From Rome to Cologne, these historic markets specialise in handmade crafts, mulled drinks, and other holiday treats.
Photo: Dresden Christmas market, Dresden Tourism
Three magical words – European Christmas Markets – conjure up traditional images of Gothic churches, snowy wonderlands and stalls filled to the brim with local crafts, seasonal baked goods and the sounds of Christmas carols.
Whether it’s shopping for loved ones or exploring a new city and its culture, these five destinations are amongst the world’s best loved and a must for any European destination for Christmas holidays.
Technically speaking, Christmas markets take their names from the local dialects and history, and are street markets taking place during the celebration of Christmas during the four weeks of Advent. Long a tradition in European villages, each market has evolved to become a focal point in the culture of the region in which it resides.
With excellent airport access as well as a reasonable driving time from many major European cities, Zagreb, Croatia may be the capital of Christmas markets. Voted best of the markets and a perennial winner on travel destination awards, Zagreb tops our list.
Photo: Ledeni Park, Zagreb Tourism
Highlights include ice skating in King Tomislav Square surrounded by wooden huts to enjoy a rink-side favourite of mulled wine, a staple of the festive season, the nightly concerts at Zrinjevac in the central music pavilion, and a living nativity at Zagreb Cathedral.
Gaze at the beautifully lit Christmas tree in Trg Ban Jelacica, the city’s main square, and centre of the Christmas market.
When: 2 December 2017 to 7 January 2018
More information http://www.adventzagreb.com/
One of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe takes place in Strasbourg, France, and is known as Christkindelsmärik. First held in 1570, this traditional market centres on Notre-Dame Cathedral and spreads from Place Broglie over multiple locations throughout the city, and is known for its Alsatian traditions.
Photo: Christmas Square, Alsace Tourism
To sample the local flavours, head to Place des Meuniers for a taste of Alsace’s fabled small growers, while in Place d'Austerlitz sample the local products and delicacies. Make sure to try the bredele cookies and flammekeuche or ‘flaming cake’ that looks like a pizza with bacon and onions.
You’ll be surrounded by the scent of roasting chestnuts and charming architecture reminiscent of fairy tales. Stars, angels and snowflake garland decorate the city’s half-timbered houses along the cobblestone streets.
The most-wanted souvenir from Strasbourg is the stuffed white stork, not only the city’s mascot, but a symbol of good luck, found in the La Petite France boutiques along the canals.
When: 24 November to 30 December 2017
More information noel.strasbourg.eu/
If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas surrounded by classic architecture and some of the world’s finest art museums, look no further than Dresden. The ‘Striezelmarkt’ is located on the Altmarkt Square, in the historical city centre, and surrounded by eleven different Christmas markets ranging from traditional to medieval to the Hüttenzauber full of alpine ski hut charm.
Photo: Dresden gifts in the market, source Wikimedia
Long a source of specialised gifts, the market favourites are the ‘Erzgebirge’ wooden folk art figurines and Moravian Stars, an illuminated 16-point paper star.
Savour a winter treat, Dresden Stollen cake, as you stroll along the Elbe River listening to Christmas carols under the twinkling lights. Stollen, or Christmas cake, is a German tradition dating back centuries. A colourful collection of nuts, dried fruit and spices (and sometimes brandy!), it is decorated as a symbol of the Christ child seen in the nativity scenes at this time of year.
When: 28th November to 24th December 2018
More information: dresden.de/en/05/Christmas-in-Dresden
There is something about the historic villages throughout Germany, dotted with traditional artisans and beautiful scenery to conjure up Christmas memories.
Stop into Cologne, where the Christmas markets are spread throughout the city. The classic baked apples and cinnamon biscuits scent the festively decorated region. There are seven markets in total, with four located at the Cathedral, the Alter Markt, the Neumarkt and on the Rudolfplatz. Almost two million visitors attend each year.
Photo Joachim Rieger (www.fotografie-joachimrieger.de)
The Old Town, or Altsadt, is the place to go for children’s activities. From a nostalgic puppet theatre and Santa Claus’s quarter, there are many toy stands to choose from.
As the city is on the opposite side of the country, compared to Dresden, there is a different feel to the culture capital, a brief train ride from Brussels, Belgium.
When: 27 November to 23 December 2017
More information: cologne.de/events/christmas-markets
Although the Italian Christmas markets or ‘Mercatino di Natale’ aren’t as numerous as those in Germany, there is an Old-World charm to discover such as the Piazza Navona in Rome or one of the smaller markets in the Italian Alps.
Best known for the stunning nativity displays throughout town, the Piazza Navona market highlights the food, faith and music for which the region is known.
Along the streets of Coronari, via dell’Orso and Sant’Eustachio, there are daily concerts with traditional mandolin and Italian favourites. And winter in Rome means that there are often less tourists than the summer and a chance to immerse yourself in the history of The Eternal City.
Photo: La Befana by Lalupa
The Italian Santa Claus ‘Babbo Natale’ can be seen strolling the streets, but the more popular ‘La Befana’, is the good witch who hands out candy to children on the Epiphany. During the holiday season, Piazza Navona comes to life in the early evening for la passeggiata, the Italian tradition of an evening walk around the neighbourhood.
When: 18 November 2017 to 6 January 2018
More information: regioni-italiane.com/mercatini-natale-Lazio.htm
However else Europeans celebrate the Yuletide season, Christmas still centres around an Advent market that, in most cases, has filled the square before the cathedral each December for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Enjoy and Happy Holidays.