This Christmas, why not treat yourself to an early present, and enjoy a magical break with a loved one to one of Europe's famous Christmas markets. These festive fairs are the perfect place to pick up that unique gift and are brimming with seasonal traditions - some familiar, some unusual. Christmas songs float across the air, chestnuts roast and fairy lights twinkle; here are some of our favourite Christmas markets in Europe.
Gothenburg is one of our favourite festive weekend breaks. The city hosts many cosy seasonal fairs, including Sweden's largest Christmas market which is held at the Liseberg Amusement Park. Whether you're looking for the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Swedish Christmas, or the best of contemporary Nordic art and design, you'll find a Christmas market for you.
While you're in Gothenburg, don't miss a traditional Christmas concert. Enjoy the Swedish custom of a Lucia costume, where a choir dressed in white gowns performs by candlelight. Alternatively, experience the Gothenburg "singing Christmas tree" - a fun series of concerts by some of Gothenburg's best choirs where the singers dress up as Christmas trees.
Mid-November sees the Christmas festivities already in full swing in the Austrian capital. Romantic Vienna becomes even more enchanting at this time of year. For the perfect Christmas market trip to Vienna, make sure you catch at least one of the traditional theatre or musical performances in venues like the Karlskirche and Stephansdom.
Families visiting the city during the festive period will delight at the winter wonderland scene created at Vienna's biggest Christmas market in the Rathausplatz. If you prefer your Christmas markets more intimate, try the Belvedere Palace Christmas Market, one of the newer markets in Vienna, or for a mostly food-based Christmas market, visit the market at the Freyung.
Beautiful Amsterdam is a particularly atmospheric option for a Christmas market break. Christmas decorations adorn almost every street, the department stores put on a real show and you'll love Christmas-tree spotting on the streets lining the atmospheric canals. If you visit Amsterdam in December, you'll also be treated to the stunning art installations at the Amsterdam Light Festival - a romantic evening canal cruise is the best way to see the many stunning artworks.
Head to Dam Square to visit the Christmas market stalls underneath the city's largest Christmas tree, while on Museumplein you'll find an ice rink in front of the iconic I heart Amsterdam sign. Once you've worked up an appetite on the ice, indulge at one of the oliebollen (Dutch doughnut) stalls.
The biggest Christmas market celebration in Czechia sees locals and tourists coming together in the magical and atmospheric streets of Prague's Old Town to shop for Christmas decorations, unique gifts and tempting Christmas treats.
Christmas festivities take place across the city from Old Town through to Holešovice Exhibition Grounds, but at Christmas one of the nicest things to do in Prague is just to wander; smaller markets are seemingly scattered around every corner. Choosing a Christmas market trip to Prague will be a truly memorable and delicious experience.
If you're a fan of thrills, spills and fairy lights, make Copenhagen the destination for your Christmas market break. The Tivoli theme park in the city centre holds its own Christmas market and boasts millions of twinkling lights, alongside rollercoasters and other theme park favourites. Scream your heart out on the white-knuckle rides, then shop for traditional gifts and decorations and enjoy hearty Danish food while taking in the park's festive atmosphere.
Elsewhere in the city, there are several other Christmas markets for you to visit, while the Swedish city of Malmö is just a short bus or train ride away over the stunning Oresund Bridge, allowing you to experience both a Danish and a Swedish Christmas in just one trip.
Up on the coast of the Baltic sea, nestled between Estonia and Lithuania, you'll find Latvia and its beautiful, atmospheric capital, Riga. Riga claims to have been the first place in the world to have had a Christmas tree; according to locals, at Christmas time in 1510, a pine tree was set up in Riga's market square, decorated with paper flowers as the town celebrated, then set on fire.
There's a lot less fire involved in Riga's Christmas celebrations these days, but the beautiful old town makes a very festive setting for the quaint Christmas market selling Latvian handicrafts and warming Christmas drinks.
Beautiful Budapest is stunning all year round, but it really comes into its own at Christmas-time, when the two Christmas markets set up and Budapest's historic buildings are festooned with fairy lights.
At Budapest's Christmas markets you'll find gorgeous handcrafted gifts and delicious food; the stall-holders here take pride in the quality of the goods on sale. Take your time wandering through the stalls, nibbling on traditional Hungarian chimney cake as you choose the perfect thoughtful gift for a loved one, then warm up in one of Budapest's traditional steamy thermal baths.
While you might associate Christmas markets more with the cities of southern Germany, the people of Hamburg in the north have thoroughly embraced the tradition. During November and December, Christmas markets spring up all over the city - with a range of different themes.
The main Hamburg Christmas market takes place at the City Hall underneath a huge Christmas tree and has a traditional feel, while the shopping district's Winterwald (Winter Forest) Christmas Market is themed as an enchanted Christmas forest, complete with magical woodland creatures.
If you're in the mood for a traditional Christmas market, you'll find plenty of festive spirit in Cologne. Set underneath the huge Cologne cathedral, it's difficult to imagine a more impressive location for a Christmas market. Cologne's main Christmas market consists of a maze of brightly-lit stalls selling traditional German Christmas market gifts, with plenty of filling authentic German Christmas food and drinks.
As well as the Christmas market underneath the cathedral, you'll also find a number of other Christmas markets around town. Some of our favourites are the Christmas market in Cologne's old town, the market in the Stadtgarten park and another set of stalls right next to Cologne's chocolate museum.
Sofia is one of the newer Christmas market destinations but its combination of Bulgarian traditions and German theme means it should definitely be on your radar. You'll find the main German-style Christmas market in front of the grand National Theatre, while other locations around the city including Sofia's market hall host popular Christmas craft festivals - perfect for finding artisan jewellery or handmade wooden toys.
The Christmas markets in Madrid date back to the 19th century, when the first festive stalls were set up on the beautiful Plaza Mayor. These days you'll find over 100 stalls set up in this grand pedestrianised square, selling gifts alongside jokes for the Day of the Holy Innocents, Spain's version of April Fool's Day which falls on 28th December. Don't miss the nougat - it's a traditional Christmas food in this part of Spain.
If you've been searching for the perfect present for the hipster in your life, try the Mercadillo del Gato, a collection of stalls where Spanish designers sell unique clothes, accessories and art, or the Mercado de Motores, a monthly pop-up market which takes place in Madrid's railway museum.
Fairytale Luxembourg's spires, clifftop old town, grand squares and cosy lanes were tailor-made for Christmas, so it's not surprising that the city embraces the festive season in a big way. As well as inviting Christmas markets, you'll also find a festival of lights, a Ferris wheel and Christmas parades.