The holidays are coming, this can only mean one thing: European Christmas-market season! If you want to take a trip over the winter holidays, but you don’t want your family to feel like they are missing out on the holidays, you are not alone. But, we have the perfect answer for your situation, and it doesn’t even lock you into one particular destination.
The European Christmas markets are in virtually every major European city, and a huge selection of smaller cities, as well. They tend to run from mid-November until the beginning of the New Year. Regardless of where you have in mind, a short train trip will have you at a holiday market in no time.
Think of the festive experience of local holiday musicians live for your family to see. Eat amazing seasonal meals and snacks, and sip hot mulled wine in the crisp winter air. Wander through picturesque city squares from stall to stall of local vendors selling their handmade wares. This year, it will be a piece of cake to do your Christmas shopping!
Ok, so this sounds like a great idea, but where to go? We have a few recommendations, of course. Here’s our list of the highlights that are absolutely worth building a dream European holiday trip around.
Vienna has been hosting a holiday market for quite a few years. Over 700 years, actually. The first official record of allowing a “Krippenmarkt” in Vienna was in 1298. This has given the city plenty of time to perfect their markets.
If there was only one Christmas market destination for us to recommend, we would pick here – the capital city of Austria. The entire Old City of Vienna is transformed into a Christmasland for holiday delight. There are lights everywhere, a carousel, a reindeer train, and a 32,000 square foot outdoor ice rink. There are 20 different holiday markets around the city for you to see. The sheer scale of the holiday celebrations here are worth the trip.
Visit the Viennese Dream market at the City Hall to hear choirs from around the world sing throughout the weekends. Kids can make their own holiday treats here as well ranging from baking traditional Christmas cookies to decorating wooden boxes with wood-burning tools.
Barcelona’s Christmas is a relatively new offering, at least compared to many of the others on our list. The first record of Barcelona’s Christmas market was in 1789, making it slightly younger than the United States. The weather in Barcelona in December hovers in the 50s and 60s with virtually no rain, making it the perfect destination for those who want all the holiday spirit but none of the winter weather that tends to go along with it.
A number of unusual Christmas traditions in Barcelona make this a unique destination on our tour of holiday markets. Our favorite tradition is Tio de Nadal. This local traditional Christmas log painted with a face that children beat with sticks on Christmas Eve while singing a particular song that is meant to cause it to produce treats. Once properly encouraged (beaten), the Tio drops presents. There is certainly more to the story, but perhaps best left unsaid in polite company. The Christmas log is a fun and unique gift that is found all over the Barcelona Christmas markets and makes for a great gift to bring home to friends.
The main event here is the Fira de Santa Llúcia held at the base of the Gothic Cathedral and runs from the end of November until December 23rd. It averages 280 market stalls to shop and dine from. This market is best explored twice – one by day and once at night. The daytime crowds are thinner, giving you more time to leisurely shop the stalls. At night, come back for the lights, some delicious dinner, and handmade candies.
If you happen to be staying in Barcelona for Christmas day, head down to the Barcelona Harbour at noon for the tradition of the Copa Nadal. This is a 200-meter dash through the winter waters that has been held here since 1907. Perhaps the perfect new holiday tradition for your family!
Strasbourg refers to itself as the ‘Capital of Christmas,’ and we can’t disagree. Running from the 22nd of November until the 30th of December, Strasbourg hosts one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe.
An element that makes Strasbourg particularly notable and unique is the OFF market in Place Grimmeisen. The focus here in one of social responsibility and environmental consciousness. What does this mean for you? The stalls of the OFF market sell second-hand, recycled, and repurposed products as well as fair-trade goods alongside the handcrafted goods that are more frequently available. Here they also offer conferences and workshops to help others create a more sustainable future for themselves. Certainly a unique take on the standard Christmas market.
Strasbourg has no shortage of more standard offerings as well, with the Christkindelsmärik in Place Broglie being the capital of the capital of Christmas. This was the market that started it all, and is still the largest one. Sample the many Alsatian delights here while wandering the stalls. The main Christmas tree here measures around 100 feet and the market is well known for it’s famous mulled wine, vin chaud in French. This market usually sees about two million visitors each year, so this is a good one to plan in advance since accomodations tend to fill up early.
If a snowy meeting with Santa Claus and his reindeer is your family’s idea of a dream vacation, Tallinn is your destination for the most magical Christmas market. Tallinn hovers around freezing in December, and often slightly below, meaning snow is quite likely for that perfect white Christmas experience. This year, Tallinn will be hosting their Christmas markets around the city from the 15th of November until January 7th, 2020. Centered around Town Hall Square, the markets offer all of their local foods and handicrafts in view of the towering Christmas tree.
Grab a kringle ( a pretzel shaped sweet bread) and a beverage of your choice to wander the stalls of the market. While here, visit one of the many workshops around Old Town to make a handcraft of your own. After all, there is no gift more special than one made by your own hands! Bring the family to the outdoor Harju Street ice rink and take them sledding or cross-country skiing, as well. Tallinn is a Christmas market wrapped into a winter wonderland that we wish lasted all-year round.
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