A Joyful Christmas: European Christmas Markets
Christmas shopping… It’s not something that fills most people with a huge amount of joy. The idea of it is wonderful; it’s all frosty breath and twinkling lights and everyone merry and bright; and you, having found the perfect gift for absolutely everyone, skipping down the attractively decorated high street, laden down with boxes and bags. You look fabulous in your wintery hat and scarf set. You might take the time to listen to the perfectly pitched carol singers. Maybe you’ll stop off for a cheeky hot chocolate, whipped cream piled up on the top. And then home, where your precious gifts are wrapped neatly and placed beneath the beautiful Christmas tree.
That’s the idea.
It rarely works out that way though. Christmas shopping is hot and sweaty work, everything you buy is big and bulky and heavy, even when it doesn’t have to be (so many boxes! So much packaging!). No one is happy, and no one has the Christmas spirit. Your woolly hat is too big and it slips over your eyes but you’ve no free hands to fix it. Your scarf is strangling you. There are carol singers but they’re singing something modern and/or out of tune. You’ve only got half the things you need and the panic is setting in because you’ve probably left it too late. As for hot chocolate, not a chance. All the cafés and coffee shops are teeming with barely any room to breathe, and anyway, all you really wanted is a big glass of wine. But you’ve got to drive home through all the nightmare traffic, and really… why didn’t you order all this online?
For many, that’s the reality.
There is, however, one way to get closer to your dream of the perfect Christmas shopping spree: the European Christmas market. These delights are what dreams are made of, the air full of cinnamon and cloves, Gluhwein on every corner, ice skating rinks and elves and Father Christmas himself often making an appearance. And there will be authentic gingerbread, homemade chocolates, and unique gifts that will have your family and friends oohing and aahing and wondering where you managed to find such treasures.
From Germany to France to Italy and beyond, this is how Christmas shopping should be done.
Cologne Cathedral is the central location for the city’s biggest market, and it is a beacon for all who want to indulge in a little Christmas cheer whilst browsing the beautiful items on sale. Here you will see the largest Christmas tree in the Rhineland, as well as wreath makers, pewter pourers, glassblowers, and all manner of other artisans at work. Plus you can sample freshly made gingerbread – deliciously festive!
Why not stay at the stunning Savoy Hotel, just half a mile from the Christmas market – you can even see the cathedral from some of the rooms (and you can definitely see it from the fabulous rooftop bar). Alternatively, there is the Wyndham Koln; it’s a little nearer, and a little less expensive (so you’ve got more time and money to spend at the market!).
Champs–Élysées, Paris, France
Although Germany is the most well known for its Christmas markets, France is right up there as well, and the one that is held annually on the legendary Champs-Élysées (and stretching right up to the Place de la Concord) is something to behold. The entire street is lit up in glorious twinkling splendour, marking the biggest and brightest Christmas market in France.
If you want to stay right in the heart of the action, the Hotel Beauchamps is located in what is known as the ‘golden triangle’ in Paris (the area between the Champs-Élysées, Avenue Montaigne, and Avenue George V). Magnificently decorated in the art deco style, this is a real treat. The Rochester Champs-Élysées is also lovely, and with a spa to relax in at the end of a long day’s shopping, nothing could be better!
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, is a gorgeous place to visit, and never more so than during the festive period when its Winter Wonderland of a Christmas market is up and running. The huts here surround a huge Christmas tree which, at its base, has an authentic Nativity scene. It’s authentic because the animals within it are all real, and you are encouraged to get up close to them for magical memories and super snaps. As well as some lovely decorative items and locally made lace, and a fun traditional puppet show, you can also experience some Czech delicacies including vosi hnizda (rum and nut biscuits).
There are a plethora of hotels to choose from in Prague, but the one closest to the action (meaning the main Christmas tree and nativity scene) has to be the Hotel Rott. At just 0.1 miles from the main attraction, right in the middle of Prague Old Town, this is an excellent base for your Christmas shopping. If you don’t mind being a little further away why not try the Art Nouveau Palace Hotel? It’s right next door to the famous Wenceslas Square, and less than half a mile from the Christmas market.
In Vienna, you get a number of markets for the price of one, as the ‘main market’ is actually a few smaller ones linked together to create one impressive and festive marketplace. The stalls contain arts and crafts (Viennese beeswax candles are a fixture here), food and drink (such as vanillekipferl, special Christmas biscuits), and clothing, amongst other things. And to make it even more magical, the market in front of the City Hall has one floor dedicated to the children – toys and games galore!
The 100-year-old Steigenberger Hotel Herrenhof has large, spacious rooms with Baroque style décor, a massive spa with two saunas and a steam room, and it’s right in the middle of the most historic district in the city – St Stephens’s Cathedral (and the Christmas market) is about a five minute walk away. Slightly (but only very slightly) further away is the Hotel Sans Souci Wien. It’s an extra 10 minutes to the market on foot, but the fact that the hotel has an indoor pool and a well renowned restaurant makes up for that.
