'Tis the season to be jolly - and nothing says jolly more than a visit to a Christmas market. The concept of this rather magical experience started in Germany as early as the Middle Ages, when traders gathered to sell their goods before the bleak midwinter set in, but these days most of the western world embraces them with warmth and passion.
And one of the best things about them is that they provide the perfect excuse for a Christmas a mini break. Prague, Bruges, Brussels and Germany are all popular places to pop to (and Eurostar run a number of short festive breaks to the continent). And closer to home, the UK is bursting with Christmas markets, many in scenic spots.
So what's all the fuss about? Christmas markets or Christkindlmarkts are all about celebrating everything traditional (albeit with a definite German tinge). Think gingerbread and stollen, bratwurst and candied fruit, as well as lots of local arts and crafts. While they provide a haven for shoppers, most people go simply to soak up the atmosphere: there's a certain joie de vivre here that warms the cockles of the heart (and yes, the mulled wine and eierpunsch definitely help).
Here's our pick of the best spots to do a spot of festive shopping this Christmas... Tell us your favourite below!
Christmas markets 2014
World's best Christmas markets 2013
Munich's festive market at Marienplatz is one of Europe's oldest (it dates back as far as the 14th century), and it's big on keeping things traditional: Christmas shopping Bavarian-style is an experience to remember. Stock up on baked apples and spiced mulled wine, handmade pewter and straw decorations, wooden toys and gingerbread. When: 27 November to 24 December. Stay: The Louis Hotel
Vienna has been running 'krippenmarkts' since the Middle Ages, when the city's citizens were first granted permission to trade. Every December, traditionalists gather around the City Hall and warm up with toddies of gluewhien and roasted chestnuts. Stock up on hand-decorated Christmas candles, traditional basketware and hot punch. Dates: 14 November to 24 December. Stay: Altstadt Hotel
During Lille's Christmas Market, the square at Place Rihour is transformed into a winter wonderland dominated by an 18-metre high Christmas tree and a spectacular ferris wheel. It's the perfect place to gorge yourself on crepes and chocolate doughnuts. Stock up on arts and crafts from Russia, Poland and Québec. Dates: 19 November to 30 December. Stay:Hotel UP
With its Medieval architecture, Tallinn was built for Christmas card cosiness. More than 50 stalls pitch up in the Town Hall Square to offer traditional Estonian crafts and festive food. The likelihood is that it will snow too! Stock up on quilts, sea-grass animal ornaments, felted hats and slippers. When: 21 November to 8 January. Stay: The Three Sisters
Traders from all over Europe and much further afield come to the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall. Browse the selection of handbags, satchels, wooden toys, essential oils and hand-painted pottery. Don't miss: the Irish Bar with live music. Dates: 15 November to 21 December. Stay:The Merchant Hotel.
Prague is icily spectacular in winter and at night it lights up with brightly decorated wooden huts selling all sorts of traditional Czech products. Stock up on Bohemian Crystal, wooden toys, traditional puppets and hot wine (svarak). Dates: 24 November to 23 December. Stay: Clarion Hotel Prague
Hosting one of the UK's largest Christmas markets, Manchester goes into full-on festive mode with several markets popping up in the city. Stock up on international food, traditional crafts, amber jewellery and ornaments. Dates: 14 November to 21 December. Stay: Abode Hotel.
