What Is a Christmas Market?
These fairytale markets pop up in Europe in late November and typically stay open until one or two days before Christmas. The markets, with their 500-year-old traditions, are typically held in the center of town and bring out just about everyone. There are twinkling lights in cathedral squares, exquisite ornaments and festive décor, evergreen boughs and perhaps even a light dusting of snow.
There’s a convivial ambience in the air, as family, friends, neighbors and travelers convene to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the holiday season. You’ll find local crafts and wares and delicious delicacies, from warm mulled wine (Gluhwein in Germany) to Nuremberg’s famous gingerbread. It’s a time to immerse yourself in local traditions of a new destination and perhaps of your very own ancestors, learning the legends behind beloved holiday customs.
How Can I Experience the Europe Christmas Markets?
Go on a river cruise! A wonderful way to experience several destinations on one memorable trip, a holiday river cruise will take you to the continent’s most charming Christmas markets. Sail along the Danube or the Rhine River and visit the markets of Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Cologne and more. To get the full holiday market experience, aim for a sailing that falls during the four-Sunday span before Christmas – or during the one week after Christmas. Many of the river cruises include guided tours of the markets, giving you an insider’s perspective and ensuring that you know just what special gifts to shop for and bites to eat.
What Are the Most Famous Christmas Markets in Europe?
Some of the most perennially popular Christmas markets include:
Cologne Christmas Market, Rhine River, Germany
Come for the Gluhwein, stay for the entertainment – there are more than 100 stage performances throughout the festival, including Christmas swing music.
Vienna Christmas Markets, Danube River, Austria
Today’s Viennese Christmas Market dates back to the Middle Ages when Albrecht I allowed local citizens to hold a Krippenmarkt (December Market). The city is home to more than 20 official Advent markets during the holiday season, brimming with holiday gifts and goodies. The market at City Hall boasts reindeer rides, too!
Nuremberg, Danube River, Germany
The “Gingerbread Capital of the World,” Nuremberg is home to the largest and grandest of all German Christmas markets. Shop and snack ‘til you drop – for handmade pine wreaths and hand-carved wooden toys and on roasted chestnuts, grilled sausages and “plum people,” figurines made from figs, plums and walnuts. This is truly a classic Christmas market experience.
Prague, Danube River, Czech Republic
Prague has two renowned Christmas markets to check out, just a five-minute walk apart. Visit both the Old Town and Wenceslas markets to be sure you fill up on traditional trdelnik (a hot pastry smothered in cinnamon-sugar and then grilled) and local handicrafts.
Strasbourg Christmas Market, Rhine River, France
Stroll through more than 300 stalls, beneath miles of fairy lights and in the shadow of the majestic Great Christmas Tree at this captivating and historic French market. The market has been in existence since 1570, so join the centuries of tradition as you carol, ice skate and shop for Alsatian beer steins.
Ready to set sail and put a new spin on your own holiday traditions? Let’s chat.
August 4, 2023