Every year people flock to the towns and cities of Europe to enjoy the traditional Christmas markets. Away from the panic of the high street, these markets offer something a little more kitsch, a little more heart-warming, and it seems their popularity is only getting stronger.

From Germany’s wooden toys, to the handmade soaps of Paris, Christmas markets really do provide something altogether more special. Of course, with so many markets to choose from, tourists will find themselves spoiled for choice. It can be hard to know where to start! So here are 5 of Europe’s must-see Christmas markets:

Brussels – Winter Wonders

The chocolate box city of Brussels is an ideal option for a classic winter weekend away. The biggest and most popular Christmas market extends for over a mile between the Grand’Place to Place Sainte Catherine, packed with quaint little wooden stalls selling traditional Christmas fare; shop for local crafts, ornaments and sweet treats.

Don’t forget to leave some time to enjoy the rides – there is a toboggan ride, Ferris wheel, and a 200 foot-long ice-skating rink as well.

Paris – Champs Elysees

The charm of the French capital means its many Christmas markets all have their own undeniable allure, but by far the most popular one is that which lines the Champs Elysees. The annual illuminations of Paris’ grand avenue, featuring thousands of coloured lights, really bring this Christmas market to life. Wooden stalls line this beautiful street from the Place de la Concorde to the Arch de Triomphe, and you can shop for soaps, cheeses, toys and cakes – or alternate between the stalls, and the street’s famous designer shops.

Berlin – Kaiser Wilhelm

Germany’s vibrant capital does Christmas markets well – and there are many to choose from if visiting the capital during the festive period. Yet the one which draws the biggest crowds is the market outside the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche church, one of Berlin’s most iconic buildings. Here you can shop for traditional wooden Christmas decorations, German sweets, and wonderful arts and crafts. Make sure you stop to rest your feet and take in the atmosphere with a warming cup of gluhwein; traditional German mulled wine.

Vienna – Town Square

Austria is renowned for its quaint and charming Christmas markets, but the most well-known is the one held in the town square outside the grand Rathausplatz, or town hall. Every year thousands of visitors flock here to shop for homemade treats, pretty crafts, and one-of-a-kind gifts. Enjoy warm gingerbread and mulled wine while taking in the magnificent lights that decorate the iconic town square.

Cologne – Cologne Cathedral market

There are several markets in Cologne, each with a very traditional vibe, but this market, with Cologne’s grand cathedral providing a beautiful backdrop, is the most popular. Here you’ll find the usual traditional wooden stalls offering a whole host of delicious delicacies and handmade goods. Look out for the pretty, hand-painted Christmas decorations, featuring traditional scenes – these make lovely gifts and souvenirs.

If you’re looking to experience any of these cities during the festive period have a look at the many European tour packages available. There are plenty that include visits to Christmas markets as they are considered a real highlight – and there even some which will specifically take you to range of different ones around a country or even across borders to markets in neighbouring countries.

Written by Kat K, a passionate traveller and experienced travel writer