Featuring Swarovski crystal-bedecked trees and costumed jugglers, here are Europe’s most magical and lesser-known Christmas markets.
Sparkling St Gallen, Switzerland
Admire Switzerland's tallest Christmas tree in St Gallen
St Gallen is a city that knows how to brighten up dark winter nights, with hundreds of twinkling stars and 18,000 lights on Switzerland’s tallest Christmas tree. Its market has 70 stalls, many dedicated to food. If ever there was a time for raclette and glühwein, it’s a frosty evening in this UNESCO World Heritage site. Make your base the charming Einstein St. Gallen.
Medieval Esslingen, Germany
Take in the scent of freshly-baked bread while surrounded by half-timbered houses in Esslingen
Costumed jugglers perform against a backdrop of half-timbered houses. Smoke rises from a glass-blower’s bellows. The scent of freshly-baked bread fills the air. Esslingen’s combined Christmas and medieval markets make this a time machine of a city. Check out the 800-year-old church; you can’t miss it, just follow the bells. Recommended: the traditional charm, forest location and rustic fare of Hotel Jägerhaus.
Old town charm in Vilnius, Lithuania
Lithuania's capital coated in snow is a very festive sight
Vilnius takes festive decorations pretty seriously. Even its 550ft TV tower is draped in lights and transformed into a vast, sparkling Christmas tree. Its market is heaven for those with a sweet tooth. Be sure to try raguolis – spiky batter cakes, which are roasted over an open fire. Karstas vynas (mulled wine) is the perfect partner. The Secret Garden Boutique B&B is on the doorstep of Cathedral Square but – as its name suggests – feels tucked away.
A grand Christmas in Sibiu, Romania
Stalls fill the Baroque square in Sibiu, while the aroma of spiced wine fills the air
With its grand Baroque buildings, Sibiu feels like a mini Vienna. Its location between two mountain ranges means there’s a good chance of snow. Luckily, the city is prepared – the Christmas market is dotted with steaming vats of spiced wine. For the full winter experience, stay in the nearby Ice Hotel at Balea, where even the bar is carved from vast blocks of ice.
Michelin-starred wonderland, Saint Helier, Jersey
Enjoy parades, theatre and French cuisine in Saint Helier
More than just a market, La Fete dé Noué combines parades, theatre and French cuisine in a festival that turns the city centre into a winter wonderland. The walk from Saint Helier, taking in golden beaches and historic coastal towers is a great way to build up an appetite. Jersey is a Michelin-starred hotspot, one of which – Bohemia – is in The Club Hotel & Spa Jersey.
Mountaintop shopping in Innsbruck, Austria
Mountain views and buckets of snow in the whimsical city of Innsbruck
Innsbruck has a Christmas market for each day of the week, with one of these in Hungerburg, reached only by funicular. It’s not often that festive shopping comes with views this spectacular. Topped up with hot chocolate, you’re already halfway to Nordpark, one of Austria’s wildest ski areas. Back on ground level, few hotels can claim the history of Hotel Weisses Kreuz, which has been welcoming guests since 1465.
Hip bars and crystals in Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich's festive market features a Swarovski crystal-bedecked tree
Once a year, Zurich’s elegant railway station gets a complete festive makeover. The walls are lit with festive messages while the Swarovski crystal-bedecked tree sends twinkling lights across the 150 stalls. Afterwards, hit the Im Viadukt where hip new bars and restaurants are opening by the day. The 650-year old Hotel Storchen has a fabulous location, right on the Limmat River.
Black Forest magic in Breitnau, Germany
Breitnau's Christmas market boasts a fairy-tale setting
As you round the corner into this wooded Black Forest valley, you’re met with a fairy-tale sight. If you want to feel excited by a Christmas market, Ravenna Gorge is for you, with a horseshoe of just 40 chalets tucked under the arches of the Ravenna viaduct. Close by, Kaisers Tanne is the Black Forest dream hotel – pack your dirndl (traditional Austrian dress).