If there is one good reason to brave the frigid cold of Europe in December, it would be to visit their magnificent Christmas Markets. After all, there is nothing like the combination of chilly temperatures, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and tinsel shopping to put one in the Christmas mood.

Nuremberg, Germany

With 180 stores and 2 million visitors each year, Nuremberg’s legendary Christkindlesmarkt is undeniably the superstar of Christmas Markets, and is considered to have set the blueprints for every Christmas Market thereafter. Every year, on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent, thousands throng the Main Market Square, waiting in eager anticipation for the Nuremberg Christmas Angel (chosen every other year from different female applicants aged between 16 and 19) to declare the market open.
Organisers have also created an off-shoot with the Nuremberg Children’s Christmas Market, located just around the corner from the Main Square, to keep the little ones entertained with rides like the Santa-themed carousal and mini ferris wheel.

Strasbourg, France

While Christmas Markets may be Teutonic in origins, Alsace’s location on the French-German border may explain why its capital has one of the oldest and best Christmas Markets in Europe. In addition to local artisans selling Nativity figurines and unique Christmas tinsels, the market also boasts an ice rink, carolling choirs and a Children’s Village, with its own entertainment and show area.

Copenhagen, Denmark

Set in the famous Tivoli Gardens amusement park, the Copenhagen Christmas Market outshines the competition, literally, with more than 120,000 twinkling lights strung across the lake and the flower gardens, artfully installed under the direction of Tiffany & Co’s former head designer, John Loring. The Market is a great place to enjoy traditional Danish treats such as iced doughnuts slathered with black currant jam and gløgg, mulled red wine laden with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks and cloves.

Valkenburg, Netherlands

The Christmas Market in Valkenburg has just about everything a traditional market should have, but what makes it unique is that the whole market is held underground. Every year, the Velvet Caves (once a secret passageway under the Castle Ruins) is transformed into a festive dreamland with more than 60 shops selling a diverse range of Christmas gifts and ornaments. The icing on the cake? Temperature in the caves is constantly at a balmy 12 degrees Celsius all year round.

Vienna, Austria

Vienna plays host to over 20 Christmas Markets every Advent but the Viennese Christmas Market in front of City Hall is the most well-known. With the grand neo-Gothic Rathaus providing a lofty backdrop to its charming tented stalls, it is difficult to stay unmoved by this enchanting market. In addition to shopping for traditional handicrafts and feasting on delicious Austrian fare, visitors can also send a wish-you-were-here postcard from the “Post Office in the Clouds”, complete with special stamps.

Brussels, Belgium

The aptly named Winter Wonders Brussels Christmas Market started only in 2002 but it quickly rose up the ranks to be voted the third best Christmas Market in Europe last year. Here, artisans from all over Europe display their wares alongside local vendors in over 240 wooden stalls. In addition to a 200-foot long ice-skating rink and a ferris wheel illuminated with 18,000 lights, visitors are also treated to a spectacular light and sound show on the Grand Place.

Prague, Czech Republic

Photo credit: Hynek Moravec (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Photo credit: Hynek Moravec (Self-photographed) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

There are 2 main Christmas Markets in Prague – one at the Old Town Square and the other at Wencelas Square, within 5 minutes walk of each other. Locals are especially proud of the Christmas Tree erected in the Old Town Square, which is shipped in from the Krkonose mountains in the North of the Czech Republic, and its lights switched on every evening at 5pm. An authentic manger scene, a small petting zoo, and carolling school choirs from all over the country round up the festive setting of this captivating market.

Dresden, Germany

The Striezelmarkt on Dresden’s Altmarkt Square is Germany’s oldest fair and begins annually with an 8,000 pound fruitcake that is paraded through the medieval streets of the city before entering the Striezelmarkt, cut up and distributed to the market goers. First-rate artisans from across Saxony sell wares such as wooden crafts and blown glass in Christmas chalet huts, all centred around a 15m high “Christmas Pyramid”.