Christmas is coming, which means it’s time to plan a European break to one of the many fantastic Christmas markets and savour a taste of festive tradition.
It goes without saying that Strasbourg, the Capital of Christmas, has an exceptional market, set in front of the Gothic style cathedral. It’s the oldest in France, founded in 1570, and features over 300 stalls selling mulled wine, sweets, decorations and gifts. A huge tree towers above the shoppers, and at the foot of the cathedral is an ice skating rink. With events and concerts taking place during the season, it’s no wonder 2 million visitors flock there each year.
Comprising four markets located in a network of underground caves, the Valkenburg Christmas market is as much about art and history as it is gifts and trinkets. In addition to the stalls, there are numerous murals and sculptures depicting the Christmas story and the history of the caves. It’s a truly atmospheric place to explore. Above ground is Santa’s Village, complete with wooden chalets selling delicious treats and a giant singing Christmas tree adorned with 5,000 lights.
There are no fewer than six markets in Cologne, each with its own atmosphere and character. Children will love the Märchenweihnachtsmarkt, or Fairytale Market on Rudolfplatz, which features characters from the Brothers Grimm fairytales, a twinkling carousel and stalls selling wooden toys. The Alter Markt in the Old Town is a picture of rustic stalls and cobbled streets, with themed alleys such as Futtergasse, which sells speciality foods, and Glitzergasse, where you can find fashion accessories. There’s also the Angel’s Market, adorned with glittering lights, and the Cathedral Market, with its impressive Christmas tree and live music performances.
Home to the largest Christmas market in northern France, Amiens is a delightful spectacle in winter. Visitors enter through a huge archway into a village of stalls offering locally produced treats and gifts, and the cathedral is lit up at nightfall, bringing its stonework to life through the son et lumière. Carol singing and children’s activities take place throughout the period, and visitors can buy everything from traditional wooden crafts to hand-made glass and Angora sweaters.
Prague’s picturesque charm is enhanced during the festive period, with a nativity scene and huge Christmas tree taking centre stage in the main square. Both here and Wenceslas Square are packed with stalls selling crystal, jewellery and nibbles, and in the week leading up to Christmas, tubs of water containing carp dot the streets. Or leave the crowds of the city centre behind and visit the market at Namesti Miru, where carol singers serenade the shoppers and leather gloves, winter woollies, biscuits and tree decorations can be found on the stalls.