Travel by train to Europe’s best Christmas markets this winter
If you’re looking for a sure-fire way to get yourself into the Christmas spirit, then a trip to one of Europe’s best Christmas markets will do the trick. Catching the train will take the stress out of travelling – there’ll be less risk of spending all your money in the departure lounge before you reach the markets. Many stations are located in the heart of the city centre, making time-consuming transfers a thing of the past. That just leaves the question of which market to visit. If you can’t decide, we can suggest five fantastic winter events that are easily accessible by rail.
Under two hours by rail from Paris, Strasbourg likes to call itself the Capital of Christmas. Forget what you thought about Christmas markets being an exclusively German thing. Since 1570, this French city has held a December market called Christkindelsmärik, AKA the Market of the Infant Jesus. You’ll find over 300 stalls spread across the city, in ten different locations, many of them selling typically Alsatian decorations and handicrafts. If you’re short on time and can’t visit them all, there’s a cluster of market stalls wrapped around the city’s cathedral that serves as a kind of one-stop shop for all things festive. Alternatively, head over to the foodie delights of the Market of Christmas Treats at Place du Marché aux poisons. The locally produced wine, beer and bread available here will make great stocking fillers.
The Bavarian city of Regensburg is less than a six-hour train ride from Berlin, and even less from Frankfurt, Munich or Nuremberg, making it our German top pick. This delightful UNESCO-heritage city boasts four Christmas markets, each with their own festive twist. After a hot mulled wine and grilled Bratwust at the traditional Christmas market in Neupfarrplatz, stroll the city’s cobbled streets to nearby Lucreziamarkt. Stalls in these parts offer a huge array of arts and crafts from skilled artisans. Across the stone bridge lies the Spitalgarten, “, where Christmas comes to life in the living Advent market, complete with real sheep. But, Regensburg’s main attraction must be the market that fills the grounds of the Thurn und Taxis Palace. Stallholders here decorate their stands with freshly cut pine, fir and spruce, so the whole area smells like a wintry forest.
Austria gives neighbouring Germany fair competition when it comes to staging a Christmas spectacle, and the city of Salzburg steals the limelight. Plus, it’s an easy two-and-a-half-hour train journey from the country’s capital, Vienna. As the birthplace of Mozart and the filming location for The Sound of Music, music plays a significant role in Salzburg’s cultural heritage. Audience participation is encouraged, so boost your festive spirits and join in with the choir’s carols. Or, opt for a woodwind ensemble in the Hohensalzburg Fortress, whose courtyard is lit up by more than a hundred traditional Hernhuter stars. At weekends, you’ll also be able to visit the charming Glanegg Advent Market, a farmer’s market that’s a local favourite. If you’re bringing the kids to Salzburg, be warned. Alongside benevolent, gift-giving St Nicholas, the half goat, half devil figure of Krampus is ever-present to punish children who’ve misbehaved.
Swap the glühwein for a glass of gløgg and add a healthy dash of hygge. Copenhagen’s wonderful Christmas markets are less than five hours from Hamburg and, just across the street from the station, the twinkling lights of Tivoli Gardens beckon. Each December, this theme park opens its doors to provide a unique mix of amusement rides and Christmas shopping. It’s popular, so be prepared and come early to avoid waiting in line outside its famous gates. Elsewhere in the city, Julemarked stalls line the pretty quayside at Nyhavn, and a huge market sets up at the end of the main shopping street, Strøget. If you’re looking to put a Scandi spin on a traditional European Christmas market experience, this is the place to do so.
Winter Wonderland, London
Winter Wonderland, in London’s Hyde Park, hosts a huge Christmas extravaganza, which runs from mid-November to New Year’s Day. Entrance is free, but you’ll need tickets for some of the attractions inside. Alongside the Christmas market you’ll find fairground rides, Santa’s grotto and an ice rink. Stave off the chill winter air with a glass or two of glühwein and some festive food. This year, the iconic ice bar’s gone one step cooler, now you can hire a rustic hütte, to experience London’s unique take on the popular Alpine après ski. Karaoke, pizza and cocktails will help ensure the Christmas party season kicks off in style. Plus, with advance Eurostar fares to London starting from just €59, there’ll be plenty of spending money!