Christmas lights bring a glistening magic to the urban grey in city centres up and down the land. No bustling hub at Christmas is complete without their majesty. Switch-on premieres have become special, celebrity-driven events and for many people signal the start of the festive season, alongside the now firmly established Christmas markets.
Christmas lights took on extra meaning when people here in the UK – and many of our friends in the USA – switched on their displays during the coronavirus outbreak to spread festive cheer in their neighbourhoods. The pandemic could affect what towns and cities can do with switch-on events and markets in due course, so what follows is merely a guide based on 2019 events.
UK Christmas Lights & Markets
Christmas Village Dates: Late November – Late December 2020 – Aberdeen’s festive season launches with the Christmas tree lights switch-on and the opening of the Christmas Village. The popular attraction will run at Broad Street and Upperkirkgate. Introduced in 2018, the market offers festive shoppers a wide range of locally produced crafts, arts and gifts, along with gourmet food and drink from open-air festive wooden cabins in Marischal College Quad.
Market Dates: Late November – Mid-December 2020 – Bath’s striking Georgian streets provide the perfect backdrop to more than 170 chalets that transform the area around the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey into a Christmas wonderland. Around 85 percent of the stallholders are businesses from Bath and neighbouring areas. Bath is wonderful pretty much any time of the year. But at Christmas there is an extra sparkle.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020; Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – The Christmas lights in the city are usually switched on the same day the market opens as Northern Ireland’s capital basks in more than a month of festive glory. The venue for 2020 is again expected to be in the grounds of Belfast City Hall. The switch-on is a free ticketed event. Tickets will be on a first come, first served basis and should be available online from early November. Keep across it all at belfastcity.gov.uk.
Switch-on: Early November 2020 – The city centre lights are turned on during festive events in Victoria Square, signalling the arrival of Christmas in England’s second city. Market Dates: Early November – Late December 2020 – The hugely popular German market is known as “Frankfurt Christmas Market Birmingham”. Taking place in Victoria Square and New Street, it is billed as the largest market of its kind outside Germany and Austria.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Bolton’s 2019 Christmas lights were switched on in Victoria Square by Hollyoaks actor Ray Quinn, who was appearing in the local pantomime that festive season. There will no doubt be another local celebrity lined up to do the honours for 2020.
Market Dates: Mid-November 2020 – Early January 2021 – An alpine market transforms Bournemouth town centre into a winter wonderland. The streets will be lined with boutique stalls serving up tasty treats from local suppliers and myriad stocking ideas. Bournemouth’s Grade II listed Victorian Gardens will be invitingly illuminated. Open from 10am daily (except Christmas Day, of course). Bournemouth’s Christmas Tree Wonderland trail was back for 2019, although Wonderland 2018 was the town’s first and featured more than a hundred Christmas trees and seasonal designs by Blachere, the firm connected to the Blackpool Illuminations and the lighting at London store Harrods.
Switch-on: Early November 2020; Market Dates: Early November – Late December 2020 – The switch-on is a free event at Cabot Circus. The lights will sparkle not only in Cabot Circus, Broadmead and The Galleries but also at nearby St. Nicholas Market, Corn Street, College Green and Park Street. St. Nick’s Christmas Market in the old city starts later in November and is home to more than 60 independent retailers. On weekends only from late November to late December, there’s also the Harbourside Christmas Market. For more information for this year check out visitbristol.co.uk.
Bury St Edmunds
Market Dates: Late November 2020 – The Bury St Edmunds Christmas Fayre in Suffolk again takes place this year over four days in late November, with more than 300 stalls, cookery demonstrations, fair rides, Santas’s grotto and live music. Named ‘Best Christmas Market’ in the UK by Trip Advisor’s Holiday Lettings in 2016, the event has grown into one of the country’s biggest festive fairs and is expected to attract more than 120,000 people across the four days.
