5 Christmas Markets Europe

Christmas shopping doesn't have to mean joylessly battling through department store crowds or trawling the Internet for bargains. Why not combine present-buying with some travel?

Strasbourg, France

Photo Credit: frenchentree

Photo Credit: frenchentree

Strasbourg, in eastern France, is home to one of Europe's oldest Christmas markets, with the first edition taking place in 1570.

Today there are 10 locations with 300 stalls, meaning it's easy to spend the best part of a week here indulging in end-of-year festivities, picking up decorations and presents and drinking local Alsatian wine.

Before getting lost down Strasbourg's narrow alleyways and beautiful squares, visitors should be sure to head to Place Kleber, where they'll find the Great Christmas Tree, a towering effort that puts the spruce at New York's Rockefeller Center to shame.

What makes it special: Each year Strasbourg has a "guest" country village, with Iceland taking pride of place in 2017.

Piazza Santa Croce, Florence, Italy

Photo Credit: LoveFromTuscany

Photo Credit: LoveFromTuscany

The annual Christmas Market in Florence, Italy, runs until December 18 in the spectacular Piazza Santa Croce.

With the Franciscan Basilica providing a backdrop for the 50 stalls, this is the perfect place to pick up stocking fillers and treats without the unerring sense of dread that accompanies the average shopping street in the run up to December 25.

For added yuletide vibe, it's good to head to Piazza del Duomo for the nativity scene and Christmas tree, which is lit up on December 8, as part of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

What makes it special: Although this is every inch an Italian event, there's a distinct German air to the proceedings too. Keep an eye out for gingerbread and strudel

Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham, UK

Photo Credit: Ap Images

Photo Credit: Ap Images

England's second city isn't the first place you'd expect to find a traditional Christmas Market. But buzzing Birmingham boasts "the largest authentic German Christmas Market outside of Germany or Austria."

Held in Victoria Square from November 15 to December 23, Birmingham emulates its continental rivals with over 120 stalls selling everything from jewelry to handmade toys.

But the big draw is Chris Moose, the singing moose, found outside the market's Council House entrance, lending things a distinctly British air.

What makes it special: The neighboring Christmas Craft Market, in Centenary Square, has about 30 stalls selling local beers, British sausages and work by local artisans.

Viennese Christmas Market, Vienna, Austria

Photo Credit: palmostravel

Photo Credit: palmostravel

Few cities steep themselves in the festive spirit like Vienna. The Austrian capital's first Christmas Market was held in 1298 and today the city has more than 20 events to choose from. First timers, though, should make a beeline for the Viennese Christmas Market, which takes place in front of City Hall.

With around 151 stalls serving everything from boozy Christmas punch to gut busting Austrian sausages, the market also boasts a huge ice rink for skating, reindeer rides for kids and a classic nativity scene.

This year's event will run from November 17 to December 26.

What makes it special: This might be the most traditional Christmas market going, but be sure to try out curling on the dedicated ice rink. A bizarre and brilliant winter sport to keep off the chill.

Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin, Germany

Sean Gallup, Getty Images

Sean Gallup, Getty Images

Berlin is a hugely popular destination during the festive season thanks to its Christmas markets.

The city has been working hard to renew its seasonal appeal in recent years after a terror attack at the Breitscheidplatz market in 2016 led to the temporary closure of many other markets in the capital.

While you could visit a different Berlin market for all 12 days of Christmas, if there's only time for one, our pick is Gendarmenmarkt.

The imposing architecture of the Deutscher Dom and Französischer Dom loom over classic wooden huts where visitors can steel themselves before shopping with delicious sausages and warming cups of mulled wine.

Once fortified, vast crafts tents await where everything from original paintings to wood carvings can be found for sale. For off-kilter Christmas presents, it's a struggle to match this gem.

What makes it special: Come for the first-rate shopping, but make sure to stick around for the nightly concerts, ranging from choral to jazz. No out-of-tune carols here.