There are many parts of Europe that I feel are best seen in Winter, grey Soviet era cities such as Kiev and Minsk or delightful Scandinavian capitals such as Copenhagen and Stockholm, but the highlight for me in the cold dark weeks running up to Christmas, are the Christmas markets which spring up in the town squares and in front of most major cathedrals throughout Germany and Central Europe. They can turn the bleakest day into a winter wonderland, today we will talk about some of the most famous.
Nuremburg – Most famous in recent generations for the Nazi rallies and post WWII war trials, Nuremburg has been hosting its famous Christmas Market for over 400 years. Every year it opens its stalls for visitors from all over the world, right in the middle of the city, on Nuremberg Main marketplace Square. At 5.30 p.m. on the Friday before the first Sunday of Advent the Christmas Angel (a local school child) opens the market, reciting the solemn prologue from the gallery of the church of Our Lady overlooking the square. By Christmas Eve, more than two million people from all over the world will have visited.
There are about 180 wooden stalls brimming with traditional wares: Lebkuchen (spicy gingerbread), fruit loaves, sweets, typical Christmas articles such as Christmas tree angels, cribs, Christmas tree ornaments and candles, toys as well as the usual arts and crafts from the region. And of course, by way of refreshments, there are always rolls with beautiful German wurst – or sausages and of course lashings of gluwein.
There are also famous Christmas markets in Munich, Heidelberg, Berlin, Cologne and Rothenburg – also home to the famous Kathe Wohlfahrts Christmas Village.
It’s not just Germany though; there are great markets in Budapest in Hungary and Vienna in Austria. My favourite however is Prague, it’s not the biggest but it is probably the most fairytale setting in the heart of the old town surrounded by spires and chocolate box houses. I was lucky enough to have a white Christmas in Prague with my partner Petrea and it is an unforgettable experience.
Families – Great for kids, my favourite thing is the nativity scene at the markets all use live animals which the kids just love.
When to go – The markets run from the last weekend in November until Christmas Eve, and sometimes until the 12th day of Christmas, the epiphany on January the 8th.