Market Dates: Late November – Late December 2020 – The continental Christmas Market returns to Canterbury in Kent this Christmas, starting in mid-November. There will be more than seventy cabins throughout Whitefriars, where you can pick up Christmas gifts, decorations and food specialities as the scent of barbecued bratwurst and mulled wine wafts through the air.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – The Cardiff Christmas Market will return to the pedestrian streets of Cardiff city centre. Last year, some 200 businesses from across Wales exhibited their fine products and many are expected to return as Cardiff’s festive market continues to flourish. Market trading hours are normally from 10am to 5.30pm Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm Sundays, with late night opening until 7pm on Thursdays in December.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Organised by Carlisle City Council, this free event will provide an enjoyable family entertainment programme to suit all ages. The switch-on stage will be in the city centre. For 2019, the Mayor of Carlisle, Cllr Marilyn Bowman, illuminated a new array of Christmas lights in the city centre as part of Carlisle’s countdown to Christmas. More for 2020 at discovercarlisle.co.uk.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Coventry’s Christmas lights switch-on traditionally takes place in front of thousands of people in the city centre in Broadgate. Thanks to the new Christmas lights enhancement fund, residents and visitors will be able to enjoy more lights across more of the city this year…and for longer.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – The markets are outside the Town Hall Square and Chester Cathedral, usually trading between 10am-6pm from Monday-Wednesday and from 10am-8pm on Thursday-Saturday. On Sundays it’s open from 10am-6pm. Check local websites for confirmation of times. More than 70 traditional wooden chalets are nestled around a sparkling Christmas tree. Check the local council website for more.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Expect a festive parade and entertainment on the Market Place stage, with the switch-on taking place in the early evening.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Derry City & Strabane District Council start festivities with the Christmas Lights Switch-on in Guildhall Square. The Guildhall Craft Fair will is expected to return, celebrating the best in local arts and crafts. Check out more events and all the details at derrystrabane.com.
Market Dates: Mid-November 2020 – Early January 2021 – Edinburgh’s Christmas is a spectacular, six-week season of festive entertainment in the heart of the city. Scotland knows how to celebrate New Year better than most, but does a mean job of Christmas, too. Edinburgh’s festivities return to their regular site at East Princes Street Gardens, near to the winter ice rink. There’s a neighbouring children’s market and a grotto where kids can meet Father Christmas. There’s a Scottish section of the market, with traditional crafts and gifts, as well as an eclectic European section. Check the full programme of events at edinburghschristmas.com.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – The Exeter Christmas Market on Cathedral Green has been re-worked so the focus falls on the West Front of the splendid cathedral. The market supports local businesses and performers, with a blend of continental and local independent traders showcasing the best festive food, crafts and gifts. Exeter’s other Christmas street markets are in Castle Street and Fore Street. For opening times and more, check out visitsouthdevon.co.uk. Exeter celebrated the start of the 2019 Christmas season with a special five-day event entitled “Five Nights of Lights”. The new community series acknowledged the city’s heritage, culture and business and has both residents and visitors at its heart. Also new for 2019 were building illuminations, shining a light on many areas of the city. What will 2020 bring?
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Falmouth’s Christmas lights are switched on alongside such festivities as a children’s parade to The Moor and schools performing Christmas songs and carols.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020– The city’s festive celebrations will commence with the switch on of Glasgow’s Christmas Lights in George Square. Tickets for this much-loved event are always in big demand and are distributed by public ballot in October. For more details of the ballot check out: glasgowloveschristmas.com. That address will also give you details of this year’s Christmas markets. Market Dates: St Enoch Square will be open from early November to late December. The Christmas village will include more than 50 chalets featuring delicious food and drink to get you in the festive spirit. The George Square market opens its doors in late November and runs until late December 2020.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Hundreds of school children traditionally march through the city carrying giant lanterns in joyous lights switch-on events in historic Gloucester. For 2019, Pinocchio themed lanterns made by local artists and schoolchildren were used.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Hull’s city centre Christmas lights will be turned on amid an enhanced and extended switch-on event, with a programme of performers on City Hall Balcony and light and sound installations in Queen Victoria Square.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – One of the biggest events in the King’s Lynn calendar usually runs throughout the festive day from around noon until 5pm. The lights switch-on will be the main event, of course, but there will also be street entertainers, music and the chance for children to meet Father Christmas.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 –Ambleside – The annual Ambleside Christmas lights switch-on traditionally involves a Father Christmas cruise followed by a parade through the Lake District town at dusk, featuring hundreds of paper lanterns. Young and old turn out to witness the spectacular procession and the Christmas street lights throughout Ambleside town centre are switched on by Santa. There is also a family fun zone, local entertainers & musicians, stalls throughout the town and a firework display. Mid-November 2020 – Kendal – The Market Place tree, town lights and Kendal Town Hall facade light show will be illuminated as darkness falls, around 4.45pm, with the mayor, town crier and Father Christmas in attendance, accompanied by choral music. There are other switch-on events across the Lake District in November, including the popular ceremony in Keswick. For more check out yourguide2thelakedistrict.co.uk/events.
