Along with turkey, Christmas trees and watching The Snowman on BBC, a trip to the Christmas markets has become an annual tradition across many households in the UK.
As the festive period enters full swing, city centres are transformed into winter wonderlands with wooden stalls selling stocking fillers and Bavarian-style beer halls serving flagons of grog and mugs of gluhwein. While the UK is feeling all Christmassy, there are a host of markets across Europe that will fill you with festive spirit.
Naturally, Germany and Austria are the kings of the Christmas market scene but there are a number of cities that will surprise you. Here are our pick of the best alternative Christmas market destinations.
Photo credit: Ajuntament Barcelona via Flickr
Barcelona has the ‘wow’ factor no matter what time of year you visit but there is something a little more special about the Catalan capital at Christmas time. Among the wealth of iconic landmarks, La Fira de Santa Llucia really captures the spirit of the season.
Since the 18th century, market stalls have been set up in front of the famous Sagrada Familia each Christmas as locals and visitors buy decorations such as trees, figures and mistletoe. There are a range of gifts available, perfect for your celebrations.
Strasbourg’s historic city centre takes on a magical appearance in the winter as it hosts one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets. In the heart of the Grande Île – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you can soak up the festive aromas and unique atmosphere.
Surrounding the huge twinkly Christmas tree is over 300 stalls selling festive gifts while you can warm up with a mug of vin chaud (hot wine) and indulge in traditional Christmas cookies known as Brädeles. With magic shows, live performances and carol singers it is no wonder why Strasbourg is known as the ‘Capital of Christmas’.
Photo credit: D. Rostuhar
Croatia and Christmas markets are not two things you would immediately put together but the capital of Zagreb has the potential to surprise you. Advent is a big deal in Croatia and Zagreb pushes the boat out with festive food and drink, concerts, choirs, displays and even an appearance from Santa as well.
The focal point is Josip Jelačić Square which has live music, marquees and an enormous Christmas tree. Venture to Zrinjevac Park and see lanterns twinkle in the trees and enjoy Croatian delicacies such as a warm, cheesy pastry known as baked štrukle. The picturesque King Tomislav Square is also turned into a ice rink to create a truly enchanting setting.
Photo credit: tamara_dwyer via Flickr
Taking inspiration from their German neighbours, the Renaissance city of Florence holds a ‘Weihnachtsmarkt’ in Piazza Santa Croce. While this part of the city is pretty special at the best of times, it takes on another dimension once Christmas rolls around.
Creating an almost winter village, there are numerous wooden chalets decorated and illuminated with festive items. There are a range of nativity and Christmas gift ideas from all over Italy and other Germanic inspired foods such as strudel, gingerbread and much more.
Photo credit: PortoBay Experiences via Flickr
As Christmas approaches, the streets of Lisbon are filled with the smell of roasting chestnuts as the Portuguese capital gears up for the big day. It is alive with the sound of music as concerts and masses are held across the city and everyone joins in traditional Portuguese Christmas songs.
The shopping districts of Baixa, Chiado and Bairro Alto are lit up with decorations while there are a handful of stalls selling the classic Christmas gifts. Don’t forget to try a delicious egg custard tart and the classic cherry liqueur to get a real feel of a Lisbon Christmas.
Are you looking for a last-minute Christmas getaway? We have a range of holiday packages available for late-2018 and early 2019. Visit www.sunmaster.co.uk and start creating your next adventure.
Lead photo credit: D. Rostuhar