Festive fairs this winter

One of the most popular times to go on a European city break is over the Christmas period, when you can experience a magical weekend of ice skating, gift shopping, light shows and snowy sightseeing. For two of our Partners in John Lewis Finance, no city break at this time of the year is complete without a trip to some Christmas markets.

Here, Jessica Gottardo (Data Strategy and Planning Manager) and Alistair Hemmings (Customer Experience Manager) tell us about their favourite festive markets, featuring a combination of seasonal delicacies and traditional gifts, performances by choirs and musicians, and beautiful decorative displays. If their words inspire you to embark on a similar trip this winter, just remember to have some Euros at the ready.

Our favourite markets

Innsbruck, Austria

Surrounded by the snow-topped Tyrolean Alps, Innsbruck’s Old Town market is incredibly special. There’s an atmospheric warmth from the lights, sounds and bustle of the city centre, and when it starts to snow you couldn't ask for a more Christmassy scene.

The market features a range of stalls selling wooden decorations, spicy mulled wine and plenty more, and in late December trumpeters serenade the crowds with rousing renditions of festive Austrian songs.

The pièce de résistance is the market’s towering Christmas tree, which stands next to Innsbruck’s most famous landmark, the Golden Roof. Only a short walk away and also well worth a visit is Swarovski Crystal Worlds, where Dutch designer Tord Boontje creates fairytale festive scenes out of crystal.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is simply brimming with festive markets. For a picturesque market with a lavishly decorated tree, head to Gendarmenmarkt in the city’s old town. Here you’ll find hundreds of stalls selling personalised baubles, trinkets, Lebkuchen cookies, jewellery, candles and so much more.

If your festive shopping leaves you hungry, you won’t be short of foodie options on site; bratwurst, currywurst, lángos and crêpes are only a handful of the many multicultural dishes for you to enjoy.

Just a 20-minute taxi ride away, Charlottenburg Palace must be one of Europe’s most extravagant settings for a Christmas market. Home to more than 250 vendors and beautifully lit at night-time, the Palace is the perfect place to sip a mulled wine in a local novelty-shaped mug.

Prague, Czech Republic

The city of Prague is positively glowing at Christmas time, with the most festive buzz to be found in its delightful old town. Every hour the medieval Astronomical Clock attracts tourists with its charming show of moving figures (The Walk of the Apostles).

Right next to the clock is the Old Town Square Christmas market, where you’ll find ceramics, lace, jewellery, wooden toys and Christmas ornaments.

The city’s second largest market is only five minutes away in Wenceslas Square, which is named after the ‘Good King’ (Saint Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia) who features in the popular Christmas carol. Here you can tuck into Vánočka, which is a plaited bread made with raisins and almonds, while you sip a glass of mulled apple cider, hot chocolate or local Czech beer.

Vienna, Austria

Baroque Vienna has a tradition of Christmas markets dating back to the late 13th Century, when King Albert I granted permission for the locals to stage a Krippenmarkt (December market). Nowadays the magical fairy-lit markets in this beautiful city draw visitors from both near and far.

Largest of the markets is the unforgettable Viennese Dream Christmas Market, which is held in front of the iconic City Hall. Here, carol singing adds to the festivities, while stallholders welcome you with a wide range of seasonal treats and handcrafted goods. The market gets rather busy at weekends, so we recommend a weekday visit if you want to savour the experience at a more leisurely pace.

Across the city at spectacular Schönbrunn Palace, another annual festive market is held in the picturesque courtyard area. During your visit don’t miss the chance to sample delicious Vanillekipferl, which are crescent-shaped nutty biscuits with a dusting of vanilla sugar.

Recommended guides

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