There is nothing more magical in the winter months than visiting a Christmas market. The festive season is simply magical in these European cities. Go for the markets and stay for the food, the wine and the wow factor …
Every Christmas, the city of Dijon celebrates tradition and gussies itself with beautiful lights to welcome festive celebrations. It is home to an 18-metre high Christmas tree at the Place de la Libération, made from 361 smaller fir trees (from a sustainable agricultural sector in the Morvan Natural and Regional Park) along with a family friendly Christmas village complete with vintage style merry-go-round. For many years the Christmas market has been an unmissable event at the end of year where market chalets are scattered around Place Darcy, Place de la Libération, Rue de la Liberté and Place de la République. The market runs from December 2 – January 7 and showcases a wide variety of local artisan products perfect for Christmas gifting.?One of the oldest and most festive Christmas traditions in Dijon is Santa Claus descending on Place de la Libération from the top of the Philippe Le Bon Tower for ten minutes every evening throughout December. Dijon is easily accessible from Paris by train and the journey takes 1.5 hours.
What to Buy: Fill your carry on with gingerbread, mustard, foie gras and honey.
Where to Stay: The recently opened Mama Shelter hotel is centrally located with rooms that overlook Saint-Bénigne cathedral and the Burgundian vineyard. It also boasts an in-house cinema. Rooms start at €99. www.mamashelter.com/dijon.
Prague, Czech Republic
The city of Prague has three main Christmas markets, located in the Old Town Square, Wenceslas Square and Prague Castle.?Each presents its own unique offering: Old Town Square Market is known for its enchanting Christmas atmosphere; Wenceslas Square Market is filled with unique gifts in the heart of the shopping district; and Prague Castle Market offers local produce in an idyllic historical setting. The city of Prague is a picture perfect town and the markets make the perfect itinerary for travellers visiting Prague over the festive season.?The markets run from December 2 – January 6.
What to Buy: Medovina (mead), handmade toys, Christmas ornaments and baubles.
Where to Stay: On a hilltop, just a 15 minute walk from Wenceslas Square, Le Palais Art Hotel Prague is a stunning building and one of the finest examples of Belle Époque architecture in the city. Rooms from €160. www.palacehotel.cz.
A train journey of just 1.5 hours will take you from Paris to the Breton city of Rennes in all its festive glory. From the first of December until well into the New Year, the Place du Parlement de Bretagne is transformed into a winter wonderland, filled with Christmas-themed stalls, glittering lights and sparkling decorations.?Children can indulge in the joys of the traditional carousel installed especially for the occasion. And, within the Colombia shopping centre, you will be charmed by a selection of chalets offering mulled wine, unique gift ideas, and local Breton products. Don’t skip the ice skating.
What to Buy: Butter. And more butter.
Where to Stay: Just one minute walk from the Palais des Congrès or Saint Pierre Cathedral, Le Magic Hall is a good choice with rooms from €110. www.lemagichall.com.
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
For the entire month of December, Place Rihour in Luxembourg turns into a winter wonderland, filled with Christmas lights and decorations. 90 chalets fill the square offering Christmas-themed gifts focusing on artisan craftsmanship. There is something for all ages from delicate ornaments and gifts to toys, a Ferris wheel, mini train and pony rides galore. To keep the festive spirit aglow, Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille Cathedral also puts on a spectacular Christmas cathedral light show.
What to Buy: Chocolate, praline, pâté au Riesling.
Where to Stay: Le Place d’Armes is an elegant Art Deco hotel situated in the centre of Luxembourg, just 300 metres from Notre-Dame Catherdral. Rooms from €465. www.hotel-leplacedarmes.com.
One of the most beautiful cities in Europe, December sees Budapest transformed into an idyllic winter wonderland worthy of any Christmas movie. The city plays host to two separate festive markets, each within walking distance of each other, The Advent Basilica takes place in front of St Stephen’s Basilica in one of the most picturesque squares in the Hungarian capital and over 120 exhibitors, an ice-skating rink and an abundance of goodies to imbibe. A magnificent Christmas tree tower over the rink with lights twinkling all around. Just ten minutes away at Deák Ferenc Square you will find an abundance of stalls to spend your Forints, the smell of gingerbread permeating the air.
What to Buy: Tokaij Wine, obviously.
Where to Stay: Mystery Hotel is located in District V1, where many of Budapest’s main sights, including the Parliament, Heroes’ Square and the Basilica, are located. Rooms are styled and named after Corinthian, Doric and Ionian, the three styles of Ancient Greek architecture and the hotel also boasts a Secret Garden Spa and a roof terrace with stunning views. Wrap up well. Rooms from €140 per night. www.mysteryhotelbudapest.com.