Best Christmas market breaks in Europe

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Now that Autumn is officially here (goodbye summer – it was nice while you lasted!), one thing is on our mind at The Money Shop: Christmas of course!

What better way to get in the Christmas spirit by visiting some festive markets? You can grab a great deal on flights right now, booking for the festive period. It’s just a question of where to go? Find out the best Christmas market breaks Europe has to offer, on a budget, here!

Prague, Czech Republic

When: 3rd December 2016 – 4th January 2017

Average temperature: -2 – 3 degrees Celsius

Travel time: 1 hour 50 minutes

How to get there

Between them, EasyJet, Ryanair and Jet2 have most UK cities covered with frequent flights to Prague. If you’re in the likes of London and Manchester, you could even have a look at flying out with one airline, and coming back with another to see if costs are cheaper.

Once you’ve landed into Prague, you can catch the Airport Express bus, which will take you to the city centre in 35 minutes.

Alternatively, if you want to get to your destination in a hurry, you can get a taxi. Prague Airport Transfers offers flat rate fees to almost anywhere in the city, costing 550 CZK (approx. £17) for 4 people, or 780 CZK (approx. £24) for up to 8 people.

The Christmas markets

The mediaeval charm of Prague makes it even more beautiful at Christmas (although bitterly cold, so be sure to pack lots of layers!)

The main market is based in the Old Town Square, where you can find a range of traditional Czech food (think warming pies, copious amount of gingerbread, and trdelnik – pastry topped with cinnamon and walnuts).

Wenceslas Square in the newer area of the city also boasts festive market stalls; with glassware, Christmas decorations and handmade toys are all available to buy.

Tradition is at the very heart of Prague’s Christmas market, so if you’re looking for souvenirs for friends and family for Christmas’, then this market is ideal.

Other attractions

Prague has so much to offer, that it would be impossible not to explore further afield. Perhaps the most well-known attraction (besides from Pilsner!), is the astronomical clock.

Located in the Old Town square, you won’t have to look far to find it! Over 600 years old, crowds of people visit Prague to see it. Make sure you go up to the top of the Old Town Hall to get views over Prague. Adult tickets are 130 CZK (£4), and a family of four can get in for 280 CZK (£8.80).

When you’ve finished walking round the winding cobblestone streets of the Old Town, cross over Charles Bridge. It’s probably the most famous bridge in Prague (which is quite a feat, seeing as it’s rumoured that there are over 300 in the city!)

Charles Bridge is entirely pedestrian, and there are stalls selling souvenirs and paintings at really cheap prices. Cross over to Malá Strana to Prague Castle (‘Pražský hrad’). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it dates back to approximately 880.

During winter, the castle grounds are open from 6am – 10pm, but if you want to go into the buildings, you’ll need to visit between 9am – 4pm. You can buy a ticket to cover all attractions, or tickets for individual buildings – you can see an overview of all of the prices here.

When it comes to the long dark evenings, they can easily be spent at one of the many restaurants. With traditional Czech food boasting breads, soup, pies and meat, it really warms you up. You could even visit ‘Choco-Story’ on Celetná for a cup of their melted chocolate!

Budapest, Hungary

When: 11th November 2016 – 6th January 2017

Average temperature: -2 – 3 degrees Celsius

Travel time: 2 hours 35 minutes

How to get there

There are many cheap flights available to the Hungarian capital. EasyJet and Ryanair serve the south, with flights from London and Bristol. Meanwhile, Jet2 runs plenty of flights in the Midlands and North. When looking for Christmas market breaks, make sure you book in advance to get the best possible prices.

If you’d prefer to catch a taxi into central Budapest once you’ve landed, use the airport recommended Főtaxi. They are set at a fixed tariff of 280 HUF per km, with the average ride to the city centre costing around 6,500 HUF (approx. £17.50).

If you’re looking for something cheaper, and don’t mind a little extra hassle, then catching public transport is an option.

The airport recommends catching bus 200E, and you can either get off by the Kőbánya-Kispest metro station and continuing into the city centre; or get off at Ferihegy train station, and catching it to the Nyugati train station in the city centre.

The Christmas markets

The main – and oldest – festive market in Budapest is found in Vorosmarty Square. Here, you can buy traditional gifts like woollen hats and gloves, as well as jewellery (perfect for Christmas presents!), whilst feasting on warm chestnuts and mulled wine.

Head towards Gerbeaudcafe to see the musical advent calendar in the window. With street entertainers, choirs and dancers performing in the Square, you can easily while away the hours here!

You can find a smaller Christmas market at St Stephen’s Basilica, which is just a ten minute walk from Vorosmarty Square. There are several arts and crafts stores for you to take a look at, whilst sampling the local delicacy Kürtőskalács (‘Chimney Cake’) – a soft pastry topped with sugar.

If you’re travelling with young children, then Budapest is an ideal option, and sure to keep them entertained. They can skate on the ice rink by the Basilica for free; watch the regular puppet shows, and even meet Father Christmas.

Other attractions

When you’re in Budapest, it’s impossible not to visit one of the spas – after all, it’s what the city is famous for!

