Festive Breaks

Christmas on the Continent: Marvellous Markets and Where to Find Them

The entire continent gets in the spirit for Christmas, from festive markets and parades, to ice skating and glühwein. We take a look at three of the best Christmas markets in Europe, to get you in the festive spirit too.


The festive season in Bruges sees the city become Christmas card-esque in its endearing beauty. The quaint cobblestone town centre, with the mix of medieval and Flemish architecture, offers a storybook feel, as if the real world exists elsewhere.

The Christmas Market, opening on 24 November, is located in Grote Markt, meaning the lovely wooden chalets are all set beneath the famed Belfry. In fact, if you feel like climbing the 366 spiralling steps to the summit of the tower, you can get an extraordinary bird’s eye view of the market.

The wooden chalets that make up the market, all decorated with glistening fairy lights and felt snow, are filled with everything you could image. The stalls providing winter wear will come in handy when the frosty Belgian weather begins to nibble at the tips of your fingers and toes. If you’re doing a bit of gift shopping while you’re here, the crafts, including handmade tree decorations, are completely unique.

The market also offers incredible winter-warming food. You’ll find Belgian waffles at every corner, in fact, the scent of them will catch your nose as soon as you arrive in the city. Another famous Belgian confectionary is their chocolate, you simply cannot visit Bruges without picking some up. Not a sweet-tooth? How about a savoury option? Vendors serving fries, or frites, will also be easy to find. Make sure to get them with mayonnaise for a truly Belgian experience. Some ideal options to bring back with you also include the preserved sausage and some local cheeses. When it comes to something thirst-quenching, why not bring home a few Belgian beers? There’s also hot chocolate and glühwein to spare which will keep you warm while you’re walking around. You should also keep an eye out for glühkriekwein, where the wine is replaced with Belgian cherry beer.

Aside from the market is the luminously white ice rink, with the centrepiece an artistic tree feature. Grote Markt will also have its own enchanting Christmas tree, as it does every year. There’s plenty for the little ones to do, too, with rides, attractions, and a traditional carousel.


With 7 Christmas markets in the city, Cologne offers a taste of everything at Christmas. However, the huge Cathedral Market, opening 27 November, is perhaps the most popular. With an already impressive background, set against the blackened Gothic cathedral, the market offers 160 stalls.

The gable-roofed chalets, decorated with garlands, wreaths and twinkling lights are home to the most adorable gifts. Handmade wooden toys of Sinterklaas, angels and nativity scenes are for sale, and local artisans can be seen working at their particular craft, from blowing glass to binding wreaths.

Make sure to try the national and regional delicacies while you’re there, too. Reibekuchen, a German potato pancake, will keep you full for a day of wandering through the markets, and make sure to ask for apple sauce on top! The classic Bratwurst sausage is another you have to try while you’re there. Sweets and candy come in many forms here, from hard-boiled to melt-in-your-mouth. But if you feel like going big, opt for strudel, either apple with ice cream or cherry with custard.

The market also boasts the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland region, and hung from it is a veil of fairy lights that looks, to the market-goers beneath, like an array of stars. Next to the magnificent Christmas tree is a stage, used for over 100 live performances throughout the season, entertaining locals and tourists as they shop.

Cologne’s other Christmas markets have plenty to enjoy, too. The Harbour Market offers beautiful riverside scenes. The Angel’s Christmas Market is completely ethereal, with angels dressed in white, flitting down the paths between stalls and sprinkling glitter. Once a week they’re even joined by Santa Claus on horseback. The Gay and Lesbian Market is a fantastically quirky version of the traditional German market, with pink, white and blue chalets, as well as an array of naughty and novelty items.

After winding through Cologne’s many markets, rest your legs in a traditional Brauhaus and quench your thirst with a local Kölsch.


Accredited with being one of the finest festive markets in Europe, as well as being the largest in the region, Lille’s seasonal activities are spread between the two main squares in the city. In the Grand Place you will find the 18m high, cone-shaped Christmas tree, as well as a 50m high ferris wheel. The ferris wheel, lit up with 10,000 bulbs, delivers stunning views of the entire city, including the Belfry. Go up at night to see the French and Flemish buildings blanketed with lights that accentuate the exquisite European design. The whole city gets into the spirit of the season, as the shop windows and facades of buildings are garbed with garlands, lights and decorations galore.

The market, itself, is on Place Rihour, with around 80 to 90 stalls. The square, too, is illuminated in Christmas lights. Even the trees, though they may have lost their leaves, are embellished with colourful lights. The chalet roofs are covered in artificial snow, creating a wonderfully festive atmosphere.

The stalls feature a range of local, homemade treats, from festive figurines, to fresh baked breads, gingerbread and pastries. There’s even international influences, with Polish, Russian and Canadian stalls. A dish of raclette is a must while you’re there: steamed potatoes, smothered in gooey raclette cheese that has been melted on cast iron. Wash it all down with some hot wine, or vin chaud. The perfect winter combination.

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