I must confess that I am not a fan of the early arrival of Christmas in so many retail outlets. For me, December is the month of Christmas and sitings of Christmas goodies and decorations from as early as September are a bit of a turn off. However, if you are thinking about visiting one of the many Christmas markets to be found across Europe, then now is the time to be making your plans.
The majority of Christmas markets start up in the middle of November and so if you like getting into the festive mood early then there is no time to lose.
Christmas markets are great way to experience the culture of the region you visit. From the food and drink and local wares and produce to the entertainment and music, you are guaranteed a great time. Glühwein, Glögg, Stollen, Lebkuchen, Bratwurst, Kartoffelpuffer – if you haven’t savoured any of these, get yourself to a Christmas market and taste the magic of Christmas.
Some of the best Christmas markets in Europe
There are so many Christmas markets held across Europe it is not possible to list them all, so here are just a few to whet your appetite.
25th November to 24th December 2016
Nuremberg’s Christmas market (Christkindlesmarkt) is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Germany and it is unrivalled in its beauty, traditions, atmosphere and entertainment. Although there are a number of market locations dotted around the city, the main Christmas market is held in the Hautpmarkt, the central main square in Nuremberg’s old town.
The 200+ stall holders sell seasonal and traditional goods from spicy Nuremberg gingerbread, Nuremberg bratwurst, Glühwein served in glass boots, little figures made from dried prunes (known as Nuremberg Plum People) to hand-crafted Christmas tree decorations, candles, toys, and a wide variety of arts and crafts products. Mass-produced goods and canned music are a definite no no.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
25th November to 23rd December 2016
If you have ever visited Rothenburg you may think that Christmas is celebrated all year round because of its Christmas shops and Christmas museum, but come November, Rothenburg is home to the Reiterlesmarkt one of the most romantic Christmas markets in Germany. Rothenburg is a wonderfully preserved medieval city with narrow and winding cobbled streets and some of the most impressive medieval architecture in Europe all surrounded by a city wall – it feels like stepping back in time.
Together with the festive fare (hand-crafted gifts and souvenirs, mulled wine, grilled sausages, roast chestnuts and the famous Rothenburg Schneeball (snow ball) made from strips of sweet fried dough and covered with icing sugar) there are also many cultural events.
24th November to 24th December 2016
Dresden has eleven completely different Christmas markets from the traditional to the medieval to the après-ski charm of alpine huts. The Striezelmarkt, held on the Altmarkt square in the centre of Dresden, dates back to the 15th century and takes its name from a seasonal cake called Striezel (better known as Stollen in other parts of Germany). Many of the customs associated with the Striezelmarkt stem from local industries such as mining, woodwork and pottery. The Striezelmarkt also includes the tallest Christmas pyramid and a wooden arch covered in candles and figures. Originally the arch was made from metal and according to folklore, the candles represent the candles that the miners hung from the entrance to the mine on the last working day before Christmas.
21st November t0 31st December 2016
Berlin doesn’t do Christmas by halves. There are about 60 Christmas markets to choose from (some sources claim there are almost a hundred) – from fairytale and traditional to urban and trendy. The Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most popular Christmas markets in Berlin. It enjoys a great setting right next to the Deutsche Dom, the Konzerthaus and the Franzozische Friedrichstadtkirche and it also offers some great traditional delights and entertainment. There are even Michelin-starred chefs preparing their haute cuisine in heated tents. Although some of the Christmas markets in Berlin are free there is €1 entrance fee to the Weihnachtszauber but it is a euro well spent even at the current exchange rate!
Another great location is the Winterwelt at Potsdamer Platz. In addition to all the usual Christmas stalls, goodies, live music and entertainment there is a giant Rodelbahn. For just €1.50 you can slide down through a winter mountain wonderland on a tyre. And, unlike most of the Christmas markets in Berlin, Winterwelt is open from the 4th November 2016 until the 1st January 2017.
12th November to 24th December 2016
Vienna’s Christmas-market tradition dates back to the 13th century and during advent Vienna becomes a city of ‘nostalgia and romance, concerts, nativity displays and traditional Christmas markets’. The numerous Christmas markets are held at various locations around the city but the largest and most traditional is held on the Rathaus Platz right in the centre of Vienna against the backdrop of the City Hall. In addition to the 100+ outside stalls where you can buy sweets, Christmas gifts and decorations and savour local delicacies such as Sachertorte and mulled wine, you can really get into the Christmas spirit inside the City Hall with performances of carols by international choirs (entry is free entry on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays).
25th November 2016 to 1st January 2017
If you fancy a Christmas market a bit nearer to home then head for Bruges. Markt, the main square in Bruges and Simon Stevinplein a short stroll from Markt, are turned into a magical maze of stalls selling all sorts of Christmas goodies. If you fancy a break from shopping you can have a skate on the ice rink with the famous Belfry in the background and then warm up with pancakes and waffles washed down with with a glass of jenever (gin) or a steaming cup of hot chocolate. When you are done with Christmas markets I recommend a visit to De Halve Maan brouwerij (brewery) in Walplein where you can enjoy a glass of Brugse Zot in front of a warm, cosy fire.
19th November to 31st December 2016
Copenhagen hosts some of the best Christmas markets in Europe but perhaps one of the best known is the Christmas market held in Tivoli Gardens. The whole of Tivoli is decorated with fairy lights and the 6o stalls sell everything from food and hot drinks to stylish Christmas decorations, fine leather goods, beautifully knitted products and a variety of high-quality crafts. For entertainment there are light shows, a fireworks festival and performances by the Pixie band.
For something a bit different head down to the harbour and visit the Nyhavn Christmas market which opens on the 11th November. This is the place to experience a real Danish Christmas, where you can enjoy Danish specialities and mulled wine and shop for those special gifts in the small wooden huts straddled along the canal.
26th November 2016 to 1st January 2017
The main Christmas markets in Prague are held in the Old Town Square (Staroměstské náměstí) and the nearby Wenceslas Square (Václavské náměstí). In addition to the brightly coloured huts selling traditional handicrafts and traditional food and drink, the Old Town Square is also host to a stage-set nativity scene and huge Christmas tree which is draped in a blaze of fairy lights. There is festive atmosphere throughout the city with live music and entertainment and evening concerts in some of the city’s churches. You can also savour local specialities such as klobása (barbequed sausages) and trdelník (a hot, sugar-coated pastry). And to wash it all down, try one of the famous Czech beers such as Pilsner Urquell, Staropramen and Budva or a cup of mulled wine (svařené víno or svařák).
How to get to Christmas markets
Check out British Airways for some good deals on flights to over a dozen European Christmas markets.
If you prefer to travel by train, Great Rail journeys offers a great selection of escorted tours to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
For those of you who prefer the luxury of a cruise, Saga travel offers a festive mini-cruise on board the Saga Sapphire taking in the Christmas markets at Bremen and Bruges.