christmas hymn? Perhaps a choir of children singing in traditional dress? Or a slice of freshly baked sugar-coated trdelník? Whatever it is, the fairy-tale setting of this market will have even the most determined Scrooge humming carols under his breath.
Buy… a bottle of the locally brewed beer that the Czech Republic do oh-so-well.

4. Vörösmarty Square Christmas Market
Where? Budapest, Hungary
When? 27 November– 1 January 2016
Why? It’s fair to say that Hungary takes its Yuletide season very seriously and the jewel in the crown is without doubt the market in Vörösmarty Square. As well as two stages that have programmes for folk, jazz and world music, there is also a Varázskuckó (Magic Garden) for children to play in nestled in the centre of all the stalls.
Buy… a freshly baked traditional cinnamon Chimney cake.

5. St Stephen’s Green Christmas Market
Where? Dublin, Ireland
When? TBC
Why? For only the second year running, St Stephen’s Green in the heart of Dublin will host the city’s biggest Christmas fair. Made up of over 60 mini-chalet stalls surrounding the perimeter of the park, you’ll come away festooned with handcrafted treats from all over the Emerald Isle.
Buy… Hand made natural soap from Bend in the Barrow.

6. The Velvet Cave Christmas Market in Valkenburg aan de Geul
Where? Limburg, Holland
When? 13 November–23 December
Why? This unusual Dutch market takes place in the Velvet Cave of Valkenburg aan de Geul, transforming it into the ultimate festive grotto. Visitors can tour Sinterklaas’ room of presents and even his bedroom, while also browsing the many stalls. And meeting reindeer. Buy… a cute wooden ornament, reportedly carved by the big man himself (or one of his elves at the very least).

7. The Floating Christmas Market in Vilshofen
Where? Vilshofen, Germany
When? 11 November–13 December
Why For a Christmas Market with a twist, float down the Danube River at dusk on a Wurm & Kock river cruise. While drifting, you can browse the selection of stalls they have on board and admire the ones lining the promenade selling handcrafted gifts from Bavaria, Austria, Slovenia and Hungary.
Buy… sugary roasted almonds.

8. Bergisch-Gladbach Feng-Shui Christmas Market
Where? North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany
When? 23 November–23 December
Why? For those who find the frantic buzz of a busy market a chore, this soothing alternative will be a tonic. Stalls are arranged in specific areas adhering to feng shui principles and are helpfully grouped by categories; baked goods and roast chestnuts in the fire section, carved figures in the wood corner, jewellery in the metal group…
Buy… Aachen Printen, a type of sweet baked bread. Found in the fire area, naturally.

9. Caerphilly Medieval Christmas Fayre
Where? Wales
When? 12-13 December
Why? Forget reindeer onesies, watching the Queen’s speech or feverishly unwrapping the latest gadgets — in the Caerphilly Medieval Market things have gone back to basics (in a good way). All in the setting of the crumbling castle you can laugh at the jester, sample a a Porky Pear Pie — made with pork, blue cheese and cooked in elm tree cider — and watch the re-enactments and demonstrations of castle life.
Buy…a shield to decorate with the emblem of your family crest (if  you have one).

10. Belfast’s Christmas Continental Market
Where? Belfast, Northern Ireland
When? TBC
Why? For the opportunity to scour all the markets of Europe for the best they have to offer, look no further than the Christmas Continental Market in Belfast. Set in the beautiful City Hall Gardens, the market welcomes stalls from all across Europe to share their Yuletide wares.
Buy… Italian nougat, Belgium chocolates — even kangaroo meat

11. Basel Christmas Market at Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz
Where? Basel, Switzerland
When? 26 November–23 December
Why? The twinned Christmas Markets of Barfüsserplatzand Münsterplatz in Basel have double the stalls and double the charm. Set in the Old Town and in front of the Cathedral respectively, the fairy-tale atmosphere of the snow and twinkling lights will have you in the festive spirit a full month in advance of the main event.
Buy… Basel Lackerli, a gingerbread biscuit and a Basel speciality.

12. Strasbourg Christkindelsmärik
Where? Strasbourg, France
When? 27 November–31 December
Why? With 11 sites dotted throughout the city, annually attracting two million visitors, plus the title of the ‘Best Christmas Market in Europe in 2014’, it’s fair to say that Strasbourg is serious about its Christmas Markets. The icing on their Christmas pudding is Christkindelsmärik, the ultimate Christmas Market, complete with the ultimate Christmas tree, which usually towers somewhere around the 30m mark.
Buy… with over 300 stalls, you can buy anything you’ve ever wanted. And a carved wooden stalk, the symbol of the city.