Széchenyi thermal baths may be busy, but it’s very popular for a reason – namely in the form of its outdoor thermal pool. When the water’s a toasty 38 degrees Celsius, it’s easy to swim outdoors in the depths of winter! Prices vary depending on how long you want to stay at the spa, and whether you want any treatments, but you can find out more information here.

On the banks of the Danube, you’ll find the imposing Houses of Parliament – it’s definitely worth taking a few pictures! For 2,200 HUF (approx. £6), you can go inside and see where the Hungarian parliament members work – and escape the bitter temperatures for a while!

Nearby the Houses of Parliament, you’ll find the ‘Shoes on the Danube’ memorial. Serving as a reminder of the horrific past Hungary suffered during the Nazi regime, it’s a place to reflect; and you can often see relatives of the victims laying down flowers and wreathes.

If you want to see all that Budapest has to offer in style, then why not take a cruise down the river Danube? During November to January, tours run twice a day at 2pm and 6.30pm. Adult tickets cost 3,900 HUF (£11) and 5,500 (£15) respectively, and prices are cheaper for students and children. You can see a list of prices and times here.

Copenhagen, Denmark

When: 19th November 2016 – 31st December 2016

Average temperature: 0 – 5 degrees Celsius

Travel time: 1 hour 40 minutes

How to get there

Ryanair and EasyJet operate almost daily flights from London and Manchester to the Danish capital. Flights are extremely affordable, and if you book in advance, you can get a return ticket for less than £60.

The airport is only 10km away from the city centre; and with public transport as good as it is, there’s no need to get a taxi.

Depending on where you’re staying in the city, you can either catch the train or the metro. Both take 10 – 15 minutes to get the centre of Copenhagen, and you can find out the cost of tickets here.

Accommodation in Scandinavia is unsurprisingly, more expensive than in central and Eastern Europe, so it’s best to book a couple of months in advance to avoid paying over the odds.

Cabbin City is a great cheap option – the rooms may be small, but they’re right in the city centre, and are a perfect base for exploring the capital!

The Christmas markets

The main Christmas markets are found in Tivoli Gardens – an amusement park located in the heart of Copenhagen, next to the train station.

Tivoli is pretty at the best of times, but it really comes alive at Christmas, with over 60 stalls offering an array of food and drink, Christmas trinkets and knitted goods.

Tivoli is open from 11am – 11pm on Sundays to Thursdays, and until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, with all rides and restaurants open too. Entry to the park is 110 DKK (approx. £12.50), costing an extra 220 DKK (£25) for unlimited rides. Trust us – once you’ve stepped into Tivoli, you’ll feel like a big kid, and will want to go on all of the rides!

From the 25th – 27th December, and 31st December – 3rd January, there’s a firework display alongside the illuminations; so even better if you can visit in between Christmas and New Year!

Other attractions

Copenhagen is so much there than somewhere to just visit for a Christmas market break. Once you’ve finished exploring Tivoli, you can see what else the Scandi capital of cool has to offer.

Start off by walking down Strøget – the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe, and home to serious Scandi fashion. ‘Monki’, ‘& Other Stories’ and ‘Illum’ all have flagship stores located here; ‘Magasin Du Nord’ on Kongens Nytorv offers a range of Scandinavian and international fashion brands for you to browse.

At the other end of Strøget lies what is possibly the most photographed area of Copenhagen: Nyhavn. The harbour is backed by colourful buildings, home to restaurants and cafés. Venture inside for a warm drink whilst admiring the views outside!

Just behind Nyhavn is Amalienborg, with four identical palaces, home to the Danish royal family. A short walk away and you’ll find Rosenborg Castle, set in a beautiful park complete with a rose garden.

If you don’t have much time, then give the Little Mermaid a miss. Whilst you might have grown up reading Hans Christian Andersen fairytales, it’s a very long walk for such a small statue. If you’re desperate to see it, go on a boat trip departing from Nyhavn and you’ll get to see other sights too.

When it comes to the nightlife, Copenhagen offers some seriously cool cocktail bars. Try ‘Strøm’ for sophisticated elegance; or ‘K Bar’ on Ved Stranden – their concoctions may sound a little crazy, but they definitely work!

Cologne, Germany

When: 21st November 2016 – 23rd December 2016

Average temperature: 2 – 6 degrees Celsius

Travel time: 1 hour 25 minutes

How to get there

Ryanair offer several flights a day to Cologne from London Stansted, and if you book them a few months in advance, you can get return flights for less than £70 - perfect if you're looking for cheap Christmas market breaks!

Alternatively if you’re based in the north, Jet2 operate flights to Cologne from Leeds Bradford airport.

Once you’ve landed, you can catch the train directly to the centre of Cologne. Trains run every 15 minutes, so you won’t have to wait long; and the journey itself takes just over ten minutes.

Alternatively, if you want to get dropped off straight to your accommodation, you can get a taxi outside the terminal – the airport estimates that a taxi into Cologne will cost 27 EUR (approx. £23).

