By Jamie Gibbs, armchair explorer and resident blogger for travel insurance comparison site Confused.com.
What better way to get into the festive spirit than to visit a Christmas market? The food, the lights, the music – a winning combination that makes you feel like you’re in one of those Victorian Christmas postcards. With more people doing their Christmas shopping online these days, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Christmas is starting to lose its magic a little.
That’s nonsense. That feel-good, Christmassy feeling is still there, you just need to know where to look, and where better than a Christmas market? Take a look at some of these gems from Central and Eastern Europe…
1. Tallinn, Estonia for a winter wonderland
The Estonian capital has recently made a name for itself as one of the most prominent and best Christmas market spots in Europe, despite being a relative newcomer to the scene. Founded in 1991, the Tallinn market is the quintessential Christmas scene between November 21st 2014 and January 8th 2015, with almost guaranteed snow during the winter months.
Tallinn becomes a true winter wonderland each year and offers up a selection of food and gifts to keep you warm, from hot soup to traditional, hand-knitted jumpers.
Say “Merry Christmas” in Estonian – Häid jõule!
For more ideas, see The Craziest Christmas Markets in Germany
2. Prague, Czech Republic for a blast from the past
Prague has retained much of its Medieval layout and architecture, meaning that visiting the Christmas Market is like stepping back in time. The aptly named Wenceslas Square is filled with local market stalls that offer a variety of handcrafted gifts, but what Prague specialises in are puppets and marionettes.
The Christmas market at Prague runs from November 29th 2014 to 11th January 2015, so you’ve plenty of time to take in the sight of the Christmas tree lit up against the skyline of the 15th century Gothic-style astronomical clock.
Say “Merry Christmas” in Czech – Veselé Vánoce!
For EVEN MORE ideas, see 6 Top UK and Eurostar Christmas Markets 2012/13
3. Ljubljana, Slovenia for extravagant Christmas lighting
The Christmas festivities in Ljubljana kick off from December 3rd 2014 to January 1st 2015. You know when you’ve reached the Christmas market when you see the spectacular lighting displays that adorn every nook and cranny of the Old Town.
The heart of the market is in Prešeren Square where you can pick up the usual Christmas trappings from handmade clothes to mulled wine and ginger biscuits. Ljubljana is especially great for kids, as both St. Nicholas and Frost Grandpa feature in the city’s Christmas procession.
Say “Merry Christmas” in Slovenian – Vesel Bozic!
Yet more Christmas market ideas: 5 Alternative Christmas Markets
4. Budapest, Hungary for the best Christmas food
If there’s one thing that Budapest knows how to do, it’s hot, tasty, festive food. A brief walk through the streets of Budapest during the Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square (November 28th 2014 – January 1st 2015) offers you so many new tastes that you’ll have to join the gym when you come home, just to make up for all the food you eat while you’re at the market.
The highlight of the culinary delights has to be the Kürtőskalács; a tall, hollow sweetbread that is covered in cinnamon and walnuts. These are baked on open spits in the market and make for an authentic Eastern European Christmas treat.
Say “Merry Christmas” in Hungarian – Boldog Karácsonyt!
5. Krakow, Poland for old meets new
With giant casks filled with hot mulled wine and an almost fantasy-like setting, you know you’re in for some Christmas magic when you visit Krakow in December. In the shadow of the Cloth Hall building, the Christmas market in the Rynek square greets visitors with a blend of Old World charm and modern chic.
Pay a visit during the first week of December to see the city’s Nativity Scene Competition and parade, and the market itself runs up until Christmas Eve.
Say “Merry Christmas” in Polish – Wesołych świąt!
Wherever you go, there’s some authentic Christmas magic to be found. Instead of the usual T shirts, DVDs and perfume this year, cast your net a little wider and get the family some traditional and unusual gifts in some of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
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