Basel has two romantic Christmas markets located in the heart of the city centre and nestled among the Christmas decorations adorning the historic Old Town in Barfüsserplatz around the historic Barfüsserkirche and in Münsterplatz right next to the cathedral, where there is a magnificent Christmas tree. Numerous traders and artisans present their wares, and anyone looking for gift ideas will be inspired by the huge array of products and fairytale atmosphere. Stock up on waffles, Basel Läckerli biscuits. When: 27 November to 23 December. Stay:Hotel Basel
Each winter the beautiful market square of Bruges is transformed into a Christmas market full of colourful lights and illuminating festive stalls crammed with festive goodies. Around 30 traditional stalls sell gifts, chocolates, sweets and unusual hand-made decorations and an open-air ice rink and Christmas Hobby and Toy Fair offer plenty of family fun. Stock up on Belgian chocolate! When: 21 November to 2 January. Travel with Eurostar from £79 return
Bringing a touch of Alpine charm to the south west, Bath Christmas Market plays host to more than 150 little wooden chalets, brimming with locally made gifts and festive food. Set against the backdrop of Bath's Roman architecture, the city makes for one of the most atmospheric Christmas destinations in the UK. Dates: 27 November to 14 December. Stay: Brooks Guesthouse
Organisers of Budapest's Christmas Market are on a drive to give visitors the most authentic Hungarian experience they can. Expect local folk musicians, puppeteers and lots of traditional crafts. Stock up on hand-made festive decorations, local food. The grand dame of Budapest's fine cafes, the Gerbeaud, even turns into a giant advent calendar for the occasion. Dates: 28 November to 31 December. Stay:Lanchid 19
Take the fairytale romance of Hans Christian Andersen and all the fun of Europe's oldest amusement park and what do you get? Set in the faded kitsch of Tivoli Gardens amusement park, Copenhagen's annual festive market hosts around 50 stalls. The thousands of fairy lights and miniature 'pixie land' really set the scene. Stock up on Danish souvenirs, food and plenty of glogg. Dates: 15 November to 4 January. Stay: Hotel Tivoli
Germany is the king of Christmas markets and the city of Cologne bursts into light every evening during December, with a total of eight festive markets altogether. Don't miss the festivities at the Alter Markt in the heart of the old town. Stock up on gingerbread, wooden handicrafts and mulled wine. Dates: 24 November to 24 December. Stay: Stern Am Rathaus
Leeds Christkindlemarkt is one of the most established German Christmas markets in the UK. Held in Millennium Square in the city centre, highlights include the Frankfurter Scheune at Alp Chalet - perfect for delicious Bavarian delicacies. Dates: 14 November to 20 December. Stay:Chambers Park Place
At Christmas, the Slovakian capitalcomes into its own. The Bratislava Christmas Market has all the hallmarks of a classic European one: the emphasis is firmly on celebrating local produce. Stock up on traditional honey cakes, strudel and mugs of mead. Dates: 21 November 23 December. Stay: Mama's Design Hotel
Set in Edinburgh's city centre against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the Christmas markets include the ever-popular European Christmas Market with its delightful gifts and treats, and the Scottish Market which offers the best food, drink and craft Scotland has to offer. Stock up on unique chocolate, Gin, Scottish crafted jewellery and woodwork at the Scottish Market. When: 21 November to 4 January. Stay:The Rutland Hotel
Mixing a warm sense of tradition with contemporary Swedish design, Gothenburg lights the way to Christmas – literally. Liseberg Amusement Park hosts Scandinavia's biggest Christmas market decorated with hundreds of thousands of lights and with over 70 stalls for you to browse. Stock up on glogg, smoked sausages and reindeer meat. When: 15 November to 29 December. Stay: Book a package with Best Served Holidays
The 'Frankfurt style' Christmas market held at Birmingham's Chamberlain Square is the biggest of its type in the world outside Germany and Austria. Don't miss the neighbouring Christmas Craft Market or the ice skating at Centenary Square. Stock up on German beer and handmade toys. Dates: 13 November to 22 December. Stay:Hotel du Vin & Bistro
