European Christmas Markets: The Ultimate Winter Mini Break Date
Few things evoke the Yuletide spirit better than visiting a European Christmas market. There’s something incredibly romantic about wandering hand-in-hand around the prettily decorated stalls, whilst indulging in a wintry treat or three.
Compared to a trip to the cinema, it may seem a daunting date to try and arrange. But, never fear – our guide has all you need to make the magic happen.
What are they?
The ‘Christkindlmarkt’ or ‘Weihnachtsmarkt’ started life in Germanic countries as a sociable way for local craftspeople to sell to a gift-buying public during the holiday season. They have since become a popular tradition throughout Europe, and typically start about four weeks before Christmas. Some run well into January, though the atmosphere is beginning to fade by then.
Shoppers can expect to find anything from sheepskin slippers to fairytale castles made from gingerbread. Popular staples include Bratwurst, Eierpunsch, Magenbrit and, of course, mulled wine.
Christmas markets enable couples to experience some of the great European towns and cities as if modern life had never happened. Cars are kept away and the focus is on enjoying the kind of Christmas that children dream about. As well as artisan gifts, the markets provide a snapshot of local culture through music and regional delicacies.
Where to go
Some of the most famous Christmas markets are in Germany. Berlin hosts more than 70, with the market at Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche being the most popular. Elsewhere in the country, the markets in Dresden, Erfurt, Dormund, Augsburg, Frankfurt, Cologne, Nuremberg and Stuttgart each receive several million visitors every year.
In Austria, the Innsbruck markets are renowned for retaining a traditional alpine character. For the traditionalists however, the Vienna market is a must – it has been running since 1294.
France boasts several markets of note, with the most romantic being the ‘Christkindelsmärik’. This has been held around Strasbourg’s cathedral every year since 1570. In Belgium, the always delightful Bruges hosts several markets, with the one in the main square being the biggest draw.
If the crowds at the more established markets don’t appeal, try one of the newer ventures. For example, the market in front of Berlin’s Charlottenburg Castle has only been running a few years, but is exceedingly pretty.
In Romania, a beautiful Christmas market has been held in the Grand Square of Sibiu since 2008 and is now regarded as the best in the country.
How to book
Numerous operators offer package deals to the major European markets. These start from around £100 per person for two nights. If you’d prefer to arrange the trip independently, the cheapest option is to fly with one of the budget airlines and book out-of-town accommodation.
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