Strasbourg makes for an alternative Christmas market location (dreamstime)
List Words : Thomas Rees | 30 October

Western Europe's top 7 unique Christmas markets

Had your fill of glühwein? On the hunt for alternative stocking-fillers? Want to experience some quirkier Christmas traditions? Our festive round-up has it covered

1. Amsterdam

Where better to do a spot of Christmas shopping than the birth place of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) himself? In Amsterdam, celebrations begin on Saint Nicholas' Eve (5th of December) with a host of processions to mark the Saint's arrival in the city.

Amsterdam also plays host to a variety of festive markets throughout the month of December with ice-rinks and handy-craft stalls filling the streets of Leidseplein and Koningsplein. Take a break from mulled wine and mince pies and try Oliebollen, delicious warm doughnuts studded with dried fruit and citrus zest; the Dutch festive treat of choice.

Wander along the canals and marvel at the reflections of the Christmas lights that hang from the trees and be sure to visit the Bloemenmarkt, the city's floating flower market, which rustles with freshly cut pines in the run up to Christmas. If you're really lucky, and the temperatures tumble, you can watch as hundreds of skaters take to the city's frozen waterways.

2. Spain

When it comes to the quirky and the subversive, Christmas in Catalonia takes some beating. Almost as much beating as a Tió de Nadal, the scatological festive piñata for which the region is famous. More commonly known as a Caga tió ('shitting log'), this Christmas mascot is a common sight on the market stalls of Barcelona's Fira de Santa Llúcia, which runs from the 30th of November to the 23rd of December and celebrates its 227th anniversary this year.

Christmas in Madrid is an equally colourful affair, with nativity scenes and crimson poinsettias adding to the festive cheer. But if you're still feeling the cold, why not take a trip to Granada and warm yourself by one of the city's hogueras, the crackling bonfires lit to mark the Winter Solstice on the 21st of December? Tradition dictates that locals leap through the flames to protect themselves from illness, a somewhat dramatic attempt to avoid the winter flu but a spectacle not to be missed.

3. Jersey

Christmas in Jersey is a celebration of the Island's French Norman heritage. In St Helier, La Fête dé Noué, the Island's Christmas festival, runs from the 30th of November to the 15th of December. With canopies of Christmas lights, stalls heaving with stocking fillers, candle-lit museum tours and children's lantern parades, it has something for everyone. There are plenty of Norman delicacies on offer too including saucisson, cider and buttery crepes dusted with icing sugar.


4. Rome

Rome's tourist hordes thin a little in the winter months making this the perfect time to visit the Italian capital. In December, the Piazza Navona is crammed with stalls selling all manner of gaudy gifts but the Eternal City also has plenty to offer those who like their Christmas a little less commercial. Midnight Mass in St Peter's Basilica is an unforgettable experience and the more intimate surroundings of the Pantheon provide the perfect setting for some seasonal reflection. With nativity scenes adorning the streets of Vatican City and the smell of roasting chestnuts drifting through the wintry air, a Christmas visit to the home of Catholicism is a memorable experience, whatever your religious leanings.

5. Dublin

In Dublin, Christmas Day can be a frosty affair with many of the city's residents enjoying an early morning dip in the icy waters of the Forty Foot. The pride of the city, this seawater pool is immortalised in the work of James Joyce.

More relaxing Christmas traditions include carols in St Patrick's Cathedral and a day spent browsing the stalls of the Docklands Christmas Festival, complete with Victorian fairground rides and a Santa's Grotto.

6. Strasbourg

Seasonal markets spring up all across Strasbourg in the run up to Christmas but the Christkindelsmärik by the city's magnificent gothic cathedral sits at the top of the tree. Dating back to 1570, the market is one the oldest in France and features over 300 chalets. Look out for traditional Alsatian glass-work and delicacies like baeckeoffe, a hearty stew of  beef, mutton and  pork marinated in aromatic juniper berries and white wine. If you still have room, the gingerbread bakery in La Petit France is also well worth a visit.

7. Gothenberg

The Christmas market held in the Liseberg Amusement Park in the centre of Gothenberg is the largest in Scandinavia and surely among the most beautiful. Reindeer wander between the chalets pulling sleighs filled with rosy-cheeked toddlers, 18th century buildings and Laplander teepees glisten with strings of twinkling lights and the air is filled with the smell of pine needles from the hundreds of Christmas trees that adorn the park.

In addition to the arts and crafts stalls and the Sami herders from Lapland selling roasted reindeer meat, this year's market features an area exploring Swedish Christmas traditions from the 1930s and 40s. For a truly glittering start to the festive season, why not enjoy a glass of glögg (spiced wine) and a Scandinavian saffron bun while wandering along the 'Lane of Light', a 3km illuminated walkway through the centre of Gothenberg, open between the 6th of December and the 5th of January.