It was while living in Barcelona – pre-babies – that I first discovered the joy that comes from plodding around a good European Christmas market. Originating in Germany and the Alsace region, Christmas markets spread to other parts of the continent and most European capital cities now boast squares, churches, cobbled lanes and parks dedicated to that glorious time of year. The size and quality of them does vary, but there are a few stand outs that are fabulous and will make for a wonderful winter getaway as a family in the coming months.
This is a good three and a half hour drive from Lake Como but we suggest seeing both, with a stay in Como and a day trip to Garda. Set within magical wooden huts, the Lake Garda market offers a gorgeous array of high quality crafts, candles, lanterns, decorations and toys. Expect lots of Christmas carols and and, on December 8th, an advent calendar will be projected on the buildings in the town centre, followed by an impressive firework display.
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A captivating city at any time of year, Christmas sees the Eternal City’s piazza swamped by a bustling multi-coloured market selling everything from trees to cribs, decorations to cakes and sweets. If you can visit over the New Year, make sure to visit on the the night of January 5th with children as that is when the “Befana” (The Good Witch) flies around Italy, delivering presents to well-behaved children and coal to the naughty ones.
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Rather than having one key Christmas Market, Amsterdam has festive market stalls dotted throughout the city in various neighbourhoods. The largest of these is the Albert Cuypmarkt, which has no less than 300 stalls. After shopping, you can ice skate at Leidseplein, which offers gorgeous Christmas market stalls alongside an ice rink. In the centre of Amsterdam on the Beursplein, you can stay warm at the Winter Market with delicious mulled wine while shopping. This is a veritable winter wonderland and children will adore Amsterdam during the colder months as much as they would in warmer months.
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Being a country of such religious zest, it’s no surprise that this Catalan capital comes alive with yuletide glitz in early December and stays in such a festive state well into the New Year. Again, this European gem boats a plethora of different Christmas markets but two stand out, from my memory, as being both wonderful and perfectly located. Firstly, there is the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas Market, which is outside the mesmerising Barcelona Cathedral. There is an Artesania section (which sells things like jewellery and leather goods), and the stalls generally sell items of a higher quality, making them a little more expensive than the very touristy alternatives that neighbour this beautiful and very authentic market. Come evening time, the lights of the market twinkle in the dark against the backdrop of the Cathedral and the yuletide vibe is only enhanced by the endless rows of Christmas trees, decorations and mistletoe for sale.
Another noteworthy Christmas market is the Fira de Nadal at the iconic Sagrada Familia. The Sagrada Familia should be visited when in Barcelona, no matter what time of year you go, but at Christmas, it simply glows. Running around the edge of the gardens outside the Sagrada Familia, market sellers offer much of the same Christmas offerings as any other in the city, but it’s the location of this particular market that pops it to the top of my Barcelona list.
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Again, this is a city that should be visited by all and it’s not only for young lovers. There is so much for children to do in the City of Light, and Christmas is as wonderful a time as any to visit as a family. There are markets spread across every corner of this great city but two, in particular, stand out as much for their atmosphere as for their astonishing location. The christmas market on the Avenue des Champs-Elysée is the largest Christmas market in Paris. Along with the stunning illuminations on the world’s most beautiful avenue, there are no less than 160 authentic, Vosges-made chalets that line the Champs-Elysées between the Rond-point and Place de la Concorde from mid November to early January. And another not to be missed is the Saint Germain des Pres Village of Father Christmas, which resides temporarily on the boulevard Saint Germain. With about 30 chalets selling gorgeous Christmas wares, it is a bit smaller and less daunting than that on the Champs-Elysée (so maybe better with tiny tots), but it’s no less magical.
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