The best Christmas markets in Europe
When the nights start to draw in and the autumn begins to arrive, there is one certain way we can soften the blow of the end of the summer, and that's by looking forward to all that the colder months have to offer.
As much as we might miss the sunny days and the beachy weekends, there's plenty to get excited about once winter arrives. Dare we say we even prefer a good old fashioned cold-weather holiday from time to time.
After all, what could be better than wrapping up warm, heading out into the snow-dusted streets of a storybook European city and wandering through cobblestoned lanes to find an Inn with hearty ales and an open log fire? Or marvelling at the sparkling decorations on towering Christmas trees in some of Europe's most stately squares?
One of the best parts of winter is the arrival of Christmas markets. Here you can really embrace the season, as you wander from one cutesy wooden stall to another, eyeing up unique, hand-crafted christmas gifts to give to your loved ones, as the heavenly scent of mulled wine and spiced cider fills the air.
If you're considering a wintery break, we'd wholeheartedly recommend a trip to a city with a Christmas market (or a winter cruise that takes you to several in one go). And if you need some inspiration, we've rounded up ten of the best European Christmas markets here. Just remember to pack your woolly hat!
The capital of Hungary makes a perfect cold-weather destination, with its elegant boulevards and steaming thermal baths, and is one of the more affordable European capitals to visit. The city has several Christmas markets, but the most famous is at Vörösmarty Tér, where you'll find intricate Hungarian crafts and plenty of yummy food, like traditional Chimney cake with cinnamon.
Rüdesheim is a pretty little winemaking town in the Rhine Gorge with a supremely picturesque Old Town of cobblestoned lanes and mediaeval buildings. A setting so romantic is obviously the perfect place for a Christmas market, and Rüdesheim's market is as charming as you'd expect, with delightful gifts and baked goods sold at pretty stalls and plenty of hot wine and brandy punch to keep you warm.
How to visit: You'll stop by at Rüdesheim market on our wonderful Christmassy cruise along the Rhine this December.
You might not immediately think of Spain when you think of classic Christmas holiday destinations, but Madrid takes its winter festivities very seriously. Each December, Madrid's main square, Plaza Mayor, turns into an enormous market with over 100 beautifully-decorated stalls, many of which sell exquisite hand-designed nativity figurines.
As far as Christmas markets in the UK go, Edinburgh takes the crown. The market can be found in East Princes Street Gardens, with the illuminated Edinburgh Castle as a backdrop. As well as browsing the wooden stalls selling a range of yummy food and special gifts, you could also glide across the market's ice rink or take-in sparkling views of the city from the spectacular heights of the Big Wheel.
Salzburg's Christkindlmarkt market is one of the world's oldest Advent markets, with origins in the late 15th century. As well as the usual elegant market stalls with mulled wine, crafts, and baked goods, you might also spot an appearance from Nikolo (aka Saint Nicholas) and his slightly terrifying companion, Krampus, along with live choral or musical performances in the square on most days.
Mainz is one of the oldest cities in Germany, and its enchanting main Christmas market dates back over 200 years. Today, the city hosts three markets, where hundreds of festive stalls still pop up in the city's delightful squares. You'll want to spend most of your time in the main market, which takes place in front of the 1,000-year-old cathedral and is illuminated by a canopy of twinkling fairy lights.
How to visit: Join us on a festive sailing along the Rhine which includes a stop in Mainz to discover the delights of its traditional Christmas market.
The Christmas market in Brussels stands out for its backdrop of elegant architecture and exceptional light displays. There's usually a towering, 20-metre spruce that is decked out to the nines - last year with 600 champagne-coloured baubles and thousands of fairy lights. You'll also find all the usual attractions here, including around 200 chalets, a ferris wheel, merry-go-rounds, and an ice rink.
How to visit: There is no shortage of bougie hotels in Brussels for a cosy Christmas break, but we have a soft spot for the Rocco Forte Hotel Amigo, with its spacious bedrooms and suites and buzzing cocktail bar.
At the start of each Advent, the city of Koblenz is transformed into a fairytale Christmas paradise. Once you arrive you'll get to see why this city's Christmas market is considered one of the most beautiful on the Rhine. On Jesuitenplatz you'll find what is possibly the world's largest Advent calendar, made up of the colourfully-lit windows of the baroque town hall.
How to visit: Koblenz is another stop on our wintery cruise along the Rhine. You'll arrive in Koblenz from Frankfurt, sailing along the Middle Rhine Valley, a fabulously scenic journey with vine-clad slopes, palaces and castles scattered across hills along the way.
Cologne is one of Germany's biggest cities and has a variety of Christmas markets dotted around its enchanting streets. The best known market is found in front of the imposing Cologne Cathedral, the tallest twin-spired church in the world. A highlight of the market here is a Christmas stage which features more than 100 free events, including live music and shows for children.
How to visit: Our Christmas cruise on the Rhine begins and ends in Cologne, where you can spend some time getting to know this enchanting cathedral city and its many and historical attractions.
Krakow's charming Christmas market arrives each December in Rynek Glowny, the atmospheric 13th-century square in the centre of the old town. It's the most popular winter market in Poland, and has a big focus on food, with delicious grilled and smoked specialties and slow-cooked goulash served from the counters of timber huts. It's also a great place to pick up typically Polish handcrafted toys and Christmas decorations.