If you're looking for somewhere magical to visit this festive season, here's our top market picks from across the Continent.
The magical and medieval Christmas market in Bruges
Bruges is well known for its medieval architecture and pretty cobbled streets, and unsurprisingly, it's even more magical at Christmas time! If you're heading to Belgium this winter, then you simply must visit the Bruges Christmas Market - I always make sure that I get there to stock up on unusual souvenirs for all the family. The market opens its doors between 21 November and 2 January, giving you plenty of time to visit.
This unique ancient Flemish city is transformed during the winter with an ice rink built in the centre, surrounded by festive food and gift stalls on the market square that are packed with traditional wooden children's toys, gifts, confectionary and more. The horse and carriage rides ensure that this medieval city really does come to life during the festive period!
There are also several smaller Christmas markets in Bruges, giving you plenty of festive, fun-filled places to explore! Bruges is home to some mouth-watering culinary delights and stunning scenery, so you can soak up the local delicacies and rich culture this winter. And there's nothing more indulgent than Belgium's famous hot chocolate!
With a journey time across the Channel of just 35-minutes and only an hour's drive from Calais, Bruges is the perfect location for a quick Christmas escape!
Bruges at Christmas
Valkenburg's Christmas in a cave
If you've ever been to Valkenburg, you'll probably remember the picturesque scenery and attractive hilly countryside. Known as a 'biking city', it's a great place for cycling tours and has been a stage finish site for the Tour de France twice. But this small historical town is even more impressive over the festive season.
Boasting one of the oldest and largest underground Christmas markets in Europe, 'Christmas Gemeentegrot' takes place in the Municipal Caves underneath the famous Cauberg between 14 November and 23 December. The caves are transformed into a spectacular Santa's Grotto with impressive light displays, gifts stalls and Christmas trees. If you've been to lots of Christmas markets all over Europe, you'll be looking for something a little different this year and Valkenburg's underground cave market offers just that!
While you're in the area, don't miss the Christmas parade that takes place every Wednesday and Saturday during the festive season. You'll be filled with Christmas cheer when you see illuminated floats, dancers and Father Christmas pass through the town.
Round off your trip in Santa's village with Europe's largest singing Christmas tree, complete with 5,000 lights and 10 singing candles, and authentic wooden chalets selling festive fritters, Christmas crepes and a glass of Glühwein!
This unique Christmas market in the Netherlands is only three hours from Eurotunnel le Shuttle's French terminal, so you're not far away from your very own winter wonderland!
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A historical and cultural Christmas in Strasbourg
If you're looking for a Christmas market this year that's steeped in history and culture, then Strasbourg's 'Christkindelsmärik' is the one for you. After taking the super-quick 35-minute journey to the Continent on Eurotunnel le Shuttle, why not drive through the picturesque scenery to Strasbourg for a short break in the beautiful Alsace region.
Dubbed the 'Capital of Christmas', Strasbourg is home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in France dating all the way back to 1570!
The market itself is impressive with 300 chalets spread over 11 sites in the city centre, making it one of the largest in Europe. But it's not just the sheer size that makes it stand out as Europe's finest - the range of arts, crafts, food and traditional decorations is like no other.
Strasbourg is also known for its extensive cultural programme including Christmas concerts, exhibitions, conferences and shows - all worth a visit! The gospel singers and choir groups are truly amazing, and are a great way to get you into the Christmas spirit!
The market is open from 28 November until 31 December, giving you plenty of time to check it out and stock up on local Strasbourg souvenirs.
Dreaming of a contemporary, cultural Christmas?
France is well known for its traditional Christmas markets, with hundreds of people bustling around festive stalls and the distinct aroma of mulled wine in the air. These markets are definitely worth a visit, but you may be looking for a more contemporary Christmas experience. If you're in the Provence area, why not visit Arles and experience something totally different?
In Arles, Christmas is celebrated in a more unusual fashion during its 'Drôles de Noëls', which translates into 'Funny Christmas'. In the week leading up to Christmas day, a spectacular street-art party takes place in the city centre, complete with a range of entertainment including circus performers, singers, magicians, firework displays and loads more! This fantastic festival brings together young and old, traditional and contemporary, to deliver over 100 free performances over four days, and this year is their tenth anniversary.
The atmosphere is electric and what's more, it's all completely free! If you're staying in the Provence region or simply passing through at Christmas time, be sure to stop off and be amazed by the magnificent shows that are taking place as a fresh alternative to the Christmas market.
Arles also offers traditional Christmas cheer; if you like to get your shopping finished early, visit the 'Provence Prestige'; an early Christmas market that takes place in the Palais des Congrès between 20 - 24 November. Around 150 exhibitors from Provence showcase their festive gifts and local delicacies. You'll get the chance to learn about local artisans, producers and entrepreneurs and buy exclusive souvenirs!
So whether you're interested in the local art and culture or you're seeking an alterative Christmas celebration, Arles has something for you!
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Enjoy Christmas with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle
With Eurotunnel Le Shuttle, it couldn't be easier to explore the Christmas markets of Europe. It takes just 35 minutes to cross the Channel from the UK.
Weihnachtsmarkt Jena, 2007 © Rene Schwietzke
Bruges Noel 31 sur 41 <2009> © Rod-20
Strasbourg, Christkindelsmärik © dierk schaefer
Christmas Market - Cave Entrance © C.M.FRIESE photography