Spirit of Christmas Festival Fun
Christmas markets date back for centuries and it’s difficult to pinpoint the oldest Christmas market in Europe, because some of the best Christmas markets in Austria and Germany both lay claim to that title. Though Vienna had a December market as early as 1297, it was more of a general market that wasn’t specifically Christmas-focused. Dresden, Germany had a true Christmas Market called Strietzelmarkt as early as 1434, so they also lay claim to being the oldest. In recent years, Christmas Markets have expanded to include many cities around the world. Here’s a list of a few of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Related: Check out our post about the UK’s oldest Christmas market, the Lincoln Christmas Market.
Lincoln Christmas Market
The Lincoln Christmas Market is the oldest German-style Christmas Market in the UK and one of the largest. The Market takes place annually over four days during the first weekend in December and attracts approximately 130,000 visitors with more than 250 stalls. The Gothic cathedral and the Norman castle provide a beautiful backdrop to the market and visitors can visit both while visiting the market.
Covent Garden Market
Covent Garden Market in London, England is a year-round outdoor farmer’s market that is especially delightful during the holiday season. Starting in early November, the area is decorated in more than 150,000 sparkling lights. A giant Christmas tree with red and white lights glows on the west side of the square and a 7-metre tall silver reindeer and giant bobbles decorate the market and the area surrounding it. On Saturday afternoons, visitors can see live reindeer on the east side of the square and take photographs with them.
Dating to 1434, the Dresden Christmas Market is the oldest in Germany and arguably the oldest in the world. In 2014, it celebrates its 580th year. The Stollen (fruitcake) Festival in early December is a special time to visit the market. The highlight of the festival involves parading a giant stollen through the town and into the market where it is sold in pieces. The market runs from late November until Christmas eve and has 250 stands, a dedicated children’s area with cottages for Santa’s elves, live music and numerous events.
From mid-November through early January, Innsbruck, Austria has four different Christmas markets. The most romantic of the bunch is in Altstadt or Old Town, which is lined with medieval houses. At dusk, trumpeters play carols on the 500-year-old golden roof. The market has gingerbread, wooden toys and hand-crafted ornaments and hot advent donuts served with cranberry sauce are a favourite treat. On weekends, you can take a funicular up Nordkette mountain to Hungerburg to experience a special little market high on the mountain.
Prague Christmas Markets
From late November to New Year’s Day, visitors can experience the Christmas Markets of Prague in the Czech Republic. Surrounded by Gothic, renaissance and baroque architecture, the markets carry traditional Czech Christmas cookies, Frankincense, purpura (Czech Christmas potpourri), wooden toys and crafts. At the market, visitors can sample traditional Czech foods made fresh right in front of them. Mulled wine, grog and warm honey liquor known as medovina are also on offer. Christmas carols, lights, free outdoor concerts and plays add to the festive atmosphere.
Basel Christmas Market
The Basel Christmas Market is one of the largest and best Christmas markets in Switzerland. Situated in the heart of Old Town, there are more than 190 stalls filled with hand-made goods and gourmet treats. The market runs from late November through December 23. Look for handmade craft items as well as Swiss culinary delights like waffles, mulled wine, Basel Läckerli (gingerbread), Swiss raclette and grilled sausages.