It’s never too early to begin planning for the most important time of year, and with summer almost over, some retailers have already started advertising Christmas lines and promotions.
For those who want to make Christmas 2012 truly special, booking a short winter break could be the ideal option. With the European continent easily accessible by rail, taking a trip to the famous Christmas markets and immersing yourself in the winter magic found there has never been easier.
One of the great European traditions that happens in many different cities is the annual open air Christmas market; where a seasonal selection of stalls and entertainments combine to create a vibrant backdrop for a holiday atmosphere.
Usually running for the four week duration of Advent, the idea for this type of market originated in Germany and Austria but has gradually become a tradition in many other countries. Here are some of the biggest and best Christmas markets to consider visiting if you are planning a winter holiday this year:
Brussels' Christmas market is set in the centre of the city and is called Plaisirs d'Hiver (winter pleasures). It is probably the most famous of all the Belgian markets and runs from 26th November through to 2nd January featuring over 200 themed stalls and chalets.
Being a major destination on the Eurostar train service means visiting Brussels is a cheap and straightforward option for anyone looking to travel from the UK.
Further afield, the classic architectural delights of Vienna make the perfect backdrop for a seasonal adventure and the famous Christmas markets season once again runs alongside the calendar of Advent.
There are several markets to explore; the most well-known is located in front of City Hall, though you’ll also find a traditional Viennese market on Freyung and one in front of the famous church of St. Charles Borromeo.
Everywhere seems to be lit with fairy lights and the aromas of seasonal foods and spices waft through the air to create a magical atmosphere. The view from the Ferris wheel made famous in the classic film 'The Third Man' gives an unbeatable view of the festivities.
For a truly upmarket break, the jet set destination of St Moritz has a Christmas market in The Plazza Mauritius. Running from early December, the market reflects both the local cultural background and the wider history of the town whilst also being a showcase for its modern, high class appeal.
Running from early December until Christmas Eve, The Feria de Santa Lucia is the Christmas market in Barcelona and is held outside the Cathedral in Plaça de la Seu and Plaça Nova. A truly quirky and unique example of the importance of Christmas in the historic Catalan culture, the beautifully presented collection of stalls in the market is combined with entertainments that take place on the Cathedral steps.
One of the strangest things that you won't find anywhere else is the 'Caganer'. Dating back from the 18th century, he is a figure in the Nativity scenes who is hidden amongst the other more familiar characters and is famously depicted answering a call of nature.