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Dec
19

Where do I Find the Best Christmas Markets in Europe….?

Right here. That’s where. This is a European tradition and it’s a fine one, let me tell you. These markets not only offer pieces that make one of a kind gifts, they’re like a window on the old world. It’s a great way to show your children what Christmas can mean-slowing down, sitting in cafes with fogged windows and absolutely breath taking squares lit up and covered with snow.

Take a look, your children will never forget it and don’t forget to read our latest article on the 10 best Christmas destinations here.


tivoli gardens

tivoli gardens

You haven’t experienced Christmas lights until you’ve seen nearly four miles of them artfully hung in patterns by Tiffany’s head designer in Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens—and that’s not counting the 1,800 strands on the lakeside willows. The Christmas market stalls are stocked with fine handmade crafts and vendors selling iced doughnuts slathered with black currant jam and hefty cups of gløgg, a steaming hot mulled red wine full of  raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks, and cloves—all thank God are steeped in aquavit or schnapps.

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Christmas in Europe is a magical time—think lyrical midnight masses in Gothic churches, and for quirky local traditions. Think mischievous pixies (Copenhagen), kindly witches (Rome), treacherous demons (Salzburg), or an 8,000-pound fruitcake (Dresden). However else Europeans celebrate, Christmas still centers around an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Many markets start on the Friday before Advent, which is four Sundays before Christmas Eve; most end on December 24, especially in Germanic countries, where Christmas Eve is set aside for trimming the tree at home. Others, like Italy, keep celebrating until Epiphany on January 6.

So take your pick, choose where you want to see Christmas for what it once was and still is…

Brussels, Belgium

Brussels' Christmas marke

Brussels' Christmas marke

Brussels’ Christmas market has been around only since 2002, but it pulls off its Plaisirs d’Hiver/Winter Pret (“Pleasures of Winter”) festival with elegant style. There’s a nightly sound-and-light show on the Grand Place and a market surrounding the Bourse (Stock Exchange) and along Place Sainte Catherine. In keeping with that Belgian spirit of a United Europe, the 240 wooden chalets host artisans from around the world hawking a kaleidoscope of Christmas wares, handmade crafts, and souvenirs. Not that Belgian traditions are left out; browse the many food stalls for pots of moules (mussels) and caricoles (peppery whelks or winkles), Belgian fries and fluffy Belgian waffles, seasonal croustillons (sugar doughnuts), and Belgium’s two most welcome additions to world cuisine: fine chocolates and powerful beer. The shopping ends at the Fishmarket, which is transformed annually into a long ice-skating rink.

Look For: The Île de la Réunion village. Each year, Brussels invites a different guest of honor to set up a market-within-the-market to share some of its own traditions. Past invitees have included Provence, Québec, Tallinn, and Lapland.

Dates: Late Nov.–Jan. 1

Dresden, Germany

Weihnachtsmarkt Dresden

Weihnachtsmarkt Dresden

Nothing says Christmas like a four-ton fruitcake. At least, that’s what they say in Dresden when they parade their supersize stollen through the city in early December. Accompanied by the Stollenmädchen, or “Fruitcake Maiden,” the Saxon fruit loaf wends its way through the medieval streets before making its triumphal entry into the Striezelmarkt, where, surrounded by 230 glittering crafts stalls and a 46-foot “Christmas pyramid,” the stollen is chopped into pieces that are inflicted upon the market-goers. Dresden’s Striezelmarkt and its odd traditions date back to 1434, making it Germany’s oldest continuously running Christmas market.

Look For: The best crafts Germany has to offer. Top artisans from across Saxony arrive bearing all sorts of regional specialties: wooden crafts from the Ore Mountains, blown glass from Lauscha, Blaudruck indigo prints from the Lusatia region, incense burners shaped like nutcrackers, and, of course, Dresden’s own famed blue-and-white ceramics.

Dates: End of Nov.–Dec. 24

London, England

london

london

London’s Christmas shopping season opens in November, when Regent Street ceremoniously switches on its Christmas lights for a pedestrian parade. London typically spreads out its Christmas cheer, from the official Norwegian fir on Trafalgar Square to the ice skating rink at Somerset House. Trees with fairy lights herald Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland (mid-Nov. – early Jan.), which includes London’s largest outdoor skating rink, a toboggan slide, a Ferris wheel, carolers, and a traditional German Christmas market. More small markets spring up at the Natural History Museum, which installs a temporary ice rink (early Nov. -mid-Jan.); and the Greenwich Market (most of Dec.), also with a nearby ice rink. Don’t miss the  carol sing-along at the Royal Albert Hall.

Munich, Germany

munich xmas market

munich xmas market

Crafts stalls surround a glittering 100-foot Christmas tree on the Marienplatz, which is filled with Muncheners munching on sausages and potato pancakes, gulping glĂĽhwein, and crunching Lebkuchen (gingerbread). Munich trains its next generation of marketers at the “Heavenly Workshop” in the Town Hall’s pub, where kids dress up as angels to practice arts, crafts, and the baking of traditional cookies. Every evening at 5:30, from the Friday before Advent to the night before Christmas, a brass band and Alpine choir peal out carols from the balcony of the neo-Gothic Rathaus (Town Hall).