The Christmas markets

Over 2 million tourists visit Cologne for the Christmas markets every year – if that’s not an excellent recommendation, we don’t know what is!

Six markets can be found across the city, with the most popular located in front of the cathedral.  160 stores are arranged around the giant Christmas tree, and you can pick up lots of festive trinkets like glass baubles and wood carvings. There’s even a carousel for both kids and big kids alike!

The market on Neumarkt has alpine-like chalets selling arts and crafts. Aptly nicknamed the ‘Angel’s Christmas market’, you can find ‘angels’ wandering around the market sprinkling glitter on the crowds. Even Santa Claus visits this market, riding in on horseback!

For something a bit different, you can check out the Floating Christmas Market – onboard the MS Wappen von Mainz, you’re literally floating above the Rhine. It’s extremely easy to reach – just a short walk from the Old Town, or you can catch bus 106 to the Schokoladenmuseum.

Other attractions

Once you’ve visited the Floating Christmas Market, you definitely need to make the chocolate museum your next stop. Open on Mondays in December, tickets cost 9 EUR for adults (approx. £8) or 25 EUR (£21.50) for a family ticket, and you get to see where Lindt chocolate is made, as well as sampling it in the café…!

You can then catch line 18 on the underground, or bus 140 from Ebertplatz to Cologne zoo! Founded in 1860, it’s one of the oldest zoos in Europe, and is home to over 500 species of animals.

During the winter, the zoo is open from 9am – 5pm, costing 19.50 for an adult (approx. £17), and 9 EUR (approx. £8) for a child. There is a list of daily feeding times on the website, so you can plan your day around the penguins, meerkats, or any other animal that takes your fancy!

Although Cologne may be a long way from Bavaria, there are plenty of Biergartens for you to enjoy – all serving the local beer Kölsch. It’s pretty cheap too – at £2.60 you can definitely afford to have a few!

Bruges, Belgium

When: 23rd November 2016 – 1st January 2017

Average temperature: 2 – 7 degrees Celsius

Travel time: 1 hour 5 minutes

How to get there

The Eurostar departs London St Pancras multiple times a day direct to Brussels, where you can get a connecting train to Bruges, which takes an extra hour. You can get really good Eurostar deals if you book in advance, with a return trip costing less than £100 each.

Alternatively, Ryanair offer flights to Brussels Charleroi airport from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester (much handier if you live up north!) at really reasonable prices. Once at the airport, the train journey to Bruges is two hours – admittedly it’s not ideal, but it would still be quicker than catching the Eurostar from London. Expect to pay around £24 for a one-way ticket. Not bad for a Christmas market break on a budget!

The Christmas markets

The Christmas cheer begins as soon as you step off the train at Bruges, where you’ll find an impressive ice sculpture.

The main markets are a 15 minute walk from the station in Grote Markt, with lots of wooden chalet-style stalls offering food, drink and Christmas decorations. Don’t forget to pick up a Belgian waffle to snack on whilst you wander round the stalls!

If you fancy burning off those waffle calories after, then why not take a spin on the ice rink, or climb to the top of the nearby Belfry tower for views of the city?

For stocking up on Christmas presents, head to the smaller market in Simon Stevinplein, where you’ll find an array of traditional clothing, and festive trinkets. Although the two markets are only a few minutes away, you may want to put a couple of hours aside to visit the many chocolatiers lining the streets! Chocolatier van Oost on Wollestraat in particular has gained a name for itself as one of the best chocolatiers in the city, offering a variety of flavours at really reasonable prices.

Other attractions

For such a small city, Bruges sure packs a punch, and is well worth exploring. Once you’ve tired of waffles and chocolate (if that’s even possible!), make sure you wander round the city, and see exactly why it’s reputed to be the prettiest in all of Belgium.

The Basilica of the Holy Blood, located in Burg Square, is free to enter (tickets are €2.50 to enter the museum), with the two chapels housing ornate stained glass windows and paintings.

If you don’t mind facing the cold, then a wander round Minnewater Lake is a must. Translated to the ‘Lake of Love’ it offers a tranquil setting within the city, with swans on the lake, and trees lining the path.

As Belgium is so compact, you can cover quite a lot of a ground in a short space of time, with other cities close by.

Fashion capital Antwerp is 90 minutes by train, and with a return fare costing just £15 per person, you’ll have plenty of money to spend on the likes of Ann Demeulemeester, Dries van Noten and other Belgian brands!

Ghent is even closer, just a half an hour (and £7 return) train ride away, where you can enjoy time outdoors sailing, or cycling. You can even visit the Mystic Lamb (Google it and you’ll see what we mean!).

If you’re inspired to star in your own winter wonderland, or just want a cheap weekend getaway, don’t forget to purchase your travel money in advance to take advantage of exchange rates!

For more money saving tips, check out our blog! Alternatively, start planning for your next holiday with Money Advice Service's budget planner, and other helpful tools.

Please note: all prices are correct as of Wednesday 24th August. Remember, do not buy what you can’t afford, and think carefully before taking out a loan for any non-essential purchases.

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    Best Christmas market breaks in Europe