While it’s true there’s no place like home for the holidays, there’s no reason why you can’t start your holidays at one or more of the fabulous Christmas markets held all over Europe. This year when you gather for the holidays, start thinking about making some new holiday memories starting with a fabulous getaway that includes some stops at Christmas markets. Your travel advisors at GetAway can plan your trip including some stops for shopping and enjoying some new holiday experiences.
Markets got their start in Vienna
Christmas markets are street markets designed to celebrate the holiday during the four weeks of Advent leading up to and sometimes, depending on which country you are in, past Christmas into January. They are thought to have originated in Vienna, but were made popular in Germany.
The first Christmas market supposedly was in 1296 in December when Emperor Albrecht I of Austria granted shopkeepers a one-to-two day market so the townspeople could stock up before the winter. Christmas markets are held in town squares and the little, decorated wooden stalls offer arts and crafts items, candles, toys, Christmas decorations and figurines as well as food and drinks. Some town halls transform into giant Advent calendars with different windows lighted each night.
Now, virtually every country including Germany, Denmark, France, Austria, Portugal, Spain and England have Christmas markets. So your GetAway advisor can plan plenty of sightseeing in a country and have your trip end with a fantastic Christmas market experience. You can fill that second empty suitcase you brought with your holiday gifts, and, of course, a couple of items for yourself!
Festive sights, sounds and food
The most famous Christmas market is in Vienna, which actually has a dozen or more markets located throughout the city. The largest market is in Rathausplatz, in the square facing Vienna City Hall. Markets in Vienna are, well, grand — like the residents strive to match the fabulous, grand architecture of the city. There’s lots of light displays and Rathausplatz has an ice skating rink. And, just a note, when markets are described as having stalls with items, we are taking upwards of 200 stalls.
Markets, no matter what city in what country, serve a variation of gluhwein. Gluhwein is hot mulled wine spiced with cloves, anise, cinnamon and citrus fruits. Red wine is the most prevalent, but you can find it done with white wine. There is usually a version of apple cider if you want a non-alcoholic beverage and, of course, hot cocoa. Gluhwein, where ever you are, is served in a mug which you put a deposit on. You can return for a refill, or keep the mug for the price of the small deposit. They make great keepsake souvenirs.
Make sure to go to the markets hungry. In France, where you should wait until dusk to go shopping because the twinkling lights are magical, you can get oysters, champagne, caviar, poutine and freshly grilled meat.
In Germany, you’ll find gingerbread, but mostly lebkuchen which is a softer version of gingerbread flavored with honey, cloves, cinnamon, nuts and candied fruits. At the German markets the lebkuchen is lavishly decorated, wrapped in plastic and hung from the eaves of the stalls like festive, edible ornaments. You’ll find freshly grilled links of sausage, sauerkraut, pretzels as big as your head and all sorts of sweet delights.
A rundown of some of the markets and highlights…
In Budapest, your shopping options include clothing, leather gloves and artwork in addition to the staples of craft items and decorations. The market takes place in the city center of Vorosmarty Square. The stalls are decorated like quaint cottages and there are so many they creep down the side streets. In addition to roasted chestnuts, you can sample local specialties like stuffed cabbage and pork knuckle. The artisans place a special emphasis on traditional crafts including glass-blowing, candle making, leatherwork and traditional Hungarian embroidery. Try the chimney cakes or kurtoskalacs are grilled dough coated in cinnamon or almonds.
The big market in Strasbourg, France, is held in the stunning cathedral center. The entire city goes all out decorating for Christmas and a variety of holiday events are held each day. The more than 300 stalls are known as the Marché de Noel. You can find markets throughout the city including the quirky “Magical Christmas,” “Secret Christmas” and “Alternative Christmas” markets.
The Zagreb, Croatia market has some fun variations in addition to the traditional stalls and food. There are ice sculpture carvings, an ice rink, pop-up bars and lots of music.
Copenhagen holds its biggest market in Tivoli Gardens, so there is an admission fee to the park. The paths in the park are lined with stalls and you can pick up unique gives, including ornamental glass, magic bells and wooden houses. You’ll be able to meet Santa’s reindeer and next door to the market is an alpine village with winter activities.
Bath, England’s market has hundreds of wooden, chalet style stalls that are located along the winding streets. Pick up artisan, handcrafted gifts and enjoy home-made soup and steak burgers! In Brussels, go to the Plaisirs d’Hiver and shop along the streets leading from the Grand Palace to the Place Sainte Catherine. The featured food is doughnuts, in a variety of flavors with a variety of fillings. There’s a 200-foot long ice rink, decorated Ferris wheel and a huge Christmas tree.
Prague’s biggest markets are in Old Town and Wenceslas Square, In addition to gluhwein, you’ll find mead, punch, grog (which is rum, lemon, sugar and hot water) sausages, pancakes, chimney cakes and ham grilled on a spit. Enjoy music from folk groups and children’s choirs.
The market in Nuremberg, Germany is considered to be one of the best markets in Europe. It is, without a doubt, one of the most famous because of Christkind. A local young woman dressed like an angel with golden wings and a crown is said to symbolize the spirit of the Christkindlesmarkt. The market is named after her and she gives the children their presents each year. Here you’ll find handmade figurines made from dried prunes and figs and a special local ornament, the Rauschgold angel, a gold foil angel which is a depiction of Christkind.
With some early planning, your travel advisor at GetAway can craft a vacation that will fill you with holiday cheer and have you home for the holidays with some great gifts. We can be reached at: (262) 538-2140, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com