The festive season is well and truly upon us, whether we are feeling it or not. So it seemed sensible and possibly even helpful to put down the mulled wine, pause the CD of carols and assemble a list of my favourite Christmas markets from the new winter city guides. May they inspire you to don your best furry hat and set off immediately in search of gluhvein and roasted chestnuts.
London – Southbank Centre Christmas Market
Over 50 wooden chalets selling handicrafts and presents for food-lovers, as well as festive snacks and mulled wine, this new market is part of the South Bank’s Winter Festival, which also offers comedy, cabaret, the Queen Liz pop-up pub, the Christmas Tree Bar/Café and a maze of 300 Christmas trees. The Christmas Market is open daily until 9pm (10pm Friday and Saturday) from 11 November to 5 January.
Paris – Champs-Elysées Marché de Noël
The mythical Champs-Elysées can seem wildly overrated, all the more so with Parisians’ insistence on calling it ‘the most beautiful avenue in the world’, but in winter it comes into its own. Christmas lights illuminate the perspective from Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe. On the lower section, a Christmas village (from early November until 4 January) of wooden chalets is laden with decorations, crafts, jewellery and regional specialities.
Barcelona – La Fira de Santa Llúcia
Open from the end of November until Christmas Eve, this market has been going strong for nearly 230 years. In the old days mothers would dress daughters in their finery and bring them here in search of eligible husbands. Today it’s all Christmas trees and mistletoe interspersed with stalls selling lace and embroidery, decorations and figurines. It is a great way to get in the Christmas mood.
Berlin – Christmas Markets
There are around 60 Christmas Markets operating throughout the city during December. If the sparkling lights, fairground music and bubbly ambience doesn’t draw you in, the smell of toffee apples and roasted chestnuts probably will. One of the biggest is set in the old town of Spandau, though the most glitzy is at Gendarmenmarkt, which offers culinary delights from the city’s top chefs.
Rome – Piazza Navona Christmas Market
One of the joys of Christmas in Rome is that it’s still a traditional, low-key festivity. The spirit of Natale, as the locals call it, is distilled in the age-old Christmas market held from late November until 6 January in the operatic setting of Piazza Navona, where stalls sell candy-floss, glove puppets and other traditional items. The splendid vintage merry-go-round in the centre dates from 1896.