Even though it may be snowing, December is perhaps the warmest and friendliest time to see Europe.
Christmas markets are as traditional as a Yule log and turkey dinner – and visiting them brings alive the spirit of a season that is a long way from a beach barbie at Bondi.
If you want to experience the magic of a white Christmas, these are the places for you. Wrap up warm…
Guests who have booked a pre-tour night in Amsterdam will have the opportunity to visit Leidseplein, one of the main entertainment areas of Amsterdam. On an average day, it plays host to a cinema, disco, theatre and casino. But every Christmas, it transforms into a festive marketplace, complete with Dutch handicrafts, open-air performances and an outdoor ice-skating rink. Don’t leave without visiting the food stalls to try delicious Dutch treats, such as banketstaaf (flaky puff pastry filled with an almond paste, decorated with glace cherries), bischopswijn (a medley of mulled red wine, oranges, lemon and spices), and appelbeignets (a cross between an apple pie and a donut – they’re usually served closer to New Year’s Eve, but you could be lucky enough to nab one earlier).
One of Germany’s favourite market cities erupts in cheerful celebrations over Christmas with seven different markets. The four markets at Cologne Cathedral are arranged around the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, next to a stage where live performances take place. At more than 160 wooden pavilions, you can watch artisans at work, enjoy mulled wine and treat yourself to sweet local delicacies. A mere 200 metres away, you’ll find Alter Markt, in front of Old Cologne Town Hall. It’s the perfect spot for children and the young at heart, complete with a puppet theatre, Santa Claus’ grotto and many toy stands. Cologne’s oldest Christmas market, Neumarkt, has a ‘stars at night’ theme. Visitors are enticed by the glamour of charming chalets and high-quality products. Well-read travellers will enjoy the markets at Rudolfplatz, which takes you to a world where Brothers Grimm fairytales are king. Cologne Harbour Christmas Market at the Chocolate Museum is inspired by a nautical theme, with 80 white marquee pagoda tents arranged to look like ship sails. It offers high-quality artwork and culinary highlights from all over the world. Come December, Stadtgarten, on the edge of Cologne’s oldest park, is home to concerts, nativity scenes and a temporary ice-skating rink – not to mention traditional local food and unusual handicrafts! The seventh is Christmas Avenue, a gay and lesbian market (though everybody is welcome to join in on the fun) located in the ‘scene quarter’, near the Rudolfplatz markets. It offers culinary delights and cabaret shows – such a fabulous evening!
The well-known Christkindlmarkt brings together 400 years of Franconian and German themes. As scents of mulled wine, rum punch, roasted almonds and gingerbread fill the chilly air, you’ll be drawn further into the alleys to explore more than 180 stalls. When your puppies start to bark, hail down a yellow stagecoach for a tour of Nuremberg while listening to Christmas carols played by the coachman on his trumpet. Pick up a Prune Man – in the form of piano players, waiters or football players – made from dried prunes and figs at the end of your trip.
Bamberg’s Old Town shines particularly bright at the end of the year. Not only does it have a main Christmas market in Maxplatz and two crafts markets, it also has an abundance of Christmas cribs on show on its Route of Nativity Scenes. Across 40 places, such as museums, churches and public buildings, there are 400 different cribs depicting all the stories surrounding the birth of Christ. You’ll find large Baroque figurines, some made of stone or clay, featuring incredible artistic detail.
Vienna is considered to be the birthplace of themed markets since, in 1298, the Duke of Austria, Albrecht I, granted Vienna’s citizens the privilege of holding a December market (also known as ‘Krippenmarkt’). Now the country celebrates with more than 15 Christmas markets each year! A highlight is the Viennese Christmas Market, held in front of City Hall. Seasonal aromas lure visitors to its land, where international choirs sing carols. On the ground floor of City Hall, an area dedicated to children has lessons on how to make Christmas cookies and candles.