Three Terrific Christmas Markets

A highlight in Europe this time of year is the cheerful (sometimes even magical) Christmas markets. I adore browsing through the arts and crafts for sale, and trying some of the hearty seasonal street food. And then there’s mulled wine.

Here are three of my favourite Christmas markets:

Elegant and child-friendly Vienna

Christmas markets

I’m very fond of Vienna, and during Advent, the city really comes alive. On Graben street, I amble past market stalls and Christmas trees from Wienerwald, with a blue, made-for-the-occasion Christkindlmarkt mug of Glühwein in hand. Just to keep warm, you understand.

Advent in Vienna

Huge bells of warm light are suspended above elegant baroque buildings and magnificent gilded statues. The effect is simply stunning! It might as well be 1911. Or 1811. Or even 1781. That’s when Wolfgang Amadeus walked along this street to his home at No. 17, passing the markets on his way. Today, no 17 is home to law offices, a book publisher, a fashion house – and my favourite Vienna guest house, Pension Nossek. After 9 pm, you have to lock yourself in. I adore opening the huge wooden doors with my own key. But I digress.

Christkindlmarkt, Rathausplatz, Vienna

Christmas Market, City Hall, Vienna

At the Christkindlmarkt in front of City Hall, everything is for sale: Christmas tree ornaments, candles, toys and handicrafts, as well as breads and cakes, sausages, more Glühwein and Christmas punch in a variety of flavours. It’s a world of bright, strong, happy colours.

Christkindlmarkt by City Hall, Vienna

Christkindlmarkt, City Hall, Vienna

Christmas Market, City Hall, Vienna

Inside City Hall is the Christkindls Werkstatt, workshops where 80 000 children stop by to make all kinds of wonderful Christmas presents.

Christkindl Werkstatt, Vienna

World-famous Viennese waltz composer, Johann Strauss, looks pensive on a pedestal. Is he thinking of the Christmas markets of his day; about how little things have changed, perhaps? Vienna’s Christmas markets have existed for hundreds of years.

More on Vienna’s wonderful Christmas markets here.

Cheap and cheerful Bratislava

Bratislava Christmas market

Less than an hour from Vienna is the Slovakian capital. Even on an overcast, cold and foggy day, Bratislava shows heaps of spirit. The Christmas market is on Hlavne Namestie, the main square in the pretty Old Town. Hats, scarves, handbags, toys, lollipops, porcelain, oils and spices are for sale – all at very affordable prices.

Bratislava Christmas market

Bratislava Christmas market

There’s a great emphasis on food and drink in Bratislava. The beer/wine/grog tents remind me of Oktoberfest in Bavaria; everyone is in a good mood. I go for lokse, potato pancakes, filled with poppy-seed. And sweet honey-wine. Perfect on a cold winter day.

Mysterious medieval Tallinn

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Tallinn

Christmas markets in east and central Europe have been around for centuries. Not this one. In fact, the Jouluturg on Tallinn’s Raekoja Plats (Raekoja Square) is barely out of its teens. During the Soviet era, Santa Claus was banned. As soon as Estonia gained independence in 1991, the city organized its first Christmas market.

15th century pharmacy, Raekoja Square, Tallinn

The market may be relatively new, but Tallinn is a medieval city. Raekoja Square is very romantic, surrounded by Hanseatic buildings, including a pharmacy from 1422, still in operation.

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

The main items on the market are Estonian arts and crafts, hand-made sweaters, long-tailed hats, mittens, scarves, socks and other colourful woollens.

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

Can’t make it to Tallinn before Christmas? No worries, the Christmas Markets remain until 8 January. And the lovely woollens are for sale outdoors for much of the winter. (These photos are from late January; sadly I didn’t have a camera along last time I visited Tallinn in December – but you get the idea.)

Woolens for sale in Tallinn

There’s something so delightfully pagan about Tallinn. Fitting then, that the citizens of the then-named city of Reval danced around the first Christmas tree in recorded history. The year was 1441 and Estonia was part of the German region Livonia.

The Devil's room, Tallinn

Up a street from Raekoja Square is 700-year-old cobbled Rataskaevu, the spookiest street in town. As you pass no 16, look up. Notice the bricked up window with painted-on curtains? In the 15th century, this was an inn. Rumour has it the devil got married and had the wedding reception here.

Where is your favourite Christmas market?

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60 Responses to “Three Terrific Christmas Markets”

  1. Anne-Sophie Redisch 20 December 2011 1457 #

    @Natacha – So incredibly pretty, Tallinn in winter.

  2. Poppy 19 January 2012 0234 #

    I am just planning some travel for next decemeber and this is helping a lot, we had a german themed christmas market in Leeds (UK) last year and it was great, it made me want to visit more.

  3. Kate 10 October 2012 1252 #

    My favourite one is Cologne, for so many reasons, but I’ll try to narrow it down. :)

    There’s a really small market on a river boat, focusing on antiques and other second-hand stuff. It doesn’t really have that Christmas market atmosphere but I am so glad I went there. Sitting there waiting for me was a set of wooden decorations that I thought I’d never have. My Mum has an identical set and I’ve always loved them, but thought I’d never get hold of my own. They’re really old and we didn’t even know where they came from.

    But as it turns out, they came from Germany. :) I paid far more than what they were worth, not to mention snaffling them out from under the nose of someone else who wanted them badly too, but I have no regrets. They’ll be treasured with me.

    It’ll take something spectacular to knock Cologne off the top spot for me. I’ve been to Prague and the setting is absolutely beautiful and I’m led to believe that the Christmas markets in Vienna have that beautiful “step back in time” kind of feel too. I want to see any and every Christmas market I can possibly get to, but Cologne’s always going to have a special place in my heart.

  4. travel 9 November 2012 1107 #

    think that is the best article thet i have read
    travel recently posted..I’m starting here…

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 9 November 2012 1303 #

      Thank you.

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