With the summer season sadly over, the gloomy winter months are looming ever closer. However, November is an excellent time to consider a city break in Europe, as famous destinations throughout the continent transform into a collection of winter wonderlands. Traditional Christmas Markets, some that have existed for centuries, will start to appear, providing an array of hand made crafts, gingerbread and piping hot mulled wine to stave off the winter chill.
Christmas markets rekindle a sense of tradition a world apart from the increasingly commercialized view of the festive season that appears every year on local high streets. Visiting Europe during the Christmas period offers a unique vacation experience where bad weather can actually improve the festive mood. Nothing beats taking shelter in a log cabin and warming your hands around a hot mug of Glühwein, while the wind and rain pounds down outside. Here is a selection of some of the best markets throughout Europe that will leave you yearning to don your old knitted Christmas jumper and head on over to Europe this winter.
Germany is renowned for their Christmas markets and it is difficult to just select one “must visit” location. However, the annual festivities held in Dresden are truly unique and imbued with a sense of tradition, as accounts of Christmas markets in the city date back as far as 1434. When the night draws in, the lights begin to twinkle and the hot drinks on offer are essential to warm you up as the temperature drops. Dresden is worth a visit just to see the 3,500kg Christmas Stollen fruit cake. This giant fruit pudding is made in the city and paraded through the streets before being cut up and distributed amongst the crowd once it reaches the market.
Though perhaps not the first choice if you are after the ultimate Christmas shopping experience, the Tivoli Christmas markets can certainly stake a claim to be one of the prettiest in Europe. Tiffany’s chief designer John Loring was employed to design the arrangement of the Christmas lights within the park and for good reason. The Tivoli Christmas markets need 1,800 individual light chains to illuminate the surrounding willow trees and a further four miles of lighting for the central Christmas Tree and nearby buildings in Tivoli gardens, Europe’s oldest amusement park. These markets in Copenhagen are an essential trip for a true Scandinavian Christmas.
Manchester, United Kingdom
The Christmas market tradition flourishes in the United Kingdom, with some impressive markets in London, Birmingham and throughout the rest of the country. However, the Manchester market offers something a bit different. Capturing the essence of a Dickensian Christmas, the Manchester markets are a series of 8 unique markets that spread throughout the city centre including King Street’s French market and the craft orientated market on Exchange Street. Of course, the highlight is the mass of stalls in Albert Square, complete with a large nativity scene and enormous Santa Claus sat in front of the Town Hall.
This is one of the oldest and most famous Christmas markets in Europe and has incredibly been running since 1570! Heavenly aromas waft from each stall and a chorus of carol singers enchant visitors around the impressive Strasbourg Cathedral. With the introduction of the TGV to Strasbourg, visitor numbers have swollen in recent year and it is now a firm favourite amongst tourists as well as locals.
Italy perhaps is not the first country to spring to mind when thinking about possible Christmas market destinations, yet the selection is surprisingly varied. Open from 23rd November and continuing throughout December, the Trento Christmas Market offers a Mediterranean twist to the traditional Christmas market style. A small medieval city nestled in the foothills of the Alps, Trento’s Christmas market supplies typical local food and wine as well as a slight German influence due to the city’s close proximity to the German border.
Set in the open air museum of Skansen, this 110 year old market sets itself apart from the rest with the vast number of activities available within the market. Not only can you find the usually fare of festive goods and produce but there are also pony rides for children, freshly brewed beer testing, craft workshops and live music, for which dancing is heartily encouraged.
Whilst, Salzburg is arguably of the oldest market in Austria (15th century), Vienna is a hot contender for the title of Christmas Market capital of Europe. With multiple different Christmas markets throughout the city and over 2 million visitors each year, it may be worth booking an apartment in the city so you can spend a few extra days exploring the Christmas markets that spread through all four corners of Vienna.
Rathausplatz market, whilst quite crowded, is definitely worth visiting for a glimpse of the Town Hall, where every window is decorated by local artists to create one giant, multi-storey advent calendar. If you are looking to enjoy the markets at a more leisurely pace, then one of the many other smaller markets in the city are ideal to grab some waffles or hot roasted chestnuts as you peruse the different stalls looking for the perfect present. A trip to Austria this winter is essential if you want to experience the warm, friendly atmosphere and unavoidable magic of a traditional European Christmas.