With Christmas around the corner I’d like to visit some Christmas markets and get in to the festive fever; where are the best place to visit a Christmas market?
Like you, I love getting into the festive spirit and as such, have visited a fair few Christmas markets over the years.
Going to a Christmas market abroad is a wonderful excuse for a short break in the lead up to Christmas and a great chance to buy unusual knick-knacks and gifts.
My best purchases in Cologne, which hosts one of Europe’s largest Christmas markets, were tree decorations. There were hundreds of stalls selling pretty hand-crafted glass and wooden decorations that are a little more traditional than the ones you might find on your local street. They are a great souvenir, and I have wonderful memories of the places I visited every time I pull them out of the box in the attic to decorate the tree at home.
As for other ways to part you with your cash, there’s the delicious food and drink – aromatic gluhwein, the steaming red wine concoction that also does a good job of keeping you warm, as well as freshly cooked sausages and all manner of sweets, all consumed against a backdrop of twinkling lights and stirring music from German oompah bands.
You can read more about Cologne in my Christmas shopping cities guide, plus a recommendation on a great hotel in the city.
Of course, Germany is not the only country to put on a good show at Christmas. There are so many markets to choose from, and not all of them are in northern Europe, as one might expect.
Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llucia has been going since 1786, making it one of the most famous in Spain. It runs from December 3 to 23 this year and will have more than 270 stands.
The highlight is the Nativity scenes and figurines, displayed in one area of the market, which compete fiercely in a contest for the best one. This year there’s even a crib-making course (dates on the website) if you’d like to create your own scene at home.
The other sections are greenery and plants, where you can pick up traditional Spanish Christmas mementos, including natural cork, “lucky branches” and pieces of eucalyptus. The crafts area is the place to pick up hand-made homeware and accessories, while the “simbombes” area sells, and showcases, all manner of musical instruments. Be ready to link arms with strangers, join carol singers and provide percussion to the live performance if you want to get into the spirit of it.
History dictates that the unmarried women of Barcelona would go to Fira de Santa Llucia in the best finery to find husbands – so groups of single men, be warned!
As with many areas of central Barcelona, I’d exercise a little extra caution at night, because there is a rick of pick-pocketing. Take a money belt or make sure your bag is zipped up and on your front – avoid backpacks and don’t leave wallets and passports in your pockets. I don’t want to put you off going – the majority of visits to Fira de Santa Llucia are trouble-free. It’s just a word of caution, and sage advice for visitors to any unfamiliar city at night.
As for where to stay in Barcelona, the ‘into Barcelona’ apartments are a great bet for this time of year, and cheaper than many hotel options. The style is modern and the apartments have one or two bedrooms. They’re all in the trendy El Born district, which has some great independent shops, cafes and restaurants, plus you can get a tour of the city with the apartment owners. They cost from £109 for a one-bed, and there are full details on the i-escape website.
If you’ve never been to Hungary, Christmas is a wonderful time to visit Budapest. The Christmas Market www.budapestinfo.hu/en is on from November 19 to December 29 this year. You can expect more mulled wine, handicrafts and decorations, as well as appearances from Mr Clause, story-tellers reciting the nativity, and a huge Christmas tree and lights.
The Hungarian folk dances and live music will remind you that you’re in Eastern Europe, where the outfits and beats are a little different from western traditions. It’s unique to Hungary, and the organisers work closely with the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists to make sure everything, from the handicrafts to the costumes, are authentic.
Look out for the fried bread snack called lángos, which you’ll smell before you see as they’re freshly made on the street. You can have them topped with sour cream and grated cheese, ham, sausage, or just plain – a substantial snack that will power you round the market. You’ll also find the sweet pastry horn makers, grilled meats and stew… well, this is Hungary after all!
My recommendation on where to stay is the Boutique Hotel Zara, which has a package for people wanting to visit the market. It costs E99 per person for three night’s stay, breakfast, transfer to the market, hot wine welcome drink, coffee and cake at the hotel and a guide to the market from the concierge.
The hotel is close to the Central Market Hall and the Gellért Thermal Bath, so it’s handy for sightseeing as well as eating, drinking and shopping in the city centre, a ten-minute walk away.
Answer by Ginny Light – TimesOnline travel editor
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