Christmas markets are a beloved part of winter celebrations in Europe. While often most closely associated with Germany and Austria, where the tradition started in the 1300’s and is sometimes known as ‘Christkindlmarkt’, the markets are now popular all over the continent. They usually run for the four weeks of Advent but aptly named site, ChristmasMarkets.com can help you plan details and make sure of specific dates. Here is a list of my favorite markets to get you excited for your own experience:
Lille – In the city center is where you will find the Grand Place occupied by a 50-metre high Big Wheel and an 18-metre high Christmas tree. Streets are decorated with evergreen garlands and festive ribbons, while carol singers provide a merry soundtrack. The smell of cinnamon and roasting chestnuts punctuates an atmosphere that features festive food and fine crafts from France, Russia, Canada and Poland. The market is open from November 20 to December 30.
Berlin – I strolled through three of the city’s 60 markets a few years ago on New Year’s Day just after Silvester wound down and even though it was late in the season and the sky was very gray, I felt nothing but happiness and cheer. My favorite was the market at Potsdamer Platz where the biggest mobile toboggan run in Europe is located. Berlin’s largest is the market at Spandau, which will enjoy its 40th year this season. Also of note is the market that takes place around Charlottenburg Palace.
Dresden – The best winter shopping in Germany can be found at Dresden’s market where artisans from all over Saxony come to sell wooden crafts, blown glass, incense burners and blue-and-white ceramics. A supersized fruit cake (stollen) is paraded through the city streets before being chopped into pieces in the Striezelmarkt and fed to market-goers. Germany’s oldest continually running Christmas market is unusual but it is a must visit to be sure. It opens at the end of November and runs until December 24.
Salzburg – One of the world’s largest Advent calendars, at the Schloss Hellbrun, anchors a market that is actually more intimate than most others in Europe. Sweet mulled wine and Lebkuchen (gingerbread) will keep you warm and if you don’t already have a pair of furry slippers they are available to purchase alongside loden coats and pewter crafts from the 85 stalls that decorate downtown Salzburg beginning in late November, staying open until December 26.
Stockholm – There is also more than one Christmas market in this Swedish city, but the Old Town (Gamla Stan) market is perhaps the best to visit if you are in search of a very traditional holiday experience. Since 1915 in Stortorget, it has been featuring little red stalls that sell warm “glögg” (mulled wine), gingerbread, cheese, candy and handmade crafts. It opens in late November and does not close down until Christmas.
Copenhagen – This Danish city celebrates with four miles of lights hung in the Tivoli Gardens and a crafts market in the historic Nyhavn district along the canal. Fit in amongst the locals by eating æbleskiver (iced doughnuts with black currant jam) and sipping gløgg as you stroll through Copenhagen marveling at the festive details. Just plan to do so on a day other than December 24 or 25, when the market is closed in observance of the holiday. It opens in mid-November.
No matter what Christmas market you choose to visit in Europe this winter, be sure to step out of your comfort zone to try as many of the locals delicacies as possible and be willing to be pulled into participating in local traditions of celebration. While the shopping is always a delight, it is these details that make each different culture’s celebration of Christmas truly special. Which Christmas markets have you visited? How was the experience?