Festive shopping need not be a slog – you can make it a holiday by visiting one of Europe’s Yuletide markets, which transform cities into winter wonderlands every year. NICOLA ISEARD offers a great selection from Brussels to Bath
Burn off some calories with a twirl on the open-air ice rink in Brussels
November 30 to January 6, 2019 Markets are set up across the city, from Karreveld Castle to the cobblestones of The Grand-Place – the latter of which features more than 200 wooden chalets.
Stock up on traditional arts and crafts, handmade jewellery, decorations and pékèt (fruit brandy).
ou can also expect an abundance of Belgian chocolates beautifully wrapped for Christmas gifts, as well as gingerbread biscuits and ready-to-eat caramelised apples and waffles.
Burn off some calories with a twirl on the open-air ice rink, then take a ride on the Big Wheel – just the place to watch the evening light show on The Grand-Place.
Around the corner head for Parc de Bruxelles, the city’s old royal hunting grounds, which is just a few blocks east.
It has meandering paths, sculptures and water fountains – a lovely spot for a mid-afternoon stroll.
Super Break (01904 717 362/superbreak.com) offers three nights in Brussels from £270pp (two sharing), room only. Price includes return Eurostar travel from London on December 6.
Christmas markets spread across Brussels, plus a ferris wheel and open-air ice skating rink
Beautiful handmade decorations at Prague’s Christmas market
December 1 to January 6, 2019 The Czech Republic’s most atmospheric city gets even more magical as its Christmas markets (vánocní trhy) pop up across the city. The main markets are held at the Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square (five minutes’ walk from each other). Brightly decorated huts are stocked with everything from local handicrafts and glassware to wooden toys and scented candles.
If you have children in tow, they will love the stables at the Old Town Square where they can stroke sheep, goats and a donkey. At 4.30pm, buy a cup of svarené vino (mulled wine) and position yourself under the mighty Christmas tree, transported from the forests of central Bohemia, which is lit up every evening and mesmerising against Prague’s dark gothic skyline.
Explore nearby Prague Castle (hrad.cz) with its jumble of ancient cathedrals, historic towers, splendid royal palaces and gardens. Ticket prices vary.
Travel Republic (020 8974 7200/ travelrepublic.co.uk) offers three nights at Antik Old Town from £170 (two sharing), B&B. Price includes return flights from Stansted to Prague on December 12.
Bath Abbey provides a perfect backdrop to the wooden chalets
November 22 to December 9 Just when you thought the city could not get any more picturesque, the cobbled streets surrounding Bath Abbey are transformed into a winter wonderland (bathchristmasmarket.co.uk), with almost 200 twinkling wooden chalets.
Shop for art, local cider, cashmere clothing and painted ceramics – much of which is handmade by the stallholders themselves.
Carol singers, musicians, fairies and elves weave through the streets entertaining shoppers.
Keen to have a sing-song yourself? Pop into the Abbey where there are regular choir concerts. Meanwhile on each Saturday, Queen Square will host a Festive Family Artisan Market where children can get involved in storytelling and arts and crafts workshops.
Get some post-shopping R&R at the Thermae Bath Spa (01225 331234/ thermaebathspa.com), with its collection of piping-hot steam rooms and stunning rooftop pool.
Two-hour spa session from £36.
Dukes B&B (01225 787960/ dukesbath.co.uk) offers doubles from £135 per night (two sharing), B&B.
Festive Christmas Market in Salzburg
November 22 to December 26 The city’s main market, which dates back to the 15th century, is located in its historic city centre.
(christkindlmarkt.co.at). Stock up on wooden knick-knacks, tree decorations, handmade jewellery and beautiful blown-glass objects.
If you are feeling peckish, follow the smell of cinnamon to the food stalls where you will find freshly-baked apples, punch and toasted almonds.
As the city where Mozart and the carol Silent Night were born, it is not surprising music plays a big part in the whole affair – as well as choir concerts in front of the cathedral, “turmblasen” (wind instruments) will enthral crowds on Residenz Square.
And get cultural with a visit to the Salzburg Museum (salzburgmuseum.at), showcasing original music manuscripts of Silent Night.
Expedia (0330 123 1235/expedia.co.uk) offers three nights at Ibis Salzburg Nord from £187 (two sharing), room only. Price includes return flights from Gatwick to Salzburg on December 3.
Take a spin at Copenhagen’s venerable Tivoli Gardens
November 17 to December 31 While smaller ones are dotted across the city, the main market is held at Tivoli Gardens (visitcopenhagen.com) – one of Europe’s oldest amusement parks – where decorated wooden stalls are surrounded by hundreds of Christmas trees and illuminated by thousands of lights.
Browse the Scandinavian glassware, paper-cut Christmas mobiles, jewellery and clothes – and be sure to buy a steaming glogg (traditional Danish Christmas drink). Santa Claus and his reindeer will welcome visitors and there will be funfair rides to keep the little ones amused.
Around the corner a 10-minute walk away is the Christiansborg Palace (kongeligeslotte.dk). Highlights include the royal reception rooms and 11th-century ruins.
Thomas Cook (01733 224808/ thomascook.com) offers three nights at Copenhagen Island Hotel from £205 (two sharing), room only. Price includes return flights from Stansted to Copenhagen on December 4.