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3rd Nov 2012 3:17pm | By Matthew Durrant
Glug glühwein, snap up stocking fillers and munch on all those delectable Christmas goodies at Europe’s big festive markets
It’s everyone’s favourite pre-Christmas tradition: using the cold weather as an excuse to get hammered on mulled wine before noon, then staggering around buying anything remotely festive, from ludicrously expensive hand-carved wooden reindeer to oven gloves with Santa’s face printed on (Granny will love ‘em). Yep, it’s Christmas market time.
But it’s not all baubles and bells – some of Europe’s Christmas markets are pulling out all the stops this year to offer a more up-to-date experience.
You can expect to find everything from firebreathing to saucy cabaret at this year’s events. So wrap up warm and take your pick from the best markets of the festive season.
The biggest and best market in Vienna is Christkindlmarkt, outside the City Hall in Rathausplatz.
Three million visitors pass through each year to see the square transformed into a winter idyll: the windows of the Rathaus (town hall) become a gigantic advent calendar, painted by local artists, and are revealed one by one throughout December.
When you’re not stuffing your shopping bags with Christmas trinkets, you can take a ride on horse-drawn carriages, watch the puppet shows or listen to choirs of carol singers.
The market runs from November 17 until Christmas Eve.
See: One highlight is the Heart Tree, a popular meeting spot for lovers which is adorned with – you guessed it – bright red glowing love hearts.
Eat: Try the hot marzipan punch with roasted chestnuts and Viennese wurst.
Buy: Grab some hot glühwein (mulled wine) and take home the mug, which comes decorated with images of famous Austrians and Vienna landmarks.
Winter Wonders stretches a full 2km across the Belgian capital’s landmarks including Place Sainte Catherine, the Grand Place, the Bourse and Marché aux Poissons.
Running from November 30 until January 6, 2013, it’s as much about the festivities as the shopping.
You’re absolutely guaranteed a seasonably warm and gooey feeling inside when you see the huge Christmas tree in the Grand Place, and the ‘Son et lumière’ show, with its music and projections bathing the tower of the Brussels Town Hall in sparkling light displays.
At Place Sainte Catherine, there’s an ice rink and, above the stalls in the market, a towering Ferris wheel offers amazing views across the capital.
See: The 250 quaint wooden chalets that look like full-sized gingerbread houses, with snow-topped roofs, draped with fairy lights.
Eat: Stalls sell moules marinière (mussels) and escargot (snails) with crusty bread. For a sweet treat, munch on Belgian speciality Speculoos, Flemish shortcrust Christmas biscuit often shaped like a Santa.
Buy: Roasted chestnuts, Russian dolls, cuddly bears and handmade Christmas decorations.
A most picturesque sight in Prague is the Christmas Market in the Old Town Square.
It’s best visited by night when covered in golden fairy lights and the huge Christmas tree, shipped in from the Krkonoše Mountains, is all lit up. Aww.
Miklaus, the Czech Santa, is likely to pay a visit to the market, too, which runs from December 3 to January 1, 2013.
See: For the best view of the whole market, take a ride on the Ferris wheel. Just don’t eat too many Christmas treats first (see below) – it could get messy.
Eat: Food on offer includes trdelník, a ring of sweet pastry baked around a cylinder and topped with chopped walnuts.
Buy: Shoppers snap up Czech glassware in the form of Christmas baubles, ornaments and hand-made jewellery.