If you haven't hopped across the pond in a while, we have the perfect excuse to go before the year's out: a visit to one of the annual traditional Christmas markets that are held in cities and towns across continental Europe and Great Britain. These festive seasonal pop-ups offer unique and often artisanal gifts, as well as food, entertainment, and a cozy atmosphere that's guaranteed to get you in the holiday spirit. This year, the comparatively weak Euro means these markets can also be a great deal. Plus it's way more fun than online shopping. Here are our some of our favorites.
Even at the end of this Jubilee and Olympic-studded year, the annual Hyde Park seasonal market makes London hard to ignore. Quite simply, it is massive, with gift stalls as well as an ice rink, Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, and circus—all right in the center of London. It's easy to feel like a Brit here—since it's more popular with locals and people from elsewhere in Britain than tourists. Just make sure to come prepared for crowds and a lot of walking.
Where to Stay: Park Lane's lineup of luxury hotels are literally across the street from the Hyde Park action; The InterContinental Park Lane offers some of the most panoramic views of all the festivities.
Insider Tip: It's free to enter the market, but you'll need tickets for most of the activities inside, which are best purchased in advance online.
Plan B: Plan a day trip to the picturesque town of Bath—which looks a bit like the set of Downton Abbey—and visit its lovely Christmas market , which opened this year on Nov 22nd.
Parisians know how to set a scene. The enormous annual Christmas market that stretches along the Champs Elysees is like a winter wonderland on steroids. There's a real sense of French pride to this market, with plenty of stalls specializing in regional crafts (lace) and food (like, mais oui, cheese, chocolate, and crepes) as well as a massive Ferris wheel in the Place de la Concorde.
Where to Stay: Several luxury hotels are set just off the Champs-Elysees, like The Royal Monceau. It is an easy walk to the market, while still feeling removed from the bustle.
Insider Tip: Come, as the locals do, at night, when everything is illuminated and—even to the most jaded world traveler—absolutely beautiful.
Plan B: Although they're much smaller, the markets in St Germain des Pres (right near the Metro station) and Place Saint-Sulpice are great for unique gifts to bring home.
Berlin might just be the capital of Christmas markets, with around sixty seasonal fairs popping up in the city every year. Like so much in this stylish city, the markets are a mix of hip artists and designers (selling their creations) and tradition (Christmas tree ornaments, mulled wine, and wurst for sale.) If you're heading to Berlin, it's worth visiting several of the markets, since they're each quite different, but standouts include the Gendarmenmarkt (for heaps of crafts), the Spandau Christmas Market (the city's largest), and the market in Potsdamer Platz, which has a toboggan run as one of its attractions.
Insider Tip: If your focus is shopping—for others or yourself—the markets in Berlin are ideal, since the prices tend to be less expensive than elsewhere in Europe. Also, don't miss trying Lebkuchen, a delicious seasonal cookie that's easy to find at most markets.
Plan B: There are Christmas markets in most German cities and towns. A particularly dynamic one—which doubles as the country's oldest—is held in Dresden.
What with the Vatican watching over the city, it should come as no surprise that the holiday season has more of a tangible religious feel than others. Christmas permeates every corner of the city, and there's no better example than at the giant-sized market in the Piazza Navona. Stroll past the huge nativity scene and browse the rows of crafts, jewelry, and food, play themed games, and say hi to Babbo Natale (a.k.a. Santa Claus).
Where to Stay: The Hotel Raphael, filled with deep red accents and heaps of art, is just a couple minutes walk from the market.
Insiders Tip: Make sure to pick up a panettone and something adorned with a "bufana": an old witch who, according to folklore, rewards children who are well behaved with treats.
Plan B: Venice also holds a terrific annual market in the Campo Santo Stefano, where it's easy to find iconic hand-blown glass gifts from Murano.