We know it's a little early to break out the tinsel and mulled wine but if you want to visit a Christmas market in Europe or beyond this year, you'll need to get planning now. Forget the Oxford Street lights: to immerse yourself in a truly festive experience, you need to be admiring hand-crafted glass baubles over fresh pancakes and a glass of glögg. And while there's plenty on offer for traditionalists, the popularity of Christmas markets in countries such as Dubai (where you can pick up designer bargains) and Lantau Island (overlooking the skyline of Hong Kong) means the genre is constantly evolving to offer new attractions and unusual gifts. Come check out our pick of the world's finest Christmas markets, from sugar coated pastries in Prague to original glass steins in Chicago:
Prague Christmas markets, Czech Republic
Prague’s Christmas markets (known as Vánoční trhy) are some of the quaintest around. The largest ones can be found in Old Town Square and King Wenceslas Square but there’s a smaller one in Republic Square. Visitors flock to the markets for the locally-made glass, wooden toys, embroidery and scented candles and there’s plenty to stave off the inevitable hunger pangs, including roasted hams and trdelník (sugar coated pastries), all of which can be washed down with a glass of svařené víno (mulled wine).
Christmas City, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, US
What could feel more Christmassy than a trip to a Christmas market held in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania? More than one million people visit here every year, from 21 November. There are 35 traditional wooden huts selling a range of festive items, and plenty of bratwurst and gluhwein to enjoy. If you're feeling creative, stop by one of the workshops where you can make your own Christmas wreath or blow your own glass Christmas tree decoration.
La Fête dé Noué, St Helier, Jersey
Jersey's Christmas market has been taking place for 14 years. This year's event kicks off on 30 November when hundreds of local school children will lead a lantern procession through the streets of St Helier. The market will have a Victorian theme, but there will also be a Le Marchi Nouormand (Norman French Market) and nightly screenings of Christmas films.
Tivoli Christmas market, Copenhagen, Denmark
The Christmas market at Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens opens on 15 November. There are over 50 Christmas stalls and every evening the Tivoli illuminations light up Tivoli Lake. The emphasis is on “hygge” (Danish for cosiness) with plenty of local food and drink, including glögg and æbleskiver (mulled wine and traditional pancakes). Keep an eye out for the reindeer.
Hong Kong Winterfest Christmas markets, Hong Kong
Hong Kong's Winterfest Christmas markets are big, bright and full of Christmas cheer. There are several markets: the one in North Statue Square is one of the largest and runs from 29 November to 1 January, while the one at Hong Kong Disneyland is ideal for younger visitors - expect fake snow, lots of festive food and some great Christmas shopping opportunities. Visitors to Ngong Ping 360 Glittering Christmas Village on Lantau Island can expect stunning views over the city, and those checking out the Christmas markets held on the famous Peak can make a festive wish at the market's Twinkle Twinkle Wishing Star.
Maastricht Christmas market, Maastricht, Holland
The Christmas market in Vrijthof square is one of the world's most beautiful, thanks to a project which commissions local artists to decorate the area with different types of lighting. There's also a huge ice rink, a Ferris wheel and a beautiful carousel. There are several smaller markets in the streets surrounding the square - keep an eye out for the stalls selling delicious local delicacies such as oliebollen and poffertjes. The market opens on 30 November and finishes on 30 December.
Christkindlmarket, Chicago, US
Chicago's Christmas market was inspired by the one in Nuremberg, Germany, which first took place in 1545. Until now, the star of the show has been Nuremberg's Christkind (the traditional gift-giver in Germanic countries) but in 2013 the Christmas market will have its very own Christkind for the first time. Many of the stall holders at the market travel to Chicago from Germany, so expect lots of traditional German goods including wooden toys, beautiful glass steins and cuckoo clocks.
Christkindlesmarkt, Nuremberg, Germany
This German Christmas market is the world's oldest, and dates back to the 16th century. The opening ceremony takes place on 29 November, when the market's Christkind appears on a balcony of the Church of our Lady and declares the market open. In total, there will be almost 200 stalls crammed into the city's main market square, and there's a smaller children's Christmas market just a short walk away. There's even an ancient team of wardens whose job it is to preserve the markets' authenticity, whether it's ensuring all the products are locally made or prohibiting the use of piped music.
Bath Christmas market, Bath, UK
Bath Christmas market, which starts on 28 November, is the UK’s largest. Located in the shadow of the town’s Abbey, the market has over 150 wooden huts selling locally-made food and handmade gifts. This year's visitors can compete to win a trip to Lapland by uploading an image of the market to Facebook.
