The weather may be frosty, but a European Christmas market warms the heart, filling all with joy and good tidings. Whether it’s the intoxicating aromas of a brewing pot of mulled Gluehwein, roasting chestnuts crackling over an open fire, or maybe even the sweet smell of freshly baked gingerbread cookies, few holiday experiences bring as much festive cheer.
The origins of the Christmas market can be traced to Germany and Austria, as far back as the middle-ages, but today, the traditional wooden market huts are a familiar, and increasingly-popular sight across Europe.
On a continent known for their storybook squares, historic town centres, and delightful cobblestone laneways, it’s easy to see why the traditional Christmas market has flourished.
Over five centuries, the celebrations have spread from the smallest villages to the biggest cities. But they all have something special in common – festive holiday spirit.
Every year, Australians leave the southern summer behind, anxious to join in on the white Christmas festivities while soaking up the magical atmosphere of Europe’s best Christmas markets.
Here’s a few Christmas market favourites from our friends at Scenic.
VIENNA – AUSTRIA
Vienna’s famed city markets date back to 1298, when Albrecht I granted Vienna’s citizens a permit to hold a December Market or “Krippenmarkt”. Today, you will find over 20 official Advent Markets across the city.
Perhaps the most spectacular market is the ‘Viennese Dream Christmas Market’, a celebration that is held on the Rathausplatz, a square that overlooks the city’s magnificent Neo-Gothic City Hall building.
This unique backdrop gives the market a historic charm all of its own, and the delicious aromas that permeate the air are sure to lull even the most hurried Christmas shopper.
MUST DO: For a unique souvenir, visit the ground floor of City Hall where you can make your own Christmas candle and partake in a delicious Christmas cookie workshop.
NUREMBERG – GERMANY
In 1530, the then Nuremberg Town Council member wrote of the local nuns at nearby Bergen Convent on the Danube River, of their order for spices from the market for Advent. His letter was referring to what is known today, as ‘Christkindlesmarkt’, one of Germany’s oldest markets. This classic Christmas market still takes place at its original location, in the Old Town Square.
As you stroll the wooden booths of “the little city of wood and cloth”, you will find traditional handmade wooden Christmas decorations such as Rauschgold Angels, wooden nutcrackers, nativity scenes and colourful stars. These unique local pieces make the perfect gift. You can satisfy your sweet tooth too, with traditional treats like gingerbread and German Spekulatius almond cookies.
MUST DO: For a truly unique perspective, climb the stairs to the towers of the parish churches of St. Sebald and St. Lorenz. You’ll be rewarded with impressive views of the Imperial Castle, Main Market Square (with its red and white striped roof coverings of the Christmas markets) and the lanes of Old Town. From the majestic Imperial Castle, which crowns the Old Town, you can see the illuminated city below as well as panoramic views of Nuremberg’s surrounds.
PRAGUE – CZECH REPUBLIC
Voted one of the top ten Christmas markets in the world by CNN, the Prague Christmas Markets (Vanocni trhy) in Old Town Square, is a celebration of history and tradition. This cultural extravaganza is paired with traditional eats and drink.
Stroll along the many market stalls with your hot drink of choice. Choose from a variety of traditional Czech beverages such as honey wine (Medovina), mulled wine (svařák), hot chocolate (horká čokoláda), and grog – a local Czech mixture of rum, warm water, lemon and sugar.
A highlight to any Prague visit is all the wonderful food on offer. Common delicacies include spit-roast hams, barbeque sausages and bratwursts, fluffy pancakes, flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup, and the flame-roasted hot sugar coated pastry, Trdelnik.
MUST DO: Take a piece of Prague home with you. The city is known for its dazzling array of fine glass-blown ornaments, bowls, decorations and vases, as well as delicate hand-embroidered lace works from napkins to tablecloths.
AMSTERDAM – NETHERLANDS
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Just a short tram ride from Amsterdam’s Dam Square is Museumplein, home to the Modern Art Gallery, Van Gough Museum, Stedelijk Museum and one of the city’s main Christmas attractions – Ice Amsterdam.
For over a century, Museumplein has been the sight of a winter wonderland, complete with an open-air ice-skating rink, and Christmas market huts filled with Dutch-inspired soups, cheese fondues and sandwiches. You can even enjoy these treats around the numerous market fireplaces.
Enjoy live entertainment throughout the Christmas markets as you browse for traditional gifts and decorations.
DON’T MISS: After you’ve worked up an appetite on the ice-skating rink, enjoy a hot made-to-order waffle from one of the many food vendors. Pair it with a cup of hot chocolate as you enjoy them both with warmth from an open fireplace.
CHRISTMAS MARKET CRUISE AND TOURS
Are you ready to join in the European Christmas Market festivities? Experience all the magic of a European white Christmas on one of four dedicated Scenic Christmas cruise and tours.
Christmas Markets – 15-days
Discover the magic of Christmas on a 15-day Christmas Markets river cruise. Starting in Budapest, the journey winds its way to Amsterdam. Visit charming Christmas markets along the way including Thurn und Taxis Palace in Regensburg.
Christmas Markets with Paris – 18-days
Soak up the magic of Christmas on this 18-day Christmas Markets with Paris river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam with a tour extension to Paris. You’ll also visit Rothenburg, and historic Cologne.
Christmas Markets with Prague – 18-days
Soak up the European Christmas atmosphere on an 18-day Christmas Markets with Prague river cruise from Prague to Amsterdam. Discover the cities of Europe and delight in their seasonal charms.
Christmas Markets with Prague and Paris – 21-days
Enjoy the delights of Christmas with a 21-day Christmas Markets with Prague and Paris tour and cruise from Prague to Paris. Visit Christmas markets and savour the atmosphere, traditions and delicacies.
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