Words by Alison O’Hanlon
December 8th, 2017
Christmas markets have become the go-to for a winter getaway of late, with them popping up all over the world but if you’re looking for charming and authentic then Europe is the place to go. With a myriad of cities to visit and each offering their own traditional take on Christmas I’ve narrowed it down to four favourites that warrant a trip.
“The Hills are alive with the sound of music….” It’s hard to think of beautiful Salzburg without the images of a young Julie Andrews twirling around the mountaintops, followed by children dressed in curtains, or is that just me? This charming city is centred on narrow cobbled streets with horse-drawn carriages, mountain air and fairy-tale buildings, dominated by the Hohensalzburg fortress overseeing the city from high above.
Located at the foot of the fortress and wrapping itself around the Dom Cathedral is the Salzburg Christmas Market, one of the oldest in Europe, which takes place from November 23rd-December 26th.
Slightly smaller and more intimate, this enchanting market is home to an array of crafts and winter delicacies sold by elderly ladies made in the traditional way. Let your senses delight in the smells of mulled wine and freshly baked Bavarian Pretzels in the postcard backdrop of one of the most captivating markets in the world.
Look out for the world’s largest Advent Calendar located at Schloss Hellbrunn and the living nativity as Christmas comes to live in the Alps. And don’t forget to make your way up to the splendid fortress to see the best views of the beautiful mountainous landscape that surround this quaint city.
Surrounded by sea and separated by lakes, Copenhagen is quickly becoming one of the trendiest destinations in Europe and with a wide variety on offer during the winter months, it is the ideal location for those who want a bit more out of their market break. Each year the main focus is on the extravagant market based in Copenhagen’s most famous attraction, the Tivoli Gardens, as they are transformed into a winter wonderland, with myriads of fairy lights and illuminations throughout the gardens. Guests can enjoy three separate light shows over the course of their visit which are repeated throughout the evening or listen with glee as the 100 strong choir serenades visitors with all the Christmas classics.
When it comes to shopping the Tivoli offers 60 extra stalls which remain open until the 31st December, in addition to their permanent shops, selling a variety of food, sweets, hot drinks, Christmas decorations, knitted products, leather products, crafts, deli items and more. In addition to shopping the Tivoli Gardens also offer 27 fun fairground rides to keep the young and young at heart occupied.
Meanwhile, situated in the “free city” of Christiania in the eastern part of Copenhagen you will find the unconventional Yuletide fair reminiscent of an oriental bazaar. Running from the 6th-20th December the Freetown Market offers a multitude of stalls offering fine handcraft items, handmade jewellery, mirrors, wrought iron candle holders, paper-cut Christmas mobiles, clothes and leather masks among many other things. For those of you looking for nontraditional gifts this is the place for you, although I’d give it a miss if you’re travelling with children as things are quite liberal in this free city if you know what I mean.
With magnificent architecture and story-book natural surroundings, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh is the epitome of everything Celtic. Featuring one of the most breathtaking castles perched on a plug of an extinct volcano, called Castle Rock and surrounded by 80m sheer cliffs add to the city’s mystic ambiance.
Using the splendidly lit Edinburgh Castle as its backdrop, the Christmas Markets make their home each year among the steeply twisting alleyways (wynds) and the old stone built houses.
This Scottish city turns the Christmas season into a festive carnival featuring shows, rides and attractions, Santa’s Grotto, ice-skating and traditional Christmas markets. Edinburgh’s Christmas Festival features two markets, George’s Street Christmas market running 17th Nov-24th December and East Princes Street Gardens market running from 18th Nov- 6th January. Both are a showcase of all the best Scotland has to offer in terms of food, drink and crafts. Locally produced meats, seafood, chocolate, whiskey and beer, along with woodwork crafts and jewellery are available to sample and purchase. Both markets markets are open from 10am – 10pm.
For the past two decades, the popular European Christmas Market has been held in the picturesque setting below the mound and stretches all the way around the Scott Monuments, giving visitors plenty to choose from. This traditional and romantic market located in the heart of Edinburgh is a fair of crafters, artist, gifts and gastronomic surprises and puts all who visit into the festive mood. With many events around the city completely free, this is the perfect time to don your kilt and get exploring this Scottish treasure.
Christmas Markets historically date back to 14th Century Germany, so it is no surprise that it is the European home to authentic and traditional Christmas Markets. No matter where you decide to visit in Germany, cities, towns and villages are home to Christmas Markets big and small, each with their own unique German charm. One of the best Christmas Markets in Europe is in the West German city of Cologne. Although there are many markets held in Cologne in the run up to Christmas (seven in total), the most famous of these takes place in the shadow of the glorious Dom Cathedra, one of the largest Gothic buildings ever to be constructed. (For breathtaking panoramic views of the city, climb the 509 steps of the south tower.)
Beginning on the 23rd November and running right up until the 23rd December this genuine market offers 160 stalls of quality handmade gifts such as crib figurines, candles, lace work, toys, wood carvings, marionettes, candles and lambskin shoes, for those of you looking to stay away from the mass produced gifts found at some markets. Make sure to sample the famous Glühwein (mulled wine) and the beautiful gingerbread heart biscuits known as Lebkuchen, while the music from a traditional German Oom-Pha Band fills the air, creating the perfect festive ambiance.
For those of you travelling with younger companions head for the family-friendly atmosphere of “Nikolausdorf” (St. Nick’s Village) on Rudolfplatz. Here you will find Santa’s grotto, a German puppet theatre and stalls filled with toys and gifts that could have come straight from the Elves workshop in the North Pole.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself adding each of these cities to your list of places to visit. No matter what you’re looking for, or how far you are willing to travel, Europe has a range of Christmas markets to suit all needs, whether it be romantic or family-friendly destinations you wish for this winter or you’re simply looking to explore.
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