November 12, 2015

Lights at the Avignon Christmas Market © Jean-louis Zimmerman

While Christmas markets in Vienna, Munich and Cologne draw in the large crowds year after year, it’s worth looking out for some of the smaller Christmas markets, when planning your winter trip to Europe. My family and I visit France about twice a month, so I’ve been able to find some really lovely markets in France and wider Europe, which are all fabulous alternatives if you’re looking for a smaller-scale Christmas market. Here are some of my favourites.

Avignon, France

Taking place every year from late November until the start of January, the Avignon Christmas market boasts endearing wooden chalets, which take up most of the Place de l'Horloge. My kids particularly love the carousel, which is beautifully lit and fills the atmosphere with a festive charm.

Although closed on Christmas day, Midnight Mass and other Christmas celebrations take place at Avignon Cathedral on 24th and 25th December, so if you’re staying in the city over the Christmas period you can get involved in everything going on. I particularly enjoy walking around the market, looking at the wonderful Provençal nativity scenes while obsessing over the smell of freshly baked goodies such as gingerbread and fougasse (a Provençal bread).

Mulhouse, France

In the south of France’s Alsace region, Mulhouse is the perfect place to spend a long weekend over Christmas. Bursting with charm, the old part of town boasts tall, narrow and colourful buildings, which are a picture-perfect sight when lit by the Christmas market in the evening. Although growing in popularity since I first visited many years ago, the market is still a quieter version compared to its counterparts in Colmar or Strasbourg.

One of my favourite things to do at this market includes taking my family for a ride on the large Ferris wheel, known as Les Étofféeries. My kids also love the huge Christmas tree, which stands at around 30 metres tall and is beautifully decorated. The market takes place this year between 21st November and 27th December.

 Mulhouse in France’s Alsace region is full of quaint charm.
Mulhouse in France’s Alsace region is full of quaint charm. © Jack Torcello

Freiburg, Germany

Freiburg in Germany is known for being a cultural diverse city, with a fascinating history dating back to 1120. Despite being in Germany, Freiburg is right on the south-western border so it’s easy to get to, and is surrounded by the beautiful Black Forest. When visiting Freiburg, I love taking my family around the many historic squares that the old quarter has to offer, and I always take the opportunity to teach my kids a little about the city’s history. 2015 will be Freiburg’s 43rd Christmas market, and there will be around 130 individual stalls selling wonderful crafts and yummy festive treats. The market will take place between 23rd November and 23rd December 2015.

 The Christmas lights at Freiburg.
The Christmas lights at Freiburg. © Benediktv

Aarhus, Denmark

A pleasant alternative to Copenhagen’s famous Tivoli Gardens market, Aarhus in Denmark hosts its own market which is well worth a visit. Held indoors at the Ridehuset, this market is one of my favourites, as you get to escape the cold weather while enjoying all the fantastic Danish handicrafts on offer. One of the smaller markets on my list, there are usually just over 80 stalls to be found in Aarhus, all of them selling lovely homemade Danish goods. I love getting a coffee from the café and sitting down with my family to enjoy the live Christmas music before filling up on baked Danish treats!

Valkenburg aan de Geul, Netherlands

Just east of Belgium is the municipality of Valkenburg aan de Geul in the Netherlands, home to one of the most charming Christmas markets in Europe. Taking place this year between 13th November and 23rd December, this cosy Christmas market takes place in the Velvet Cave, an underground passageway connected to the town’s castle ruins. When I first went to the market over 10 years ago, it had just a few dozen shops. This year, however, the market will boast over 50 stalls, and you’ll also be able to tour the cave’s mural paintings and 18th century chapel.

 The festive café at the Velvet Cave market in the Netherlands.
The festive café at the Velvet Cave market in the Netherlands. © CMFRIESE

Sterzing, Italy

In northern Italy, you’ll find the picturesque commune of Sterzing. Boasting a historic high tower, the Zwölferturm, and several beautiful chapels and churches, Sterzing really is the perfect place to have a Christmas market. The market takes over the town’s old quarter, and my kids always enjoy the opportunity to make their own Christmas decorations at some of the stalls. There are paintings for sale from local artists, and freshly baked goods fill the air with a mouth-watering scent. This year, the market will be open between 27th November and 6th January, so if you’re busy over the Christmas period you’ll still have time to visit in the New Year.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle you can get from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes, giving you more time to explore Europe’s little known Christmas markets.

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