Look For: Small themed markets sprinkled around the city, including the famed Kripperlmarkt (Crib Market) on Rindermarkt, with Bavarian and Tyrolean Nativity figures, and a Medieval Market on Wittelsbacher Platz. Also keep your eyes peeled for the Christmas tram that trundles through the old city serving spiced wine and gingerbread.

Dates: Late Nov.–Dec. 24

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany

Nuremberg, Germany

On the Friday before Advent, the golden Christmas Angel appears on the high gallery of the medieval Frauenkirche to recite the opening prologue for one of the biggest and most famous Christmas markets of them all. Two million shoppers descend upon the 180 candy cane-striped stalls that fill the main square with crafts, ornaments, and toys. The air is perfumed with gingerbread, glĂĽhwein, and smoke swirling from bratwurst grills.

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague Christmas

Prague Christmas

The two best Christmas markets are on the long slope of Wenceslas Square and in the medieval movie set of the Old Town Square formed around a giant Christmas tree, manger scene, and small petting zoo. The markets’ brightly decorated stalls sell wooden toys, Bohemian crystal, handmade jewelry, classic Czech marionettes and classics like  honeyed gingerbread, vánocvka (a braided pastry studded with raisins), and vosĂ­ hnĂ­zda‘ (“wasps nests,” nutty cookies heavy with rum), which is a heck of a lot better than Christmas Eve dinner which consists of wine sausages and carp—you’ll see barrels of the fish everywhere. Slip a carp scale into your wallet to ensure an adequate cash flow for the upcoming year.

Rome, Italy

rome at christmas

rome at christmas

Romans put up Nativity scenes across the city, from life-size tableaux on the Spanish Steps and before St. Peter’s to countless crèches in church chapels, all populated by papier-mâchĂ© or terracotta figurines and most with a pizza parlor tucked between the shops of the Bethlehem backdrop. Market action centers in Rome on Piazza Navona, its Bernini fountains surrounded by stalls hawking toys, handmade presepio figures, carnival games of chance, ciambelle (dinner plate-size doughnuts), and 101 variations on peanut brittle.

Dates: Early Dec.–early Jan.

Salzburg, Austria

salzburg

salzburg

Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt is one of Europe’s oldest markets; there are documents from the 15th century describing the fine crafts being sold by elderly women in front of the Salzburg cathedral during Advent season. It is also smaller and more intimate than the others listed here—just 85 stalls ranged under the floodlit baroque stage set that is downtown Salzburg, with its fountains snuggled under avant-garde glass casings for the winter, church bells echoing off the buildings, and the medieval castle glowering down from the cliff above. It’s  perfect  for browsing stalls selling pewter crafts, furry slippers, and loden coats while keeping warm with Lebkuchen (gingerbread), roasted chestnuts and almonds, sausages, and sweet mulled wine.

Look For: One of the world’s largest Advent calendars, just south of town at the Schloss Hellbrunn, a 17th-century pleasure-palace built for Salzburg’s archbishop-princes that just so happens to have 24 windows on its facade—perfect for an Advent calendar. Today there’s a crafts market and a living Nativity.

Dates: Late Nov.–Dec. 26

Strasbourg, France

merry, merry xmas

merry, merry xmas

The France/Germany border has spent centuries dancing to either side of the Alsace region. It’s currently in the France column, but its Teutonic traditions have blessed the Alsatian capital of Strasbourg with the oldest (441 years and counting) and best Christmas market in France, complete with caroling choirs, Nativity plays, an ice rink, and mulled wine served in boot-shaped mugs. Christkindelsmärik wooden stalls stacked with delicate ornaments and Nativity figurines surround Notre-Dame Cathedral and line Place Broglie. Edible specialties include pretzels, roasted chestnuts, bredele cookies, and Flammekeuche (a “flamed cake” thin pizza of bacon, onions, and crème fraĂ®che).

Vienna, Austria

Vienna

Vienna

Vienna’s venerable Christkindlmarkt on Rathausplatz flings opens in mid-November, and three million visitors flock here each year for beeswax candles, wooden toys, and glass ornaments. Shoppers snack on cream-filled pastries, candied fruit, roasted chestnuts, and Weihnachtspunsch (a spiced “Christmas punch” of wine, brandy, or schnapps sweetened with warm fruit juices). This market puts a premium on tradition: there are precious few tacky stands selling plastic toys, and Santa Claus, whom many locals view as the Hollywood harbinger of a commercialized Christmas, is strictly verboten. Instead, there’s the traditional Wiener Christkindl, the official Christ Child—invariably played (following an odd Teutonic custom) by a young woman with long blonde curls. There’s another market of luxe Christmas wares in the baroque forecourt of the suburban SchĂ°nbrunn Palace, and a more intimate and sophisticated market lining the narrow cobblestone streets of Vienna’s Spittelberg district.

Do you like being the first to know?

If you enjoy always getting the best tips, deals and insider news before everyone else then make sure to visit www.fareboom.com and follow us on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.

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