Switch-on: Early November 2020 – Thousands of spectators annually pour in to Victoria Gardens and the Headrow in Leeds for a night of Christmas cheer each November, with live music, entertainment, a visit from Santa Claus and the illumination of the festive lights. Market Dates: Early November – Late December 2020 – The German Christmas Market usually opens in Leeds the day after the lights are turned on and will be feature more than 40 traditionally decorated wooden chalet stalls selling toys, jewellery, decorations and German delicacies.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Big crowds are expected at the annual Leicester city centre switch-on event. A stage on Humberstone Gate will be the centre of the festivities. Father Christmas will be in attendance. Jubilee Square will be home to a large ice rink. Leicester’s festivities will run from mid-November 2020 to early January 2021.
Switch-on: Late November 2020; Market Dates: Early December 2020 – Start the countdown to Christmas in this historic city, famous for its Medieval cathedral, at the annual Christmas Lights Switch-on at St. Marks Shopping Centre and on Lincoln High Street. The shops along the High Street quarter and at St. Marks Shopping Centre will be open late. Lincoln’s Christmas Market runs for a few days in early December in Lincoln’s Cathedral Quarter, with more than 280 stalls nestled in and around the castle and cathedral. More details on all the city’s festivities at visitlincoln.com.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – Traders will be back at St Georges Plateau for Liverpool’s Christmas Market this year. It opens in mid-November and runs until just before the big day. Lights: Mid-November – In 2018, Liverpool ONE’s Christmas launch saw the new “Polaris, Dare to Dream” light installation but there was no official switch-on as such. For 2019, Liverpool was decorated with new Christmas lights, including a spectacular tunnel of light.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020– Regent Street: This year’s Christmas lights switch-on will again be a star-studded event, while Regent Street itself will be closed to traffic from 5pm-9pm. Discover all the events in 2020 and keep up to date with retailer promotions and in-store events by downloading the Regent Street iPhone App. The lights are on until early January.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Oxford Street: The annual Oxford Street Christmas lights switch-on sets the scene for the festive season in the English capital, with live music and stunning new illuminations. 2019 marked the 60th year the road had been decorated for the season. Those recently given the honour of pushing the button include Kylie Minogue, Rita Ora, The Spice Girls and Robbie Williams. Last year, visitors had a fresh view because the giant baubles were replaced by a spectacular digital lighting scheme, which had the environment more in mind thanks to 27 LED light curtains displaying curated content. The 2020/21 Oxford Street lights will be twinkling away until early January.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Covent Garden: The cobbled piazza and market buildings are resplendent in fairy light delight from mid-November. There is the huge and impressive tree and more than 320 metres of garlands, along with around 100,000 pea lights suspended within the historic Market Building.
Market Dates: Early November 2020 – Early January 2021 – Leicester Square: One of London’s newer go-to Christmas destinations in recent years has been Leicester Square, home to Santa’s Grotto and a traditional Christmas market.
Market/Festival Dates: Late November 2020 – Early January 2021 – Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park: London’s Hyde Park will again be home to a festive Winter Wonderland. Gates open early on the first night (4pm) and Wonderland is expected be open from 10am-10pm daily thereafter (except Christmas Day). Entry is free but tickets will be required in advance for such pastimes as ice skating and watching festive shows.
