Guide to Christmas Markets
Christmas markets are a big reason why Christmas is so lovely and magical in Europe. Having been established in Germany around the late middle ages to mark the four weeks of advent, Christmas markets present a wonderful opportunity to really see the customs and traditions of a country come to life. Here are three different European Christmas Markets to cater to your tastes, budget and whimsical fancy!
The Original Christmas Markets - Dresden.
If you really want the authentic Christmas market experience, head to the Striezelmarkt in Dresden, Germany. The birthplace of the Christmas Market, Striezelmarkt was first held in 1434 and is the oldest running Christmas Market in the world. With up to 2 million visitors and over 250 stalls, you're bound to find something you'll like! The main market, located in the city's central square boasts row upon row of stalls selling an extensive range of beautiful hand-decorated Christmas trinkets that will become heirlooms in years to come. If you're feeling the cold you can warm up with a glass (or few) of glühwein, and fill up on traditional German sausages, stews, crepes, waffles, potato pancakes, and hot rolls filled with melted cheese and ham. Yum! All these traditional German delights are cooked in front of you to authentic recipes and range from €1.50 - €5. So come hungry for some delicious treats! Plus with performances, carolers, jugglers, Santas and entertainers, you'll be enthralled in this fairytale from the minute you arrive to the minute you leave.
Dresden also boasts a Medieval Market, which is a two minute walk from the main square. Here you'll find the area lit in atmospheric oil lamps with stall holders in medieval costume - a real spectacle to behold. There are a number of stalls selling medieval handicrafts such as pottery, glasswork, leather items, wood carving, herb soaps and more.
With all the lights on display, it's also worth visiting the Frauenkirche (main Lutheran church) to head up the stairs and see the entire view of the markets. It costs €8, but the view (and resulting photos) alone is completely worth it.
For more information, visit the Dresden tourism site (in English) here.
The Cheap and Cheerful Christmas Markets - Tallinn
If you're after a cheap and cheerful weekend getaway that also offers a spectacular Christmas Market for your shopping, then Tallinn is your answer.
Based on a study by Direct Travel Insurance, the cost of spending a weekend in Tallinn (covering two evening meals with wine, coffee and beer, festive drinks and snacks, two nights' accommodation, return flights and transfers between the airport and city centre), was around £370 for a typical trip.
In contrast to Dresden's historical markets, Tallinn's Christmas Markets were only established in 2001. But what it lacks in history, it makes up for in holiday atmosphere. This year, the markets will take place in Rotermann Square, which is an architectural pearl in the heart of Tallinn and an ideal setting for the quaint huts and the Christmas tree that adorn the markets. Surrounding the enormous and luminous Christmas tree, Estonian artisans sell a variety of original products including felted wool hats and slippers, buckwheat pillows, wooden bowls, wickerwork, elaborate quilts, ceramic and glassware, little sea-grass animals (very Estonian), homemade candles, wreaths and other decorations.
Spectacular holiday shows will delight the kids and for the adults, we can't forget traditional Estonian holiday food - pork, sauerkraut and blood sausages, hot soups, stir-fries and much more. For the sweet toothed, treats include gingerbread, marzipan, various local honeys, cookies, nuts and sweets. Hot mulled wine poured from large wooden barrels will also keep you toasty in the snow. Santa makes his rounds around the market, taking photos with children in the designated Santa Claus Cabin, where they can also mail postcards from Santa's own post office! (Well if you're already so close to the North Pole...)
Estonia's medieval capital is a festive, lively city, especially under the picture-perfect quilt of snow. Just come prepared for the bitter cold!
For more information, visit Tallinn's tourism site (in English) here.
The Day Trip Markets (From the UK) - Lille Christmas Markets
If you want to rise with the birds and spend a day at a traditional European Christmas Market, why not head to Northern France? Travelling on the Eurostar from London, it's relatively easy to reach the gorgeous French Flanders town of Lille, taking only 1 hour and 40 minutes. The market spreads across the old city, and is held at the base of a brightly-lit Ferris wheel. Illuminated by thousands of lights and colours, this spectacular market boasts a fun fair, the big ferris wheel and over 60 stalls offering regional handicrafts and gourmet fare (try and resist the rich flavours of cinnamon and roasted chestnuts wafting from Place Rihour where, for over a month, the 80 chalets of the Christmas Market reside).
Here, merchants and craftspeople offer some original gift ideas - gingerbread and other delicacies, nativity figurines and Christmas decorations, traditional toys, German, Canadian and Polish specialities, and much more. Don't forget the mulled wine!
For more information, visit Lille's tourism site (in English) here.
So whether you want a Christmas Market experience that's authentic, wallet-friendly, or simply a quick getaway - there's an option for everyone to enjoy this Holiday Season! Now the only big decision is which one?
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