Magical Christmas Markets

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A great European tradition, the Christmas market brings the flavor of an old-fashioned country fair into the heart of the modern city, offering the best street food, local crafts, Yuletide decorations and, for kids, clowns and rides. In Prague's Old Town Square, check out the dried-flower decorations and hand-embroidered tablecloths as you build up your appetite for lzensk oplatky (huge wafer-thin cookies with a sugary filling), washed down with punch and mead. The market in Brussels stretches from the 17th century Grand Place to Place Sainte-Catherine with its open-air ice rink; the highlight is the Mange d'Andra, a surrealist carousel with flying frogs, bionic spacemen and Jules Verne spaceships. In Rome, the market in the baroque Piazza Navona is worth a visit for its first-rate buskers alone. In Naples, the entire Via San Gregorio Armeno is given over to crche scenes and figurines. The largest of Vienna's markets takes place in front of the Rathaus, or City Hall. At the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm, look out for the procession of white-clad girls bearing candles in honor of St. Lucy (her feast is Dec. 13, the year's shortest day before the calendar change). European tour operators offer trips to most of these markets.