Holiday Shopping at Europe's Top Christmas Markets

The Tivoli Gardens theme park and market in the center of Copenhagen puts a Danish spin on the traditional German tradition. During the holiday season, the oldest theme park in Europe is transformed into a festival of lights, which spreads for miles over the park's willow trees and around the Tivoli Lake. The area is sprinkled with hundreds of Christmas trees, typical fairground rides, and chalet-style stands that sell hand-painted candles, porcelain and wooden dolls, silver jewellery, roasted almonds, apple doughnuts, and gløgg, the mulled wine of Denmark. Some of the market's best attractions include "Pixie Ville," which is a colony of 136 mechanical pixies, a 95-year-old working roller coaster, pony rides, and an ice skating rink on the lake.

Czech Republic:

Prague

Named for the same Good King Wenceslas as the famous Christmas carol, Wenceslas Square is, appropriately, the sight of the Czech Republic's most famous Christmas market. Prague's medieval astronomical clock and a gigantic Christmas tree preside over the 11th century marketplace as it is transformed into a bohemian winter wonderland. The market is relatively small, but it offers plenty of goods, food, and entertainment to keep even the most serious Christmas market-goers in good spirits. Sip on some hot punch or mead as you peruse jewellery made with bohemian crystal, wood-carved puppets, and Czech straw and maize decorations. The market is especially known for its staged nativity scene, which is an ancient Czech tradition. Watch the one in the market, or go to the nearby Charles Bridge Museum to see a whole collection as well as the largest straw nativity scene in the world. The market also has a petting zoo at its center for the kiddies, but make sure they wash their hands before trying the iced gingerbread!

Belgium:

Bruges

Thanks to Eurostar, in a hop, skip, and a jump you can be transported into one of Europe's best archetypal medieval cities, and if you go around Christmas time, the "Venice of the North" will seem even more like the setting for a fairy tale. Its two main markets, which are surrounded by gabled buildings and scenic canals, are in Market Square and Belfort. Both boast all the usual goods as well as regional favorites. Browse leather goods, handmade jewellery, and knitted scarves and hats, as well as lots of Belgium's famous chocolate, waffles, and beer. Try a chocolate Sinterklaas, or Santa Clause , and get your fingers sticky with a Belgian waffle drizzled in honey. When you are done sampling the local delicacies, wash them down with one or more of Belgium's renowned beers. For the kids, there is, of course, hot chocolate. As far as entertainment, Market Square hosts an ice rink and fairground rides, and in Stationsplein, you can visit the annual Ice Sculpture Festival from November 20 to January 10, which features over 650,000 tons of ice and 400 tons of snow molded into fantastical figures and shapes.

France:

Strasbourg

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