The world's 15 best Christmas markets

Joe Minihane, for CNNUpdated 17th November 2017
(CNN) — Christmas shopping doesn't have to mean joylessly battling through department store crowds or trawling the Internet for bargains. Why not combine present-buying with some travel?
These 15 Christmas markets scattered around the world make great destinations for traditional gifts, glasses of glühwein and that unbeatable festive feeling.

1. Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, in eastern France, is home to one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets, with the first edition taking place in 1570.
Today there are 10 locations with 300 stalls, meaning it's easy to spend the best part of a week here indulging in end-of-year festivities, picking up decorations and presents and drinking local Alsatian wine.
Before getting lost down Strasbourg's narrow alleyways and beautiful squares, visitors should be sure to head to Place Kleber, where they'll find the Great Christmas Tree, a towering effort that puts the spruce at New York's Rockefeller Center to shame.
What makes it special: Each year Strasbourg has a "guest" country village, with Iceland taking pride of place in 2017.

2. Viennese Christmas Market, Vienna, Austria

Christmas on ice: A huge skating rink is part of the attraction of Vienna's Christmas Market.
courtesy Stadtweinmarketing
Few cities steep themselves in the festive spirit like Vienna. The Austrian capital's first Christmas Market was held in 1298 and today the city has more than 20 events to choose from.
First timers, though, should make a beeline for the Viennese Christmas Market, which takes place in front of City Hall.
It runs until Christmas Eve, with 151 stalls serving everything from boozy Christmas punch to gut busting Austrian sausages. There's a huge ice rink for skating, reindeer rides for kids and a classic nativity scene.
What makes it special: This might be the most traditional Christmas market going, but be sure to try out curling on the dedicated ice rink. A bizarre and brilliant winter sport to keep off the chill.

3. Grand Christmas Market, Montreal, Canada

Now in its second year, Montreal's Grand Christmas Market in Canada takes its inspiration from Europe's biggest festive events.
Running December 1-24 on the pedestrian thoroughfare of Ste Catherine Street, the event has more than 60 wooden houses plying their wares, from warming winter drinks to essential Christmas handicrafts. The market is especially good for kids, with an elves' workshop, Santa's sleigh and even an igloo.
What makes it special: Although it closes its doors on Christmas Eve, Montreal's Grand Market reopens a week later to see in the New Year. Local DJs provide entertainment as the clock strikes midnight.

4. Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic

Prague's Xmas market opens every day -- including Christmas Day -- until January 6.
MICHAL CIZEK/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
No city lends itself to Christmas better than Prague.
The city's two main Christmas markets, in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square, are only five minutes' walk from each other, so can both easily be explored in one day. Each one has the usual wooden huts found in similar markets across Europe, but the Czech treats are what really set them apart.
Visitors can grab a klobása (Czech sausage) and wash it down with a Pilsner Urquell in the afternoon, then hang around for the main tree to be lit up on Old Town Square.
What makes it special: The Czechs don't do half measures at Christmas time. Both markets are open every day over the festive period until January 6, including Christmas Day.

5. Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

The annual Christmas Market in Florence, Italy, runs until December 18 in the spectacular Piazza Santa Croce.
With the Franciscan Basilica providing a backdrop for the 50 stalls, this is the perfect place to pick up stocking fillers and treats without the unerring sense of dread that accompanies the average shopping street in the run up to December 25.
For added yuletide vibe, it's good to head to Piazza del Duomo for the nativity scene and Christmas tree, which is lit up on December 8, as part of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
What makes it special: Although this is every inch an Italian event, there's a distinct German air to the proceedings too. Keep an eye out for gingerbread and strudel.

6. Krakow, Poland

For anyone dreaming of a white Christmas, Krakow usually delivers.
The city's Christmas market, held in Rynek Glowny, the city's huge main square, typically gets a heavy dusting of snow during December, making a visit here even more magical than some of the big name markets in western Europe.
Hand-painted Christmas baubles are a local specialty, as are spiced nuts and boiled candies.
What makes it special: This is a more all-round Christmas shopping experience, so it's worth trawling the stalls for cheap antiques and weird and wonderful bric-a-brac.

7. Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham, UK

Birmingham: Home of Chris Moose.
courtesy Birmingham Toolkit
England's second city isn't the first place you'd expect to find a traditional Christmas Market. But buzzing Birmingham boasts "the largest authentic German Christmas Market outside of Germany or Austria."
Held in Victoria Square until December 24, Birmingham emulates its continental rivals with 180 stalls selling everything from jewelry to handmade toys.
But the big draw is Chris Moose, the singing moose, found outside the market's Council House entrance, lending things a distinctly British air.
What makes it special: The neighboring Christmas Craft Market, in Centenary Square, has 30 stalls selling local beers, British sausages and work by local artisans.

8. Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen's Tivoli, with its fairground rides and warren of shops and stalls, is a year-round destination in its own right. But it's during December that this Danish institution really comes into its own.
As well as the usual stands selling Christmas decorations and nibbles, there are three different light shows which take place in the park, as well as a traditional Pixie Band playing festive songs at various points around the site.
December 13 sees the annual Lucia procession, with 100 girls passing through the gardens carrying candles and singing to mark St Lucia's Day.
What makes it special: Firework displays are held in the Tivoli Gardens between December 25 and 26 and again on December 31.

9. Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin, Germany

Berlin: Christmas market added architectural backdrop.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Berlin is a hugely popular destination during the festive season thanks to its Christmas markets.
It's hoping to renew its seasonal appeal in 2017 after a terror attack a year earlier at the Breitscheidplatz market led to the temporary closure of many other markets in the capital.
Preparations for the German capital's 2017 winter market season are now in full swing, and while you could visit a different Berlin market for all 12 days of Christmas, if there's only time for one, our pick is Gendarmenmarkt.
The imposing architecture of the Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom loom over classic wooden huts where visitors can steel themselves before shopping with delicious sausages and warming cups of mulled wine.
Once fortified, vast crafts tents await where everything from original paintings to wood carvings can be found for sale. For off-kilter Christmas presents, it's a struggle to match this gem.
What makes it special: Come for the first-rate shopping, but make sure to stick around for the nightly concerts, ranging from choral to jazz. No out-of-tune carols here.

10. Winter Wonders, Brussels, Belgium

Brussels's Winter Wonders is more of a festival than a Christmas Market, although there's more than 200 chalets serving up festive fixes of glühwein, Belgian beers and waffles.
The event is spread out across the Bourse, Place de la Monnaie, Grand Place, Place Sainte Catherine and Marche aux Poissons, with ice skating, a Ferris wheel, light shows and, of course, a huge Christmas tree.
Running until New Year's Eve, it adds to the Belgian capital's chocolate box feel.
What makes it special: There are guided tours in English for those who don't know where to begin. Just make sure to warm up with a hot chocolate first.

11. Fira de Santa Llúcia , Barcelona

Fira de Santa Llúcia is Barcelona's oldest Christmas fair.
Fira de Santa Llúcia
Fira de Santa Llúcia dates all the way back to 1786. It began as a one-day event to celebrate the feast day of Santa Llúcia on December 13, but has since developed into a three-week Christmas fair.
Positioned in front of Barcelona Cathedral, the market features around 300 stalls selling everything from Christmas decorations, trees and nativity figurines to musical instruments, handmade puppets and jewelry.
The festivities begin on November 24, running until December 23, 2017.
What makes it special: The caga tio -- an enormous piñata-style Christmas log which spills out candy and gifts when beaten with a stick -- is one of the most popular Fira de Santa Llúcia activities.

12. Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival

Budapest's Vörösmarty Square is transformed into the Budapest Christmas Fair each year.
TILA KISBENEDEK / AFP / Getty Images
The Budapest Christmas Fair and Winter Festival takes place at Vörösmarty Square in the center of the city from early November to the end of December each year. It's the oldest festive market in the Hungarian capital as well as the most popular.
You can pick up anything from Christmas-themed gifts to traditional Hungarian food to mulled wine from the 100 plus stands on display. There's also plenty of entertainment in the form of light shows, folk dancing and live music.
What makes it special: The exterior of the famous Gerbeaud Coffee House on Vörösmarty Square is converted into a giant advent calendar, with a new magical window display opening every day from December 1 to 23.

13. Skansen's Christmas Market, Stockholm

Skansen's Christmas Market has been around since 1903.
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Located in Skansen, an open-air museum on the island of Djurgarden in the heart of Stockholm, this Christmas market is about as traditional as it gets.
Held every weekend from late November, its bustling with stalls selling Swedish handicrafts, traditional sausages, spices, smoked turkey and candles.
There are regular craft demonstrations as well as dancing games around the Christmas tree. You can also make your own decorations at a Christmas workshop.
What makes it special: Skansen is also home to a small zoo with Nordic animals, so you can combine your Christmas market shopping with some reindeer spotting.

14. Advent in Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia

Advent in Zagreb has been voted the most popular Christmas market destination.
Courtesy Roman Avdagić / Flickr, Creative Commons
Advent in Zagreb has been voted the "best Christmas market destination" by users of travel portal European Best Destinations for two years running. Based on the streets surrounding Jelacic Square, the numerous attractions on offer include an ice rink, live ice sculpture carvings, pop-up bars, street food stands and outdoor music stages.
There's even an area dedicated to "fooling around"( or "fuliranje" where revelers can dance in the street and eat and drink to their heart's content.
What makes it special:
The Jolly Christmas Tram is tough to beat. Here kids (and big kids) can cruise through the city center accompanied by Santa and his elves.

15. Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park, New York

Bank of America Winter Village at Bryant Park features a free ice skating rink.
Elizabeth Shrier Photography
This European-style open-air market in Bryant Park is one of the most well-known Christmas markets in New York. With around 125 custom-designed kiosks featuring jewelry and handicraft from all over the world, there's plenty to keep visitors occupied.
Its park location means there are added bonuses like the impressive Josephine Shaw Lowell Fountain, which often freezes over in the winter, and the Le Carrousel, where riders are likely to be joined by Santa and his elves.
What makes it special: Bryant Park's 17,000-square-foot outdoor rink is New York's only free ice skating rink (although there's a charge to hire skates).
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