WE’VE compiled a list of Europe’s top festive markets, as well as a couple from closer to home.
November 23 - December 24
Forward-thinking Austrian town Graz is regarded as one of the best places to celebrate the advent season. Markets are held in the central squares of the old town, selling arts and crafts, while a special children’s market has a big wheel, train ride and carousel.
A frozen manger at the Landhaushof also draws crowds, with Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus carved expertly from ice.
Graz has a thriving cultural scene, and in the run up to Christmas a number of concerts and events take place.
Special hotel offers can be found at www.weekend.graz.at
Ryan Air (www.ryanair.com) flies to Klagenfurt from Stansted from £19.24 one way. Graz is a 90-minute drive.
December 2 - January 10, 2013
For an alternative to Prague in an equally enchanting setting, the traditional market in Riga’s Dome Square doesn’t disappoint.
Alongside handicrafts and ornate glassware, stalls sell Latvian sausages, sauerkraut and smoked meats.
Visit on Sunday, December 16 to take part in a special winter solstice, held in the Ethnographic Open-Air Museum, not far from the city. Visitors will have the opportunity to craft their own gifts outdoors in a 100-hectare area of woodland.
This year, the solstice coincides with Riga’s famous Yule Log Night. Locals drag logs through the town centre, finally setting them alight in the hope of banishing misfortunes from the past year.
WEXAS Travel (www.wexas.com) offers the four-day ‘Riga’s Christmas Market’ itinerary from £480pp based on two sharing. Includes flights, accommodation, a guided walking tour of Riga’s old town and transfers. Departures Dec 1, Dec 8 and Dec 15.
Today - December 23
Rain, snow or shine, a festive show takes place at the cosy Velvet Cave in Dutch town Valkenburg.
Europe’s largest and oldest underground Christmas market definitely scores high on wow factor, with festive decorations supplemented by murals and sculptures. An 18th century chapel is also a highlight.
And what better setting than a cave for Santa’s grotto? Visit his living space, piled high with presents, sleigh and reindeer.
Above ground, a Christmas parade takes place in the city on Wednesdays at 7pm and Saturdays at 7.30pm.
Stena Line’s Superferries (www.stenaline.co.uk) offers a Dutchflyer rail and sail ticket from £39pp one way, including train travel from London to Harwich and onward travel to any Dutch city. Two nights B&B at the Parkhotel Valkenburg (www.parkhotelvalkenburg.nl) from 99 Euros pp.
November 23 - December 23
Copenhagen may have the glitz and glamour, but smaller town Aalborg offers an intimate and novel experience.
On November 24, Santa Claus arrives from Greenland by ship, and is met at the city docks by the local mayor. The pair then take a sleigh ride through town, ending up at Gammeltorv, where the main Christmas market is held. Local specialities on sale include pepper cookies and fiery spirit aquavit.
Later that day, the Christmas tree will be lit to the sounds of an elf orchestra. Afterwards, go ice skating on CW Obels Plads or enjoy a Christmas ale at microbrewery Sogaards Bryghus.
Norwegian Airlines (www.norwegian.com) flies to Aalborg from Gatwick £36 one way.
Accommodation options range from £80 to £120 per room. See www.visitaalborg.com
BOLZANO, SOUTH TYROL, ITALY
November 30 - December 23
Located in the South Tyrol, Italy’s most northerly region, the pretty town of Bolzano is an interesting blend of Italian and Germanic cultures.
The Christmas market reflects this crossover, with German Gluhwein (mulled wine) served alongside nougats and panettone.
Wooden toys and glass decorations are a speciality of this region, making great presents for both children and adults.
But gifts aside, it’s the setting that makes Bolzano’s market particularly special. Framed by the snow-covered Dolomite Mountains, the medieval old town conjures up a nostalgic festive atmosphere.
Monarch (www.monarch.co.uk) flies to Verona from Manchester from £36.99 one way.
The Park Hotel Laurin (www.laurin.it) offers two nights B&B from 211 Euros pp if booked between November 19 and December 23.
Now - December 23
Celebrations start early in the cobbled streets of York, with a festive food market running until Sunday. St Nicholas Fayre will sell alternative suggestions for the Christmas table, including wild boar, ostrich and even kangaroo. The full-blown Festive Fayre takes place from December 6, with highlights including a Famer’s Market (December 14) and the Festival of Angels (December 15-16), when the city will be transformed into a winter wonderland.
November 22 - December 9
Known as the ‘Christmas Capital of the West’, the Georgian streets of Bath will be filled with 150 traditional stalls this year.
Selling handmade gifts and decorations, the market takes place in squares around the Roman Baths and the 17th century Bath Abbey. Carol singers and street entertainers will also be on hand to get shoppers in festive spirit.
The Abbey Hotel (www.abbeyhotelbath.co.uk) offers doubles for £135 per night including breakfast