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Written by Jenny McWhirter on 08 / 12 / 2015

Gap Year Advice

It’s that time of year again, the season to be jolly!

What better way to get into the festive spirit than wandering the Christmas markets, tasting local sweet treats, sipping on your mulled wine and perusing the stalls of homemade gifts, toys and decorations?

From sugar-coated pastries in Prague to the Hong Kong skyline, the backdrop to every one of these spots offers something special, unique and with bags of Christmas cheer.

If you find yourself exploring the world on your gap year over the festive period have a read of these best markets to visit...

Vanocni Trhy in Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is arguably the perfect setting for any Christmas market. With its quaint little streets and fairytale setting this market will whisk you off to a land of pixies, fairies and all things magical.

Head up to Old Town Square and the aptly named King Wenceslas Square for the biggest sections of the market. Here you’ll find the famous locally-made glass, a great gift for those people who you just can’t decide what to buy them this year. Amongst the stacks of glass you’ll also peruse wooden toys, embroidery and scented candles, just a few of the handicrafts this market proudly presents (excuse the pun).

Once you’ve stocked up on all your presents head over to the food stalls to grab yourself roasted hams, trdelnik (sugar-coated pastries) and a glass of mulled wine to sip whilst you stroll through the cobbled streets, past hidden court yards and over pretty bridges of this fairytale city.

Tivoli Christmas Market in Copenhagen, Denmark

If you’re wanting to be wowed by decorations, then this market is a must-see. With it’s light display being designed by Tiffany and Co. designer, John Loring, this town comes to life with sparkle.

Around 50 stalls line the streets selling everything you could possibly imagine, from magical bells to wooden houses to snow-covered trees. However, stalls are not the only attraction! Visit the reindeer, Santa’s grotto or get your fix of adrenaline on the rollercoaster and theme park rides that cover the nearby parkland.

Once you’ve had your thrill, pick up some of the local food on offer, I suggest trying the locals favourite glogg and aebleskiver (mulled wine and traditional pancakes), and head down to the lake side. Each evening the lake comes to life through a stunning light display. With hugge (Danish for comfort) being the concept behind the market and its decorations, it’s guaranteed to leave you with that warm fuzzy feeling.

Skansen Christmas Market in Stockholm, Sweden

Do you have a sweet tooth? Well if you answered yes, this market will be heaven. Famous for its sweet treats, Skansen offers a range of tasty delights to get your taste buds tingling.

Set among historic houses and farmsteads, a traditional Scandinavian Christmas is to be had by all. As you wander the stalls to the sweet music of the choir that sings out for all to hear, make sure you taste all that is on offer. Start with a savory reindeer sausage, sorry Rudolph but it is one of the tastiest sausages you’ll eat!

Then it’s time for dessert. Choose from marzipan sweets, jams, world famous gingerbread, cheesecake, saffron pancakes and much more. I promise you won’t leave unsatisfied!

Tallinn Market, Estonia

Step back in time as you enter the market set in the best preserved medieval city centre in Northern Europe. This arguably makes for the prettiest market of them all.

Set within a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this market features a snow sculpture exhibition and a mini zoo. It also holds competitions, fancy trying your hand at gingerbread making, or Christmas tree decorating then sign up to enter these highly competitive holiday themed contests.

This market offers a cosy feel, particularly famous for their wreaths, lamps and amazing sheepskin rugs. Wander through the small streets with musicians and dancers weaving through the crowds providing great entertainment throughout the day.

The selection of food on offer is also spectacular. From gingerbread to local honeys to blood pudding with sour cabbage (a somewhat acquired taste) there is everything you could possibly want.

Once you’ve finished perusing the markets head to an underground candlelit bar and settle in with a boozy hot chocolate to finish the night off.

Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremburg, Germany

A list of the ultimate Christmas markets could not miss out the oldest market there is. Christkinlesmarkt dates back to the 16th Century and is a true showstopper!

With 200 stalls in the city’s main square you are certainly overwhelmed by choice of gifts, music, food and decorations. All the produce is locally made and there is even a team of wardens whose job it is to preserve the authenticity of the market. They guard the market and ensure visitors a truly historic experience.

Pick yourself up a bratwurst, gingerbread and a glass of rum punch. Then hop on a carriage to have a tour of the old town that will make you feel like royalty. If you’re heading to this market try to be there for the week before Christmas when there is a beautiful lantern procession through the centre of the market, an experience not to be missed!

Now if all of these have sounded a bit too traditional, maybe you’re looking for something slightly more alternative. Have a read through the next few for a truly different market experience.

Dubai Christmas Festival Market, United Arab Emirates

From the traditional streets of Nuremburg to something only Dubai could pull off. Rather than the cutesy stalls with locally-made gifts, a shop at the Dubai Christmas market offers you concessions from global brands and high-end designers.

If you enjoy a good bargain, then Dubai is your destination. However, this exclusive market is only open for three days from the 17th to 19th December so don’t miss out. If you want to dine as well, then a fine dining experience is on the cards. The top restaurants in Dubai jump on the Christmas bandwagon offering food tasting sessions throughout the day.

Finally, to top off a day of shopping and fine food, book your spot at the pantomime for an evening of great entertainment. This year it is the magical story of Peter Pan, a show not to be missed if you still yearn for a spot of tradition.

Hong Kong Winterfest, Hong Kong

Big, bright and full of Christmas Cheer, these markets across the city of Hong Kong offer a more traditional market set amongst the modern cityscape.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I am just as much of a Disney fan now as I was when I was 6. Well if that’s the case for you why not combine a love for Christmas with a love for Disney? This is just what Hong Kong has catered for as they provide a Christmas market set within Dinseyland. The magical sparkle of Christmas combines with the magic of Disney to offer a captivating experience.

If the cityscape is more up your street, then head over to Lantau Island where the Ngong Pong 360 glittering Christmas village offers stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline. And for those wanting to make a wish this year, there’s a Twinkle Twinkle wishing star to grant your every wish.

Valkenburg Christmas Market, The Netherlands

To finish off our tour of the Christmas markets, I have decided to take you away from those well-trodden markets and head underground to this quirky grotto.

Set beneath pretty hilltops, you venture underground to this magical land of tunnels that are decked out for Christmas. Admire the mural carvings, explore Santa’s house and pick yourself up some beautiful hand-blown glass or local artwork for the quirkier member of the family.

As you explore the tunnels pick yourself up some poffertjes (mini pancakes) to satisfy your hunger and add that festive spirit for your taste buds. This expedition underground is guaranteed to leave you well and truly in the Christmas spirit.

Tis the Season to be Jolly

Whether you’re a traditional Christmas lover or you prefer those quirkier Christmas spots, there truly is a Christmas market for everyone. Have you stumbled upon a Christmas grotto? Or maybe you’ve got a great story about your Christmas shopping experiences? We love to hear about them, so post them in the comments below.

Decided how you’ll spend Christmas but stuck for travel plans in the New Year? Then download our comprehensive gap year advice guide, The Gap Adventure Blueprint, which contains several chapters that will help you get your head around all the options and offer advice on how to raise funds, plus much more.

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