Head to the beautiful town of Valkenburg in Holland and discover the unique Velvet Cave Christmas market. During the festive period the historic cave is filled with stallholders selling everything from Christmas wreaths to children's gifts. While you're there, check out the impressive mural paintings, sculptures and romantic 18th century chapel in the cave. Stock up on Dutch pancakes and mouth-blown glass decorations. When: 14 November to 23 December. Stay:Hotel Tummers
Set against the beautiful backdrop of Exeter Cathedral, the Christmas market offers something for all, from handmade gifts to decorations and warm food. Although it is inspired by continental markets, it represents the best of what Britain and the South West has to offer. Stock up on crafts, unique gifts and decorations. Dates: 20 November to 20 December. Stay: The Magdalen Chapter
With snow-capped mountains as its backdrop, Innsbruck plays host to one of the most magical Christmas markets in Europe. The medieval Old Town provides the perfect setting with stalls laid out beneath Innsbruck’s famous ’Golden Roof’ and next to the giant, festively lit Christmas tree. Weave your way through the stalls to browse unique Christmas tree decorations and embroided table linen. Stock up on traditional wooden toys and gingerbread. When: November 15 to December 23. Stay:Romantikhotel Schwarzer Adler
Held in Fusterie Square every year, the International Geneva Christmas Market features hand-made folk arts and crafts from all over Switzerland, as well as numerous tasty food stalls. The market is set in the heart of the city's central shopping centre among jewellery shops and chic cafes, and housed in quaint wooden chalets. Stock up on figurines, paintings and culinary specialities from around the world. When: late November to 24 December. Stay: Hotel Bristol
St Thomas Market in Helsinki’s Senate Square is the biggest Christmas market in Finland with close to 150 vendors in red wooden stalls. At weekends, Santa Claus visits the markets and Christmas bands entertain the crowds. Stock up on canned foods for the Christmas table and handicrafts. When: December 8 to 21. Stay:GLO Hotel Kluuvi Helsinki
Savour a warm spiced mince pie and browse the traditional market stalls of Jersey. The Christmas markets showcase some of the best local arts, crafts, food and drink on offer. Enjoy a glass of hot mulled cider as you stroll through the Spirit of Christmas Market in Liberation Square. Stock up on locally-crafted Christmas gifts and Jersey cider. When: December 4 to 7. Stay:Atlantic Hotel
Few places scream Christmas like Stockholm. There are festive markets all over the archipelago and the best two are Skansen, with its cobbled streets, stocking fillers and stallholders dressed in 19th century outfits, and the old town’s daily Stortorget, a lantern-lit food fair with homemade sausages, spices, mustards and jams. Gorge on saffron buns, gingersnaps and glogg (mulled wine) as you go. Stock up on candy, cheeses and spices. When: 22 November to 23 December. Stay:Berns Hotel
Winchester Christmas Market is recognised as one of the best in Europe, attracting more than 350,000 visitors each year. Traditional wooden stalls are set up in the Cathedral's historic Close - a perfect setting for festivities. Stock up on British jewellery, glass and decorations. Dates: 20 November to 21 December. Stay:Lainston House Hotel.
Germany is rightly known for its Christmas markets and Nuremberg's 'Little Town from Wood and Cloth' is probably the most famous. Be among the expected two million visitors to stock up on bratwurst, gingerbread and 'Nuremberg Plum People', little figures made from prunes. When: 28 November to 24 December 2-13. Stay:Le Meridien Grand Hotel.
Cardiff City Hall is the centre of all things festive for the Welsh capital. More than 120 arts and crafts stalls sell traditional Welsh fare, from slate products to yarns. Don't miss: The Winter Wonderland on City Hall Lawn, where there's an ice rink as well as lots of German-style wooden stalls. Dates: 13 November to 23 December. Stay:Jolyons
Tampere Christmas Market in Finland’s second city, 180km north-west of Helsinki, is the focus of the town throughout December, taking over the square with traditional stalls and spreading Christmas spirit. Daily entertainment includes carol singers, Santa Claus meet-and-greets and a musical play. Stock up on tasty food, glühwein and traditional handicrafts from Finland and abroad. When: December 5 to 22. Stay:Hotel Victoria
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And to see the best of the UK's Christmas markets, check out this selection. Tell us below if we've missed out any good ones!
