The world’s best Christmas markets


— Christmas shopping doesn’t have to mean joylessly battling through department store crowds or trawling the Internet for bargains.

These Christmas markets are the places to head for traditional gifts, glasses of glühwein and that unbeatable festive feeling.

Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin, Germany

Festive fanatics could visit a different Berlin market for all 12 days of Christmas.

But if there’s only time for one, our pick is undoubtedly Gendarmenmarkt.

The imposing architecture of the Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom loom over classic wooden huts where visitors can steel themselves before shopping with delicious sausages and warming cups of mulled wine.

Once fortified, vast crafts tents await where everything from original paintings to wood carvings can be found for sale.

For off-kilter Christmas presents, it’s a struggle to match this gem in the German capital.

What makes it special:

Come for the first-rate shopping, but make sure to stick around for the nightly concerts, ranging from choral to jazz. No out-of-tune carols here.

Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is home to one of Europe’s oldest Christmas markets, with the first edition taking place in 1570.

Today there are 10 locations with 300 stalls, meaning it’s easy to spend the best part of a week here indulging in end-of-year festivities, picking up decorations and presents and drinking local Alsatian wine.

Before getting lost down Strasbourg’s narrow alleyways and beautiful squares, visitors should be sure to head to Place Kleber, where they’ll find the Great Christmas Tree, a towering effort that puts the spruce at New York’s Rockefeller Center to shame.

What makes it special:

Each year Strasbourg has a “guest” country village. In 2016, Portugal takes pride of place, with stalls selling delicious pastéis de nata (custard tarts) and bottles of port.

Viennese Christmas Market, Vienna, Austria

Few cities steep themselves in the festive spirit like Vienna.

The Austrian capital’s first Christmas Market was held in 1298 and today the city has more than 20 events to choose from.

First timers, though, should make a beeline for the Viennese Christmas Market, which takes place in front of City Hall.

It runs until Christmas Eve, with 151 stalls serving everything from boozy Christmas punch to gut busting Austrian sausages.

There’s a huge ice rink for skating, reindeer rides for kids and a classic nativity scene.

What makes it special:

This might be the most traditional Christmas market going, but be sure to try out curling on the dedicated ice rink.

A bizarre and brilliant winter sport to keep off the chill.

Grand Christmas Market, Montreal, Canada

Now in its second year, Montreal’s Grand Christmas Market takes its inspiration from Europe’s biggest festive events.

Running from December 2 to 24 on the pedestrian thoroughfare of Ste Catherine Street, 2016 sees the event triple in size, with 60 wooden houses plying their wares, from warming winter drinks to essential Christmas handicrafts.

The market is especially good for kids, with an elves’ workshop, Santa’s sleigh and even an igloo.

What makes it special:

Although it closes its doors on Christmas Eve, Montreal’s Grand Market reopens a week later to see in the New Year. Local DJs provide entertainment as the clock strikes midnight.

Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic

No city lends itself to Christmas better than Prague.

The city’s two main Christmas markets, in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, are only five minutes’ walk from each other, so can both easily be explored in one day.

Each one has the usual wooden huts found in similar markets across Europe, but the Czech treats are what really set them apart.

Visitors can grab a klobása (Czech sausage) and wash it down with a Pilsner Urquell in the afternoon, then hang around for the main tree to be lit up on Old Town Square.

What makes it special:

The Czechs don’t do half measures at Christmas time. Both markets are open every day over the festive period until January 6, including Christmas Day.

Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

Florence’s annual Christmas Market runs until December 18 in the spectacular Piazza Santa Croce.

With the Franciscan Basilica providing a backdrop for the 50 stalls, this is the perfect place to pick up stocking fillers and treats without the unerring sense of dread that accompanies the average shopping street in the run up to December 25.

For added yuletide vibe, it’s good to head to Piazza del Duomo for the nativity scene and Christmas tree, which is lit up on December 8, as part of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

What makes it special:

Although this is every inch an Italian event, there’s a distinct German air to the proceedings too. Keep an eye out for gingerbread and strudel.

Krakow, Poland

For anyone dreaming of a white Christmas, Krakow delivers.

The city’s Christmas market, held in Rynek Glowny, the city’s huge main square, typically gets a heavy dusting of snow during December, making a visit here even more magical than some of the big name markets in western Europe.

Hand-painted Christmas baubles are a local specialty, as are spiced nuts and boiled candies.

What makes it special:

This is a more all-round Christmas shopping experience, so it’s worth trawling the stalls for cheap antiques and weird and wonderful bric-a-brac.

Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham, UK

England’s second city isn’t the first place you’d expect to find a traditional Christmas Market.

But buzzing Birmingham boasts “the largest authentic German Christmas Market outside of Germany or Austria.”

Held in Victoria Square until December 29, Birmingham emulates its continental rivals with 180 stalls selling everything from jewelry to handmade toys.

But the big draw is Chris Moose, the singing moose, found outside the market’s Council House entrance, lending things a distinctly British air.

What makes it special:

The neighboring Christmas Craft Market, in Centenary Square, has 30 stalls selling local beers, British sausages and work by local artisans.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen’s Tivoli, with its fairground rides and warren of shops and stalls, is a year-round destination in its own right.

But it’s during December that this Danish institution really comes into its own.

As well as the usual stands selling Christmas decorations and nibbles, there are three different light shows which take place in the park, as well as a traditional Pixie Band playing festive songs at various points around the site.

December 13 sees the annual Lucia procession, with 100 girls passing through the gardens carrying candles and singing to mark St Lucia’s Day.

What makes it special:

Firework displays are held in the Tivoli Gardens between December 25 and 27 and again from December 31 to January 3.

Winter Wonders, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels’s Winter Wonders is more of a festival than a Christmas Market, although there’s more than 200 chalets serving up festive fixes of glühwein, Belgian beers and waffles.

The event is spread out across the Bourse, Place de la Monnaie, Grand Place, Place Sainte Catherine and Marche aux Poissons, with ice skating, a Ferris wheel, light shows and, of course, a huge Christmas tree.

Running until New Year’s Day, it adds to the Belgian capital’s chocolate box feel.

What makes it special:

There are guided tours in English for those who don’t know where to begin. Just make sure to warm up with a hot chocolate first.

Joe Minihane is a freelance travel writer. His new book “Floating: A Life Regained,” will be published in May 2017.