We've consulted Santa, and there's officially no better way to get in the festive spirit than a Christmas market...
If Cindy Lou Who of Whoville was a rampant late-stage capitalist, it would be me. My appetite for Christmas cheer is only matched by my lusty desire for material goods – the love of the former may have something to do with the love of the latter, but that’s neither here nor there. And the mecca of these two interests? Christmas markets. Brimming with fairy lights, snow-topped Christmas trees and all the angel-shaped merchandise you can throw your pennies at, no Christmas season is complete without a pilgrimage to worship at my favourite wooden log-constructed temples.
But which one to choose? There’s quite literally hundreds out there. Luckily for you, I have travelled to many and can narrow it down to a solid five choices. Don’t stand for mediocre mulled wine or dry gingerbread. This is 2018, dammit, and in this Ted Talk I will tell you how to Christmas right. Saddle up, because it’s time to market hard or go home.
The budget one: Krakow
Ok, so let’s face it, budget restraints are a real hindrance to living your best Material Girl life. How to revel in the golden glow of consumerism without the, well, golden glow? The answer is Krakow. Poland’s most obscenely pretty Christmas markets are here in the main square, and they’re well-priced enough to have you believing you’re in Sex and the City 2: the Christmas Edition. You’ll be able to buy enough fudge to hand out to strangers. You get a Christmas fudge! YOU get a Christmas fudge!
There’s also boozy barrels serving Europe’s low-key best mulled wine, and tea spiked with plum vodka, aka my favourite and only Christmas drink. What, no fizz on Christmas morning, darling? No thanks Mum, just add a shot of vodka to my tea.
Honourable Mentions: Tallinn, which is both intensely Christmassy (they have Europe’s first public Christmas tree!) and intensely well priced, and Budapest where you can have a cheap hot spring bath after a day’s shopping.
The foodie one: Belfast
Belfast’s Christmas Market is the best foodie market out there and I won’t hear otherwise. There’s no need to decide between chocolate drizzled Belgian waffles or cream-topped Hungarian chimney cakes here. Instead, you can have it all at this CONTINENTAL CHRISTMAS MARKET OF DREAMS. Dutch pancakes? Check. Bratwurst? Check. Spanish Paella? Check. There’s a whopping 32 different nationalities setting up stalls here, so come with an empty stomach and prepare to walk your way through a round-the-world Christmas culinary extravaganza.
Honourable Mentions: Barcelona for Catalan Christmas treats, Lisbon, for spiced Portuguese tarts, and Paris, natch, for everything.
The instagrammable one: Prague
There’s a lot of pretty Christmas markets out there, but Prague, with its setting in the stunning Wenceslas Square, is the most picture perfect. Around every corner lurks opportunities to show everyone your wine-fuelled Christmas cheer. Look lovingly into your other half’s (or best friend’s) eyes in front of a Christmas tree. Snap a picture of the famous spires surrounded by lights. Take a million pictures of your steaming hot chocolate, miraculously still in your mug and not all down your pristine white jumper. Sounds implausible but this is Prague, where it’s illegal for pictures to not look nice here (probably).
Honourable Mentions: Is your Christmas Instagram complete without a snap at London’s Winter Wonderland? No friends, the answer is no.
The traditional one: Zurich
Don’t @ me. I know for pure tradition you really need to take yourself to Germany, home of Gluhwein, hearty sausage dishes and Cologne with its incredible cathedral-shadowed market. But this is my article, and my Christmas tradition is cheese. And the best place for that is Switzerland’s Zurich, where the Christmas market floats on fondue. Throw in stunning alpine surrounds, an old town that looks like the model for your Mum’s Christmas village decor, and a 15-foot-Christmas tree and you’ll be praising sweet baby cheesus in no time.
Honourable Mentions: For traditional, you can’t really go wrong with anywhere in Germany, though Strasbourg is up there too.
The extravagant one: Vienna
This is the true epicentre of the Christmas market scene. All Christmas roads lead to Vienna, and its many, many different markets. But the market held in front of glittering Schönbrunn Palace is the best of them all – think a fairy light bedecked sprawl of 60 stalls, with a giant, neo-classical imperial palace in the background. Sure, thanks to its popularity, Vienna’s not the cheapest Christmas market to be at. But it is THE Christmas market. So lean into it. The blow of your empty wallet will be softened by your belly full of Maroni and Weihnachtspunsch. Promise.
Honourable Mentions: Vienna is incomparable, but for a little more modern extravagance, Zagreb has been voted best Christmas Market for three years in a row and has one helluva light display.