These days, you don’t need to stray far from home to find your quintessential Christmas Market. There are hundreds scattered across the UK, and the vast majority are more than adequately stocked with European gifts and cuisine for their roaming, woolen-wrapped shoppers.
However, if you consider yourself to be particularly fanatical about all things Christmassy and markety then why not explore further afield? Europe boasts the world’s best Christmas markets and flights from the UK during December are often inexpensive. Let’s dive in with some of the best around shall we?
Germany, needless to say, is King when it comes to Christmas Markets, and deservedly so. Birthplace to the original ‘Christkindlmarkt’, it’s no wonder they’re so astonishingly good at it. Munich’s Marienplatz, located in the heart of the city, features the country’s largest Christmas tree and hosts over 140 stalls in the run up to the big day. It is best known for its ‘Heavenly Workshop’, which engages children with a range of arts, crafts and baking stalls- keeping them occupied for hours on end.
Berlin, on the other hand, generally sticks to its urban, contemporary feel in owing to the long list of cutting-edge artists based in the city. The largest market the war-torn Gedäktniskirsche (Memorial Church), which receives around 4 million visitors a year. The Nuremberg, Dresden and Salzburg markets are also definitely worth visiting.
Taking its lead from Scandinavian customs, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens dazzles shoppers with its spectacular display of Christmas Lights and amusement rides during the festive period. The picturesque gardens are lined with elegantly festooned boutiques, selling all sorts of traditional and stylish gifts, and are thick with heavenly scents of gløgg (spiced mulled wine), æbleskiver (apple doughnuts) and roasted almonds. It also boasts its own ice-rink and a Santa’s grotto for the kids.
Budapest at Christmas makes for an utterly unique experience. Whilst keeping in with core Christmas market principals, the Hungarian capital creates its own magical mood through lively folk music, dancing, puppet theatres, and a café transformed into a giant advent calendar (a new window is opened every day at 5pm). What’s more, every single product sold at the Vörösmarty tér is handmade by the Association of Hungarian Folk Artists. Pretty cool eh?
Tallinn in Estonia, on the other hand, is rather wet behind the ears on the Christmas Market scene. Though you wouldn’t have thought it- the medieval town square, Raekoja Plats, where the market is held makes it seem like you’ve just wandered into a real-life fairytale. A 50-strong cluster of festively adorned stalls provide all the usual goodies, and there are enough soups, sauerkraut, sausages, gingerbread and cookies to feed a small country. Wash it down with a warming glass of mulled wine and you’ll never want to leave. Ah yes, and there’s a zoo (no tigers though I’m afraid).
Possibly one of Europe’s most underrated Christmas Markets, and well off the beaten Christmas market track, is La Fira de Santa Lucía in Barcelona. Dating back to 1786, this market has slowly transformed into a giant, and now boasts over 300 stalls selling all sorts of handicraft gifts, artwork and every type of ham you could possibly think of. However, the star of the stalls is without doubt the ‘caganer’ statue, or ‘crapping man’ if translated into English. This little fella looks rather pleased with himself after having just laid a steaming turd for an on-looking baby Jesus. It is odd, but amusing nonetheless. You can even pick up specially made versions of Obama or The Queen.
The list goes on. Vienna; Krakow; Stuttgart; Brussels and Prague are equally as impressive and should also be investigated. Wherever you go though, take a BIG suitcase with you. Things do get out of hand rather quickly.
by Josh Taylor