The Christmas Market sprouted up centuries ago in Austria, Germany, northern Italy and northern France, but has now become a popular tradition throughout Europe. Generally opening four weeks before Christmas, the Christkindlmarkt celebrates everything magical about the holiday season and is guaranteed to evoke ultimate festive spirit.
From one of the oldest markets in Germany to lesser-known gems in Wroclaw, Poland and Maastricht, Netherlands, hotel search website www.trivago.com has compiled a list of top spots in Europe to sip on that mulled wine in the winter air.
Dating back to 1294, the Viennese Christmas market is held against the majestic backdrop of the glittering city hall, where children cuddle up for arts and crafts. The market is named the "Vienna Magic of Advent" due to the festive lights adorning the stalls, city hall, and the trees of the adjoining Rathauspark. Visitors are drawn in by the sound of carolers and the smells of candied fruit and mulled wine. Children enjoy pony riding in the park while shoppers wander through the 150 wooden stalls, picking out their favorite Christmas gifts and tree adornments.
The Nuremberg Chrismas Market is a classic of Germany, having been held in the city's central market square since the 16th century. Every year at 5:30pm on the Friday before the first Sunday in Advent, the Christkind, with her glamorous white and golden dress and long blond curls, officially opens the market by reciting the traditional festive prologue. Pungent scents of grilled sausage, mulled wine, and fresh gingerbread make their way through the stalls. A popular souvenir of the Nuremberg markets is a small doll made from dried plums, nuts, raisins, and figs. They're probably worth buying just for their name: Zwetschgenmännle.
Wroclaw's Christmas Market (or Jarmark Bozonarodzeniowy in Polish) begins on Swidnicka Street and runs through the market place to the old city. Everything from handmade soaps to leather and wool goods are available here, alongside the traditional Christmas sweets, decorations, and souvenirs. Food lovers can enjoy regional specialties such as the typical oscypek hard cheese or international specialties such as Hungarian kolaches and Lithuanian sausages.
Leuven Christmas Market consists of 140 stalls in the Herbert Hooverplein and adjacent Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein in the old city center. Visitors can expect glittering white lights, a life-size nativity scene, musical performances, and some fun fair rides. Children even have the chance to visit Father Christmas in the nearby forest. The stalls sell everything from traditional Christmas ornaments to candles, oil lamps, floral decorations, and books. Visitors should not miss the nearby Stella Artois brewery, offering special tours throughout the season.
The Salzburg Christmas Market is centrally located in Residence Square, at the foot of the Hohensalzburg fortress at the base of the picturesque Salzburg Cathedral. The centerpiece is a 90-foot-tall Christmas tree. The market prides itself in its diversity of items, from tree ornaments to traditional handicrafts and fine baked goods. Mulled wine is popular here, alongside punch, Salzburg pastries, and roasted chestnuts. Guests can enjoy performances by Salzburg choirs and children's school groups throughout the festive period.
Sweden's largest Christmas market is held at the Liseberg amusement park in Gothenburg. The market boasts an impressive 5 million Christmas lights, transforming the space into a Winter Wonderland. Guests can walk through the themed areas, which include a medieval camp and a recreated Lapland, complete with reindeer, Santa, and the northern lights. Visitors can snack on Swedish candy cane (polkagrisar), smoked fish, and baked goods, while those with a large appetite may want to book a table at the Christmas buffet.
Known as "Magical Maastricht," this Christmas market can be found in Maastricht's centrally located Vrijthof square, surrounded by churches, restaurants, and bars. Travelers should not miss the ice rink in the center of the pavilion or the 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel with panoramic views over the lights of the city. The market specializes in locally sourced products -- in particular, the traditional Dutch pancakes (poffertjes), to be enjoyed with butter and icing.
Source: R. Hegeler, www.hamburg.de
Germany is famous for its Christmas markets, and the northern port city of Hamburg is no exception. The largest and most popular is located in the square outside Hamburg's impressive town hall, boasting the motto "art instead of commerce." It is operated by Roncalli's Circus, with the traditional mulled wine (glühwein) served by clowns and circus artists. The market boasts a range of products from all over Germany, included gingerbread from Nuremberg and pottery from the Lausitz region. On each of the Saturdays leading up to Christmas, the Christmas parade attracts locals and visitors alike with decorated floats and festive music.
France's oldest Christmas market, the Christkindelsmärik, has been held in Strasbourg since 1570. It extends over several streets and squares of the city, particularly the famous Broglieplatz and Münsterplatz. The Christmas market offers visitors arts and crafts, Christmas decorations, bredle (Alsatian Christmas cakes), and the beloved chocolate yule log. In the middle of Kleber Place stands the stunning Christmas fir tree at 100 feet tall.
Italy's Merano Christmas Market opens its doors for the 27th time this year. This market is renowned for its festive atmosphere and picturesque location alongside the Passer River promenade, with an Alpine mountain backdrop. Guests can browse the 80 stalls for trademark items such as sheep wool products, wooden toys, and felt slippers. Children will love the range of activities -- including craft and cooking workshops, pony rides, and Advent stories.