Winter is a wonderful time to visit Europe, when the streets are filled with glittering lights and the flurry of snow makes cities Christmas card perfect. So why not get into the festive spirit this year with a visit to one of Europe’s many Christmas markets? We have some of the most magical (and less well-known) right here.
Wroclaw Christmas Market
Avoid the hustle and bustle of the most famous European Christmas Markets with a visit to the fairytale-like city of Wroclaw. Poland’s fourth largest city, Wroclaw (pronounced vrots-wahf) is a university town with a lively atmosphere and a unique personality, characterised by its charming mix of architecture and its thriving arts scene. While you’re here, stop to visit the Jaś i Małgosia (Hansel and Gretel) houses and keep your eyes peeled for the tiny dwarf statues hidden around the city, there are 300 in total. For a taste of traditional Polish cuisine, stop off at Bar Bazylia, a modern take on the classic bar mleczny (or ‘milk bar’) where everything is priced by weight.
The Wroclaw Christmas Market takes place from 17th November until 22nd December and stretches from the Market Square to Plac Solny (Solny Square). Everything from woollen blankets to hand-painted baubles and personalised horseshoes made by a real blacksmith (as lucky charms) can be bought here, along with more international crafts and gifts. Visitors can try a selection of Polish delicacies including szare kluchy (potato dumplings), Saint Martin’s croissants and ‘Wrocław gingerbread houses’ while keeping warm with a mug of Polish mulled wine. In the mornings, children can visit the ‘Fairytale Wood’ where they can learn how to paint baubles and see Santa’s reindeer.
Stockholm Christmas Market
If you’ve been dreaming of a white Christmas then Stockholm, with its almost guaranteed blanket of December snow, is the perfect destination for a dreamy getaway this winter. The Scandinavian capital is a pretty city straight from the pictures of a storybook, with its colourful houses, boats and bridges (Stockholm is spread out over 14 islands). The easiest way to get around is on foot, giving you plenty of time to admire Stockholm’s Christmas lights, in the shapes of elk and pine trees, that illuminate over 35 of the city’s streets and squares. A must-visit at any time of year, but especially during the festive period, Skansen (the world’s first open-air museum) is a collection of 150 traditional houses and exhibits designed to showcase how the Swedes once lived. Located on the island Djurgården in Stockholm, this ‘Sweden in miniature’ features everything from a glassblower’s cottage, a Sami camp and a Nordic Zoo, with brown bears, elk, wolves, reindeer and other native wildlife.
The city is host to several Christmas markets in different districts, but for a flavour of the genuine Stockholm Christmas, you’ll have to head to Gamla Stan (Stockholm’s old town). The current Stockholm Christmas Market dates back 100 years, although the very first market of its kind was held on Stortorget square in Old Stockholm 500 years ago. Traditional little red stalls sell Swedish Christmas treats and delicacies, including reindeer and elk meat, and Swedish-made crafts such as glass and jewellery. The Stockholm Christmas Market on Stortorget square runs from the 2nd to 23rd December.
Colmar Christmas Market
The little medieval town of Colmar, capital of the French Alsace region, is guaranteed to win over any visitor with its labyrinth of cobblestone lanes and pastel-coloured, half-timbered houses. Every December, this folktale-esque town transforms into a winter wonderland of twinkling lights with, if you’re lucky, a fresh dusting of snow.
This year, the Colmar Christmas Market is made up of five different markets, all dotted around the town. At Place des Dominicans, you can wander around the sixty something little houses selling Christmas decorations and gifts. For a taste of the famous Alsace cuisine, visit Place Jeanne d’Arc where you can try gourmet specialities like foie gras, charcuterie, Alsatian wines and eaux-de-vie (fruit brandy). Admire and purchase stunning works made by local craftsmen at the majestic, mediaval Koïfhus indoor market, or head along to Petite Venise (little Venice) where children can see sheep and rabbits in a wooden chalet and warm up with some hot apple juice. The Colmar Christmas Markets are open from the 24th November to 30th December 2017.
Prague Christmas Market
City of a hundred spires, Prague’s impressive Gothic skyline is made for misty winter mornings and snow-covered rooftops. A paradise for urban exploration, with its hidden courtyards, spectacular bridges and historic Old Town, the Czech capital is a stunning setting for a winter break. Take the time to appreciate the architecture while you’re there. Even if you’re not a book lover, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit Prague’s Strahov Library, the largest monastic library in the country and one of the most beautiful libraries in the world. Magnificent baroque halls dating from the 17th century, grand ceiling frescoes and carved, gilded bookcases make this a must-see while staying in the city.
The Prague Christmas Market is held in Wenceslas Square, named after the Czech patron saint, or ‘Good King Wenceslas’ as we know him from the Christmas carol. Alongside the decorative handicrafts, lace and wooden toys sold from the wooden huts, take the chance to try some delicious Czech street food. Large hams roasted on spits, barbequed klobása (Czech sausages) and trdelník, a sugar-coated pastry often filled with chocolate, are best washed down with a mug of Pilsner Urquell (Czech beer) or some svařené víno (mulled wine). Don’t miss the mighty, decorated Christmas tree, cut down and transported all the way from the forests of Central Bohemia, in the Old Town Square. The Prague Christmas Markets are open every day from 2nd December 2017 to 6th January 2018.
Zagreb Christmas Market
Croatia may be flourishing as a popular summertime destination for holidaymakers seeking beautiful turquoise coasts, but winter is the perfect season to discover its capital, Zagreb. At this time of year, the city is a truly magical place to be, thanks in part to the festive ‘Advent in Zagreb’. This month-long event, which only began in 2002, has twice now been voted the “European Best Christmas Market” for two consecutive years.
Christmas in Zagreb is a very traditional affair, however Advent in Zagreb puts on a refreshing mix of good old fashioned and modern entertainment. Go skating at the ice park on King Tomislav Square or, if you prefer, watch from the safety of the pavilion with a glass of mulled wine, or something stronger, in hand. Visit the live nativity at Zagreb Cathedral, enjoy one of the many nightly concerts or discover the winter art installations in one of the city’s underground tunnels. And of course, you can pick up some souvenirs at the Christmas Fair on Bogovićeva and Gajeva streets, where the air is filled with the scent of roasting chestnuts and sausages. The Zagreb Christmas Market runs from 2nd December 2017 to 7th January 2018
Salzburg Christmas Market
Nestled among alpine forests and snowy mountains, Salzburg is the perfect backdrop for a Christmas market. This Austrian city of domed roofs and church spires is world-renowned for its architecture and its musical heritage. Made famous as the setting for Julie Andrew’s The Sound of Music, the musical city of Salzburg is also the birthplace of Mozart and Joseph Mohr, who penned the famous carol ‘Silent Night’. If heavenly music and festive concerts (with a heavy dose of festive scenery) are what makes your Christmas special, then there is no better place to be this winter.
The current Salzburg Christmas Market (or Christkindlmarkt) has existed since 1974, but its origins date back to the late 15th century. Nowadays you can purchase all kinds of Austrian specialities, including delectable treats, gifts and crafts, and the whole market is filled with an aroma of incense and mulled wine. Traditional wind music, choral concerts and Salzburg Advent Sing-a-longs take place throughout the city during the whole of advent. For something a little different, take part as a spectator at one of the Krampus or Perchten parades (part of ancient Austrian folk tradition), where a horned devil-thing and folk creatures fill the streets. Salzburg Christmas Market takes place from 23rd November to 26th December 2017.