6 of Europes Best Christmas Markets
Europe is without a doubt, the home of Christmas culture. Almost all of the folklore and traditions we engage with at this time of year have their origins in snowy northern European countries, where for hundreds of years people have celebrated Christmas by decorating pine or fir trees, baking sweet treats like gingerbread, and telling their children stories of a ruddy faced old man who stole down the chimney at night and left them presents.
With such a rich history of Yuletide tradition, its only natural that Europe is home to some of the worlds best Christmas markets. Wander into one of these markets and youll be greeted by the same Christmas sights, sounds and smells that have been filling these town squares for hundreds of years. This week, we take a look at six of the best European Christmas markets which you can visit using a Eurail Pass.
Late November- late December
The grandfather of modern Christmas markets, Strasbourgs Christkindelsmärik has been running since 1570 and boasts over 300 stalls, 4 Advent concerts, and a living Nativity amongst other things.
The areas with the most activity and appeal are place de Brogile and place de la Cathédrale. Here youll have the opportunity to drink mulled wine from boot shaped mugs, try local treats like pretzels, Brädeles (Christmas cookies), roasted chestnuts and Flammekeuche, and peruse wooden stalls piled high with elegant ornaments, Nativity figures, and stuffed white storks an Alsatian good luck symbol.
Prague, Czech Republic
Early December- early January
Come winter, almost every square in Prague has some form of Vanocni trh (Christmas market) but the two best ones are in the Old Town Square, Staromestske namesti and nearby Wenceslas Square. The Old Town Square in particular becomes a Yuletide wonderland with vibrant stalls set up around an enormous Christmas tree, manger scene, and a small petting zoo.
Traditional crafts on sale include wooden toys, handmade garnet jewellery, Bohemian crystal, and Czech marionettes. There are also plenty of local culinary specialties to try such as braided pastry with raisins known as vánocvka, honeyed gingerbread, nutty rum cookies called vosí hnízda, sweet pastry known as trdelnik, wine sausages and carp, as well as sweet mulled wine (svarene vino).
St Nicholas Day (Mikulas) on December 5th is also a big event in the city and sees St Nicholas, an angel, and a demon wander through crowds of children in the Old Town Square, tallying up who has been naughty and nice.
Mid November- late December
Cophenhagen celebrates Jul (Yuletide) in grand style by bedecking the lakeside willows and trees throughout its famous Tivoli Gardens with thousands of Christmas lights, a process curated by Tiffanys head designer.
A crafts market pops up along a canal in the Nyhavn district, and shops throughout the city bring out Christmas specialties including æbleskiver (iced doughnuts with blackcurrant jam) and spiced mulled wine known as gløgg.
17th November 30th December
Intimate and traditional, there are documents dating back to the 15th century describing elderly women selling festive crafts in front of the Salzburg Cathedral during advent season.
The beautiful baroque Cathedral Square is transformed with twinkling fairy lights and around 100 stalls selling traditional wares such as pewter crafts, loden coats, and furry slippers. Sweet mulled wine flows abundantly and there is the opportunity to taste seasonal treats like Lebkuchen (gingerbread), roasted chestnuts, sausages, and almonds whilst listening to the Salzburg school choirs sing Christmas hymns.
Late November- December 24th
Almost every city and town in Germany has a Christmas market worthy of this list, Nuremberg has a golden angel that appears of the high gallery of the Frauenkirche to open the citys market, Munich has an 85 foot Christmas tree, Esslingen has live medieval music, Aachen is famous for its lights, Leipzigs market dates all the way back to 1458, and Rothenburg od der Tauber is one of the few places you can try white mulled wine.
Dresdens market is in many ways the archetypical German Christmas market, with all the quirks, charms and traditions that make the yuletide celebrations in this country some of the worlds best. Running continuously since 1434, Dresdens Striezelmarkt at Altmarkt in Altstadt boasts 230 craft stalls, a 46 foot Christmas pyramid.
The Striezelmarkt is famous for an event where a four tonne stollen (traditional German fruit bread) is paraded through the streets accompanied by the stollenmädchen (stollen maiden) before being chopped up and offered to market goers. Some of the traditional crafts to look out for at this market include blown glass from Lauscha, incense burners shaped like nutcrackers, Dresdens iconic blue and white ceramics, Blaudruck indigo prints from the Lusatia region, and wooden figures known as Räuchermännchen from the Ore Mountains.
26th November -8th January
Although further south and less famous than the Yuletide festivities held in Germany and Austria, Croatias capital has been causing quite a stir in recent years. Zagreb won the Best Christmas Market award for 2016 after being voted for by over 100,000 travellers and its not hard to see why; Zagrebs Advent Programme takes over the entire city with events such as ice skating in King Tomislav Park, a winter village in the main square of Ban Jelacic, with stalls selling mulled wine and traditional sweets, a fairy-tale light show and nightly concerts in Zrinjevac Park and a Christmas fair in the streets surrounding Jelacic Square.
Take in all the magic of Europes Christmas markets with a Eurail Global Flexi Pass. This pass entitles you to train travel for a select number of days within a one or two-month period. This pass is perfect if you want to tour the Christmas markets over the November- December festive season, as it lets you travel in your own time and can be tailored to accommodate the exact number of travel days your itinerary requires. To learn more about this pass, please dont hesitate to call us on 1300 555 003.