Orchard Road Christmas market, Singapore
Fancy Christmas in the tropics? Singapore's Orchard Road Christmas market was recently voted one of the world's top ten Christmas markets by Lonely Planet. It's definitely one of the most spectacular, thanks to Orchard Road's annual Best Dressed Building competition which is held at the same time. The entire length of Orchard Road is bedecked with Christmas lights and there will be stalls selling Christmas decorations and handicrafts.
Cologne Christmas markets, Cologne, Germany
There are seven Christmas markets in Cologne, and they all open on the last Monday before Advent. Cologne's markets are famous for their gingerbread house-style huts, piled high with baumschmuck (tree decorations), nativity figures and nutcrackers. The largest market can be found in the shadow of the Cologne cathedral, but the one in Stadtgarten, Cologne's oldest park, is also worth a visit. Visitors flock here to watch glassblowers, blacksmiths and wreath-makers work their magic.
Schönbrunn Palace market, Vienna, Austria
This Christmas market starts on 23 November and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. There are 80 stall holders from Austria and surrounding countries, all selling their wares to a soundtrack provided by local brass bands, choirs and gospel groups. St Nicholas himself will be putting in an appearance on 6 December, and there are various workshops where visitors can learn how to make traditional Austrian biscuits and tree decorations.
Valkenburg Christmas market, Limburg, Holland
For a Christmas market with a difference, head to the small town of Valkenburg where you'll find a Christmas market in a cave. Visitors can sign up for walking tours of the cave, which is located beneath the only hilltop castle in the Netherlands. The 60 stalls sell everything from elaborate Christmas wreaths and nativity sculptures to religious trinkets and murals by local artists. The market is open from 15 November to 23 December.
Salzburg Christmas market, Salzburg, Austria
Salzburg's two main Christmas markets open on 21 November and can be found in Cathedral Square and Residence Square. The small wooden huts are strung with beautiful white fairy lights, and there's an enormous range of products to splash the cash on, from delicious handmade chocolates to jewellery and Christmas tree decorations. The markets will be opened by the Archbishop who will also bless the market's Advent wreaths.
Plaisirs d'Hiver (Winter Wonders), Brussels, Belgium
The Christmas market in Brussels is one of Europe’s largest, with over 200 stallholders. There’s an enormous chalet in which visitors can enjoy raclette and fondue, and a huge Ferris wheel and ice rink. The market, which is held in the city's Grand Place and the surrounding streets, starts on 29 November. There are over 240 stalls, and nightly light shows which project various patterns onto the beautiful buildings of the Grand Place.
Dubai Christmas Festival market, Dubai
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dubai's Christmas market is about as far removed from your traditional Christmas market as it's possible to get. Instead of quaint huts selling handmade crafts and mulled wine, visitors will find concessions from global brands and some of the world's biggest designer names offering huge discounts. Some of Dubai's top restaurants will be hosting food tasting sessions, and there will also be a pantomime performance of Peter Pan. It's a short and sweet affair, lasting only from 5 to 7 December and located at Dubai's Media City Amphitheatre.
Helsinki Christmas markets, Helsinki, Finland
The largest Christmas markets in Helsinki can be found in Senate Square and Vanha Ylioppilastalo but from 30 November, Aleksanterinkatu street in the city centre will be the setting for Christmas World, where visitors will find a smaller Christmas market, a Santa’s grotto and cookie-decorating workshops.
Stockholm Skansen Christmas market, Stockholm, Sweden
Head to Sweden's old Town - Gamla Stan - from 23 November for one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets. The market has been held here since 1903 and is famous for its sweet treats. The stalls sell everything from traditional reindeer sausages (sorry, Rudolph) and spices to marzipan sweets, jams and marmalade but you'll also find a huge collection of Christmas tree decorations, embroidery and glassware.
Vancouver Christmas market, Vancouver, Canada
Head to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza from 22 November for one of North America's most authentic Christmas markets. The market's wooden huts are decorated with fragrant pine branches and there's a beautiful carousel for younger visitors. The vendors all specialise in authentic German crafts, and include Käthe Wohlfahrt, which is Germany's oldest Christmas decoration company, Lauscha Glass Ornaments from Dresden, and Candy Meister, a German confectionery brand which has been producing sweet treats since 1949.
Tallinn Christmas market, Tallinn, Estonia
A visit to snowy Tallinn's Christmas markets is a step back in time. Tallinn has the best preserved medieval city centre in Northern Europe (it's also a UNESCO World Heritage site) and locals have erected a Christmas tree in the Town Hall Square since 1441. The historic square is also the location for this year's Christmas market, which opens on 22 November. In addition to the clusters of small huts selling local food and Christmas gifts, there's a snow sculpture exhibition and a mini zoo, complete with reindeer, lambs, goats and geese. The centrepiece is a beautifully decorated Christmas tree and the market attracts 250,000 visitors every year.