[Editor's note: This article was originally published at the author's website, GlobalGrasshopper.]
Best for Atmosphere
The Cologne Christmas market is actually six markets in one town, the largest four being right outside the Gothic cathedral. The markets are a huge event and they regularly attract around two million visitors.
The half-timber stalls, temporary ice rink, floating market, and Medieval Christmas market outside the Chocolate museum are where to aim most of your attention.
Nobody does a Christmas market quite like Germany. Besides Cologne, Nuremberg, Dresden, and Munich are also considered some of the most beautiful and atmospheric.
Cologne Christmas market: 27th November – 23rd December 2009
Best for Children
Fairytales and folklore are the main emphasis at the Prague Christmas markets. The organisers go the extra mile in creating a winter wonderland setting. There’s even a nativity style petting zoo, a very large and extremely well lit Christmas tree, dancing and singing concerts, and horse carriage rides.
Prague Christmas Market: 28th November 2009 – 1st January 2010
Best for Budget
The Christmas market in Bratislava, Slovakia, is a traditional and less commercial budget option for travelers. You can get locally crafted gifts, winter clothing, and ceramics, plus much more.
Watch live entertainment as you scoff bread with dripping and onion and potato pancakes filled with goose liver (or just fruit-filled pancakes and apple pies).
Bratislava Christmas Market: 1st November 2009 – 1st January 2010
Most Unique Shopping Experience
Taking place in a cave under the city, the Christmas market in Valkenburg, Holland, is not your typical shopping experience. Wander the candle-lit labyrinth of passageways and caverns for gifts and decorations. Make sure to also pay attention to the mural carvings and sculptures.
Valkenburg Christmas Market: 28th November – 14th December 2009
Best for Chocolate Lovers
Chocolate addicts will want to visit the Christmas fair in Brussels, Belgium, which goes off on the Place Sainte Catherine. Besides high quality Belgian chocolates, expect local snacks like steamed snails, oysters, gingerbread, and forest mushrooms on toast.
Brussels Christmas Market: 27th November 2009 – 3rd January 2010
Coolest Christmas Market
Barcelona is often considered one of the coolest European cities and Christmastime is no exception. The weather is still warm enough to walk comfortably around the city at night and the lively street artists on La Rambla make for a festive atmosphere.
The Santa Lucia market is located near the cathedral in the Gothic quarter in Barcelona, and is where you can buy local crafts, unusual gifts (including Caganer — a Catalan “pooping” statue) and the traditional Spanish Christmas sweet turron.
If you plan your stay around December 28th, you’ll get to witness the Spanish version of April Fool’s Day when the streets are filled with artists and music.
Santa Lucia Christmas Market: 1st – 24th December or 28th December 2009 for “Holy Innocents’ Day”
Best all rounder
The “Christkindlmärkte” in Vienna, Austria, is over 700 years old. As well as the usual concerts and nativity displays there’s also a live advent calendar display and a Children’s Christmas Workshop in the City Hall.
The atmospheric streets, town square, and surrounding park are filled with the aromas of candied fruits, cotton candy, Christmas punch, and roasted chestnuts. Surely the perfect way to get you in the Christmas mood?
Vienna Christmas Market: 14th November – 24th December 2009
Looking for more things to do this winter? Here are some cool ideas:
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I'm an English female currently obsessed with California, my previous obsession was Asia. I love writing and travelling but strangely only just recently decided to merge the two. Started a travel blog with my talented photographer and graphic designer husband as a way of combining all our loves.