christmas markets

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, everywhere you go”…

Stalls selling toys, crafts, specialty food and hot beverages are appearing across the globe, but few places have mastered the art quite like central Europe. Germany and its surrounding countries (primarily Austria, northeast France, and Switzerland) are also where this Advent tradition began. During this most magical time of the year, make the holiday spirit your shopping partner by visiting one of these beautiful Christmas markets!

From tens to hundreds of stalls and known by a variety of names, it seems that each village and city in central Europe has its own special Christmas market. A few features to expect at each, however, are the seasonal traditions from mulled wine to roasted chestnuts to sausages and a wide assortment of pastries. Expect lots of beautiful architecture but little to no commercial products since most merchandise is traditional and/or locally made.

Exploring Europe has never been easier, but those who can’t travel abroad have many European-inspired markets across the US. Still, there is nothing like the real thing; so if this year is out, turn on your favorite Christmas classics and begin planning now for 2017!

Nuremberg, Germany

christmas markets

One of the oldest and most popular German markets has been lighting up the Nuremberg Main Market Square since the 1600s. Its sheer size is enough to attract residents and tourists, but visitors return for the unique memories. A local favorite is the Zwetschgenmännle, meaning Prune Men, which are figurines made from real prunes. Meander the stalls while eating a roll filled with spiced Nuremberg sausages, which are small but pack a tasty punch. Also keep an eye out for the event’s very own Christmas angel, the Christkind. Dressed in white and gold, and topped with a gold crown, the Christkind opens the event each year with a speech, then walks through the market taking pictures with visitors a few times every week.

Market: Christkindlesmarkt

Dates: 11/25/2016 – 12/24/2016

Dresden, Germany

christmas markets

Older than the Nuremberg market is the Dresden Striezelmarkt, which dates back to the 1400s. Many of the decorations, scented delicacies, carols, and toys may remind you of other markets, but the Stollen cake (made with dried and/or candied fruit), the multitude of wooden ornaments, and the 14-meter Christmas pyramid are unique to this part of the country. What should you do when it’s time to leave the Striezelmarkt? Why not visit all of the other Christmas markets that also take place in and around Dresden?

Market: Striezelmarkt

Dates: 11/24/2016 – 12/24/2016

Cologne, Germany

In true German fashion, Cologne hosts a few different markets, but two of the most notable are the Cologne Cathedral Market, which enjoys the 768-year-old cathedral as its backdrop, and in Heimat der Heinzel, otherwise known as “House of the Gnomes.” The former may be the most popular market in Cologne, boasting 160 wooden stalls full of eye-catching wares; and the latter market is the largest, complete with an ice skating rink and the chance of seeing the very gnomes that the event is designed around.

Market: Cologne Cathedral Christmas MarketHeimat der Heinzel

Dates: 11/21/2016 – 12/23/2016 for both

Vienna, Austria

christmas markets

Deciding which country celebrates Christmas with more style and spirit is a matter of personal preference, and a lot can be said in favor of Austria. Perhaps it’s due to location, but one of the largest markets sits in front of the capital’s city hall. The Wiener Christkindlmarkt has a lot going on from 150 stalls to the Gothic architecture behind the scenes, as well as an ice rink for skating and curling.

Market: Wiener Christkindlmarkt

Dates: 11/11/2016 – 12/26/2016

Salzburg, Austria

Each market in Salzburg is visit-worthy, but the largest Christkindlmarkt is in front of the city’s cathedral where it has taken place since the 15th century (even before the 17th-century cathedral was built). Visitors are encouraged to mill about and enjoy the lights, stars, songs, and treats; but keep an eye out for the Christmas spirits! If you’ve been naughty this year, beware Krampus who is the yin to St. Nicholas’s yang. Both the Christkind angels and Krampus demons run around the market figuratively rewarding the good or punishing the naughty, respectively.

Market: Salzburg Christkindlmarkt

Dates: 11/17/2016 – 12/26/2016

Montreux, Switzerland

Nestled along Lake Geneva are 160 chalets decorated for the holiday season from late November to Christmas Eve. Singing, music, and laughter fill the air, as does the aroma of steaming and spiced cuisine; but the biggest reasons visitors travel to Montreux is the natural beauty. Here you have the lake and surrounding mountains, the Le Train du Père Noël (Santa’s Train) that travels over 6,500 feet up the mountain to Santa’s house, and a glimpse of the Big Man himself as he travels on his sleigh over the market and lake Geneva.

Market: Marché de Noël

Dates: 11/24/2016 – 12/24/2016

Strasbourg, France

christmas markets

Is it possible that I saved the best for last? I suppose that’s up for debate, but this northeastern city in France (located on the France-Germany border) also enjoys the nickname as “the capital of Christmas.” The Christkindelsmärik (the baby Jesus market) has been returning every year since 1570, making it also the official first in Europe. Set against one of the main squares and the Roman Gothic Strasbourg cathedral, the Christkindelsmärik has an atmosphere all its own complete with traditional takes on holiday favorites and some of the best that the region has to offer. A couple names to know include Kouglof (a sweet brioche bread) and vin chaud (the French version of hot mulled wine).

Market: Christkindelsmärik

Dates: 11/25/2016 – 12/24/2016