Kraków’s vast 13th-century town square is the perfect venue for its yuletide bazaar, with the shops flanked by beautifully restored townhouses and churches, most notably Cloth Hall, which was rebuilt in 1555 in the Renaissance style. The top buys at the market are the hand-painted glass baubles (be sure to pack in plenty of bubble wrap before loading into your suitcase) and embroidered tablecloths. When you’ve had your fill, in the early evening visit Krakow’s cathedral and fortified castle on Wawel Hill. Beautifully lit at night, they overlook the Wisla river on one side and the town on the other.
Dates: November 29 – December 26
How to do it: EasyJet Holidays (easyjet.com) offers three nights at the Puro Krakow Kazimierz, departing December 8, from £191pp, including flights. This forward-thinking hotel in the old Jewish quarter has an industrial style and in-house bakery – try the cinnamon rolls for breakfast.
Few Scandinavian cities feel quite as festive as Gothenburg, which offers all manner of Christmas markets, from the traditional (Kronhusjul) to more design-led markets like Röda Sten Konsthall and the Academy of Design and Crafts. However the city’s (and indeed Sweden’s) largest is Liseberg, which is held at a popular amusement park and pulls in around 500,000 visitors each year, thanks to its assortment of shops, winter-themed rides and series of concerts. The park goes all out with a dizzying five million Christmas lights and 700 trees. And for those yearning for Austria, there’s even a Tyrol-themed restaurant serving schnitzel and featuring live yodelling performances.
Dates: November 10 – December 30 (Liseberg)
How to do it: British Airways and Ryanair fly direct to Gothenburg from Heathrow and Stansted, respectively. Clarion Hotel Post, usefully located next to the central train station, is a sleek and lively design hotel with high-rise rooms that offer views of the hustle and bustle below. Doubles from £99.
Croatia’s capital comes into its own in the run up to Christmas with a huge advent festival scattered across 20 city-centre locations. Top picks include Park Zrinjevac, where you’ll find local delicacies such as krpice sa zeljem (pasta with cabbage) and paprenjaci (peppery gingerbread cookies) and Oktogan passage for its unusual light installations. Families should make a beeline for Ilica 49, where children can make ragdolls and little wooden toys at a special workshop, or simply enjoy the huge toy displays. There’s been a push to showcase ‘Made in Zagreb’ products, so it’s easy to find quality handmade decorations. Other attractions include the 100 musical concerts that take place over the festive period, plus a host of theatre productions and exhibitions.
Dates: November 29 – January 2
How to do it: Expedia (expedia.co.uk) offers three nights at the Esplanade Hotel, departing December 2, from £370pp, including flights. The Art Deco hotel was originally built in 1925 as a suitably glamorous stopover for passengers on the Orient Express and remains the city’s top place to stay.