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Looking for unique Christmas gifts? Head to the European markets

28th November 2012 Print

As the European-style Christmas markets start appearing in British towns and cities, research has revealed that 85 per cent of Brits have never travelled abroad to experience the real thing.

The survey, commissioned by holiday company Superbreak found that 43 per cent of us enjoy visiting the UK versions, as a great opportunity to choose unique Christmas gifts for family and friends. More than half of those questioned said it was a good way to get into the Christmas spirit.

Jane Atkins at Superbreak said: “Most people are now familiar with the imported Christmas markets they find in the UK’s major towns and cities, but only 15 per cent of us have actually been to a European market.

“Whether you choose to escape for a few days or designate a weekend to Christmas shopping, as one in ten of us do, why not take the chance to see somewhere new by booking a European short break to a Christmas market and try the real thing?”

Choosing your perfect shopping city break

Paris: In addition to the exhaustive list of chic Parisian shopping destinations, visit one of the numerous Christmas markets, ranging from the 10,000m2 plaza in La Defense to the more intimate surroundings of Place Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Also worth visiting for some interesting Christmas presents is Maison de l'Alsace (situated within the Champs-Elysees markets), a temporary boutique offering traditional Alsatian Christmas goodies.

Lille: The 83 wooden chalets of Lille Christmas market are overlooked by a giant Ferris Wheel on the Place Rihour. The Christmas shopping experience extends all the way through the city, with local shops all fiercely competing to have the ‘best-dressed’ window displays.

Bruges: The Christmas markets open on the 23rd November until 1st January 2013 in Simon Stevin Plein and Markt Square, Bruges. Also open is the Snow & Ice Sculpture Festival, sculpted from over 300,000 kilograms of ice and 400 tons of pure snow, all housed in a thermally-controlled tent.

Brussels: Visit the spectacular Winter Wonders Markets in Brussels, located in the centre of the city at the Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons. As well as the traditional market stalls there are fairground attractions, an ice rink, and a nightly light show set against the backdrop of the giant Christmas tree on the Grand-Place.

Ostend: For a festive shopping experience in the province of West Flanders, visit  Ostend’s International Christmas Market on Wapenplein, a large illuminated square in the centre of the city. The markets showcase the national specialities of a huge variety of countries - from Lapland to Lithuania - meaning there are countless opportunities to find individual gifts for friends and loved ones at home.

Rotterdam: The largest of Rotterdam’s Christmas markets is situated at Binnenrotte, which usually houses the biggest weekly produce market in Rotterdam. In winter, however, the square is transformed into a romantic festive experience offering gifts, Christmas trees and decorations. Visitors not already familiar with the national treat must try ‘Poffertjes’; soft, fluffy Dutch pancakes found in the traditionally-styled booths around the market.

Ypres: The Christmas stalls on Grote Markt in Ypres are decorated in the style of mini Swiss chalets, offering a constantly changing selection of jewellery, decorations and gifts. The large ice rink within the market is also hugely popular, attracting over 11,000 skaters every year. Ypres itself has a rich history, having been involved in long periods of trench warfare during WWI, so those tired of shopping can visit one of the numerous heritage sites dotted in and around the town.

Amsterdam: The open air neighbourhood markets in the Dutch capital are one of the best ways to soak up the culture of the city and most of the stalls remain open rain or shine. The market at the Albert Cuypstraat is the place to be if you are on the hunt for toys for the little ones, unique clothing or seasonal snacks. The floating Bloemenmarkt is also worth a look even if you are not wanting to buy as the vast array of colourful blooms are a sight for sore eyes.

Antwerp: Running from 10th December to 8th January, the 100 stall-strong Christmas market in Antwerp dates all the way back to 1989 and still attracts over 850,000 visitors each year. Situated close to the tallest Gothic church in Europe the picturesque setting makes doing your Christmas shopping here a must for all culture vultures. The market itself - described as 'enchanting' by those who visit it - specialises in crafts, decorations and gourmet treats, but if you are looking to splurge, a trip to the nearby diamond district where you will find some 2,500 diamond shops and companies is a must.An ice rink nearby also offers a distraction for the kids - or adventurous adults!

Ghent: Ghent in Flanders is the ideal location if you want to break with convention. One of the lesser known Christmas markets, Ghent(9th - 30th December) is worth a visit if you are looking for one-offs not to be found elsewhere and specialises in cards, candles and crafts. The traditional cobbled streets and winding canals mean that Ghent offers as much as a city to visitors as it does a market.

The Hague: The charming holiday bazaar is renowned for an array of homemade arts and crafts at a bargain price compared to elsewhere in the city. In addition to the shops and stalls, on 17th November the festive season really kicks off with a visit from Sinterklass himself! The Dutch Patron Saint of Children will make regular appearances as part of markets, parades and steamboat tours and will bring gifts for children along the way.

Leuven: Leuven Christmas market(12th - 23rd December) is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and at its conception was one of the pioneers of the country. Nowadays, festive markets are growing in popularity, but Leuven maintains its rustic charm. Every year the market sponsors a different charity so you can enjoy your Christmas shopping whilst also knowing that you are helping support the local community and a good cause.

Liege: Due to its popularity the market in Liege (30th November - 30th December)has grown to be one of the largest and longest running in Belgium. With the addition of a new outdoor ice rink, the festive occasion now has even more attractions to choose from in addition to its wooden chalets filled with European delights.

Eurostar to Bruges - £179
Based on: 2 nights, 04 Dec 12, Standard Class return Eurostar travel + 3* Leonardo Hotel Brugge with full breakfast & free tickets to the Chocolate Museum

Eurostar to Paris - £159pp
Based on: 1 Night, 12-Dec-12, Standard Class return Eurostar travel + 4* Crowne Plaza Republique with full breakfast & free River Cruise

To book, visit

Prices subject to availability and correct at time of publication.