Travel writer Julia Hammond is obsessed with European Christmas markets. Here she gives us a personal tour of her favourites that she has visited.
Magical Salzburg delivers festive cheer
In winter, under a carpet of snow, crowds of shoppers wrapped up in scarves and hats throng the Christmas markets. Nowhere in Austria, not even Vienna, does it better than Salzburg.
Several excellent markets are scattered across the city, and the largest clusters around the steps of its imposing cathedral. The first Advent market was held in the city in the late 15th century. These days, at the sprawling Christkindlmarkt, stalls are laden with glass baubles, local handicrafts, and sweet treats. Strings of fairy lights and the cinnamon scent of glühwein on the frosty air add to the festive atmosphere.
Words like enchanting and magical pepper the travel pages at this time of year but for once they are more than just hype. At Hellbrunn Palace, the famous trick fountains take a back seat to a handicrafts market. Here, the quality of the merchandise is high. There are no cheap Chinese imports here. Instead, hand-blown glass, felted wool cushions, and locally carved wooden ornaments are the order of the day. Never has a bus ride to the suburbs been so worth it.
Advent is extra-special in Bavaria
Although Austria is great, it’s Austria’s next-door neighbour—Germany—that tops the table in the Christmas market league. Nuremberg, in the north of Bavaria, stages arguably the best Christkindlesmarkt in the country. It also has the advantage of excellent transport connections to markets in places such as historic Bamberg and uber-quaint Rothenburg ob der Tauber.
As in Austria, there are plenty of opportunities to pick up a locally-made souvenir. Nuremberg’s signature snack is Drei im Weggla, three slim but tasty sausages tucked inside a crusty bun. Follow it with spiced lebkuchen, a soft gingerbread eaten on the go.
Worthy of a special mention are the markets of nearby Regensburg, an easy train ride from Nuremberg. There are several markets in the city; cross the stone bridge at the Spitalgarten to visit a living nativity scene complete with farm animals.
The best market, though, is the Thurn and Taxis market, set up every Advent in the grounds of beautiful (and conveniently central) St Emmeram Palace. Braziers full of seasoned logs and mugs of steaming hot spiced apple juice will warm your cold fingers, while swags of freshly cut fir decorate the popup shops. Lit by candlelight and torches, it’s a delightful sight and sure to get you in the mood for Christmas.
Try a Scandinavian Christmas market experience
For something different, try the Danish Christmas markets. Copenhagen hosts several Julemarkeder (Christmas markets). The Kongens Nytorv market is one of the most central, while the stalls that cluster on Nyhavn’s cobbled quays have perhaps the most picturesque settings. Pick up a hand-knitted Nisse man: a mythological creature from Nordic folklore who will look after you and your property, so long as you take care not to offend him.
It’s hard to beat the market that fills historic Tivoli, despite the hefty price tag to get in. This theme park is unrivalled when it comes to displays and decorations, and in December, you can combine its rides with a mug of gløgg (mulled wine).
So there you have it. Europe is full of wonderful Christmas markets—which will you visit this year?