Travel Expert Jake Messimer shares his favorite things to enjoy at Europe’s centuries-old Christmas markets.
There is no better way to get into the holiday spirit than by visiting one of Europe’s famed Christmas markets. First introduced in the 13th century in Austria and southern Germany, these festive markets now bring cheer to hundreds of European cities from Aberdeen to Zagreb and nearly everywhere in between. Millions of people visit these markets during their traditional run from the end of November until just around Christmas day. What keeps the crowds coming back? Here are a few things of the things you will find.
Traditional food and drink
Perhaps the number one reason people visit Christmas Markets is the chance to savor traditional holiday specialties. The most popular beverage at any market is hot mulled wine, known variously as Glühwein in German speaking areas, vin chaud in France, vin brulé in Italy and by dozens of other local names throughout the continent. This tasty drink is served in small decorated mugs, which you can keep as a fun souvenir. Each region does their mulled wine a little differently, and you can also enjoy other local favorites like Eierpunsch, an eggnog-like drink, or hot non-alcoholic punches.
A huge variety of delicious holiday treats will be on offer, from sausages to sweets. German Bratwurst and pretzels are popular, as well as Raclette, a Swiss melted cheese snack similar to fondue. But most people come for the traditional sweets and baked goods. Stollen, a heavy fruitcake, is most popular in the German region of Saxony, and the gingerbread known as Lebkuchen is the treat of choice in Nuremberg, home to one of the largest and most famous markets in Europe. You can also usually find waffles, crepes, candied nuts and just about any kind of chocolate-dipped fruit you can imagine.
Christmas Markets are fantastic places to pick up a high-quality, unique gift or souvenir. Many markets strictly limit the vendors allowed to those selling only locally made handicrafts, so you’re sure to find a special item that you would never be able to get back home (or anywhere else for that matter). Nutcrackers are always a popular choice, but don’t miss out on hand-crafted glass ornaments, home-made candies, the moving wooden structures known as Weihnachtspyramides, hand-dipped candles and all kinds of other traditional products typical to the region.
If eating, drinking and shopping should ever get boring, don’t worry, most markets offer a variety of other activities to keep your Christmas spirit high! Many of the larger markets have ice skating available, and many have carousels, Ferris wheels and other carnival rides. You might also take part in some traditional winter games, such as Eisstockschiessen – a simplified form of Curling. There might also be parades, traditional dances, and of course, lots of Christmas Carols to hear.
Feeling inspired? Browse our entire collection of Christmas markets vacations.