Black Book Travel Guide: The best Christmas market round-up
Is there any better time to visit Europe than during the holidays? We think not. Sip, shop and skate your way through Europe's prettiest and best Christmas markets.
Schönbrunn Palace Christmas Market, Vienna
This Christmas market is set on the grounds of the glorious Schönbrunn Palace just outside the city centre of Vienna, where aristocrats feasted and partied in days gone by. Needless to say, the surroundings are stuff that only sugar plum fairies can dream up. The spacious market rims the courtyard with white-lit, needle-trimmed stalls, bursting at the seams with handmade ornaments, crafts, needle points and Viennese trinkets. At the center of it all is a giant, glowing Christmas tree, trimmed in thousands of white lights, and, if you’re lucky, a choir singing merry hymns at the base of the tree.
Not to be missed at this market is the food:
gluhwein (hot mulled wine, usually of the red variety, but if you can find white it’s a special treat),
Weihnachtspunsch (Vienna’s next favourite hot drink to
gluhwein is a hot berry tea mixed with spices and rum), warm roasted chestnuts, and a true Viennese treat of bratwurst. But don’t fill up too fast — you’ll want to save room for all the mouthwatering sweets. We’re talking huge
krapfen (doughnuts) baked fresh, filled on the spot with gooey preserves and dusted with sugar; traditional baked apples with cinnamon and stuffed with nuts; and dumplings with roasted hazelnuts and topped with sweet applesauce.
– Jennifer Weatherhead Harrington
Rathaus Christmas Market, Vienna
An equally beautiful setting (to be honest, it’s hard to
not find one in Vienna), this is the city’s largest Christmas market in front of the gold-lit city hall. Be forewarned — as beautiful a setting as this is, it’s the most convenient and most popular in the city, making for a very busy, bustling market on weekends. Thousands mill about sipping on hot
punsch, eating Viennese sausages, flat breads and pretzels. While it’s tough to get in close to the stalls, once you do it’s worth it – pick up glass, hand-painted ornaments with traditional Viennese and German images, crafty wooden ornaments and trinkets that will make the
ultimate holiday gifts.
Regensburg Christmas market
Regensburg has four Christmas markets, all quaint and filled with the aroma of grilled meats and
gluhwein. The one in Neupfarrplatz is great for tree ornaments, kids’ toys and mulling spices. But the biggest – and, in my opinion, best – market is at the northern edge of the old town, in the courtyard of the Thurn und Taxis castle (5.50 euro entry fee). I arrived after dark, but the market was lit up by fairy lights. Old-world wooden stalls were filled with hand-crafted tree ornaments, gingerbread, a plethora of German sausages and meats, nutcrackers, wooden toys, all manner of clever gifts (such as – Mom, spoiler alert – slippers that you warm up in the microwave for toasty feet for an hour) and, of course,
gluhwein – a delicious antidote to the cold. Sip some by one of the many open fires when your fingers start to go numb and drink in the enchanting scene around you.
Nuremberg Christmas market
Now a bustling city with over 1 million inhabitants, Nuremberg retains a small but beautiful old town. And at its heart is one of the best Christmas markets in Europe. More than two million visitors from around the world hit the market between December 1 and 24, so you may have to battle the crowds a bit, but the reward is countless stalls crammed with crafty gifts, baked goods, Christmas decorations and friendly vendors who are only too happy to sell you nothing more than a 2-euro tree ornament. Each year, a prize goes to the most beautiful stall design, so you can be sure vendors are making an effort, and the market’s website states: “Absolutely forbidden are any kind modern tat, such as plastic fir garlands, mass-produced toys or non-stop taped Christmas muzak and carousels.” Keeping it classy – we approve!
(You can also get to the Nuremburg Christmas market via a Bavarian river cruise — read all about a stay on the Arosa Silva here).
Think of Berlin’s Christmas markets in the same way you probably think of Berlin: unique and edgy. With nearly 60 Christmas markets in the city to hunt through you’ll find every kind of market imaginable – from the more traditional Bavarian style market with cosy food stands and loads of hot wine, to kitschy, smaller markets offering up non-traditional crafts and ornaments. Our top pick, and probably the most beautiful market in Berlin, is the Gendarmenmarkt. Close to the busy street Friedrichstraße and set in one of Berlin’s prettiest squares (thanks to the Cathedral and Concert House framing the square), this traditional market is one of the most popular. Pick up wooden German crafts, handmade toys and, of course, sip on gluhwein and nibble on sugar-coated roasted almonds to keep your fingers nimble while searching for the ideal gift.
MORE CHRISTMAS MARKETS IN EUROPE WORTH VISITING
Tivoli Christmas Market, Copenhagen
Picture this for some holiday magic — a Christmas market set in Copenhagen’s Tivoli, a city amusement park with rides, carousels, Ferris wheels and enchanting nooks and crannies. The past two years this market has taken on a Russian theme with bright colours added to the festive stalls. And don’t think all you’ll be noshing on are sausages and breads — you can take your pick from sushi, pitas, candy floss, burgers, and even steaks with béarnaise sauce and, of course, wash it down with hot mulled wine as you stroll through the 50 stalls and hunt for Danish ornaments.
St. Petersburg Christmas Market, Russia
Christmas in Russia is like being in a winter wonderland if you happen to be in the picturesque, quaint city of St. Petersburg. The annual Christmas market at Ostrovskogo Square has almost 70 stalls of food, trinkets, ornaments, traditional Russian holiday gifts and crafts. You can warm up and beat the chill with hot drinks or, even better, a skate on the rink.
St. Thomas Christmas Market, Helsinki
You can’t help but think of a white, snowy Christmas when you’re in Finland, especially at the St. Thomas Market at the Senate Square in the heart of charming Helsinki. This market is the perfect mix of festive stalls, crafts, food and merry music. Not to be missed is the ultra creamy drink of choice — hot chocolate made with fresh Finnish milk. For those looking to take advantage of true Finnish design, hop over to the Ornamo annual Design Christmas Market, where you can peruse one-of-a-kind Finnish designs, high-end gifts and crafts from over 150 local designers.