London Lights & Market Delights: You might also want to seek out other switch-on events, like Carnaby and Marylebone Village, Seven Dials, Kingston, St Katharine Dock and Royal Exchange in mid-to-late November. Also seek out the light show at The Shard through December. As for fun in the marketplace, there are more capital options aplenty, including Trafalgar Square (which debuted in 2019) and Winter at Southbank Centre by the River Thames.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – The turning on of Manchester’s Christmas lights is an event set to attract thousands of people to the city centre. The Manchester Christmas lights switch-on officially opens weeks of seasonal celebrations and attractions. A number of road closures will be in place on the evening. Expect festivities to run from the early evening until around 9pm. Market Dates: Early November – Late December 2020 – The Manchester Christmas Markets will be open from early November and promise to deliver another season of delight. Spread across the city centre, the Christmas Markets expanded in 2019 to include Piccadilly Gardens. The hub of the markets will again be Albert Square. Known as the original, biggest and best Christmas Markets in the UK, Manchester Christmas Markets have been voted one of the best in Europe by the European Best Destinations organisation. Ice Village Dates: Early November 2020 – Early January 2021 – In 2018, Ice Village Manchester was a spectacular and welcome addition to Christmas in the city and this year it is expected to return for a third showing. Cathedral Gardens should again be transformed into a winter wonderland, complete with stunning ice sculptors, seasonal market stalls, mini ice slide for the kids, Ice Tiki Bar for the adults and a new ice rink under a clear roof. The showpiece is the Ice Cavern, a purpose-built structure with an interior temperature kept at a shivery minus-10º. For more details and to book tickets go to icevillage.co.uk and for Skate Manchester tickets go to skatemanchester.com.
Trafford Centre – November 2020 – This year’s intu Trafford Centre Christmas lights switch-on ceremony comes at the start of November with its usual musical sparkle. The event kicks off the shopping centre’s busiest spell of the year. Just across the road from the shopping centre, there’s EventCity. Winter Winter Wonderland at EventCity Manchester 2020 is expected to return from early December
Market Dates: Mid-November – Mid-December 2020 – A bumper festive market, incorporating both the city’s usual International Christmas Market and a separate Christmas Market with local traders, is expected to return around Grey’s Monument. Switch-on: Early November 2020 – Thousands of people are expected to attend the event and see Newcastle in its festive finery. The lights will run in Northumberland Street, Blackett Street, Grey Street and around Central Station in Neville Street.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – The good people of Norwich, get set for some illumination. Music will fill the air and there will be a parade with Father Christmas, entertainment in front of City Hall and the main event – the switching on of the city centre lights. Market Dates: December 2020 – Savoir Fayre’s Norwich Christmas Market will be staged in front of the Forum on Millennium Plain. There will be more than forty stalls, Santa’s Grotto and festive entertainment.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020; Winter Wonderland: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – Shopping stalls at Nottingham’s Winter Wonderland open in Old Market Square from mid-November until just before the big day (although last year bars were open there until New Year’s Day as part of Nottingham Winter Wonderland). Have fun ice skating surrounded by the Christmas lights and trees as well as browse cabins selling seasonal food, drinks, Christmas crafts and gifts. Check nottinghamcity.gov.uk/events for more details.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – The City of Perth Christmas Light Switch-on sees the city centre illuminated by thousands of lights as the culmination of an afternoon of entertainment and celebrations. The day will also include local groups on the Community Stage, along with a headline act on the main stage (expected to be pop group Atomic Kitten).
