'Tis the season to be shopping and if you're feeling festive, Europe's Christmas markets are the places to be. From handmade stocking fillers to heart-warming mulled wine, the seasonal street markets offer music, goodies and the perfect atmosphere for Christmas lovers.
The concept 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.
France, Switzerland and Germany are all popular places to visit for a Christmas market mini-break, when the towns and cities burst into festive song and fairy lights.
So what's all the fuss about? Christmas markets, or Christkindlmarkts, are all about celebrating everything traditional. Think gingerbread and stollen, bratwurst and candied fruit, as well as plenty of local arts and crafts. While they provide a haven for shoppers, many people go simply to soak up the festive ambiance: the little ones can meet Santa and the whole family can enjoy the Christmas carols.
Whether you fancy hopping on the Eurostar or grabbing a cheap flight to Europe, these are the top Christmas markets for a shopping break this winter...
Europe's top Christmas markets 2016
Europe's top Christmas markets 2016
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: 25 November to 24 December. Stay: The Louis Hotel
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,' you can also ramble through the city's narrow, historic streets and squares to discover Christmas concerts, shows, activities and exhibitions. Stock up on arts and crafts, food and typical Alsatian Christmas decorations. When: 25 November to 31 December. Stay: Hilton Strasbourg
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: 19 November to 31 December. Stay: Hotel Tivoli
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. Stock up on unusual Christmas gifts made by local artists and craftsmen, edible souvenirs, coloured candies, spiced nuts and traditional cherry vodka. When: 25 November to 26 December. Stay: Hotel Indigo Krakow Old Town
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: 15 November to 6 January. Stay:Romantikhotel Schwarzer Adler
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: 21 November to 23 December. Stay: Stern Am Rathaus
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: 18 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: 18 November to 7 January. Stay: The Three Sisters
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: 26 November to 1 January. Stay: Clarion Hotel Prague
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: 24 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: 18 November to 1 January. Travel with Eurostar from £34.50 each way.
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. You can also enjoy a special Christmas Streetcar ride. Dates: 11 November to 1 January. Stay:Lanchid 19
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: 18 November 22 December. Stay: Mama's Design Hotel
Mixing a warm sense of tradition with contemporary Swedish design, Gothenburg lights the way to Christmas – literally. Liseberg Amusement Park hosts Sweden'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: 18 November to 30 December. Stay: Book a package with Best Served Holidays
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: 12 November to 24 December. Stay: Altstadt Hotel
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: 18 November to 23 December. Stay:Hotel Tummers
Held in Fusterie Square every year, the 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: 11 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: 3 to 22 December. 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 and don't miss the Battle of flowers Christmas Parade through St Helier. Stock up on locally-crafted Christmas gifts and Jersey cider. When: 24 November to 15 January. 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: 19 November to 23 December. Stay:Berns 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: 25 November to 24 December. Stay:Le Meridien Grand Hotel.
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: 3 December to 22. Stay:Hotel Victoria