Christmas might seem a long way away but if you’re planning a cold, European Christmas now is the time to start booking (and really, Christmas isn’t that far away!). While we can hardly complain about our balmy Christmas days, the experience of a chilly Christmas and the opportunity to soak up European Christmas traditions is pretty damn special (hellooooo mulled wine!). There’s no better place to dive right into the thick of Christmas tradition in Europe than a visit to a Christmas Market – so we’ve brought you five of our favourite markets that will have you planning your wintery Christmas in no time.
Written by Jade Just – Contributing Travel Editor.
Cover image, Cologne: roughguides.com
Gorgeous Strasbourg, smack bang on the border of France and Germany, should definitely be on your Christmas market bucket list. History says it’s the home to one of the oldest (and one of the biggest) Christmas markets in the world, so it’s no wonder it’s dubbed ‘the capital of Christmas’! Storefronts are adorned with Christmas decorations, giant Christmas trees light up the squares, and the wider region (Alsace) is renowned for its wine, so there’s plenty of mulled varieties to sample (hallelujah!). Best of all it’s super easy to share your Christmas spirit with those at home – there’s free wi-fi throughout the majority of the markets.
Highlights: Mulled wine, and mulled orange juice (great for kids and those not on the drinking band wagon).
There are a smattering of Christmas markets and villages throughout Cologne, and they’re up there with the very best! The Futtergasse (feeding alley) at the Heinzelmannchen Market should be on your to-do list (it’s at the top of ours!) and fantastic for kids is the Angel’s Christmas Market where real angels glide past chalets sprinkling special glitter powder. Plus, there’s a humongous selection of hot drinks including mulled wine with names like ‘Cloud Nine’ for the adults! If you’re a fan of a self guided tour (guided tours also available) there are 110 nativity scenes throughout the city to discover.
Highlights: ‘Real’ angels, curling, nativity scenes.
From the middle of November to Christmas, Vienna puts on a display of all things Christmas with various markets dotted around the city. It’s regarded as one of the best celebrations of Christmas in the world (we certainly agree!): a dozen markets and villages that include everything from iceskating (try your hand at curling too!) to Christmas decorations, hot drinks and various homemade wares. An absolute ‘must-try’ is the hot punch! Also, to really get you into that feel-good Christmassy mood, there are many gospel choirs and musicians to keep you entertained.
Highlights: Hot punch, gingerbread, wooden toys.
Hyde Park, London
What would London be at Christmas without the ice rink in Hyde Park? The ever popular ice rink is the focal point of Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland, which is more of a fair, rather than a market, with a Bavarian twist – including rides, food, drink and 200 bavarian-style wood chalets selling all things Christmas related. The Winter Wonderland – open mid November to the start of January – is quite commercial in comparison to more traditional Christmas markets, and the rides, food and drink aren’t on the cheap side (BYO snacks if you’re being frugal) but admission is free and there’s loads to enjoy, especially for families.
Highlights: Ice skating, Magical Ice Kingdom (ice statues plus real snow), Bavarian beverage tent.
All images: hydeparkwinterwonderland.com
Riga is known to be the place where the tradition of decorating the Christmas tree started so it unsurprisingly makes our list! Riga’s historical town centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it the perfect setting for the main Christmas market (there are also a few smaller markets dotted around the city). At the Riga Christmas Market you’ll find trinkets a plenty and Latvian food and drink – be sure to put Black Balsam (hot black currant juice) on your list. Rather randomly but oh-so-cute is the Bunny Kingdom, which includes a miniature wooden village, complete with windmill for the resident rabbits.
Highlights: Black Balsam, Latvian pastries, knitted clothing, Bunny Kingdom.
Top & bottom: smarttravel.ee.