Late November is the beginning of Christmas Market season in Europe! Nothing has the potential to get you into the Christmas spirit like a charming Christmas Market in a quaint historic location. If you do go, plan to spend at least one full afternoon and evening to take it all in and more if you want to see some of the local sights and for areas with multiple markets – such as Berlin, Cologne, Vienna, Paris, and others.
Each European country has its fair share of Christmas Markets. Each with their unique charm. Choosing which one to visit can be a delightful challenge. Christmas Markets are in full swing in late November and into December. But make no mistake, Christmas Markets are frequently very crowded. If you are willing and able to brave the crowds, mark your calendars for this spectacular event!
Christmas Market highlights not to miss include unique handicraft gifts, delicious food, unique drinks, decorated shop windows, and local historic sights.
Unique Handicraft Gifts
The hustle and bustle of shoppers searching for the ideal Christmas gift is quite the sight! You will find Christmas vendors selling everything from handmade Christmas ornaments, decorations, wool sweaters and blankets, country handicrafts, and everything in between. Keep an eye out for handmade ornaments with local country scenes, beautiful nutcrackers, nativities, wooden toys, Christmas gnomes, and traditional cuckoo clocks. Each market sells unique regional items so do your research in advance.
Remember to bring several re-usable bags to carry your purchases back to the hotel!
Roasted chestnuts, bratwurst, and crepe with Nutella are delicious staples found at most Christmas Markets. Look out for Lebkuchen, a traditional German Christmas cookie with spices (think soft ginger-like cookie), and Christmas stollen, a fruit bread with nuts, spices, and dried fruit.
You’ll also find chimney cakes and Linzer cookies. You will find raclette at some markets.
Vendors typically make raclette, the dish, with toasted bread and raclette cheese, a semi-hard cow’s milk cheese that is melted, but other cheeses may be used. Take a look at the unique raclette device used to melt the cheese. It holds a wheel of cheese and heats the top to melt the cheese. The vendor will scrape the melted cheese onto a toasted slice of bread.
You can also find local chocolatiers selling delicious sweets fashioned into fun designs like tools and toys.
You will find restaurants nearby if you desire a more filling, regionally influenced meal during your shopping day. You’ll find it easy to fill your tummy with European delights during your Christmas Market expedition.
Warm Wine and Cold Beer
Warm gluhwein is a staple of any European Christmas Market. Gluhwein is heated wine – usually red – with spices such as cloves and cinnamon. During the cold winter days and nights in Europe, this delicious drink will help warm you up. Don’t forget to keep your souvenir gluhwein mug! Gluhwein traditionally will be served in small souvenir mugs. Vendors will charge you both for the gluhwein and the mug. You can return the mug for a small refund or keep the mug as a souvenir. Most markets will have their own unique annual design. These small mugs are wonderful souvenirs to take home or as stocking stuffers.
You will also find local and regional beers and wines on sale and for consumption at the markets. These are great gifts for the beer and wine fans on your Christmas list.
Christmas Shop Windows
Many European stores will decorate their windows to the nines! Their Christmas displays are a spectacular sight. Christmas shop
windows are an experience in itself. While you are shopping for family and friends and taking all the sights in, don’t forget to take a look at the shop windows for some great photo opportunities.
Most European cities and villages will hold Christmas Markets in the town square. The feel of being in a historic location is astounding. Some markets are held in the same location as their predecessors hundreds of years ago. Don’t forget to take in the historic sights, old churches, and museums while ducking in to take a break from the cold.
Aachen Christmas Market in Germany is just around the corner from historic sights such as Charlemagne’s throne, Aachen Cathedral, and Aachen Town Hall with frescoes from the 1800s. Cologne’s market is held just outside Cologne Cathedral, a World Heritage sight and largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. One of Berlin’s many Christmas Markets is held in the entrance to Charlottenburg Palace built in the 17th century. Lille’s Christmas Market in France is held in Vieux Lille, with its 17th century town houses and cobbled pedestrian streets. Paris’ Christmas Market is held on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees with the Arc de Triomphe on one end and the Places de la Concorde on the other. The Lincoln Christmas Market in England is held just outside the Lincoln Cathedral, construction commenced in 1072, and Lincoln Castle where the Magna Carta can be seen. Many other markets around Europe will be similar. Before choosing a Christmas Market, do some advance research to ensure get the most out of your experience.
Travel among European nations is easy. Once you have cleared customs in your country of arrival, you will find plenty of flights and budget airlines to take you from country to country within the European Union. A nice idea if you want to go Christmas Market hopping!
Several cities continually hit the top Christmas Markets lists, including Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Strasbourg, and Aachen. But do your research and find the best fit for you, your family, and your travel plans. Many websites, travel magazines, and news outlets publish a list of their top markets. The choice is up to you. Ensure you check the market dates since they begin and end at varying times. Remember to also check U.S. embassy websites for any security notices. And enjoy your time overseas!