Place Europe’s Christmas Markets on Your Bucket List
Europe’s Christmas markets are a feast for the senses; places to find traditional food and handicrafts, festive choirs and carolers, and dazzling displays of light, set against the backdrop of beautiful and historic city squares.
Wherever you travel on the European continent in December—France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic—holiday markets are a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas season while getting a taste for European history and culture.
In Budapest, the most famous and popular Christmas market is held through January 6 in Vorosmarty Square, at the end of one of the Hungarian capital’s main shopping areas. Visitors will find the air filled with the smell of honey cookies and mulled wine as they browse the wooden stalls. Entertainment includes choir concerts and folklore performances. Another market, in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica, features an ice skating rink.
Munich has more than a dozen Christmas markets but the biggest is held on the Marienplatz, or St. Mary’s Square, through December 24. Shop for wooden mangers, carved nutcrackers, handmade candles, and other crafts while filling up on sausage, gingerbread cookies, and roasted chestnuts. Advent music is performed every evening from the balcony of the Town Hall and a huge Christmas tree, covered in lights, towers over the market stalls.
In Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, the main Christmas markets are held through January 6 in two spots about five minutes apart—Old Town and Wenceslas Squares. In Old Town Square, centuries-old buildings surround the market stalls. A giant Christmas tree decorated with hundreds of lights is lit up each evening and school choirs and carolers perform. The Wenceslas Square market takes place in the shadow of the grand Czech National Museum.
Vienna’s Christmas market has been a tradition in Austria’s capital since the Middle Ages. It takes place in front of its ornate Rathaus (City Hall) through December 24, featuring choirs from around the world and activities for all ages. Also in Austria, Salzburg’s Christmas market, on Cathedral Square, runs through December 26. Choirs and brass bands provide music. On the four Saturdays before Christmas, the “Christkind,” the traditional bearers of gifts, walk through the market dressed in white-and-gold robes.
In the French city of Strasbourg, the Christmas market takes place against the backdrop of its Gothic cathedral, and spills out into the streets and squares off of the city center. Several hundred stalls sell gifts, ornaments, and food of the Alsatian region, including mulled wine and doughnuts. This year, the culture of Portugal will be celebrated at the market, which runs through December 24.
If you’re looking for an innovative, new way to experience many of these markets, a river cruise is an easy and relaxing means to sample the great variety among Europe’s Christmas markets. Smaller boats used on river cruises are able to get close to city centers, making it easy to stroll to the markets. For example, a cruise along the Danube takes travelers to Vienna and Budapest. Or take a trip along the Rhine that stops in Strasbourg.
For help planning a European vacation, contact Travel Leaders COS at 800-273-0793, or locally at 719-597-0004.