Germany is famed for its Christmas Markets, hundreds of which spring up across the country each winter. Austria and Switzerland are also popular destinations for Christmas Markets, with their classic alpine scenery and picture-box villages making a perfect festive backdrop. However, the rest of Europe has some real gems on offer in the holiday season that shouldn’t be overlooked. Here are our top three recommendations for alternative festive flings!
The Hungarian capital is famous for its striking architecture and, along with the iconic Parliament building that sits on the banks of the Danube, St Stephen’s Basilica is one of the city’s highlights. Winter is no exception: from late November to the start of the new year, the Advent Fair comes to St Stephen’s Square and the Basilica is lit up like a giant ginger bread house. Below this fantastic display of lights, fairy-tale huts fill the square displaying the wares of craftsmen and women from around the country.
Not far away is Vörösmarty Square, which holds the oldest Christmas Market in Budapest and is another great place to find unique, hand-made gifts. Make sure to try the Kürtőskalács (Chimney Cakes). The classic Hungarian seasonal treat (dough, wrapped around a pole and baked until crisp, before being liberally coated in sugar and cinnamon) will have you smacking your lips and licking your fingers!
There’s nothing quite like strolling up the Champs-Elysées on any day, but when the celebrated street is lined on either side with glowing wooden chalets, it really is something special. Unfortunately, the Village de Noël des Champs Élysées is taking a break this year but make sure to put it on your bucket list as it’s back again in 2018 when you can expect gloriously gooey portions of French favourite, tartiflette, amid a trove of tantalizing treats. However, there are plenty of other festive offerings to tempt you to Paris in the winter months…
Montmartre, with its wonderful village feel, does not disappoint over the festive period, as seasonal stalls appear by the steps of the stunning Sacré-Coeur with the city stretched out beneath them. For a brief 2-week window at the end of December, the lovely Square René Viviani comes alive as artisans from the quartier come together to sell their wares. This pretty, green square, sitting right next to Shakespeare & Company and overlooked by the Notre Dame, could not be in a more perfect location. As well as traditional arts and crafts, look out for delicious (and beautiful!) macarons and piping hot chestnuts. Don’t leave without ordering a steaming glass of vin chaud from one of Paris’ many street-side cafés.
Christmas time in Prague is truly magical, with the city’s haunting gothic architecture and medieval centre of tangled streets and ancient squares creating the perfect fairy-tale setting. From the beginning of December, the most picturesque areas of the city are decked out in festive decorations and the Christmas Markets run right through until the first week of January.
What is Christmas without a carol or two? At the market in Old Town Square, there is a stage upon which school choirs often perform carols in the afternoon. Children come from all over the Czech Republic to sing here dressed in traditional costume and it’s a real festive treat for visitors to Prague. The carol theme continues at another of Prague’s most popular Christmas markets, held five minutes away in Wenceslas Square, and aptly named for the good King whose Christmas charity has been immortalised in song. Make sure to take a stroll over the iconic Charles Bridge which, lined by saintly statues, crosses the Vltava from Old Town to the Little Quarter. Once there, you’ll find a smaller market in the courtyard of St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle which is well worth a visit for its location alone.
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