It’s that time of year and deep down we all love it. Christmas Markets are a well established – and delightful – seasonal tradition, in fact they date from the early middle ages across Central and Eastern Europe. Austria’s beautiful capital offers some of the best; as Advent begins, Christmas markets in Vienna become as abundant as the city’s elaborate Baroque architecture. Come wintertime, Vienna is a city of nostalgia, twinkling lights, festive concerts and nativity, just the place to get into the Christmas spirit. The Christkindlmarkt in front of the town hall or Rathaus is Vienna’s classic Christmas experience and a great place to pick up gifts such as jewellery, Christmas tree decorations or wooden toys. The aromas of candied fruits, roasting chestnuts and Glühwein wafting amongst the small wooden market stalls have a magical power while little ones will go starry-eyed at the huge, elaborately decorated trees and the imposing neo-gothic town hall which is dressed as a giant advent calendar whose windows open throughout December. Pony and carousel rides and a hands-on Christmas workshop where they can make toys and gifts will also keep them entertained. Meanwhile, no-one will go hungry as there is a huge array of apfel strudel, bratwurst, pretzels, lebkuchen (gingerbread) and much more to choose from. Throw in a few glasses of warm Glühwein and everyone’s happy!
Vienna’s Christkindlmarkt is open daily until December 24th 2011, from 10am to 10pm. Here are our top five picks for other Christmas Markets in Europe this year:
Dresden: First mentioned in 1434, this is the oldest in Germany. Steeped in tradition and named after the local ‘Striezel’ or Stollen, a sweet fruitcake dusted with icing sugar, it boasts around 250 stalls selling strictly traditional wares, from hand-blown glass baubles to local ‘Blaudruck’ – white-and-blue printed cloth.
Brussels: In a city famous for its cuisine, you’ll find a Christmas market that’s a good choice for foodies. Strings of lights cascade over little chalet-style wooden huts clustering around the square, and alongside the crafts and the mulled wine stands dish out plump olives, Belgian chocolates, steaming plates of moules and gingerbread shaped like Father Christmas.
Munich: On famous Marienplatz, over 140 stalls sell hand-carved wooden Christmas decorations, glass baubles, jewellery and crafts. Behind the main market is the Crib Market, selling traditional nativity figures from Bavaria and Austria, while every evening at 5.30pm, alpine choirs and brass bands perform from the Town Hall balcony.
Tallinn: What this market lacks in history (it’s been running since 1991) it makes up for in atmosphere, taking place on the incredibly picturesque, medieval Raekoja plats, a cobbled expanse where all the buildings exude chocolate-box charm. Given its latitude, you’ve a good chance of snow, and a brightly lit Christmas tree stands above the stalls selling Estonian arts and crafts, mulled wine and sausages.
Nuremberg: One of the best-known Christmas markets in Europe with a beautiful setting: almost two hundred stalls are crammed into the cobbled square on the slope beneath the Frauenkirche. A bestseller is the local Lebkuchen, or gingerbread, sticky and sweet with honey.