The Christmas markets cruising season will soon be in full swing. When you’ve had your fill of glühwein in souvenir mugs it’s easy to sidestep Europe’s more touristy markets to shop for vintage goods, contemporary designs and quality foodstuffs.
Want to make your money go further? Consider making those gift-list ticks outside the eurozone, in Prague or Budapest. Here’s our guide to alternative Christmas shopping in some of Europe’s most festive cities.
While this jewel of the Danube’s most famous festive market is on Vörösmarty Square, the freshest designers in art and fashion ply their wares daily in December at the Budapest Design Terminal. Snap up original artworks, homewares and fashion at this Bauhaus-style former bus depot on Erzsébet Square.
On December 3, 10 and 17, drop in on the WAMP design fair at Millenáris exhibition space for fashion, jewellery and homewares. Foodies will love trying stuffed cabbage, goulash and perhaps even rooster testicle stew from stalls in the city’s Vörösmarty Square. Visit the Central Market Hall for wines, spices, preserves and cured meats.
What to buy: Strings of dried paprika for tree decorations. Viking Cruises (020 8780 7995; vikingrivercruises.co.uk) offers an eight-day Romantic Danube cruise from Nuremberg to Budapest, December 10, 2017, from £2,395pp including flights.
The source of many Christmas traditions, Germany is a festive-cruise favourite. Cologne and Berlin dominate, but Hamburg, on the Elbe, has attractive canals and edgier shopping options. Swap fairy lights for the Reeperbahn district’s Santa Pauli Christmas market. Expect candles and chocolate in erotic shapes, saucy messages iced on gingerbread and even a family business selling hand-carved dildos.
Despite its seedy image, this area where The Beatles spent their early days has more than its fair share of classier music venues now.
If you’d prefer to see baubles hung from traditional appendages, head for the City Hall market or Winterwald temporary forest.
What to buy: Printen gingerbread cookies, stollen cake, silverware. Newmarket Holidays (0330 160 7700; newmarketholidays.co.uk) offers a four-night German Christmas Markets and Amsterdam cruise from Tilbury, December 14, 2017, from £419pp.
Prague, on the Vltava river, looks even more picturesque than usual when Christmas markets fill Old Town Square and the nearby Wenceslas Square.
Garnet jewellery and coloured Bohemian glassware are good buys but best purchased in shops in the Old Town and neighbouring Nové Město and Malá Strana. Visit the Mucha Museum (pictured below) for art-nouveau-themed gifts, including replica jewellery. Christmas markets sell roast ham and warm honey wine, but for more variety visit the farmers’ markets. Taste of Prague Food Tours (tasteofprague.com) recommends the cheese stand of the Krasolesi farm at Naplavka.
What to buy: Absinthe is ubiquitous; the best brands are French and Swiss. Avalon Waterways (0800 668 1801; avaloncruises.co.uk) offers a nine-day Christmastime on the Danube cruise from Vienna to Prague, December 3 and 15, 2017, from £1,351pp including flights.
Most festive cruises to Copenhagen call at several Scandinavian ports. You’ll find hygge, the Danish concept of cosiness, in abundance at seasonal markets. For gifts and homewares that channel Scandi chic, swap the stalls at Tivoli Gardens and Kronborg Castle for interiors and craft shops such as Hay House (pictured below) on Strøget or Designer Zoo at Vesterbrogade 137. For a fair with a souk vibe, try The Grey Hall in Freetown Christiania.
The Meatpacking District is a fashionable place to eat, not least at foodie weekend market Kødbyens Mad & Marked.
What to buy: Danish poster art. Saga Cruises (0808 274 4108; travel.saga.co.uk) offers a nine-night Scandinavian Festive Markets round trip from Southampton, December 8, 2017, from £1,697pp.
The festive focus in Amsterdam, often visited on Rhine cruises, is the traditional Wintermarket and ice rink on Museum Square – handy for the famous galleries. For art without multimillion-pound price tags catch the Dutch designers’ Museum Market there on December 18, or the Sunday markets at Spui square.
Westergasfabriek, the converted gas station that now houses restaurants, bars and clubs, is hosting advent pop-ups including the Funky Xmas Market and food and vintage stalls. Tuck into waffles, sausages and oliebolen (a doughnut/dumpling hybrid), from Christmas stalls around Leidseplein Square or drop into one of Amsterdam’s pancake houses.
What to buy: Spring bulbs packed for export at the famous floating flower market on the Singel canal. Decorations from Christmas Palace next door. Book it Telegraph Travel (0333 122 8355; telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises) has a 13-night Christmas Markets cruise aboard Scenic Amber departing Budapest on November 30, 2017, and visiting Vienna, Amsterdam and German ports including Cologne, from £4,890pp excluding flights.
Several design markets ring the changes in Vienna, a favourite on Danube itineraries. The stalls at Maria-Theresien-Platz and Rathausplatz are traditional honeypots, but for vintage finds and upcycled goods try the Saturday Moonlight Bazaar at Ottakringer Brewery. For gifts that are bang up-to-date, find contemporary handicrafts, textiles and fashions at Kunst & Kram Christmas Market on the second and third weekends in December.
Offering old-town atmosphere without the kitsch, Spittelberg market has culinary and arts and crafts gifts. Foodies should visit the Naschmarkt for wine, olive oils, sweets and pop-up restaurants, while the Museum Quarter offers seasonal street bars and DJs.
What to buy: Quality Asian goods and local fare at Spittelberg market.
Uniworld (0808 159 4125; uniworld.com) offers an eight-day European Holiday Markets cruise from Nuremberg to Vienna (or reverse), December 7 and 14, 2017, from £2,329pp cruise only….
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