Europe's 6 Best Christmas Markets
Mulled wine, roasting chestnuts and spiced cookies — nothing quite heralds the Yuletide season like a Christmas market. Here’s our round-up of the best Christmas markets in 2015…
With old-world charm in spades and pretty chocolate-box architecture, the capital of France’s Alsace region (pictured, above) is pretty much the perfect setting for a Christmas market — no wonder they’ve been holding one here annually since 1570. It’s also among the largest in Europe, with around 300 wooden stalls spread across 11 sites. Pick up traditional Alsatian delicacies at the place d’Austerlitz, go ice skating on the place Dauphine or keep kids entertained at the Children’s Village on St Thomas Square.
Specialties: Keep energy levels up with “baeckeoffe” (a traditional three-meat stew) and “choucroute” (the French version of sauerkraut), with traditional “bredele” biscuits and “kouglof” (brioche with raisins and almonds) for afters.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a prime destination for Christmas-market connoisseurs, with four in close proximity to each other. The star attractions are the markets in the Old Town Square – famous for its giant Christmas tree – and Wenceslas Square, which are just five minutes’ walk away from each other. There’s also a permanent market in Havelska Street, which takes a festive turn at this time of year, and there’s a small market in Republic Square as well.
Specialties: Czech beers and lagers are inevitably popular with tourists, or you could try the homemade mead and “svařák” (mulled wine) for something a little more festive. “Trdelník” – sugar-coated pastries – are a tasty treat to follow roast ham or barbecued sausages.
Vienna has one of the oldest Christmas market traditions in Europe, dating back to 1294 when King Albrecht I granted traders the right to hold a Krippenmarkt (crib market) in the city. Nowadays you can choose between more than 20 versions – we recommend the quaint Spittelberg Christmas Market, hidden in the cobbled streets near the Museums Quartier, for its friendly atmosphere and artisan craft stalls.
Specialties: Snack on chestnuts, flavoured punch and “vanillekipferl” (traditional crescent-shaped cookies dusted with vanilla sugar).
With its Art Nouveau buildings, cobbled streets and snowy climate, Budapest is a magical place to visit in the winter. The main Christmas market is on Vörösmarty Square (on the Pest side of the River Danube), which has around 100 wooden chalets selling handicrafts, “forralt bor” (mulled wine) and snacks. At 5pm, turn your attention to the Gerbeaud Café, which is transformed into a giant advent calendar every year, for the opening of the latest window. Visit on Dec. 6 from 3-4 p.m. for a sighting of Santa Claus.
Specialties: Sample Hungarian dishes, such as roast goose and stuffed cabbage, or pick up a traditional “kürtoskalács” (a sweet, chimney-shaped bread rolled in sugary cinnamon) to nibble whilst you wander.
Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg is the largest Christmas market in Sweden — it takes 4 million fairy lights just to illuminate the trees. The grounds host four markets, an ice rink and a children’s entertainment area (entrance fee applies). There’s plenty to do, so arrive in the early afternoon before it gets dark and very chilly.
Specialties: Feast on smoked sausage, pickled herrings and shrimp sandwiches, and keep warm with glögg (mulled wine). Pepparkakor (ginger biscuits) are a good bet for presents.
Set in the shadow of Cologne’s gothic cathedral, Cologne’s Cathedral Market is a traditional showstopper, with wooden stalls and a 25-metre Nordmann fir tree draped in fairy lights as its centerpiece. There are six more to explore in the city. The Harbour Market, on the banks of the Rhine, has an unusual seafaring theme — mulled wine and fishy snacks are served from stalls in a 15-metre-long wooden sailing ship, accompanied by sea shanties and carols. The Christmas Market Express train runs between the four main markets; hop-on, hop-off tickets cost 8€ for adults and 5€ for children up to 12 years old.
Specialties: Baked apples, currywurst, cinnamon biscuits and, of course, mulled wine.