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Celebrate the start of the festive season on the south coast of Devon with the Plymouth City Centre Christmas Lights Switch-on. This launches the Christmas countdown in the area and marks the start of Thursday late night shopping. Market Dates: Late November – Late December 2020 – Plymouth’s city centre Piazza will be transformed into a Christmas market, with more than fifty log cabin stalls set to trade.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Preston’s Christmas Lights Switch-on will take place in late November, accompanied by the annual concert and entertainment on the Flag Market. Expect events to run from early evening.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Ramsgate’s Christmas lights are switched on amid a wealth of festive entertainment. The Annual Christmas Fair event takes place in and around High Street, King Street, Queen Street and Harbour Street in Ramsgate town centre and includes Santa’s Grotto, a children’s choir, craft fair, land train, fairground rides and a children’s workshop making lanterns for the winter procession. Harbour Event: Throughout December – Enjoy coastal illuminations at Ramsgate Royal Harbour as it enters into the Christmas spirit throughout December.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – A festive evening of fun and live entertainment in St. Helier marks the start of Christmas celebrations in Jersey. Expect Santa’s Parade from Millennium Town Park as he makes his way through town, switching on the lights as he goes. Anticipate his arrival in the Royal Square for the main Christmas lights switch on, followed by a spectacular fireworks display. Christmas Festival: Late November – Late December 2020: La Fête dé Noué welcomes in the Christmas season in Jersey with a spectacular of festive events in St Helier. Translated from the old Norman-French language simply as ‘Christmas Festival,’ parades, Christmas lights, festive films, street theatre and markets brimming with treats and gifts bring Christmas cheer.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Salisbury’s Christmas Lights Switch-on is an annual event that attracts thousands of people, showcases local bands and performers and kick starts Christmas in Salisbury, as well as late-night shopping in the historic city.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – There will be more than 50 cabins down Fargate, the Peace Gardens, Tudor Square, around Sheffield Town and Barker’s Pool for visitors to enjoy. There was one significant change to the market for 2019 as the Sleigh Bar at the top of Fargate was replaced by a larger Alpine Bar.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – The annual switch on event in Keel Square, Sunderland city centre truly kicks starts the festive season in Sunderland.
Switch-on & Christmas Parade: Mid-November 2020 – Marching bands, floats, festive film characters, giant inflatables and Santa and his sleigh are expected to make a special appearance at this year’s Swansea Christmas Parade. It will start at the Dylan Thomas Centre at 5pm and will head up Wind Street towards Castle Square. Here, Santa will make his first stop to switch on some of the Christmas lights. The parade will then continue up High Street, down Orchard Street and onto the Kingsway, where Santa will make his second stop to turn on the remainder of the city centre lights before heading down the Kingsway.
Switch-on: Mid-November 2020 – Swindon’s Christmas lights switch-on event is a seasonal delight. The Festival of Lights event in Swindon last year featured a light trail of 3D and LED installations, including a four-metre-high interactive teddy bear.
Switch-on: Late November 2020 – Nothing heralds the start of the festive season quite like this magical occasion. Held in November each year, the event sees a dazzling procession of withy and tissue lanterns float through the streets, handmade and carried by professional artists, Cornish school children and local community and youth groups. The event includes the official switch on of Truro’s Christmas lights.
Market Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – Founded in 2006, Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market is recognised as one of the best around because of its unique location, high quality exhibitors and bustling atmosphere. Christmas gifts, decorations and festive foods aplenty can be found. The Christmas lights will be switched on just days before the market starts.
Switch-on/Market/Festival Dates: Mid-November – Late December 2020 – One large survey carried out in recent times by Virgin Trains resulted in York being tagged the Most Festive City in the UK in 2017. St. Nicholas Fair is traditionally at the heart of the festivities. Wooden chalets bring festive warmth to Parliament Street, St. Sampson’s Square and The Judge’s Lodging. There’s more to explore at Davygate, Coppergate and York’s famous Shambles Market. The Christmas tree lights in St Helen’s Square will be illuminated in mid-November. For more information go to visityork.org.
International Christmas Markets
Some of the most popular and celebrated UK Christmas markets include Manchester, Birmingham, Bath, London’s Hyde Park and York. There were more than 150 Christmas markets in different cities, towns and villages across the UK last year. Some of this year’s market dates are mentioned alongside the City Lights above. Both events are inextricably intertwined in certain towns and cities. Christmas markets up and down the land open in November and have become a fixture of the seasonal festivities here. But the tradition is one that has been borrowed from the continent, where you can find a glorious array of Christmas markets.
