Each month I try to highlight a Must See. Usually this means a city, location or museum that I have on my own travel bucket-list. This month I want to do things a little different. Visiting a true European Christmas Market is undeniably on my Must See list. But there’s so many! To select just one would be too difficult and not fair to all of the other wonderful ones. So instead this month’s Must See pulls together five Christmas Markets to put on your own Must See list.
All About Christmas Markets
For those unfamiliar, Christmas Markets originated in central Europe. They are known by all manner of names — Christmas markets, Christkindlmarkt, Weihnachtsmarkt, and so on. Every year squares and parks across the continent are taken over by pop-up markets. Small huts house shops selling all manner of things and setting the Christmas atmosphere for visitors. Shoppers can peruse handmade gifts, Christmas decorations, trees and more while snacking on all kinds of food and sweets. Glühwein, a spiced wine served warm, is also popular in Christmas markets. There are also rides such as carousels and Ferris wheels. It is a real family atmosphere with events for children, caroling and often artisans will be working on their crafts right before your eyes.
While today’s markets probably do not look exactly like the original ones, the concept dates back before the 13th century. It’s a long held and loved tradition. Today, you can find Christmas markets all over the world from the United States to Japan. Each year I make a point to stroll through Philadelphia’s Christmas Village.
Dresden, Germany – Striezelmarkt
This year Dresden will host its 582nd Striezelmarkt. The Christmas market is one of the oldest documented in Germany. Its roots stretch back to the 15th century when it was a one-day market on the Monday before Christmas. Today, like most, the market runs from the first Advent through Christmas Eve. It’s also substantially larger.
Visitors to the Dresden Striezelmarkt have to be sure to sample the Stollen. Originally known as Striezel, the fruitcake-like bread is attributed to Dresden. No German Christmas celebration would be complete without it.
Nuremberg, Germany – Christkindlesmarkt
When I visited Nuremberg, the city’s huge square in the center of the old town was full with people selling produce, the city’s famous bratwurst sausages and other groceries. But every year at Christmas it becomes home to one of Germany’s largest Christmas markets. Visitors can sample some of Nuremberg’s famous Lebkuchen gingerbread.
The city has a special tradition. Each year a young teenage girl dons a special gown, curly blond wig and crown to portray the Christkind (Christ Child). From the balcony of the Frauenkirche, the Christkind gives a speech as an opening ceremony of sorts.
There’s also a nearby sister city market with shops representing Nuremberg’s associated cities such as Atlanta, Georgia and Glasgow, Scotland.
Vienna, Austria – Wiener Christkindlmarkt
In the Austrian capital there are, of course, many Christmas markets. But laid out in front of city hall on Rathausplatz is the Wiener Christkindlmarkt. With over 150 stands, the city offers up all kinds of specialties from Mozartkugeln candies to handmade teddy bears.
But as part of the city’s Viennese Christmas Dream, there’s more than just the Christkindlmarkt. There’s ice skating, curling, as well as a Christmas World full of decorated trees and more.
Strasbourg, France – Christkindelsmärik
If you’re looking for one of the oldest European Christmas markets, then you’ll want to visit Strasbourg, France. The city’s Christkindelsmärik has been around since 1570. Now the market is considered one of the best in Europe. Hey, there’s a reason the city calls itself the Capital of Christmas.
Located at Place Broglie, Christkindelsmärik is only part of Strasbourg’s Christmas festivities. Visitors to the city can peruse roughly 300 shop stalls that are dispersed throughout the city center. At Place Kléber you can take in the Christmas tree. Each year, the city invite another country to be represented in the Christmas markets. This year visitors can enjoy Portuguese specialties at Place Gutenberg.
Helsinki, Finland – Tuomaan Markkinat
Helsinki, Finland are looking to give Strasbourg’s Capital of Christmas a run for its money. The Finnish capital have dubbed itself the Christmas City. While the entire city is decked out in its best for the winter holidays, the Helsinki Christmas Market (or Tuomaan Markkinat, as the locals call it) is the place to visit.
At the market you can get all manner of Finnish and Christmas specialties. It is a mix of both the traditional and the modern. Shoppers can enjoy the Christmas spirit with glögi, the Finnish version of Glühwein. One stand advertises “gingerbread infused Christmas salmon.” Can’t get more Scandinavian than that! With over 130 shops, there’s plenty to see and do when you visit.
Have you been to a Christmas Market? What’s your favorite Christmas Market or which one do you dream of visiting?
Looking for more Must Sees? Explore previously featured locations!
Top photo of Philadelphia’s Christmas Village by Corinne for Reverberations. Dresden photo by Michael Schmidt. All other photos used courtesy the market’s official website or Facebook page.