Zurich is the biggest indoor Christmas market in Europe (it’s located in the main train station and has over 150 different stalls), so if you aren’t so keen on the cold, this could well be the ideal place for you to shop ‘til you drop. The centrepiece of this market is the enormous Christmas tree which is decorated with over 7,000 Swarovski crystals. Munch on roasted chestnuts, sip mulled wine, and admire the sights, sounds, and smells of Christmas all around you.
The immediate area around the Christmas market is surrounded by hotels, and so finding one shouldn’t be too onerous a task. The Townhouse Boutique Hotel is nice and close to the action, and it has all the mod cons you might want to make your time in Zurich comfortable. For something a little more luxurious, there is the Zürich Niederdorf – Grossmünster. This hotel is stylish and stunning, and will certainly make your stay more memorable.
Hamburg is a fun place to visit, and its superb Christmas market follows that trend. The city looks like a fairytale land when all the lights are switched on and the Buden (the little wooden huts that the sellers use) are in place. Along with all the usual excitement such as mulled wine, hot chocolate, and gifts galore, there is the famous Schrottwichteln. Roughly translated as ‘bad secret Santa’, any unwanted Christmas gifts can be exchanged for something a little better, and the money charged goes to charity. The best part is, no one will ever know!
The magnificent 5-star Steigenberger Hotel Hamburg is just a five-minute stroll from the marketplace, and it has a relaxing spa and sumptuous treatments that guests can enjoy whilst staying there. The Hotel Baseler Hof is another option. It’s half a mile from the Christmas market but if you’d rather not walk it is situated right next to a Metro station. Perfect for lugging your beautiful buys back home!
The Verona Christmas market is more German than Italian in looks and style, with wooden huts that are decorated with fairy lights and twinkle in the night air. There is plenty of German food and drink to be had too, including bratwurst, stollen cake, and lebkuchen (soft gingery cookies – delicious!). This market always has a special guest star too – Father Christmas himself! He always enjoys meeting the children, giving them a small gift, and receiving a cookie in return.
The hotels in Verona are top class, so why not look out for something like the Palazzo Victoria with its gorgeous architecture and history, or the more modern Hotel Milano and Spa?
One of Europe’s longest running markets, Strasbourg has been drawing the crowds since 1570. For a truly authentic and breathtaking festive treat you’ll love strolling around the wooden chalets enjoying a warming hot drink and nibbling at street food, all within the shadow of the incredible cathedral. You’ll be in good company here, with over two million visitors thronging the streets for the duration of the market. And with over 300 different stalls to browse, you can take your time knowing that you will find something for even the hardest person to buy for.
The Ibis Strasbourg Centre Gare is, as the name suggests, not only just over half a mile from the Christmas market, but also close to the main train station, giving you unfettered access to all the Christmassy delights on offer, and an easy route home after you’re done. For something closer, try the Hotel Patricia; it’s a budget option, and not all the rooms are en suite, but it’s cute and quirky and close to the bargains.
Make sure you pack your walking shoes when visiting the Brussels Christmas market! This is a two-kilometre stretch of stalls, rides, and games, right in the middle of the city centre. Along with a giant wheel, a superb ice rink, merry-go-rounds, and dozens of fantastic stalls selling one of a kind gifts and local food and drink you will be treated to a magical illuminations display in the air above. Take a moment to enjoy and be enthralled in the crisp wintry air.
There are over 500 different hotels within a few miles of this incredible Christmas market, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a room. The Hotel Metropole is a beautiful art deco building located just 0.2 miles from the market. It dates back to 1895 and includes magnificent marble staircases and impressively decorated rooms. Alternatively, the Grand Central Apartments offer self-catering accommodation close to all the festive comings and goings.
Open from 14th November all the way through until 23rd December – giving you ample time to find and buy the perfect and most unique gifts – the Stockholm Christmas market is totally traditional. All the stalls are red, giving it a one of a kind appearance that matches the goods on offer, which range from Swedish arts and crafts, decorations, and food such as reindeer and elk meat. And of course there is the wonderfully named glogg (similar to mulled wine, this drink is spicy and hot).
The Scenic Grand Central is a gorgeously appointed and located hotel in Stockholm with plenty to keep you occupied (including a restaurant and bar, shop, and gym) when you’re not out grabbing festive bargains and enjoying some sweet treats. As for the chic and stylish Scandic Victoria Tower, it might not be in the centre of Stockholm (it’s about 18 minutes on the Metro), but what it lacks in closeness to Christmas, it more than makes up for in amenities.