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If you're looking for some festive cheer, the following markets, listed by country, are ideal for gingerbread, present-hunting and the odd glass of mulled wine...
Yule love Nuremberg
Germany is King of the Christmas markets - with a whopping 125 popping up over the festive period - and Nuremburg is home to the world’s largest. Hundreds of stalls decorated in red and white cloth offer gingerbread, roast sausages and traditional ornaments. Vendors are under strict rules. No tat here - this is the real authentic deal. Tuck into lebkuchen - famous German Christmas biscuits and feuerzangenbowle, the tastiest gluhwein laced with rum or brandy - and often set alight.
Festive fact: The oldest gingerbread recipe in writing dates from the 16th century and can be seen at the Germanic National Museum, in Nuremberg.
Details: Three nights at NH Nurnberg City on a room-only basis costs from £252pp. Price includes return flights departing December 4 2012. Lastminute.com, 0871 222 5969. www.lastminute.com.
Cologne’s cosy Christmas special
Gabled houses, gothic cathedral, timber framed stalls - Cologne makes a magical winter scene. And the city’s six markets add plenty of dazzle - the Rhineland’s largest Christmas tree, artisans at work, the brother’s Grimm fairytales done up in lights, Santa’s grotto - this is Christmas at its most sugary (there’s even a market in the chocolate musuem).
Festive facts: Legend has it that the 'Heinzelmännchen' gnomes are responsible for Cologne’s Christmas show. Mind where you step.
Details: Stay two nights at a four star Best Western Grand City Hotel Koln on a room-only basis for £151pp. Price includes return flights departing on 11th December 2012. Contact: 0871 222 5969, www.lastminute.com. Eurostar travels to Cologne in just over 4 hours. Tickets start from £85 return, 08432 186 186, www.eurostar.com.
There are over 60 markets across the capital. Disney couldn’t have dreamt up a better location than Charlottenburg palace. This baroque beauty is transformed with over 150 stalls selling enormous sausages, intricate wooden decorations, mulled wine and more. There’s plenty for children across the city, including old fashioned carousels and ferris wheels.
Festive fact: Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market has an impressive toboggan run, which is 12 metres high and 70 metres long.
Details: Market opens from 26 November to 26 December. Entrance is free. Stay three nights for the price of two at the Art’Otel Berlin Mitte from £525 pp – saving £80. Price is based on two sharing and includes flights (London), private transfers, accommodation with breakfast. Book through Kirker Holidays on 020 7593 2283, www.kirkerholidays.com.
Self styled as ‘Scandinavia’s Christmas city’ Gothenburg really glows. A two mile lane of illuminations will spark up, from the wheel of Gothenburg at the harbour to the Liseburg amusement park, fizzing away with millions of lights. At Liseburg, you’ll find a fairy tale castle, ski slope, ice rink, plenty of reindeer and the julbord - a seven course Christmas extravaganza. The market opens from 16 November - 23 December.
Festive fact: Father Christmas is known as Jul Tomte in this part of the world.
Details: Two nights’ B&B at five-star Rica 25 (two sharing) in Gothenburg, return flights (London) and 48 hour Gothenburg City Card (free public transport and entry into sites, including Liseberg Amusement Park) costs from £330pp. Valid for travel until 31 December. Book through Best Served Scandinavia, 020 7838 5956, www.best-served.co.uk.
The archipelago city plays host to four Christmas markets. The one on Skansen - the open-air island musuem - dates from 1903 (stallholders dress up in 19th century gear), and there’s another in picturesque Gamla Stan - Stocholm’s old town. Look out for Swedish speciliaties such as reindeer meat. Stortorget, Gamla Stan’s main square, offers a lantern-lit food fair selling homemade delights. For something really traditional, head out of Stcokholm to Sigtuna, Sweden’s first town, founded in 10th century. The Christmas markets start here on 27 November and are held on the four Sundays before Christmas Day.
Festive fact: Feeling energetic, then get your skis on. Vikingarännet (the Viking Run) is a 48 miles skating race between Uppsala and Stockholm, via Sigtuna.
