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How to get the best out of a Christmas market holiday

Travel help desk: Make the most of last-minute deals on offer via travel agents

1. The first question you should ask is why are you in the market for a market visit?

The answer will determine where you go and how you pack. Do you just want to wander around marvelling at the cute stalls while sipping hot alcohol and eating chocolatey treats and outsized sausages? Or do you want to buy stuff to deck the halls when you get home? If you want to bring home loads of cheery decorations, bring an empty suitcase with you and consider checking it in. And make sure when you go shopping to bring some cash as well as your cards, as many stallholders will not accept credit or debit cards.

2. Measure your spending

If you are in the market to buy, don’t buy lots of tat that you could probably get at home. Spend more money on less stuff, the things that you will never find anywhere else.

3. Choose your city wisely

Unless you are really committed to the actual market stalls, you will want to visit a Christmas market in a place where there are plenty of other things to do. Berlin is Christmas market heaven, but also party central. Prague is excellent as is Vienna, and while being in Bruges at any time is pretty, it really comes into its own in the run-up to Christmas. Don’t forget less obvious choices like Paris or even London, a city that has started pushing the boat out in recent years.

4. Also look closer to home

We tend to think of twinkling town centres in frosty eastern European countries when we think of Christmas markets and while they are the biggest and the best of the breed, there are a growing number of such places in Ireland. So before you consider travelling overseas, have a look at what you can find here. There are big markets in Galway, Waterford, Dublin and Cork, and the Belfast Market might be attractive too — and certainly excellent value for money given the relative weakness of sterling these days.

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5. Be guided by Ryanair

The airline flies to many destinations that you might not consider in the normal course of events, but such cities to the east can really come into their own at this time of year and they can be accessed pretty cheaply. Accommodation can also be cheap.

6. Sometimes travel agents are your friends

Many specialise in sending people to Christmas markets and as the season draws to a close, there can be real value found by not going the DIY route.

7. Look at different timings

While the two weeks before Christmas are, unsurprisingly, when European Christmas markets are at their busiest, many run right into early January and will be cheaper too. Yes, it may feel a bit weird buying your Christmas decorations in early January but this time next year you’ll be glad you did.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor