It’s officially December (can you believe it?!) which means across Europe, Christmas market season has arrived, with history that goes back as far back as the late Middle Ages. I thought it would be only appropriate to list some of the best Christmas markets to commemorate the start of the holiday season. From winter wonderland in Germany to cinnamon pastries in Prague, here’s a few markets you should know about.
1. Strasbourg, France
During the Christmas season, the historic medieval streets of Strasbourg transform into a Winter wonderland. This is the place where the oldest Christmas market was set up in 1570. The Christkindelsmärik was chosen as the “Best Christmas Market in Europe” two years in a row by European Best Destinations. It is currently the largest in Europe with about 300 stalls over 12 areas within the city.
2. Cologne, Germany
Cologne is host to a number of Christmas markets but the most famous of these is held in the shadow of the Cologne Cathedral, the largest in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s over 160 stalls selling the traditional yuletide wares and their famous Glühwein (mulled wine). Traditional music fills the air, providing the perfect atmosphere for Christmas shopping. Nobody does Christmas quite like the Germans.
3. Dresden, Germany
With accounts dating back to 1434, Dresden’s Christmas Market, traditionally known as Striezelmarkt, is the oldest in Germany. Dresden is annually turned into a Winter Wonderland with thousands of twinkling lights: romantic, festive and charming. It boasts the world’s tallest Nutcracker and Christmas pyramid. Smoking figures, Herrenhut Advent stars, Dresden’s traditional Pflaumentoffel, a chimney-sweep crafted from dried prunes, can all be bought here.
4. Brussels, Belgium
Brussels’ “Winter Wonders” is a hugely popular event every Christmas with the finest chocolatiers, waffles and moule frites to warm up to after a day around town. It extends along the streets from Grand’Place to place Ste-Catherine, covering almost 2 kilometres, and it’s only getting bigger each year. Each of the 240 market stalls is a little wooden-roofed hut selling mainly arts and crafts or food and drink, all of them having a pan-European flavour.
5. Copenhagen, Denmark
Denmark turns into an enchanting city around Christmas. The Christmas market is set in the Tivoli Gardens that boasts a spectacular light show. The traditional “Lucia Parade” consists of a hundred girls dressed as angels, there’s a Christmas Ensemble and a variety of fun rides.
6. Prague, Czech Republic
The best market is at Staromestské námestí, Old Town Square. When you’re done going through the huts selling wooden toys, Christmas decorations and traditional puppets, it’s time to warm up with hearty food. Get spit roast pork or klobasa (sausage) and trdelnik, sweet cylinder shaped pastry. Try the kind with cinnamon and eat it piping hot, all accompanied by svařené víno (mulled wine) or grog (warm sweet rum with a piece of lemon).
7. Berlin, Germany
The market at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche is the biggest and most popular receiving around 2 million visitors each year who come to peruse the jewellery, decorations and artwork on sale as well to indulge in the more clichéd seasonal pleasures such as chestnuts and mulled wine.
8. Birmingham, England
With over 180 stalls, it’s currently the largest outdoor Christmas Market in the Britain, and it’s the centrepiece of the city’s annual Christmas events calendar. Pretzels, schnitzels, bratwursts, and knoblauchbrot will tempt your tastebuds, all of which can be washed down with gluhwein, weissbeer, mulled cider, or tasty hot chocolate.
9. Budapest, Hungary
The Budapest Christmas market turns into a real-life fairy-tale. With a magical atmosphere, Christmas lights, trees, and decorations, Budapest is the perfect place for sweet Hungarian pastries and mulled wine, whilst you stroll along the stalls.
10. Salzburg, Austria
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’s more intimate than the others, and you can find Austria’s more popular market in Vienna, but Salzburg’s Christkindlmarkt has a much more authentic Christmas atmosphere. It’s a perfect postcard backdrop 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.
11. Helsinki, Finland
St Thomas Christmas Market is held in Helsinki’s Senate Square. You can expect gingerbread and traditional cinnamon buns as well as more than 100 booths selling Finnish craft, design, foods and sweets.