This year, for a real festive indulgence why not venture abroad and immerse yourself in the historic squares of Prague or beautiful gardens of Copenhagen. Pick up unique presents and experience European traditions along the best christmas markets.
The 2012 Covent Garden Christmas lights are a stunning light installation courtesy of United Visual Artists. With a big Christmas light switching on ceremony and a series of free events taking place throughout the Christmas period, Covent Garden will be just as festive as ever for 2012.
Fira de Santa Llúcia
Dating from 1786, this traditional Christmas fair has expanded to more than 300 stalls selling all manner of handcrafted Christmas decorations and gifts, along with mistletoe, poinsettias and Christmas trees. The most popular figure on sale for Nativity scenes is the curious Catalan figure of the caganer (crapper), a small figure crouching over a steaming turd with his trousers around his ankles. Kids line up for a go on the giant caga tió, a huge, smiley-faced ‘shitting log’ that poops out pressies upon being beaten viciously by a stick; smaller versions are on sale in the stalls. There’s also a Nativity scene contest, musical parades and exhibitions, including the popular life-size Nativity scene in Plaça Sant Jaume.
Christmas Market at Kaiser Wilheim
Berlin could easily be described as the capital of the Traditional Christmas Market, if judged on quantity alone – it has over fifty across the city every year. The market at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche is the biggest and most popular receiving around 4 million visitors each year who come to peruse the jewellery, decorations and artwork on sale as well to indulge in the more clichéd seasonal pleasures such as chestnuts and mulled wine.
Plaisirs d’hiver (Winter Wonders)
Christmas in Brussels seems to get bigger every year. The Christmas market now extends along the streets from Grand’Place to place Ste-Catherine, covering almost 2 kilometres (1.2 miles). Each of the 240 market stalls is a little wooden-roofed hut selling mainly arts and crafts or food and drink, all of them having a pan-European flavour. By the time you reach place Ste-Catherine and the quays beyond, not only are you decently warmed up, but you’re at the heart of the festivities. The quaint stalls continue, punctuated every now and again by a 35m toboggan slope, a big-wheel illuminated with 18,000 lights and, of course, the 200 foot-long skating rink.
The Budapest Christmas Fair
Traditional food, folk dances and live music can be found daily in amongst the cottage-esque market ‘stalls’ of Vörösmarty tér from mid-November. Based at the centre of the Pest district near the start of ‘Fashion Street’, this market regularly has up to 150 stalls, and plenty of local art and culture, including puppet theatres. To add to the authenticity of celebrations, all products sold in the market are guaranteed as traditionally handmade by a professional jury from a variety of organisations. Look out for the daily advent calender window displays at the 19th Century Gerbeaud Cafe.
Tivoli at Christmas
Like many European cities, Copenhagen is decked out in decorations and illuminations at this time of year. But, unlike most, the atmosphere is less commercial and more authentically ‘Christmassy’ (maybe the sub-zero temperatures have something to do with it). From mid November Tivoli turns into a vast Christmas grotto with a special Christmas market, Yuletide grub and an infestation of nisser (Danish Christmas pixies).
The Christmas Markets
Prague’s Christmas markets takes place in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (as in Old King Wenceslas). Here visitors seek unusual food and drink rather than gifts and decoration – in the week leading up to the Vánoce (Christmas) holiday, the streets sport huge tubs of water filled with carp, the traditional Czech Christmas dish – and should definitely make time try the grog and honey liquor – a traditional Czech beverage. Czech carols can be heard round the market and visitors are also treated to the views of the beautiful surrounding architecture and dazzling lighting at night.
In terms of the visitor numbers and size, the Frankfurt christmas Market is one of the most important Christmas markets in Germany. The elaborate and creative stand decorations, the scenis surroundings of the Römerberg and Paulsplatz and the huge christmas tree also make it one of its most beautiful.
Winter is the most quintessentially Austrian time of year: snow (sometimes) blankets the city and the Christmas markets appear. Christkindlmärkte are advent markets that appear in mid November. Christmas for the Viennese is a social affair, where people meet up at the markets for Punsch or Glühwein (the local mulled wine), chestnuts and spicy Christmas cookies.