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When: 27 November to 31 December
What to buy:
For Christmas decorations (Strasbourg's been peddling them since 1600) head to the Place de la Cathédrale. Enticing Alsatian food specialties can be found in Place des Meuniers.
Food and drink:
While adults savour vin chaud, kids can sip on warm jus d'orange sweetened with honey. Along with plenty of German-inspired treats, try the bredele (Alsatian butter cookies in toothsome flavours like ginger and anise) and maennele, or little brioche men.
For the children:
Picture a kiddie paradise: puppet shows, visits by Saint Nicholas, spirited games, ice skating, a crèche vivante (living nativity scene) and even an ice garden with an obstacle course.

5. Prague
As snow dusts its gothic spires and its fabled Astronomical Clock chimes in the chilly air, Prague's cityscape transforms into a gothic midwinter fairy tale. While Staroměstské náměstí, or Old Town Square, is always one of the most stunning in Europe, during Christmas it is downright ethereal. Set against the evocative skyline, the towering Christmas tree - imported each year from the Krkonose Mountains in the North -conjures an enchanting Bohemian vibe.

When: 27 November to 2 January
What to buy:
Hand-carved puppets and wooden toys, Bohemian crystal, Czech glass, and ornate ceramic mugs. Or why not buy a live carp - sold in tubs lining the streets - to cook up a traditional Czech Christmas dinner?
Food and drink:
Grab a traditional fried-dough, cinnamon sugar trdlo washed down with svařené víno (mulled wine) or medovina (honey liquor). Want to ward off the cold with the hard stuff? Many Czechs swear that a shot of the traditional, warmly-spiced liquor Becherovka tastes like Christmas itself.
For the children:
Handmade Czech puppets never fail to elicit wonder in even shopping-weary children. Check out the petting zoo and the open-air stage, where children from around the Czech Republic sing and dance in traditional dress with inimitable holiday cheer.

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© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Spirited shopping: Five great European cities for Christmas markets’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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