Christmas is just around the corner. Our thoughts will soon turn to tree decorations, the Christmas Day menu and the presents that Father Christmas or the Three Kings of the Orient will be bringing. And to get your Christmas shopping off to a great start, there’s nothing better than rummaging around the Christmas street markets that are held in towns and cities all over the world.

Christmas shopping is a great excuse for taking a holiday. The origins of these markets lie in Europe, especially in Germany, and date back to the 14th century. Cologne is said to have the best street market in Germany, although the truth is that there are 4 separate markets scattered around the town, the most spectacular of which is Am Dom, held in the square of the same name opposite Cologne Cathedral. However, Dresden boasts the country’s oldest market; situated in Striezelmarkt, it has around 250 stalls. Berlin’s Christmas market is another impressive sight, with the stalls huddling around the Kaiser Wilhelm Church.

In Copenhagen, the market is held in the grounds of the gorgeous Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park in the world.  Vienna, with its famous coffee shops and delicious cakes and pastries, served all year round, is also home to no fewer than three Christmas markets, each with a special attraction that inevitably fills visitors with Christmas cheer. But if Father Christmas was guided by his taste buds, then there’s no doubt about it: Brussels would be one of the first stops on his Christmas Eve route.   Prague’s two most famous Christmas markets are held around a giant Christmas tree that stands in the square of the Old Town. Ornately decorated stalls sell anything and everything, from Bohemian glass and puppets, to cakes, pastries and plaited bread loaves.  Occupying one of the city’s prime locations, opposite the imposing Strasbourg Cathedral, we find France’s biggest and oldest Christmas market known as Christkindelsmarik. London is renowned for its markets that take place all year round, although visitors will also find several traditional Christmas markets, the most popular of which are in Southbank and Hyde Park.

In Hungary, Christmas is the most important celebration of the year, due to the fact that it coincides with the Feast of Saint Stephen, the founder of the Hungarian state.  The country’s best-known Christmas market is held in Budapest, although the markets in Győr, Pécs and Sopron are also well worth a visit.

The Christmas spirit pervades the air in the streets of Croatia, where numerous markets take place.  The most traditional market in Zagreb is held in Ban Jelacic Square. There visitors can buy Christmas decorations, hot sweet wine, local crafts and all types of delicious local Christmas fare.

Thanks to its ancient ties with Austria and Germany, the most authentic Italian Christmas street markets are to be found in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige. There visitors will find several large markets in the historic quarters of towns such as Bressanone or Brixen, Brunico, Merano, Vipiteno, Trent and Arco.  However, other Italian cities including Rome, Florence, Bologna, Naples and Verona also hold picturesque Christmas markets.

People in Spain have a special affection for Christmas time; elaborate nativity scenes are traditionally set up in almost every home together with the Christmas tree. Spain’s biggest Christmas market is held in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor.  The Christmas market in Barcelona, which is connected to the Feast of Saint Lucia, is also an eye-catching event. Yet throughout Spain, you’ll find traditional markets lined with stalls selling Christmas decorations, figures for the nativity scenes, Christmas trees and typical sweets.

Although not quite so traditional as in Europe, on the other side of the Atlantic Father Christmas won’t find it too hard to add a few markets to his Christmas shopping trail. One such market is to be found in Chicago, in the heart of the Chicagoland district, a sight not to be missed.

In short, Christmas markets can be found around the world in all shapes and sizes, although Europe definitely takes the cake. So where shall we start?