The best Christmas markets in Europe?
As the weather starts to get colder, and the nights longer in the northern hemisphere, it’s important to find ways to spice up the dreary winter months. A mini-break to one of Europe’s traditional Christmas markets is a surefire way to kick-start the festive spirit.
The Christmas market, as we know it today, originated in the late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe. The markets are held during the four weeks of Advent — the period leading up to 25 December when Christmas Day is celebrated. Over the years, the concept of the Christmas market — selling seasonal foods, drinks, and gifts — has been embraced by towns and cities across Europe and beyond.
Germany’s Christmas markets remain some of the most famous and most popular.
Dresden is thought to have the oldest German market, dating back to 1434. Dresden’s market is famous for Christstollen — a traditional festive cake made with dried fruit, nuts, yeast, and cinnamon. However the most visited market in Germany is Nuremberg, which hosts its market in the town’s historic main square.
Here’s a quick survey of our readers for some other Christmas market suggestions.
San Francisco’s Bill Holmes rates the markets of Munich in the Bavarian region:
‘It’s one of Germany’s largest Christmas markets, full of stalls selling everything from Christmas tree ornaments and gingerbread houses to wooden reindeer. Along the way there are lots of hot chocolates and waffles or warm wine for the grown ups. A great idea for a pre-Christmas weekend break.’
Spaniard Oscar Garcia prefers the markets of Germany’s capital Berlin:
‘It really smells of the steaming hot red wine that people drink over Christmas, it’s very colourful and full of people and although it’s very cold in Berlin there is a warm sensation when you step into the market. Plus, there are plenty of places to eat sausages and other German food, which is always a treat.’
Toronto’s Shih-Ming Yao recommends Cologne’s Christmas market:
‘Cologne has a great reputation for its Christmas markets, which are spread out all over the city and around its spectacular cathedral. It does mean a bit of walking to get from market to market, but each one has a different theme and different decorations — plus the food in Cologne’s markets is amazing.’
Moving beyond Germany, Shih-Ming Yao is also a fan of the Christmas markets of Brussels.
‘These markets were more concentrated in one location which was good, and the Christmas lights in the city’s main square were really spectacular. It’s probably the best time to visit Brussels — a great excuse to enjoy some really good waffles and beer.’
In France, one of the largest Christmas markets is held in Strasbourg, where it has been pitched in front of the spectacular gothic cathedral each year since 1570.
If you know your Christmas carols, you’ll be familiar with the story of Good King Wenceslas. What better way to celebrate the build-up to Christmas then to visit Prague’s Wenceslas Square where the traditional market specialises in wooden puppets which — the perfect gift for children of all ages.
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor also gets turned over to a Christmas market. In the evenings the large square is heaving with local families enjoying all of the usual market stalls and odd street buskers.
Turning to the UK, Birmingham local Daniel Manton-Leigh is a supporter of the markets of his adopted home town:
‘Having lived in Birmingham for over five years, I’ve noticed Birmingham’s Christmas market gets bigger and better each year, and the crowds are getting bigger too. The after-work atmosphere is great, and it pretty much makes it feel like Christmas from the last week in November right up until Christmas Eve. If you’ve had enough of beer, the boozy hot chocolates are a must!’
Colombian Jose Correa-Rollano enjoys the markets of Scottish city Edinburgh:
‘It’s pretty cool — the main attractions are the handcrafts from around the world, but also the food is pretty good and the city looks beautiful with all the Christmas lights decorating the old buildings like a Christmas movie. There’s also attractions like ice-skating and music.’
While the format is fairly consistent wherever you go, each city brings it’s own charm and traditions to its Christmas market. Why not be a bit adventurous this winter? Rug up and discover a new city, with plenty of gluhwein and an abundance of festive cheer.