Europe's top 10 Christmas markets
TRADITIONAL Christmas markets, originating in Europe but now popping up all over the world, provide a celebratory atmosphere and seasonal delicacies to enjoy while shopping for gifts.
Travel website VirtualTourist.com has compiled a list of the top Christmas markets to check out.
1. VIENNA, AUSTRIA
Rathausplatz, the square in front of the city hall, is home to Christkindlmarkt, a traditional Christmas market with more than 150 stalls selling gifts, Christmas decorations, gluhwein (mulled wine) and hot chestnuts.
Two other popular Christmas venues are the Old Viennese Christmas Market on Freyung, which is more traditional and sells handicrafts, and the Christmas Market in front of Schonbrunn Palace, which offers the imperial backdrop and hosts a New Year's market, staying open until Jan 1.
2. SALZBURG, AUSTRIA
One of Europe's oldest markets, the Christkindlmarkt in front of the Salzburg cathedral is a more intimate affair than some of the larger city's markets. The town's baroque architecture and looming Hohensalzburg Fortress give it a fairy-tale feeling, heightened by the sparkling lights and holiday garlands.
3. MUNICH, GERMANY
While many people associate the Bavarian capital with Oktoberfest, Munich also holds a fantastic Christmas market in the centre of the city on the Marienplatz. The market surrounds an enormous Christmas tree, which glitters with almost 2,500 lights.
While sipping on gluhwein or beer, visitors can find many traditional Bavarian gifts, like wood carvings and gingerbread called lebkuchen. There are also smaller themed markets throughout the city - one unique to Munich is the Manger Market, which sells the pieces and important components for those who want to build an authentic manger.
4. PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
The two best Christmas markets are held in the Old Town Square and on the long slope of Wenceslas Square. While the markets feature the expected wooden toys and holiday decor, they also sell Czech specialities, like glasswork, blacksmith's wares and ceramics.
The food is also slightly different from the German standard: although blood sausages, gingerbread and grog are offered, there are also vendors with corn on the cob and trdelnik (cooked dough with cinnamon and sugar).
5. DRESDEN, GERMANY
The Striezelmarkt on Dresden's Altmarkt Square is one of Germany's oldest fairs with a particularly unique setting - the town erects a 14.6m-high wooden "Christmas Pyramid" in the centre of the market.
The market's name is derived from stollen, the Christmas bread, which is also known as striezel in this area of Germany.
The area is also known for pflaumentoffel, a good-luck charm made from dried plums, and its handicrafts that come from all over Saxony.
6. STRASBOURG, FRANCE
For centuries, the French-German border has swayed to either side of the Alsace region, so it makes sense Alsace's capital, Strasbourg, would have the oldest and most famous Christmas market in France, the Christkindelsmärik on Place Broglie.
The city's Great Christmas Tree on Place Kleber is a spectacle that shouldn't be missed.
Markets in Strasbourg also offer spicy hot orange juice, mulled wine and some of the region's food products, including Alsace wines, bredle Christmas biscuits and foie gras.
7. BUDAPEST, HUNGARY
Located on Vorosmarty Square in the Pest district of Budapest, the city's Christmas fair is a great opportunity to experience traditional Hungarian food, folk dances and live music.
Check out the variety of hot drinks, including a spicy hot apple juice and hot-chocolate punch, and the chance to try Hungarian baked goods, like langos (fried bread with a variety of toppings) strudels and toki pompos (oven-baked dough).
8. LILLE, FRANCE
Around the Christmas market, the whole town is covered in a huge crown of garlands. The city's primary market is located on Place Rihour, where 80 wooden chalets teem with gift ideas, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food.
On the nearby Grand Place, a 50m-high Big Wheel lights up the square and provides visitors with an amazing view of the city. As a city with Eurostar direct services, visiting Lille is an easy stop whether you are en route to Paris, Brussels or London.
9. BRUGES, BELGIUM
Surrounded by the city's spectacular mediaeval architecture, Bruges' Christmas Market is distinguished by an ice rink. For children, the city also hosts a Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival, and it is only a five-minute walk from the Christmas Market and skating rink.
10. LONDON, ENGLAND
Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park is probably the best-known market in London, with more than 200 wooden chalets offering handmade gifts and decorations.
The food-and-drink selection at Winter Wonderland is the most extensive of any spot on the list, with options including a Bavarian village, an outdoor fire pit, and even a bar modelled after an alpine ski lodge.
It also offers a 60m-high Observation Wheel, Britain's largest ice rink and carnival rides. Another option for ice skating is the Skate at Somerset House Ice Rink, which has DJs spinning tunes after dark.