The UK's best Christmas markets
World's best Christmas markets 2013
Traders from all over Europe and much further afield come to the Belfast Christmas Market at City Hall. Browse the selection of handbags, satchels, wooden toys, essential oils and hand-painted pottery. Don't miss the new food court for a bratwurst or Dutch pancakes. Dates: 18 November to 23 December 2017. Stay:The Merchant Hotel
Hosting one of the UK's largest Christmas markets, Manchester goes into full-on festive mode with several markets popping up in the city. Stock up on international food, traditional crafts, amber jewellery and ornaments. Dates: 10 November to 20 December 2017. Stay: Abode Hotel
Bringing a touch of Alpine charm to the south west, Bath Christmas Market plays host to more than 200 little wooden chalets brimming with locally made gifts and festive food. Set against the backdrop of Bath's Roman architecture, the city makes for one of the most atmospheric Christmas destinations in the UK. Dates: 23 November to 10 December 2017. Stay: Brooks Guesthouse
Leeds Christkindelmarkt is one of the most established German Christmas markets in the UK. Held in Millennium Square in the city centre, highlights include the Frankfurter Scheune at Alp Chalet - perfect for delicious Bavarian delicacies. Dates: 10 November to 24 December 2017. Stay:The Chambers Park Place
The Frankfurt-style Christmas market held in Birmingham is one of the biggest of its type outside Germany and Austria. Don't miss the live music, weissbeer and roasted almonds. Dates: 16 November to 24 December 2017. Stay:Hotel du Vin & Bistro
Set in Edinburgh's city centre against the backdrop of Edinburgh Castle, the Christmas markets include the ever-popular European Christmas Market with its delightful gifts and treats, and the Scottish Market which offers the best food, drink and craft Scotland has to offer. Stock up on unique chocolate, Gin, Scottish crafted jewellery and woodwork at the Scottish Market. When: 18 November 2017 to 6 January 2018. Stay:Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa
Set against the beautiful backdrop of Exeter Cathedral, the Christmas market offers something for all, from handmade gifts to decorations and warm food. Although it is inspired by continental markets, it represents the best of what Britain and the South West has to offer. Stock up on crafts, unique gifts and decorations. Dates: 16 November to 17 December 2017. Stay: The Magdalen Chapter
Winchester Christmas Market is recognised as one of the best in Europe, attracting more than 350,000 visitors each year. Traditional wooden stalls are set up in the Cathedral's historic Close - a perfect setting for festivities.Stock up onBritish jewellery, glass and decorations. Dates: 20 November to 22 December 2017. Stay:Lainston House Hotel
Cardiff Christmas market is set in the pedestrian areas of the city centre, with stalls offering shoppers a range of quality craft products including enamel and pewter work, Welsh slate products, carved Welsh love spoons, metalwork, pottery, jewellery and traditional wooden items and toys. There is also a range of delicious seasonal food on offer, as well as plenty of mulled wine to keep shoppers warm as they go. Dates: 9 November to 23 December 2017. Stay:Jolyons
Winter Wonderland returns to London's Hyde Park in November with the ice rink, a giant observation wheel and, of course, its famous Christmas market. Enjoy hot cider, mulled wine and farmhouse foods alongside a spot of rustic revelry in the shape of an outdoor fire pit at the park’s heart. Dates: 17 November 2017 to 1 January 2018. Stay: Park Plaza County Hall
The luxury Christmas market in Nottingham's Market Square features 65 Victorian-styled trading cabins with an array of quality Christmas gifts from local traders and mouth-watering treats, timber decked walkways, an Ice Bar, a bandstand and at the centre of it all, an outdoor ice rink which promises to be bigger and better than ever before! Dates: 17 November to 24 December 2017. Stay:Jurys Inn Nottingham
This small, traditional market is set in the picturesque Whitefriars Square and is a good spot for quirky Christmas presents. Pick up traditional festive gifts, such as tin toys and Christmas ornaments, and enjoy German foodie treats, incudling Bratwurst and gingerbread. Dates: 25 November to 24 December 2017. Stay: Canterbury Cathedral Lodge
Gloucester's impressive historic docks provide the backdrop for a very Victorian Christmas experience. Explore an authentic market selling high quality food and drink as well as hand-made gifts. Enjoy choirs, brass bands and don’t forget to keep an eye out for a host of colourful and larger than life Dickensian characters who bring the market to life, all under the watchful eye of the faithful 'peeler'. Dates: 16 to 26 November 2017. Stay:The New County Hotel
The European-style St Albans Christmas Market offers a unique location in the walled Vintry Garden in the shadow of St Albans Cathedral. The market has more than 60 stalls selling a wide range of gifts and goodies, including decorations, jewellery, clothing and homeware. Festive food ranges from German-style bratwurst to gluhwein and there is packed programme of festive fun, including music, dance, magic and circus skills. Dates: 25 November to 23 December 2017. Stay:The Clarion Collection Hotel