European Christmas Markets (some off the beaten path!)
The air is filled with the sweet aroma of mulled wine (Glühwein in German, Vin Brulée in Italian and Vin Chaud in French). Local artists selling their handmade crafts in wooden stalls, from handmade soaps and candles, to artisan beer and wine to jewelry and all the Christmas ornaments needed to decorate the Christmas tree. A tourist stops to take a selfie in front of a church with gothic facade. The buildings are decorated with millions of lights, the sound of Christmas songs playing in the background and the smell of sweet pastries with cinnamon and ginger that seems to follow us everywhere. There’s no doubt, we are in a Christmas market in Europe!
I’m a big sucker for Christmas. I really am. I love everything about Christmas and it is definitely my favorite time of the year. One of the first thing I said to Alexis when we found out we were moving to Switzerland was “we gotta hit all the Christmas markets out there!”. Well, I actually underestimated how many Christmas markets are in Europe. Literally every town has one, even if is one very small.
Most of my research was regarding the “best markets” according to different sources (Huffington Post, NY Times, Travel & Leisure, etc.) However, from the Top 10 we visited just one. That’s right, UNO and it was the Christmas Market in Strasbourg, France. Nevertheless, we had an amazing time discovering other cute markets that didn’t appear anywhere on the top charts and for that reason they are less crowded with tourists providing us with a more intimate experience.
I read many things about Christmas markets, but they are something you need to experience in person to understand why they are so popular all around the world. If there is a place where you can feel the Christmas spirit, where the romance of the holidays comes alive, is at these markets.
This year we visited 5: 2 in Switzerland, 1 in France and 2 in Italy. We found new hats, candles, did some wine and beer tasting, found a treetop for our Christmas tree and some lights for the windows. We wandered for hours through the wooden stalls while sipping Glühwein, which seems to be extremely popular over here and also hot chocolate to keep ourselves warm.
Here are the Christmas markets we recommend you to hit this coming Christmas:
The oldest Christmas Market in Europe, founded in 1570 and voted #1 market for 3 years in a row, is definitely one of the most popular and a must to visit. Here you will experience traditional, authentic, warm and generous Alsatian Christmas. 28th November – 31st December
During the weekend we were in Strasbourg, we stopped by L’Épicier Grand Cru for some cheese degustation. The cheese was great and the service as well. When we were ready to leave, an employee invited us to their cheese cellar and even allowed us to taste some awesome cheeses. We will definitely go back here next time we find ourselves in Strasbourg.
Every year there’s a guest country featured at the Christmas Market in Strasbourg. This year it was Belgium. There were over 7 wooden stalls selling different Belgian products, such as Belgian beer, Belgian fries and even soap and creams made with donkey milk.
#2 Zurich, Hauptbahnhof (Main Station)
Well, of course we gotta mention Europe’s largest indoor market with the glittering 50 foot (15m) Christmas tree decorated with 6,000 Swarovski crystals. 21st Nov – 24th Dec.
#3 Mercat De Santa Llúcia, Barcelona, Spain
Found in the Barrio Gótico, next to the Cathedral, this Christmas market is a great way to spend a morning in Barcelona. Tons of handmade nativity sets and the bizarre but funny Christmas crappers (famous defecating figures known in catalán as "Caganer") make the perfect souvenir. This last one is a staple of Catalán tradition and is quite popular, to the point that it has it's own society: Amigos del Caganer (friends of the Caganer)
Off the beaten path markets:
Zürich, Hirschenplatz in the Niederdorf
“Dörfli Weihnachtsmarkt” can be found in the old town in Niederdof, which in my opinion, is the liveliest part of Zürich. The area is already filled with lots of shops and restaurants, but the Christmas market makes a visit to this part of Zürich truly special. 28th November – 23rd December
This market is very small. You won’t find a variety of crafts or gifts to buy because most of the stalls are selling food and/or drinks. But the true star of this market is definitely a must see: The Singing Christmas Tree. 20th November – 23rd December
Verona’s Nuremberg Christmas market takes place in the central square. This is a German-style market (Verona has German/Austrian influence) and is packed with elegantly illuminated and decorated traditional wooden huts where we can find anything from regional foods to handicrafts to Christmas tree decorations. Although the official dates are 23th November – 21st December, we arrived in Verona on December 23rd and the market was as live as if it was the first day.
Orvieto was a very pleasant surprise. We stopped there on our way to Rome without even thinking about finding a Christmas market. There we found leather gloves, wine from the region, sweet biscotti and even birra artigianale (artisan beer). A visit to this Christmas market and Orvieto in general was definitely one of the highlights of our trip to Italy. Not sure what the dates for this market are and I couldn’t find anything in specific online, but if you find yourself in Umbria in December, I highly recommend to stop by this charming etruscan town and check out their Christmas market.