Top 10 Christmas markets for 2018: City breaks with festive feeling
Soak up some early festive cheer with a trip to a Christmas market, writes Nicola Brady
Thinking of a city break to break up the winter gloom? Christmas markets will leave even the biggest of Scrooges aglow with festive cheer.
Find something unique, seasonal or just downright kitsch in the Yule wonderland of your choice while taking in the fairytale architecture, grand squares or skating round the rink. Warm up afterwards with some Glühwein. You might even see some snow... Here are our 10 best destinations this winter.
1. Best for… something new
Ghent: The wintery scent of pine hits as you wander through this Belgian beauty's square, past wooden huts adorned with deep green fronds. There's an ice skating rink set up under the City Pavilion, the requisite giant Christmas tree, and stalls selling everything from crêpes to decorations. Ghent is the picture-perfect festive city, and striking hotel 1898 The Post is the perfect spot from which to explore, set in the sexily gothic post office building.
When: December 7 to January 6.
How: Rates start at €180, room only. See zannierhotels.com/1898thepost. Fly to Brussels with Aer Lingus from €35.99 one way (aerlingus.com). Ghent is less than an hour away by train, which leaves directly from the airport.
2. Best for… variety
Düsseldorf: Want a little more bang for your buck? Head to Düsseldorf, where there are no less than seven individual markets, all within walking distance of each other. The main event, on Marktplatz, features lines of huts that match the architecture of City Hall. You'll find glass blowers and wood turners all demonstrating their skills, as well as a beautiful vintage merry-go-round. Nearby, at Heinrich-Heine-Platz, the stalls are filled with hundreds of tiny glowing golden angels - Germany at Christmas will warm the heart of any Scrooge.
When: November 22 to December 30.
How: LastMinute.com has two nights in a four-star hotel from €110pp, departing December 3. See duesseldorf-tourismus.de.
3. Best for… chocoholics
Bruges: Christmas is hardly a time for moderation. 'Tis the season for hefty overindulgence, whether you're digging into the mince pies or the mulled wine. But if you're the sort who makes a beeline for the tin of chocolates, then a trip to Bruges will be like a pilgrimage. The chocolatiers are endlessly tempting, and you'll pick up any number of presents (if you don't dig into them on the flight home, that is). And oh, if Bruges isn't one of the prettiest backdrops for a sparkling Christmas market, with its fairytale buildings, we'll eat our chocolate hat.
When: November 23 to January 1.
How: Cassidy Travel has two nights in a three-star hotel from €156pp, departing December 1. See cassidytravel.ie, visitbruges.be.
4. Best for… wine lovers
Lausanne: Sure, winter might be all about the mulling. But wine needn't only be served with a hefty glug of sugar and spice. Lausanne is the Swiss wine capital, and you'll find any number of tempting bottles to dig into (you can find all the regional winegrowers in the market at Bô Caveau, which is handy). It's also a place that celebrates Christmas with a feverish gusto - the city comes to life with the Lausanne Lumières festival of lights; the traditional wooden stalls are filled with arts and crafts, and you can indulge in a giant pot of fondue in a pop-up igloo café.
When: November 21 to December 31.
How: Fly to Geneva with Swiss from €88 return in December - Lausanne is a 40-minute train ride away. See swiss.com.
5. Best for… the cool kids
Hamburg: Christmas markets don't have to be traditional, you know. In Hamburg, you can find a little something to suit every taste, including a rather adult theme at Reeperbahn Market (don't, um, bring the kids). Things are a little more traditional over at Rathausmarkt, where you'll also find a flying Santa, as well as a strong contingent of after-work frivolity come nightfall. The city has an LGBT Winter Pride market too, with live music and a "rubbish secret Santa" where you can trade unwanted gifts.
When: November 27 to December 29.
How: Ryanair Holidays has two nights in Hamburg from €150pp, departing December 8. See holidays.ryanair.com, hamburg-tourism.com.
6. Best for… bargains
Krakow: It's long been a favourite with the market aficionados, and Krakow's appeal isn't showing any sign of waning. And why would it? This Polish city is usually festively chilly, and if you're lucky there might be a generous sprinkling of snow to make things feel super Christmassy. It's held in the middle of the gorgeous old town, on the central Rynek Glowny square. The best news is that it won't break the bank, either - you'll be able to eat (and drink) like a king, and still have cash to spare for wooden ornaments and Polish pottery.
When: November 30 to December 26.
How: GoHop.ie has three nights in Krakow from €176pp, departing December 7. See poland.travel.
7. Best for… old faithfuls
Prague: Ah, Prague. The old favourite for a sneaky Christmas getaway, this chocolate box of a city comes to life in the festive season. Grab a spiralised Trdelník pastry and amble between the main stalls, which are located in the two biggest markets in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. The only problem you'll face will be getting Good King Wenceslas out of your head as you stroll around the square's illuminated markets. There are other smaller markets too, like the one held in the square in the shadows of Prague Castle.
When: December 1 to January 6.
How: Holidays with Aer Lingus has three nights in Prague from €199pp. See holidayswithaerlingus.com, prague.eu.
8. Best for… the indecisive
Lake Constance Cruise: If one market, nay, one city, isn't enough for you, then this boat trip is the perfect solution. Start things off in the Austrian city of Bregenz, which has two markets, then set sail on the suitably festive Bregenz Christmas Ship on a jaunt across Lake Constance to Lindau Harbour in Germany. The cruise is half the fun - on board you'll find a model train, nativity scene and fairytale forest, and when you pull into the illuminated harbour you'll pass a gorgeous lighthouse and Bavarian lion sculpture.
When: Bregenz from November 18 to December 23.
How: The round-trip costs €14 per adult. See vorarlberg-lines.at. Fly to Zurich and get the train to Bregenz (90 minutes).
9. Best for… the ease
Belfast: Don't want to jet away for the weekend? Nip up to Belfast and you'll fill yourself up with Christmas cheer without having to navigate the airport. The market, as so many seem to be, is located in front of the gorgeous City Hall building, and offers up a smorgasbord of treats that'll help you get a head start on your Yuletide feasting. Think hog roasts, baklava, local cheeses and, of course, plenty of Glühwein. If you want to make a night of it, the new Grand Central Hotel is just a five-minute walk away.
When: November 17 to December 22.
How: Rates start at £190/€213. See grandcentralhotelbelfast.com, discovernorthernireland.com
10. Best for… hipsters
Glasgow: It's spent a bit of time in Edinburgh's shadow, but Glasgow is a vibrant, exciting city that makes for one hell of a weekend break - especially for culture vultures. Christmas is celebrated with gusto, with traditional markets held in George Square and St Enoch Square, as well as independent markets like the Glasgow Christmas Craft, Art & Design Fair held on December 1-2. Warm the cockles afterwards with a fireside whiskey in The Pot Still on Hope Street.
When: November 25 to December 31.
How: ClickandGo.com has three nights from €229pp, including flights and accommodation in a four-star central hotel. See glasgowloveschristmas.com and visitscotland.com.
NB: Dates and prices are subject to change.