Christmas somehow just isn’t Christmas when there’s not a nip in the air. If you’re living somewhere the weather never seems to get that cold, even though you won’t miss scraping ice from your car windows, you’ll probably have come to realise there’s something about frosty mornings or a light covering of snow on the ground that makes the festive season just a touch more festive. Mulled wine and roasted horse chestnuts really don’t taste the same if the temperature hasn’t dropped below 5°C, you’re kitted out in winter gear and your breath fogs the air when you blow on your warm, spicy wine to cool it down.
While heading back to the UK for a long weekend in London to see the lights and stock up on traditional British Christmas goodies might seem like a good idea, it’s more likely to be raining than snowing. Walking around getting soaked with an umbrella as a permanent attachment to your right hand, let’s face it, does nothing to incite festive cheer. So where else can you go for a few days to find that magical Christmas atmosphere, do some shopping and maybe even build a snowman or two?
From early November onwards the whole of Europe lights up with so many Christmas lights that even astronauts in the International Space Station can see them twinkling from high above. It’s also the time of year when the cities of Europe begin to hold their Christmas markets and believe it, they really know how to do it in style. Visit any one of the best Christmas markets in Europe listed below and you’ll feel as if you’ve walked straight into a snowy festive scene that could easily belong on the front of a Christmas card.
Best Christmas Markets In Europe
While snow can never be guaranteed anywhere, you’ll definitely feel the chill in the air in Vienna as the average temperature there in December rarely rises above 3°C. It’s a city that loves its Christmas markets too and the seasonal stalls take over just about every inch of the squares and streets from mid-November onwards. There are in fact so many Christmas markets in Vienna, you won’t know which one to head to first. If enjoying some Christmas delicacies while browsing the colourful merchandise is top of your list of Christmassy things to do, then go to the Advent Pleasure Market for some warm punch, spicy gingerbread, wonderful cured meats and tangy Austrian cheese.
The markets held at the Schonbrunn and the Belvedere Palaces in Vienna are the best for unusual gift ideas as there are lots of artisans offering unique handicrafts at both that you can’t buy anywhere else. For the best atmosphere, with continual Christmas music, go to the oldest and longest running Christmas market in Vienna, the Old Viennese Christmas Market held in Freyung in the city centre. If you’re taking the children, don’t miss visiting the Winter Market in the Riesenradplatz where there are amusement rides, live music and plenty of jovial Christmas spirit from morning to night.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is a beautiful city at any time of the year but it’s one that takes on a whole new dimension when it’s decorated for Christmas. It’s a city that positively sings with festive cheer. Head to the Christmas markets in Prague and don’t be surprised to find yourself humming the carol Good King Wenceslas as you’re exploring. One of Prague’s largest Christmas markets is held in Wenceslas Square, which, the same as the carol, is dedicated to a Czechoslovakian duke who was later sainted by the church.
The second of Prague’s main Christmas markets takes place in the Old Town Square. Both markets have a fantastic festive atmosphere that is hard to beat and you’ll discover stall after stall of present-worthy merchandise and hand-crafted tree decorations alongside endless street food vendors. Try a cup of steaming grog, a thick hot chocolate, munch on klobasa, a juicy grilled sausage or trdelnik, a sugar coated pastry, while listening to one of the choirs or watching an ethnic dance group perform in traditional costume. Prague really is what Christmas is all about.
Christmas markets in Barcelona are a centuries old tradition and while you probably won’t see a single snowflake, you will feel plenty of seasonal cheer as the festivities take over the inner city for almost six entire weeks. In front of the Cathedral of Barcelona and in the narrow streets that surround it, there are over three hundred stalls to browse. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, head over to the Fira de Nadal which is the Christmas market held in front of the city’s famous landmark designed by Antoni Gaudi, the Basilica de la Sagrado Familia.
Nativity scenes are an important part of Christmas for all Spanish families. The figures that make up the belen are treasured and often handed down from one generation to the next. At all the Christmas markets in Barcelona, you’ll be so astounded by the variety, quality and craftsmanship of the figurines, if you haven’t got one already, you’ll find yourself starting your own collection to be passed down through the generations of your own family. While you’re deciding whether to purchase a shepherd, a sheep or a goat or two, treat yourself to a bag of chestnuts that have been roasted on a street-side brazier or indulge your sweet-tooth with some turron – a hard nougat-style sweet made from egg whites and sugar with almonds.
If you’re someone who just can’t get enough of the festive atmosphere and one or two markets isn’t going to be enough, then plan a trip to Düsseldorf, and you’ll have seven Christmas markets to choose from. The Christmas markets in Düsseldorf are all within walking distance of each other so the entire city centre becomes one enormous Christmas celebration though they do vary as each one has a different annual theme. There’s also a huge ice rink, a big ferris wheel and daily events of live music, carol concerts and special activities for children.
The Marktplatz hosts the largest handicraft market where you can not only but handmade goods but watch the skilled craftsman at work as they blow glass, carve wood or paint ceramics. If you’re feeling chilly, stop off in the Altstadt-Markt for a glass of mulled wine from the amazing mulled wine pyramid or bask in the glow of lights from the golden angels that decorate the Engelchen-Markt. At all seven of the Christmas markets in Düsseldorf, you’ll find wonderful gifts that your friends and family will be only too pleased to receive and so long as they’re not the edible type, will treasure for years.
When considering which European city with a Christmas market to visit, Warsaw probably won’t be high on your list of choices even though it should be. With lots of palaces, ornate buildings and an attractive Old Town, it’s a city with architecture that adds a fairytale touch to the annual celebrations. Warsaw is also a relatively economical place to visit and if you’re on a restricted budget, it’s well worth taking a look at.
The biggest Christmas market in Warsaw is held in the main square of the Old Town which is crammed with wooden chalet-style stalls offering all sorts of handmade goods from candles to jewellery and food products. It’s a place you’ll need to wear comfortable shoes as the streets are cobbled and uneven. Yes, the temperature in Warsaw in December will probably be well below freezing as the afternoon turns to evening, but you can warm up with some hot spiced beer sweetened with honey and a portion of oscypek, a traditional smoked sheep’s cheese grilled and served with cranberry sauce.