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Christmas markets, here are the 10 most beloved cities in Europe
The top ten of the most “Christmassy” European cities, with the best tips for eating, shopping, and having fun
For Christmas, it goes without saying, cities in Italy and in the rest of Europe dress up, and lovers of Christmas markets, colourful lights, and typical sweets are spoilt for choice. We took a cue from an accurate selection by the Guardian to put together a list of today’s coolest European cities for Christmas shopping, where you can experience a unique, fairy tale atmosphere. From the regal Vienna to the flamboyant Glasgow, passing by the Vesuvius: a tour of Europe in ten stages to enjoy all the best Christmas shopping, with music, perfumes, traditional flavours, and an inevitable designer touch.
Let’s start from one of the less obvious holiday season destinations, where Christmas is a discovery: the majestic tree in Praça do Comércio welcomes residents and tourists looking for Christmas presents. For local products with a retro taste, the not-to-be-missed place is A Vida Portuguesa, temple of local craftsmanship, from shoes to soap, where saudade is a way of life. Typical of this area is also canned fish, and if you think that is not appropriate as a Christmas gift, just go to the ancient Conserveira de Lisboa: the hand-decorated boxes will make you change your mind. We suggest the most sophisticated readers go to Luvaria Ulisses, a shop dating from 1925, where you can buy the most beautiful leather gloves in town, rigorously handmade. Christmas shopping whets the appetite, so here is the right spot for a regenerative stop: the 19th century pastry-shop Confeitaria Nacional in Praça da Figueira prepares rich Christmas sweets, such as bolo rei, a cake with dried fruit and walnut filling, and the filhós, doughnuts with pumpkin and cinnamon.
A joyful and festive atmosphere in a very charming setting steeped in history: that’s why Lille is on the list of the most beautiful cities at Christmas. The colourful façades of the 17th century buildings in the old part of the town alternate with shops, cafes, and bars. Also during the Christmas period, shopping is dedicated to vintage and antiques. During the autumn, here takes place a huge flea market attracting more than 2 million visitors every year. Second-hand books are a real hit; they are on display in the inner court of the Vieille Bourse and are ideal to surprise your most cultured friends, whereas we suggest the pleasure-loving ones to taste or present a bottle of Genièvre, the local juniper-based brandy. You can find it at Les Chais du Savour (Place de Ramponneau). If you prefer beer, Au Fût et à Mesure (289 rue du Faubourg des Postes) is the right place for you: every table has its own beer dispenser, for do-it-yourself glasses. And to end on a high note, there is the Saint Saveur, a former cargo terminal turned into Social Club, where you can have fun until late.
It is less crowded than the nearby Bruges, but just as enchanting: Gand will fascinate you with its Christmas markets nestled in a gothic background and with its creativity. At Dille & Kamille (Hoornstraat 15) you can find delicious jams, felt decorations, and objects for the home, whereas for those who are more interested in art, we suggest Topo Copy (Coupure Rechts 308), a very original print shop. You cannot resist vintage? Then the Bij Sint-Jacobs flea market is right up your street. And talking about the holiday spirit, here is a noble Christmas idea: Parnassus (Old Houtlei) is a social project that allows you to have dinner and do some good at the same time; it is a Franciscan church that employs disadvantaged people.
It is among the most famous Christmas destinations, and the reason couldn’t be more obvious: not only are there ancient and lively markets, but also a very efficient German organisation, with a dedicated tram and warehouse. The 3000 candles decorating the big Christmas tree are a perfect greeting card. If you have a sweet tooth, you will find plenty of Christmas specialties at the Viktualienmarkt food market: from the typical Stollen, a confection from Dresden, whose shape is reminiscent of the Baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, to the gingerbread hearts you hang on the trees. Are you looking for something unusual? Have a look at the ethic and vegan products sold at Dear Goods (Am Glockenbach 12) or let yourself be seduced by vintage clothing or silk lingerie by Alva-Morgaine (Hans-Sachs-Strasse 9). To warm you up while you are around, we suggest a stop in Marienplatz for a small glass of glühbier- an aromatic beer with vanilla and chilli, or cacao and rum. If you want to keep light before the Christmas festivities, you can choose the raw delicacies of Rebella Bex Cafe (Sonnenstrasse 23), if instead you don’t mind the scale or you just prefer the rich Bavarian food, book a table at Augustiner Keller (Arnulfstrasse 52).
