Welcome to Travel Saturday and this week we are going all seasonal and taking a tour of my top 8 Christmas market destinations in Europe.
Visiting a Christmas market is a chance to escape from the commercialism that can take over the holiday period, with mountains of plastic toys. In a European Christmas market you will find handmade, traditional gifts and decorations, as well as delicious food and warming drinks.
European Christmas Markets generally start in the last week of November and run through to Christmas Eve, with some finishing few days before Christmas and some running on into the New Year.
Christmas markets started in the late Middle Ages in the German-speaking part of Europe – now Germany, Austria and the Alsace region of France – so Germany is the obvious place to come for an authentic experience. The enchantment of historic Christkindlmarkts (or Christ child markets) can be found in villages, towns and cities all over Germany but the top picks are Nuremburg, Dusseldorf and Munich. The Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg’s Hauptmarkt is probably the most famous, attracting two million visitors every year.
The German-speaking part of Switzerland unsurprisingly also does a good line in Christmas markets. The Swiss city of Basle was actually the birthplace of the decorated Christmas tree and the city has bags of Christmas atmosphere, going all out for Christmas display, in the best possible European taste of course. There are over 100 Christmas trees dotted across the city and the Christmas market on the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz is one of the largest and prettiest in Switzerland.
The Krakow Christmas market in Poland is one I haven’t been to myself but friends have recommended it highly. Polish Christmas markets of course have their own character with specialty food and Polish carols. There is a high chance of a white Christmas here!
The Christmas markets of Salzburg are ultra romantic as the church bells peal and the smell of punsch fills the air. They have been holding Christmas markets here since the 15th century – at the foot of the spectacular Hohensalzburg fortress in front of the cathedral. There are also markets in the Mirabell Square, beside the church of St Leonhard and up in the courtyard of the fortress itself. The challenge is to drink something warm and alcoholically delicious at everyone in the course of an evening!
The glorious medieval set piece that is the Grand Place in Brussels plays host to a wonderful Christmas market and a festival called Plaisirs d’hiver (winter wonders). The wooden market stalls extend 2km all the way to Place St Catherine to place Ste-Catherine. The Belgians take food and drink seriously so expect to be treated to the best in seasonal fare. There is a sparkly ferris wheel, a skating rink and a gorgeous old-fashioned carousel.
The Skansen Christmas Market in Stockholm is a bit different from the Germanic ones and being held here at the Skansen outdoor museum it is super traditional. Swedish Christmas fare such as smoked sausage, pepparkakor biscuits, saffron buns and glögg (mulled wine) go down a treat. When I was there families were holding hands to dance around the Christmas tree – charming!
Barcelona’s Fira de Santa Llúcia traditional Christmas market dates from 1786 in the Pla de la Seu & Avda de la Catedral. Something in the region of 300 stalls sell Christmas handcrafts. Look out for an unusual Nativity scene character the caganer (crapper), a small figure crouching over a steaming poo with his trousers around his ankles!
The British Isles have kind of jumped on the European bandwagon with Christmas markets and it’s nothing short of a copy cat act. But if you happen to be in the UK and looking for some Christmas atmosphere … Bath and St Albans have pretty Christmas markets and if you are in London there is a German-style market on the South Bank. The main Christmas event in London is the Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. Stalls, rides, food and seasonal beverages. It’s a passing attempt at a European Christmas market!
To your world travel dreams!