Many stations are 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've put together some fantastically festive events that are easily reachable by rail.
1. Trento, Italy
What better a Christmas setting than the snow-dusted Italian Alps? Well, head to Trento's Christmas Market to find out. Arguably one of the prettiest cities in Italy, Trento is the capital of the autonomous Trentino province in the mountainous north. Christmas sees the streets of its Old Town transformed into a breathtaking winter scene. Christmas lights hang above the winding roads and pretty wooden huts spring up in the Piazza di Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti.
Expect plenty of fine wines, handicrafts and traditional foods sourced from nearby neighbourhoods. Many of the vendors are local producers and the market retains a distinctly regional flavour, which you're unlikely to find at Europe's bigger, more commercialised Christmas markets. Get stuck in and try the canederli - stuffed bread dumplings, a celebrated dish among locals - with a slice of traditional zelten Christmas cake to finish!
2. Strasbourg, France
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 Poissons. The locally produced wine, beer and bread available here will make great stocking fillers.
3. Regensburg, Germany
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 bratwurst 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 is 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.
4. Salzburg, Austria
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. Music plays a significant role in Salzburg’s cultural heritage, this is the birthplace of Mozart and the filming location for The Sound of Music. 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 Herrnhuter 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 friendly, gift-giving St Nicholas, the half-goat, half-devil figure of Krampus is ever-present to punish children who’ve misbehaved.
5. Copenhagen, Denmark
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.
6. Winter Wonderland, London
Winter Wonderland, in London’s Hyde Park, hosts a huge Christmas extravaganza, which runs from mid-November to early January. 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 chilly 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!
7. Madrid, Spain
While most wouldn't associate sunny Spain with Christmas, Navidad in Madrid is not to be missed. The Plaza Mayor in the centre of the city hosts a Christmas market every year - and has done since the nineteenth century. Over 100 stands pop up selling all sorts of interesting goodies, from traditional Nativity figures to handmade Christmas tree decorations. What's more, Plaza Mayor is under ten minutes away from Madrid Atocha railway station via public transport, so it's easy to reach the markets.
Plaza Mayor can get very busy at peak times, so if you're looking for something a little less hectic, head to Plaza de Isabel II for the Feria Dulces de Navidad - the Christmas Sweets Fair. Indulge in some traditional turrón, melt-in-the-mouth polvorones cookies or mazapán - marzipan sweets from nearby Toledo. Trust us, these Spanish treats will put whatever you had lined up for after the Christmas meal to shame.