If you’re looking for that something special to give to your loved ones this Christmas, and can’t find anything at your local shopping centre, where better to find unique and interesting treasures, taste new food from international cuisines, as well as getting into the Christmas spirit, than a traditional, old-fashioned Christmas market? Here are my favourites from around Europe.
November 17 – December 29
The largest German market outside of Germany and Austria, Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is an opportunity for you to taste the traditional culinary delights of Germany right on your doorstop. From Bratwurst sausage and Brezel bread to mulled wine and beers, there is something for every foodie, and they are sure to make you feel all christmassy. There is also a Christmas Craft Fair that offers various handmade gifts such as Christmas decorations, candles, jewellery and small gifts, all made by local artists. Don’t forget to sing along with the singing moose, which has become a famous attraction in its own right, as well as listen to the Christmas carols and traditional songs that are played at every street corner.
November 12 – January 8
Paris’ main Christmas market is located along the Champs Elysées, stretching from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde, and consisting of multiple little “villages”. Some offer handmade crafts and unique gifts, and the others sell food from different countries and French regions. Expect to see and smell a lot of cheese, especially the famous raclette, originally Swiss and used for melting, which comes served with bread, potatoes or saucisson. Don’t forget to also have a ride on the big Ferris wheel that lights up during the night and from which you can see a magnificent view of the Champs Elysées, the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, and the Seine’s bridges.
November 25 – December 31
Strasbourg is the home of the first ever European Christmas market, held in 1570 and then called the “Christkindelsmarik”. This will be the market’s 446th edition, and as well as offering traditional French cuisines at its market stalls, it will also welcome Portugal as its guest country, meaning that there will be a whole section dedicated to everything Portuguese, located on Place Gutenberg. However, as for local specialities, don’t miss bredele biscuits, which come in all shapes and flavours and look pretty hanging from the tree before being eaten on Christmas day. With its traditional Alsatian buildings, huge Christmas trees and impressive cathedral that lights up in the night, it is clear to see why Strasbourg is known as the Capital of Christmas.
November 13 – January 6
The capital holds the best Christmas market in Hungary, offering 100 wooden pavilions in Vorosmarty and St Stephen’s Square. There are many treasures to be found, all at reasonable prices, from traditional pastries and mulled or sparkling wine, to crocheted items and fur hats and gloves. Don’t forget to treat yourself to culinary novelties including toki pompos, a Hungarian pizza topped with bacon, onion, and cream, or the more daring kakashere pörkölt, a rooster testicle stew. Finish off the day with a skate around the ice rink and then a drink at one of the surrounding cafés.
November 23 – December 23
Dating back to 1692, the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt is one of Germany’s best-known Christmas markets. Around 300 stalls offer traditional German arts and crafts such as tree decorations, toys, knitted hats and felted slippers. Food and drink include roast chestnuts, sausages, spiced wine and fruit brandies. A fairy tale grotto is set up on the Schlossplatz, as well as old-fashioned carrousels and a Ferris wheel, and don’t forget to check out the free concerts that are held in the Renaissance courtyard of the Old Palace and also on the steps of the Town Hall. Stuttgart is a magical city during winter, and your visit there is guaranteed to make you feel festive, especially as with temperatures often reaching below freezing, it could well be a white Christmas.
November 20 – January 6
Italy doesn’t come to mind when thinking about Christmas markets, but Bologna, the home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in the country, is worth a visit because of its romantic medieval buildings, pretty fountains and vintage and designer shops, all beautifully decorated with festive trimmings during the holiday season. The market is based in two locations, on the piazza in front of the 12th century San Pietro Cathedral, as well as in the cloisters of the church of Santa Maria dei Servi. Italian cuisine is a huge part of the market, from marzipan fruits to rich hot chocolate, but above all the torrone, a festive nougat made with almonds and honey.
November 12 – December 24
Vienna has around 10 markets, all held in different parts of the city such as in Karlsplatz, Stephensplatz, and a historic Old Market at Freyburg. Probably the most romantic market, however, is held in front of the stunning Schönbrunn palace, which when lit up makes for a beautiful backdrop to the many stalls of food and crafts. The Viennese markets offer miniature wooden houses, puppets, leather clothing, gingerbread, chocolate and cookies, among other traditional delicies. Don’t miss sipping mulled wine while watching magical light projections at the Museumsquartier, or watching a Christmas concert at one of the main churches, such as St Stephen’s Cathedral, Peterskirche, or Malteserkirche.