The Danish capital is a mix of new and old: gardens made precious by many colourful lights, stands providing every kind of delicacies, designer boutiques, and trendy spots. Along the cobbled street Jægersborggade in Nørrebro, you can find small shops selling everything, from vintage clothes to handmade caramel. Are you a fan of Scandinavian design? Høj Copenaghen offers household items from different Nordic labels, and Dora will bring to your mind many gift ideas. Street food is worth a try, and, in this season, it is particularly tempting: æbleskiver (Christmas pancakes) and gløgg, a red wine punch, are on every corner of the WestMarket in Vesterbro. Tivoli Corner, instead, is a new food hall with 20 restaurants and stands selling everything, from fish tapas to hamburgers.
You may well have never heard about it, but this English town boasts an incredible location, perfect if you love to take walks in snow-covered woods. It is small, picturesque, and with a pronounced artistic side you will fall in love with. For Christmas shopping, the place to be is Hus & Hem, where you can find all you need, from homewares to fashion items. The Three Counties Bookshop on High Street will satisfy the most intellectual ones, whereas for those who love tasty gifts there are the truffles handmade with produce from local farms you can buy at Velvet Bean Chocolates. To drink a good glass of cider or a beer, we suggest Prince of Wales, recommended by locals, or Seven Stars, one of the oldest pubs in town.
Surrounded by fascinating snow-covered peaks, the Scottish city combines shopping and sophistication. You can enjoy a 1920s dance of at Gatsby Club or a Christmas movie marathon at Sloans. The West End is full of independent shops, such as Napiers the Herbalists, that has been selling herbal teas and creams for 150 years. The lively Merchant Square and the famous Ashton Lane, full of pubs, are a triumph of stands you can wander around looking for gifts, under several sparkling lights. You can find original ideas also in the stores of the local museums, such as the gallery of Modern Art or the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum: here, for few pounds you can buy masterpieces in the shape of mugs, prints, or bags. Eccentrics will love The Shop of Interest (1058 Argyle Street), where you can find Scottish construction kits and bizarre accessories. And since we are in Scotland, we can’t avoid mentioning a couple of venues for whiskey lovers, such as Òran Mór (Byres Road) and The Ben Nevis (1147 Argyle Street), where you can also listen to live music.
For a princely Christmas, this is the destination to choose: you will find a sophisticated and dazzling setting waiting for you, where traditional markets and theme pop up stores shine. Viennastore (Herrengasse 5) is the temple for souvenir collectors: from pencil boxes inspired by Gustav Klimt to the moulds for Mozart-shaped biscuits. If you love sweets, immerse yourself into a world made of marzipan, nougat, and chocolate at Manner (Stephansplatz 7) or Demel (Kohlmarkt 14). For a slice of strudel accompanied by piano music, the ideal venue is the majestic Cafe Schwarzenberg (Karntner Ring 17), one of the most ancient in town. A triumph of marble, crystals, and brass that is even more evocative during Christmas.
No one in Italy takes Christmas as seriously as Neapolitans. In Naples, the crib is a very ancient art, combining folklore and exquisite craftsmanship. Just wander around the stands in the historical city centre to see which famous characters – from politicians to football players – deserved their place in the crib this year. If you look for branded presents, via Toledo is a must see. Alternatives that are not less prized can be found at Scriptura, specialised in handmade leather, or at Finamore, for clothes or quality accessories. For eating you’re spoilt for choice, from pizza, delicious at every corner in town (mostly in two venues: Sorbillo and Pizzeria Cafasso) to fried food you can eat in the street, in the typical paper cornets. Do you want to take home a proper buffalo mozzarella? Visit Esposito delicatessen, you won’t regret it!
The Dutch capital, with its canals dotted with small coloured lights and the smell of waffles floating in the air, feels like a fairy tale. The weather is harsh but the atmosphere couldn’t be warmer! The best of vintage and design is at Herengracht and Keizersgracht. Luxury furnishings and unique accessories are at Droog, whereas refined objects at an affordable price are sold at HEMA. For a break, you can stop at the chic and minimal Cafe Libertine, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and a small pizza. At night, after an unusual dinner at Hotel de Goudfazant, a former garage, drop by De Ceveul, a shipyard turned into Social club, where the party is always on, not just at Christmas.
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