Details: British Airways offer two nights at the 5* Sheraton Stockholm from £289 person, based on two people sharing, for travel in December. Price includes return flights from Heathrow and accommodation with breakfast. British Airways, 0844493 0758, www.ba.com/christmasmarkets
Wrap up in Prague
The city is on song for Christmas with daily performances by carol singers, lashings of hot wine, cool Czech beer, waffles and straw decorations. The main markets are held in aptly named Wenceslas Square and Old Town Square, where there’s an animal stable and nativity scene. The markets run from 1 December to 6 January 2013 (including Christmas day).
Festive fact: The giant Christmas tree in Old Town Square is a show stopper, shipped in from the Krkonose mountains in the north for the occasion.
Details: Stay four nights for the price of three at the four-star Casa Marcello from £446 pp (two sharing) including flights (from London), private car transfers and B&B. Kirker Holidays: 020 7593 2283, www.kirkerholidays.com.
Vienna’s snow storm
Stately Vienna gets into the spirit with several markets and Christmas villages glimmering temptingly across the city. Traditionalists will like Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung, which has been held here since 1772, and where you can buy cribs, glass ornaments, ceramics. Away from the stalls, wander specially decorated and lit City Park. At the cultural and Christmas market in the Ehrenhof, in front of Schönbrunn Palace, the jollity carries on with a New Year’s market.
Festive fact: Vienna is home to the snow globe. The first one was created in 1900 by Erwin Perzy and Edwin Perzy III still makes them.
Details: British Airways offer two nights at the 4* Arcotel Wimberger from £279 person, based on two people sharing, for travel in December. The price includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and room only accommodation. For reservations visit www.ba.com/christmasmarkets or call 0844493 0758
Roll in on the Eurostar for a French Christmas - bright lights, tempting tarts and 80 traditional wooden chalets. Children can have their pictures taken with Santa. Parents can rise above it all on the 50 metre high ferris wheel situated on the Grand Place.
Markets open from 21 November to 30 December.
Festive fact: In France Saint-Nicolas has a partner, le Père Fouettard - the whipping father - whose job it is to decide whether children have been good or bad.
Details: Tickets to Lille on Eurostar start from £69 return: 08432 186 186, www.eurostar.com
A market extravaganza
Can’t decide which to choose? Take them all in on a Christmas cruise with Ama waterways along the Danube. Sail aboard a thoroughly festive ship (garlands, trees, lights, santa) for 7 nights between Nuremberg and Budapest, including trips to Salzburg and the medieval city of Regensburg in Germany.
Festive Fact: St Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors. He lived in the city of Patara (on the Mediterranean) during the third century.
Details: AmaWaterways’ 7 night Christmas time cruise costs from £1265 pp, (based on 12th December departure) including all meals, wine, complimentary daily tours and excursions, free use of on-board bicycles, excluding flights. AmaWaterways: 0808 223 5009, www.amawaterways.co.uk
Winchester’s winter wonder
This gentile city opens up its cathedral close for commerce - with stalls offering gift ideas from Moroccan lanterns, pottery, apple boxes and traditional British sweets. Market opens from November 22 to December 23 in the cathedral’s inner close. A lantern procession marks the start.
Festive fact: The 12th century Winchester bible is one of the finest examples of its kind and features illuminations in gold leaf.
Details: Rooms at Hotel Du Vin, Winchester start from £125 per night. Contact: 01962 841414, www.hotelduvin.com
A very merrry Manchester
Over 200 wooden chalets appear in the city offering Christmassy treats from around the world (there’s even a dedicated world market on Brazennose street) - Hungarian goulash, paella, bratwurst, dutch pancakes - take your pick. Market runs from November 17 to December 23.
Festive fact: Manchester City fans wore sky blue and white Santa costumes at home games one year as they could not bear to wear the red and white associated with their traditional rivals United.
Details: Bed down in the stylish Mal Maison from £119 per night, 0161 278 1000.