Christmas Markets in Europe
48 days to Christmas and if you’re still hovering over where to go this Christmas, it’s not too late to book a last minute holiday. With the world economy in crisis and fear of recession gripping at people’s sense of security, airlines and travel companies are upping their marketing drives and tantalising us with offers and special holiday deals.
A couple of years ago when we did the Christmas Markets tour in Europe, the company that we went with ran two concurrent tours and these were sold out quite early in the year. I had a look at their website today and they still have places available for the December tours.
The Christmas Markets tours are great because you get a feel of how Christmas is celebrated in the various European countries, some of whom still maintain very strong Christmas traditions. Our tour started from London and as our hotel was at Marble Arch, we got to see the famous Christmas lights along Oxford Street. The Oxford Street Christmas lights are famous around the world, and each year attracts thousands to the West End over the Christmas and New Year period. This month, the Christmas lights in London will be switched on in an exclusive celebrity event.
From London, we travelled to Dover for our channel crossing into France and then within a few hours we had already cut through Belgium, past medieval Bruges, and into the Netherlands. Following is a brief summary of some of the markets that we visited:
In the old town of Amsterdam, there was a Christmas fair with stalls selling candy floss, soft toys, etc. Nothing too memorable.
Our first real Christmas market was at the Cologne Weihnachtsmarkt which was right next to Cologne’s impressive Gothic Cathedral. Here you’ll find a good range of stalls selling hand-painted Christmas tinsels, hand-made candles and lots of other handicrafts that could make nice Christmas presents. There were also plenty of cakes,chocolates and stalls selling Lebkuchenherzen which the Germans believe is a good cure for winter depression. There was also a range of hot foods to ward off hunger or the cold. Here I had my first taste of glühwein, a German version of mulled wine. This hot,spiced wine drink is quite delicious and helps keep your hands and inner body warm.
Neuschwanstein and Oberammergau
Along the route we saw beautiful snow covered homes and farms. The scenery was as beautiful as those you see in Christmas cards or Christmas movies. Neuschwanstein’s fairytale castle was even more romantic-looking covered in snow. The gift shops in this town sell really pretty Christmas decorations. Oberammergau is another pretty town with its famous wall paintings.
Heidelberg’s Weihnachtsmarkt is great and very atmospheric. Looking at the crowd, they appear to be mostly locals who have come out to have a drink with friends or those looking for last-minute Christmas presents. There were lots of stalls selling their Christmas goods and food.
This town was especially attractive and also had a full-scale Christmas market. Right in the old town a giant Christmas tree stands in front of the Golden Roof. We were also treated to live carols being sung from the balcony of the Golden Roof building. It was very cold and we enjoyed the raclette from one of the food stalls, plus some glühwein, which became a regular feature at our various stops.
Things were much quieter in Venice and many of the shops and stalls in the vicinity of Rialto Bridge were closed for the holiday season. We had our usual visit to a demonstration of Venetian glass blowing, and this time there were glass products with Christmas themes on them.
The Christmas market we visited at Piazza Navonna was rather disappointing. After the atmospheric German markets, we weren’t impressed with the stalls here selling cheap imported toys, etc. I guess the Germans have a greater tradition of handicraft than the Italians who are more used to having goods with brand names on them.
We arrived in Florence on Christmas Eve and surprisingly, there was a market in Signoria Square in front of the Duomo. The stalls here sold more foodstuff than handicraft.
We had a full day in this beautiful city. It was Christmas Day and many of the shops were shut, but it was great walking around the city with its beautiful painted buildings and doing the lake-side walks.
We didn’t visit any markets in Paris, but the lights along the Champs Élysées were stunning and the Eiffel Tower was specially lit for the festive season.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable tour and we had great weather as well, i.e. it was cold but it didn’t rain. We would certainly do another trip like this, but to different markets. There are thousands of Christmas markets in Europe to choose from.