During winter, Europe comes alive with twinkling lights, festive songs, glistening snow, and alluring scents, and you’d be hard-pressed to find any celebration quite like the Christkindlmarkt. This dose of holiday cheer originated in Vienna in 1294, and the holiday tradition has continued almost uninterrupted to this day throughout the continent, with the most famous and beloved being held in Germany, France, and Austria. Make sure to plan a festive trip to a winter wonderland with the Christmas markets.
Celebrating the Christkindlmarkt
While similar Christmas markets dot cities around the world, including several markets in New York City alone, there’s something special about walking the streets where these celebrations have taken place for centuries. And every market is unique. Some boast reindeers, while others feature skating rinks and pageants. Every market, however, stuns with trees, lights, stalls, and streets ablaze with lights and other holiday merriment.
But no Christmas is complete without a holiday shopping excursion. Whether looking to munch a bit while going stall to stall or you want a little holiday something-something following your visit, the Christmas markets are chock-full of homemade local delights, like gingerbread, sausages, and fruitcake. Make sure to wash it all down with glühwein, a hot mulled wine that keeps the chill at bay while fortifying you for another round of shopping!
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But what should you buy while you’re there? The answers are as endless and varied as the markets themselves. In Stuttgart, teddy bears are a traditional souvenir. In Nuremberg, pick up some “prune men” (or zwetschgenmännie), small figurines made of dried fruit and walnuts (but don’t eat them!). In Vienna, you’ll find hand-painted tin ornaments, and Budapest is home to stunning Hungarian ceramics.
How to Visit the Christmas Markets
A celebrated tradition, Christmas markets welcome patrons in almost every major European city, so if you visit between the second week of November and New Year’s, you’re almost guaranteed a market in the destination of choice. Most offer free entry, allowing you to save your Euros for delicious souvenirs and holiday treasures. If you’re looking to visit more than one holiday market and city, then tour and river cruise companies offer excursions dedicated specifically to Christmas markets. Just one of Viking River Cruises’ holiday itineraries, for instance, includes stops at the Christmas markets in Heidelberg, Wertheim, the walled medieval city of Rothenburg with its Christmas Museum, Bamberg, and Nuremberg.
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If you somehow manage to tire of the markets and the holiday festivities, don’t worry; all of these towns and cities are home to plenty of other things to see and do, from ancient walls to towering castles. We’re pretty sure you won’t need them, though – the Christmas markets of Europe are magical enough to make just about any Scrooge change his tune.
Specific Markets to Spread Holiday Cheer
Not sure which Christmas market city to visit? In London, you can enjoy a traditional market near the Tate Modern with wooden chalets and classic treats, or stop by the unforgettable London Bridge City Christmas Market.
Paris presents the traditional markets with trinkets, gifts, and grog along Saint-Germaine-des-Prés, on the Champs-Elysées, and Trocadéro, and don’t miss out on the famous window displays at Galeries Lafayette.
Berlin offers more than 60 different markets, including those at Gendarmenmarkt Square, Potsdamer Platz, and Charlottenburg Castle, while Bremen shines with romantic lights, a historic setting, and festive booths, and this market is considered to be one of the best in Germany.
Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmarik is one of the oldest markets in Europe and the oldest Christmas market in France, dating back to 1570. Routinely named one of the best Christmas markets in all of Europe, it’s an experience that cannot be missed while visiting Europe during the holidays.
Which markets are you most excited to visit? Tell your travel agent and start planning your last-minute holiday getaway to Europe now.