Whilst the phenomenon is a relatively recent addition to Britain’s festivities, over on the continent, city squares have been filling up with stalls selling everything from fresh food to gifts for longer than anyone can remember.
A tradition spanning centuries, it’s unsurprising that with the rise of budget airlines, many towns in Europe have begun marketing themselves as great weekend destinations in the run up to Christmas, primarily because they have world class markets at this time of year. We’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few, and have come up with the following list of places that can’t help but get you into the goodwill spirit. Prepare for a gallon of mulled wine, a ton of bratwurst and more wooden decorations than you can hope to hang in any normal sized front room, then…
Although Christmas markets are more synonymous with northern Europe, Bologna really puts Italy on the map. Centred around the 12th Century San Pietro Cathedral, the Fiera di Natale, the larger of two markets in town, is a wonderfully atmospheric offering in the heart of a city that has retained much charm thanks to well-preserved medieval streets and buildings.
Rumoured to be the oldest in Germany, there are accounts of Dresden Christmas Market- or Striezelmarkt- as long ago as 1434. Set against the backdrop of the River Elbe, it’s home to the world’s tallest Nutcracker, an abundance of vintage fairground rides, and a Stollen Festival on the second Saturday in advent. If you like stollen then you know where, and when, to go.
France’s number one destination for market fiends, Strasbourg, capital of Alsace, makes the most of its quaint timber architecture by transforming itself into what you might imagine the North Pole looking like, if it weren’t a barren frozen wasteland. Cobbled streets lined with stars, angels and snowflakes, a fir tree towering over Place Kleber (apparently it has done so for 400 years), and streets divided into 11 market villages.
Stuttgart, Germany (pictured)
Many say that Stuttgart’s market is the most beautiful in Europe. We’d be inclined to agree. Located in the shadows of the Old Palace, which is worth the trip alone, along with stalls outside the fun continues within the gates, with the Renaissance inner courtyard teeming with activity. You’ll have to go a long way to find anything as nostalgia-inspiring as this.
What’s more fitting for this time of year than a jaunt up into the Arctic Circle itself? Probably nothing, hence us recommending this little-known Norwegian city. You can ride a horse and sleigh, snuggle up next to open fires in the bars and cafes, and shop until you drop around the main square, Torvet, where an abundance of wooden chalets and Sami lavvos (tepee-style tents traditional in this corner of the world) can be found.
The Austrian capital doesn’t need that much help pulling in tourists, with its incredible abundance of museums, art galleries, and palatial buildings. Nevertheless, dating back to the 1200s, the city’s Christmas market tradition (then known as December Market) has more history than most cities in our list, with around 150 stalls in the spectacular Rathausplatz- at the steps of spectacular city hall.
Image credit: Azchael (C) via Flickr