Does the thought of Christmas set visions of snowflakes and sugar plums dancing through your head? Does the scent of pine trees conjure up memories of holidays past?
A good friend of mine calls me a Christmasoholic. I love to decorate the house, bake lots of cookies and pies, and entertain. It shouldn’t be a surprise that I fell in love with the Europe’s traditional Christmas markets.
Shopping in the European Christmas markets is a completely different experience than shopping in a mall. Even local markets like the Christmas Village in Philadelphia that try to replicate the atmosphere just can’t match the warmth and cheer.
What originated in Germany and Austria has been replicated in many countries across Eastern Europe. These street markets date back to the middle ages, operating as a means of celebrating the four weeks of Advent leading up to the actual Christmas holiday. Generally held in the town square and adjacent pedestrian zones, the markets sell food, drink, and seasonal items from open-air stalls, accompanied by traditional singing and dancing.
Known by many names (Christkindlmarkt, Marché de Noël, Christkindlesmarkt, Christkindlmarket, and Weihnachtsmarkt to name a few), they differ by the country or region in which they are located.
There are more than 60 Christmas markets in Berlin alone. The Christkindlesmarkt dates to the mid-sixteenth century and offers more than 180 wooden stalls set amid the picturesque surroundings of the Bavarian city’s old town.
The combined scents of pine, bayberry, and glühwein (mulled wine) set the mood. Carols playing through speakers, have you humming along as you visit the booths.
At German Christkindlmarkts, you can indulge your inner child with lebkuchen (spiced gingerbread), or for heartier fare, try some bratwurst.
In Copenhagen, you can feast on aebleskiver (donuts baked in a special pan with round holes) and glögg (hot wine flavored with almonds and raisins).
In Strasbourg, Alsatian monks have been producing malt-heavy Christmas beers, spicy in flavor and amber in color, since the Middle Ages.
Weihnachtspunsch, accompanied by roasted chestnuts, is Vienna’s spirit-fortified variation on the hot alcohol formula.
Amaretto-laced hot apple wine is Hamburg’s seasonal offering.
Inspired by Viennese Christmas markets, there are now Christmas markets in Romania. The first one was held in the Grand Square in the town of Sibiu. It replicates the feel of the more traditional markets with 70 stalls, a stage was set up where Christmas caroling and concerts are held, an ice skating rink, and a children’s workshop. Although it was the first of these markets in Romania, other cities and towns throughout the country, soon followed. In 2013, Sibiu Christmas markets was included in a list of the 15 Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe.
Many of these Christmas markets can be toured by way of a European river cruise, giving you the opportunity to visit and compare several of the different markets within a week or two week time span. Competitive pricing, and the opportunity to visit quaint villages decorated for the holiday, make this a wonderful early winter getaway.
Details: To plan your winter getaway and make the most of the season’s special offerings, work with a seasoned travel advisor who knows Europe well and can advise you on the best accommodations and cultural offerings of the cities on your wish list. Private Access Journeys can book the right trip for you, on a river cruise or a land-based itinerary with hotels or luxury apartment accommodations to complete your local holiday experience.