Berlin, Germany (Late November – Late December 2020) – There are around sixty markets in the German capital Berlin, including Winter World on Potsdamer Platz in the city centre. It is so huge there is even space for Europe’s biggest toboggan run. Berlin is a great weekend destination whatever time of year, but at Christmas there’s added sparkle and magic. You might consider a trip to nearby Potsdam, one of the most captivating historic cities in Germany, where the Christmas markets are surrounded by impressive UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 2016, a sickening terrorist attack hit the Berlin market – but locals and tourists were unbowed and continued to celebrate the season.
Bruges, Belgium (Late November 2020 – Early January 2021) – Beautiful Bruges, canals, cobbles, lace and all, is a wonderful medieval backdrop to the annual Christmas market. Among the attractions is an ice skating rink at the Grote Markt, in the shadow of the 83 metre high belfry. Climb the 366 steps to the top and you will have an amazing view of the picturesque place and proceedings below. There’s another market in smaller, tree-lined Simon Stevinplein. Eurostar will have you there in three and a half hours from St. Pancras Station, London, with a quick change in Brussels. We can almost smell the warm waffles wafting through the festive markets.
Brussels, Belgium (Late November – Late December 2020) – The Belgian capital, like Bruges, keeps its Christmas market open through until we’re almost in the New Year. This 200-stall site forms part of the Winter Wonders event that also offers fairground attractions and ice-skating. The event takes place at the Grand-Place in Brussels and around the Bourse, the Place de la Monnaie, the Place Sainte-Catherine and the Marché aux Poissons. There are light and sound shows on the Grand-Place and a Christmas parade. Brussels is served by Eurostar, making it one of the most accessible market cities for British travellers.
Cologne, Germany (Late November – Late December 2020) – Check online festive market surveys in recent years and you are almost always certain to see Cologne’s Christmas market in or around the top 10. The city stages seven Christmas markets, among them the four biggest located at the Cologne Cathedral, on the Alter Markt, on the Neumarkt (Cologne’s oldest Christkindlmarkt even though its located on the New Market) and on the Rudolfplatz. Every year this wonderful quartet alone attracts almost 2 million visitors. The market at the cathedral is a stunning sight (see the picture below). Beneath the imposing building and the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland you can find more than 160 festively designed wooden pavilions. Here you can see artisans at work, buy gifts, sweets and local delicacies or sip mulled wine. Set against the historic backdrop of Hahnentorburg, one of Cologne’s three mediaeval gatehouses, the Christmas market on the Rudolfplatz takes you to a world of brother’s Grimm fairy tales. Please note that dates of the various markets may vary.
Dresden, Germany (Late November – Late December 2020) – If it is history you seek then it comes in bucket-loads in this German city. Altmarkt Square in the heart of Dresden has held a Striezelmarkt since the mid-15th century – one of the oldest in Germany. Since 1434, the market has preserved its distinctive character. The market’s name comes from the Christmas bread Stollen, which is also known as “Striezel” in Middle High German. Every year the traditional Stollen Festival is celebrated in honour of this delicacy and each year the ceremonial first slice of the giant Stollen at the Striezelmarkt is followed by a Stollen procession through the Baroque Old Town.
Innsbruck, Austria (Mid-November – late December 2020) – The snow-covered Nordkette Mountains provide a wondrous wintry backdrop to the magical market of some sixty stalls in the Tirolean capital’s Old Town of medieval houses and famous Golden Roof. Innsbruck’s Christkindlmarkt Maria-Theresien-Strasse usually runs later, until early January.
Krakow, Poland (Late November – Late December 2020) – Historic Krakow, one of the few Polish cities to emerge with many beautiful buildings intact post-war, is a perfect setting for a traditional Christmas market. Not to disappoint, Krakow’s citizens pull out all the stops to ensure the festive feel matches the surroundings at the city’s huge central square, Rynek Glowny, in the middle of the Old Town. Local artisans, such as blacksmiths and carvers, present their crafts.
