The spirit of Christmas celebrated in the diverse corners of Europe shows up in an exciting pastiche of tales and traditions. One of the finest ways to experience this is to cast yourself into the centre of the merriment: a Christmas Market.
Christmas spirit is something that unites us around the world. Numerous countries celebrate the holiday, but also the soul behind it, the spirit of generosity and joie de vivre. What sets us all apart, though, is how we celebrate it. Here are five countries with their own unique markets to explore this festive season.
The streets of most Belgian cities come to life with the sparkle of fairy lights and traditional Christmas markets as the year comes to a close. In the centre of the city of Brussels, visit Winter Wonders from 25 November to 1 January. Soak in the characteristic joviality, eating some warm typically Belgium waffle while roaming the more than 200 chalets set around the Grand-Place, Bourse, Place Sainte-Catherine and Marché aux Poissons. Settle in to a cosy café at Grand-Place with a warming bowl of carbonade flamande enjoying magical music, light show and the biggest Christmas tree in the land. To find original gifts, have a look around Place Flagey’s indoor Christmas market where you will find craft workers from all other the country. Finally, take a turn on the ice rink on Place de la Monnaie.
Where to eat? Le Chalet de la Forêt, Bruxelles
Around Christmas, there are several magical markets in Denmark, with a particular favourite being held in the Tivoli Gardens, a fairy-tale amusement park with flower gardens and water fountains. During November and December, join local Copenhageners and head to Tivoli's Christmas market for gløgg (mulled red wine laden with raisins, almonds, cinnamon sticks), æbleskiver (iced doughnuts with black currant jam), apple pancakes, and other delicacies, from one of the 60 stalls set up beneath the glow of colourful lights, surrounded by the sweet sound of festive music. The market has a cosy selection of genuine lamb wool and fur brought all the way from Greenland to keep you warm during winter. With its set of Christmas decorations, beautiful gardens, and warm lights, we easily understand how the magic of Tivoli Gardens inspired Walt Disney to create his own parks.
Where to eat? Restaurant Kong Hans Kaelder, Copenhagen
Markets pop up in several German towns during the Christmas season, but the most famous and traditional Christmas market (and probably the oldest of the world) is the Nürnberger Christkindlesmarkt, with its hundreds of years of history and endless range of things to experience. Stalls are still made of regional spruce and most of the wares sold at the market are made by traditional regional manufacturers. Sample the small Nuremberg sausages as “3 im Weggla” (three in a roll), as well as the Nuremberg gingerbread, in every size and coating. Take in the sights of the town and listen to Christmas tunes while aboard the yellow stagecoach, find the Prune Men and the Christkind, symbols of the Nuremberg Christmas market for decades and end your evening, toasting with hot mulled wine.
Where to stay ? Hotel Burg Wernberg, Wernberg-Köblitz
You’ll spy Christmas markets all over Italy, from Naples to Venice to Tuscany. For one of the most traditional markets in the country, with its unique setting in the mountains, visit the Bolzano Christmas Market, in the Dolomites, from 24 November to 6 January. Here in South Tyrol’s largest Christmas fair, explore the market booths at the Piazza Walter, in respect of traditions and customs. At the bottom of the big Christmas tree, visit the nativity scene, in its faithful version at once rustic and alpine. In a closed space provided for this purpose on Walther Square, the craftsmen work every day in public and we can observe this demonstration of their traditional works. Savour specialties like vin brulé (hot mulled wine) and take time out for a Christmas concert in one of the churches in this historic city.
Where to stay? Terra by Auener Hof, Sarentino
Venture to the capital to experience Paris at its most beautiful, with plenty of markets from La Défense to Montmartre. Only two minutes from one of the city’s most notable landmarks, the authentic Marché de Noël de Paris Notre-Dame will feature all kinds of handmade gifts and the usual selection of ‘regional gastronomy’ like foie gras, sausages, macaroons and chestnuts. On the forecourt of the Gare de l’Est, the Alsatian Christmas market celebrates the best of the Alsace - wine, choucroute and of course, sausages. There will also be free tastings, Christmas theatre, and storytelling - plus charming gifts for all your last-minute shopping needs. To shop a great selection of handmade gifts, visit the Christmas market of Saint-Lazare station, composed of a collection of pop- up shops offering original and unique productions, all with the prestigious, "Made in France" tag. Looking for villagey vibe in the city? Abbesses Christmas market is perfect for the chalets that decorate the ground below the snowy Sacré-Coeur.
Where to stay? Marquis Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris