Immersing oneself in a Yuletide winterscape, with snow-topped chalets and a steaming mug of mulled wine, is one of the loveliest travel experiences in the run up to Christmas. Vienna certainly got it right when they began the Christmas market tradition back in 1298. Today, plenty of spots in Europe have made a name for themselves with their offering. As well as Vienna’s markets dotted across its centre, Zurich hosts a Swarovski crystal-encrusted tree alongside the largest indoor market in Europe. While in Munich the marvellous gothic Old City Hall forms the backdrop of its Christmas market on Marienplatz.
While there’s so much to see and do in these popular places, there’s a strong appeal to lesser-known markets too. In towns and villages across Europe, visitors can get cosier vibes and a stronger community feel by visiting one of these oft-overlooked markets. They’re guaranteed to have gifts that you won’t find anywhere else, competitive prices for both purchases and places to stay, you won’t have to jostle for service at a stall – plus, there’ll be an authenticity that can’t be beat.
Here are the Flexicover team’s favourite Christmas markets with the crowds.
We get that the sunny island of Madeira wouldn’t be the first place you’d think of for Christmas markets. But even warmer destinations can go wintery. Between December 1 and January 6 2020, the Portuguese island turns Christmas crazy with an array of twinkling lights and decorations to counter the balmy temperatures of 20C and popular Christmas markets in the capital of Funchal. Aside from the usual festive cheer, you’ll also see traditions specific to the island, like the Missas de Parto (‘Childbirth masses’) that are marked by various songs and events.
Toulouse, France Another market perfect for cold-fearing folk is Toulouse’s. At the southern end of France, it has temperatures in the mid-teens, so you won’t need to walk around La Capitole in snow boots and padded coat. From 30 November the main square of La Capitole is where you’ll find crafts stalls and tempting food stands indispersed with hot drink chalets (and it’s never too warm for a vin chaud). Elsewhere in the city there’s a smattering of concept stores selling contemporary design goods that make ideal presents. Compared with larger French cities like Paris and Marseille it has a more relaxed pace and won’t get an onslaught of tourists – perfect for taking in the city at your leisure.
Lausanne, Switzerland On the shores of Lake Geneva Lausanne is perfectly situated for stunning Christmas scenery. It helps that their Christmas market, Bô Noël, is spread throughout the medieval city, found under beautifully decorated chalets and semi-covered roofs. Kicking off on 20 November, you’ll find handicrafts and local cuisine on Place Pépinet, and live music, like jazz artists and choirs, on Place St Francois. It’s also kid-friendly with the Children’s Village on Place de la Louve entertaining the little ones with magic, fairytales, games and photo ops with Bô-Father Christmas himself. Mostly, it offers a great excuse to tuck into Swiss cheese and sample deliciously creamy Swiss chocolate – what's not to like!
Jersey, Great Britain Part-British but part not the island of Jersey is distinctive enough to have its own Christmas traditions. In the capital of St Helier, the vibrant Christmas markets of The Royal Square showcase the year-long work of the artisans on the island and there’s a rake of Gallic delights as French vendors make the short crossing over to sell their wares. Adding to the festive feel, the Christmas Battle of Flowers, on Sunday 8 December, is a colourful parade of floats with lights, dancers and marching bands aiding the spectacle of it all.
Aalborg, Denmark In the Jutland region, Aalborg is a conveniently-sized, walkable town that has a special something to it: Europe-wide, its inhabitants are said to be the happiest with their city. Its Christmas markets are found in the central area of Gammeltorv, offering candied almonds, handmade gifts and the obligatory glögg. There are added festive celebrations at Aalborg Zoo - for the first time this year they’ll go all-out with shimmering decorations helping rouse the Christmas spirit. And nearby, in Blokhus Sculpture Park, metal, sand and stone sculptures are given a distinctly wintery makeover. And fear ye not – there are direct flights from the UK to Aalborg to make a trip over all that easier.
Wherever you’re heading away to for that break from the norm this winter it’s good to know that Flexicover is committed to providing you with the highest level of protection to ensure you are safe and secure 24 hours a day when away.