Ok so Christmas is coming and European travel takes on a different thrill for me. Gone are the beautiful evenings sat on a balcony in Rioja drinking wine and instead my thoughts turn to tradition, being cosy, mulled wine and Christmas markets. Originally I remember Germany being renowned for Christmas markets and indeed it’s the German influence that seems to flavour markets all over Europe from the cute wooden market stalls stocking gingerbread, mulled wine and wooden novelties to the traditional litre steins to drink your beer from.
I wanted to tell you about some of my best markets – all cheap to travel to via budget airlines and some are even in the UK…
Manchester, England – 10 Nov to 20 Dec 2016
The Manchester markets are the best in the UK. Second biggest to Winter Wonderland in London you’ll find the markets in Manchester are much calmer, cheaper and less crowded. A great mix of traditional Austrian/German style stalls selling wooden novelties and giant sausages to independent sellers offering modern clothes, jewellery and home made sweets – a great place to pick up gifts. These markets are especially good for food with many cheeses, meat, cake, sweet and hot food stalls that will have you salivating. My top tip would be to avoid Saturdays as this can be too busy to enjoy and opt for an evening for optimum cosiness.
Manchester has a great range of budget hotels. There is a new Travelodge in central Manchester right opposite the market square from £35 a night otherwise if you’re pushing the boat out try the Hotel Gotham on King Street from £400 a night – opposite the Arndale Centre and offering old school glamour meets modern.
Manchester Markets Birds Eye View
London, England – 18 Nov to 2 Jan
Thousands of people flock to this huge Winter Wonderland each year and it gets busy! I found it quite hard to move around the hoards of people despite going on a weekday. It has a ice palace, snow sculptures, roller coasters and an ice rink plus live music and a great bar culture in the evening for an all round experience. My top tip would be to pre book your entry tickets and any of the attractions within the park i.e. the ice palace to avoid queues. Also, visit on a weekday and aim for the evening as being able to shop and then relaxing with a boozy hot chocolate while listening to music is great fun. Be warned it’s not cheap as this market is really aimed at tourists who are used to London prices so expect £8 for a stein of beer and £4 for a hot chocolate.
The Rookery in Clerkenwell is straight out of a Dickensian novel with rooms from £144. If you want to combine Oxford Street and the park then look at Guoman Cumberland Hotel from £150 which is at the top of Oxford Street and a lovely modern place to stay.
Ice Palace in London Winter Wonderland Hyde Park
Gothenburg, Sweden – 18 Nov to 30 Dec
A beautiful Christmas feel as market stalls scatter themselves throughout this pretty city selling trinkets, food and craft. The amusement park Liseberg lights up 5 million lights which look stunning around the ice rink. There is a stage shaped like a Christmas tree where you can hear bands and Christmas choirs perform while the 3km lane of lights in the city centre twinkle. I assumed Sweden would be expensive but I was really impressed with the cost of not only food but also accommodation.
Hotel Royal is the oldest hotel in the city and has great charm. Rooms start from £98. For a change the IQ suites offer 5 star modern apartments complete with whirlpool baths in an 1880 building for £170 for four people – great if travelling with friends.
Gothenburg Christmas markets, Sweden
Vienna, Austria – 12 Nov to 24 Dec
Vienna is beautiful whatever time of the year but Vienna lit up with Christmas lights is breath-taking. The smell of boozy Gluhwein and the iconic Belvedere looming down over the city is magical. The Maria Theresian Platz market has traditional Christmas treats plus warm slippers, hand made baubles and unique jewellery. Austria is the king of hot chocolates so make sure you stop by any of the coffee houses along Dorotheergasse for delicious desserts and hot drinks. For a bird’s eye view of the city lit up at night head to the Ferris wheel in Prater amusement park in Leopoldstadt.
Hotel Mercure Josefshof combines contemporary lifestyle and historic charm beautifully from £91 a night. If you want to go crazy with money then the Park Hyatt is the best rated hotel in the city at £294 a night; a lavish place located in the former HQ of the Bank of Austria on Hof Square.
Vienna Market Home Made Decorations
Strasbourg, France – 25 Nov to 31 Dec
Known as the capital of Christmas, this market is in the pretty cobbled town of Alsace. There are over 300 wooden chalets covered in festive lights selling traditional Christmas treats. The streets are a triumph of smells and sounds with a huge Christmas tree looking down on everything. Apparently the tradition of decorating a tree for Christmas originated here. Great local market for tradition you really believe rather than done simply to make money from tourists.
Strasbourg at Christmas
Hamburg, Germany – 21 Nov to 23 Dec
This is the bees’ knees of markets. If Christmas was born anywhere then it feels like here. There are fifteen different markets in Hamburg – each street offering something different. There is Spielzeuggasse that is a street that just sells toys – toys children will definitely believe were made by elves. In Saint Pauli there is even an X rated market selling alternative gifts. The most magical thing about Hamburg is that Father Christmas flies over you in his sleigh at 4pm, 6pm and 8pm each night.
Where: Hotels can shoot up in price this time of year as with many of the market towns. Try and stay as central to the station as you can in somewhere like Intercity hotel Hauptbahnhof for around £100 a night or if you want something with a more boutique feel Centro Hotel Boutique 56 is in the heart of Hamburg and rooms range from £150.
Hamburg Christmas Market
Zagreb, Croatia – 27 Nov – 8 Jan
A traditional Christmas Fair will take place during Advent in the streets surrounding the Jelacic Square. Take your pick of seasonal gifts, gingerbread hearts, cookies, colourful decorations, jewellery and souvenirs made by Zagreb craftsmen, artists, and manufacturers of traditional Croatian products. Croatia offers a cheap alternative to some of the other European markets. Street food is plentiful though limited choices for vegetarians as Croatians love their meat! Hot chocolate is fantastic here and served thick like melted chocolate – fill your boots!
Zagreb Christmas Market Stalls
Budapest, Hungary – Nov 11 to Jan 1
The Christmas Market on Vorosmarty Square is often thought of as the single Christmas market in the city of Budapest, which luckily is not true. However, what is true is that the Xmas fair on Vörösmarty Square is the oldest, richest and the most spectacular of all the Christmas markets in Budapest. From November the square turns into an old folk tale with its dozens of buzzing wooden market stalls, the concert stage with Choirs singing, thousands of handmade gifts, the lovely smell of cinnamon pastries (Kurtoskalacs – Chimney Cake), sausages, mulled wine, grilled vegetables, street snacks like Langos, dodolle (potato dumplings), etc
At £129 a night the Buddha Bar Hotel Budapest Klotild Palace looks far more lavish than it’s price tag, showing that the city is great value for travellers. Trendy bar with great cocktails overlooking the River Danube – what more could you want?
[ Budapest at Christmas
My final tip would be to book up as soon as you can for next year for some of the popular markets as both flights and hotels fill up fast. Make sure you keep an eye on when Ryanair and Easyjet release their new flights for next Autumn Winter so you can be the first to book. If you don’t want to wait until then, then you can book your hotel now with free cancellation on Booking.com for next year, meaning you can cancel it if you don’t get a flight or decide not to go without a cost to yourself.
Good Luck, Enjoy and Merry Christmas!
Follow the Christmas market rules