Top Christmas market mini-breaks in Europe

France, Bas Rhin, Strasbourg, Christmas market stalls Place de la Cathedrale

The Christmas countdown has begun and it's the perfect excuse for a short break to visit one of Europe's fabulous Christmas markets for some festive shopping.

With a plethora of atmospheric markets across the continent, you can explore Europe's beautiful cities, mountains and even lakeside destinations on a wonderful winter holiday.

Warm apple cider and mulled wine, fun ice skating and carol singing around the tree are great ways to get into the festive spirit.

From the enchanting architecture in Cologne to the quaint and cobbled streets of Strasbourg, we've picked some of the best Christmas market mini-breaks for 2016...

Strasbourg, France (25 November - 31 December 2016)

Strasbourg boasts the oldest Christmas market in France dating back to the 1570s. It is also Europe's largest, with 300 chalets spread over 12 sites. In the 'capital of Christmas,' visitors can ramble through the city's narrow, historic streets and squares to discover Christmas concerts, shows, activities and exhibitions. At the Christmas market, you will find arts and crafts, food and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations. A trip to Strasbourg also offers the chance to take an atmospheric tour at night with the watchman or visit Strasbourg's impressive gothic cathedral for a Christmas service. Hilton Strasbourg offers stays for £112 per room per night.

Krakow, Poland

Copenhagen, Denmark (19 November - 31 December 2016)

Denmark's picturesque capital city boasts one of Europe's most iconic Christmas markets at the world-famous Tivoli Gardens. The gardens provide a beautiful backdrop with colourful stores selling traditional handicrafts and festive food and drink such as apple dumplings and glogg, a warming Scandinavian mulled wine, as well as a spectacular light show over the beautiful Tivoli Lake. Visitors can also explore Christmas markets in the Nyhavn district along the banks of the famous Nyhavn canal and in Freetown Christiania, the city's bohemian district. Wexas Travel offers a three-night stay at 71 Nyhavn from £370 per person, including return flights and a Christmas at Tivoli Garden Tour (valid from 19 November to 31 December 2016).

Krakow, Poland (25 November - 26 December 2016)

The famous festive market in Krakow's Rynek Central Square is set within a baroque gothic wonderland with the Cloth Hall, one of the city's most recognisable buildings, providing an iconic backdrop. Grab a glass of mulled wine and explore surrounding streets where unusual Christmas gifts made by local artists and craftsmen can be found alongside edible souvenirs, coloured candies, spiced nuts and traditional cherry vodka. Hotel Indigo Krakow Old Town is set in the heart of the city's vibrant Old Town where the past and present meet. A stone's throw away from Old Kleparz Market, Florianska's shops and the vibrant nightlife of the Kazimierz district, the hotel offers stays from £93 per room per night.

traditional gingerbread hearts...

Innsbruck, Austria (15 November 2016 - 6 January 2017)

For a Christmas market break the kids will love, head for Innsbruck's Family Christmas Market at Marktplatz, which has a petting zoo and a big carousel. You can take the Hungerburg funicular to the unique Panorama Christmas Market on Hungerburg which boasts spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains and Innsbruck city while browsing the market stalls for a huge range of gifts and culinary delights. British Airways' new Heathrow to Innsbruck route starts from 4 December 2016, with return fares starting from £88. Book a two-night Advent package from 159 euros per person, which includes a 48-hour Innsbruck guest card.

Cologne, Germany (21 November - 23 December 2016)

Striking Cologne is a wonderful place to soak up the festive cheer in no time when you catch the Eurostar (just over four hours, via Brussels). Enjoy the currywurst, glühwein and pretzels on offer, while browsing the seven Christmas markets in this enchanting city, with the largest set against the backdrop of Cologne's magnificent gothic Cathedral and the tallest Christmas tree in the Rhineland. Eurostar offers return tickets from London to Cologne from £45 each way.

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The UK's best Christmas markets
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The UK's best Christmas markets
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 on British 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

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