Iconic squares are ablaze with twinkly lights and the warm fuzzy scent of mulled wine fills the air. It can only be Christmas in Europe. To get you in the festive spirit, we’ve handpicked the cosiest hotels for Christmas markets on the continent. Stay close to the action (and the waffles) by making these merry havens your dream December base.
1. Hotel Stefanie: Vienna, Austria
Make sure your snuggliest scarf is packed because the festivities kick off from mid-November in Vienna. Hotel Stefanie – the oldest hotel in the city and one of the most charming hotels for Christmas markets in the capital – is a characterful, cosy respite from the winter chill. For the most traditional festive market experiences, Stefanie’s hosts recommend Schönbrunn, Rathausplatz and Karlsplatz. The latter is stuffed with authentic arts and crafts, belly-warming goulash, and plenty of activities for children – llama walking, straw castle building and a beautiful shadow theatre to name a few.
2. Flanders Hotel: Bruges, Belgium
The fuzzy feeling is strong at Flanders Hotel – an award-winning historic stay in the heart of historic Bruges. Come December, its medieval surroundings are a-buzz with Christmas market giddiness – the syrupy scent of fresh waffles lingers in your nostrils, the sound of horse-drawn carriages clip-clop off cobbles and the houses look like those of the gingerbread variety.
3. Hotel & Restaurant Schwarzer Bock: Ansbach, Germany
If you want a Christmas market at its most authentic, head to the birthplace of them all: Germany. You can elbow your way through crowds at Nuremberg’s most popular extravaganza, or you can head to charming Ansbach for a quaint, soul-stirring atmosphere. Located on Martin-Luther-Platz square, sandwiched between the beautiful St. John’s and St. Gumbert’s churches, this festive market is a relaxing day out. Wander craft stalls amid the scent of roasted almonds and gingerbread, before sleeping off your stollen in historic inn and guesthouse Schwarzer Bock.
4. Metropole: Riga, Latvia
Evidence suggests that the world’s first ever Christmas tree was erected in Riga in 1510 – giving Riga as much right to the ‘home of Christmas’ title as the North Pole. Make four-star haven Metropole your historic base – the 19th-century building sits in the heart of the historic UNESCO World Heritage centre, close to all the market merriment in Doma laukums and Līvu laukums squares. Don’t forget to warm up with some traditional grey peas and bacon – the greatest comfort food on a brisk day.
5. Suter Palace Heritage Boutique Hotel: Bucharest, Romania
A mesmerising 2.6 million lights glow-up Romania’s capital at Christmas time. As befits a centuries-old city, the capital keeps age-old traditions alive: farmers, traders and villagers all flock to the markets to flog traditional foods and handicrafts with gleeful pride. Tuck into sweet gingerbread and a hot mulled wine while picking out the perfect gift to take home. Don’t do things by half – book a night in five-star Suter Palace and experience Bucharest’s grand and luxurious past.
6. Villa Le Barone: Florence, Italy
Those desiring to experience Christmas like a Tuscan local can do no wrong flocking to Florence for their festive break. It’s a misty, magical sensation. Unlike the tourist-heavy summer months, there’s a serenity and calmness in the air. There are thousands of local handicrafts that make unique gifts or decorations, including palm-sized Virgin Marys, Josephs and baby Jesus’. As you wander the city, don’t be surprised to see these Italian nativity scenes spring to life – live presepe, as they’re known, are traditional performances where locals dress up as religious characters, posing in human-sized stables.
One of Italy’s best-kept secrets – and one of the homeliest hotels for Christmas markets breaks close to Florence – is the gorgeous Villa Le Barone. Treat yourself to a stay at this 16th-century sanctuary, relaxing in the heated, salt-water infinity pool overlooking Chianti vineyards, sampling Tuscan cuisine by candlelight or simply finding a secluded nook to read a rare novel in.
7. Bouclier d’or: Strasbourg, France
The French ‘Capital of Christmas’ didn’t get its name for nothing. Strasbourg is like stepping straight into a real-life snow globe at this time of year. Day-dream as you saunter through hundreds of authentic market stalls, picking up handmade wooden decorations and star-shaped praline biscuits to take home. Bouclier d’Or is one of the most refined hotels for Christmas markets in the city – a 16th-century dream with well-preserved Renaissance columns, ancient frescoes and a grand spiral staircase.
8. Antiq Palace: Ljubljana, Slovenia
Every Christmas escape should start with a romantic hotel – Antiq Palace is the one for you if you wish to stay in the heart of Ljubljana this December. From the door of your exclusive historic palace, you’re just a chestnut’s throw away from the twinkling festive markets. Just follow the scent of mulled wine to discover a heart-warming atmosphere, culinary delicacies and artisanal treats and crafts.
9. The Metropole Hotel: Cork, Ireland
Christmas ferris wheels, vintage carousel rides, fine foods and all of the fairy lights – Cork is a magical city at this year. Locals team get together to create a warming wonderland at the city’s Grand Parade and Bishop Lucey Park – with a light installation that sends jaws to the floor. Ferris wheels, grand parades and dazzling Christmas markets will have you glowing with festive spirit, too. Stay in the heart of it all – the Victorian Quarter – at The Metropole Hotel. Since the 19th-century, this iconic hotel has welcomed movie stars, poets and artists through its luxurious doors.
10. As Janelas Verdes: Lisbon, Portugal
Did somebody say Christmas cake? It’s Portugal’s speciality at this time of the year. Foodies must try the bolo rei king cake – a festive pastry stuffed with fruit that you can sample at Lisbon’s Natal E Na Fil market. Every year, Lisbon’s centre is drenched with magical lights and graced with a glorious tree, which look fairytale-like surrounded by chocolate-box style market stalls selling toys and gifts galore. Round-off a day of festivities in a beautiful bed at As Janelas Verdes, a charming 18th-century mansion in the heart of the capital.
11. Hotel Krafft: Basel, Switzerland
Basel is home to Switzerland’s largest Christmas market, where you can combine cockle-warming glugs of mulled wine with strolls by spectacularly illuminated pine trees, traditional half-timbered houses and the glorious River Rhine. Stay right where the magic is by checking into Hotel Krafft, overlooking the river, Old Town and cathedral. The 60 chic and charming rooms in this historic bolthole will leave you feeling like you’re truly in a winter wonderland.
12. Sierakow Manor: Krakow, Poland
Wrocław grabs a lot of the festive limelight, leaving Krakow criminally overlooked. But those who venture to the city – with its sparkling Christmas trees, marketers flogging glass baubles, village pottery and wooden sculptures – are in for a treat this winter. The festive shopping continues all the way until February, since Yuletide only officially begins on December 24 and continues until February 2. Just 20km south of Krakow is Sierakow Manor – all crackling fires, award-winning cuisine and a mystical four-hectares of greenery.