Lille, France (Mid-November – Late December 2020) – Marche de Noel in France are a seasonal joy. Markets in Lille and Paris are well served by the Eurostar connection. A giant Ferris wheel delightfully dominates the setting of Lille’s Christmas market in picturesque The Place Rihour. Expect chalet stalls full of gifts and decorations but also, as its France, food and wine aplenty.
Munich, Germany (Late November – Late December 2020) – The cosmopolitan capital of Bavaria is one of the great traditional homes for Christmas markets – the most renowned of which is at Marienplatz near the city’s splendid town hall. The origins of the Christmas Market here date back to the so-called “Nicholaus Markets” of the 14th century. Town records first mention a “Nikolaidult” that took place near the Beautiful Tower in Kaufingerstrasse in 1642. While planning a trip to Munich, look out for such festive offerings as the Heavenly Workshop for children aged 6-12, Krampus Run, the Manger Market and Advent tram rides.
Nuremburg, Germany (Early November – Late December 2020) – One of the oldest and most spectacular of all Christmas markets is staged in the German city of Nuremburg. Food is to the fore, be it the famous Nuremburg sausages or the historic gingerbread Lebkuchen that has been made there for more than six hundred years. Also check out the curious handmade Nuremburg Prune Men, made from dried prunes and figs. The most important symbol of the Nurnburg Christkindlmarkt is the Christkind, resplendent in crown and golden dress. You can usually meet the Christkind daily at 3pm from December 1-23. There’s also the wonderfully nostalgic stagecoach tour.
Paris, France (Early November 2020 – Early January 2021) – There are more than 350 wooden chalets in the market at La Defense, making it the biggest in the French capital. The market on the famed Champs-Elysees is an undeniably beautiful attraction. The streets and the main shops in the shopping areas, notably the department stores such as Galeries Lafayette in the Boulevard Haussmann area, vie with each other to produce the most elaborate Christmas decorations and Christmas windows. Other markets: Saint Germain des Prés in the Latin quarter where you will find Santa’s village from mid-November to early January; Quai Branly on the banks of the Seine close to the Eiffel Tower from mid-December to early January; Montmartre in front of the Sacré Coeur from late November until early January and also at Montparnasse, the Gare de l’Est, the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Place de la Nation. Markets in Paris are well served by the Eurostar connection. Marche de Noel Parisien style anyone?
Prague, Czech Republic (Early December 2020 – Early January 2021) – Prague is pictured here in all its glory. A statue of Good King Wenceslas stands proudly in the Czech capital, so it seems only fitting this fine figure of Christmas carol fame should have a Christmas market staged in the square bearing his name. However, it is in Prague’s Old Town Square that you will find the largest of the city’s Christmas markets and the most magnificent of illuminated trees. Visitors can watch traditional foods being made and sample local produce. Large hams are roasted on spits, there are delicious barbequed sausages known as Klobása and cakes and pastries are prepared in front of you, such as the hot sugarcoated Trdelník. The Christmas market at the Old Town Square has an animal stable, where children can stroke sheep, goats and a donkey. There are smaller markets at Republic Square, on Kampa Island in the Lesser Town and by St. George’s Basilica at Prague Castle.
Verona, Italy (Late November – Late December 2020) – The ancient Italian city of Verona hosts a sparkling market offering regional food and handmade gifts, as well as the Arena di Verona – a marvellous spectacle of more than 400 beautifully staged nativity scenes (annually from late November to late January). The Italians pride themselves on these elaborate crib displays so expect to find them amid the other festive finery at all Italy’s Christmas markets, from the Roman capital to the Trentino region of the Italian Alps.
Vienna, Austria (Mid-November – Late December 2020) – There are as many as 25 Christmas markets in the Austrian capital, including one beside City Hall. Viennese markets are believed to have existed since the early 13th century when Albrecht I of Germany allowed Vienna’s citizens to hold a December market – a Krippenmarkt. Schloss Schonbrunn, a visitor attraction in its own right, stages a market that runs until the New Year.
Other international locations to have rated highly in online Christmas markets surveys in recent years include: Dusseldorf and Baden-Baden in Germany; Basel in Switzerland, Graz in Austria, Budapest in Hungary and Barcelona in Spain.