Add some extra magic to the build-up to the festive season by embarking on one of our top European Christmas market breaks by train.
Strasbourg Christmas Market, France
This ancient city is a savvy choice for a winter city break by rail. Strasbourg, on France’s eastern border with Germany, is easy to reach from London on a 5 hrs 41 mins journey with one change of train in Paris. High-speed services to Strasbourg make for a quick journey east from Paris, as you gaze out over the vineyards of Champagne or the ancient forests of Lorraine en route. Strasbourg starts to really glisten and glow during its famous Christmas Market season - the oldest in France dating back to 1570. In fact, this medieval city looks at its most magnificent lit up not only by fairy lights but by the winter’s low sun, captured through a frosty lens. Shop, skate, sip vin chaud and enjoy one of many arts events which take place during the market period which runs 23 November to 30 December 2018.
Useful info: The Eurostar service between London and Paris can be booked six months in advance. The direct train from Paris to Strasbourg can normally be booked three months in advance of travel date.
Berlin Christmas Markets, Germany
Picking the best amongst the Christmas markets in Germany can be hard considering the wide array of options. Between November and December Berlin is filled with a range of eclectic Christmas markets or Christkindlmarkts as they are called in Germany. There are actually over sixty markets in the city during this time. The Berliner Weihnachtszeit at Roten Rathaus is the oldest and most famous Christmas market in the city. The different stalls at this market are decorated in the style of the early 1900s, which gives it a very traditional feel.
Not very far from the Berliner Weihnachtszeit, on the other side of Alexanderplatz, is the more modern ‘Wintertraum am Alexa’ market. Not far from Berlin’s Jannowitzbrucke station, it is easy to spot with a large Ferris wheel, rollercoaster, and festive fairground fun. Wintertraum am Alexa’s market has a more contemporary yet still very Christmassy feel.
With Charlottenburg Palace as its glamorous backdrop, the Charlottenburg Christmas market is definitely worth exploring. The Palace grounds are beautifully lit up for the season illuminating around 250 stalls, all bursting with traditional Christmas crafts and foodie treats. Stock up on stollen, spritz, sweets and all things sparkly at this magnificent winter palace.
Useful info: There is a great range of trains serving Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof, making it easy to reach the city. It takes just over 6 hrs to get to Berlin from Amsterdam. Most of Berlin’s Christmas markets open from 20 November to 24 December 2018. From London, it’s possible to reach Berlin by rail in 9 hrs.
Nuremberg Christmas Market, Germany
Nuremberg, the second largest city in Bavaria, is like something out of fairytale during the Christmas season. The market in Nuremberg’s central square, or Hauptmarkt, dates back to 1628, which is a source of great pride for Nurembergers. Most of the wares sold at the market are made by local artisans and even the 180 stalls are still made of regional spruce. More than 30 of the stalls even date back to 1890. This year, the market will run from 30 November to 24 December 2018. Gingerbread, or Lebkuchen as it’s called in German, was invented in this region in the 13th century with Nürnberger Lebkuchen becoming a world-renowned festive export, and is still one of the city market’s most popular treats.
Useful info: It’s an easy rail trip to Nuremberg taking under 8 hours from London. You’ll have to change trains in both Brussels and Frankfurt. International rail services to and from Germany are normally open for bookings 3 months in advance.
Christmas Markets in Northern Italy
Less well known than Germany’s festive offerings perhaps, northern Italy boasts some beautiful Christmas markets accessible by rail. The ‘Mercatino di Natale’ in Italy is a wonderful family event, and Bolzano Christmas market is one of the biggest in northern Italy. Unlike German Christmas markets, Italian markets often run through to the start of the new year. Bolzano’s market, for example, runs 23 November 2018 to 6 January 2019.
As Bolzano is the capital city of the province of South Tyrol, or Südtirol, you will get a real taste of Tyrolean tradition at this market, from local wines to pasta dishes as well as plenty of sweet treats. However, Südtirol is also the only part of Italy where German is an official language, and the region is, therefore, also known by its German name of Bozen.
Combining a charming and romantic feel with the magnificent smell of freshly baked pastries and cakes, Brunico’s Christmas market is also well worth a visit. Located in the Puster Valley in the Alps, winter adds a festivity to the landscape. With a delicious food focus, combining the best of Germany and Italy, visitors to the market will kick-off the Advent period in true culinary style. Make sure you try the local pretzels, canederli (dumplings) and polenta.
Useful info: Trains from Verona to Brunico/Bruneck take around 3 hrs, International services to Italy can normally be booked up to three months in advance. Within Italy, high-speed and most regional services can now be booked up to six months in advance.
The Christmas Markets in the UK
Bath's Christmas market is overflowing with over 200 chalets, packed with quality Christmas gifts, homewares, tasty food and drinks, jewellery and much more. The majority of the stallholders come from Bath and the south-west of England, with many of the products being handmade by local artisans. Bath Christmas market is open this year from 22 November to 9 December 2018.
Useful info: You can reach Bath by train in 1 hr 40 mins from Birmingham.
Edinburgh embraces winter festivity wholeheartedly. From 17 November, two Christmas markets pop up in prime locations in Scotland’s capital city. Situated a stone’s throw from Waverley train station, the Princes Street Christmas market has a strong Germanic influence combined with a selection of stalls with a Scottish feel.
On nearby George Street, you’ll find the classic selection of stalls offering festive food, gifts, Santa's Grotto as well as fantastic fairground rides. In addition, ‘Hogmanay’ in Edinburgh, the traditional festivity to welcome in the new year, is one big street party packing in visitors from far and wide. Edinburgh’s Christmas markets are open from 17 November 2018 to 6 January 2019, so you can easily go for both events.
Useful info: Journey time to Edinburgh is around 4 hrs 30 mins from London. Trains in the UK can normally be booked up to three months in advance of departure date.
Photo credits top to bottom: Crowds at Strasbourg Christmas Market iStock ©AMzPhoto, Christmas market in Berlin, toned image, text space, iStock ©anyaivanova, Christmas market in Bozen, South Tyrol iStick ©Juergen Sack, Christmas in Brunico/Bruneck, Italy iStock ©Flavio Vallenari
Bath Christmas Market and Roman Baths iStock ©JamieBayliss Christmas Market in Edinburgh, Scotland iStock ©georgeclerk
Looking for inspiration?
Best places to visit by train for Christmas
For many people, Christmas means a train ride ‘home’. However, some people will want to venture further from home for the festive season.